Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Of Muslims and Mars Hill

"Mars Hill" refers to Paul's encounter with the Epicureans and Stoics in the Areopagus at Athens. You can read the biblical narrative of the account here. It is the textus classicus for detailing true biblical contextualization. After you've read the biblical text, see whether this is not a good timeline of what Paul did:

  1. Paul arrived in Athens and was provoked by the way that the city was full of temples and idols.
  2. Paul immediately began to preach explicitly the exclusive gospel of Jesus Christ both in the synagogues and out in the public marketplace to whomever would listen. This was Paul's continuous practice and went on for an undisclosed number of days.
  3. Epicureans and Stoics heard Paul preaching and took him to the Areopagus to find out more details about what Paul was preaching. Paul arrived there and began to preach.
  4. Paul mentioned his observation that the people of Athens were "very religious."
  5. Paul noted the existence of the temple "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD."
  6. Paul used the existence of this temple to highlight the ignorance of Greek religion.
  7. Paul promised to supplant their ignorance by proclaiming revealed truth.
  8. Paul publicly rejected the entire Greek system of temple worship, including by extension the temple to an unknown god, by stating flatly that God does not dwell in man-made temples.
  9. Paul stated that the purpose of mankind is not to care for (tend to the needs of) God, but to seek God.
  10. Paul cited Greek poets to illustrate that even Greeks acknowledged that people are "His children."
  11. Paul used the doctrine of God's fatherhood to highlight the foolishness of Greek idolatry—how can people be the children of a statue of gold or silver or stone?
  12. Paul demonstrated that the statues come from men; men don't come from the statues.
  13. Paul highlighted again that Greek religion was ignorant, but Paul proclaimed the good news that God was ready to overlook their past ignorance.
  14. Paul articulated God's demand that those in ignorance repent from their idolatry.
  15. Paul proclaimed the coming day of judgment through Jesus.
  16. Paul offered the resurrection of Jesus as proof of Christ's role as Savior and Judge.
  17. The people who were listening understood clearly what Paul was preaching. As a result, some sneered. Others were interested in further discussion. Yet others gladly received the gospel.
The major difference between The Camel and Paul's work in Athens is indeed a C-word, but not contextualization. The key difference regards confrontation. Consider again the pattern of bold confrontation that Paul brought against false religion in Acts 17. He declared their religion to be ignorant of God. He used their own religion (the temple acknowledging that the existence of the "unknown" in their religion...the poems declaring that we are God's children, not the gods' sculptors) to disprove their religion. He did not leave them to draw their own conclusions—he spelled it out for them. He confronted their city full of temples. He confronted their city full of idols. He confronted the core principles of their religion—the nature of the Divine. Paul said that God was no longer willing to overlook their ignorance. On the authority of God, Paul called upon them to repent. Paul asserted Jesus as the exclusive Judge of all mankind. I think that Acts 17 gives an excellent paradigm for repairing The Camel. Greeson's book very delicately avoids confrontation with Islam. Indeed, the fundamental distinctive of The Camel seems to be its way of trying to present Christianity without confronting Islam. As a result, the most troubling aspect of the book is what is not in it, not what is in it. A person carefully following this method is never instructed to confront the Muslim god as false. He is never instructed to confront Mohammed as a false prophet—he is rather carefully and explicitly instructed in saying just the opposite (see here). He is never instructed to confront the Qur'an as ignorant of the true God, the true Jesus, and the true faith. Indeed, the method depends upon the Muslim's reliance upon the accuracy of the Qur'an. Speaking of camels, G. K. Chesterton wrote: "Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel." Greeson's book clearly regards the confrontation of false religion as a burden—an obstacle to be overcome in evangelization. Paul regarded it as an essential part of evangelization. I think it would remedy many of these ills if Greeson were to restore the biblical hump of confrontation to his camel of Muslim evangelization.


volfan007 said...


for what it's worth, i think you hit the nail squarely on the ole head. paul did confront. paul showed them the difference. paul lifted up Jesus to His rightful place of Lordship. paul talked about God being the one and only true God.

i doubt that any of those greeks were confused by what paul preached that day. i doubt that any of them would have thought that they could worship zeus and Jesus at the same time.

something that we have to deal with different religions and cults about is the fact that thier god is not the God. they have a false god of thier own making. i think that this is essential in them coming to true faith in Jesus.

good post. good insight.


Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Dr. BB,

You are right on the mark here. I do hope the proponents of the camel method give what you have written an honest reading.

Love in Christ,


Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

Help me with something here. Mars Hill was not considered a "victory" in Paul's ministry. While some came to Christ, I remember a former prof telling our class that Paul's intellectual presentation did not help in presenting the Gospel. Mars Hill, I thought, has been used as an illustration of how we are supposed to boldly present the Gospel, not as a bridge to present the Gospel. Doesn't V.33 mean that he left the city? Also, if this was a bridge that could be used, did he use it when he came back to Mars Hill? Or, did he ever come back to Mars Hill? If he didn't, why not?


Bart Barber said...

David & Jeff,



In my way of looking at things, here's how it works out: Paul clearly and unapologetically presented the gospel of Jesus Christ at Mars Hill; therefore, it was a "victory" in Paul's ministry. Period.

But you do correctly observe that Paul's ministry at Corinth was longer, witnessed more people becoming Christians, and resulted in a healthier church.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

Let me further ask as a follow-up. While the Apostle Paul did witness at Mars Hill using the idol to the unknown god, would you agree that he did not make that a standard witnessing tool to be used as a bridge for those who worship the Greek gods? IOW, how much of the Greek temple practice did the Apostle Paul advocate for the recent converts to remain in? Or did he call for them to come out of the pagan worship assemblies?


R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, I appreciate your bringing out of these points. I've posted on Mars Hill elsewhere, so won't say much for now.

But I want to amen this statement: "Paul clearly and unapologetically presented the gospel of Jesus Christ at Mars Hill; therefore, it was a 'victory' in Paul's ministry. Period."

It seems we (as a people) have grown to the place we view a successful ministry as one that sees many people profess faith in Christ. Now I'm sure that is what we would love to see, and there is great rejoicing in heaven over repenting sinners. But, in my opinion, conversion is God's success and not our own. We cannot save one soul. We Christians are successful when we faithfully present the gospel. Period. One may plant. Another may water. Only God gives an increase.

Bro. Robin said...


I believe you have presented the straw that broke the camel's back. :-D


Malcolm Yarnell said...

As the Brits would say, Bart, "spot on".

Ben Macklin said...

Bro. Bart -

Very well said, Bart. I couldn't agree more.

Ben Macklin

Bart Barber said...


You are exactly correct. Paul did not establish a "tool" at Mars Hill. Paul's methodology was to preach the gospel plainly. At Mars Hill, he used a couple of local items in a subservient role to the New Testament gospel in order to make important gospel points.

Bart Barber said...

Robert Vaughn,

These twin demons of radical pragmatism and a lack of confidence in the power of the gospel—they are at the root of all of this, I think.

Bart Barber said...

Robin, Dr. Yarnell, and Ben,

Thanks for reading, gentlemen.

Grosey's Messages said...

"These twin demons of radical pragmatism and a lack of confidence in the power of the gospel—they are at the root of all of this, I think"

I think I agree with you Bart (wow you are almost a calvinist) ;)

Bart Barber said...


I guess it depends upon the frame of reference. If I were to attend a Founders meeting, I doubt that anyone would diagnose me as being almost a Calvinist. But neither am I anywhere close to being an Arminian.

Grosey's Messages said...

;) aaah then you are a good man!!

Greg Tomlin said...


May Allah use your entrails for his shoelaces, and your behind for his pin cushion!

He, he, he. Just kidding, Bart. I think this Camel method itself is a bone-headed idea.

If you quote from the Quran about Jesus, whether you intend to or not, your lend credence to the testimony of this rather unholy book. It is not Scripture, so why quote it? So when I'm talking to a Hindu, I should quote some morsel of truth from the Vedas, such as, "treat others only like you'd like to be treated?"

If a Muslim rejects the Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus of the Quran certainly isn't going to convince him. It just confuses the issue.

Here's a better plan, since Muslims like to talk about religion.

1) Make friends with a Muslim.
2) Tell him you are a Christian upfront.
3) Show him you are a Christian in the relationship.
4) Tell him you'll read his copy of the Quran if he'll read your New Testament.
5) Let the Word of God do the work. It doesn't return void.
6) You read the Quran and learn what it says.
7) Present the plan of salvation.

He may reject it, but at least you haven't agreed that his book contains something truthful about Jesus or that it is accurate in any respect.


Bart Barber said...


You jest, but I've heard rumors about an upcoming "Vedic Bridge" inspired by The Camel. Let's hope it was just someone with an overactive imagination.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing about the Camel and bringing this important subject into a realm for discussion. While I, like you, wonder whether missionaries should use this resource, I also see a big difference between the ancient Greeks and modern day Muslims. The ancient Greeks were open to many ideas and philosophies and took pride in this characteristic. Modern day Muslims are much less open-minded. Maybe this is part of the reason for such a circumspect approach.


R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, out of curiosity I plugged "vedic bridge" into Google and found this tract called The Vedic Bridge.

volfan007 said...

i'm asking someone....anyone...or, i might do come up with a bridge to hillbillies. we'll call it the hound dawg method. we'll build a still so we can drink moonshine while we discuss salvation. that'll make'em feel more at ease. we'll tell them that spittoons will be in all pews for chewing and dipping. let's see, what else? can anyone help me with this?

david :)

ps. sorry bart...i just couldnt help it.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks for the link, Robert. How would you evaluate it after reading it?

At first glance, it looks like somewhat of an improvement over The Camel, although not without potential problems.

The ratio of Bible to Vedas is pretty doggone healthy in that tract. That is an improvement.

But the "Vedic Bridge" still sidesteps the whole issue of polytheism (is this "Creator God" one of many?). There's the question of whether this is an honest use of the Hindu source material, and I'm not in a position to answer that without doing a good bit of research. A couple of other questions remain, also. But it is an interesting question.

Bart Barber said...


Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

I agree with your comparative assessment of Greeks and Muslims. However, the same bold pattern of confrontation was employed toward Jews (viz., the steady confrontation of Jews in New Testament presentations of the gospel for having crucified the Messiah). It is not confrontation without love, but it is bold confrontation with a call to repentance. Is there any other pattern anywhere in the New Testament?

Bart Barber said...


I suppose you could build something around Hank Williams, Sr., having sung "I saw the light."

joerstewart said...

Thanks for your work, my friend.

Anonymous said...


I am surprized that neither you nor anyone else picked up on Greg Tomlin's post. Why not Evangelize that way? Many of us on the field have advocated being open and above board in our approach to Muslim Evangelism.

Unfotrunately, several years ago the IMB started placing "secret agents" in Muslim communities. Many of these were instructed by their regional leadership to NOT go to church, not associate with other missionaries, but to start their own house churches. I am skeptical of all of the claims about Muslim converts, but that is probably because I'm from Missouri and must be shown. And I have yet to see the results of the secret agent missionaries.

A 10-40 Windows Missionary

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, my initial reaction to the "Vedic Bridge" on a quick read through was:

It does not have some of the most objectional features I find in the Camel Method.
It doesn't seem to clearly differentiate between whatever would be the Hindu concept of the God mentioned in the Vedas and the true Creator God of the Bible.
It had too much play to the original Vedic reference "may you guide our intellect in the right direction" for my liking.
I don't believe in the repeat-after-me prayers, whether for Muslims, Hindus, or Americans.

In addition to that, two other comments: it seems much closer to, or more like, a true "bridge" than the Camel Method; and, like you, I don't know enough about the Vedas to know whether this is a legitimate (true to source) use of the original Hindu source material.

Greg Tomlin said...

Some time ago, I was in Southeast Asia in a tribal area up in the mountains. In one village, I had just missed the annual rice harvest sacrifice of the water buffalo, but the remnants of the sacrifice were still there. They did it to thank the spirits in the forest for a good harvest.

My guide, himself a member of one of the ethnic minority tribes, told me how they do it -- binding the Buffalo by its horns, beating it, poking it, torturing it until it bellows. The cry from the buffalo is supposed to bring the spirits in from the forest for the feast. After the buffalo cries out, they kill it.

Now, mind you, immediately I thought of Matthew's account of the crucifixion ... Jesus' torture, his agonizing cry, and his death following. But should I use that as a bridge? Or should I condemn it as a misguided, godless pagan practice? It must be the later.

While the book "Eternity in Their Hearts" says that there is something in every society that will help the people understand Christ's sacrifice, it runs contrary to our faith to use the imperfect and godless to demonstrate the perfect and godly. Proclaim the perfect sacrifice and preach God's word, and let the people themselves understand in their hearts. To them, He is an "unknown God." Notice that Paul doesn't start with a "god" these people at Mars Hill know anything about. He didn't choose Zues, or Apollo. He said, "I'm coming to tell you something you DON'T know."

If I preached to the tribe based on what I had seen, in their eyes I just might be agreeing that it has some validity. It is best to say, "The Most High sent me to you to tell you of the one way you can be saved -- a way you do not know and have not heard."

Preach the sacrifice of Christ to them and they will understand. You don't need to hide the truth under layers of stories or other methods.

Rick said...


You said "i'm asking someone....anyone...or, i might do come up with a bridge to hillbillies."

You’re a little late since this this and this are in place.

I wouldn’t think we should even worry about bridging to them Muslims since they don’t hunt, race, or B-ball.

Bart Barber said...

10-40 Missionary,

I have learned long ago not to disregard anything Greg Tomlin says. I direct everyone reading the thread to look closely at what he has written and what you have written. There is precious truth therein.

Anonymous said...

"He is never instructed to confront the Qur'an as ignorant of the true God, the true Jesus, and the true faith."

You might want to re-read page 145.

R. L. Vaughn said...

I scrolled back through the 30 comments. Did I miss it? Did anyone attempt to show why Paul's sermon on Mars Hill is a model for the Camel Method?

Greg Tomlin said...

There are several reasons why Paul's sermon couldn't be the model for the Camel method, among them these:

1) It is not Paul who initiates a culturally adapted message of the gospel. He was preaching in the synagogues and was approached by the Epicureans and Stoics. In other words, he was doing his job, preaching the Word of God and allowing it to prompt hearts to investigate.

Notice in verse 19 in the Greek, "and having taken ahold of him, to the Mars hill they brought him, saying, 'Are we able to know what is this new teaching which is spoken by you?'

2) You would expect Paul to adapt the message to the culture, but he uses the culture to draw a clear line between their pagan and godless practices and the godly message of the gospel.

If you look at the Greek text, Paul begins by acknowledging that the Athenians are "religious in every way" or "very religious."
Many people might take this as a compliment, but Paul is really proclaiming their ignorance. In a way, he is ridiculing their folly.

Literally, the word Paul uses to describe their religion is a derivative of the root word for "demon" (deisidaimon). It is a word that consciously evokes misguided pursuits of the divine. In other words, they practiced religion, but knew nothing of faith in the one true God.

3) Paul qualifies this fact further, saying that he proclaims to them an "agnosto theo," an unknown God. They are ignorant of God. Paul takes further steps to tell of God's works and his character, his creation, his ACTUAL dwelling place in the human heart, and the person and work of Christ. There are five negatives used here, including the facts that God a) is not known by them; b) does not dwell in temples made by hands; c) is not served by men's hands; d) is not far off from men; e) should not be sought in silver or gold.

It sounds to me like Paul is contradicting everything they believe as ignorance of God, rather than validating any of it or using it as some bridge. If it were a bridge, he would leave some part of it intact and unquestioned in the presentation. But he debunks it ALL.

This Camel Method, which I think you know by now I don't like, teaches that such a declaration of the ignorance of Muslims about the truth should be avoided in favor of using "the Jesus of the Quran" to lead them toward the "Jesus of the Bible."

It is therefore, wrong. But rather than us putting a caustic pamphlet in their hand that says, "Hey, all you Muslims have been duped by a false prophet," or, "You guys follow demons," just put the word of God in their hands and their ears and let it indict. Ask them to read it and listen to it in exchange for you reading the Quran. You might learn something about the religion of Islam. They might learn something about eternal life, guaranteed only by faith and grace.

I believe this strongly because of the same text in Acts 17:30 is clear that the time in which God overlooks ignorance of him has long since past. He, literally I might add, "charges all men everywhere to repent" because his Son is coming to judge the world.


R. L. Vaughn said...

I agree, Greg.

Several folks in other venues have indicated they believe the Camel Method "is extremely similar to Paul's (method) at Mars Hill." I would like those proposing the similarity to address the passage of Scripture and show why they think it is the same thing or similar -- rather than just saying it and expecting others to accept it because they said it.

Bennett Willis said...

One problem with confrontation now as compared to confrontation then is that the folks Paul was dealing with were acustomed to debating (and even changing their minds) on all sorts of topics.

This seems to be a lost art--and I offer thousands of column inches of blog comments with almost no indication that any one was ever convinced to change their minds in support of this statement.

Present The Way "sweetly" and let The Word convict. Till up some common ground and develop a relationship. Minds are no longer changed in a few days.

Bennett Willis

Greg Tomlin said...

Now we can use Harry Potter as a bridge, according to Associated Baptist Press.

Strider said...

For the record I am not a big fan of Camel. With my Muslim people group it would involve a lot of teaching them the Koran first and I have no patience to do that. I also don't like the use of the Koran which is more or less out of context. When Mohamed was in exile and weak he was conciliatory to Christians and Jews and that is when lots of 'good' stuff was written about Jesus the 'prophet'. But when he came into power he left all that behind and cursed the Christian leaders and their children. Nice guy.
But like the old story the evangelist tells (in many forms) of the guy who says to him I don't like the way you share the gospel and the evangelist says, 'well how do you share it?' And the guy says, 'I don't'. Then the evangelist says, 'well, I like my method better than yours.' Well, I don't belittle or criticize the Camel guys too hard. They are doing the best they can in a tough situation. I am not afraid of offending anyone with the Cross of Christ but the trouble with Muslims is that our Westerness offends them before they ever have a chance to contemplate the cross. That is what has to be overcome. We need bridges of some kind in order to get to the cross.
As to your counter in the corner I am not sure what its purpose is. We can vote all day but the scriptures still never say accept Jesus, reject Mohamed and you will be saved. When I am dealing with new believers it is something I look for- how do they now feel about Islam? I know that I have someone with a lasting faith when they do reject Islam but we don't start there. It takes time. It is the Holy Spirit's work and he is faithful to do it. I have a friend who took a solid year from the time he accepted Christ as his savior until he rejected Mohamed. At what point was he 'saved'? I have no idea. I am not his judge. But I tell you what, you teach people in the US to sell all they have and give it to the poor and then follow Christ before you Baptize them and see how many converts you get this year and I will challenge people to give up Mohamed and then baptize them and we will see the same results. Zero. Or we can proclaim the Word as best we can and let the Holy Spirit do his work.
Don't get me wrong, I think it is good to discuss the merits of the Camel method and any other method but let us not become too judgmental of those who practice what we do not understand. Let us encourage one another to love and good works.

Bart Barber said...


Bro. Moody's story is a good one. We don't have a large Muslim population in Farmersville, but our church has seen Muslim's come to Christ. We are not inactive in this area.

Also, because I agree entirely with your spirit in this comment, I do intend to provide an alternative method.

Bart Barber said...

Anonymous, I have read all of The Camel multiple times. I have read and re-read page 145 after your suggestion. Are we reading the same version? Is it possible that you are looking at a book with different pagination? I see on page 145 a statement that Mohammed did not claim to have a certain answer to the question "What will happen to me when I die?"

Where on the page is there an instruction to confront the Qur'an as ignorant of the true God, the true Jesus, and the true faith"?

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, I noticed a discussion about Christianity and Islam on the news today. One thing being discussed was Ann Holmes Redding, the Episcopal priest who claims to also be a practicing Muslim. Some preacher was all for being both. Then they questioned a Muslim Iman. He said he was glad she had moved closer to the truth, but that one could not be both a Muslim and a Christian. From his perspective, one who believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God cannot be a Muslim.