Archives For Muslim

Question:

I am trying to find out something about the new Muslim friendly translation to be done by Wycliffe/SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics). What is this about, and do you have any information about this?

Response:

This is an important question. It is very important to note that there are two interconnected issues, and we must extricate them so that we can appropriately respond to each individually and then also the two together, because they are related. The one issue is that of ministry to Muslim Background Believers (MBB) and the Insider Movements (IM) focusing on contextualization (C1-C6). The second is focused on the question you raise, that of translation, specifically the divine familial language.

First, a translation for Muslims has already been done for part of the Bible that attempts to be culturally sensitive to translating “Divine Familial Terms,” such as “God the Father” and the “Son of God.” What has happened is that due to numerous questions and concerns and people/churches pulling their financial support from Wycliffe they have stopped promoting and translating so that their translation theory can be appropriately addressed by experts.

Second, most from Wycliffe/SIL who have been a part of this up to this point are missiologists, not biblical scholars or theologians. Though they may understand the dynamics of translation and though they may understand the importance of understandability of translations in the receptor language, they are often less sensitive to the importance of a word and the use of a word across the canon. “God the Father” and the “Son of God” are such words/expressions.

Third, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) has put together a panel to serve as an Independent Bible Translation Review with the following task:

In the light of certain controversies about Bible translation, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), as a respected and trusted global evangelical association, has been asked to form a panel to independently review Wycliffe and SIL International’s translation of “God the Father” and the “Son of God.” The panel’s mandate includes reviewing SIL’s translation practices; setting boundaries for theologically acceptable translation methodology particularly in Muslim contexts; and suggesting how to practically implement these recommendations.

The Panel consists of the following scholars/experts:

  • Milton Acosta, Old Testament
  • Donald Fairbairn, Early Christianity and Historical Theology
  • Atef Gendy, New Testament
  • Ida Glaser, Biblical and Islamic Studies
  • Rob Haskell, Systematic Theology
  • Karen Jobes, New Testament
  • Ghassan Khalaf, Biblical Studies and Theology
  • Melba Padilla Maggay, Social Anthropology
  • Scott Moreau, Intercultural Studies
  • Kang-San Tan, Mission Studies
  • Roland Werner, African Linguistics & Theology
  • Dudley Woodberry, Mission Studies
  • Robert Cooley, Panel Moderator

This Panel met in November 2012, is scheduled to meet a second time early this spring, with an anticipated final report due in April of this year.

Finally, D. A. Carson has written a book on this issue: Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012). As with most everything Carson writes, it is excellent.

Insider Movements and a Denomination: The PCA

Greg Strand – February 4, 2013 2 Comments

The PCA is in the midst of a multi-year study and discussion about the Insider Movement among Muslims. Travis Hutchinson*, “Insider Movement Introduction”, briefly explains what the Insider Movement is, and he follows this with some of the problems associated with this ministry, theologically, socially, missionally and denominationally.

The email concerns something which is huge in the missions world, but largely unknown in the rest of Christendom, the subject of “Insider Movements.” Basically, it is the idea that people can become followers of Jesus without leaving Islam. Since the Koran mentions Jesus (as “Isa”) and since there are strains of Islam that emphasize Jesus’ return, this seems plausible to some. The thinking is that the “insiders”, who don’t leave Islam and are not baptized, are kind of like Jews in the first century that placed their faith in Jesus but kept practicing Judaism.

The theological problem is that it makes baptism and the visible church optional and tends to accept Mohammed as a prophet and the Koran as a true revelation of God. Socially, it begs the question whether these believers will be able to hold onto their odd Christiano-Islamic beliefs without being “corrected” by all of the orthodox Muslims they are spending their time with. Missionally, many conservative missiologists are claiming that the “insider movement” is actually plundering the visible church rather than converting Muslims. Denominationally, some people (more informed or misinformed than I) claim that there are people associated with the PCA who are either sympathetic to Insider Christianity or are working with people who are sympathetic to it. The idea seems to be that by passing a resolution condemning Insider Movements as unbiblical, we’d be guarding the truth in a very fragile mission field.

*”This is the blog of Travis Hutchinson, the pastor of Highlands Presbyterian Church of Lafayette, Georgia. I teach biblical and theological studies at Covenant College, serve as the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Presbytery Theological Examination Committee and preach in the largest log cabin in Walker County.”

“Gene Daniels,” missionary among Muslims for the past decade, interviews a Muslim Background Believer (MBB) about his Christian faith lived out in the midst of an Islamic country/culture: “Worshiping Jesus in the Mosque,” Christianity Today 57/1 (January/February 2013)

The editors of Christianity Today include a preliminary word to Daniels’ interview:

Can people from other religious traditions genuinely follow Jesus without becoming “Christians”? The question is a point of much dispute within today’s missions world. Those who follow Jesus yet don’t formally express Christian faith are said to belong to insider movements. And no insider movement has received more attention than Muslims who embrace Christ yet stay within their Islamic community. “Insiders” are hard to access due to cultural, geographic, and linguistic barriers. As a result, many Christians have taken positions on insider movements without ever having met or spoken with someone who belongs to one. In the following exclusive interview, we hear from just such an insider.

The following is the synthesis of two interviews conducted in 2011 with “Abu Jaz,” a key leader in a movement that describes itself as the People of the Gospel. This group represents several thousand Muslims in eastern Africa who have converted to faith in Christ during the past decade, but who have remained in their Muslim communities. Abu Jaz is married and has three children. He started following Isa al Masih (“Jesus the Messiah”) as the Savior 18 years ago.

One of the most interesting statements in this interview addressed becoming a believer, syncretism, discipleship and sanctification/transformation.

First, we cannot rule out syncretism at the beginning of a new believer’s life. The purpose of discipleship is to separate their old beliefs from their new beliefs. So when they put their faith in Jesus, they may have at the same time Muhammad in their heart. But when they start to pray in the name of Isa for their own need, they experience joy, assurance, and peace. And when they pray in the name of Jesus and find people healed and demons cast out, they completely stop thinking about Muhammad. It is a process of the Holy Spirit.

A few questions to ponder:

  • What do you think of this statement? Do you agree/disagree?
  • How much syncretism can be allowed/accepted (acceptable) and a person truly be a Christian?
  • How long would syncretistic beliefs be allowed/accepted after being born again (conversion, becoming a Christian or a believer, regeneration, or other such descriptions of this same supernatural birth)?
  • Does syncretism affect both belief and behavior? How are belief and behavior affected by becoming a Christian?
  • In becoming a believer and in the subsequent conformity into the image of Christ, what and how much is instantaneous and what and how much is progressive? Specifically, how might this affect one’s view of syncretism post-conversion? More generally, how might this affect one’s view of a life of  sin prior to coming to Christ?
  • Is this a (super)natural aspect of the sanctification process, such that the sins, habits and patterns of life prior to Christ are progressively, by God’s grace, put away (mortification), and the graces of Christ are put on (vivification)?
  • How and at what point would you determine this would be a normal and progressive part of the Christian life, and how and at what point would you determine the person has not truly become a Christian?

Though I only included a brief, though important, quote that prompts many questions, I would encourage you to read the complete interview. It will provide a perspective from one who serves as a missionary among Muslims, and a Muslim who lives as an insider.

It should foster greater understanding of this issue, and enable you better to ponder, pray and process it and then to discern an appropriate God-glorifying, Christ-honoring, Spirit-illumined, biblically-faithful response.

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.

Christianity Today has printed a number of articles about Insider Movements. I will include highlights from articles the rest of the week.

We begin with Timothy C. Tennant who addresses the history of Insider Movements: “The Hidden History of Insider Movements,” Christianity Today 57/1 (January/February 2013)

Tennant refers to the original article I included in yesterday’s blog post written by John Travis, and he includes the C-1 to C-6 spectrum with a brief explanation (consider this a review). Note that one of the important things he identifies is that C, contextualization, focuses on three areas: “the language of worship, the cultural and/or religious forms used in both public life and worship, and self-identity as a Muslim or as a Christian.”

The debate has persisted for some 20 years. Missiologist John Travis helped give shape to the debate with his foundational report, “The C1 to C6 Spectrum: A Practical Tool for Defining Six Types of ‘Christ-centered Communities’ (‘C’) Found in the Muslim Context,” published in Evangelical Missions Quarterly in 1998. In it, Travis correctly noted that Muslim-background believers, known as MBBS, are not all alike, but contextualize their new faith in Christ along a spectrum. The letter C reflects differences based on three main areas: the language of worship, the cultural and/or religious forms used in both public life and worship, and self-identity as a Muslim or as a Christian. The spectrum runs like this:

C-1 refers to a “traditional church using outsider language.” Outsider language is a language originating outside Islamic culture. These believers call themselves Christians.

C-2 refers to a “traditional church using insider language.” This church is the same as a C-1 community but worships in the language of the Muslim population (such as Arabic or Turkish).

C-3 refers to “contextualized Christ-centered communities using insider language and religiously neutral cultural forms.” These churches adopt the language of the surrounding Islamic community and embrace nonreligious cultural forms, such as folk music, dress, and artwork. A C-3 church would filter out any religious forms specifically associated with Islam. The majority of members are MBBS.

C-4 refers to “contextualized Christ-centered communities using insider language and biblically permissible cultural and Islamic forms.” These churches adapt Islamic forms as long as Scripture does not explicitly forbid them. C-4 communities accept Islamic terms for God (Allah), Islamic prayer (salat), and the Gospels (Injil). Most C-4 churches follow the Islamic practices of avoiding pork and abstaining from alcohol. C-4 believers normally call themselves “followers of Isa al Masih” (Jesus the Messiah) or members of the Isaya Umma (“Community of Jesus”). The Islamic community would not view C-4 followers as Muslims.

C-5 refers to “Christ-centered communities of ‘Messianic Muslims’ who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.” These followers of Isa remain legally and socially within Islam. The Muslim community views them as Muslims. They reject or, if possible, reinterpret features of Islamic theology that are clearly incompatible with biblical faith.

C-6 refers to “small Christ-centered communities of secret/underground believers.” These are believers living under the threat of persecution and retaliation from the government or their family or community if others knew they followed Jesus. They worship Christ secretly. If discovered, C-6 believers would almost certainly face prison or death.

Most mission workers accept C-4 as an acceptable form of contextualization. But the pressure point is over C-5 believers, which, according to Tennant, “are not actually Muslim-background believers, but Muslim believers.”

Most mission workers today accept C-4 as the most appropriate form of contextualization. The current debate has largely centered on C-5 believers. They are not actually Muslim-background believers, but Muslim believers. They retain their Muslim identity. They regard Muhammad as a prophet—not in the “final” sense that Muslims claim, of course, but as a man who led the peoples of Arabia out of polytheism and into monotheism.

Tennant highlights five issues regarding the current debate about C-5 believers.

First is biblical precedence. Scholars seriously debate if the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council decision regarding Gentiles applies to insider movements and, if so, how does it apply to both the cultural and religious identity of Gentiles.

Second, scholars debate the relationship of personal salvation to identifying with the larger church and other Christians. And they wonder how much a true Christian movement needs to confess historical Christian doctrines in order to truly be Christian.

Third, there are many who ask if it is ethical to encourage followers of Jesus to retain their Muslim self-identity—the key difference between C-4 and C-5.

Fourth, scholars debate whether C-5 groups are a new phenomenon, or whether they are merely an extension of issues rooted in the Protestant Reformation.

Finally, scholars debate whether C-5 represents a valid, permanent movement in the Islamic or Hindu world, or whether they are an acceptable transitional bridge that will eventually lead Muslims and Hindus into explicit Christian identity.

Amid the debates, one thing is clear: Christ-loving movements are growing in countries where a traditional church has been absent or long gone. Both theologians and on-the-ground leaders will need to reflect with care on the C-1 to C-6 debate as the gospel takes root in new contexts.

I conclude with a few questions to consider.

  • Have you or the church where you are a member discussed Insider Movements?
  • Of these five key issues, what do you consider most important? Least important?
  • What, if anything, would you add?