"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Is It Right for Missionaries to Call God - 'Allah'?

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,

Wade Burleson

84 comments:

Wes Kenney said...

Wade,

I have not yet read the book, although I have seen this tract written by Greeson, and honestly, it was somewhat unsettling. His gratitude to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia for financing the translation of the Qur’an into his "mother tongue," as well as his statement that "As I was reading the Qur’an in my mother tongue, I came upon a passage that filled my heart with hope" are just two examples of things I have seen that cause me to have questions about this approach.

Since you have read the book, perhaps you can answer some of my questions. I have several, but I'll just ask one: Are those who are converted through the application of this method encouraged to give up their copies of the Qur’an or forsake attending the mosque?

Thanks,

Wes

http://churchplantingmovements.com/documents_pdf/Camel%20Tracks%204.4.07.pdf

Wade Burleson said...

I read 'The Camel Book' and it seemed to me that new converts to Christ were encouraged to continue attending the mosque for the purpose of converting other Muslims to faith in Christ and to use the Qur'an to show Christ as the Son of the one true God.

Anonymous said...

One wonders if Muslims must first become English speaking and worship in red bricked buildings in order to believe in Jesus. It looks like modern-day judaizers are in our midst.

Wes, do you know that the passage referred to from the Quran encourages Muslims to read the Gospels? That one passage has been used by God to move the hearts of Muslims to His Son Jesus.

Why would a passage that encourages Muslims to read the New Testament Gospels be offensive to anyone? Do we not pray for Muslims to come to Christ? Must they first be culturally Southern or American or English speaking to hear of accept Jesus?

Wade Burleson said...

Anonymous,

A couple of good questions

Irreverend Fox said...

Wade,

great topic...I think the word that best describes the God who is should be the word used. if those who oppose using "Allah" can provide a better, more linguistically, theologically and philosophically precise word in the Arab tongue, then let them do so. And if they can provide such a term then I suppose our IMB missionaries ought to prefer it. but if they can not provide a better term I'd suggest they hush up and pray for our IMB missionaries who are struggling with how to best honor God...err....Jehovah....ERRRRRRRRRR...

Anonymous said...

Is this kind of like when we as christians witness to cultic spin offs of christianity, i.e., Momanism, Jehovah Witness, etc. They use the english word "God" and "Jesus". But the god & jesus of the cults is not the same God or Jesus that we worship as christians. Isn't this a similar concept except the tables are turned the other way in this dialogue with the Arabic lost?

I know my pastor has made the point to say that "Allah is not God". But the context in which he said it and the audience to which he was speaking had a totally different meaning. He was saying to a chrisitan congregation that we can not be squeezeed into the theological mold that Islam's way to god was right for some people and another way is the right way to god for another people, and Jesus is the right way to God for those of us who like that way, etc. I see no conflict in what my pastor said and what Dr Gordon Fort espoused when witnessing to Arabic people. I think this issue is what some are afraid might cause confusion with us folks in the pew. But most of us in the pew are confused about why Mormons aren't christians either. That is sad, but unfortunately true.

A Simple Student @ SWBTS said...

Thank you for posting on this topic Wade. It is further proof that the whole world should learn English and all other languages should be banned ;)

The use of Allah has been discussed among a relatively small group of people in the Evangelical West. I don't even think it is really an issue unless you are a Christian in the West. Thank you for exposing the absurdity of the notion that Allah should not be used in Arabic (try saying God 35 times just to make your point ;) The historical precedence and the established use of Allah among modern Arabic-speaking Christians really makes any attempt to get rid of the term futile. Many Arabic speaking Christians come from a long lineage of Christians that go all the way back to the New Testament era. Why should Christians cede the term that they have used for centuries?

Bart Barber (and he is not alone) has suggested that if people cannot distinguish between the Muslim god and Christian God then a new term should be introduced. I think that such a reactionary move might have dangerous theological consequences. In such a scenario, this could lead to an unnecessary rift between believers who use Allah and those who don't. Furthermore, and far more seriously, it could lead people to believe that this is a new deity that has been created. In a sense, one conversation on the difference between the Christian God, or "Allah" for our Arabic-speaking brethren :) , and the Muslim god would be replaced by a new conversation about how "new term for God" is eternal and the origin of the "new term for God." In all fairness to Bart, he made it clear that he is not terribly hasty to go down the road of replacing the term for God. I just think that road has plenty of potholes and detours of its own.

A Simple Student @ SWBTS

P.S. I hope that all of the Trustees and many bloggers actually read 'The Camel Book'. It appears that 9/11 did not get the American Church's attention to the vast need for the gospel to be spread across the Muslim World. Maybe "The Camel Book" will ;) In all seriousness, the Church needs to be awakened to the great need to pray for and to evangelize Muslims whether they are Osama Bin Laden of Northern Yemen, "Abdelaziz" in Moscow, or, for that matter, "Ahmed" who worships at the huge mosque off of North Hulen in Fort Worth.

Anonymous said...

What is in a name? The word we use for “God” has it’s origins in the German language and most likely did not refer to Yahweh in its original form. The New Testament writers adopted the Greek work for “god” (theos) to refer to Yahweh. For generations, Christians have prayed to and sung about “Jehovah” - a name for God that really isn’t a name for God, but rather the result of a mistake translating the name Yahweh. Does Yahweh still hear and answer those who are calling on the name that was really a mistranslation? While we are singing “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” is Yahweh thinking “I really wish they would get My name right.” This is just my opinion, but I think God is not so concerned about the name we use to call on him (God, Jehovah, Allah) as much as He is concerned about whether or not we do call on Him. Again, this is just my opinion, but when a follower of Islam turns to the living God and makes the confession that Jesus is the Son of Allah (God) – a confession that will most likely cause him to be disowned by his family and community and could even get him/her killed, I don’t think Yahweh response is “you didn’t get My name right.” I do think all of heaven rejoices – and so should we.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother Wade,

My Arabic is quite rusty after ten years out of it, but I have double checked both old and new translations of the Bible, and found that "Allah" is the word the translators have used where in English we use the word, "God."

I have also heard, first hand, Arabic-speaking Christians use the word, "Allah" to refer to God.

Now if we were talking about using the term "Allah" to speak of God to Muslims who are NOT Arabic speakers, then Brother Winston would be right on the money.

There may be multiple problems with the Camel method, and there are definitely multiple problems with that particular tract, but the use of the word, "Allah" among speakers of Arabic is not one of them.

Love in Christ,

Sergeant Jeff Young
Honor Graduate in Arabic
Defense Language Institute, 1995

greg.w.h said...

Clyde Meador, like Jerry Rankin, most likely used the term Allah to refer to God for the first time in Indonesia (the Rankins were appointed in 70 and the Meadors in 73 or 74 if I recall correctly.) In Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia is the official language that is essentially a pidgin of local trade languages. Officially it is extended--where possible--via Sanskrit, Arabic, and English equivalent words. The strong Muslim presence of course influenced much of the religious language.

Early missionaries--the ones before we worried about doctrinal issues because we trusted they were doctrinally sound--adapted existing religious language in order to keep terms from sounding foreign. (I know...ironic that foreign missionaries would prefer language that isn't foreign??)

Not only is Allah the name for God in the Bahasa Indonesia Bible, but the name is Alkitab (as opposed to Al'Quran for the Koran) which retains the Arabic particle al- (note that Bahasa Indonesia doesn't have it's own definite particle, which I believe is how al- is used in Arabic).

Given that Indonesia is the MOST populous Muslim-majority nation, our American-based board of trustee members suggesting changes like this might want to take the time to process through the logistics of making that kind of change in Indonesia. I'm not sure if the Literatur Lembaga Baptis in Bandung is still publishing, but there are a LOT of Alkitab-kitab and biblical material already existing over our 50+ years of Southern Baptist and other Christian presence in Indonesia.

greg.w.h
MK in Indonesia in the mid-70s

P.S. To the extent that the ayyahs in the Quran chosen to be listed in the Camel track are true, then they are the Gospel. To the extent that the ayyahs in the rest of the Quran are false, then they are deception. This witnessing technique is extremely similar to Paul's at Mars Hill and I'll offer that modern Christians are wrong in attacking it without consideration of the similarity to Paul's approach.

Note also that the Camel track uses traditional praise for authorities in translating ALL of the Quran while emphasizing the passages that are consistent with the "Injil" record. Truth is truth even if it occurs in the Quran. ;)

Wade Burleson said...

Greg W.H.

I can assure you that the position Gordon and Clyde were arguing is the same one to which you hold.

You ONLY use the name 'Allah' for 'God' in a particular country if it BEST conveys the idea of a Supreme Being. If the word that best does it is NOT Allah -- then for heaven's sake don't use it. But if the word that is best IS Allah - then for heaven's sake don't forbid it.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Anonymous and others,

In my humble opinion, the difference between the portrayal of Jesus in Islam and the portrayal of Jesus in pseudo-Christian cults (like JWs and the LDS) is this: the picture of Jesus in the JW and LDS faith necessarily will lead you away from the truth about Jesus, while the picture of Jesus in Islam *can* lead you to the truth about Jesus (assuming the work of the Holy Spirit and a contrite heart).

Muslims believe five things about Jesus that are true because of his portrayal in the Quran: (1) he was born of a virgin; (2) he was a teacher/prophet of the right "way"; (3) he was taken up to God (and his tomb is empty); (4) he reigns with God; (5) he will judge humanity in the End.

(Depending on the Arabic scholars you talk to, you might also add: (6) Jesus was crucified. Apparently, there is now some debate in academic circles whether the Arabic in the Quran implies that Jesus didn't die on the cross. This has been assumed by many in the West [including our own Dr. Caner, et al], but I have a source within Arabic schooling who has heard something else entirely.)

I am not an expert in Islam, by any means, but I think these are good enough reasons not to compare the Jesus of Islam to the Jesus of LDS and JWs. The former is true, but incomplete, while the latter is altogether false.

Grace and peace,

Emily

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

P.S. In my opinion, if the methods used to share the good news with Muslims were not "unsettling" to us, we'd probably be doing something wrong. (Imagine how the Jerusalem believers felt when Paul shared the Kingdom with Gentiles with no mention of the Law, ceremonial traditions, etc!)

If we are truly incarnating the good news into Muslim culture, to the best of our ability, then it will look strange to us. That's the point. If Muslims could recognize the message as overtly "Christian," which is normally associated with America and any of their various European oppressors (especially Russia), it is almost certain they wouldn't listen.

This kind of mission demands a complete re-thinking of our language, categories, and even theological "must-haves" when sharing the good news. Although a little uncomfortable to most, I think this is a good thing in the long run. God *is* bringing Muslims into the Kingdom, whether the churches of the West recognize them or not.

Bob Cleveland said...

I heard of an analogous situation about 40 years ago. It concerned referring to Jesus as the "Anchor of my soul". As I recall, they said some tribes in Africa's deserts have no concept of what an anchor is, as there are not a lot of boats in the Sahara. There, the missionaries referred to Jesus as the "Picketing Peg" of the soul, that being a stake in the ground to which you tethered your animals.

Describing Jesus as a big heavy sharp-pointed iron object had no constructive meaning to the listeners, there. So what's the big deal about this issue? Somebody's not doing it "our way", regardless of the results, so that upsets us?

Pamela said...

In November 2000 I went with a team to Indonesia to minister in several churches there (non-SBC). I preached at several meetings (churches, home groups, etc.). I of course had translators. We were told that "Allah" was the work used for the Christian God and "Ullah" (not sure of the spelling) was used for the God of Islam. That was indeed something to get used to. I do not know which dialect was used for they have many there. I was in Balikpapan, Kalimantan and surrounding cities.

I have not read the book. However I have seen ministers that minister in the Middle East a lot. They use the portions of the Koran that 'accurately' describe Christian stuff. I have not read the portions personally but while watching Christian programming they quoted the passages from the Koran. The ministry that I went with at the time did not use the Koran to reach the Muslims. I honestly do not know if they would endorse that method. I have not had any contact with them in several years so I do not know for sure. I doubt it.

I have not prayerfully considered this method of reaching Muslims. I may ask a minister at the church I attend about this. He goes to the Middle East several times a year to reach Muslims and to help train the Christian Arabs there.

Anonymous said...

Imagine! If we could make inroads to the Islamic young adult population that is changing the face of Europe, we could turn their minds from the crisis of being Islamic in the West to finding the true God in this new setting. Many of them have got to be curious about all these passages in their Mohammed book that never get stressed in mosques, never get shouted from minarets, yet speak to the Jesus of Christmas and Easter that they have been inundated with all their lives in Europe.

I see this as a chance to affect world history. We had our chance in post-war Japan, but we didn't have enough language-trained M's to go there. Christians are having success behind the old Iron Curtain but it's going to be a slow process. I don't hear of anyone else tackling the challenge of reaching Muslims in Europe.

Dona nobis pacem

Steve Austin

Debbie Kaufman said...

It may beg an answer to the question of how Americanized are we making the gospel?

D Poole said...

A great story of how a missionary succeeded in witness to Muslims is, "The Game of Minutes" by Frank Laubach. It's an old book, but still can be found on Amazon, etc. It can be read in about 30 minutes or so.

Anonymous said...

I was always taught that a text without a context is a pretext. Are the verses lifted from the Koran for the CAMEL method taken out of context of the whole book? I have not studied the Koran in its entirety but I have looked at the CAMEL method and it seems to me that it makes the Koran say what we want it to say. Because if the picture of Christ in the CAMEL method so clear I do not believe Islam would exist because those passages would lead one straight to Christ.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Anon,

We must remember that the average Muslim does not read Arabic, so they cannot read the Quran in its original language. Moreover, the verses you speak of are scattered around the Quran, which is not arranged as a narrative or straight-forward discourse. The lay-out is comparable to the oracles of the minor prophets, which sometimes jump from subject to subject, depending upon the date, time, and occasion.

Also, remember that Muslims have a host of cultural conceptions about Jesus that are foreign to us. These thought patterns--like ours!--are not easily altered. So, just putting together the "pro-Jesus" verses from the Quran is not going to convert anyone. Instead, I think it takes years of living among them, proving your devotion and piety, and receiving the trust to share the good news in a way they will understand.

In my opinion, the verses in the Quran speak true things about Jesus, but they are incomplete on their own (and within the Muslim culture) to bring Muslims into the Kingdom. But, again, I'm not an expert, only a friend of some knowledgeable people.

Grace and peace,

Emily

Benjamin S. Cole said...

I can understand all the confusion. I sat next to an Arabic-speaking man of Middle Eastern descent on the airplane back from San Antonio last month. We struck up a conversation about religion, as he had just been reading an article in the local paper about our convention.

He asked me -- at one point -- what my thoughts were about Allah Mullah. I wasn't quite sure what he was asking me, so I asked him to clarify. He held up the newspaper and pointed to the article and said:

"The man in the picture. Allah Mullah."

"Oh yes," I said. "Allah Mullah. He wants be our next Caliph."

BSC

Shamgar said...

It is a joy to be able to post a comment in agreement with you again Wade. :-)

I can certainly understand the reticence. We fight so hard against pluralism here, and people's attempt to unify them all as being the same god just worshipped differently.

Obviously, that's not the case.

Then the issue comes up in the context of trying to reach arabic people in an arabic context and they fail to make the leap and instead fret about the inconsistency.

Yet this isn't fundamentally different from Paul saying that people worshipped 'many gods' and then preached to them about the One True God, over against these 'gods'. Same word, but the emphasis is in the differentiation.

Their commitment to this core truth of God as unique and supreme is admirable, but ultimately stems from an overreaction I think.

R. L. Vaughn said...

It seems that the problems of "The Camel Method" extend quite beyond the use of the word "Allah" for "God" (which, IMO, is a non-issue except in a few contexts). Bart Barber has started a review of "The Camel" here. In it he stated at least five things that should characterize a conversion of a Muslim to Christ. "He must reject the Qur'an as not being holy scripture. He must reject Mohammed as not being a valid prophet. He must reject the Muslim concept of God as not being the true God. He must reject the Muslim concept of Jesus as not being the true Jesus. He must reject the Muslim concept of works salvation and embrace the Christian gospel." The implication is that isn't happening with some of the "completed Muslims". If you agree with the "Camel Method", do you think this is not true, or that it is not a problem?

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Ben, that was hysterical.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

R.L.,

I find it interesting that Bart finds it so easy to delineate was is necessary for a Muslim to enter the Kingdom of God. Is this based upon his extensive efforts laboring among and within Muslim cultures?

Sarcasm aside, the problem with Bart's five essential characteristics of a Muslim "conversion" is that all the things he describes must be defined and redefined. Are we going to set up a checklist so that Muslim followers of Jesus can be tested on their doctrinal purity? Who gets to be the judge of that? Certainly not a white, middle-class American, who knows next to nothing about Muslim culture.

In the end, here's the glorious truth: Muslims are entering the Kingdom of God through avenues that we have yet to understand and probably will never embrace. But, the Spirit is blowing where it pleases. Perhaps they'll never be on record as "conversions" resulting from SBC efforts, but they'll be before the throne in the end.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

By the way, I should clarify that I know nothing of the so-called "Camel Method." I cannot and do not speak for those supporting this method.

Grace,

Emily

Anonymous said...

Wade,
Praise the Lord that our IMB missionaries are not trying to force-fit V.B.S. and S.S. quarterlies into those contexts! Praise God for their sensitivity and love for the adopted cultures they live and serve in and their desire to see people come to know Christ. It is at least a little disheartening to know that some of those who "make decisions for us" don't have a clue (nor want one) about where we really live and minister. Thank you for helping others to see and understand. I appreciate you.

IMB missionary

traveller said...

Please excuse not revealing my name. I know this is important on this blog. However, I have been traveling to the Middle East and other Muslim areas for more than 25 years, six years of which I lived there. Two of my sons were born there, one an hour's drive from Mecca. Since I continue to travel to those parts of the world I would prefer to preserve my anonymity. Next week I will be in a largely Muslim southeast Asian country.

What Bart Barber and others articulate in terms of the requirements for Muslims to become followers of Jesus of course reflects the fact that it is easier for us to see the toothpick (syncretism) in others while failing to see the log (syncretism) in our own eyes. (In the case of those in the West it is consumerism, materialism, individualism, etc.) In other words, we are dealing with the challenge of contextualizing the gospel without the gospel being diluted by the culture. Simply because we are all products of our own culture, at least to some extent, this is further complicated when a person from one culture tries to contextualize the gospel into another culture.

Since most of us in the US are heavily influenced by the Enlightenment and Modernity we view all matters through a certain lens. Most Muslims have only been tangentially impacted by the ideas of the Enlightenment and Modernity. It is not their native culture. (Thus, the transplanting of Western style democracy to Iraq has so far been a rather miserable failure.) So, for such a person to make a choice to follow Jesus, it is not the choice of an individual with the right to make such a choice, but it impacts an entire community of people from family to friends to work colleagues to the religious and political communities. Thus, a Muslim has a far more complicated set of choices to make than do we.

For example, in Saudi Arabia the pressure is so great on males to go to the mosque during the five prayer times that it is almost impossible not to do so. All businesses, restaurants and public places close during prayer time so one cannot hide, except perhaps in their home. Should we then condemn a Saudi follower of Jesus who, under these circumstances, continues to go to the mosque during prayer time? I will not do so since one of the consequences for apostasy from Islam in Saudi Arabia is death. At a minimum it means complete ostracization from family, friends and community. How would one survive if they lost their job and no one would otherwise help them?

As a consequence there are many former Muslims who are followers of Jesus that we might consider secret followers, perhaps even consider as hypocrites or false followers because they do not fit our thinking about how a follower of Jesus should act and look in our own culture/context.

In my view, we need to be very careful about imposing what may be cultural standards on others until we have walked a lifetime in their shoes (culture).

R. L. Vaughn said...

Emily, you bring up an important point when you write about Muslims "entering the Kingdom of God through avenues that we have yet to understand and probably will never embrace. But, the Spirit is blowing where it pleases." The Spirit will regenerate and convert as He pleases, whether or not it pleases us. I confess to having some tension in my theology here, and to also viewing regeneration as a work of the Spirit beneath the conscious, and conversion as a work of the Spirit on or relating to the conscious. Another tension comes with "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" and "a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes." I would add that my view about the Spirit working sovereignly as He pleases also makes me question why we must "buy stock" in a certain methodology in order for Him to do that.

As far as delineating what is necessary for a Muslim to enter the Kingdom of God, I don't believe that we must base it upon "extensive efforts laboring among and within Muslim cultures." The Word of God seems sufficient. It is the same for anyone in any culture. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. There is no test of doctrinal purity that one must pass in order to be converted. But we do know that "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God," "He that loveth not knoweth not God" and "he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him."

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

R.L.,

I agree with you. Yes, the Word of God is sufficient. But, I think you would affirm as well that the way the Word is understood and applied in each culture is going to look and sound very different.

I think that is why apostolic ministry is so important: the ability to enter a culture, adopt it for Christ's sake, bring people into the Kingdom, then allow the Spirit to build up a community of believers with indigenous leadership, customs, and even theology. That's what Paul did and I think that's what we must do (those who are called to do so, that is).

I agree that ultimately "every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God." And, "he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him." Its the second part that makes me pray: "God help American Christians."

Grace,

Emily

Kerygma said...

Have any of them read the New Testament in German? That should make for an interesting discussion.

Rick Thompson said...

I agree with our IMB leadership in this case, there is no other name for "God" in the Arabic language. What name are they supposed to use? Yahweh? That's a brilliant strategy, let's use the Jewish name for God to reach Muslims.

Interestingly, the Arabic word is a cognate of the original Aramaic (or Syriac) name for deity, "Elah", making it much closer to the Biblical text than the English/Germanic word "God".

There are some linguists who believe our Proto-Germanic name is actually dervied from the Persian "Khuta" and is not found in any texts until the 7th century A.D.

In any event, the English name is much newer and less accurate than the Arabic one which actually predates Islam and whose Aramaic equivelant is found in the earliest manuscripts.

The fact that the name "Allah" is used by Muslims does not take from it's meaning any more than the English Muslim using the English equivelent to describe their deity.

It is a foolish argument that only frustrates our missionaries in Muslim countries who actually speak fluent Arabic and know what they are talking about and in whom they believe.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Emily, on reading your reply, my first thought was a big amen. On further reflection, I would guess I might have a slightly different idea on a few points. But that would be somewhat an aside to this thread.

Your prayer -- "God help American Christians" -- is an important one. All this "Camel" discussion notwithstanding, we are quite a mess. I wonder if Jesus might also say of us, "whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not."

AndyHigg said...

Three points:

1) I agree with Traveller that we must first take a withering glance at our own behavior before we judge another, yet to be "Christian", culture....

2) Concerning the Semitic cognates (or whatever), does the word "Yah" exist in Arabic...if it does, then this seems the logical solution-by-parallel to the Al/El controversy

3) This whole affair reminds me of the Texas governor's wife from some years ago: "If English is good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for these Mexican immigrant children..." I realize I have totally slaughtered the quote, but the meaning remains ironic and true.

Les Puryear said...

Wade,

I love you, brother, but I'm going to disagree with you on this one.

I don't normally duplicate comments on more than one blog, but I have chosen to duplicate the following comment I made on Bart Barber's blog for your readership here.

The apostle Paul said, "we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:23).

Please correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't scripture say that the claims of Christ will be offensive to the natural man?

Does not scripture claim that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin through the Word which is a two-edge sword which pierces to the division of soul and spirit?

Did not God say that His Word would not return to Him void, but that it would accomplish the purpose for which He was sending it?

Then why do men seek to ways to change men's hearts outside of the power of God's Word?

Why do we not just "preach the Word" not giving heed to the "fables" of men?

This "Camel" method stuff appears to reveal that we have missionaries on the field who do not trust in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit working in and through God's Word.

If the Word of God preached by a God-called Messenger of God under the leading of the Spirit of God is not enough to reach a target population, then why do men think they can come up with something better?

I tell you, the more I hear about the vanity of men in lieu of the power of God, the more discouraged I become in SBC leaders, trustees, agency heads, pastors, and missionaries. We need to confess and repent of our arrogance and pride and turning away from trusting fully in the God of the Bible and His ability to reach those whom He has sovereignly elected before time began.

Methods and strategies will not save one lost soul. Only the power of Christ working through His messenger faithfully preaching God's Word is the answer.

Les

Tim Guthrie said...

Les,
One thing (of the many) I like about you is that you strive for sole dependence upon God in your ministry approach. I really appreciate that my bro.

TG

Ron West said...

Les,
Do you really think these missionaries do not preach the Word of God? They simply use the words of the Koran to lead them to the Word of God so they can know the One True God. Have you ever witnessed in a cross cultural environment to people who have never read the Bible? Have you ever witnessed in a language besides English? To follow your reasoning any time a preacher uses an illustration in his sermon from everyday life he is not preaching the word and is not trusting in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit working in and through God's word.
Ron West

Anonymous said...

Les,

So, does that mean that Paul, when he stood in Athens (Acts 17) and used the words of Greek poets rather than the Old Testament to share Christ with the Athenians, was wrong?

Paul became to the Greeks like a Greek in order that he could win Greeks to Christ. He did not insist that they first accept Jewish religious text and customs before they could believe.

Missionaries in Muslim countries make every effort to present the Christ of the New Testament, not an American culture-laden Christ. Their only desire is that Muslims come to Jesus. And they are willing to do so in places where they risk their own lives and those of their children, not from the comfort of some place in the USA.

Rather than us sniping at them about how they are working, we should be falling on our faces before the God of the universe crying out first for those missionaries to be bold in their witness, and for Muslims to come quickly to Jesus. If the Camel method of evangelism is resulting in many Muslims coming to Christ as Lord and Savior, why are we complaining?.

(Especially when we Southern Baptists have, in the last 30 years, seen such a decline in baptisms and a decadent culture emerge here. We are not worthy to judge those who would give up their homes and perhaps their lives for the sake of the gospel, while sitting in comfort as we fail to reach our own people).

Anonymous said...

Wade,
In your post you stated that The Camel "teaches a unique method of sharing the gospel to Muslims by using portions of the Koran and teaching them of the 'true' Allah."

I believe this is a misrepresentation of the method. More accurately it is a method for engaging Muslims in a conversation about spiritual matters using select passages from the Qu'ran, specifically passages that encourage good Muslims to read the "Injil" or Gospels. This methodology serves as a bridge to the sharing the Gospel and only uses the Qu'ran as a means to getting them to read and discuss the Gospel books and the message of Christ.

Though I personnally am not trained in the method, I work closely with many people who are and use this method very effectively. You are correct in saying that it is very similar to what Paul did on Mars Hill.

To those who are critical of the Camel Method and those who use it (i.e. calling them 'liberal'), I would ask: What methods have you found to be effective when you personally witness to Muslims and how many Muslims have you shared with in the last week?

By the way, Greeson wrote the book. Garrison served as an editor of the book and has facilitated its publication.

One of your Ms

Kelly Reed said...

For a recent convert to Islam to pass Bart's qualifications would mean that they would have to have a full and complete understanding of Christian doctrine before they would be considered saved. If they came to Christ as adults--their whole way of thinking would have to be rewired before they would be considered saved.

All of those points he proposes are a good goal and I pray all converts reach those places, but that will only take place after time--even years of discipleship and the ministry of the Holy Spirit on their lives, their minds, their hearts.

Think of it in these terms. When was the Apostle Paul saved? Was it his Damascus Road experience or was he not really saved until he came back from his years alone in Arabia (Galatians 1:17-18) completely retraining his mind in light of this new knowledge of God. Presumably it was in this period that Paul was learning to

Fully Reject the popular Jewish understandings of the Messiah

Fully Reject the Sacrificial system of the Temple and trust in the Sacrifice of Christ

Fully Reject the Law as a basis of standing before God

Fully understand and reinterpret Old Testament passages he had never applied to the Messiah

Fully understand that salvation is by grace through faith, not by works, so that no man--even himself--could boast before God

When was Paul saved? I would say, he would only be able to learn, understand and fully embrace this radical change in thinking only after the Holy Spirit had filled him.

In other words--to put these tests upon a muslim convert is gravely mistaken and I believe makes a mockery of the Gospel and the work of Christ in their lives as well as my own.

I know I couldn't have articulated much doctrine and all that I was to reject when I was saved. I just knew Jesus saved me and cleansed me from my sin when I called upon Him.

Todd Nelson said...

Very interesting discussion, folks.

Wade, thanks for informing Southern Baptists.

Emily, for an American not living in a Muslim environment, you are amazingly insightful into the challenges of witnessing to them.

Anon at 02:13 and Anon M at 02:14, Amen!

I live in a Muslim-majority country where it is illegal to target the majority for evangelism. Yet some of them are coming to Christ. God is using supernatural direct intervention with a few, and He's using various methods of His people with others. It is hard, slow work. (BTW, I am the founding pastor of an international church here. Obligatory disclaimer: We do not target Muslims for evangelism.)

We mustn't forget that, among Muslims, there are varying degrees of allegiance to the religion, the Quran, and the Prophet. With those less committed or disillusioned, love, gospel truth, and God's Spirit can draw them rather quickly.

With those more tied to either their religion and/or their culture, the "offense" of the cross is intertwined with the offense of western and Christian culture. If a bridge such as the Camel Method can bring Muslims to Isa al Masih without other unnecessary offenses, then it can be good and blessed of the Lord.

Why do SBs seem to have such a climate of suspicion when it comes to missionaries and methods of sharing the gospel?

Pray for all missionaries to Muslims that they will have wisdom, courage, love, and fruit for their labor. And that more would be called to the work.

Ron West said...

Todd,
You asked the question, "Why do SBs seem to have such a climate of suspicion when it comes to missionaries and methods of sharing the gospel?" This is the direct result of the conservative resurgence and its leaders methods of attacking and making charges of liberalism against anyone who is not on their team. They have made a practice of chosing trustees and other leaders who have little knowledge of missions and can be manipulated into believing their propoganda. For years trustees such as Ron Wilson and Bill Hancock have made unsubstantiated charges against our missionaries and until recently no trustees have had the courage to defend our missionaries and speak the truth.

Todd Nelson said...

Ron,

I can't speak of specific trustees, but I can personally identify with your attribution of the on-going climate of suspicion to some over-reaching aspects of the Conservative Resurgence.

I experienced it when I was simultaneously a PhD candidate in missiology at SWBTS and an FMB candidate for appointment (1993-94). I got the PhD, but was not-so-politely turned out of the years-long appointment process with a curt "Please try again later."

Here's an issue I see at play regarding the use of "Allah" and the Camel Method. We should welcome transparency from the IMB administration to trustees and local churches in the way missionary methods are employed. But this transparency requires from the trustees and churches a certain level of understanding of missiology (specifically contextualization, or cross-cultural theologizing) and a degree of trust that the administrators and missionaries are Bible-believing, Spirit-filled, gospel-sharing people of integrity.

Let's tone down the rhetoric and discuss these challenges (and they are challenges!) with cool heads, warm hearts, and bended knees. And remember that the world is listening to our open conversations -- even some of the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus we're trying to reach.

Wade, Rick, and anonymous M's, please keep up the good work.

traveller said...

Mr. Nelson, because those of us in the West are passing from Modernity to whatever will be the dominant cultural idea(s) in the future, we are faced with the need to re-think how to contextualize in our own culture. One way to respond is to reinforce concepts and ideas from Modernity. In my view, much of the struggle in the SBC over the past 30 years is in part a response to this cultural shift in the West. This rapid transition causes great tumult and uncertainty.....and distrust of people who approach being a follower of Jesus in ways that do not fit the pattern under the old cultural milieu. For many reasons it seems that American followers of Jesus have great difficulty in seeing the need to re-contextualize the gospel in our own culture so it is not surprising that there is little understanding of the need to do so elsewhere in the world. I believe the word is ethnocentric.

Gene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traveller said...

Mr. Puryear, while I believe your point is one that should be raised and addressed, I would agree with most of what the others who have responded to you have said. I would add the following ideas. The Bible is clearly powerful to bring people to an encounter with Jesus, when the Holy Spirit is at work in that person's life at the same time. One people group I am familiar with in the Middle East that is ethnically Arab but who hold to a religious belief that is a mix of Islam, folk Islam, ancient pagan mystery religions and Christianity has no witness by followers of Jesus. Nevertheless, I am aware of a dozen of these people who have become followers of Jesus. It started in every case with dreams, in some cases Jesus appeared to the person in a dream. They then sought out a Bible in Arabic, (by the way, those Bibles all use Allah for God) which in this country is available because there are Christians dating back to the time of Christ. After reading the Bible these people sought out a follower of Jesus to discuss what it meant to be in relationship with the living God. In some cases this process lasted over several years. So, the Bible is very effective at bringing people to a relationship with God.

Nevertheless, I would suggest that not only did Paul use the words of pagan Greek poets but he approached Jews and Gentiles differently. Notice in Acts Paul tells the story of Jesus to Jews in the context of the greater story of Israel and how Jesus is the promised Messiah. To Gentiles Paul uses a variety of other approaches that reflect the place he is at the time, using some local connection or other cultural aspect. Why the difference? Most Gentiles would not understand at all the story of Israel and the Messiah and for Jews the story is about Messiah.

Likewise, Jesus approached people with more than just words of Scripture. He used stories that helped give people insights into God and what it meant to be a part of God's Kingdom....the parables. Moreover, if one looks at Jesus' approach to people it was always unique to each individual. For example, although we tell almost everyone that they must be born again Jesus only said that to Nicodemus. While it may be true that this idea applies to all of us, Jesus used it with Nicodemus for a reason. Being born a man, a Jew and a Pharisee Nicodemus was, in his mind, as close to God as one could get because of his birth. Jesus' point to Nicodemus is that all those positions you think are important because of your birth are of no value in God's Kingdom. Nicodemus you must be born from above instead by humbling yourself before God fully dependent like a baby in the womb. In reading this I think Nicodemus' response is not a lack of understanding of what Jesus is saying but his reluctance to become like the baby in the womb when all his life he had been taught something different.

IN HIS NAME said...

Les,

I see your Heart in this matter and I appreciate Your Blog, which brings Glory to God.

If one is to travel and see all of the cultures in the world and how we can interact with those cultures, we have come down to their level to be able to witness to the people.

Paul circumcised Timothy so that he could be a better witness to the Jews. Did Paul Sin in doing this act?

Wade,
Thanks for sharing this and all that you do to Honor God.
This is one of the best posts for discussion in Blog World.

In His Name
Wayne Smith

IN HIS NAME said...

Traveller

Thank you for your WISE Words.


In His Name
Wayne Smith

Bart Barber said...

Traveller,

I assure you, the question on the floor is not whether or not to contextualize, but rather how much contextualization is too much. Wade wants to discuss the use of a word ("Allah"), but that's not really the issue that I have raised. Others want to discuss whether we're determined to spread Western Culture rather than the gospel, but that's not really the issue that I have raised. I would encourage everyone to come over to my blog, read the actual issues that I have raised, and see whether they are not more substantive than the way they are being represented in this discussion.

Bennett Willis said...

Wayne, you said, "If one is to travel and see all of the cultures in the world and how we can interact with those cultures, we have come down to their level to be able to witness to the people."

It is hard for Americans not to think this way ("down to their level"). I often think it is because we don't get "out" a lot--but the stories of the "ugly American" have a lot of basis in fact so travel is not necessarily helpful. But after traveling a little, I often find that "down" is the wrong direction in a lot of areas.

There are a lot of things to admire and (after modification to fit our culture) perhaps bring back home with you.

Bennett Willis

Bart Barber said...

Kelly Reed,

When a prospect, prior to making a decision about conversion, asks pointedly about the status of Mohammed, it is not a trivial matter. He is honestly asking about the implications of becoming a Christian upon remaining a Muslim. He deserves an honest answer. The Camel instructs us not to give him one.

We're not talking about making sure that people have nailed down some understanding of the intermediate state before they can be considered Christian—we're talking about fundamental questions of the gospel.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Bart and others,

I do not think the status of Muhammad is a "fundamental question of the Gospel." Do we know what the average Muslim means when they say "Muhammad is a prophet"? Do they know what they mean when they say that? Or, are we projecting our conceptions of "prophet" onto the Muslim verbage?

Telling a Muslim they must deny the prophetic status of Muhammad in order to enter the Kingdom of God is like telling an American they must spit on the Constitution before they can enter the Kingdom of God. They have the utmost respect for this historical leader, a man who, in their minds, rescued the Arab peoples from polytheism. This respect should have been apparent to all in the Muslim world's outrage over disrespectful depictions of him in Danish press cartoons.

I don't deny that they will eventually learn that he was not a prophet in the sense of one speaking for God. I don't deny that they will eventually learn that the Quran is an incomplete book that does not lead one to the Kingdom. As I see it, the more a Muslim believe learns of Jesus, the less he/she will revere Muhammad. Or, at least, the less important reverencing him will become. This is just as an American believer should find their attachments to nationalistic symbols and such lessening as their loyalty to God's Kingdom increases.

I've heard of several Muslim believers in a Muslim-majority country who no longer choose to attend the mosque because they recognize the difference and no longer want to sit under the teachings of the imam. The missionaries continue to go, but the believers do not. This is the natural result of the Holy Spirit growing up new believers and directing their hearts away from some aspects of Islam.

I think that by insisting on an immediate change of mindset about Muhammad, we are putting up an unnecessary barrier to the Gospel. There are many barriers as it is, human depravity and self-worship being the greatest. I don't think we need to add this one to the mix.

Grace and peace,

Emily

traveller said...

Mr Burleson,

It seems that I have dominated your blog over the past 24 hours. With this posting I will refrain to allow others to be more actively engaged in the conversation. Thank you for kindly providng this forum.

Dr. Barber,

Thank you for inviting me and others to your blog. Actually, I have read your blog and agree you raise substantive issues. In my first posting I said the challenge was one of contextualizing the gospel without the gospel being diluted by the culture. I think we are in accord with that challenge though you use the words “how much contextualization is too much”. Please correct me if I misunderstand your meaning.

Where we are in disagreement, I believe, is the response to the substantive issue. You may be surprised that I have issues with the “Camel Method” but they are different from yours. Whereas you would try to change the Camel Method I am quite satisfied that the Holy Spirit will help a person who may read and use this method to see what is appropriate and what is not. (A part of my problem is that it is a “method”. All methods have shortcomings because they do not account for individuals and the wide variety of Muslims, in this case.)

To use your example of the status of Mohammed my response would be similar to Emily’s, but would state further, that I believe the Holy Spirit will guide the person sharing with the Muslim about to come into fellowship with Jesus to know how to respond. For a few it may be as you suggest since they will be ready to hear and understand these words. For most, it will be more along the lines of Emily’s reply. But I believe we must allow the Holy Spirit to be our guide and teacher in these matters if we are to effectively cooperate with His work.

Since all of us have experiences that profoundly form us I wish to relate one such experience in my life that forms my thinking. A few months prior to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 I was in Kirkuk, Iraq. At that time Kirkuk, under Saddam Hussein’s regime, was very isolated. Whenever I would go to Iraq people would ask me if I had brought books, magazines or newspapers so they could read unfiltered information and news. My point is simply that Kirkuk was very isolated from the outside world.

One evening I was having dinner with several Iraqi men who were nominal or cultural Muslims. As we talked the conversation turned to spiritual matters, which is always easy in the Middle East. We discussed Islam and following Jesus. Then one man turned to me and asked what denomination I was affiliated with in the US. When I said Southern Baptist his response was, “Oh, you Southern Baptists are just like the Sunni and Shia, fighting all the time.” My heart literally almost stopped as I became physically ill. Here was a man in one of the most isolated places in the world having enough information to make this comment. Draw your own conclusions from my experience.

d-mc said...

i cant remember the details but I heard Hank Hanegraaff talk about this and he believed it was perfectly acceptable to use Allah in this context.

Hank could hardly be called a liberal theologian.

IN HIS NAME said...

Bennett,

When I said Down to their level I used the wrong choice of words. What I meant with to really get to know their culture and their Hearts. Some of these people make us look like the Pharisees
This is not a Hit and Miss evaluation of their situation. Unlike most visitors I was taught that I was a Guest in their home and/or country. I have been ashamed many times by my fellow countryman while oversea. Sometimes it is because of what is happening back home in the USA. If you really want to meet the people you have to get off the beaten path.

In His Name
Wayne Smith

Anonymous said...

"So, for such a person to make a choice to follow Jesus, it is not the choice of an individual with the right to make such a choice, but it impacts an entire community of people from family to friends to work colleagues to the religious and political communities. Thus, a Muslim has a far more complicated set of choices to make than do we. "

This is exactly right. I, too want to stay anonymous. I have a close family members who are missionaries in Afghanistan who went in on one of the first commercial flights after the war. While the 'pre-Taliban' Islam there is more of a 'folk Islam' you still find the same challenges.

One of their first converts was a man who had fled to Pakistan but came back after the Taliban were driven out. He did not tell his wife he converted for 2 years. He feared that she would turn him in to the 'family' and the 'authorities'. His own wife of 15 years!

Islam is a religion of outward appearances, works and is shame/honor based.

They do not use the Koran at all in witnessing. And they do refer to God as Allah because they use interpreters for all the different dialects.

BTW: These missionaries are not SBC

Anonymous said...

I have read, it seems like in Lifeway material (although I may be mistaken) that Allah refers to an ancient Arabic moon-god. Regardless of its source I know I have ran across material written passionately to that effect, and effectively proving that one should NEVER use the name "Allah" as a translation of "God" as revealed in Jesus Christ. And when I first read it, I though "what a load of bunk!"

I don't know the origins of the Arabaic word Allah (other than that it is related to the Hebrew Eloheim, since both are Semetic languages); but I know that the English "God" comes from the German "Gott," and were you to ask a German of a couple of thousand years ago who "Gott" was, the answer would be very different from the God of either the Old or New Testaments. But that doesn't stop us from using the word. If we talk to a Frenchman, we use use the French word for God regardless of its origins, to a Scandavian, the Scandavian word, to a Russian, the Russian word, and so on. So of course we should use thre Arabic word for God, which is Allah.

Of course, I am making one presupposition in this: that we are interested in the conversion of that Arabic-speaking person to Christianity, rather than to a western-American or -Southern culture. If that is our aim, we must of course teach them to abandon their mode of dressing and grooming, to abandon their language and heritage, and to learn English, especially as it is spoken in the South, go to Disney-World for their history, and teach them in-your-face evangelism. It works so well for us, after all. Plenty of missdionaries did that in the 19th Century. They were the ones who went to places where the temperature was 100 degrees plus and the humidity 95% plus, yet still found it important to wear starched shirts with cravats, vests, top-hats, and black wool topcoats. Of course, some of them surcombed to heat-strokes quickly, but the hardy ones survived and taught those savages how to be good westerners. . . and the miracle is that some, despite all that, did become Christians. The question is: what are they missionmaries for? American "culture" or Christ Jesus?

John Fariss

Les Puryear said...

Thanks to those who apparently have seen my comment as naive, ill-informed, and superficial. I appreciate your honesty in your appraisal of my words.

My concern is that we, in the SBC, are trusting in things other than power of Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit in our outreach efforts. That is my point.

Let's turn back to God leading us instead of us going off and doing what we think might be right and asking God to bless us as we go. Jesus leads, we follow...not the other way around.

I long to see the day when the SBC returns to a God-centered, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, Spirit-led approach to all of its endeavors. IMHO, we are drifting too far from the shore.

Regards to all,

Les

Anonymous said...

Ultimately, this is an issue of the heart. Do we truly love Muslim people as Christ does? Only God and we really know our heart.

Some time ago I sat with a conservative evangelical national leader in Africa who oversees well over 600,000 believers. Knowing that there were many Muslims in his nation, I asked "How many of those 600,000 are former Muslims?"

I expect an answer in the hundreds.

He said, "About 200,000."

Stunned, I spontaneously said, "That's incredible. You can reach 200,000 Muslims for Jesus in (his nation) and we can't seem to reach Democrats in ours."

It's all about the heart.

Ron West said...

Les,
I would ask you to consider is it possible that the Holy Spirit was leading the missionaries to develop the Camel Method? I have read the book but I am not experienced in working with Muslims. I do know that they believe they are trusting in the power of Christ. Are you trying to say they are not?
I agree completely with your last paragraph. "I long to see the day when the SBC returns to a God-centered, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, Spirit-led approach to all of its endeavors. IMHO, we are drifting too far from the shore." I believe that drift away started in Houston in 1979. I too long for the day we return to a God centered approach instead of a political centered approach.

Anonymous said...

As one who not only has been trained to use the Camel method, but also one
who trains other local pastors and believers to share their faith with
Muslims using this method I would like to add a couple of points.

First as M's with our organization we have been highly trained in our
seminaries (conservative ones I might add) and have most likely spent a
great deal of time studying the ideas of contextualization as well as many
other related topics. We are committed to making disciples of Christ and
not some converts who mix and match the Christian faith with their current
belief system.

What Bart, Les and others are not seeing or refuse to see is that this is a
bridge. It is a starting point. I am never going to win someone to Christ
using the Koran. I might get them to read and discuss the New Testament
though. It is here that Les is right in saying that the scripture is
sufficient. But the difficulty in living in this land where you constantly
hear the call to prayer is to get a Muslim to read the NT or even listen for
more than a few seconds. This is where the Camel method helps you brige
from the Koran over to the NT in a non-offensive way. It opens the door to
discussion, and you are leading the discussion in a direct line to the NT.

I teach always to move to the NT as soon as possible. The Koran is not
inspired, it is full of error and even has some pretty bad things to say
about Christians. Yes, we are using SOME of what is in there to provoke a
Muslim to think and hopefully to get them to a place where they are open to
reading the NT and finding out more about Jesus.

Are we being deceptive when we are asked about Mohammed. No we don't give
them the full answer, we point to a verse in the Koran that shows his
humanity and his lack of knowledge about what will happen to him or his
followers. We then show the difference between him and Jesus by pointing to
some of the scriptures in the gospels that show his divinity and power and
his confidence in what will happen to his followers. In this way we are
taking an initial step (FIRST STEP) in getting them to think less of
Mohammed and more of Jesus Christ.

This method began in a country where God is doing great things changing the
hearts and lives of Muslims. The board has gone in and checked out the
movement and found that these believers who still use Arabic terms are
dynamic, strong, evangelistic, non-syncretized, bible believing Christians
who share their faith boldly amidst great persecution. By the way our board
estimates this movement which started in less than 20 years ago to have
almost 1/2 million former Muslims who have become believers. Maybe they are
on to something.

If we only had a tool like that for Americans. Now that would be something.
It might help if we would witness to Americans without using the word God.
Maybe we should just use Elohim, El-shaddai, etc. Maybe that is causing
them to not be converted into dynamic bold witnessing Christians. (tongue
firmly in cheek)

Until then I will be thankful for this tool that actually bridges the gap
and allows me and others to carry on a conversation with a Muslim. I
finally get in the door and can talk with them about spiritual things.

Africa M.

ps. This is the teaching most asked for by other Christians in our country
because of the difficulty in sharing with Muslims

Anonymous said...

Les,

Do you really believe that IMB missionaries are not led by the Holy Spirit, or at least desire to be led by the Holy Spirit?

As Ron West asks, "Isn't it possible that those missionaries who developed the Camel method were led by the Holy Spirit?"

I am fairly certain those missionaries didn't come up with the Camel method to win awards or be commended by men. Their only goal was/is to present souls to Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

I have personally heard Kevin Greeson present the Camel method, and challenged him on some of the more unsettling aspects of this approach. All I really want to say here is that he was very gracious and patient in hearing my concerns. Neither of us convinced each other, but we had a very civil discussion about it. We all want Muslims to come to Christ, and I pray that many more will even tonight!

Wade, I would like to ask you a seperate quesiton as relates to IMB policy. I know a number of level three security missionaries with the board and it always bothers me that they have to constantly lie to stay in their respective countries. Is this official IMB policy? I don't mean "creative access," but I do mean this: when asked directly by governement officials (something like) "Are you here to share the Christian gospel" the answer is "no, we do such and such..." I know that IMB personel are not there for "such and such" and it troubles me that the answer is not more honest. It is my personal conviction that this is called lieing, and that it is not a testimony to the gospel. By the way, the Apostle Paul often stood before authorities and he likewise viewed those situations as opportunities to declare the gospel boldly. The point is not for us to "stay in," but rather to preach the gospel as a testimony to all nations! I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this.

Blessings,
Anonymous for various reasons

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon, Last Comment, I realize you asked this of Wade but I must say this,

Is their professional job they perform on the field any different than ours? If they are performing a job on the field and work at that job to perform a service in the culture, is that any less than our jobs here as businessmen? Are we not suppose to use our professional jobs here to witness and share the gospel where we work?

What is the difference between their platform overseas and our platform here as business men and women?

Jonathan said...

Wade,

I have read the Camel Training Manual and I was excited to do so. After reading it I was saddened by the fact that our IMB missionaries would employ such an approach. What was disturbing was not the use of the word Allah. (Although 'Allah' carries a lot of baggage and does not mean YHWH, what other word would you use?) What was disturbing about the Camel Method was it's use of the Koran to bring people to Christ as a so called bridge. I believe that the Bible is sufficient and that it will not return void. I believe 2 Tim 3:16-17. I do not think we should place authority in words uttered by an angel of light in doing missions. After all, are we doing this to make converts or to glorify God? There were other disturbing aspects of the method too....like lying to put the other person at ease.

I appreciate you brining up this issue.

Blessings,
Jonathan

R. L. Vaughn said...

In reference to the "Camel Method", several comments have been made about its similarity to Paul's "method" on Mars Hill.

I have read Kevin Greeson's Camel Tracks and reviewed the content and context of Acts 17. IMO, Paul's "method" on Mars Hill is more of a hard-hitting discourse debunking their beliefs than a cross-cultural bridge connecting with them before he introduces the gospel. Paul had already broached the subject of Jesus and the resurrection before he used the "bridges" of "the unknown god" and "certain of your own poets".

As I've mentioned before, I don't see anyone who is questioning the propriety of the "Camel Method" questioning the propriety of saying "even the Koran says "such-and-such" about Jesus."

Wade Burleson said...

Anonymous,

See Anonymous' response to your Anonymous question. He said it anonymously better than I could publicly.

Non-anonymous Wade :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous and Wade,

While I don't disagree with your point about our jobs being a platform for ministry, you essentially sidestepped my question. Since our missionaries are actually paid a salary via the IMB, benefits and all, they are thus specifically employed to intentionally preach the gospel where they live or else they would not be there, regardless of their platform.

My original question is whether we really want to endorse lying in this situation. Platforms are fine... but lying is not. Since most of our missiological methodology is defended by the usual: WWPD (What would Paul do?), I ask again: Would Paul be comfortable with this? I think not. He certainly could claim immunity, dealing very shrewdly at times, but the scripture never reveals that he lied about his desire or intention to share the gospel. In fact, he ultimately died for his open confession.

Am I the only one this bothers?

I'm not trying to condemn anyone over this, but I do think the issue needs to be reconsidered.

By grace,
Anonymous for various reasons

Anonymous said...

r.l. vaughn,

just a few questions for you.

When was the last time you spoke to a Muslim about spiritual matters?

How many times a week do you speak to Muslims about spiritual matters?

When was the last time you personally witnessed a Muslim turning his back on Islam and was baptized in your local church?

Just Curious

Anonymous said...

Africa M said,

I work in one of those countries which you mentioned. I would say that I never lie or feel as if I need to lie. I came in this country on a "platform" and it is a reason that this government allows foreigners to come and stay in this counrty. I have the skills and the expertise and the degrees to do this job. If asked what I am doing in this country by a government official I tell them what I am doing. Running a business. I go to the office, have work hours, make money (which goes back to the mission agengy) and work just like any other person.

If I am asked by anyone if I am a missionary straight up, I always reply "yes, and I believe that as I read the Bible that all true followers are called to share with others the good news they have found in Christ, so all true followers should be missionaries." If they are Christians I might include that I work a job running a business to encourage them to be about sharing all the time regardless of what they do as a profession.

I know you probably did not mean to sound this way, but to those of us in this position, it appears as if you are bringing our integrity and honesty into question.

I'm thankful that God has given me the skills he has given me so I can have the privilege of living in this country and sharing the gospel to a very lost (98%) population who desperately needs a few lights willing to show them the way. I am grateful to the government to provide a legal means for me to do this. I am grateful most to God for His calling me to this place and providing me a way to live and work and share here.

Africa M.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Brother or Sister "Just Curious",

If you assume that we have few if any Muslims in our community, you assume correctly. If you assume I have never shared the gospel with Muslims or anyone else outside my own "people group", you assume incorrectly. On two occasions I labored as a missionary/church planter (within the continental US, but not SBC/NAMB related). If you feel you have a pressing need to know what I am doing right now, please feel free to e-mail me.

Now I have "just a few questions for you." May I assume that you cannot or will not engage the points I have made? Or is it something else? Do you feel that the similarities of the "Camel Method" to Paul at Mars Hill are great, and that Mars Hill stands as a solid example of what the Camel Method is doing? If so, make these points. I will read them and consider. I've been around awhile and am not quick to change, but in over 25 years God has brought about lots of changes in what I believe.

Anonymous said...

r.l. vaughn,

Thank you for your response to the questions I asked. I really appreciate that. I was not assuming anything, I was just asking questions because you seemed to be speaking from experience/authority of what works when one witnesses to Muslims. I was just curious. No attacks here. I have no other points to make that others have not made here in this post. It would be pointless to email you.

I really don't need to engage your points nor do I want to. "The Camel" method works in engaging Muslims to talk about spiritual matters and then bringing them to the Injil to do just as you have said in your previous post. It's just a way to engage a Muslim to talk about Jesus. That's all.

This TOOL has helped to open doors that have long been shut. We use tools in the USA to engage people all the time to talk of spiritual matters. Such as, "If you die today, do you know for sure you will go to heaven?" I am sure you know of many other ways since you have been in the ministry for 25 years.

No attacks were hurled at you in asking those questions. Many blessings on you as you continue sharing with those that have not heard of the saving grace of our Lord.

Again, Just Curious

Anonymous said...

Africa M,

Thanks for your reply! I am thankful for your ministry, and glad to hear how you handle these situations... I think that is how it should be!

I have re-read my original post and realize how it could be taken to be more harsh than I intended it. I did not mean to insinuate that everyone on a platform is lying, though it did come across that way initially. However, in order to pose the question I had to put it fairly bluntly, so please keep in mind that I meant to address this very narrow topic: direct questions, by government officials, about either being a missionary or intent to witness, etc...

Wade,
I don't know if you should or are able to address this publicly, which is fine, but I do hope it is an issue the IMB leadership takes seriously. Again, I do not mean that the IMB intentionally encourage or sanctions lying, but I do wonder if everyone is encouraged to be as forthright as Africa M in these difficult encounters.

Sorry that my original post was a bit aggressive, but I feel strongly about this and am only trying to highlight the issue for what I feel is some needed attention.

Grace and peace be yours!
Anonymous for several reasons

R. L. Vaughn said...

"Just curious",

Thanks for your response. May God's blessing be on you as well.

There is nothing wrong with some respect and appreciation of experience. The author of Hebrews wrote that those that "rule well" are worthy of double honor. But on the other hand, we don't have to have degrees in Animal Science and Religion in order to challenge someone's sacred cows. I noticed on another thread a commenter seemed almost apologetic that he was an "untrained" layman engaged in the discussion. These things ought not to be among those who appeal to the Scriptures as the final authority.

What I was referencing in my last post (before the one to you) is this: It was said that those using the "Camel Method" are "doing what the Apostle Paul did on Mars Hill," that it is "extremely similar to Paul's at Mars Hill," and "very similar to what Paul did on Mars Hill." I am asking for more than just saying it is the same thing. I would like those proposing the similarity to address the passage of Scripture and show why they think it is the same thing -- rather than them just saying it and then others accepting it on their authority. A top-down theology or missiology -- which comes down from the experienced and enlightened ones to the uninitiated -- is antithethical to the Bible way. When Paul the apostle preached to the Bereans, they exhibited their nobility by searching the Scriptures (not his office, authority, experience or success) to see whether the things he said were so. Even the "tools" we use are not outside of Biblical authority, IMO. If you are satisfied to think that Paul speaking of an unknown God and mentioning something some things two Greek poets said is the same thing as saying "I agree with what the Koran says about Mohammed, peace be upon Him...," that is your privilege. If you believe that since "The Camel" method works that settles the issue, that is also your privilege.

So I guess my concluding point in my other response and this one is that for me to ever concur with the "Camel Method", I want to shown that it is Scriptural, not whether or not it works. And I guess beyond seeing a "tool" in "Camel Tracks", I see compromise with Islam. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Instead of using Allah... why not just use "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of David, the God of the Jews. Jesus.

There is a substantial difference between Allah, the god of the Koran.... and God as described in the bible. Maybe the best way to communicate this difference is to NOT use allah.

And we've got people posting here who think we shouldn't tell them that Mohammad is a false prophet?

Maybe we should send out missionaries out wearing shirts with the crescent moon (Allah the moon God) on them.

Anonymous said...

What do we make of the Islam phrase, "there is no Illah but Allah"?

Anonymous said...

Africa M said

Anonymous,

Your choice of words in reaching out to a Muslim will get you a slammed door and no further. Using the God of Abraham might work as a starter since that is who they think Allah is.

Yes there is a difference between their idea of Allah and the Christian God, and if we get a chance to share which is what we are trying to do through the Camel method we will hopefully lead them to Christ by changing their view of God. Hindu's have a different view of God than we do, but we still use their word for God in their langauge and then change what they believe about that word. We bring them to understand what God actually means. We don't leave them with their distorted view of God but actually move them along in the process.

No one said that we will never tell them that Mohammad is a false prophet. THIS IS A BRIDGE. We are trying to get them to the new testament. So if they ask that question in the initial stages we just point them to a scripture that shows Mohammad's inadequacy to get them to heaven and contrast that hopefully by study in the injil (new testament) with what Jesus says about His ability to get them to heaven.

What you and many people are saying is hit them in the head with a brick and don't worry if you ever get a chance to show them truth and lovingly lead them to Christ. Fall in love with some lost Muslims and you will find a way any way to get a chance to share the life changing gospel with them.

I'm glad you have such faith in your M's. Thanks for the sarcasm. Instead maybe a few prayers would be nice.

Africa M

Anonymous said...

Africa M said

Before anyone complains I just mistyped. The Koran is not scripture. I meant to say "what they see as scripture" or "the words in the Koran".

I'm sure many will take this and run with it and say we have M's who believe the Koran is scripture. I hope I have alleviated that, but with the spin put on things these days you never know.

Africa M

Anonymous said...

Africa M.... your problem is this. Evangelism in your mind is all about you. It's all about what WE do. WE bring them along. WE teach them. WE don't hurt their feelings. WE love them.

Ultimately you have to tell the the truth. You have to tell them that Mohammad was a false prophet. You have to tell them that their understanding of ALLAH the moon god now promoted to God... is false. The truth shall set you free.

How many times did Paul get run out of town for preaching the truth about Jesus Christ. We like to say that he was "all things to all people". But just how many times was he run out of town on a rail for preaching the gospel?

This whole premis that is pushed not only by some clergy people but also by politicians... that Allah and Jehova God are the same, just different names is just not true. And it is one of the arguments that people will be using someday when being persuaded to take the mark of the beast. "God knows your heart, it's okay to take the mark. Allah is really just another name for God, it's okay to take the mark. God wants you to take care of your family so it's okay to take the mark. You don't REALLY have to believe Mohammad is a prophet to take the mark, it's okay. We have to take the mark to be able to effectively communicate and evangelize them, so it's okay to take the mark. Allah is just an old arabic name for the same God we worship, it's okay to take the mark." This is where we're headed.

d-mc said...

Anonymous 7/29/07,

I thought Nero was the Beast?

Anonymous said...

d-mc.... was Nero visible to all of the world? If there is no other reason besides the fact that we have the technological ability to make specific things mentioned in Revelation literally come true today... things that weren't possible in Nero's time.... that alone is enough reason to place the prophecy in our future instead of our past. Consider that we now have the technology to literally "mark" or tag everybody and control their ability to participate in commerce right now.


Allah is the false god, Mohammad is is false prophet, the anti-christ is their coming and awaited "messiah". It is literally Satan impersonating God. Trying to be like God. Belief in Christ leads to eternal life. Belief in the anti-christ leads to eternal death.

The book of Revelation describes all of those who were beheaded for rejecting the mark of the beast. And that is the command of Islam, our coming world religion.

And when that time comes, I promise you there will be well meaning christians saying "it's okay to take the mark, God knows your true heart. We have to take the mark so we can effectively minister to them. God wants you to be able to feed your family". There will many logical, rationalizations, presented by christians and christian clergy why it will be okay for us to take the mark.

The most learned among us will lead the way to destruction. But the man who walks in faith will find God.

d-mc said...

Wasn't the Roman Empire "visible" to all the world?

Why did John tell first century Christians they could calculate the number of the Beast?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't the Roman Empire "visible" to all the world?


Actually it wasn't. Unless you're ready to argue that the Americas weren't populated at that time.

You're ignoring the obvious. We now have the technology required to literally fulfill many of those prophecies. I don't know if it will be in my lifetime or not. I don't claim to know the date... but I do know it's in the future.

d-mc said...

But why did John tell first century Christians they could calculate the number of the Beast?

Wasn't that a little mean if he meant it was somebody two millenia later?