Interview with Greg Livingstone, founder of Frontiers
Greg Livingstone is a difficult man to put in a box. He’s a critic of Christian Zionism, American nationalism, and he supports President Obama’s efforts to reach out to the Muslim world. He also happens to be the founder of Frontiers, the world’s largest missionary organization dedicated to church planting among Muslim peoples. Says Livingstone, “When you live outside America you come to realize how important it is to be a Christian first and American second.” He currently resides in London, where the Frontiers international office is located. I had a lengthy conversation with him the other day via Skype. Here’s the gist of what we talked about.
Question: So what have you been up to these days?
Answer: I’m the chairman of a strategic partnership for a country in North Africa, which includes 27 agencies; I’ve been recruiting team leaders for the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church), planting a church among Pakistani Muslims in UK, and writing, mostly on the history of church planting among Muslims.
Question: In recent years, there’s been an increase in Muslims coming to Christ but remaining within the cultural fold of Islam. Some are calling this “the Insider Movement.” What is your take on the Insider Movement and how should Christian missionaries respond to this movement?
Answer: Frontiers is getting hit on the left and the right with this. This is very current. My bottom line is we’ve got to be Bereans. It’s not a question of pragmatism, it’s a question of staying within Biblical parameters. What I like about the Insider movement is the movement’s proponents are people that love God convinced it’s not enough to see so few Muslims come to Christ. We’ve got to try something else.
Paul says, “I’ve become all things to all men that I might win some.” So their motivation is good but as Tozer used to say: it’s not the lukewarm Christian that’s in danger of heresy, it’s the passionate Christian. I think the Emergent movement is influencing the Insider movement. Of course, you don’t win a Muslim to Christ by saying that Muhammad was a pedophile, but you’re not going to find your Joseph of Armethia, or Nicodemus if you don’t sit in the same room and find some commonality.
Still, the ‘jury is out’ on the Insider movement. There’s very little indication so far of congregations being established with godly biblically based elders by advocates of the Insider Movement. At some point, Muslims obeying the Lord Jesus are going to join the Rev. 6:9 club. A veteran missionary among Muslims has it right when he says, “Sure leave them in the Mosque; Encourage Muslim background believers to stay with and serve their families. But the vast majority will be banished if they actually share Christ as their LORD and SAVIOUR.
Question: There are some that postulate on the possibility of a mass movement to Biblical faith in Christ as a reformation movement within Islam. Do you see this as a possibility? If so, what form might this take?
Answer: Look at Pakistan today. It’s about 3% Christian, the result of a people movement. But only a tiny fraction are regenerated. They’re not impressing Muslims with their godliness. They’re not witnessing. When you get a mass movement, you’re very much in danger of having 80% chaff and 20% wheat. McGavern taught that’s okay because it’s easier to convert a nominal Christian.
I believe that Revelation 5:9 and Revelation 7:9 is not going to happen without Revelation 6:9 referring to the cost: all the people who will be murdered for their testimony. I think that a lot more people are going to have to suffer and die before we see a breakthrough. Consider what happened in the first and second century. A Muslim who called himself a follower of Jesus told me one time. “I really love Jesus. I really love Frontiers. I just wish you’d get rid of this Jesus dying on the cross for our sins stuff.” Many in the Insider movement seem to be satisfied with simply making people pro-Jesus. Every liberal pastor is ‘pro-Jesus; Gandhi was pro-Jesus; but he never ‘bowed the knee’ to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Question: Traditionally, missionaries in Muslim countries have taken the tent-maker approach. Based on the model of the Apostle Paul, they’ll go into a country, start a business and/or a humanitarian organization and evangelize under cover. Do you feel that the tent-maker approach remains a valid model for today? Are there emerging models that may replace the tent-maker approach?
Answer: Actually, I read that Paul took a job only when he ran out of church support. Traditionally evangelists went over to Muslim countries and preached openly. After World War II, when Muslim countries got their independence and stopped issuing missionary visas, we classified countries as open or closed depending on whether they would issue a “missionary visa”. In the 70’s, some of us started asking, “Where did Jesus say go into all the world if you can acquire a missionary visa?” I don’t think the tentmaker movement is really modeled after Paul. Paul didn’t work full time. He only worked a job when he ran out of money.
Now, is “tentmaking” a valid model? Well, we really don’t have much choice. I personally want to send people on teams and make room for all the different approaches. I’ll make the evangelist the VP of Public relations until s/he is expelled! The point is, if we don’t have accountability, you can live in a Muslim country for years, and call yourself a teacher, a businessman etc…but don’t tell others you’re a church planter unless what you’re doing is actually leading to establishing a fellowship of believers!
One must show there’s a connection between what you’re going there to do and what you’re leaving behind. That’s why I believe in agencies which are committed to continuity; i.e. they will keep reinforcing a church planting effort with new people until there’s a church planted that is birthing another church! Evangelists don’t plant churches, because they want to go pray with another unrelated individual. Therefore, the evangelist needs team members who will disciple and gather the new believers. When I’m recruiting for church planting teams, I don’t ask a person how many people they’ve led to Christ. I ask them, what would you bring to a church planting effort?
5. Question: What has been the impact of Christian Zionism on evangelism in the Muslim world?
Answer: Obviously, being pro-Israel no matter what they do, anti Arab is not being Christian. Still, Zionism is not the biggest barrier. Yes, it’s a problem, but let’s just suppose that next week the Palestinian issue is settled; then would Muslims start saying “Oh now we want to look at the claims of Christ?” Not likely. They would find some other reason why they don’t want to listen to Christian preachers.
The bigger problem is the offense of having “Christian” soldiers on “Muslim” soil! The greater reason the Taliban can recruit extremists is because infidels are walking on holy soil ‘taking charge’! It doesn’t matter if it’s Israel or anywhere else. They don’t want infidel boots on the ground. This is why invading Iraq was such a bad idea, because now the Taliban or Al Qaeda recruiter can say, “Look, the Christians are taking over our countries!”
I saw America going to Iraq as Vietnam all over again. But if the American government felt they had to remove Saddam, they should have arranged to place Muslim soldiers on the ground, with the West supporting from the air, intelligence, weapons, etc.
Yes it’s a big problem that Bible believing Christians are doing ‘penance’ for their guilt for not stopping the Holocaust. Worse, some are hoping that by backing Israel, they might get blessed; misapplying Genesis 12:1-3 (where God says to Abraham I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you) thinking, “Let’s bless Israel so that God likes us better!” I simply apologize to my Muslim friends and tell them the Christian Zionists have been taught strange things. Still, it’s not Christian Zionism that bothers me so much as evangelicals who demonize Muslims. Islam may be Satan’s masterpiece, but 1.7 billion Muslims are not demonic; Christ laid down His life for THEM too!
Question: Has post 9-11 U.S. foreign policy, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, been helpful or hurtful to the cause of Muslim evangelism?
Answer: Obviously it’s negative because it set up an unnecessary clash of civilizations, (and as I said, the Muslims feel “occupied”, or “invaded”. Still these world events are a matter of God’s sovereignty in history prevailing. It used to be difficult to make Christians aware of Muslims. Now Muslims are in the news every day! So if you’re a real Christian and you see what’s happening on the news, first you get irritated or angry, but then the Holy Spirit gets a hold of you and you think, “Maybe I should pray for the Muslims, or even support a missionary to give them the GOOD news?”
Question: Do you see a possible role for missionaries to build bridges of understanding on a socio-political level between the West and Islam? If so, what form might this take?
Answer: This is trendy. Peacemaking is ‘the latest answer’. Several organizations have emerged along these lines. I think the one great thing this movement really has going for it is that it helps to communicate to Muslims, in a friendly way, that they have “Dawa” [Arabic for obligatory effort to convert people to Islam] and we have the Great Commission. Why not give them freedom to evangelize in the West, and give us freedom to do so among Muslims?
I like the way the soft approach people better than the critics who don’t do anything to see Muslims come into Christ’s Kingdom! What good are the workers who simply alarm Christians that the Muslims are the evil empire taking over the world? As my co-worker says, “I’m pretty sure “love your enemies” doesn’t mean kill them”
Do you want to be an obedient Christian? Show me how you’re loving your enemies!
However, much as I appreciate those into “peacemaking and reconciliation with Muslims”, I just don’t think they’re going to establish communities of Muslims loyal to Christ who will demonstrate the difference “Christ in you” makes. Different people have different callings. Peacemaking is a wonderful calling. Just don’t make it a substitute for church planting among the unengaged who still have no ‘lighthouse’ where they live.
Question: Lastly, if you can tell American Christians one thing about the Muslim world that they may not know or understand, what would it be?
Answer: It would be that Muslims are not seeking God any more or less than Americans.
Muslims are in bondage to the prince of darkness just like most Americans. The greatest need is for caring Christians to have a divine appointment (i.e. be led to) a Muslims to whom the Father is revealing Himself. It may be that God has put a Nicodemus in your neighborhood. You wouldn’t want to go to heaven and find out that God gave you an opportunity to witness and you ignored it. If you can think about Muslims but are not moved with compassion, then there are reasons to doubt if you’re a true Christian.
Another thing that Americans need to realize is that for a Muslim to become a Christian, is a traitorous act, equivalent to an American selling atomic secrets to the Iranians. That’s why I don’t mind if Muslim background believers don’t call themselves “Christians”. For 1,400 years, people that call themselves Christians and people that call themselves Muslims have been fighting, bashing, and killing each other. The word “Christian” may be as ruined by history as the word ‘gay’. The issue is to see Muslims passing from death to life, knowing “Isa Al Masih” as their Lord and Saviour.