Friday, July 20, 2007

Of Muslims and Mormons

I have received my copy of Kevin Greeson, The Camel: How Muslims Are Coming to Faith in Christ!. The text is compelling and easy to read—I had finished the book within a couple of hours of receiving it. I have now read it more than once and am prepared to offer my thoughts. In fact, I have already typed out enough of my thoughts to see that my remarks are far too lengthy and involved to be contained in a single post. Please consider this the first installment in a series. The problem of Muslim evangelization is thorny indeed. We are rightly desperate to accomplish it, recognizing how many millions of people are deceived by this false religion. We see the absence of religious liberty in so many of the Muslim strongholds around the world and we wonder how to carry the gospel into places where doing so is illegal and dangerous. Any genuine breakthrough in Muslim evangelization will justly be the "killer app" of modern missiology. Many have offered The Camel as just that—the "killer app" of Muslim evangelization. Consider the words of one missionary in the foreword to the revised edition: "Is it fair to say that [The Camel] has impacted my ministry? No. It has completely transformed it." But in light of our desperation for success in this field, the substance of the theological tenets involved, and the everlasting consequences of the outcomes, calm and reflective consideration is in order regarding this method. In particular, I think we must be careful not to confuse progress with arrival as it regards the evangelization of anyone—in this context, Muslims.

What if?

You meet a Muslim. He believes that there is only one god, the Muslim Allah. He believes that Mohammed is the seal of Allah's prophets. He believes that the Qur'an is holy scripture. He prays the Muslim ritual prayers. He rejects Christianity. He has never read the Bible. He knows little of Jesus. You pray for this person and interact with him. After a while, his beliefs change. He learns that his holy book (the Qur'an) also commends to him the Christian Holy Scriptures (the Bible), so he adopts these as additional holy books in his personal canon. He affirms salvation through Jesus Christ as revealed in all three of his holy testaments, but especially the latter (the Qur'an). He begins to refer to himself as an Isahi Muslim (a "Jesus Muslim"). He is not in fellowship with those who identify themselves as Christians, but he has gathered a group of Muslims who share his views about Jesus. Is that movement? Absolutely. Is that progress? Perhaps. Is it evangelization? If it is, then we owe an apology to the Mormons. Mormons accept the Old and New Testaments. They affirm salvation through Jesus Christ. They even go so far as to call themselves Christians. They have gathered "churches" that, although out of fellowship with orthodox Christian groups, conspicuously proclaim a message regarding Jesus Christ. So, why don't we regard Mormons as Christians? Because they claim special revelation subsequent and in addition to the Bible, redefine Jesus and God, adulterate the gospel, confuse truth with error. Dr. Phil Parshall (not the "Dr. Phil", but a missiologist) provided a snapshot of just such Muslims in his article for Evangelical Missions Quarterly entitled "Danger! New Directions in Contextualization." In this article, Parshall provided the following statistical survey of a group of "Christian Muslims":
  • 50% go to the traditional mosque on Friday.
  • 31% go to the mosque more than once a day. They do standard Arabic prayers which affirm Mohammed as a prophet of God.
  • 96% say there are four heavenly books, i.e., Torah [i.e., Old Testament Pentateuch], Zabur [i.e., the Book of Psalms], Injil [these people were probably referring to the New Testament gospels, although traditional Muslim interpretation of this word is somewhat different], and Qur'an (This is standard Muslim belief…).
  • 66% say the Qur'an is the greatest of the four books.
  • 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 Qur'an
Parshall goes on to ask:
What do we have here? Contextualization or syncretism? A few points to emphasize. [The subjects of the survey] are leaders; the work has been ongoing for 15 years; the believers have had access to the New Testament; there have been short-term Bible schools for leadership; and, lastly, mosque attendance has been encouraged by the "outside" Bible teachers. Is this a model to follow or avoid?
Southern Baptists face this exact question regarding The Camel and the Korbani presentation of the gospel endorsed and taught therein. If we will be consistent in the way we treat Muslims and Mormons, the following must characterize conversion of a Muslim to Christianity:
  1. He must reject the Qur'an as not being holy scripture.
  2. He must reject Mohammed as not being a valid prophet.
  3. He must reject the Muslim concept of God (I'm avoiding "Allah" here to prevent people from embarking upon red herrings as though the question here were merely one of terminology) as not being the true God.
  4. He must reject the Muslim concept of Jesus as not being the true Jesus.
  5. He must reject the Muslim concept of works salvation and embrace the Christian gospel.
In this regard, I have come to conclude that The Camel, even in its revised form, is insufficient and in error. Over the next few posts, I hope to show from the text of the book the reasons why I have come to this conclusion, rejecting this as a model to avoid. P.S.: In light of today's date and the subject matter of this post, I direct you to another interesting article by Phil Parshall.

26 comments:

Geoff Baggett said...

Bart,

I have not read the book (though my curiosity has been aroused). But I will concur that syncretism is the great "diluter" of the true Gospel.

Missiologically speaking, there is not another group on the planet that we would seek to evangelize and, at the same time, encourage them to retain their "gods."

Following Christ requires a change in heart, thought, and even worldview.

One need only consider the train-wreck of syncretistic Roman Catholicism in Latin America, where priests can even serve as the local "witch doctor," to understand the diluting, defiling power of syncretism.

Indeed, I believe you are right. If we encourage Muslims to keep Allah, with a "bowl" of "Jesus" on the "side," then we do owe every other religious group and cult an apology.

ruthie said...

As we examine appropriate ways of engaging culture, I am dismayed to see on so many Christian blogger profiles the astrological and zodiac designations. These have their root in Eastern/Hindu philosophies. In critiquing evangelism toward Muslim, might some of the same criticisms be leveled toward this seemingly innocuous practice? Would one compare astrological signs in witnessing to a Hindu?

Bart Barber said...

Geoff,

Well said. What remains is to show whether The Camel takes us there or not. Stay tuned for the future articles in this series.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, I'm glad you've got the book and have started the review. This is a very problematic issue.

There's one thing that I would word differently (I don't think we really disagree). You listed 5 things that "must characterize conversion of a Muslim to Christianity." I agree, except that to me the word "must" seems to give the connotation that they "must" reject these things in order to be converted, while I would say they "will" reject these things if they really are converted. Probably just a semantical thing (or maybe it's just me); I doubt we would disagree a hair's breadth on the issue.

Thanks for helping expose this problem.

volfan007 said...

bart,

concerning the name "allah" for God when talking about muslims, what would you say about our m's saying "the true allah?" would that sufficiently answer the "allah" problem? you know, allah would be for the muslim god, and whatever the phrase would be in arabic...the true allah, or the one, true allah when talking about the name of the true God of the bible? would this not distinguish the two, while retaining the muslim word for God?

maybe this would be a simple solution to that part of the problem with camel?

david

R. L. Vaughn said...

David, I'm not an Arabic speaker, but my first guess would be that Arabic speakers -- at least those who are Muslims -- would understand the "true" Allah to be the Muslim "God". I don't thnk the word is a problem in most contexts.

Bart Barber said...

Robert,

I do not think that I disagree. Your point, if I understand it, is to make the change in viewpoint less a work of man prerequisite to conversion and more a work of God part-and-parcel with conversion. In other words, if I understand you correctly, we're talking about the temporal/causal relationship between repentance and regeneration. I do believe that repentance from the pursuit of a false religion is an inherent part of becoming a Christian, and that these elements are necessary parts of repentance from being a Muslim. But I am not adverse to the use of the word "will" to characterize that truth. I would want to make sure some way that nobody sneaks in the word "eventually" after "will". :-)

Bart Barber said...

David,

I don't want us to get caught up in the terminology. The problem is with the underlying concept of God, not the word used.

Now, one cannot divorce word from concept. The debate over which terminology best conveys the concept is one that we can have charitably. But we (Christians) must be in agreement that the Muslim god cannot be interchanged with the Christian God. And that's where I want to keep the emphasis.

The defenders of the Camel would love to pretend that this is just a debate about words, when it is not.

Anonymous said...

Bart
I believe that you would do best to dialogue with Kevin G., the author, before you give any more of your critique. You haven't lived it, so you are not in a position to speak on it, until you truly understand it, which I can tell from your comments, you probably don't. I've been with Kevin and have experienced his heart, along with the people he has trained. Why don't you plan a trip to work with Kevin and experience things first hand. Then, we will be glad to hear your ideas.
Thanks
South Asia M

Bart Barber said...

South Asia M,

If the method cannot be understood without journeying halfway across the world, then we probably ought not to try to encapsulate it into a book. If the book misrepresents the method, then we probably ought to discontinue its publication. My experience up to this point is precisely the experience that anyone will have who is planning to read this book and emulate this method.

Bart Barber said...

South Asia M,

I should also clarify, Greeson has the same liberty that you have (and indeed, as is available to all) to come here and discuss the specifics.

Tim Guthrie said...

Bart,
Where can I get a copy of the Camel Method?

You have got me me more than intersted.

TG

A Simple Student @ SWBTS said...

Bart,

I think South Asia M has a good point. Instead of simply offering a critique on your own that completely denounces the Camel method, you could perhaps start a dialogue with Kevin Greeson first. On further thought, I think that you could even have an open dialogue similar to what has occurred between Dr. Yarnell and David Rogers. Just a thought. He might agree to it since you are giving his book free "publicity." :)

A Simple Student @ SWBTS

P.S. Tim, click on the 'The Camel Book' to purchase.

A Simple Student @ SWBTS said...

Great link about the Neil Armstrong hoax! How do you find these things?

A Simple Student @ SWBTS

sbc pastor said...

Bart,

Good stuff. It certainly appears that the Camel Method is (unintentionally) propagating a false gospel. However, I will reserve judgment until I have personally read the book for myself... which will hopefully be next week. Perhaps, then, I will attempt to offer my two cents on the subject. God bless!!!

In Christ,
JLG

Rick said...

Bart,

I've led people to faith in Christ but never a Muslim. I've tried here in the states, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. One could say I’m a global failure in reaching them. Perhaps a blogger(s) could comment from their successes and show us a more excellent way.

Bart Barber said...

SWBTS Student,

Greeson has had a widespread forum already, having published this book twice and having spoken about it in many places, so he has a HUGE head start on me. I'll put up my thoughts about the book. Then, he is more than welcome to come and express his thoughts here. I would be glad to consider hosting a dialogue comparable to Yarnell-Rogers, although I can think of people better than me to represent my viewpoint. Maybe Tom Ascol could dialogue with him. Or maybe Emir Caner (isn't it profound that the two of them occupy the same space on this issue!). Or, if nobody else were willing, I would be glad to be the other party in the dialogue.

Bro. Greeson is not on my Christmas Card list, but maybe somebody reading here knows how to forward along the warmest of Praisegod Barebones invitations for him to come by and engage in the dialogue.

Bart Barber said...

Tim & Jeremy,

I do recommend that you read the book for yourself.

Bart Barber said...

Rick,

I have seen a Muslim come to faith in Christ, although not much opportunity exists in Farmersville, Texas. I would encourage you to remember that whenever you present the gospel you have succeeded already. The rest is in the Lord's hands and entirely beyond your power.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, you have well articulated what I was trying to say. Concerning rejecting the Muslim God, I don't see why that concept would be any different from I Thess. 1:9-10 -- "For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. I'm not sure why the principle would be any different.

BTW, a hearty double amen to your last two sentences addressed to Rick.

Bart Barber said...

Robert,

I'm glad to share agreement with you, brother.

AndyHigg said...

I appreciate your enunciation of the need for the believer, regardless of background, to fully embrace the grace-salvation of Christ and leave behind the life of works-slavation (that is not a typo!).

I personally feel that the issue is more on the point of that every believer must surrender to the clear commands of Christ and the consequences of His exclusivity. We in America have difficulties with this (materialism and hero worship in our churches!), so I am not surprised that our former-Muslim brothers and sisters are also struggling.

One last thing, since I haven't put my foot in my mouth in this comment:
I am a little surprised about the vigor with which some parties defend the "need" to protect the new believers from persecution and (I assume) death. Were we not promised such by Christ Himself? And on the idea that remaining in the mosque helps further evangelism, I don't recall Christ going to the whorehouses and gladiator games to call out the wayward woman or the Roman centurion....

Big G said...

So, why don't we regard Mormons as Christians? Because they claim special revelation subsequent and in addition to the Bible, redefine Jesus and God, adulterate the gospel, confuse truth with error.

Big G said...

"So, why don't we regard Mormons as Christians? Because they claim special revelation subsequent and in addition to the Bible, redefine Jesus and God, adulterate the gospel, confuse truth with error."




Who's "adding" to the Bible? Which Bible? Which version? Which translation? Did the Catholics "add" to the Bible or did the Protestants "take away from". How could anyone be save in Christ's time as the Bible was not in existance?

The councils of Trent and Nicea were both not biblical, Protestants accept the Nicean council but reject those of Trent. But you call yourself Christian still.

The councils very purpose was to "redefine Jesus and God", and in so doing they "adulterate(d) the gospel, confuse(d) truth with error."

That is why there are so many Christian denominations today which cannot come to a consensus on many "Biblical" doctrines.

Bart Barber said...

Big G,

I didn't realize our readership was so diverse, that we would have Mormons among our audience!

We receive the Old Testament from the Jews, since God has placed the Old Testament into their trust (Romans 3:2). They do not acknowledge the apocryphal books, so neither do we.

We acknowledge the New Testament.

Save up some money for a big vacation next year, and I'll be glad to take you to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, Damascus, Caesarea Philippi, Ephesus, Smyrna, Rome, Nazareth, etc. We can walk where Jesus walked…fish where Peter fished.

The next year you can take me to see some of the sites mentioned in the Book of Mormon. I've got ten minutes available on July 22—that ought to be plenty of time, since not one shred of evidence remains of this continental civilization that purportedly existed. :-)

I hope you will understand that I am writing for a target audience of Southern Baptists. It was not my intention to engage in a debate about the status of Mormonism, because that is stare decisis for us. I understand your interest in jumping in, but it is not an interest that many of us share on this blog. Therefore, we're going to try to stay on topic as we understand it.

Bill and Merrilea said...

How long will ought we to give a Muslim to get to this stage of believing the points you suggested? It usually does not happen overnight. I know Muslim background believers (MBBS) who share your exact beliefs as listed below but only after a journey started somewhere along the lines using the CAMEL method:

" 1. He must reject the Qur'an as not being holy scripture......."

They concur with you on each of the 5 points. They could sign on the dotted line of the BFM2000. I appreciate your thoughts as they are challenging us who do M work among Muslims to be consistent and Biblical. Just remember how your brothers and sisters in Asia have come to Christ. Their testimony and faith in Christ is as legitimate and true as yours.

On another note, where in the Bible are we commanded to call ourselves 'Christian?' Though historically sound, that word carries all sorts of politically, socially and religiously erroneous meanings on the other side of the world that I don't even like using that word in most circles in South Asia where I'm with the IMB.

Most Muslims here think if you are a 'Christian,' then you eat pork, drink alcohol and live immorally. Not only that, but there is no distinction here between being a true believer and simply a culturally identified Christian, let alone a Roman Catholic. Why let a simple word stand in the way of Truth? If they want to call themselves an Isahi Muslim, let them. (Jesus Muslim). Who says they have to leave their culture or legal identity to follow Christ? Again, it's not about what we say they are or what they say they are...their perceived identity, but what is the object of their faith as you so correctly laid forth...what are they actually living out and believing...this is the crux of the matter.