Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Of Muslims and Mohler's Triage

This post is the culmination of a series of posts. For your convenience, I list them all here:

  1. Reading the Camel: Before
  2. Of Muslims and Mormons
  3. Of Muslims and Mohammed
  4. Of Muslims and Mohammed: Redux
  5. Of Muslims and Mars Hill
  6. Of Muslims and Middle-Eastern Culture
  7. This Post: Of Muslims and Mohler's Triage

The results of my July sidebar poll were overwhelming. More than 97% of respondents believed that reverence of Mohammed as a prophet and of the Qur'an as valid scripture were incompatible with Christianity. To become a Christian necessarily involves, for the Muslim, the rejection of the prophet Mohammed and the Qur'an—or at least so say I and most of you. The book The Camel does not include these concepts in its presentation of the gospel to Muslims.

So, this is an issue dealing with the very nature of the gospel. A bona fide tier-one issue.

Obviously, I have no problem with taking a stand on tier-two issues. I'm even willing to offer a forceful opinion on tier-three issues, although these ought not to mark denominational boundaries. Anything in the Bible is worthy of discussion and our earnest attempts to understand it. But we're constantly chided for daring to acknowledge the existence of genuine tier-two issues. We're told that we should only draw lines on tier-one issues—only in connection with the gospel itself.

Well, here, by definition, is a tier-one issue. I am not asserting thereby that every question regarding the Camel has been definitively settled, but I am asserting that the subject matter is the very nature of the gospel. This is a tier-one question.

I've found myself wondering often whether the "irenic" among us really want to discuss even tier-one issues—whether there is an implicit and false presumption that tier-one issues were all settled long ago and therefore that the task of earnestly contending for the faith does not remain for us today.

In a comment on an earlier post on this blog, Wade Burleson made me aware that items concerning the Camel have come to the table in IMB board meetings. Here is an example of a tier-one issue coming before one of our trustee boards. I have completed my analysis of the Camel, and will leave the ball entirely in other people's courts—Greeson's to make revisions, the IMB's to reconsider its endorsement, other missionaries to share how they correct the Camel in their practice, someone to demonstrate where the Camel is incompatible with C5 and C6, someone to make a convincing case for the compatibility of Christianity with revering Mohammed and the Qur'an, etc.

As I watch how other people deal with this issue (or ignore it altogether), it will tell me a lot about whether people are opposed to needless division only, or whether they are simply opposed to certain personalities, or even to the idea of theological distinctives at all. Certainly there exists the temptation to take every question, even a tier-one issue, and sweep it all into the category of tier-three. This temptation is especially pronounced among ecumenists, as evidenced by the current status of the World Council of Churches. Let us remember that they did not start out where they are today, but eventually succumbed to the temptation to demote biblical doctrine to the category of adiaphora in virtually all cases. Dr. Mohler had a name for the result of succumbing to that temptation. Let us pray that any advance of such an approach will fall to defeat within the Southern Baptist Convention (and indeed, wherever it may be advanced).

25 comments:

Bro. Robin said...

Bart

This is definitely a 1st tier issue in so many ways: Authority of Scripture, Exclusivity of Christ, Sufficiency of Christ, Pragmatism Trumping Scripture, just to name a few.

Thanks for giving relevant posts on this and I pray our trustees will take a closer look at this method.

God Bless

Anonymous said...

Bart,

As a 10-40 Window Missionary who does not use the Camel Method when trying to evangelize Muslims (because my service predates the Camel Method and I have developed other, but similar, strategies for Muslim evangelism), I am concerned about people living in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, etc., with their own world view trying to assess methods of Muslim Evangelism in an Islamic setting. Instead, please come join those of us who are trying to impact a very resistant people group. Maybe by joining us where we are you will be better able to offer suggestions on how we should proceed more successfully.

A 10-40 Window Missionary

Bart Barber said...

Dear 10-40,

Can you point out the specific elements of this discussion at which one cannot converse intelligently without having served as a career missionary in an Islamic setting? Must one serve as a career missionary in an Islamic setting to understand the gospel? The doctrine of God? The nature of scripture? Whether a statement is true or false? Honest or dishonest?

Or is this just a trump card played occasionally to stifle discussion?

the Milkman said...

Anonymous,

Though you did not address me, might I engage? Did God call you to be a missionary to 10-40 or was it just a choice you made? If the former, surely we can assume your invitation eastward is merely a rhetorical means to downplay the validity of the arguments found here or the commitment level of those questioning the method at hand.

As a lowly Arkansan, please help me understand why people engaged in "ministry X" feel that those engaged in "ministry Y" cannot offer comment or engage in the discussion without the benefit of first-hand experience in that exact situation being discussed? Proclaiming the gospel is proclaiming the gospel. Polluting the gospel is polluting the gospel- no matter where you are or what language you do it in.

Speaking only for myself, I greatly respect the commitment you've made -- but I cannot respect any methodology that puts results or "success" ahead of fidelity to Christ, the Scriptures, and the Gospel of Christ.

It seems to me that a common basis of much compromise in Christian ministry is a desire for "success". We are not commanded to be successful, but are told to be faithful. God provides the increase in His timing and in His way.

Anonymous said...

Bart,

I did not think that my comment prevented intellectual discourse on any subject. But I probably wear my feelings on my sleeve, working in a country which has had over 100 years continuous missionary presence with less that 25 nationals as believers, I often take as criticism comments by people about Muslim evangelism. As this is probably what happened, forgive my defensiveness. But, the offer still stands, come join us, maybe you will bring the key that we have been missing for over 100 years (NO SARCASM INTENDED). Incidentally, each group that comes to work with us, short or long term, we ask the same thing, "What are we not doing?"

A 10-40 Window Missionary

Anonymous said...

Milkman,

To your first paragraph, I'm not understanding what you are trying to say...but it is me, living where I do, speaking "special" English or the national language all day hampers my comprehension sometimes.

But, I would never consider anyone from Arkansas as "lowly." Home of Jerry Jones and Barry Switzer, not lowly. I welcome people who have "ministry x" to join me in the 10-40 Window where we are engaged in "ministry y." Maybe some of your "ministry x" from the Bible belt of the USA translates itself to an Islamic context. And maybe some of my "ministry y" could be used by you in Arkansas. I just think that people offering suggestions from 5,000 miles, seven time zones and a couple of centuries of cultural difference would do better in their own ministry.

A 10-40 Window Missionary

Bart Barber said...

Dear 10-40,

You will never receive criticism from me for the number of converts in your area compared to the number of years spent serving there. Never. Such criticisms reflect what the Milkman is talking about. I am proud of you for faithfully continuing to present the gospel in difficult circumstances. That is the measure of your success.

Bart Barber said...

Dear 10-40,

If I may jump in on your conversation with the Milkman, let me try to articulate better what I am trying to say and what I think he is trying to say.

Your point is precisely a valid one, IF you find me trying to advise you with regard to the peculiarities of dress, language, rites of passage, etc. of your target group, then I'm way out of my league.

But we're talking about the gospel. The theology of the gospel is not a culture-specific thing. The theology of the gospel is something that all of us as Christians share in common. It is the same in Persia and Paducah, Amman and Albuquerque. To the degree that we are students of the scriptures, we are all equally empowered to discuss it.

The question on the floor does not regard how a missionary shares the gospel so much as it regards what gospel (how much of the gospel) is being shared. Surely our various residences or callings have no bearing on our status to speak to these issues.

the milkman said...

Bro. 10-40,

Please forgive my ambiguity. I simply meant that I absolutely believe that God has a special and specific calling for each person. I do not, therefore, find it appropriate to dismiss the critiques, suggestions, or support of those who do not share in your (or my) own calling - e.g. being a missionary in a muslim country.

Also, I think we sometimes get so immersed in what we are doing that it takes the sharpening of an iron brother from 'outside' to give some much needed perspective. And since there is nothing new under the sun, we can take heart and believe that others have shared our trials and difficulties.

One of the radiant facets of the church is the varied giftedness of her members when these gifts are rightly used for the edification of the other members of the body.

I appreciate the kindness and humility with which you write. My previous comments were probably lacking in both...for that I apologize. I pray that I would be as courageous as you, should God call me to such a place.

May we all be faithful and perservere until He comes!

sean the goatman said...

Bro. Bart,

Hope I haven't gotten your post off track. Your post had many "talking points" that are crucial and beneficial for each of us to try to work through.

But, alas, I shall now have to go tip the horns on my kids new goats to avoid a sharp poke in the eye at the County Fair.

CB Scott said...

Bart,

I have been reading what you say relating to this matter with great interest. I was prayful that you would not crawfish. You have not.

Thank you. I will hunt this 'coon with you 'till he is "treed", "kilt", "skint" and nailed to the barn door.


cb

P.S. We go back to court tomorrow. I ask you and all of Blog Town to pray for us.

Les Puryear said...

Bart,

You said, "I am proud of you for faithfully continuing to present the gospel in difficult circumstances. That is the measure of your success."

I agree with your statement. I also believe this statement is very applicable to the small church as well.

Les

Anonymous said...

Bart,

Since I have been accused of not being "Baptist" enough (maybe even a heretic) by a prominent theology professor, I doubt if my agreement means very much, but for whatever it's worth, I agree wholeheartedly with this post.

The Gospel is always a tier-one issue. We must be in biblical agreement as to what gospel is being shared. It is a difficult balance in cross-cultural ministry to remain faithful to the gospel while contextualizing our approaches to sharing it. Workers err on both sides - unintentionally contextualizing the gospel itself, and not contextualizing the presentation enough. This is not a problem unique to Muslim ministry in any way. Please pray for all church planters not to fall into either problem.

I agree that there are aspects of the Camel method that have problems. I also hope that Greeson will make revisions. I have tried to make the argument that this method is not a C5/C6 methodology. By arguing thus, I am not saying that I am in agreement with showing any reverence for Mohammed, the Qur'an, the Muslim god Allah, or using a bad hermeneutic on the Qur'an, etc. I am just saying that a true C5/C6 approach goes much, much further than anything Greeson advocates.

I am sorry that I do not have time to review in detail my questions concerning the Camel approach, its historical origins, or the C1-C6 debates. But be assured that anywhere these subjects touch on the theology and nature of the gospel itself, our team has thought through the implications in depth.

***IamanM***

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother C.B.,

You never know what you'll get when you read the Baptist Blogs. I thought I would learn something else about the camel method, but instead I learned how to use "crawfish" as a verb!

I'll pray for you, the kids, and the judge tomorrow!

Dear Anonymous Missionary,

I'm with Dr. BB in that I will never criticize or pressure any missy for lack of tangible results, as long as the proclamation is faithful!

But if I publish a book that promotes a strategy for witnessing in rural Texas, but that seems to you to teach a half or false Gospel, you are welcome to call me on it, even from 5,000 miles away. You need not wear cowboy boots and a ten-gallon hat to evaluate the contents of a Gospel witnessing method.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Anonymous said...

Dear Bart, et. al.,

Now that I have had a day to read all that has been written on this subject, I would totally agree that the gospel is a tier one issue. But, as one involved in Muslim evangelism for over 25 years (with about as much "success" as any in Muslim evangelism) I know that if I am to get past saying hello to a Muslim, I need to know the place a Muslim has for Mohammed and the Qur'an. This does not negate the Gospel of Jesus, but does acknowledges certain "facts" that the Muslim holds as truths.

I also know that in order to be able to discuss religion, I must be able to intelligently discuss several things (One God and the "corruption" of our Holy Word}. I do not know any missionary who has lasted more than one term in Muslim work who does not know that you must first build bridges of trust before you are allowed to discuss religion. All the while your Muslim friend is unashamedly trying to convert you.

I know that in my work with Muslims the Gospel of Jesus is very important...but equally important is knowing when to broach this subject. Too early (a fault of almost all of us), and we find ourselves looking for someone new.

Many, in Muslim evangelism operate under the theory of carefully moving forward until we hit resistance. At resistance we back up half a step, and try again. If there is still resistance, we look for our next opportunity.

Sorry for the long post,
A 10-40 Window Missionary

Bart Barber said...

Dear 10-40,

Take all the time and space you wish. This is a good conversation.

I find that I disagree with virtually nothing that you are saying. Nevertheless, with regard to The Camel I still see problems.

First, you have mentioned the need to be able to discuss the Muslim theory that Christians have "corrupted" our scriptures. I acknowledge this as a serious hurdle. But, my dear brother, if we very clearly twist and distort their scriptures, making the Qur'an out to say that which it does not really say, aren't we eventually vindicating their claim that Christians will distort sacred texts to make them say whatever they like? I think that I have demonstrated pretty safely in earlier posts that The Camel does indeed distort the Qur'an.

Also, I'm fine with behaving respectfully toward Muslims (or anyone else, for that matter). I understand about the need to open a door gently. My concern with The Camel is not so much regarding where it starts out (except for the dishonesty thing) as where it ends up…short of the goal, I think.

I realize that many of our missionaries may be marching off the final 20 yards themselves, but it is a valid critique of the book to show that it leaves out important gospel tasks.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bart,

What I see happening in many areas are the newer missionaries trying to use The Camel Method. Their rationale is ..."You older missionaries have accomplished little or nothing, so let us try something new."

Personally, I never use the Qur'an. I can answer their questions and objections by using my Bible only. I, too, think that if one deceptively uses passages from the Qur'an incorrectly or out of context, it could return to "haunt" that person, and destroys credibility and the witness. Maybe that is why so many of the "old-timers" in Muslim evangelism do not use The Camel method.

But, as I said, I need to re-visit The Camel Method...mainly to advise many of our younger missionaries.

Thanks for Opening this dialog,
A 10-40 Window Missionary

Bart Barber said...

Dear 10-40,

Your last comment is the most encouraging thing that I have read in this entire series.

Bart Barber said...

CB,

Thanks for the encouraging words. I did not mean to pass you by...I was just caught up in the dialogue with our overseas brethren. I'll check your blog to see if there is any update on the court situation.

Bennett Willis said...

You have gone over how not to witness in this context. How should it be done?

Bennett Willis

joerstewart said...

I too appreciate the discernment of the 10-40 window missionary.
Blessings,
Joe

CB Scott said...

Bart,

Thank you for your prayers. I have posted something about court on my blog.

cb

Wade Burleson said...

Bart,

I would be in agreement with the majority of your conclusions in this series of posts.

I have received the Camel Book in the mail and have read it completely. I appreciate the authors' attempt to change methodology in reaching the Muslims, but I am in complete agreement that the message of the gospel is crystallized and should never be changed.

To whatever extent the Camel Book is compromising the gospel I would be all in favor of revision. Ironically, I believe even the author's are in agreeement with that sentiment. The question simply becomes one of degree. Where you and I might feel the message of the gospel is being compromised, others, including the authors may not. Nevertheless, the discussion is a good one and worthy of our close attention.

Bart Barber said...

Wade,

Thanks for letting me know that the trustees are looking into this. I'm glad that you all are taking it seriously.

Strider said...

This has taken me a while to work through so this comment is quite late and no one will likely read it. But for what it is worth here is my opinion on this issue.
Bart, you asked me what I did to address this issue in my ministry. When I thought about it I realized that the answer is something other than many of you will understand. But it is at the heart of the Gospel that I preach. When I proclaim Christ I do not use the Koran. It is unnecessary to use it in my particular Muslim context. I also do not like the CAMEL method on some points because I believe that it is a little deceptive in its use of the Koran. But I do not ever demand that Muslims denounce Mohamed or the Koran. That is not part of the Gospel either. Think about it. What is the Gospel? It is the Good News that God loves us and has provided for a relationship with us at great cost to Himself. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross becomes the way of salvation and the mode of salvation. Works are ineffective and useless. Renouncing Islam is a 'work' in this case. Renouncing Islam will not get anyone to heaven. In our culture it isn't even a good first step. Accepting Christ' free gift of salvation is the only thing we can 'do'. That is the Gospel. It is first tier stuff and this is very important.
But what happens once a Muslim accepts Christ as his savior? Once the Holy Spirit enters a life and begins its work then we see change. In each person the Spirit starts in a different place. One person is immediately and miraculously cured of drug or alcohol addiction. Another person renounces lustful behavior. Still another person repents of the false religious ideas that he/she has had. Salvation then-as seen on the surface by us- is a process. From the point of commitment to Christ to glorification in heaven we are on a long journey. A Muslim once converted will cross the point where he renounces Islam. Sometimes quickly- a man last year gave up going to the Mosque the day after he gave his life to Christ- some more slowly- my own team leader and head national church planter struggled with following Jesus and being a Muslim for a solid year after praying to receive Christ. This process is directed by the Holy Spirit. Salvation is His work, not ours. I am responsible to present the Gospel and I do. But demanding that a Muslim reject Islam is like helping a baby bird out of his egg. He will die. We can not do it for him. He must under the Spirit's guidance come to this on his own. Sometimes I am asked to help. But in this particular case that has only been twice in ten years of working with Muslims.
This question for most of us in Muslim Evangelism has been answered a long time ago. We know from experience that we must trust the Holy Spirit on this one. The question for us now is, is this good enough for our trustees and our constituency?