At the recent IMB meeting in Springfield, IL, the board adopted five principles for contextualization. Having mulled over the principles for a few days and having read The Camel carefully multiple times (see series of articles summarized here), I proclaim it an obvious fact to any impartial observer that The Camel is in violation of the new IMB principles.
The first principle is a simple affirmation of the unique nature of the Christian Bible. I believe that the Camel's reliance upon the Qur'an to the near exclusion of the Bible could be construed as violation of principle one, but the Camel does not explicitly violate this first principle. The second principle poses greater problems for the Camel method.
We affirm that there is a biblical precedent for using “bridges” to reach out to others with the Gospel (Acts 17:22-23). The fact that Paul mentioned an aspect of the Athenians’ idolatrous worship was not a tacit approval of their entire religious system. He was merely utilizing a religious element of their setting (an altar to an unknown god) to connect with his hearers and bridge to the truth. Similarly, our personnel may use elements of their host culture’s worldview to bridge to the Gospel. This need not be construed as an embracing of that worldview. It should be noted that Paul not only used their system to connect, he also contrasted elements of it with the truth. Our evangelism must go beyond bridges to present the whole unvarnished truth of the Gospel (1 Corinthains 15:1-4). (HT: SBC Today)
The Camel is long on varnish and short on gospel. It fastidiously avoids the kind of contrast that Paul performed at Athens (see my earlier post on just this subject here). The Camel is just the kind of misapplication of Paul's work in Athens that is explicitly singled out in this principle as faulty.
The Camel is also at odds with the third principle.
We affirm an incarnational approach to missions that is bound by biblical parameters. Following the example of Him who became flesh (John 1:14), it is appropriate that our personnel continue to tailor their ministry to their setting. The Apostle Paul likewise embraced this approach, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22b). We advocate the learning and appropriate utilization of language and culture. Constant vigilance is required lest contextualization degenerate into syncretism (1). Where linguistic categories and cultural mores are deficient, these must be challenged and corrected with biblical truth (2).
Note that footnote two deals with the use of the name "Allah."
For example, the theological construct represented by the term “Allah” in the Qur’anic system is deficient and unacceptable. However, the primary issue is not the term. The same name is used by devout Christians and it represents a sound, scriptural view of God. In fact, historically, the Christian use of “Allah” predates the rise of Islam. The missionary task is to teach who “Allah” truly is in accord with biblical revelation.
This footnote calls for the missionary to "teach who 'Allah' truly is in accord with biblical revelation" as an amplification to the idea that "[deficient linguistic categories and cultural mores] must be challenged and corrected with biblical truth. [emphasis mine]" Yet the precise core of the Camel method—that which makes it what it is—is the great care it takes not to challenge or correct Muslim notions about who Allah is. Rather, the Camel craftily suggests that the New Testament simply gives some additional information (sanctioned by Islam, no less!) to broaden the Muslim's understanding of Allah. The IMB offers a footnote about explaining who Allah is as an explanation of a proper situation calling for challenge and correction of false cultural ideas. To be in conformity with principle three, the Camel must incorporate a direct correction indicating that the Christian "Allah" is not the same as the Muslim Allah.
The fourth principle poses an additional hurdle for the Camel in its present adaptation.
We affirm both the sufficiency and unique nature of biblical revelation (2 Timothy 3:14-17). We deny that any other purported sacred writing is on a par with the Bible. While reference to a target group’s religious writings can be made as a part of bridge-building, care should be exercised not to imply a wholesale acceptance of such. [emphasis mine]
Yet the Camel says "I agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed" (see my post here), encourages the prospective convert to search the Qur'an as confirmation of the gospel message, and nowhere offers the slightest critique of the Qur'an in its authority, content, or any other thing. Surely one can presume that "[exercising care] not to imply a wholesale acceptance of [the Qur'an]," whatever that phrase might mean, means something other than doing absolutely nothing. Yet the Camel method does absolutely nothing to prevent the presumption that the "Isahi Muslim" is totally convinced of Quranic authority—indeed, the philosophical underpinning of the whole method is a presumption that everyone involved will affirm (even if dishonestly) the reliability of the Qur'an. The Camel violates principle four.
Finally, the Camel method is patently in violation of the last principle.
We affirm the need to be ethically sound in our evangelistic methodology (2 Corinthians 4:2). Becoming all things to all men in an incarnational approach does not necessitate an ethical breach. Jesus instructed his disciples to be as “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We are to be wise in our bridge building. We are to be harmless in our integrity as we hold forth the truth ( 3).
Be sure not to miss footnote three.
Integrity requires, for example, that we not imply that a false prophet or a body of religious writings other then the Bible are inspired. There is a level of contextualization that crosses the line of integrity. Our Board has dismissed personnel who have refused counsel and deliberately positioned themselves beyond that line.
I have already demonstrated invincibly that the Camel dishonestly handles the question about what Christians believe about Mohammed (see my previous post here). Given the inclusion of the footnote, I do not see how anyone can come to any conclusion other than that the author of principle five had in front of him The Camel open to page 144 as he was penning this proscription. For anyone to suggest that the Camel might be compatible with principle five is to strain the limits of credulity.
Now that our trustees have given us these sound and godly principles, all that remains to be seen is what they and our IMB staff will do to correct an obviously aberrant missiological strategy in our midst—the Camel method.