This paper seeks to unite sending
church, mission organization and field team on the nature and extent
of contextualization among Muslims. We believe that the strongly
held consensus of these three parties is essential to long-term
effectiveness. We consider models of contextualization as it relates
to Islam, critical problems with these models, and strategic application
of the model we advocate.
CENTRAL PROBLEM OF CONTEXTUALIZATION
Missiologist Darrell Whiteman
defines contextualization as a process that involves,
to communicate the Gospel in word and deed and to establish the
church in ways that make sense to people within their local cultural
context, presenting Christianity in such a way that it meets people's
deepest needs and penetrates their worldview, thus allowing them
to follow Christ and remain within their own culture."
then, seeks an effective, long-term Christian witness in a culture
foreign to the communicator. This definition rightly presumes
that the gospel is a transcultural message capable of being authentically
embodied in the wide embrace of human societies. This principle
is implicit in Jesus' teaching (John 4), directed the leading
of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8) and became axiomatic for first century
Christian missionaries (1 Corinthians 9). In taking the Gospel
beyond Palestinian Judaism, evangelists to the Gentiles clearly
separated cultural Jewish wineskins from the wine of the Gospel.
Reaction from Judaizers was both swift and predictable, but God's
wisdom prevailed and the Apostles affirmed that salvation is independent
of conversion to Judaism. The scriptural question, then, is not
"if," but "where" and "how" contextualization
should shape the missionary enterprise.
present concern is to consider how theological principles might
provide some direction for how and where contextualization
techniques might be used in evangelism and church planting among
Muslims. To do this, we must address a problem that is implicit
in Whiteman's definition. He states that contextualization means,
"allowing them to follow Christ and remain within their own
culture." While he appropriately distinguishes the Gospel
from culture and non-Christian world view, the vast majority of
people in the world regard personal identity and culture to be
fundamentally inseparable from religious tradition and belief.
In their understanding, conversion to Christianity, by
definition, implies abandoning one's native culture in exchange
Put simply, the dilemma is this: how can a fellowship of biblical
believers grow and witness for Jesus, yet remain authentic, active
members of their overtly non-Christian culture? The relative
failure of Christian outreach to Hindus and Muslims illustrates
this dilemma and reinforces contextualization as a strategic imperative.
We begin by describing six contextualization
After a brief summary of C1-C3 and C6 models, we will focus attention
on the C4 and C5 models, considering theological issues relating
to them, and how they might be incorporated into a church planting
strategy in the present Muslim context.
Model: Traditional church using non-indigenous language.
churches in Muslim countries that exist as islands, removed
from the culture. Christians exist as an ethnic/religious
Model: Traditional church using indigenous language.
uses indigenous language, but in all its cultural forms
is far removed from the broader Islamic culture.
Model: Contextualized Christ-centered communities using
Muslims language and non-religiously indigenous cultural
of worship, dress, etc. are loosely from the indigenous
culture. Local rituals and traditions, if used, are purged
of religious elements. May meet in a church or more religiously
neutral location. Majority of congregation is of Muslim
background and call themselves Christians.
Model: Contextualized Christ-centered communities using
Muslims language and biblically permissible cultural
and Islamic forms.
to C3 except believers worship looks like Muslim worship,
they keep the fast, avoid pork and alcohol, use Islamic
terms and dress. Community is almost entirely of Muslim
background. Though highly contextualized, believers are
not seen as Muslims by the Muslim community. Believers call
themselves "followers of Isa AlMisah," Jesus
Model: Christ-centered communities of "Messianic
Muslims" who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.
remain legally and socially within Islamic community. Aspects
of Islam incompatible with the Bible are rejected or if
possible, reinterpreted. Believers may remain active in
the mosque. Unsaved Muslims may view C5 believers as deviant
and may expel them from the Islamic community. If sufficient
numbers permit, a C5 "Messianic mosque" may be
Model: Small Christ-centered communities of secret/underground
by extreme hostility, usually individual believers but sometimes
in small groups. Believers typically do not attempt to share
their faith, others suffer imprisonment or martyrdom.
and C2 models represent little accommodation to Muslim culture,
other than the C2 use of indigenous language. These models import
much of traditional Western culture into the Muslim context, including
Western-style buildings, denominational affiliation, and worship.
While we must respect the courage of the few Muslim converts to
these churches, we consider the models inadequate for two reasons.
First, imposing unnecessary cultural forms to the non-Western
context inhibits long term efforts to found a truly indigenous
people movement from taking root. The church will always be seen
as a cultural outsider. Second, the distance from Islamic culture
to these churches is an unbiblical constraint on conversion and
Christian discipleship. In effect, it erects extra-biblical cultural
roadblocks to the Gospel.
contextualization accommodates non-religious aspects of
the indigenous culture. At the same time, there is a conscious
attempt to break from all visible elements of Islam-such as observing
Ramadan, dietary laws, association with the mosque and so forth.
This moderately contextualized model assumes that Islamic cultural
forms can not be purged of their religious meaning, and should
be abandoned to avoid fostering syncretism. C3 is a form of
contextualization that most Westerners are comfortable supporting
because it sharply contrasts Islam and Christianity. Conversion
means parting from Islamic identity and coming into a new one.
However, the problem is that to the eyes of the Muslim world,
there is little real difference between C3 and C2, with the consequence
that C3 amounts to an "extraction" strategy. In some
contexts C3 strategy may directly subvert the goal of birthing
an indigenous people movement because,
convert extracted from his own cultural situation reinforces in
the minds of Hindus and Muslims the misunderstanding that Christians
are opposed to their cultural traditions. In this sense, one could
defend the thesis that each convert won from these faiths at present
actually represents a setback to winning large numbers from these
is more of a survival strategy than a contextualization model.
These believers are forced to choose between rejection from the
community or martyrdom and complete anonymity. While it may be
best in the short term for a convert to remain in a C6 position,
it is certainly no long term plan. Building an indigenous church
or igniting an indigenous people movement is virtually impossible
under these conditions. This strategy may be necessary in some
countries where conversion to biblical faith is illegal and an
underground church is still in the making.
ELEMENTS OF C5 CONTEXTUALIZATION
Because C3 contextualization
in the Muslim context has been only marginally successful, missionaries
have been experimenting with "injection"
forms of contextualization, and examining the scripture with these
concerns in mind. In this section, we will discuss C4 and C5 models,
assessing the theological assumptions they make and their possible
application to long term church planting strategy.
contextualization is not merely a quantitative step down the C3
continuum. The qualitative leap from C3 to C4/5 models involves
incorporating traditional Islamic religious forms into biblical
faith and Christian community. However, significant qualitative
differences also exist between C4 and C5 models. For this reason,
and because C5 is really at the heart of the current controversy
in Muslim missions ,
we will focus our attention on the strategic and biblical case
for C5 contextualization.
communities are, by all accounts, experimental and of rather recent
origin. The paucity of information about these works makes assessment
difficult, but there is at least one study that has generated
some helpful discussion.
A C5 community was formed in Muslim Central Asia in1983. Converts
from Islam are encouraged to express their new faith almost completely
within the Muslim social and religious fold. They do not view
themselves as Christians, since in context, that refers to traitors
against the community, Western materialism and other counterproductive
baggage. Converts are encouraged to see themselves as "Muslim
followers of Isa," or "completed Muslims," or "messianic
believers usually attend the mosque, commonly pray traditional
Muslim prayers, fast, and do all the things their Islamic neighbors
do. Yet there are two key differences between Muslims and Muslim
followers of Isa. First, some Islamic teaching is reinterpreted
along biblical lines, while some Islamic doctrines are rejected
completely. Second, a community of biblical believers meet regularly
for Bible study, prayer and fellowship. This provides a venue
for Bible teaching and instruction, discipleship, and community
C5 work in Central Asia appears to be an example of successful
contextualization. Convert estimates vary by a factor of 10 (from
4,500 to 45,000), but even on the conservative end, it is a startling
accomplishment. Clearly, this community shows that something has
taken hold among one of the most unevangelized, spiritually hostile
people groups in the world. As a method of infiltrating this heavily
resistant field, the C5 model seems to hold promise. It avoids
the problem of converts being rejected by their families and communities,
keeping them both safe (at least so far) and able to carry on
an evangelistic witness.
assess this work and its value as a potential model in other Muslim
contexts, we need to consider not only the impressive number of
converts, but also the content of their belief. Are these Muslim
followers of Isa genuine believers in the biblical sense, or are
they syncretists not unlike the substantial number of Christo-pagans
of Latin and South America? A survey was conducted in 1995 of
72 key indigenous influence people converted through this C5 ministry.
While their responses may not be representative of what many or
most of the other members of the C5 community believe, it does
indicate what, through a process of discipleship, this form of
contextualization can accomplish.
good news is...
bad news is...
76% meet once per week in biblical worship
· 16% meet more than once per week for
50% continue to attend mosque on Friday
· 31% attend mosque more than once per
day, uttering standard Islamic prayers affirming Muhammad
as God's prophet
66% read or listen to the Gospels daily
· 21% read or listen to the Gospels weekly
· None study the Koran since they do not
96% say there are 4 heavenly books (standard Muslim belief)
· 66% say the Koran is the greatest of
55% say God is Father, Son, and Spirit.
· 97% say Jesus is the only way of salvation.
· 93% say Allah loves and forgives because
Jesus gave His life for me
· 100% say people can be saved from evil
spirits by faith in Jesus
· 97% say Mohammed's prayers do not save
45% do not affirm God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit
· 45% feel peace or close to Allah when
listening to the reading of the Koran (even though they
do not know Arabic)
should we make of this report? A number of things need to be carefully
considered. It seems that key essentials for salvation are present:
"Jesus gave his life for me" and "Jesus is the
only way of salvation." This is fantastic! Yet, the questions
are somewhat ambiguous. What does "Jesus gave his life for
me" mean? There is no survey data on belief in Jesus' crucifixion
and bodily resurrection, necessary for biblical saving faith (1
Cor. 1:23; Rom. 10:9). In light of the Muslim rejection of the
doctrine of Christ's crucifixion and bodily resurrection, this
would be vital information to have in formulating our conclusions.
The high regard for the Koran, repetition of Koranic verses, and
rejection of the trinity are also problematic. After 12 years
we still see crucial aspects of syncretism and this, apparently,
among the crucial players in the C5 movement.
as some observers have commented, C5 strategy is a good starting
point for Muslim evangelism, a necessary means to get a foothold
in the culture. The question is whether or not establishing a
biblically orthodox community will require shifting strategy to
the C4 model. Some C5 advocates argue that orthodoxy can be established
in their model and that if we allow more time, it will likely
occur. More importantly, these advocates argue that shifting to
a C4 or some other model betrays important biblical principles.
For them, C5 strategy is a natural extension of the biblical process
of the Gospel moving from a Jewish to Gentile culture. The
assumption at the heart of the C5 position is that true Islam
or moderately adapted Islam is compatible with biblical faith.
Let's consider the biblical argument for C5 contextualization.
CASE FOR C5 CONTEXTUALIZATION
The key text C5 advocates
appeal to is 1 Corinthians 7:17-24:
as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each,
in this manner let him walk. And thus I direct in all the churches.
Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised.
Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised.
Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what
matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Let each man
remain in that condition in which he was called. Were you called
while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also
to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord
while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called
while free, is Christ's slave. You were bought with a price; do
not become slaves of men. Brethren, let each man remain with God
in that condition in which he was called."
17, 20 and 24 are key. The principle three times repeated is "let
each man remain in that condition in which he was called"-relating
to marriage status, slavery, and being Jew or Gentile. A concern
for on-going Christian witness seems to be very much in Paul's
thinking (see verses 14, 16). C5 advocates see in this text theological
support for their position. Richard comments, "Is there not
actually a command to retain the position in life that one had
when called to Christ? As Paul specifically applied this principle
to the main distinctive of Jewish or Gentile culture (v. 18, 19),
should it not today apply to Hindu and Muslim cultures also?"
or not this passage supports the C5 model depends on two factors,
each requiring close analysis.
First, in what sense did Gentile converts "remain in
the condition in which they were called"? What did Christian
conversion imply for these pagans?
On the one hand, as this passage makes clear, it did not mean
becoming a Jew. This point is emphasized throughout Paul's letters
and Acts (see Galatians 1-3; Acts 15). Indeed, calling the Gentiles
to convert to Judaism for salvation was tantamount to apostasy
(Gal. 1:8, 9). On the other hand, Christian conversion did mean
a radical change religious beliefs and practice that had a direct
effect on cultural and religious identity.
for example, the conversion of Ephesian Gentiles. Part of acknowledging
their new faith in Christ meant parting ways with their pagan
also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing
their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought
their books together and began burning them in the sight of all;
and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand
pieces of silver." (Acts 19:18,19)
text draws attention to the public nature of this event resulting
in immediate, virulent opposition from pagans who saw this
display of Christian faith as a betrayal of community and culture.
you see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of
Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number
of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all.
And not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into
disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis
be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the
world worship should even be dethroned from her magnificence.'
And when they heard this and were filled with rage, they began
crying out, saying 'Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.'"(Acts
with publicly burning idol-related artifacts in Ephesus, Gentile
converts were also warned against giving the appearance of pagan
cultic affiliation. Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul issued warnings
against incorporating pagan practices and beliefs into Christian
faith and community. He instructed women not to present themselves
as "her whose head is shaved," a reference to pagan
temple priestesses and prostitutes. Even religiously neutral practices
that could be construed as having pagan religious significance
were handled carefully. For the sake of the "weaker brother,"
the Gentile whose conscience was not biblically informed, Paul
urged against eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:7-10).
The principle is that the weak brother could not distinguish between
paganism and eating the meat sold in markets that came from pagan
temples with the consequence that he was tempted to collapse into
syncretism. This principle seems particularly appropriate in the
Muslim context where outward forms are intimately tied to Islamic
Among local Muslim in our target field, the issue is even more
significant, given their tendency to mix animism with Islam. The
survey cited underscores this problem for C5 contextualization.
the master contextualizer (1 Cor. 9:19-23), sometimes showed remarkable
insensitivity to the religious dimension of Gentile culture, saying,
"You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray
to the dumb idols, however you were led" (1 Cor. 12:2). There
seems to be no interest in accommodating pagan identity to the
church. But perhaps more to the point, notice the verb tense,
"you were pagans." Apparently, for Paul, Gentiles
remain non-Jews, but their religious identity changes. These converts
were no longer at home in the spiritual milieu out of which God
called them. It seems very much out of step with the New Testament
to speak of a "messianic" or "completed" pagan.
Similarly, it also seems to be a breech of theological integrity
to speak of a "messianic Mormon" or "completed
Muslim." Biblical theology is simply not compatible with
what these faiths affirm.
when C5 contextualizers cite 1 Corinthians 7 in support of converts
maintaining Muslim identity, they fail to take note of the meaning
of the term Gentile as the Bible uses it. Gentile is not
a particular cultural identity, but a term for non-Jews. Biblical
use of the Jew/Gentile distinction relates to Israel's distinctness
as God's people. The hope of the Gospel is that the "Gentiles
in the flesh" who were "excluded from the commonwealth
of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise" have
"been brought near by the blood of Christ," thus"
reconciling both in one body to God through the cross" (Eph.
conclude that the "remain as you are" principle as it
relates to the Jew/Gentile question did not relate to the
religious identity of pagans and can not be extended prima
facie to explicitly religious aspects of Islamic culture or
Muslim identity. Of course this does not preclude accommodation
in non-religious aspects of culture as affirmed in C3, or perhaps
some religious aspects of Islam that have a clear biblical corollary,
as affirmed by C4 contextualization. With this in mind, we need
to raise the second question: what Islamic forms might be preserved
in the biblical community and which ones will need to be rejected?
We consider the key elements of Islamic religious tradition,
belief and practice in terms of if, and to what extent, they can
be incorporated into biblical faith and practice.
is clearly emphasized more in Islam than in Judaism or Christianity.
Further, the legalism associated with fasting in Ramadan is inconsistent
with a biblical understanding of it. Yet, fasting is associated
both with Jesus' ministry and the early church. Consequently,
it seems that fasting can be viewed both as a valid spiritual
discipline and a way of expressing cultural identification with
Biblical believers can use the fast as an opportunity to explain
the difference between spiritual discipline as a response to grace
and spiritual discipline as an attempt to gain merit. Also, since
observable differences between Muslims and "infidels"
can be greater during Ramadan, it is perhaps wise for those attempting
to stay as much within the culture as possible not to give unnecessary
offense by observing the fast. However, just as observing the
fast is an individual decision Muslims must make, the same flexibility
should be extended to converts and C4 workers. It should not be
seen as an additional ritual like baptism or communion.
is an important part of Muslim culture and religion. Just as with
fasting, the underlying theology is substantially legalistic.
However, the Bible affirms that giving to those in need reflects
God's love (1 John 3:17, 18) and that God's people are called
to a life of financial generosity (2 Corinthians 8, 9). Especially
in impoverished areas, Muslims may perceive sacrificial material
giving as a welcome indication of authentic faith in God, providing
a counter-example to the materialistic and stingy witness Christians
have historically offered. Generous giving to meet real needs
in the name of Isa Al'Masih may be an important way of establishing
identification with the community.
sound judgment needs to be used in this area. Some Muslims consider
receiving Christian aid as a betrayal of Islam. They suspect that
aid is being given in an attempt to convert the recipients. So
paradoxically, giving in the name of Isa could be counter-productive
to effective witness by polarizing people against the biblical
believer. Where such perceptions are present, aid should be associated
primarily with the giver as the outworking of their faith
in Isa, lending credibility to the giver's witness, rather than
as an explicit act of organized Christian generosity.
represents a more complicated aspect of cultural identification.
In terms of externals, when believers in Isa pray,
how they pray, and where they pray are not per
se biblical issues. Praying within public notice or on prescribed
occasions throughout the day is acceptable. Muslims who never
see believers in Isa pray may conclude that they are impious.
Prayer meetings of the Isa community that involve believers on
hands and knees or with hands held upright rather than folded
may preserve a reverence for God that is natural to the religious
affections of Muslim converts. Holding mosque-style prayer meetings
may also be strategically helpful in making a bridge from the
Islamic to biblical community. Even holding prayer meetings among
biblical believers at the mosque is not unbiblical in any obvious
way and may be the only space available for such meetings. However,
to avoid misrepresentation and the charge of deception, using
the mosque for such meetings requires informed consent from relevant
local authorities. We note that in our target field there is a
case of a genuinely converted Muslim holy man who has begun Bible
study and prayer meetings in his mosque.
primary tension with contextualization is not prayer in the sense
that Christians understand it, but relates to the content
of Islamic ritual and participation at the mosque with practicing
Muslims. To understand the problem we need to first consider the
meaning of Muslim prayer. One the one hand, Muslims view petitionary
prayer much the same way Christians do. New converts have demonstrated
the ability to make a transition in their own personal prayer
life from the authority of Muhammad to the authority of Isa as
their intercessor before God in prayer.
for Islam, the salat is more important than petitionary
prayer. Salat involves recitation of the creed, "There
is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet." Combined
with ritual bowing and kneeling during recitation, the salat
defines Muslim brotherhood and Islamic faith. Salat is
universally understood as an act of worship and is the foundation
for daily Mosque rites .
The question we must address is whether it is appropriate for
a biblical believer to participate in this ritual in the name
of contextualized outreach. Consider the following points.
in Muslim understanding, daily salat is the primary means
of achieving merit for salvation. Parshall notes,
eschatological importance of prayer is seen in this Hadith: 'Of
all a man's actions, the first to be examined on the day of Resurrection
will be the Prayer. If it is found to be complete, it will be
accepted of him along with the rest of his works, but if it is
found wanting, it will be rejected along with the rest of his
deeds' (Ghazali 1983, 23). There is then a salvific dimension
to prayer that promotes observance.
salat is directly antithetical to the biblical doctrine
of salvation by grace through faith. The danger here is obvious.
The C5 survey (page 5) implies a correlation between attendance
at the mosque during prescribed times of Muslim prayer and syncretistic
beliefs. This is to be expected. Attendance at the mosque centering
on recitation of the creed may sustain the appearance of cultural
identification with Muslims, but unfortunately may undermine the
spiritual integrity of the worker's witness because prescribed
times of Muslim prayer based on salat can not be purged
of legalistic merit-seeking. David Racey makes an important point:
practice Islamic rituals in the name of contextualization, and
preach the gospel of grace, is a contradiction. It is naive
to suppose that these rituals can be performed as prescribed by
Islamic law and make them mean anything other than what they have
always meant to Muslims. What you may hope to convey by your participation
the salat also presents an unacceptable christology. The
de facto elevation of Muhammad and the legalistic meaning
of salat constitute a direct challenge to the unique person
and work of Christ. This strongly argues against the C5 model
as a goal for Muslim converts, much less as a strategy for reaching
them. It simply isn't possible to truly embrace the heart of Islam,
embodied in salat, and grow in the grace of Isa.
have suggested that the salat can be reinterpreted in such
a way that biblical believers can, on some level, affirm, and
therefore stay within the Muslim fold. Perhaps Muhammad can be
understood as "a" prophet, not "the" prophet;
and maybe we can understand prophet as a less authoritative "messenger".
The idea is to lower Mohammed's stature a couple of notches so
that the believer can affirm Isa as the authoritative revelation
from God. But such semantic gymnastics seem disingenuous and dangerous.
They are dangerous because they foster syncretism as the survey
data show. They are disingenuous because they intentionally mislead.
Chastain correctly observes,
communication with other humans, a person has the obligation to
use words and actions that do not purposely mislead. Islam has
proprietary rights over its own religious terminology and practices.
For those who are not in sympathy with the goals of Islam to take
upon themselves the right to use those terms and practices for
their own private purposes... violates a basic ethical demand
in communications... and gives the Muslim the right to suspect
us of deception."
Muslim's creedal affirmation of Muhammad as God's prophet (or
messenger) carries with it an explicit understanding of Muhammad
being the recipient of definitive revelation. It is unethical
and inappropriate to affirm the salat by importing a Christianized
spin on the meaning of this term when it clearly means something
different to Muslims.
identifying ones self as a Muslim in only the cultural sense,
or in a radically reinterpreted religious sense is grossly misleading.
Evangelicals have long deplored the semantic mysticism of liberal
theologians as they import deceptive meanings to biblical terms
that are utterly foreign to their context. It is true that the
term "Muslim" literally means "one who surrenders
[to God], " something clearly true of biblical believers.
However, being a Muslim carries unambiguous religious content
that simply can not be reconciled to biblical orthodoxy. The ends
of evangelism or discipleship do not justify potentially cult-like
manipulation of language.
the goal of C5 contextualization, unlike C6 is to give witness
for Isa from within the Islamic fold. But once it becomes evident
that the believer in Isa holds views that only Christians can
accept, opposition will almost certainly follow. What do we think
is in the best interest of Muslim evangelism and the goal of church
planting: rejection from the community as an errant Muslim, or
expulsion as a professing biblical believer in Isa? It seems clear
that confronting opposition as a biblical believer rather than
an errant member of a false religion is a crucial part of our
witness for Christ in the world.
authority of the Koran, as the survey findings indicate (see
earlier chart), is deeply etched in the Muslim psyche even for
those who have never read it. For instance, folk Islam uses koranic
verses superstitiously as magical incantation.
Muslims are also taught that the Christian scriptures are
full of error. Only the Koran is authoritative. Clearly, spiritual
maturity can not be developed with the traditional Muslim view
of the Koran and the Bible. Without a foundation in truth, spiritual
growth is impossible (John 17:17). This is perhaps the central
challenge in training Muslim converts.
this does not mean that ambassadors for Isa should avoid the Koran
all together. There are important areas of common ground between
the Koran and the Bible and this may be a valuable starting point
for biblical witness. When the Koran is used for evangelistic
or pre-evangelistic purposes, two interpretative principles relate.
First, evangelists should not proof-text the Koran in support
of a biblical doctrine. As just noted, to say that a text in the
Koran that affirms Muhammad is a "messenger" means something
less than his final authoritative status is inconsistent with
what we know to be true of the grammatical-historical meaning
of Mohammed's identity. Communicators should attempt to be
as faithful to the authorial intent and clear meaning of the Koran
as we are with the Bible. This does not mean that biblical
communicators need to interpret the Koran through the Hadiths.
Rather, it means that we should interpret specific koranic texts
in light of the entire Koran.
second and related point needs to be made. Based upon the fact
that the Koran accepts on some level the authority of Christian
scripture, some argue that the New Testament legitimately provides
the interpretative context by which one should understand the
Koran. Indeed, Islam teaches that Mohammed's purpose was to call
a polytheistic people to the true faith in biblical Abraham. However,
there can be no doubt that the Koran radically reinterprets New
and Old Testament scripture and attributes to the work of Satan
those biblical teachings that contradict the Koran. Therefore,
it is simply inconsistent with the Koran's teaching about itself
as the final, authoritative revelation from God, to hold the New
Testament as the authoritative interpretative grid when doing
koranic exegesis. We understand the motivation to approach the
Koran in this way, both for long-term C5 strategy and for evangelistic
purposes. However, we are convinced that the point of contact
between the Koran and the Bible is valuable primarily in terms
of shifting the basis of the discussion to the New Testament and
what it teaches about Isa, not attempting to build authentic faith
from the Koran.
of C4 and C5 models:
Consider self Muslim even if other Muslims don't see it
Do not consider self Muslim, though may not accept the term
"Christian" either. A believer in Isa or a believer
in messiah may be preferred. Calling self "Muslim"
is inaccurate and misleading.
Accept the Koran except where it conflicts with the Bible.
Muhammad is considered to be a "prophet" in some
weaker sense than a biblical prophet. Reverence shown for
the Koran and Muhammad.
Do not consider Muhammad as a prophet or the Koran as prophecy
from God. However, some biblical concepts are translated
into terms familiar to the Muslim. Some Koranic texts, grammatico-historically
interpreted, may be useful in pre-evangelistic attempts
to create common ground since they speak of Jesus and affirm
Maintain mosque attendance, lifestyle requirements of Islam,
repeat reinterpreted Muslim prayers.
Believers bring no unnecessary offense to their Muslim neighbors.
May observe non-moral lifestyle dictates of Islamic culture
such as dietary laws, fasting, abstinence from alcohol,
etc. Believers will emphasize prayer and alms-giving as
ways of expressing their faith and giving witness to the
community. However, they will not participate in solat or
pray traditional Muslim prayers.
IMPLICATIONS: CONTEXTUALIZATION, CONVERSION AND CHURCH PLANTING
Some of the tensions
in contextualization may perhaps be reduced some by considering
the differences between evangelism and church planting, and thinking
through a process in which converts can be brought into
the believing community. Lets think of this in terms of stages
from pre-evangelism through evangelism and conversion, to incorporation
in the biblical community and the visible witness of the believing
The process of developing a relationship in which the messenger
can be taken seriously and the message can be understood. Pre-evangelism
attempts to find areas of common ground from which to communicate.
The principle is that "people can take in a new idea only
in terms of ideas the already have."
To borrow a sociology term, the Gospel must come to fit
within a person's "plausibility structure" if it is
to be a live option. Communication across cultures and across
world views requires a contextualized strategy. Specifically,
use of relevant texts from the Koran and Islamic terminology may
be necessary to effectively communicate shared notions. For example,
Sirat al Masih (The Life of the Messiah, Global
Publications, 1992), offers a loose paraphrase of the Gospels
using Islamic terms and Arabic language to introduce Muslims to
Jesus. Use of redemptive analogy and story are also potentially
valuable. This application of contextualization does not affirm
the truth of Islam or the Koran, but recognizes the biblical example
of entering into redemptive dialogue in terms, concepts and sources
of authority recognized by the audience. Presuppositional apologetics
commonly uses this tool, as Paul did when approaching the Athenians
in Acts 17. The goal is to create interest in more information
based on tension from within the Muslim world view. At this stage
of the communication process, very little needs to be communicated
about the meaning of biblical faith. The focus is on what the
Muslim believes and the dilemma it presents.
common ground and creating tension:
God is absolutely just and righteous
· Man is sinful
· There will be a time of accountability
· God is merciful
· God reveals himself through his prophets
a credible witness is, of course, a precondition for even being
able to enter into meaningful discussion about spiritual things.
Christian background workers and Muslim converts involved in C4
(pre-)evangelism will need to maintain some essential outward
identification with the culture while contributing socially in
an inviting life style witness:
Maintain healthy respect for civil and religious authorities
· Practice generosity and compassion in
dealings with the less fortunate
· Maintain dietary habits consistent with
Muslim neighbors, including the fast
· Participate fully in neighborhood activities
· Present one's self as a spiritually active
and mature member of the community
and conversion: The process of resolving the dilemma of man's
sin, God's justice and mercy, by effectively communicating saving
faith in Isa and assisting a Muslim to receive the gift of forgiveness.
This is a particularly difficult area to discuss, because it almost
certainly assumes that the Muslim, if responsive to the Gospel,
will bring into his new faith elements of Islam that are incompatible
with full biblical orthodoxy. That's why we must emphasize process
in conversion. Evangelists need to focus on what is required for
an authentic decision resulting in salvation from a longer process
of teaching and discipleship that transforms saving faith into
biblically maturity. To hold out for complete biblical orthodoxy
for salvation does not seem to be supported by the scriptural
examples of conversion in, for example, Acts 8, 10, 16, 17. However,
there are several truths that must be understood and accepted
for salvation. These truths are alien to the Koran and require
a shift from Islamic belief to a biblical faith (even if the full
authority of the Bible as the sole authority and Word of God has
not yet been accepted).
Gospel is God's Solution
Substitutionary atonement understood
· Legalism and ritual is a dead end, trivializing
the justice and righteousness of God
· God's justice and mercy (love) fully
expressed in the death of his Son, the Isa, on the cross
· Sole sufficiency of Isa's death for man's
sin demonstrated in his physical
believer is now at an important crossroads in terms of spiritual
growth and cultural identity. Indwelled by the Holy Spirit, a
deeper work of God is possible. The Spirit will work with scriptural
teaching as the convert is discipled into an increasingly orthodox
faith. Those involved in discipleship need to devote substantial
time to reading the Bible together, explaining biblical teaching
and responding to Muslim misunderstanding of truths centering
on the person of Christ and the authority of scripture. A conscious,
deliberate goal needs to exist in the mind of the Christian worker
to move the believer in Isa from a substantially syncratistic
faith to a C4 faith. All Christian workers should agree that C5
contextualization is not the goal for discipleship and church
new believes in Isa grow into a deeper and more orthodox faith,
the question emerges: how and when will the converts communicate
their biblical faith? This is clearly an individual decision and
disciplers need to individualize counsel based on the strength
of the convert's biblical convictions and life situation. However,
this is a crucial time to extend the work of God to the broader
family and close associates. Believers in Isa may never have a
better opportunity to reach those closest to them than in the
months or years following conversion. For this reason, it's best
to allow several months or perhaps years of individual discipleship
and efforts on the convert's part to stimulate investigation by
their family before encouraging public statements of faith, such
as baptism, separation from the mosque, and so forth.
witness of the biblical community: There are two features
of a biblical community that should be seen as clear and distinct
goals of a successfully planted indigenous church. First, living
out biblical corporate faith that provides concrete evidence of
the Gospel's truth to Muslim neighbors; and second, providing
the necessary resources for converts to grow to spiritual maturity
and equipped for effective verbal witness and leadership.
some Muslim contexts, a visible biblical community may be a long
time in the making. On the other hand, in some contexts conditions
are more permissive. Those who are willing and able to express
their personal belief in Isa as savior could be brought together
into a C4 community of faith and witness. There currently exists
a working model in the field team's present context for such a
community of C4 believers. Working within the neighborhood and
family social structures the church can provide visible witness
to Isa in ways that are potentially disarming. This would include
concrete ministry to address poverty and other pressing social
concerns. Altruism in the name of Isa may be resented by some ,
but will offer to others a new and refreshing understanding of
Visible community of professing (publicly baptized?) followers
· Invested in good works for the sake of
the broader community · Culturally meaningful
structures for meetings that move as far toward the indigenous
community as the moral and doctrinal norms of scripture
believing community needs to be a context for social and spiritual
development. As converts are marginalized from their normal social
contexts, or even persecuted, the biblical community needs to
be able to meet basic physical and social needs. As the early
church flourished in a spiritually hostile climate, so too, perhaps,
will the church among the Muslims emerge. A strong ethic of suffering
will need to continue, where courage and risk-taking are highly
valued. The love of the body of Christ is essential to strengthen
converts' resolve to continue on in faith in Christ while facing
likely hostile reaction. In addition, the biblical community must
be strongly truth-focused, offering educational alternatives to
the mosque. Church leaders need to direct themselves to the long-term
viability of the community by prioritizing biblical teaching and
theology. This requires high standards of training in biblical
orthodoxy and apologetics among emerging indigenous leaders.
Darrell L. Whiteman, "Contextualization: The Theory, the
Gap, the Challenge," International Bulletin of Missionary
Research, January, 1997, 2. Return to Text
That's why missionaries are commonly accused of being agents of
Western imperialism and destroyers of culture. Return to Text
Adapted from Phil Parshall, "Danger: New directions in contextualization,"
EMQ, 34:4, 407-8. Return to Text
See H.L. Richard, "Is extraction evangelism still the way
to go?', reprinted in Mission Frontiers Bulletin September-October
1996, 15. Return to Text
See Don Eenigenburg, "The pros and cons of Islamicized contextualization,"
EMQ, July, 1997, 310-315. See also Phil Parshall, "Danger!
New directions in contextualization," EMQ, 34:4, 404-417.
Return to Text
See Parshall, ibid. Note especially Dean Gilliland's response
(415-417). Return to Text
Summarized in Parshall, ibid, 406. Return to Text
See Parshall, ibid., 406. I assume that these 72 people
surveyed represent the best trained and consequently most orthodox
members of the C5 community. Return to Text
See H.L. Richard, "Is extraction evangelism still the way
to go?', reprinted in Mission Frontiers Bulletin September-October
1996, 15. Return to Text
Our primary concern here is to focus on the ethnic-religious tension
between Jew and Gentile. However, it is worth noting that Paul's
instructions for those married to non-Christians is to stay in
the marriage for as long as the non-Christian spouse will allow
it. It presumes that active witness is occurring and that at some
point, it will polarize the non-Christian either to Christian
faith or out of the marriage. Return to Text
We should also note that similar public episodes were caused by
Jewish reaction to the early church movement. See Acts 18:5-17.
Return to Text
We are not suggesting that Islam is the same as paganism. The
point is that the early Christian movement made a conscious distinction
between religious and cultural identity-even in contexts, such
as Ephesus, in which that distinction was very difficult to make
and resulted in extreme opposition. Return to Text
For a brief discussion of the possible benefits of fasting during
Ramadan, see Erik Nubthar, "What I learned by keeping the
fast," EMQ, July, 1996, 309-310. Return to Text
See Sura 24:56-finding Allah's mercy is the motivation for giving
alms in this text. Return to Text
There have been attempts by C2/C3 missionaries to give rice with
Bible verses pasted on the package, and even one attempt to use
church bulletins as a rice container. These attempts were met
with confusion and a measure of resentment by the recipients.
Return to Text
The reader should be clear that mosques are used not only for
Islamic religious purposes, but also serve as community centers
for a wide range of civic activities. We find nothing inherently
dangerous in using a mosque for Christian purposes as long as
we are being open and honest about how we are using it. Return
For a discussion on Christians and the salat, see Warren
Chastain, "Should Christians Pray the Muslim Salat?
International Journal of Frontier Missions, 12:3, July-Sept,
1995, 161ff. Return to Text
Phil Parshall, The Cross and the Crescent (Wheaton, IL:
Tyndale House, 1989), 77. Because of the theology necessarily
associated with Muslim prayer, Parshall strongly contends that
remaining active in the mosque is either "compromise or deceit."
See Beyond the Mosque (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1985),
184. Return to Text
David Racey, "Contextualization: how far is too far?, EMQ,
July 1996, 308. Return to Text
Chastain, ibid. Return to Text
In the final section of this paper, we will discuss the appropriateness
of Muslim converts simply rewording the salat along biblical
lines. Return to Text
Parshall, ibid., 50-52 provides numerous examples of Koranic
verses repeated over and over in an attempt to curse enemies,
secure good health and prosperity and other concerns. Return
Andrew F. Walls, "Old Athens and New Jerusalem: Some Signposts
for Christian Scholarship in the Early History of Mission Studies,"
International Bulletin of Missionary Research, October,
1997, 146. I think Walls goes too far with this principle and
applies it in ways that are neither presumed by the New Testament
nor helpful in the work of biblical theology. Return to Text
Phil Parshall has suggested that the time frame for a public statement
of faith should be in terms of months, not years (an opinion given
in personal correspondence with the author). Return to Text
Parshall warns that reaction from Muslim clerics to material or
medical assistance programs is not uncommon. This is not an argument
against this form of witness, but does show that there are limitations.
See Parshall's Beyond the Mosque, 205-210. 1 15 Return