- Dudley Woodberry spoke to several packed audiences at Bethel Seminary San Diego last month. Observers were left feeling they had met the Forrest Gump of Islamic studies: A journeyman professor, Woodberry seems to have been everywhere.
For example, the Woodberry family was ³privileged² to be living in the capital city of Saudi Arabia in 1979 when the Iranian Revolution erupted under the control of Ayatollah Khomeini.
³And then,² Woodberry reflected after speaking to a lunch crowd March 9, ³I happened to be, in the providence of the Lord, with no plan of my own, a block and a half from the Taliban recruiting center when 9/11 happened, in my son¹s home.
³And so we have always been in the right place for my business for a lot of this. So there have been a lot of things I¹ve been able to write about that God made it possible for me to just sort of be there, without planning on my part.²
Such experiences have made Woodberry what Bethel associate dean Kent Eaton calls ³a prophetic voice.²
³There are probably few people in the West at this period of time that are more prepared to be able to help us understand the challenges,² of post-9/11, said Eaton, ³and to help us begin to develop strategies that will honor our commitment to being ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ.²
Woodberry, a Ph.D from Harvard, is professor of Islamic studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has held consulting positions for President Carter and several other government departments and agencies.
His March discussions in San Diego were part of the Bethel ³Distinguished Lecture Series² presentations. Here are excerpts from the consulting he did at the luncheon for pastors, students and church leaders:
€ Think of global events as a glove. Through the media we see the glove, but behind it (and unmentioned in most reports) is the hand of God working providentially.
³We see the turmoil going on,² Woodberry said. ³Then we see the disasters. And it all looks tragic. It often is tragic. What we do not see is what the hand of God is doing within those events. What I see is these are the problems in the Muslim world and much of the world, but the hand of God is inside that glove, not seen by most news reporters, drawing people to faith in Christ.
³Hence for those of us here who are involved in churches and pastoring and ministry in churches, our goal is to see what God is doing and then for our hands to cooperate — not get in the way but to cooperate with what God is doing. So we commend this to you for your congregations to get them excited to see what God is doing in the tragedies of the world.²
€ There is great opportunity to help people when they first arrive.
³One of the things we have noticed is that people who first go to a new place are more open to the Gospel. They¹ve moved because they need something different. What we have since discovered is there is only a window of opportunity. If they are not attracted to Christ during that window of opportunity when they are open to new ideas and new friends and so forth, then often they either become secularized and unreachable, or they become disillusioned and now choose a fundamentalist form of Islam. In both cases they become difficult to reach.²
€ San Diego will continue to be a hotbed for Muslim transplants. ³You¹ve got a phenomenal opportunity because you have a Mediterranean climate here that people from the Middle East like. So better jobs and this (environment) give an opportunity.²
€ Realize the various hybrids of Islam, and corresponding prospects.
³We read about orthodox Islam, but the average Muslim, let¹s say perhaps 70 percent of Muslims in their country of origin, are a mixture of orthodoxy and various folk practices and beliefs. So they are interested in a savior from fear before they are interested in a savior from sin. And Christ is both.
³What we have in Scripture is a God who comes with us and is with us in our suffering. And so there¹s the evidence of the power of God and there¹s the evidence of the power not only of saving us out of the fire but also of saving us in the fire, with His presence.²
€ Americans — Christians in particular — can provide service to Muslim immigrants.
³This is where you here in the San Diego area have so much to offer. People who have come here as refugees, they left support systems that are much more based on family and friends than ours are. And they feel cut off from all of that. Loving and working together, we can do that here in San Diego.²
€ God works in many ways, and we should not limit Him.
³I think we need to be open to the variety of ways that God is working in different contexts over there, and not let anybody insist there is only one way for the church to be built. In central Asia … you have many bi-ethnic churches. In Africa there are largely house churches that are developing there. In areas of South Asia you have what we call insider church movements. These are people that still call themselves Muslims, but Muslim followers of Jesus the Messiah.
³One thing about Islam is that it is often conceived as involving culture, family, nationality, ethnicity and all these things. So there is much that can be retained of their culture. What cannot be given up, we cannot deny Jesus Christ. We cannot go against conscience. And so I think there are a number of principles we give them. But ultimately I don¹t think it is our job to tell them how to live it out.²