Sunday, August 19, 2007

Of Muslims and Middle-Eastern Culture

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:
  1. 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.
  2. I do not believe that missionaries ought to be converting people to Western culture.
  3. 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.
I suppose it frustrates many of us to know that many people in Muslim countries associate Christianity with what they see coming out of New York or Hollywood. For all of our lack of understanding how their culture works, there is obviously some reciprocal misunderstanding as to how our culture works. This is a land of religious liberty. We have a number of Supreme Court decisions and federal laws designed explicitly to prevent the inculcation of Christianity into several of our most powerful cultural institutions. Furthermore, frankly, we suffer from an astounding impotence in our churches (something Baptists could combat more successfully among our own ranks if we returned somewhat to our Baptist roots, I think). We must further acknowledge that within American culture there is a Christian subculture, an Evangelical subculture within that, and a Southern Baptist subculture that probably lies somewhat within the Evangelical sphere and is somewhat distinctive from it. These subcultures are not perfect expressions of Christianity, but neither are they completely disparate from Christianity. Also, some items ought to unite Christians of any culture into a common Christian culture. Nevertheless, we ought to avoid the transmission even of our Christian subcultures in missionary work, because in so doing we tend to transmit our weaknesses better than we transmit our strengths. I do not know why it works that way, but I presume that it has something to do with human sinful depravity. So, to sum up, American missionaries ought not to be transmitting American culture, and American missionaries ought not to be transmitting religious subcultures from America either. They ought to make every effort to transmit the Bible. For a specific example in which I can echo some of the sentiments expressed in The Camel, I have been to churches in other parts of the world who worship by singing nineteenth-century American hymns with lyrics translated into their language. Personally, I would rather that they write their own music for worship that is culturally appropriate. But while we note the vast distance between American culture and Christianity, it seems to me that very little attention is being paid to the fact that Muslim cultures are significantly more serious and efficient about embedding Islam into their cultures than we are at embedding Christianity into ours. In many of the Muslim nations in view, national law is built around sharia. Holidays are Islamic religious holidays. Many of the names are stridently Islamic names. My good friend Dr. Emir Caner says that his full name means "Prince of Islamic Conquest." The last time I checked, "Prince of Christian Conquest" was not a very popular name choice for American baby boys! When we consider the concept of new believers coming to "embrace the Gospel within their own cultural patterns," does it matter not at all whether that culture is thoroughly steeped in a false religion? Isn't the risk of syncretism proportional to the degree to which we "translate" the gospel into a culture thoroughly shaped by a false religion? Does taking a step away from a culture thoroughly enmeshed with a false religion necessarily mean taking a step toward "Hollywood" culture? Are these the only two suitable destinations? I think not. One point of disagreement between Greeson and myself regards his "Firm Foundations" point #8:
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>


Ron Phillips, Sr. said...


Welcome back. Your last comment: "I fear that what we have done, rather than the translate the gospel into "Muslim culture," is to translate the gospel into Islam." is very pointed and I believe correct.

What I fear most out of this is that many will come away, believing they are saved, when in fact it is not Christ alone that they believe, but Christ plus Islam, thus creating another cult in the world.

I get the impression that the gospel is (almost) considered a "cultural thing". Christ alone (the gospel) is not a western cultural idea nor was it birthed during The Reformation. It is a New Testament doctrine that supersedes all cultures and MUST be faithfully preached until the end of the age.

Ron P.

Bart Barber said...

Amen and amen, Bro. Ron. Be sure to check out the link I just added to the post.

Ron Phillips, Sr. said...


I read that link last week. It is amazing that those who claim to be followers of Christ can be so quick to forsake Him.

Ron P.

Strider said...

Wow, I was with you until the end and then you lost me completely. I don't know anyone with our org translating the Gospel in the way you describe. We work very hard to find ways to describe the Gospel in a way that it can be understood in their culture but the power of Cross is what is proclaimed. You said a lot of good stuff about American and Western Culture needing to be rooted out so that the true Gospel can be heard. I don't understand your understanding of CAMEL. I don't use CAMEL because it does not fit the Muslim context in which I work. I have known people who have gone too far in making the Gospel culturally palatable (the so-called C-5 and even one who said he used a C-6 model) but none with our org. I don't think you are reading CAMEL rightly on this point. CAMEL is not about changing the Gospel. It is about finding ways to proclaim the Gospel in a context in which it can be heard. My national coworkers say that everyone has a veil over their eyes that blinds them to the truth. My national team leader adds that some people have an iron veil. It is for these that CAMEL was devised.
I do have some problems with the specifics of CAMEL. But what you have said here, I believe, misses the mark.

Anonymous said...


I blogged on the Dutch bishop last week. The reaction of Muslims to his suggestion that everyone call God, "Allah," goes far to support your point.

I think it is quite clear that the cultures within the Muslim world are not only "steeped," in Islam, they are controlled by Islam. The sharia law (which has made inroads in Great Britain, unbelievably) demands a Muslim interpretation of all areas of life.

So what is the solution? I don't quite know. But a syncretistic presentation of the Gospel which results in a muddied combination of Islam and Christianity is not the true Gospel. A change of worldview is a necessity.

I worked among Turkish Muslim students in Amsterdam about 10 years ago. They interpreted everything they knew about the United States (and Christianity) by what they saw on their rented Hollywood videos. But this second and third generation group of young people, living in a western culture, seemed very open and receptive to relationships and the Gospel. Perhaps this younger, transplanted generation is the group that we should be targeting in our outreach to Muslims. (?)

Good discussion.

Writer said...

Ron P,

You said, "It is amazing that those who claim to be followers of Christ can be so quick to forsake Him."

I agree. Unfortunately, it happens in American churches all the time.


Bart Barber said...

Bro. Strider,

I know that the topic is controversial, and I know that the stakes are high. Thank you for affirming the practice of our IMB brethren.

I know not which paragraph demarcates "the end" at which I "lost [you] completely." I want to further the conversation with you. Can you give me a little more about where I erred? Can you show me from The Camel how I erred at that point?

Because I will concede quickly that you know more about actual practice on the field than I know. But I know this—I know that the book is being sold in the U.S. as a guide to Muslim evangelization. I know that people are being trained according to the book. That's why I find it important to interact with the book.

If the book were stripped of the areas in which it deals falsely with Islam, and if the book were supplemented with those core concepts of the gospel that I believe are absent from it (repentance from adherence to a false god and a false religion), then I might have no problem with it at all.

Your actual missionary practice and the missionary practice of all our personnel might very well skip those deceptive portions and add those necessary gospel steps when employing the CAMEL. Great, if true! I hope and expect no less.

But then, those important points ought to be made a part of the book and a part of the training...right? And if they are not, then my critique of the book still stands, IMHO.

Bart Barber said...


I must say, every successful conversion of a Muslim that I personally know about took place with a young person. You may be onto something there.

Bart Barber said...


While your assessment is certainly true, I would hesitate to equivocate our problems and the problem of renaming God to placate another religion. In other words, I could not bring myself to say that we, if we were to follow this bishop's guidance, would be no worse off than we are now.

Anonymous said...

I must agree with my fellow IMB worker that your critique of the Camel method, in this instance at least, is off the mark. Without addressing your previously stated concerns, I believe that you are reading far beyond what Greeson meant by using the word "translate".

You have stated the need for some aspects of contextualization and cultural appropriateness. I honestly believe that is all that Greeson means by using the term "translate" here. He probably should have stated that the gospel should be translated into the local Muslim language, but used another word when talking about culture. Maybe "incorporated" would be better? I don't know. In all honesty, the book is not all that well written, and poorly edited (much like my writing). I know that all you can analyze is the book itself, but I hope that you would value the testimony of IMB Muslim field-workers when we say that the meaning you are taking from the book is not the same as what is actually being done on the field. There is only one gospel as you have stated. There are, however, other ways of sharing that gospel outside of CWT/EE/FAITH, etc.

There are many aspects of the Camel method that are quite controversial in missions circles, and they have been for the past 100 years. I think it is valuable to address them in dialogue such as you have offered here on your blog. It becomes a little trying, however, to read the comments of many people that write off the entire method while questioning the theological astuteness and maybe even salvation of their IMB workers after reading one blog entry. Somehow witnessing to one secular Muslim while they were at university has made them an expert in cross-cultural witnessing. I challenge them to perhaps dig a little deeper and read some biographies of famous missionaries to Muslims; read Zwemer, read Parshall, and then comment and post some more.

I am sorry that you end your post with the "mosque-attending, Qur'an-toting, Mohammed-revering, salat-performing folks as the end product of our efforts" line. I don't think that you honestly believe that is what all of your IMB workers in Muslim areas are shooting for, is it? If so, then you should be calling for quite a shake-down in Richmond. That assumption might be the same as one that I would make from reading your comment "I must say, every successful conversion of a Muslim that I personally know about took place with a young person. You may be onto something there." One could assume that you are saying that missions to Muslims is a waste of time and money, and that the only ones that have a shot at entering the Kingdom would be Muslim students studying abroad. (Of course that is not far off from what a famous SWBTS missions prof has stated for years - "Why bother sending workers to any area that is not seeing fruit?" And that wouldn't be very different from the prevailing attitude I am met with when speaking to SB churches on stateside assignment - it is amazing how professing Christians can simultaneously want you to share the gospel with Muslims and for the US to nuke 'em at the same time.) But I would not assume that is what you actually mean by that statement.

I do appreciate your taking the time to thoroughly address the Camel method. I am always happy when people are discussing sharing the gospel with Muslims. I do have one question about something you mentioned in your post, though. You identify the SB sub-culture existing within the evangelical sphere, and then go on to say "American missionaries ought not to be transmitting religious subcultures from America either." I am wondering what you mean by this comment in the context of the planting Baptist vs. baptistic churches debate. This comment is also interesting when considering the article "Seven Guidelines for Church Planting Which Reflect Baptist Ecclesiology" written by the SWBTS theological studies division. That article seems to directly advocate a transmitting (planting) of a religious sub-culture. This issue is very interesting to me, as I fully expect the next major purging of IMB missionaries to occur over this issue, and I will probably be one of them...


Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother Dr. BB,

As with your previous assessment of the PPL issue, your assessment in recent days of The Camel Method (in book form) has been spot on. This article is an excellent wrap-up.

However, you have committed a freshman error in your concluding paragraph. You suddenly inflated the rhetoric with the "Koran-toting" business in a way that undermines the rest of the content. When I read it, I momentarily forgot your previous apparent objectivity, and envisioned you as an overzealous party hack for the establishment. I know that you are not such, but that is the impression your inflammatory concluding language leaves.

Evidently some other of your readers have had a similar reaction. It is my recommendation that you re-word the concluding paragraph, so that your critics will have less ammo to fire at your position, and so that your undecided readers will be able to give your excellent writing the serious consideration it deserves.

Love in Christ,


Anonymous said...


I disagree that any error was committed with the concluding paragraph. It appears to me that Mr. Barebones has simply made a prophetic statement as to what the logical outworkings of the camel method might well be. Admitedly, the statement was made in more "culturally relevant terms" than were used in the rest of the post. (I can just see John Hagee picking up on that terminology! ha ha)

The missionary folks interacting with this and the previous related post often want to bring into the equation their own personal experience or "what is ACTUALLY being done" in order to defend the Camel Method. Again, however, many readers of this book will likely not have this kind of first-hand knowledge.

Instead, the average reader will read Greeson's statements just as Bart has, and will come up with the same conclusions (if they make any effort to read it with the precision which he has.)

Bro. Anonymous has offered more acceptable verbiage to help calm the waters, so by his very offering he seems to admit that there are some inaccuracies &/or poorly worded statements. Also, I find it interesting that it is not Bart but many of the commenters who assume that he is casting stones at every missionary in muslim territory- when there is no foundation for that assumption.

Finally, I don't see where Bart has stated that Koran-toting, etc, etc. converts is the AIM of the missionary; he states that it could very well be the RESULT when this method is taken at face value and implemented.

Bart Barber said...

Bro. M. (I Am An M),

Backwards guy that I am, I'll start at the end and work my way upwards. Southern Baptist subculture I would identify as our preference for caserole, our insistence upon covering the elements of the LS with white bedsheets, our predeliction for the Gaithers or Casting Crowns, our love for Roberts Rules of Order, etc.

Regenerate church membership, the Lordship of Christ, matters of church polity, believer's baptism, local congregational autonomy, etc., are not matters of religious subculture, but are matters of biblical belief. Not that there isn't anybody in the world who thinks differently—but that these are not mere matters of cultural preference. The "Baptist vs. baptistic" debate hinges on such as this, not over whether to use Pomade or Dapper Dan to achieve that Southern Baptist pastoral hairdo. :-) I find the SWBTS statement to deal with these more subtantial matters of biblical teaching, not with mere matters of cultural preference.

Regarding my reply to Geoff Baggett, you do well note that one can assume incorrectly about what someone is saying. Nevertheless, my final flourish of my Original Post merely describes a C5 or C6 convert(?). Such a critter is not a construct of my imagination, but can be documented to exist. I have heard that Greeson asserts that he and this method are C4, but I see absolutely nothing in the book to prevent it from producing, in other hands, C5 and C6 folks. Greeson may be a C4 missionary, but the Camel is not a C4 method. In fact, at some points it reads to me as decidedly C5.

For the armchair reader, learn about contextualization and the C1-C6 scale here (just the first random Google hit on the subject that I found, not where I studied the system). Gee...a year ago I wouldn't have known what I was talking about here. Indeed, I suppose the subject of the discussion is whether I know what I am talking about now. :-)

Bart Barber said...


My brother, I admit that the rhetorical tone increased in my conclusion, but only because I'm getting ready to extend the altar-call in my next-and-final post on this subject.

As you can see in my response to our Bro. M, I believe that the concepts expressed at the end are a very real risk of this method. Hog Man (like all true Arkansans) has read me with great wisdom and insight. :-) Rather than repeat the content of his reply, I will simply adopt his words as my own.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, Hog Man. You read me correctly.

[In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I was raised an ASU Indians fan] :-)

Malcolm Yarnell said...

Dear IamanM,

The Southwestern Seminary Theological Studies Divison statement, "Seven Guidelines for Church Planting Which Reflect Baptist Ecclesiology," is a direct reflection upon the Baptist Faith and Message articles on ecclesiology. You state that it seeks an imposition of a religious subculture. Perhaps you would care to be specific as to exactly what you see as non-biblical in that statement? Surely, you do not see Baptist ecclesiology, which is biblical ecclesiology, as a subcultural development.


Strider said...

Ok, so are we discussing two different things here?

'The missionary folks interacting with this and the previous related post often want to bring into the equation their own personal experience or "what is ACTUALLY being done" in order to defend the Camel Method.'

I know that I am talking to Americans when a book written on a subject is more authoritative than what is 'actually being done'. I will be watching your next article to see where you go. But if you are already at this point admitting that we are not discussing field practices but a single book then your conclusions should reflect this. What several of us on the field have feared is that debate about the written form of a method would end up seeing practicing M's on the field hog-tied and sent home. I can only speak for my region when I say that c-5 and c-6 are not acceptable results and we have not seen such results even among CAMEL practitioners. I will make my point even clearer by saying that I have not read the CAMEL book that is being discussed. It may be awful. But that is not what is being said here. What I am reading is adversity to the CAMEL method itself. I have seen the method. I have discussed it with those who practice it. I don't believe it to be the best practice for the people I am working with. But for those who are using it it has been very helpful in getting the message of the Cross to those who would not otherwise have listened. And before we start talking about Mohamed revering converts we had better take a good look at what is 'actually being done'. If you are not very careful you will end up criticizing and condemning converts from Islam who have paid a price that you could never pay and have earned a crown we will only admire from a distance.

Strider said...

They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Matthew 23:4

Malcolm, I will not hijack Bart's post here to discuss the CP Guidelines written up at my old alma martyr SWBTS but I will say that I chuckled a little when I got to the point of regenerate Church membership in light of the rejection of Thom Ascol's resolutions the last two years at the SBC.
Personally I don't react too strongly against the guidelines but when you call for written covenants then, my very western friend, you are indeed doing something cultural. It ain't bad but it sure is Western culture with no biblical basis. Surely we do covenant together but the concept of a written contract with the set info that is listed in the guidelines directly reflects historical western issues. That is not a bad thing but when you go to tell the rest of the world how to do Church I think that I like the wisdom of the Acts 15 leaders here.

Anonymous said...

Bro. Strider,

Yes, I am an American- no dirty little secret there. I think the post is about the book, the method it promotes, and anyone who might adhere to it.

As for hog-tying and sending home, surely you do not suggest that deceptive methods and gospel-compromising (or anything that smacks of either) should be overlooked out of some kind of blind company loyalty!? Are you also suggesting that those of us who cooperatively give have no right to enter the methodological or idealogical conversation because we are stateside?

Further, aren't you in essence insinuating that you or other missionaries would readily leave your God-called mission if you were to lose IMB employment status and benefits (in the case that this conspiracy of rabid establishment conservatives led by Brother Bart should come to fruition?)

If this is the case, then maybe YOU should learn something from these converts you speak of who are willing to give up all for Christ.

It seems that here is where the ultimate disagreemtent and argument lies: Is the person Bart caricatures in his last paragraph (which you imply he is criticizing and condemning) a picture of a true convert or not? I say "not."

Bart Barber said...

Bro. Strider,

You should ACTUALLY read the book. Because people in the US are ACTUALLY training people according to its contents.

And, if some reports I receive are to be believed, some personnel within your org are actually being pressured to use it contrary to their convictions. I'm glad that the same is not true of you. I hope that it is not true of anyone.

And surely you are not disputing that there actually are people pursuing C5 and C6 strategies? These are not simply constructs in a book. Phil Parshall's analysis of what is ACTUALLY happening appeared in my earlier post. Is Dr. Parshall making this kind of thing up?

And the IMB is a >5000 employee organization. My brother, I believe what you say about what you are doing. Are you saying that you have comprehensive knowledge of what everyone in the IMB is doing?

As for me, I am speaking about the book not because it is more authoritative than anyone's actual practice, but because it is what I have before me. Do you regard the text of the book as insignificant? If so, I cannot attribute that eccentricity to some extra-American broadening of your mind. I do not think that "Americans" invented the book as a medium for transmitting ideas, nor do I believe that it is peculiarly American to take seriously the content of a book. Indeed, the Camel method itself is highly dependent upon the idea that non-Americans can be won to Christ precisely by using their commitment to the text of a book (viz. the Qur'an). The charge of provincialism can be an easy intellectual crutch, but I do not believe that it is effective in this case.

I have carefully stated not that the Camel should be heaped into piles and burned, but that it needs revision. I have not stated that it contains nothing of merit. I am glad to have learned more of what the Qur'an says about Christianity than I knew before. But I do not believe that a single shred of special revelation exists within the Qur'an. It is not just that there is "not enough light" (Greeson's words) in the Qur'an—there is no light there at all.

But I remain entirely open to strategies that use the Qur'an to open discussions about the gospel, so long as those discussions are not deliberately deceptive or otherwise compromising to the holiness of the body of Christ and so long as they wind up with a full-fledged presentation of the gospel.

From reading your profile, I know that you will resonate with this: The Camel book suffers from a discomfort with Hill Difficulty. My only desire is that our friends in Middle Earth (sorry to mix metaphors here) be pointed in the correct direction to join us in House Beautiful.

As a final suggestion, would you mind compiling some suggestions about how to broach the subject of abandoning Islam to become a Christian? This is what is missing from the Camel, but is what you are adding. I think that the material would be very helpful. Perhaps our combined readership at our blogs could turn to this material to supplement training in the Camel, benefitting all who have a heart for Muslim evangelization.

Thank you for what you do.

Bart Barber said...

And, of course, in the Celestial City beyond.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Yarnell,

I did not say one word accusing the Seven Guidelines for CP statement of being non-biblical. I said that it seeks to impose a religious sub-culture when it comes to cross-cultural CP. I think the problem is that while I do see "Baptist" ecclesiology as biblical ecclesiology, for me that does not preclude seeing "baptist" ecclesiology as also being biblical. For example, the Korean baptists could write their own BF&M and it would read quite different than our own, I am sure. I doubt that they would contradict each other in any way. They would both be biblical, but they would reflect their individual religious sub-cultures. This would be the case everywhere that "baptistic" churches are planted.

How does your statement reflect a religious sub-culture? As Strider has already pointed out, the idea of a new church must beginning with a covenant that is usually written, is fully reflective of a western mindset. The BF&M statement says that a church should be "associated by covenant". The rest of point number one of your guidelines is all just piling on your own meaning of that little phrase. One could quite easily take the idea of "associating by covenant" as meaning a joining, bonding, or commitment in faith and fellowship, which better reflects the actual BF&M wording. This could be much more informal than your statement, without lessening in any way the level of commitment.

I don't think that the other guidelines go very far outside the intended meaning of the actual BF&M, but Guideline #4 concerning pastoral leadership, #5 concerning church membership, and #7 concerning the Lord's Day all could be quite limiting for churches in non-western cultures. For example, most house churches, as found in almost all closed countries, have greatly divergent, yet biblical, ideas of the pastoral (elder) role, as well as church membership. I think that what is unique about the 7 Guidelines statement is that while all of us employed by the IMB as field workers are rightly expected to agree and abide by the BF&M, this is the first thing that I have ever read that states the BF&M should be the litmus test for every church planted by the IMB. And here is where we get to the heart of the debate as to whether we should be planting Baptist or baptistic churches.

Being the much better educated between the two of us, and maybe even smarter as well, you will I am sure respond about the BF&M being a reflection of historic "Baptist" theology and how that is the theology that has brought you to these 7 guidelines. However, if the SB blogger wars have shown us anything over the last 2 years, it's that there is a little variance on what could be considered the historical interpretation of Scripture by Baptists. And furthermore, none of us are historic Baptist theologians or church planters ourselves. We are all influenced by our current place in history and our cultural upbringing. Fortunately I was unable to attend a seminary that produced cookie-cutter ministers that believed exactly the same about every single doctrine in the Bible. Despite the continued attempts at indoctrination, people were convicted and lead by the Holy Spirit in different ways, influenced by the cultures of their upbringing, and given unique visions of ministry. And somehow almost everybody I studied with could still agree to the BF&M. The purging I was referring to in my first comment will come when IMB field workers are no longer allowed to have their individual, yet faithful, interpretations of exactly what is meant by "Baptist ecclesiology".

If we are truly supposed to be planting "Baptist" churches all over the world, then I will confess the IMB has way more problems than you can ever imagine. For that is not an idea that has ever been mentioned any time that I have been at ILC or at any regional meeting I have ever attended. Planting baptist churches is stressed quite a lot, and I don't know any one that is not trying to do just that. But if Baptist churches are your goal than I would walk down the hall and check out what kind of contextualization and indigenous nonsense that Dr. Eitel is speaking on today and try to help him out a little...


Anonymous said...

Forgive me for getting so off post. I was asked a direct question by a leading Baptist theologian and out of respect for my authorities felt I was obliged to answer. Although something tells me he was probably just wanting to put me in my place.


Bart Barber said...

Bro. M.,

The fatal flaw, IMHO, in your argument that the transmission of Baptist ecclesiology amounts to the propagation of Southern Baptist religious subculture lies in the great difficulty I think you would have in identifying much of a SBC religious subculture that actually practices such an ecclesiology.

Folks like Dr. Yarnell who are calling us to biblical ecclesiology are precisely engaged in a battle with aspects of religious subculture that are out-of-step with the Bible.

Anonymous said...


Indeed C5 and C6 workers do exist, but it seems they number much fewer than any of us would be lead to believe. I think they must just publish frequently.

At a recent inter-agency meeting on Muslim work there were quite a few IMB personnel from many different regions in attendance. None of these people even came close to being C5 or C6. In fact, in our IMB-only sessions most people made fun of these other workers and ridiculed/rolled their eyes at workers from other agencies that had an ethos different than our own.

The few C5/C6 workers in attendance frequently were ripped apart in small group sessions. They had come to the meeting calling themselves Muslims, dressed as Muslims, with a Muslim name, and talking about teaching from the Qur'an in the mosque, and even buying potential converts and entire villages Qur'ans for them to use in worship. Most interesting is that the workers that gave these C5/C6 types the hardest time were MBBs (former Muslims). This is usually the case, as it is quite common for an MBB to be much more demanding of a clean break from the former life after conversion than the C5/C6 worker would call for. I don't know of any MBBs, however, that would have problems with a C3/C4 approach.

C5/C6 missionaries do exist, but they are very few, and I would say none, not even one, exist within the IMB. The Camel method might have some problems, but it does not represent a C5/C6 approach in the slightest.


Bart Barber said...

Bro. M.,

Thanks for the report. I receive your testimony about our brethren with gladness. Your concluding sentence gives me pause: "The Camel method might have some problems, but it does not represent a C5/C6 approach in the slightest."

Your account of a meeting that you attended and I did not—on that ground I must and do yield to you entirely. But the book I have read for myself. In evaluation of it, we are at an impasse. The best way forward that I can find would involve you bringing, from the book, some substantiation of what you have asserted here.

Malcolm Yarnell said...

Dear Bart,

Let me congratulate you on clearly pointing out many of the relevant issues with regard to the problem of extreme contextualization strategies. This one sentence alone says so much: "It is not just that there is 'not enough light' (Greeson's words) in the Qur'an—there is no light there at all." The theological errors of the Camel Method begin with the supposition that the Qur'an conveys revelation, and revelation concerning Jesus Christ in particular.

Dear Strider and IamanM,

The "Seven Guidelines" statement says "usually written" in recognition of non-literate societies. In other words, the faculty recognized from the beginning that writing is not required. If that is your major problem with the statement, and I see no other substantive objection being raised by Strider, then it suggests that you may have built an entire rejection on the basis of a misreading of the document's emphases.

I will not respond to many of the arguments that especially IamanM brought forward, as I am unsure as to exactly what prompted them or the intent in writing such. I will assume that I misunderstand your words and move on to those issues that require substantial consideration. Take, for instance, these few items:

1. The International Mission Board is a Southern Baptist agency whose Board of Trustees utilizes the Baptist Faith and Message (revised in 2000), as both a witness to the world and as an instrument of doctrinal accountability (preface). This confession is our Southern Baptist "witness," our "message." Part of the battle of the Conservative Resurgence has been that the churches expect that professors and missionaries employed by SBC entities would agree with that witness, including the witness to the biblical doctrine of the church. The use of language other than "Baptist" -- such as references to "baptist" or "baptistic" -- suggests, and this is where I hope I am wrong, that some of our missionaries do not consider the articles on the church (including Articles VI, VII, and VIII) to be their own witness. If so, I and many others who have given faithfully in prayer, personal encouragement, and pecuniary support through the years will be profoundly disappointed. Please do not disappoint your people. Please let us know clearly that you are promoting the same "message" and "witness" and "faith" that we do, including the biblical doctrines of the church.

2. IamanM, you expressed disagreement, not only with point 1, but also with points 4, 5, and 7 of the Seven Guidelines document. These points concern leadership, baptism, and Sunday worship. The BF&M does not advocate these things because Southern Baptists are located culturally in the West but because these doctrines are advocated in Scripture! Perhaps you are correct, and the "IMB has way more problems than [I] can ever imagine." For if any (some?, many?) of our missionaries are not involved in planting biblical churches, but are dismissing the biblical requirements for a church outlined in Articles VI, VII, and VIII, then those articles are not part of their "Faith and Message." I pray that I am wrong in detecting a disconnect between your witness and mine, for the implications may, and this I would only with loathsomeness consider, ultimately require a break in fellowship.

In Christ,

Bart Barber said...



I am a C-H....

I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N....

And I have C-H-R-I-S-T in my H-E-A-R-T and I will L-I-V-E E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y

[My kids watch "Cedarmont Kids" singing this old children's church song, and with the IamanM and IamaP going back and forth, I just couldn't resist! :-) There is no commentary here, just frivolity.]

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, I just finished reading this post and its comments -- so I haven't read your latest post on the Camel. Of all your posts I've read on the subject thus far, I think this one most clearly shines the light on the dark problem areas of the Camel method that are promoted in the book by Kevin Greeson. Thanks for pointedly, yet amicably, addressing this somewhat volatile subject.