Contextualization through Indigenization Most foreign missionaries spend years trying to make the Gospel fit contextually into the Muslim community. The movement I was now studying seemed to leapfrog over contextualization directly to indigenization as it naturally took on the cultural complexion of the Muslim community from which it sprang, because it was led by Muslim-background believers. We had not realized how much local Christianity in the country was identified with Western culture. As we drew closer to the Muslims we were trying to reach and to our Muslim-background believer partners we began to see things through their eyes. In their eyes Western Christianity was associated with the same American culture they viewed on television, leading many of them to reject the Gospel as an extension of American culture. Muslim-background believers overcame this obstacle by rejecting Western culture and, along with it, Western expressions of Christianity. Yet they were able to embrace the Gospel within their own cultural patterns. As a result the Gospel found an indigenous home and was able to spread rapidly through their community. -The Camel (2007), 39.Western culture is not a Christian culture. We cannot deny that Christianity, more than any other system of religious thought, has impacted Western culture. However, I think the best we could say about modern European culture or American culture is that Christianity is the most prominent religion against which our culture is in rebellion. As I critique The Camel, let me be clear on several points:
- I recognize and am heartbroken about the degree to which Western culture serves as an excuse in other parts of the world for people in their rejection of the gospel.
- I do not believe that missionaries ought to be converting people to Western culture.
- I do not even assume that missionaries to Muslims will be Westerners. One of my colleagues in Ph.D. studies was a Korean native who had grown up as a missionary in South America from Korea. We're not the only ones on the block doing missions. I should hope that the things I have pointed out in The Camel would be equally objectionable to a Korean missionary, an American missionary, an Uzbekistani missionary, or a Kenyan missionary.
8. A Gospel that translates. Finally, it is important for readers to know that unlike Islam, which is bound forever to the Arab language and culture, we have a Gospel that translates. Every time the Gospel enters a new culture, it must be translated into the language and worldview of that culture. This is part of the genius and power of the Gospel: It translates eternal truth into local forms and expressions just as God in Christ translated Himself into a particular human form and Jewish expression. . . . .<discussion of John 1> While it is biblical and appropriate to translate the Gospel into the language and culture of the Muslim community, we must never confuse the use of Arabic names for God (Allah) and Jesus Christ (Isa al-Masih) with an endorsement or acceptance of the Muslim religion. Bridges are built to take us from one place to another and should never become an end in themselves.I affirm with Greeson the need to translate the gospel into the language of the Muslim community. But what does it mean to translate the gospel into Muslim culture? To aspire to do so presumes, it seems to me, that one possesses a pretty sharp scalpel and a pretty steady hand for the separation of the conjoined twins of Islam and Islamic culture. As I said above, Islamic societies have proven much more adept at interweaving their religion into virtually every aspect of their culture. It seems to me that, when we're talking about so-called "cultural translation," the phrase "the gospel" denotes the very things that cannot and should not in any sense be "translated." We can draw upon the tools of analogy and illustration to explain the gospel, and these tools will necessarily change from culture to culture. I know that I preach a little bit differently at an Ozark rural church than I do in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But the gospel preached is something that I carefully, doggedly, deliberately seek not to change to fit the culture. Certainly, we see the deformed mutations of Christianity that populate America. We see how the gospel has been translated into the American Dream as the "Prosperity Gospel." We've seen the gospel translated into Southern racial segregation as the Ku Klux Klan. This idea of the "cultural translation" of the gospel has been, it seems to me, among the most damnable things in Christian history. Why, again, would we want deliberately to cultivate this approach to Christianity among Muslims? In the New Testament, we have Jews, Greeks, Romans, Ethiopians, Turks (to speak anachronistically), Egyptians, etc., etc., etc., but we have only one gospel. The goal of The Camel is to translate the gospel into "Muslim culture." Yet if we wind up with mosque-attending, Qur'an-toting, Mohammed-revering, salat-performing folks as the end product of our efforts, I fear that what we have done, rather than the translate the gospel into "Muslim culture," is to translate the gospel into Islam. <edit>A good friend has provided this link for us all to consider on the subject of Christian-Muslim relations. Unbelievable!</edit>