An article at 9 Marks about church planting and conversion in Pakistan drives this post at The Wondering Eagle. My question is the following…is 9 Marks with its culture of membership covenants going to aid and empower Islamic Radicals and hurt the Christian church? Does the Christian community in Pakistan need 9 Marks? Finally is Mark Dever the Neo-Calvinist Charlie Wilson who drives a program but doesn’t consider the end results or harm in a foreign country?
“You may tell the greatest lies and wear a brilliant disguise, but you can’t escape the eyes of the one who sees right through you.”
“I seek to lead a democratic Pakistan which is free from the yoke of military dictatorship and that will cease to be a haven, the very petri dish of international terrorism.”
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
Matthew 10:16 NKJV
Recently at 9 Marks I saw an article that I knew needed a response. A man named Steve, wrote an article called “Churches in Northern Pakistan: The Crucial Need for Conversion.” This article discusses issues in the church in Pakistan and church planting there as well. It also discusses the issue of conversion as well. Its about a man who came from Pakistan Summar who interned at an Arabian church and then went back to Pakistan to plant. Read next what is said about the biggest obstacle to the church in Pakistan.
During one of our many conversations, I asked him, “What’s the biggest obstacle to Pakistani churches being a witness to their Muslim neighbors?”
He answered: “The people in the churches are not converted. They don’t understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Of course, Summar―himself converted and discipled in Pakistan―was speaking in broad strokes. But his response confirms a noticeable trend our church had experienced, too. Bad theology, prosperity teaching, and a general misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian is all too common with Pakistani Christians. Most of those who identify as Protestants think they’re Christians because they were born into a Christian family. They know very little Scripture and couldn’t articulate even a simple explanation of the gospel.
He goes on to discuss the issue of persecution and the role a converted church can play for greater witness. I would encourage you to read the entire article. There are many different ways I could give a response, but with other information I have written about 9 Marks and its culture there is one issue that stood out large in my mind first but before we get there we must ask…who is Steve? Plus, who wrote this at 9 Marks?
Did Steve Jennings Write this Article?
Steve Jennings is originally from Texas, and after being married in 2007 he moved overseas to United Arab Emirates and did a pastoral internship with Redeemer Church of Dubai. Right now Steve is obtaining his Masters of Divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky probably through an online program. Currently Steve is the pastor at Immanuel Church of Fujairah, which is a small church of about 50 people. He publishes regularly for 9 Marks and wrote “Stop Sending Missionaries: Why More Isn’t Always Better” which caused quite a stir. Todd Wilhelm wrote a good response to Steve in “Too Many Missionaries.” Steve Jennings also writes a blog called “Changed By Glory.” I ask if this is Steve Jennings because the article about the church in Pakistan was written by a man named Steve. There is no use of a last name and he is probably trying to look more edgy since its about 9 Marks activity in Pakistan. But when I stop and research 9 Marks I came to believe that Steve Jennings is the author of the article.
Some History and Background of Pakistan for Context
Pakistan was created in an act of violence. The partition of Pakistan and India was incredibly bloody. In the process of becoming the first nation created in the name of Islam it is believed that 200,000 to 2 million people were killed and 14 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced. It is the largest human displacement in history. You can read more about the partition of Pakistan and India here and here. The father of Pakistan is Mohammed Al Jinnah who became the first Governor General, but he died in 1948 of tuberculosis. In 1947 the first of four India – Pakistan Wars was fought over Kashmir and Jammu. The United Nations negotiated a cease fire which ended the conflict. Kashmir would be the source of tension for Pakistan and India ever since. In October of 1951 the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated. Pakistan became an Islamic Republic in 1956 and in a foreshadow of how much of it is to operate in 1958 the military intervened and General Ayub Khan ruled the country until 1969. The second war with India over Kashmir in 1965 had politically damaged General Khan. This time in Pakistan history from 1958 until 1971 is known as the military era. The bright spot during this time is that Pakistan modernized and joined the western world. It became a key player in the Cold War and sided with the west. Pop music and culture from the west became popular in the country.
In 1970 Bhola hit East Pakistan and India, and it would be the deadliest tropical cyclone in recorded history with a death toll of 300,000 to 500,000. It was around this time that a political crisis started to develop between East and West Pakistan. The Awami League won the elections in East Pakistan. Many in East Pakistan believed that they were not accepted by Western Pakistan, and when Islamabad failed to adequately perform humanitarian relief in the wake of Bhola, Eastern Pakistan’s fears were confirmed. On March 25, 1971 West Pakistan launched Operation Searchlight and it led to one of the most calculated genocides since the Holocaust of World War II. The target was the Bengals. In response the leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proclaimed the independence of East Pakistan. As civil war erupted between East and West Pakistan, India saw an opportunity and eventually intervened in the conflict. Indira Gandhi, who was dealing with a refugee crisis believed it to be more economical to go to war against Pakistan, to settle it. What India did was aid the insurgents in East Pakistan. In December of 1971 the Pakistani Air Force attacked Indian Air Force bases and it marked the third time Indian and Pakistan were at war. Thirteen days after it started the Pakistani military signed an instrument of surrender. Over 93,000 Pakistani troops surrendered to the Indians and the Bangladesh Liberation Forces. As a result of India’s involvement Pakistan was split in two and East Pakistan became the nation of Bangladesh.
In 1973 Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became the Prime Minister in Pakistan. However, the military under General Zia ul-Haq intervened in 1977 when riots broke out over the elections. Bhutto was arrested, tried and eventually executed in the Rawalpindi Jail on April 4, 1979. His last words were “Oh Lord help me….for I am innocent.” The hanging of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a shock to the Muslim world. It galvanized his daughter Benazir Bhutto who in time then led her father’s political party. General Zia governed what is known as the Second Military Era in Pakistan. General Zia is remembered for purging opponents and his Islamization campaign. As a result of Zia’s efforts far right Islamic elements aligned with Zia’s government and Pakistan was greatly Islamized and western culture was attacked. To the west of Pakistan Afghanistan fell into a crisis with both the Saur Revolution and eventual Soviet invasion of 1979. General Zia allegedly played a key role in support the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan. On August 17, 1988 General Zia along with the American Ambassador were killed in a plane crash. Some believe that the crash of the C-130 was the Soviet’s orchestrating an assassination in response to Pakistani intervention in the Soviet – Afghanistan war. Democracy then returned to Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto in 1988 but she is dismissed under corruption allegations in 1990. Nawaz Sharif begins economic liberalization while merging Islamic shari’a formally into the legal code. During the 90’s power in Pakistan would jockey back and forth from Sharif and Bhutto. In May of 1999 Pakistani forces clashed with Indian military over Kargil. Over 1,000 people are killed on both sides. The military returns to power in October 1999 when General Pervez Musharraf seizes power. Sharif eventually goes into exile in Saudi Arabia. The Islamization of Pakistan continued as the problems from Afghanistan crossed over the border into Pakistan. During this time Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are banned in the country. If you want to read about the growth of Islamic extremism in Pakistan I would direct you to this and this. In 2006 Pakistan signed a peace treaty with Al Qaeda allies in the Waziristan tribal areas alongside the Afghanistan border. Meanwhile in 2007 Benazir Bhutto is assassinated in Rawalpindi. In 2008 a suicide bomber attacked the Marriot in Islamabad which killed 53 people. In response the Pakistani government sent military forces into the Bajour tribal area and ultimately killing about 1,000 militants. For the next 10 years the Pakistani tribal areas would be in chaos due to Islamic extremism. India raised this issue in November 2008 and accused Pakistani militants of carrying out deadly attacks in Mumbai. As Islamization grows in the tribal areas the leader of the Pakistani Taliban is killed in Waziristan. It was during this time that the CIA found Osama Bin Ladin hiding in Abbottabad and he was killed in November 2011. The deadliest attack against Christians occurs in in a church in Peshawar in which 80 were killed. Meanwhile in November of 2014 radical Islamists carry out a successful terrorist attack at Karachi International Airport, and that is followed by the Taliban attacking a school and killing nearly 150 children in Peshawar. I think I’ve made my point but when you look at the history of Pakistan one can see how the country has become more unstable. I would say that this is the legacy of General Zia and his Islamization campaign.
Now according to that 9 Marks article it talks about church activity in Northern Pakistan. The northern part of the country includes the FATA, Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and the Islamabad Capitol Territory. The FATA is almost exclusively Pashtun tribe, and is the tribal areas where a lot of alleged Taliban activity has occurred. All you have to do is look at the history I wrote above to see the problems that exist here. The tribal areas are the wild, wild west of Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltustan is part of the area that is disputed by India and Pakistan. It borders Azad Kashmir as well as Jammu and Kashmir and has a high population of Shi’ia Muslims. The second highest mountain in the world – K2 – is here. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa once was known as the Northwest Frontier Province. It is one of the biggest provinces in Pakistan population wise with close to 27 million people. Parts of this province border Afghanistan and the Taliban has engaged in a heavy amount of terrorism here also I believe. This was the location of the Taliban school attack that killed close to 150 children. Punjab is a large province that is in the eastern part of the country and goes both north and south. It is the most populous with a population of 101 million, and due to Sufism is one of the most progressive provinces of Pakistan. The last one is Islamabad Capitol Territory which contains that capitol of Pakistan – Islamabad. This I would suggest would be the most secure of all the provinces in the country. The point I am trying to make in discussing these individual northern provinces is that many have problems with instability and Islamic radicalism. My question is does 9 Marks know what they are doing in such places? Its my belief that Steve Jennings and the rest of the 9 Marks movement doesn’t really have much of a clue of the culture or the challenges that exist in Pakistan. But I want to focus on one element based off 9 Marks culture and pose this question….will 9 Marks unintentionally aid Islamic extremists in the end and hurt the local Christian church?
Is 9 Marks Unintentionally Going to Aid Islamic Extremists and Hurt Christians?
Here is what bothers me deeply and what led to this article being written. 9 Marks is very dictatorial and authoritarian. It is also uniquely American and reflective of part of American culture, though I know 9 Marks would disagree. In the history of the church some of the biggest mistakes have occurred out in the mission field due to cultural misunderstandings and problems. For example I recall reading a while back that Baptist missionaries in South America didn’t believe people converted to Christianity unless they dressed like Baptists. Yes, that meant wearing a white shirt and tie in the hot and excessively humid area south of the equator. Now we have another movement that is about advancing Neo-Calvinist theology first and foremost that is aiming at unstable parts of the world. When 9 Marks defines Christians as being a member of the “local church” what does that mean in places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere?
Here is the deep concern I have about 9 Marks in Pakistan. Will church members be forced to sign membership covenants and create a paper trail that will be dangerous for them in a deeply unstable culture that contains Islamic extremism? Let me explain this and unpack my thinking. 9 Marks is about membership covenants, they drive that idea as its the brain child of Mark Dever originally. Will Christians affiliated with this or any other church plants in Pakistan be asked to sign a membership covenant and create a paper trail? What happens if those membership covenants fall into the hands of Islamic extremists like the Pakistani Taliban or more? It will lead to their execution and death of those associated I firmly believe. Can you imagine what this could do to the church in Pakistan? It would lead to the execution of Christians who are hunted down because of a 9 Marks paper trail that is left. Not only would the members of that church be at risk but so would their associates, family and others who are affiliated with them. So in the end is it possible that a person who is not even close to this church could be executed or killed just because of who he casually known to someone involved. If this happens will the blood of these 9 Marks Christians in Pakistan be on the hands of Steve Jennings or even Jonathan Leeman and Mark Dever? Will they out of naivety and cultural blindness from an American mindset unintentionally assist Islamic radicals in the end by being ignorant of the culture. I ask this because I view Jonathan Leeman and Mark Dever as the driving force in this movement. When problems and issues develop I believe responsibility should rest with the leaders of the movement. But there is another question I want to ask that I think goes nicely since we are talking about Pakistan.
By Advancing 9 Marks in Pakistan is Mark Dever the “Charlie Wilson” of the Neo-Calvinist Movement?
Charlie Wilson was an infamous member of the House of Representatives. He represented the Texas second Congressional District, which is the outskirts of Houston. Charlie was a colorful man who loved to drink, was a womanizer and pushed the limits. The movie Charlie Wilson’s War which starred Tom Hanks has been described as being too tame in how it portrayed Wilson. Charlie Wilson was known for hiring attractive women and calling them “Charlie’s Angels” When it came to his Congressional staff he quipped that “You can teach them to type but you can’t teach them to grow tits.” You can read about it in this Washington Post article. When it came to his extravagant living he also said, “I wont blame booze and I won’t suddenly find Jesus.” He is best known for helping to push Operation Cyclone in Congress which under the Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan administration supplied weapons and training to the Afghan resistance who fought the Soviets. This was done through the CIA. It was deeply controversial because in the process Wilson supported arms to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who became a Senior Taliban commander and supported of Al Qaeda. Some have wondered if Charlie Wilson thought of the long term effects of what he helped support. If you want to read the about Wilson I would recommend George Crile’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
Now I want to be crystal clear in what I say next. I am not stating that Mark Dever is a womanizer, hard drinker or more. But with all that aside when you consider what 9 Marks is trying to do in Pakistan, is Mark Dever the Neo-Calvinist Charlie Wilson? While Charlie Wilson had a good heart and maybe fine motives he also was naïve, and foolish. He didn’t think of the long term consequences of what he did, and how it eventually came back to bite many people and more. The long term effects of Charlie Wilson’s actions were felt on September 11, 2001. Lets step back and consider what 9 Marks is doing in Pakistan. In addition to possibly putting targets on the backs of Christians through a paper trail, you also have the foolish promotion of an agenda that is taking some Christians and telling them that they have not properly converted. By defining Christian by being a member of a local church what that is doing is confusing, and creating needless problems. The local indigenous Christians in Pakistan know damn well what the Gospel is, and due to their circumstances they probably know it better than people like Mark Dever, myself, and Christians back here in the United States. The Gospel is simple and clear and to take people in such challenging circumstances and mislead them into 9 Marks is wrong. And that is in addition to the internal issues at 9 Marks which Mark Dever made worthless when he let C.J. Mahaney flee to Capitol Hill Baptist. When is C.J. Mahaney ever going to face church discipline for allegations of blackmail and more? When you consider what the United States had exported in regards to religion…Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, etc.. now we can tack on 9 Marks to that list. In the long term when the cultural problems of 9 Marks clash with Pakistani culture what is going to happen? Now please note I am not saying a belief in Jesus Christ, I am questioning 9 Marks polity in a country in South Asia.
I cringed when I read this article on 9 Marks. It is the last thing Pakistan needs. In my mind when I read it you know what came to my mind. The book “The Ugly American” That revealed and talked about how Americans struggle with foreign culture, being naïve, don’t learn local languages, and don’t learn the culture. The Christian church in Pakistan needs support and it needs love and I cringed that many people in a difficult situation are going to be hurt because of 9 Marks. Culture is everything when you go abroad. And when you go into such places you need to be mindful and respectful. In many parts of the world the American church creates many unnecessary problems. What is happening in the end I would suggest is that we are not spreading the Gospel, but rather engaging in American Imperialism, with the “Gospel” as its defined by someone who preaches and sits in his comfortable offices in D.C. who lives not too far from where I am. This has been a challenging post to write and I hope that it will give those in 9 Marks and elsewhere pause as they consider their reckless behavior. As always I welcome pushback and entrain differing thoughts. Again I love you guys!