Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reading The Camel: Before

Winging its way to me through the United States Postal Service is the revised version of The Camel: How Muslims Are Coming to Faith in Christ. I've decided to publish a "Before" post detailing my convictions before reading the book and an "After" post detailing my response to having read the book.

My Beliefs Before Reading The Camel

  1. Any legitimate way to use Jesus sayings in the Qur'an as a bridge to the presentation of the gospel I will support. In fact, it would be a real mistake not to give strong consideration to the best way to employ those saying in the presentation of the gospel. Necessarily, there are the best ways to use them and the worst ways to use them. Let us be diligent to find the best ways.
  2. The Qur'an, fairly read, is incompatible with Christianity. Years ago in the class "Introduction to Philosophy of Religion" I first received instruction regarding the differences between the Muslim portrayal of Jesus and the Christian portrayal of Jesus. This incompatibility is true not only of the Qur'an as a whole, but also of every individual portion of the Qur'an. For example, consider Surah 19 (Maryam). This Surah (chapter) couldn't be more clearly anti-Christian:
    83. Seest thou not that We have set the Evil Ones on against the unbelievers, to incite them with fury? 84. So make no haste against them, for We but count out to them a (limited) number (of days). 85. The day We shall gather the righteous to ((Allah)) Most Gracious, like a band presented before a king for honours, 86. And We shall drive the sinners to Hell, like thirsty cattle driven down to water,- 87. None shall have the power of intercession, but such a one as has received permission (or promise) from ((Allah)) Most Gracious. 88. They say: "((Allah)) Most Gracious has begotten a son!" 89. Indeed ye have put forth a thing most monstrous! 90. At it the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains to fall down in utter ruin, 91. That they should invoke a son for ((Allah)) Most Gracious. 92. For it is not consonant with the majesty of ((Allah)) Most Gracious that He should beget a son.
    Thus, to use this Surah in leading a person to biblical Christianity must ultimately involve refuting this Surah, not relying upon it. I hope to learn that The Camel does precisely that.
  3. The Muslim Allah is not the Christian God and is incompatible with the One True God whom we serve as Christians. Yes, the word Allah in Arabic apparently has the simple generic lexical meaning of "God." However (and I'll give credit to Dr. Russell Moore for reminding me of this), keep in mind that the Old Testament Hebrew word בָּעַל (Baal) has the simple generic lexical meaning of "Lord." One might legitimately (as lexical meanings go) have referred to God as Baal. Yet Elijah did not go up to Mount Carmel to confuse the identities of Yahweh and Baal; he went there to make a pointed distinction between the two (see here). The differentiation that Elijah made is at the heart of evangelism. Thus, to lead a person to biblical Christianity is to make certain that he knows that the biblical God is not the Muslim Allah, that the real God did not author the Qur'an, and that Muslims are worshipping a non-existent false god.
  4. Identifying oneself as a Muslim is incompatible with being a Christian. Yes, Paul identified himself as a Jew. But the Jewish Old Testament is genuine special revelation from God. Prior to the life and work of Christ, one was supposed to be a Jew. The Qur'an is not revelation from God. There has never been a moment in human history when it was not an act of rebellion against God to be a Muslim. Being a Muslim is something of which one must repent in order to become a Christian.
  5. What's It Gonna Take to Reach Muslims with the Gospel? It's gonna take the gospel.
    I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16) So will be My word which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)
    In general, I want us to be confident in the spiritual power of the unadorned-by-human-tomfoolery gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, let us remember what the Bible says:
    Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:1-4)
    The presentation of the gospel of Christ ought to differ greatly from a Ronco® commercial. The more we depend upon anything other than the gospel, the more we weaken any evangelistic initiative. It is not a question of pragmatism vs. orthodoxy—losing our confidence in the gospel and choosing instead to rely upon a bait-and-switch scheme is both theologically indefensible and pragmatically ineffective. It is like removing the engines from your 747 and then planning to fly to Japan. I hope to read that the Camel Method very briefly uses the Qur'an and then directs people quickly and exclusively to the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ presented in the Bible, thereby refuting the Qur'an.
  6. Trickery will come back to bite us. Do you know what Muslim orthodoxy says about Christianity and the gospel? It says that the New Testament gospel was originally pure, but then we Christians came along and corrupted it, twisting it to say something different than what God actually revealed. If we were to build an evangelistic strategy upon twisting the Qur'an to make it say something different than what it plainly says, what's going to happen when we're found out? You don't think that the imams are just going to lie down and take it, do you? And when we are confronted, wouldn't the end result of such a method be to confirm in the minds of Muslims everywhere that Christians are everything that they have heard us to be in the mosques—that we won't let a little thing like honesty get in the way of our agenda? I hope to read that The Camel method deals honestly with the Qur'an, not opening Christianity up to charges like these.
Now you know how I will be reading The Camel—I'm going to be comparing this method to these principles that I have articulated. Certainly I believe this: Something must be done to make serious progress in carrying the gospel to Muslims. I am hopeful that The Camel will indeed turn out to be a method for carrying the gospel to Muslims. Someday this week the postman will show up at my house and help me to find out for myself. And then I'll publish my "After" post.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bart,

As one who lives and works among Muslims, some of the points you raise are the same ones we discuss here in the 10-40 window (sometimes we get a little more involved than mere discussion). Most of those who have been in this work for several years will never use the Qur'an in witnessing. One of the most successful Muslim Evangelizers (is that an oxymoron ???) never uses the Qur'an. His approach is to use Holy Scripture to answer any questions/objections he hears.

As to a born-again believer saying that they are a Muslim, many will rely on the literal definition of the word "Muslim" which literally means to be submitted to the will of God. I pray that people in pews would be totally submitted to God's will.

Looking forward to what your research uncovers.

A 10-40 Windows Missionary

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, the before is interesting. I will look forward to the review.

Les Puryear said...

Read it fast, my brother. I can't wait to hear the "After."

Les

Robby Partain said...

Bart - A stimulating post. I look forward to the "after" one.

You wrote, "Trickery will come back to bite us." Do you think we are falling into such trickery in our attempts to gain entrance to "closed" countries? I am thinking of situations where the nature of our intended missionary activity cirvumvents a country's laws. A missionary might invent another reason for being in that country - a "platform" - but of course the real reason is to make disciples and stimulate the planting of indigenous, albeit illegal, churches.

My first thought is that we must obey the commands of God (e.g., the Great Commission) over the laws of men whenever they conflict. But I also wonder if there might be a better way to accomplish this. Might we be undermining our message by doing something that is considered unethical in the culture we are seeking to evangelize?

Bob Roberts has expressed discomfort with this covert approach to "closed" countries (see his book Glocalization). He advocates a different type of missionary strategy that seeks to work with governments and businesses to add value to the people of the host country. In so doing credibility is gained for the Christ-follower in that culture. The opportunity to talk about one's faith openly then takes place through these public and private sector relationships.

I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Many blessings,

Robby

Anonymous said...

Could you clarify what you mean in point 3? Some people say that it is improper for Arabic speaking Christians to call God "Allah" using a rational similar to what you used. Are you merely saying that new believers should differentiate between the Muslim god and the Christian God? Or are you advocating that the word Allah should not be used when referring to God?

Thank you,

A Simple Student @ SWBTS
swbts.student@gmail.com

sbc pastor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie Kaufman said...

I look forward to the after as well and have a feeling I will agree with you.

volfan007 said...

bart,

i too anxiously await the "after" version.

btw, great post. maybe your best post ever. way to go, man! lol.

boy, i had a good time in w. va on the mission trip. if you go to my blog you can read the details. but, the Lord truly moved and blessed.

david

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

From what I have seen in Kevin Greeson's presentation of the Camel Method, it is used more than just a bridge. He advocates that it is only a bridge and that it should be used as only a bridge, but the presentation presents something more. I do hope this is addressed in the revision.

Also, I believe the revision needs to deal with the part of the presentation where Jesus became man. In the presentation it presses the idea that immaculate conception is the beginning of Jesus.

Just checking in off vacation. I am headed back out and will probably be away for some time.

I too am looking forward to the review.

Blessings,
Tim

Bart Barber said...

To all:

My associate pastor/minister to students is preaching his mother's funeral this morning. I'm leaving right now to attend. I'll catch up on comments this afternoon.

Bart Barber said...

Dear 10-40 brother,

Thank you for your work among Muslims. I have dear friends engaged in the same pursuit. Folks like you are our Elijahs. Oh, that the fire may fall!

As to the word "Muslim" I can perhaps address an entire category of questions. What is the "meaning" of a word. The lexical meaning is certainly a foundational concept, but we dare not ignore the "social meaning" of a word. Ultimately, the meaning of a word is whatever it generally communicates to the average reader in a normal context.

Whatever they mean lexically, the undeniable social meanings are: Allah—the Muslim god.
Muslim—a follower of the teachings of Mohammed; an adherent of Islam.
Baal—a Canaanite storm deity.

These are the meanings that these words communicate in the USA, the Saudi Kingdom, Indonesia, and Brazil. I just think we ought to be careful using words that will necessarily confuse what we are called to make clear.

Bart Barber said...

Gone to the graveside. Back later.

AndyHigg said...

Bart,

I would like to hear how your reading of CAMEL also speaks to the recent revelation of the Episcopal priest/Christian/Muslim and her clerical suspension for trying to bridge the divide between Islam and Christianity...as always, others may also speak to this...

Anonymous said...

So Bart from your comment can I infer that you would say that the word Allah cannot be used of God (the Christian God)?

A Simple Student @ SWBTS

Bart Barber said...

Robby,

I would concur that we must obey the commands of God over the laws of men whenever they conflict. But it is possible to practice honest civil disobedience. In other words, to strike an analogy, Rosa Parks's bus ride was so effective because there was no effort on her part to conceal the fact that she was indeed a black woman refusing to yield her seat.

A "platform" is not necessarily dishonest. If our kind of immigration system had been in place back then, Paul might honestly have applied to go to Corinth as a maker of tents. Vocation does not always line up with occupation.

I do acknowledge the troubling phenomenon of people disregarding the law not because they must but simply because they can. For example, I have been to Cuba several times for mission trips. Each time I have gone with the full knowledge and consent of both the United States government and the Cuban government. I know, however, that some Christian groups deliberately go in illegally on tourist visas from Mexico. This practice is easier, but not necessary.

So, to sum up, I do not necessarily find it immoral to do something else (legitimately) while being a missionary…that something else serving as the basis of residency in the target country. Apart from its morality, I do not really know how to evaluate its effectiveness—I'll leave that to you and Bob Roberts. If the secondary pursuit is legitimate, I do not know that I even consider it trickery. It the secondary pursuit is not legitimate, then I guess it smells a little, doesn't it?

Thanks for contributing to a great discussion.

Bart Barber said...

"Simple Student" (BTW, when will you graduate and find the courage to reveal your identity?),

I'm saying something in-between I suppose. I'm saying that new believers must (not should) differentiate between the Muslim Allah and the Christian God (or else, they are not "new believers" at all). I'm further saying that, IMHO, the use of the word "Allah" makes that differentiation more difficult, not less difficult. I am not saying that it is impossible to use the term Allah and make the necessary distinction. I will, however, go so far as to wonder why one would undertake such a monumental and needless task as to try to redefine the entire world's use of the word "Allah."

Bart Barber said...

Tim,

Certainly, I have heard much that concerns me about this approach. Nevertheless, I hope to refrain from evaluation until I have read it for myself.

Bart Barber said...

Andy Higg,

I suspect that either…

A. I will find that the CAMEL is basically attempting exactly the same type of syncretism, or

B. it is not.

:-)

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Dr. BB,

I am in no way an expert in Arabic. My comment should be taken as from a rank ammateur. I was never fluent, and have now grown quite rusty. But I can address this one point, which has been raised in the discussion.

In Arabic translations of the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, the word "Allah" is used to mean "God."

Here is the link to Genesis 1:1

http://www.ibs.org/bibles/arabic/PDF/OT/GENESIS.pdf

The first line under the number 1 says, "In thebeginning (one word), created Allah theheavens (one word) and theearth (one word)." The word "Allah" is the fourth word (from the right, of course!).

Here is the link to John 3:16

http://www.ibs.org/bibles/arabic/PDF/NT/JOHN.pdf

Go to the third page, find the number 16. It reads, "For so loved Allah theworld (one word)..." (The heading in bold print reads, "The love of Allah for the world." The same word, "Allah," is the fourth word after the number 16.

These links are to a modern translation, but the old Van Dyke uses "Allah" in the same way.

Furthermore, when conversing with Arabic-speaking Christians, the few times we spoke of God, they used the word, "Allah."

If there is another way to say, "God" in Arabic, I am not aware of it. You could say, "a god" with some other term, but we would never speak of the one true God that way.

I see multiple problems with the Camel approach, but use of the word "Allah" among Arabic-speakers to refer to Yahweh is not one of them.

BUT, if you speak to someone in a language other than Arabic, and use the word "Allah," you are undeniably speaking of the false God of the Muslims.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Doc Bart,

May I also refer you to the discussion of this question on the Founders blog last fall? Here is the link:

http://www.founders.org/blog/2006/11/camels-secretshould-christians-be.html

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Anonymous said...

Bart,

I appreciate the difficulty of making the distinction clear between the Muslim god and the one true God when using the word "Allah." However, as Jeff Richard Young pointed out, there is no real alternative in Arabic. Furthermore, the Christian use of Allah predates the Muslim usage. Arabic-speaking Christians have existed and continued to use the term Allah over the centuries until now. They may be the social minority but this meaning should not be excluded because we, in the West, are afraid that people will not be able to differentiate.

A Simple Student @ SWBTS

P.S. FYI: It is not a matter of courage why I keep my presence intentionally low on the internet. Nor do I post anonymously out of a fear of reprisal from the people at SWBTS (though I have had such thoughts in the past).

Bart Barber said...

Jeff & Simple,

Thanks for the insights that you offer. I point you both to the summary statement of that point:

"Thus, to lead a person to biblical Christianity is to make certain that he knows that the biblical God is not the Muslim Allah, that the real God did not author the Qur'an, and that Muslims are worshipping a non-existent false god."

I have carefully avoided saying that one must not use the word Allah. Rather, I have pointed out the difficulties involved in its use. Those remain, whatever the difficulties of its non-use. My point is simply that the use of the word in this century necessitates the immediate and pointed clarification that we are not speaking of the purported Islamic deity.

If that endeavor were ever to prove unachievable (and I do not know that it would), it would be better to create a new Arabic word than to confuse people as to the identity of God.

AndyHigg said...

Bart,

nice use of the disjunctive premise...to not really answer! I await with apathetic anticipation your "After"

Wade Burleson said...

Bart,

Just a quick handful of questions before I board the plane from Richmond to Oklahoma.

What led you to write this post and request a copy of 'The Camel Book?'

Have you had conversations with Drs. Caner and York on this subject?

Is there an attempt by anyone you know to make the International Mission Board forbid missionaries from using the word 'Allah' in referring to 'God' in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with Muslims?

Were you aware that a motion to mail a copy of 'The Camel Book' to all IMB trustees was going to be made at this July board meeting in Richmond?

Just genuinely asking. I always like to know who is behind the motions that come before our board. I am not implying anything sinister is occurring, I would just like to know who is of the opinion - in your sphere of friends - that 'The Camel Book' may be compromising the truth of the identity of God and the gospel itself.

Not every IMB trustee recognizes that sometimes agendas are pushed before our board that do not come from staff or current trustees, but from professors and employees of other agencies. I would genuinely like to be able to tell them, with clarity, who it is that is concerned with using 'Allah' as a name for God in the Southern Baptist Convention mission efforts. Is it Dr. Moore? Dr. Caner? Dr. Barber? Dr. Patterson? All of the above?

Just wondering.

:)

In His Grace,

Wade

Todd Nelson said...

Bart,

I"m also curious as to the background of your interest in The Camel Method, and the pros and cons ...

BTW, we've had the joy of seeing some "neighbors" come to the Lord through friendships on the Alpha Course -- graduate students outside of their own country. Alpha is nothing like The Camel Method; but it takes all sorts of ways.

A pastor in the midst of many Muslims,
Todd

volfan007 said...

ok, i admit it. after dr. p called me last week, he asked me to tell bart to write this post about the "camel." i confess.... i'm the ring leader of a huge, conservative group that is running the show behind the scenes. nothing, and i mean nothing, happens, or is said, unless i give the approval. our secret group is called the possum's gravy, and we meet monthly at bart's house.

we decided to go into the "camel" for things that we cannot disclose right now, but it will become crystal clear in the months ahead.

bart, the possum goes to bed at midnite. you know what i'm saying.

david :)

Bart Barber said...

Wade,

Glad to fill you in...

1. What led me to write the post and request the book? I already answered that question at my first related post (see here). Specifically, I attributed that first post to a conversation with some friends including Jeremy Green.

2. I have spoken with Dr. Emir Caner (not Ergun) on this topic several times subsequent to him assisting when our church saw a Muslim exchange student come to faith in Christ last year. I have never conversed with Dr. Ergun Caner about the Camel. I have never conversed with Dr. York about the Camel.

3. I know of no such attempt. Indeed, every person with whom I have spoken who has addressed the "Allah" question has affirmed its use. I'm the most skeptical person I know on that question.

4. I was not aware of that motion.

Were those all of the questions?

No wait, you indirectly asked who has concerned that the Camel might be compromising the gospel. Let's make that number...

5. A whole host of people on the Internet and beyond. You might check with Tom Ascol about that. Jeff Richard Young linked to his article earlier in the comment thread.

6. It will help if you read the comment thread. I think you'll see that I have not come down entirely against the use of "Allah" and I really don't understand why you have fixated so much on that one question. My post highlights a number of potential problem areas with the revised Camel. Why have you fixated on that one, which is among the least dangerous?

Wade Burleson said...

Bart,

Thanks for your honest, direct answers. I really appreciate them and trust them to be a true and accurate reflection of the reasons for you posting.

I apologize if it seemed I 'fixated' on the use of the word 'Allah' for God among Arab people.

Winston Curtis, who made the motion to send The Camel Book to every trustee, articulated his deep concern about the use of the word. In addition, Gordon Fort, VP of Overseas Operations with the IMB spoke passionately and at length, resisting any notion that the word 'Allah' can't be used in sharing the gospel to an Arab person.

Maybe I was just fresh out of that plenary session and the debate and dialogue led me to wonder why people were concerned all of the sudden about using the Arabic word 'Allah.'

I'll post on this subject later.

Again, I do appreciate answering my questions and will not make it a practice to ask you so many in the future.

In His Grace,

Wade

Grosey's Messages said...

As i understand it Bart, the issue is always over the degree of contextualisation.
Some see contextualisation as just an issue of translation (with this I am personally ok).
Others go much further (depending upon the degree of their theological neoorthordoxy) and some (the mroe extreme liberal)completely subvert the gospel by declaring that there is no absolutely difference between the god of Islam and the God of the Bible. I have talked with missionaries to Malawi who have said that Muslims are as much saved as Christians without ever coming to know and understand the gospel. I asked this Baptist missionary "if all are saved anyway whether they hear and understand the gospel or not, then why would you go to all the bother of going to Malawi as a missionary?"
He responded by saying "Well the Christian way si a much nicer way socially."
He has since left Malawi to be a missionary in a more pleasant Thailand.
Please feel relieved he is NOT with the IMB, but with a DIFFERENT Baptist Missionary society).

The bottom line is the degree of contextualisation. Your IMB needs to keep the degree of contextualisation in mind.
Steve

Bart Barber said...

Wade,

I have received your comment and your latest post. I have also received the book. I will now post my thoughts.


Steve,

The level of contextualization (you say tomato...) is indeed the key issue here. More in my next post.

James said...

Coptic Christians, Palestinian Christians and Syrian Christians were worshiping Allah (same root as Hebrew Elohim)-- Father, Son and Holy Spirit-- centuries before Mohammed was ever born.

Historically-- LONG predating Islam-- in Christianity the Arabic Allah has meant exactly the same thing as the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim and the Aramaic Elaha.

I suspect that the first time the word Allah was used to describe the Christian God was in fact Pentecost. Peter spoke of God, and the passage says that Arabs understood him in their own language. Surely the word they heard was Allah.

It is Mohammed who redefined God to exclude the Holy Trinity, and who twisted the more ancient, Christian understanding of the word Allah. Muslims in countries with historic Arab Christian populations (Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan) are fully aware that the Christian Allah is a Trinitarian God and distinct from the Muslim unitarian understanding of Allah.

I suspect so many of us are seizing on this small point because it's the only part of your post we disagree with. And I recognize that you're quite open on this point.

I agree that Christians applying the literal definition of "Muslim" to themselve is deceptive; similar to a Muslim proselytizer describing himself as a "Christian" because he thinks Christ was a holy prophet and follows some of Christ's teachings. The literal definition works in both these cases, but the social definition doesn't.

Looking forward to the "post" post.