The second day of the International Mission Board meeting on Wednesday, July 18, was short. The plenary session began at 8:30 a.m. at the International Learning Center outside of Richmond, Virginia, and we quickly conducted just a couple of minor business matters, heard two excellent reports from Regional Leaders Rod H_____ (Central and Eastern Europe) and Z. ____ (Central Asia), and closed our meeting with a time of prayer for all our missionaries on the field. I will not get into the details of the reports of either Rod or Z., but as Rod was ending his report he choked with emotion as he spoke about the missionaries who are laying there lives on the line for the gospel. These missionaries, Rod said, receive a $28,000 salary from our board, and every Southern Baptist ought to appreciate the sacrifices many of these lawyers, doctors, engineers and other professionally trained Southern Baptists are making as they represent us on the mission fields of the world. When Z. spoke and rattled off numbers off the top of his head regarding the growth of the Muslim population in a particular foreign capital, the need to target the 3,000,000 Muslims in that capital city for not only the sake of their souls but the future stability of our world, and the efforts of different regional committees of the IMB to coordinate their work in reaching these Muslims -- a group that nobody in the evangelical world is targeting in this region of the world -- I came away understanding more clearly the huge scope of our work at the IMB. Many Southern Baptists have a hard time seeing the world outside of their own city limits, but you can't be around the Regional Leaders of the IMB, most of whom I know personally, and come away without having a sense of the responsibility that God has laid in our lap as a convention to reach the world for Christ.
There was one interesting discussion that took place during the one and a half hour plenary session Wednesday that is the main topic of this post. I intend to represent the discussion as accurately as possible, referring to the copious notes I took during the business meeting. However, before I give you the details regarding the very interesting discussion and dialogue, I wish to be very clear that the people involved in the debate, on both sides of the aisle, conducted themselves with class and grace. I am very, VERY grateful that our board is to the point that people can express disagreement and still be treated with respect and dignity. It will be obvious to you which side of the debate I fall on, but I wish to say to those who disagree with me that as long as we can be civil and cordial with one another, the discussion and debate is healthy.
The events unfolded like this:
Winston Curtis, a fellow pastor and trustee from Oklahoma, made a motion that the International Mission Board send a copy of 'The Camel - How Muslims are Coming to Faith in Christ' to all sitting trustees. My ears perked up when I heard this motion because I had just read a couple of days before a blog post by Dr. Bart Barber of Southwestern Seminary on 'The Camel Book.' I found it curious that Bart was writing about this book written by a couple of missionaries - one of whom is directly affiliated with the IMB. Winston proceeded to explain his concern that a conversation was taking place 'across the convention' about the appropriateness of using this book - or more accurately - the method of witnessing to Muslims as taught by this book, and the trustees needed to know what it was that was being discussed.
For those unfamiliar with 'The Camel Book,' it teaches a unique method of sharing the gospel to Muslims by using portions of the Koran and teaching them of the 'true' Allah - One who can only be known through His Son Jesus Christ. I have read the book and though I may not agree with everything in it, I found it a particularly helpful book in contextualizing the gospel of Jesus Christ, both linguistically and culturally, to the Muslim people - without compromising the heart of the gospel. After a few procedural matters it was felt that the recommendation was not needed since IMB staff stated they would be happy to send the book to all trustees and would do so within the week. Winstons withdrew his motion and we trustees were informed that we would be receiving 'The Camel Book' soon.
What happened next gave me some more indication regarding Winston's concerns. Dr. Gordon Fort, Vice-President of Overseas Operations for the International Mission Board gave an excellent report and then paused at the end of it to discuss why it was essential that the name 'Allah' be used for 'God' when speaking to Arabic speaking people in their native tongue. 'Allah' is the Arabic word for God and precedes the Islam religion as a word. He explained that Wycliffe Bible translators use Allah when translating the Hebrew names Yawheh and Elohim, similar to the way the English word "God" is used to translate those ame Hebrew names. Gordon further explained there is no Arabic equivalent to convey the idea of a Supreme Being other than 'Allah' and when missionaries use the word 'Allah' for God, they tell the listeners that the only way to know the one true 'Allah' is to come to faith in Jesus Christ. Clyde Meador, another Vice-President for the International Mission Board, affirmed Gordon's remarks by speaking beautifully in Arabic John 3:16 and showed how the word 'Allah' is understood by Arabic speaking people the same way that 'God' is understood by English speaking people.
Winston Curtis followed the remarks of Gordon and Clyde by saying he is a conservative, Bible-believing Christian, and it was not his desire to open up our our boards or convention to liberalism. He felt that when we speak of God to people in other nations we ought to use the 'Bible' names for God like Yahweh, Elohim, and El-Shaddai (those are the exact three names for God Winston gave as illustrations). Of course, as Winston spoke to us in English, he used the English word 'God' 35 times (I counted), and Yawheh only once, Elohim once, and El-Shaddai once. I couldn't help but chuckle that Winston seemed to me contradict the very point he was attempting to make. Winston was using the English word 'God' the way Arabs would use the Arabic word 'Allah' - both words convey concepts of the Supreme Being of the Universe - identified for us in Scripture as God (or 'Allah' in Arabic), the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It was pointed out by Gordon that some may have 'other' problems with 'The Camel Book' other than the use of the word 'Allah' for God - and I believe that very well may be true. However, I am hopeful that no mission professor from Southwestern, or Dr. Caner, or anyone else in the SBC who disagrees with IMB missionary David Garrison's premise (the co-author of the book) will lose sight of the fact that our missionary personnel are only doing what the Apostle Paul did on Mars Hill -- starting at the very place the people who need Christ are -- and taking them to where they need to go -- to repentance from their sin and faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Again, I think the discussion is ultimately good for our convention, and I commend all for debating this subject with grace. I am just hopeful that we do not get too sidetracked from our main mission. Overall, I am very hopeful for the future of the IMB. We need 8,000 missionaries by the end of 2010. We are well on our way to that goal. I thank my fellow trustees for their service and look forward to continuing to press ahead with our objectives.
In His Grace,