From what we read, God is doing an incredible work among Muslims in that many are being saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thankfully, God’s Word is not bound by geographical or religious boundaries (2 Tim. 2:9)!
There have also been many questions raised about ministry among Muslims. One of the most significant as of late has been contextualization, and more specifically Bible translations for Muslims and the use of Son of God language. In order to have a broader understanding of this, it is important to go back a number of years to learn about the “C1 to C6 spectrum,” i.e. the spectrum of contextualization among Muslims. It was written by one engaged on the front-lines of ministry among Muslims.
John Travis (a pseudonym), “The C1 to C6 Spectrum: A Practical Tool for Defining Six Types of ‘Christ-centered Communities’ (‘C’) Found in the Muslim Context,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 34/4 (October, 1998): 407-408, described his contextualization spectrum and its utility:
The C1 – C6 Spectrum compares and contrasts types of “Christ-centered communities” (groups of believers in Christ) found in the Muslim world. The six types in the spectrum are differentiated by language, culture, worship forms, degree of freedom to worship with others, and religious identity. All worship Jesus as Lord and core elements of the gospel are the same from group to group. The spectrum attempts to address the enormous diversity which exists throughout the Muslim world in terms of ethnicity, history, traditions, language, culture, and, in some cases, theology. This diversity means that myriad approaches are needed to successfully share the gospel and plant Christ-centered communities among the world’s one billion followers of Islam. The purpose of the spectrum is to assist church planters and Muslim background believers to ascertain which type of Christ-centered communities may draw the most people from the target group to Christ and best fit in a given context. All of these six types are presently found in some part of the Muslim world.
Travis outlined the distinctive characteristics of each of the six Christ-centered communities (these have been abbreviated somewhat): (“‘Insider’ pertains to the local Muslim population; ‘outsider’ pertains to the local non-Muslim population.”)
C1: Traditional Church Using Outsider Language
Many reflect Western culture. A huge cultural chasm often exists between the church and the surrounding Muslim community. Some Muslim background believers may be found in C1 churches. C1 believers call themselves “Christians.”
C2: Traditional Church Using Insider Language
Essentially the same as C1 except for language. Though insider language is used, religious vocabulary is probably non-Islamic (distinctively “Christian”). The cultural gap between Muslims and C2 is still large. Often more Muslim background believers are found in C2 than C1. C2 believers call themselves “Christians.”
C3: Contextualized Christ-centered Communities Using Insider Language and Religiously Neutral Insider Cultural Forms
Religiously neutral forms may include folk music, ethnic dress, artwork, etc. Islamic elements (where present) are “filtered out” so as to use purely “cultural” forms. The aim is to reduce foreignness of the gospel and the church by contextualizing to biblically permissible cultural forms. May meet in a church building or more religiously neutral location. C3 congregations are comprised of a majority of Muslim background believers. C3 believers call themselves “Christians.”
C4: Contextualized Christ-centered Communities Using Insider Language and Biblically Permissible Cultural and Islamic Forms
Similar to C3, however, biblically permissible Islamic forms and practices are also utilized (e.g., praying with raised hands, keeping the fast, avoiding pork, alcohol, and dogs as pets, using Islamic terms, dress, etc.). C1 and C2 forms avoided. Meetings not held in church buildings. C4 communities comprised almost entirely of Muslim background believers. C4 believers identify themselves as “followers of Isa the Messiah” (or something similar).
C5: Christ-centered Communities of “Messianic Muslims” Who Have Accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior
C5 believers remain legally and socially within the community of Islam. Somewhat similar to the Messianic Jewish movement. Aspects of Islamic theology which are incompatible with the Bible are rejected, or reinterpreted if possible. Participation in corporate Islamic worship varies from person to person and group to group. C5 believers meet regularly with other C5 believers and share their faith with unsaved Muslims. Where entire villages accept Christ, C5 may result in “Messianic mosques.” C5 believers are viewed as Muslims by the Muslim community and refer to themselves as Muslims who follow Isa the Messiah.
C6: Small Christ-centered Communities of Secret/Underground Believers
Similar to persecuted believers suffering under totalitarian regimes. Due to fear, isolation, or threat of extreme governmental/community legal action or retaliation (including capital punishment), C6 believers worship Christ secretly (individually or perhaps infrequently in small clusters). C6 (as opposed to C5) believers are usually silent about their faith. C6 believers are perceived as Muslims by the Muslim community and identify themselves as Muslims.
In order to begin thinking and processing this, here are a few questions:
- What do you think of this spectrum of contextualization?
- What do you perceive are its strengths and weaknesses?
- Where would you draw the line and why?
We will continue to address this important topic in the next number of blog posts.