Are there different types of Muslims? Who are these people and what does their religion teach? These days, many folks wonder about Islam and Muslim people. To answer the first question, Islam is not a single group of people. Actualy Islam has many groups and branches, much like Christianity.
The Main Branches
Although there are many variations among Muslim groups, the two main branches of Islam are Sunni and Shi’a. Sunni Islam accounts for approximately eighty-five percent of Muslims worldwide and Shi’a Islam makes up about fifteen percent, mainly in Iran, Yemen, and parts of Iraq. The people in the two groups are referred to as Sunnis and Shi’ites. The two groups differ over which of its caliphs (early leaders) are considered to be rightly guided by Allah and, therefore, legitimate successors to Muhammad in leading all of Islam. Because of the differences in which caliphs the different groups follow, Sunni and Shi’a have somewhat different interpretations of portions of the Qur’an, which in turn, result in differing customs, traditions and practices. Each of these main branches has numerous sub-groups with their own unique interpretations as well.
A Fuller Explanation
I recently discussed this issue on the My ConVersation program on KAIL television. You can view the 1 minute 23 second video clip of the program at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x285Ih8JtLg#action=share
Is Christianity growing or declining? Most people would give an answer to that question based on partial information. Here is a bigger picture of what is happening with Christian faith on a global sale. As of 2017, there were approximately 2.2 billion Christians in the world. This figure includes all groups that fall within the traditional understanding of Christianity, including, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and various groups of Protestants. Compare Christianity with its closest rival, Islam which is approaching 2 billion. There are significant groups of Christians on every continent and in every country in the world.
Where Christianity is growing
Approximately 2.7 million people convert to Christianity each year from some other religion.
For example, since the year 2000, Muslim converts to Christianity have averaged more than 100,000 per year.
Another example is found in the 1.6 million Americans of Jewish background who identify themselves with some form of Christianity.
Since 1945, Christianity in China has grown from more than 1 million to perhaps 70 million.
Also since 1945, Christianity in South Korea has increased from around 2% of the population to around 30%. The largest congregation in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church has more than 200,000 members and is located in Seoul South Korea.
Roman Catholicism has grown by approximately 11% worldwide since 2000, with the largest gains in Africa. Since the mid-20th century, Protestant groups have grown 300% faster than the world population rate, and 200% faster than the rate of growth for Islam. Protestants of all groups now account for 40% of all self-identified Christians. For example:
There are 300 million Protestants in Africa, apart from the Muslim majority regions of North Africa.
Even so, there are more than 2 million Protestants in North Africa and the Middle East.
North and South America combined account for 260 million Protestants, with countries like Brazil, Guatemala, and Haiti experiencing impressive growth in the past 50 years.
Europe currently has around 100 million Protestants.
Where Christianity is declining
Since 2000, the United States has seen a 7% decline in people who identify as Christians of any kind. Experts believe this decline has resulted from the increasing climate of skepticism in general, and a growing hostility toward Christian faith in various influential sectors within society. An even steeper rate of decline has occurred in Canada and Europe, with the exception of portions of Eastern Europe, where Christian faith has been on the upswing since World War II.
Overall, Christianity is doing very well around he world. Contrary to the predictions of many in the Western world, Christianity is not in any danger, but continues to be the largest single religious family and is steadily gaining ground in many parts of the world. American Christians can be encouraged by this fact, while finding new and creative ways to stop and reverse the decline we are seeing in our own culture.
Sources: World Christian Encyclopedia, Pew Research Center.
A very simple argument can show why atheism doesn’t work. Atheism doesn’t work simply because, without God, there can be no hope, no joy, no goodness, no justice, and no truth. How can I say that? I can say that because without God, ideas of truth and justice depend upon people’s thinking about them. Hope, joy, and goodness depend upon people being able to rightly experience and practice them.
The only standard in atheism is power
But people differ from one another in how they think and practice these qualities. They argue about what they mean and what they look like in real life. One person can argue another out of their concept of goodness, or justice. One group of people can gain enough power to enforce their version of truth on everyone else. Under atheism, these qualities are defined and enforced by those with the most convincing arguments or the strongest will to dominate. This is why societies that give way to atheism tend to become totalitarian dictatorships.
Atheism cannot allow real freedom and choice
Most people hate dictatorships. They sense that one group of people telling everyone else what it means to be good, or to have hope, or what what they can and cannot believe to be true, is a very bad thing. Most people understand that true belief and genuine behavior cannot be forced. In other words, human choice is a very real and very precious thing that atheism as a system cannot tolerate.
Atheism falsely claims that belief in God restricts freedom
Some might argue that Christian people and Christian organizations have sometimes tried to force people to believe and act in certain ways. While that may be true, the bad or mistaken behavior of people who claim to believe in God doesn’t change the truth that God is the one from whom flow the qualities of justice, truth, and goodness. God made people to be creatures who can make considered choices for or against these qualities. People’s responses to God and to the qualities that flow from his character determine their experience of hope or joy. The fact that people long for these qualities and desire to experience them seems to argue that God exists, since people can’t experience them fully without some outside source.
Here is the link to a related video from Prager University which makes a very similar argument. I hope you enjoy it.
As an experienced pastor, and teacher of the Bible in venues on several continents, I have found that even long-time Christians often have an incomplete understanding of the Bible. People with little or no background in Christian faith usually have much less understanding of this incredible book. In the 21st century many people are mystified as to why Christians honor this book so deeply. So let’s look at some basic facts about the Bible.
Who Uses the Bible?
The Bible is revered by both Christians and Jews. Jews accept and use on the portion that Christians call the Old Testament, while Christians accept both Old and New Testaments.
While Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians accept the same 27 New Testament books, they have different collections of the Old Testament. Protestants accept a total of 39 Old Testament books; Catholics accept seven additional books called the Apocrypha, and Eastern Orthodox churches accept an expanded Apocryphal collection. Jews have a 35-book collection that corresponds directly with the Protestant canon of the Old Testament. The numbers between Protestant and Jewish collections are different because Christians separate the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah (which are single books in the Jewish collection) into two books each.
How was the Bible Written?
The books of the Bible were written by around 40 different authors, over a span of approximately 1300 to 1500 years (perhaps 1400 B.C. to 100 A.D.). The books were written in three original languages. The Old Testament was originally composed in Hebrew and Aramaic, while the New Testament was written in ancient Greek. The Bible contains a variety of genres (writing styles), including poetry, historical works, logical arguments, narrative stories, prophetic material, wisdom literature, lyrics to ancient music, etc.
The Old and New Testaments
The Old Testament outlines God’s redemptive work in the world before the time of Jesus, and focuses specifically on his work with the people of Israel. The New Testament describes God’s expanded redemptive beginning with Jesus’ birth, and focuses on the creation of a new, multi-ethnic people of God, known as the Church.
Because the Bible was written in ancient languages that most modern people cannot read, it has been translated into all of the major languages of the world, as well as into many languages of smaller groups of people. English has a wealth of Bible translations that allow us to read and accurately understand the sense of the ancient texts.
Though each of the books of the Bible has a unique purpose and setting, a common theme joins each of the books into a whole, revealing God’s holy character, his plans for human redemption and his great love for us, which he demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If you want to get a first-hand idea of what’s in the Bible, here are some suggestions for getting a grasp on the overall message of this amazing book:
Read Genesis for an understanding of early human history and the background of the nation of Israel.
Read Exodus to see how God’s covenant with Israel set the stage for his dealings with the Jewish people and his later work with the entire world by outlining standards of right and wrong, good and evil.
Read Psalms and Proverbs to find comfort, wisdom and help in the issues of life and in worshipping God.
Read Mark and John for a basic grasp of the life and identity of Jesus Christ.
Read Acts and Ephesians to see how God has implemented a new covenant through the Church to include people from all nations.
Read Romans to get a panorama of God’s entire plan of redemption.
Read Revelation to be assured that God’s plan will be fulfilled and his people ultimately given eternal joy.
Understanding the Bible
If you are a beginner to the Bible, you may encounter parts of it that may seem puzzling, boring or hard to understand. If that happens, the main thing is to hang in there. You may want to temporarily skip over those parts in your reading, making a note to come back later when you have more knowledge and experience with the Bible. Remember: the Bible is not written in code. The human authors (and the God who inspired them) intended us to understand the basic message. Part of the task is to learn some basic things about the times and culture in which the Bible was written, and to develop the ability to separate pre-conceptions from what is actually in the text. And don’t forget to simply ask God to give you insight as you read and ponder its message.
I personally have at least 10 copies of the Bible in various English translations. I also inherited a couple of family Bibles and have been given Bibles or Bible portions in several languages besides English. How often do I read the Bible? I try to read a bit each day, but there are plenty of days when my schedule is demanding or I am focused on particular tasks, and don’t get around to my daily reading.
The Bible is a genuine treasure
For more than 2,000 years, this ancient book has been preserved intact. The earliest of the Old Testament books could have been written down as far back as 1400 BC. The last of the New Testament books were written sometime just before the end of the first century AD. So from beginning to end, there is a time span of perhaps 1500 years. The total number of authors who contributed directly to its content have been estimated at around forty. Writers range from Moses to the Apostle John. Yet, even though it truly is a human masterpiece, many people throughout history have regarded it as divinely inspired as well. The Bible has been such a central part of human civilization that it is often quoted by people who would never claim to be believers in its divine inspiration. Because of its unique role, many people have called it our greatest treasure.
The amazing power of the Bible
The Bible has amazing staying power. despite centuries of severe and continuous criticism. In fact, people around the world love it and have experienced changed lives from its pages. Contemporary people with scientific degrees, progressive politicians, and technical innovators love the Bible. Lots of other folks who are very comfortable in the twenty-first century read it regularly and gain great comfort and wisdom from it. The fact that the Bible remains a perennial best seller in the United States, and that its readership in Asia, Africa and Latin America is growing widely, illustrates its continuing power and influence. The Bible’s more than thirty centuries of transforming power in people’s lives shows that, far from being an outdated book, it maintains the ability to speak to the profound issues of the human condition.
Chinese Christians get their first Bibles
Check out this short video of some Chinese believers who received their first very own Bibles. If you are moved by this scene, as I was, it shows that somewhere deep down, you have a love for this sacred book that can grow as you get to know it better. Michael Bogart
The Millennial generation needs good news. Here’s why. let’s start with a quick overview of the Millennial Generation. According to the linked video, Millennials are teens and young adults born between the 1980s and the early years of the 21st century. This description agrees with the classic definition of the Millennial Generation as young adults between 18 and 35 years of age. Millennials are the first generation to grow up with cell phones and the Internet. They also grew up during times of economic recession. Some have described Millennials as the most dissatisfied generation in American history. They are also the least religious generation in American history.
Problems of the Millennial Generation
Among the problems Millennials must deal with are heavy student loan debt, unemployment and underemployment, and the frustration of older people at their apparent addiction to social media. If they marry at all, they tend to marry at significantly older ages than previous generations. Millennials also tend to be pessimistic about the future–both about the future of our society and about their own personal future. They tend to have a casual view of sex, drug use, and gender identity. Millennials tend to be overwhelmingly liberal in their political views, but often don’t vote or take part in the political process.
The outlook for the future
So, within the next 10-20 years, the Millennial Generation will have assumed power in all sectors of society from government to business. Their views and values will dramatically shape our world. When it comes to Christian faith, few Millennials identify themselves as followers of Jesus. Next time you are in church, look around at who is there. If you see a healthy group of young adults in attendance, your church is among the few who are reaching this largely unreached generation. Most churches count very few Millennials in their congregation. This is the single most important issue that the Christian Church must solve in the next 10 years. If we don’t reach out to these people with some good news, Christianity in North America will look very different in the future.
I found an excellent video discussing what’s wrong with Millennials. The video by Alexis Bloomer entitled “Dear Elders, I’m sorry” went viral on YouTube. A Millennial herself, Alexis believes her generation is entitled, disrespectful, unproductive, and lazy — to name just a few of the problems she says are common among young people aged 18-35.
A call to action
Of course, it is wrong to label an entire group of people with any description because there is always variation in any group. Even so, many people have felt that Alexis Bloomer’s analysis of her own generation has some validity. Most importantly, at the core of her video, Alexis makes a strong call to action for her generation to show kind, respectful, and productive behavior. Thanks for your timely and sincere words, Alexis.
The missing motivation
The issue Alexis doesn’t go into is how this behavior can become a part of a person’s life. Alexis seems to have been blessed with good parenting. It is true that good upbringing can account for some good behavior for those who experienced it. However, learned behaviors only go so far without the personal peace, security, and a desire to do right that comes from deep within a person. Many people of all generations can speak of the inner change that came into their lives through embracing the good news of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus. Perhaps Alexis didn’t have the time to include this key inner motivation. Even so, I personally find this call to action refreshing and inspiring. What do you think?
It is hard to overstate the importance of forgiveness. Have you ever had trouble forgiving someone? Almost everyone has had the experience of being hurt so badly that they held a grudge for years after the event. Many people know that forgiving the person who hurt them is the right thing to do. But knowing what is right and actually doing it are different things.
A helpful video
For those who need a bit of clarification about the concept of forgiveness, a short video I came across recently explains the three main types of forgiveness and their applications. The forgiveness types are exoneration, forbearance, and release. Though the Bible doesn’t use these exact terms, I believe the points made in this Prager University video are consistent with what scripture has to say about the nature and blessings of forgiveness. I hope you find it helpful. Michael Bogart
Check out this video: Christianity’s Spread: 1000 – 2016 AD!
In a previous blog, I posted this graphic map of Christianity’s spread from its beginnings around 30 AD to the year 1,000. This sequel video shows its continued global spread until the present time. Note that the maker of this video (Ollie Bye) includes all branches of Christianity in the video, including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Christianity as well as Protestantism. He does this by using different colors. Of course the video is simplistic, but it does a great job of showing how Jesus’ words about preaching to all nations is being fulfilled!
The map gives a global perspective
So often we think of Christianity as a European or North American thing that was exported to other parts of the world. This video showing Christianity’s spread over the past one thousand years gives perspective on that idea. The truth is that Christianity only reached most of Europe around 400 years after the time of Christ, and spread to eastern Europe just before the year 1,000 (see the previous video). Christian Faith came to North America with the European colonists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Share your thoughts
Tell me what you think about this visual representation. Feel free to share the video with your friends, but don’t forget to give credit to Ollie Bye, its creator.
How did you do on the Intermediate Bible Quiz? Here are the answers.
The Bible commonly used by Protestants contains a total of (1) 66 books. It is divided into two main sections: the (2) Old Testament and the (3) New Testament. The first section was written mainly in the ancient (4) Hebrew language; the second section was written in the (5) Greek language of the First Century.
Bible People and Storyline
The book of Genesis describes the first humans as living in a garden named (6) Eden. There they fell into (7) sin by eating forbidden fruit. To prevent the complete corruption of the human race, God later sent a devastating flood while saving a remnant under the leadership of (8) Noah. Later, the restored human race rebelled against God again by building the Tower of (9) Babel. After this, God called a man named (10) Abraham to begin a line of chosen people who would represent him to the rest of the world. The great-grandson of this man was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. His name was (11) Joseph.
After several generations of slavery, the descendants of this former slave and his brothers became known as the nation of (12) Israel. They were delivered from their slavery under a lawgiver named (13) Moses. Although God promised them the land then known as (14) Canaan in which to establish themselves, they showed a lack of faith and many of them died in the wilderness. After forty years of wandering, God raised up a man called (15) Joshua to lead them into this Promised Land.
In this new land, the nation was at first ruled by servants of God called (16) judges, one of whom was a woman named Deborah. Later the nation was ruled by a series of (17) kings, the best known of which was David. When this line of rulers became foolish and disobedient to God, he divided the nation in two, with the northern capitol in Samaria while the south had its capitol in (18) Jerusalem. Though they were warned to cease worshipping idols and devote themselves to the true God, the people continued to disobey, with the south eventually suffering exile in (19) Babylon. A book of 150 musical poems, some of which were written during this time, was used by God’s people in worship. It is entitled (20) Psalms. Though called to represent him in the world, God’s people often needed correction by men and women speaking on God’s behalf. These people were called (21) prophets.
The second main section of the Bible begins with the life and ministry of (22) Jesus. He was incarnated in the womb of a virgin named (23) Mary and born in the city of (24) Bethlehem. He performed many (25) miracles to validate his claims of being the Son of God. After being accused of blasphemy, he was condemned and put to death by the cruel method of (26) crucifixion. After (27) three days in the tomb, he rose from the dead. The book of (28) Acts is the history of the early Christians. They formed a new people of God, known as the (29) Church. The basic Christian message, called the (30) gospel is the good news that, though people are guilty before God, anyone may be forgiven and reconciled to God through faith in God’s Son.
The associate of the Lord and main spokesman for the earliest Christians had been a simple fisherman. His name was (31) Peter. The majority of the letters in the second section of the Bible were written by one man: the Apostle (32) Paul. Other letters were written by various Christian leaders. One of these letters makes it clear that faith without works is dead. It was written by (33) James, who was probably a brother of the Lord. Several other letters were written by the Apostle (34) John, who was especially close to the Lord during his lifetime. The book of (35) Revelation fittingly climaxes the Bible, closing with the promise of the Lord’s return and the establishment of his Kingdom on earth.
Never be discouraged. A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!