Challenges and possibilities of theological dialogue with the sciences.

Challenges and possibilities of theological dialogue with the sciences.

The sciences have a long time tradition where scientists are able to integrate faith as a natural part of their systematic pursuit of knowledge and truth. The sciences owe much debt to the work of many who were, are and continue to be people of faith.  For instance, in the books, “Real Science, Real Faith” a book first published by R.J Berry in 1991[1], and another which he published in 2009 called “Real Scientists – Real Faith”[2] they contain testimonials from high ranking and well credentialed scientists from across the vast arena of science, who hold to a strong Christian faith.

More recently however, a popular militant arrogance has risen, resulting in a term coined in 2006, calling it “New atheism.” This includes the likes of popular scientists such as: Hawkins, who proclaims philosophy dead.  Dawkins, who through a form of educated snobbery, promotes that any kind of belief in the supernatural is delusional, and that faith will only be held onto by the uneducated.  Coyne’s insistence that science is reliable and because faith is unreliable, untestable, and leads to conflicting views of science, is incompatible with science, and who furthermore states that because of the differing views of ‘faith’ between science and religion – faith is incompatible with science!

Then there are the third group of Young Earth Creationist Christians who are as militant as the New Atheists, spear headed by the likes of Ken Ham and Ray Comfort.

It would be easy to think that the social, ethical, moral, and reasoning consequences of the propaganda and polemic stance of the new atheist movement through western media – combined with the militant evangelistic zeal for literal Biblical understanding, means that science and faith; and more specifically in our context, ‘Christian faith’ are at odds with one another.

But, I would like to suggest, as it appears to me, that it’s the New Atheists and the Young Earth Creationists who really seem to be at logger heads with one another; though the New Atheists tend to lump every Christian group into the one. The main sticking points are that one group believes in an evolutionary creation story, and mocks the Bible as being anti-scientific (and therefore wrong); and the other is vocal against evolution and adheres to a literal understanding of the Bible – particularly the creation stories and flood told in Genesis.
It’s at this point we need to stop, breathe deeply, reflect, and then acknowledge that Evolution and Creation is only a small part of the vast scope of the arena of the sciences. And therefore, we need to acknowledge that Young Earth Creationists are not an anti-scientific movement – rather they noisily disagree with a small; but arguably important scope that comes out of the vast arena of the sciences.

Regarding the nonsense that the New Atheists promulgate in that faith is relegated to the uneducated; the sheer existence of a large number of highly educated and leading global scientists, who are not only Christian; but can articulate well the reasons for their faith, puts paid to the notion that Christian faith belongs in the so called sub-realm of the uneducated.

Interestingly I once worked for an employer who said that he has a family life, business life, and a religious life – and rarely do they connect. Following his example, it would be easy to assume that the easy way forward to harmonise science and faith is to continue the traditional rationalism from the enlightenment, and hold them as “non-overlapping magisteria,” as taught by Stephen Jay Gould. However, McGrath dismisses this as laziness, which results in “intellectual isolation and conceptual complacency.”[3]

The challenges that science and faith face, is that science cannot prove (and nor disprove) the existence of God. Yet, in acknowledging this, Alister McGrath continues to note that faith is extremely easy to harmonise with science. For example the Bible shows the world to be made in a certain organised framework that we can observe, explain and uncover through the lens of science. [4]

[1] R.J. Berry. Real Science, Real Faith (Monarch Books, U.K,1991)

[2] R.J. Berry, Real Scientists Real Faith (Monarch Books, U.K 1999)

[3] Alister McGrath, Conflict or Mutual Enrichment? Why Science and Theology Need to Talk to Each Other, on ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS (ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS, 21 OCT 2014) [accessed 15/05/15]

[4] Alister McGrath. Faith in a Scientific Age, (You Tube)  15 mins:24[accessed 20/06/015]

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Sermon – The God Who Listens.

I had the privilege to share the message at church yesterday, where I preached from Psalm 116, on the “God Who Listens.” It’s been a few years since I have preached, and I was chuffed when the only negative feedback that came back, was that it was ten minutes too short.

Here is a link to it, if you would like to listen. The God Who Listens.

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May 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival

Dr. Claude Mariottini has posted this months blogging carnival. As usual, there are some good reads he has linked to. There is even a link to my recent book review.

May 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival.

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Excuse my soapbox rant. A question to my Christian family.

SMM seems to be the big thing at the moment around the western world. The question I want to ask my family is – how much energy are you spending railing for or against it – and compare that to how much energy you are involved in telling others your testimony of what the Lord has done for you?

Could it be, your priorities need some readjusting? And just perhaps, you may need to increase your energies in telling the world the good news about Jesus Christ – and allow the Holy Spirit room to convict the world of their need for him, and the forgiveness of all sin.

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The Shack Has a Roof.

I have been busy. Busier than normal. I plunged into the deep end and took two intensive subjects this semester – which has knocked me about a little. In hindsight, I should have only taken the one subject. The two subjects I took was “Islam” and “Apologetics.” Tomorrow I will upload my last assignment for Islam, and I can have a little breather. Then onto the next assignment for Apologetics.

I have also been busy scrounging. I am a firm believer in recycling. Why buy new, if you don’t have to. I picked up some sheets of roofing material that someone was throwing out. They are in near new condition, and have a few screw holes in one end, which I can easily patch up. I also scrounged some timber which another person was throwing out, which were perfectly good for the rafters. I did have to splurge on 3 lengths of 90mm*45mm bearers; but praise the Lord, the local hardware store had them on special. So, whilst battling the flu and feeling like the walking dead, I managed over a period of 5 days to roof our shack.

The shack is the name we are giving our outdoor entertainment area. With the Lord’s blessing, we are hoping to build a pizza oven, open fire place / chimney and smoke house down one end. And place the gas burning bbq on the other. When enough pennies are saved, we will eventually concrete the floor – sadly that appears to be the one thing that I cannot scrounge, nor recycle. I’ll throw some photos up in a day or two. I need to clean the yard up a bit before I dare take the pics as it looks like a bomb hit it.

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Book Review. The Grand Design – Stephen Hawking.

The Grand Design

“The Grand Design – New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life,” was written by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.[1] Both authors are highly credentialed scientists. Stephen William Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA is a British theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author, director of Research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) and the Founder of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University.[2] Leonard Mlodinow is a physicist, author, screen writer, designer and producer of computer games.[3]

The book is nearly five years old now, having been first published in 1010, which within days become the number one seller on Amazon.[4] It’s a follow up from “A Brief History of Time” which was published twenty two years earlier.[5] It is small in size measuring 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches, it has eight chapters and is 208 pages long – excluding the glossary, acknowledgements and index. It’s printed on glossy photo paper which create a tactile and visual aesthetic akin to a typical glossy magazine. In keeping with the magazine theme, is published in a ‘popular science; rather than a technical academic referenced style format; a beef which I refer to later. This aligns with his confession that he wants his books sold in airports. [6]Though their book is co-authored; there is no indication throughout the book as to who contributed what to the book.

It’s A Creation Account.

They begin by asking the big questions of life: “How can we understand the world? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did this all come from? And did the universe need a creator?” They briefly sketch a historical overview of the history of scientific / religious / philosophical thought regarding the universe; and declare with some boldness that philosophy is dead and that only science can truly answer life’s questions. From there, while ignoring current other cosmological research, and using a ‘scientific deterministic’ style they build on the ‘big bang theory,’ draw heavily on Richard Feynman and his proposal that every system has every possible history and then, set the stage for a new hypothesis called the “M Theory,” whereby they show how gravity created the universe from nothing.[7] One of the major conclusions coming from their work, is that God has now been made redundant, because the universe was created and run via the laws of science.

William Lane Craig, synthesises their questions into three major questions;

  1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
  2. Why do we exist?
  3. Why this particular set of laws, and not some others?

He observes that the answers are brief and that question two isn’t even answered. In answering these questions they rely on the “no boundary” model from Hawking’s prior book, “A Brief History of Time,” which was published twenty two years beforehand; without providing any evidence for it, nor mentioning other scientific models. [8]

Building on Craig’s observation of lack of evidence, the book lacks rigorous scientific and academic respectability by not referencing their sources, through either foot or end notes. I found it particularly frustrating where they quoted references to make Christians look like total idiots, take the following quote as an example. “In the eighteenth century another Christian theologian went so far as to say that rabbits have white tails in order that it be easy for us to shoot them.”[9] I not only want to know who this theologian is, what was his status and how has he influenced contemporary Christianity, I want to know the context of what he said and why? I also want to know the others he quotes without providing a reference, such as Einstein’s purported question to his assistant, “Did God have any choice when he created the universe?”[10]

Ironically, in the beginning of the book, the authors declare that philosophy, which is the traditional way of answering most of those questions, “is dead,” and states the purpose of the book is give answers which are suggested by then recent discoveries and theoretical advances;[11] yet the contextual framework of the book is philosophically driven, and as others point out, philosophy is well represented and respected at Cambridge and Caltech universities as major disciplines and is far from dead.[12] [13]

As you read through the book, it becomes obvious that they don’t believe philosophy itself is dead; rather they believe the theistic worldview which has driven much of traditional philosophy has become obsolete; whereby pure science is now the basis of all philosophy. There is a strong anti-religious polemic whereby they build a case against ancient deistic understandings and traditional religious world views and show how science has ‘supposedly’ either debunked or improved on those theories and traditional scientific beliefs. However, it appears that a lot of the examples used to illustrate this debunking have a straw man foundation, as no engagement has been made with current theological research and thought throughout the book. [14]

Understanding the nature and nuances of philosophy is an important overriding factor to understand this book. The authors begin by a shallow discussion of “model-dependent realism,” which is discovered to be a form ontological pluralism, or in other words, the authors are “extreme anti realists,” a philosophical foundation on which they build their thesis [15]

I find it interesting that the authors develop a theme about the “Laws of Science,”[16] while they debunk some of the Old Testament stories, (such as the sun standing still.)[17] This leads me to ask the question if this is a deliberate ploy and play on words, as much of the Old Testament is considered to be the book of law. I suspect that Mlodinow’s experience in computer gaming production has influenced the author’s insistence that the laws of the universe are what created the universe, as games can only operate within the parameters in which they were coded to operate.

Building upon the big bang theory, they heavily promote and rely on the ‘law of gravity,” through the proposal of “M Theory.”  M Theory, is a ‘theory’ of supersymmetric gravity that involves a connection of sorts (through String Theory) with eleven dimensions – which is the unified theory which Einstein thought would be found.[18] However, it appears that the theory is controversial within the scientific realm, is not widely accepted, and at the time of publishing, the theory by many highly credentialed scientists was considered more to be a collection of abstract thoughts, hopes and aspirations; then it was a fully formulated observable theory.[19]

In Chapter 5 the authors make the bold statement that the universe is comprehensible because it is governed by scientific laws.[20] Prominent theologian, and ex scientist Alister McGrath engages their statement. He counteracts with the argument that they are confusing laws with agency, stating that “Laws themselves don’t create anything. They are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions,” and illustrates this point succinctly with the story of a cricketer hitting a six, showing that human agency was needed; noting that while science explains how it happened, it’s not the explanation that causes it to happen.[21]

The concluding chapter was a little puzzling, as it should have wrapped up the research and answers to questions that they presented in the earlier chapter; but they use the concluding chapter to start answering the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and bring in fresh information not previously discussed to answer it. In chapter six, they go to great pains to show there was nothingness in the origin of the universe – but in the concluding chapter, they conclude that there was something, which is called “vacuum energy,” which voids their presented hypothesis in chapter six. [22]


While I found the book to be written in a clear, concise and witty conversational style, which clearly explained complicated scientific terms that made for easy reading; I found their dogma confusing, disjointed, and lacking logical coherence. While they claim they have no philosophical foundation; it’s clear it’s a theological philosophy they are ignoring. However, the weakness of the book is that it doesn’t disprove God’s existence, nor does it weaken God’s continual work in the creation process.

Hawking’s dismisses the need for God, as science doesn’t look for the cause of the big bang, and as we discover the ways the universe work, we have no need for God.

However, as Christians, our faith starts and finishes with Christ. Regarding the starting point for us, regarding the existence of God within a framework of Christian faith, we can’t go past the Trilemma of infamous atheist philosopher turned Christian C.S. Lewis, who gave three possible answers to the question of who was Christ – he was either a liar, lunatic or who he said he was. [23]


Craig, William Lane, The Grand Design – Truth or Fiction, Reasonable Faith with

William Lane Craig [accessed 24th May 2015]

Dupuche John, Book Review / The Grand Design Australian eJournal of Theology

London, Bantam Press, 2010 18.1 April 2011

[accessed 24th May 2015]

Freeman, Nate Hawking’s Book Shoots to Top of Amazon Sales After He Denies

God’s Existence Culture / Observer, 2010.

after-he-denies-gods-existence [accessed 24th May 2015]

Hawking, Stephen, A Brief History in Time. New York, Bantam Books, 1988

Hawking, Stephen & Mlodinow, Leonard, “The Grand Design – New Answers to the        Ultimate Questions Of Life” (Great Britain, Bantam Book, 2010)

Hawking, Stephen, About Me page, Cambridge University Website, [accessed 24th May 2015] [accessed 24th May 2015]

Lennox John C., God and Stephen Hawking – Whose Design Is It Anyway. Oxford

England, Lion Books, 2011

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. 1952; Harper Collins: 2001

McGrath, Alister, Stephen Hawking, God and the role of science, (ABC Religion And

Ethics, 14 SEP 2010)

&topic2= [accessed 24th May 2015]

Mlodinow Leonard About Me, Face Book Page. [accessed 24th May 2015]

Penrose, Sir Roger, Critical reaction to ‘The Grand Design,’ by Stephen Hawking. [accessed 24th May 2015]

Soloman, Deborah, “Questions for Stephen Hawking, “The Science of Second

Guessing,” (New York Times Magazine, New York, 2004) [accessed 24th May 2015]

[1] Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design – New Answers To The Ultimate Questions Of Life (Great Britain, Bantam Book, 2010)

[2] Stephen Hawking About Me Page, Cambridge University [accessed 24th May 2015]

[3] Leonard Mlodinow FaceBook Page [accessed 24th May 2015]

[4] Nate Freeman Hawking’s Book Shoots to Top of Amazon Sales After He Denies God’s Existence (Culture / Observer, 2010) [accessed 24th May 2015]

[5] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History In Time ( New York, Bantam Books, 1988)

[6] Deborah Soloman, Questions For Stephen Hawking, The Science of Second Guessing,(New York Times Magazine, New York, 2004) [accessed 24th May 2015]

[7] John Dupuche, Book Review / The Grand Design” Australian eJournal of Theology 18.1 (April 2011)  [accessed 24th May 2015]

[8] William Lane Craig, The Grand Design – Truth or Fiction, Reasonable Faith [accessed 24th May 2015]

[9] Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow, p.208.

[10] Ibid. p.210.

[11] “Ibid”. p.13.

[12] John C. Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking – Whose Design Is It Anyway. (Oxford England, Lion Books, 2011) p.18.

[13] William Lane Craig, The Grand Design – Truth or Fiction, Reasonable Faith [accessed 24th May 2015]

[14] Ibid. p. 45.

[15] Ibid,

[16] Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow, p.41.

[17] Ibid. p. 111.

[18] John C. Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking. p. 51

[19] Sir Roger Penrose’s Critical Reaction to ‘The Grand Design,” [accessed 24th May 2015]

[20] Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow, p.11.

[21] Alister McGrath, Stephen Hawking, God and the role of science (ABC Religion And Ethics, 14 SEP 2010) [accessed 24th May 2015]

[22] William Lane Craig, The Grand Design – Truth or Fiction, Reasonable Faith

[23] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 51-52.

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Visiting a mosque to understand Islam.


The online visitation of a mosque helped knit the information together that I had learnt in class through lectures, reading material and guest speakers. It also helped to overcome previously held misconceptions and distrust of what goes on behind the walls of the mosque as well as given me some understanding in how to prepare to evangelise Muslims in a cultural acceptable way.

Key beliefs and practices of Islam

One of the major points that stood out about, the architecture was how they were able to blend the ancient buildings with modern feeling. The building design was a mix of austerity, practicality and starkness.

Through its beautiful and artistic building design, the calligraphy around the dome, and the artistic art around the building, the mosque instils a sense of awe. You enter the reception area and take your shoes off. From there you enter the absolution hall, which is like a common bathroom area, where the washing of one’s body becomes an outward expression of cleansing of wayward thoughts and preparing their mind to concentrate on prayer. From here, the entering of the prayer hall is not taken lightly. Upon entering the prayer hall, you are automatically directed to face Makkah, The direction in which you are to prayer, through a Mihrab, which is a decorative niche built into the wall.

There are 5 pillars in the prayer area with writing which symbolise each key area of faith. They being:[1]
1.) Iman – stating there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.

2.) Salah – the importance of prayer being the back bone of Islam and that prayers must be prayed 5 times a day.

3.) Sawn – regular fasting and the month of Ramadan, which fasts, food, water and sex between sunrise and sunset.

4.) Zakah – giving to those who deserve it, the poor and indigent.

5.) Hajj – a reminder that it’s the duty of every able bodied Muslim to make the journey to Makkah.
There is also a lot of quoting of their scripture which goes around the inside of the dome and it’s important to note, that all the writing is above eye level, signifying the high view of the Quran, Allah, and the lowliness of humanity.

The Mosques have a practical layout with the shoe racks, absolution area and wide open spaces making the movement of people easy. The minaret towers used to call for prayer and the clocks on the wall made certain that visitors and worshipers new the time of prayer. The prayer room faced Makkah Yet, it was stark in that there were few creature comforts and though the mosque was built to show the immensity of God; it denies any sense of intimacy with God.

Ironically, though the layout of the mosque is supposed to allow king and peasant to stand together and pray together as equals under Allah. But, in the Blue Mosque, there is a stair way in the prayer hall to an elevated room, which is the Sultans prayer room.

Overcome misconceptions.

The main prior misconception I had about Islam was regarding the vast difference between Islam and Christianity. Upon closer scrutiny, I find there is much commonality between Islam and our own faith. Though, in making this statement, it’s also important to nuance it; so as to avoid syncretism and the denial of our own faith.

According to the Institute of Islamic Information and Education, Muslims have four directions to follow[2], directions which are very compatible with Christian values.
1) Our faith should be true and sincere,

2) We must be prepared to show it in deeds of charity to our fellow-men,

3) We must be good citizens, supporting social organizations, and

4) Our own individual soul must be firm and unshaken in all circumstances.
The architecture of our traditional places of worship have a minaret or a tower. Both Muslims and Christians use it as a call to prayer across the countryside. The Muslims use a voice, and Christians use bells.

We both believe there is one God – yet disagree on his prophet. We both believe that prayer is the backbone to our faith – yet disagree on intimacy and the way to God. We believe in fasting, though how its practiced is different and while we don’t have a month of fasting like Ramadan, many practice lent leading up to Easter. We practice and believe in generosity, social justice which is worked through our giving to individuals and causes. And we practice a type of Hajj – Muslims to Makkah – and the Christians to Israel. As well as supporting others less fortunate than us, both the Mosque and the Church have a way of a collecting monies for the ongoing upkeep and running costs of the building. And we both meet together for around an hour on a weekly basis to hear a sermon or some form of teaching based from our Scriptures.

It’s also worth noting, that Muslims view Jesus with high regard as being a prophet of God and that he will return at the end of the world. Though once again, we differ in how we understand Jesus.

A way to reach Muslims.

A Muslim prayer hall has recently opened across the carpark from our church, I intend to frame this section around a proposed way of reaching out to them.

Dave Andrews from the Waiters Union in Brisbane, published “ISA Christian Muslim Ramadan Reflections,” which he intended for Christians and Muslims to give to each other, and fast and pray with each other during Ramadan.[3] He has drawn the mutual Scriptures from the Quran and the Bible that refer to Jesus. While Dave Andrews doesn’t believe in proselytism [4]; and instead focuses on community building and social work – we can learn from his methodology and build on the common ground we already have for evangelistic purposes to reach Muslims during their fast in Ramadan.

An awareness of the nuances of what is known as C1 through to C6 converts is important when reaching Muslims[5]: for the best way forward may be to release them to become followers of Isa within their own cultural expressions of faith; for “when the gospel is proclaimed in culturally relevant ways, Muslims repent!”[6]
In this framework, building long term relationships with the prayer hall leaders where a dialog about holding a cultural awareness and prayer night/s: where a number of reflections can be shared from Dave’s book about Jesus, a time of prayer and followed by fellowship around non-offensive food.

It’s important that we lay a foundation with the congregation as to what Muslims believe, how their belief works out in day to day life and how they function within a family environment. In general Muslims have an extremely high view of their scriptures and can be shocked at our low view towards out own Bibles. They are always placed high on book shelves and handled with clean hands. Unlike many western Christians; they will never write in the Quran and are horrified that we will make notes in and highlight our Bibles. They will never place a Quran on the floor, or on a seat beside them.

Secondly, most Muslims don’t sing their praise and worship to or about Allah like Christians do; for they have little sense of intimacy with him. Interestingly, the Sunni, do have a sense of craving for intimacy with Allah – though there is a veil always stopping them from pushing through. For them, worship happens through their daily times of prayer, and following the other pillars of Islam.

Therefore to minimise culture shock and show that we take our Scriptures seriously – how we handle our Scriptures is extremely important. To overcome any potential offence from perceived congregational carelessness; having a clean skin bible on the lectern, and the use of data projection technology on the screens which are above eye level is the best way forward. And if song is used, perhaps one of two reflective songs about Jesus is the way forward.


Understanding Islam and Muslim people is a complex task: and while research can help develop an initial understanding and foundation of understanding their faith, cultural traditions, allay fear and suspicion; setting the goal of ‘prayerfully’ building long term relationships with Muslims is the only way to truly grasp a deeper understanding of their faith and culture, and more importantly, how to reach them for Christ.


Andrews, Dave, “ISA Christian Muslim Ramadan Reflections.” (Prestons, Victoria: Mosaic Press, 2013)

Love, Rick “Discipling All Muslim Peoples in the Twenty-First Century” International Journal of Frontier Missions, (Vol. 17:4, winter 2000)

Massey, Joshua, “God’s Amazing Diversity in Drawing Muslims to Christ”, International Journal for Frontier Missions, (Vol 17:1 Spring 2000.)

Hussain, M.D Mohammad I, “Exploring Ancient World Cultures, Essays on Early Islam” (Mohammad I. Hussain, M.D, 1997)

Institute of Islamic Information and Education, “Moral System of Islam”,,

[1] Mohammad I. Hussain, M.D. “Exploring Ancient World Cultures,  Essays on Early Islam” (Mohammad I. Hussain, M.D, 1997)

[2] Institute of Islamic Information and Education, “Moral System of Islam”, (, accessed 4/05/2015)

[3] Dave Andrews, “ISA Christian Muslim Ramadan Reflections.” (Prestons, Victoria: Mosaic Press, 2013)

[4] Through an exchange of emails, Dave Andrews clarified that he doesn’t believe in syncretism or proselytism; but instead believes that all are made in the image of God, and that God accepts both Muslim and Christian on that basis. Most Christians rightly disagree with this worldview and caution must be exercised so as to ensure we don’t allow the Quran to dictate what we believe about the “Word of God.”

[5] Joshua Massey, “God’s Amazing Diversity in Drawing Muslims to Christ”, International Journal for Frontier Missions, (Vol 17:1 Spring 2000.)

[6] Rick Love “Discipling All Muslim Peoples in the Twenty-First Century” International Journal of Frontier Missions, (Vol. 17:4, Winter 2000)

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