In our ongoing discussion about Muslim ministry and Insider Movements, Phil Parshall, a former missionary among Muslims, raises the question about how far the gospel can be contextualization it is accommodated or compromised: “How Much Muslim Context Is Too Much for the Gospel,” Christianity Today 57/1 (January/February 2013).
Parshall addresses some of the early history of this approach to evangelism, how he considered his own ministry as an insider, and some “significant concerns” about this broadened understanding and acceptance of contextualization. Parshall fears that much of this new understanding of contextualization leans more in the direction of gospel accommodation than it does in gospel transformation.
But by the early 1980s, other committed evangelicals felt they should push further into a new evangelism effort: the insider movements. Actually, we have always considered our approach as insider, but we have strived to remain within biblical boundaries. I have significant concerns about these newer attempts in contextualization:
- There is a tendency to encourage converts to remain in mosques and perform the attendant prayers.
- New believers are still known as Muslims, and without further identification, such as “Muslim, follower of Jesus.”
- To some, it is still permissible to recite the creed, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his Messenger.”
The latest controversy (one that CT covered extensively in 2011) relates to the Muslim’s misunderstanding of the term “Son of God.” A number of vernacular translations have translated this phrase to Isa al Masih, which is “Jesus the Messiah,” or an equivalent. Not all insiders use each of the above. Contexts vary as do the opinions of missionaries and mission boards. But how much contextualization is too much? Missionaries of good will have different opinions and strategies. Prayerful respect is essential to resolve these issues
In the past few years it has been the translation of “Son of God” in Bibles used among Muslims that has been one of the primary concerns raised by missionaries, mission boards and local churches supporting missionaries among Muslims.
There are two separate but related issues: contextualization and translation. One must work hard at understanding each of them separately, and then how they relate to and impact one another.
We will continue our discussion tomorrow.