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Archive for the ‘contextualization’ Category

world map missions

I thought I post an update of our posts dealing with Missions, Culture and being Biblical.  Many of the posts dealt with the Insider Movement although we also touch on different things.  The reason I posted this update is because I wrote a significant amount of more posts after our series was completed.

Enjoy!

Essays by SlimJim

Quick Thoughts on Question of those who never Heard

A Bad Theology of False Religions in Contemporary Evangelical Missionary Thought?

Missionary Contextualization understood in light of the relationship between Culture and the Bible

Messianic Mosques and Messianic Muslims? Taking on Shah Ali’s South Asia Report  NEW

Faulty Ecclesiology in two Insider Movement Case Studies NEW

Insider Movement’s John Travis view of Apologetics and Islam  NEW

Concerns for C. Peter Wagner on the Cutting Edge of Missions Strategy  NEW

  NEW

Is it True Anyone Can be a Missionary if they Speak English?

Missions: Distinguishing between Relief and Transformational Development

Reviews

Book Review: The Road to Reality

Review: Conquer Your Fear, Share Your Faith by Kirk Cameron, Ray Comfort

  NEW

Other Online Resources

Reformed Forum Critique of the Insider Movement and resources recommended

PCA General Assembly Report on the Insider Movement

David B.

Garner’s 5 Part Series on Insider Movement over at Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

Video: Piper Responds to the Insider Movement | The Domain for Truth

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True Sons of Heaven David Marshall

David Marshall. The True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture. Seattle, WA: Kuai Mu Press, 2002. 216 pp.

This book has far too many problems that can’t be ignored.  I will begin looking at the problems first and then what’s good with the book; but the weakness far outweighs its strength and I hesitate suggesting this work to anyone else.

The first problem is rather minor but everything else that follows concerns with the content of the book.  This book has bad editing.  The book has three sections but the numbering of the section is off; for instance, part one is labeled as part two, and part two is labeled as part three, etc.    In the first chapter the endnotes are missing.  I think the editors were asleep on the wheel and honestly I think if they did a better job scrutinizing the content of the book, I think the book wouldn’t have been published in the first place because I think it does not even fulfill the expectation of an undergraduate essay.

The author David Marhsall did quote various sources but there were many times I wished he explained better what it was or who it was that he was quoting—and why was it significant.  It is not helpful for the general reader when the sources of these quotes are not explained.

The book’s thesis is that “many important symbols and ideas within Chinese culture points to Jesus” (7).  Some of his evidences of how Chinese culture points towards Jesus and Christianity does not seem to logically follow.  For instance, on page five Marshall talked about how Beijing’s Temple of Heaven had twelve red outer pillars and that the number twelve and the color red pointed to the apostles.  I don’t know how the color red necessitate that it is the apostles’ blood in view.  We must also not forget that the Apostle John was not martyred so it is hard to see 12 red pillars.  Later in the book Marshall would argue that the Forbidden Palace’s three layer roof is proof of the Trinity but this seems somewhat of a stretch.

Another of his evidence that Chinese culture points towards Christianity is Confucius.  For instance on page 9-10 Marshall claims about Confucius that he “did more than anyone in China to point people to this way.”  I would say that is a bold claim.  I have reservation with Marshall’s claim about Confucius when Marshall in the book also admitted that Confucius “did not know how to approach heaven” on page 41, that “one thing Confucius lacked: closeness to Heaven” on page 56 and also how “he did not know how to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, or fully understand why it needed to be bridged” on page 57. How can one point to the way when he is ignorant of all the essentials of the Way?  Marshall also believed that Confucius’ talk about Sheng Ren (Holy Man) anticipates the Messiah and one of his defense of this is that “Confucius never said the Sheng Ren would be Chinese” (42).  But Marshall here is making a fallacious argument from silence.  There are so much question begging assertions that the book makes about Confucius and Jesus that it is hard to keep track of them; for instance on page 68 the author claims that both Jesus and Confucius and Jesus “are going the same direction” except Jesus makes it “a dangerous adventure” (68).

Marshall also tried to argue that in the past Chinese thinkers did know the God of Christianity.  I think he failed to interact with the strongest arguments of those who disagreed and instead Marshall engaged in a defense the Chinese concept of God is personal.  While I do believe that Chinese does have some conception of a personal God that hardly makes it the Christian God.  He also failed to account for the silence of Chinese intellectual figureheads with the concept of the Trinity, something that is distinctively Christian.  Marshall’s discussion about God’s transcendence and imminence is misplaced in the debate.  Added to his confusion is Marshall’s statement that “there are passages in the Bible where the boundary between God and man appear a bit fudged, too, such as Paul’s famous ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’” (24).  When one look up Acts 17, we do see the passages affirm God’s transcendence and immanence but it does not present it as being muddled.  God is indeed transcendent but also His presence is everywhere though that does not mean God is His creature or creation.

It does not help Marshall’s cause when he is theologically weak that affects his discernment and presentation.  For instance, he talks about Nestorians as “the first Christians in China” (25) without acknowledging their heretical status.  There is the danger of syncretism in Marshall’s theology.  He claims on page 68 that “Jesus and Lao Zi were ‘spiritual brothers.’”  I wished the book was more pronounce and clear concerning sin, Jesus’ death and salvation.  Even when he does talk about those subject towards the end of the book, he doesn’t connect the relationship of sin to justification and Jesus’ work on the cross which I see as essential for one’s Gospel presentation.

His methodology is problematic because everything points to Jesus Christ, even Mao’s rebellion is something Jesus took to make part of His Way (64-65).  Marshall thinks Jesus was speaking about Mao’s regime when He said brothers will be against brothers, etc (168).  It is a bit of a stretch.  It must also be said that the same method the author use can also be used to demonstrate how Chinese culture points to say Marxism, Islam, etc.  It is a flawed and speculative method.  Plus, I don’t think Mao is a good “bridge” to Chinese culture for Christianity, given how he is a tyrant and also someone who is not necessarily held in high regards among everyone in the Chinese community.

I thought it was ironic that the author could point out “Chinese Buddhism” is “very Chinese, but not very Buddhist” (81).  At times I felt Marshall’s work ended up being more Chinese than Christian.

I think any reference to historical and political realities that the book make must be double checked.  For instance, on page 82-83 the book claims “A symbol of both Mao’s success and his failure is that under socialism, the poor learned to waste this precious grain,” with the grain referring to rice.  Supposedly, “the communists alleviated China’s chronic food shortage” (83).   I had a hard time with this personally since it goes against what history tells us of the man made famine that Mao’s economic policies produced.  In fact, Mao’s policies followed that of Stalin and Mao didn’t change it even with the Russians warning him that it wasn’t going to work since they have done it already themselves.  Given the historical inaccuracy of the statement we must ask what is the basis for Marshall to assert such a horrendous claim and he tells us following the above quote when he go on to say “When I walked by student dorms in China in the mid 1980s, I learned to keep an eye out for uneaten rice thrown through a window” (83).  Assuming this to be true, we must remember that the author’s experience in the mid-1980s was the reign of Deng Xiao Ping and not Chairman Mao.  Chairman Mao has been dead for a decade so the basis for his evidence of Mao’s economic success does not support his conclusion.

There was too many times throughout the book that the author wrote flowery descriptions that didn’t have to do with anything.  There’s a travelogue small talk feel to the book that was not appropriate for a book that was going to rigorously argue how Jesus fulfills Chinese culture.  There were pictures in the book that one has to wonder what did it have to do with anything with the chapter and pictures that made one ask the question: who is this guy?  What is going on?

As I said before the bad outweighs the good in the book.  What I did appreciate from the book is his chapter on how Buddhism cannot fulfill the expectation and longing of Chinese culture.  Of course, one might ask why must Chinese Culture be the standard to judge one’s religion in the first place and if consistent it is also detrimental to the Christian cause since not everything in Chinese culture is right and compatible with Christianity.  It seems as if this didn’t occur to the author giving his silence on the issue.

I also enjoyed it whenever the author discussed Chinese character and how it points to some profound truth or confirm Biblical truths and this is probably the strongest evidence he presents in the book.  Sadly when it comes to the characters pointing to Genesis he shares in the appendix that he is skeptical of it; but if he is skeptical of the strongest evidence in his book, that doesn’t speak a whole lot for the rest of his superficial look at how Chinese culture points towards Christ.

Purchase: Amazon

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I hope you catch the irony with the title of today’s post.Perspective on the Worldwide Christian Movement

For a few months now I have been blogging about my concern with some of the disturbing trends with recent Christian missionary methodology.  One such concern I have is the fact that some seem to be against good reasoning.

An example of this can be seen in the case of C. Peter Wagner.  He is a former professor at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions (it has since been renamed the School of Intercultural Studies).  In a previous post I looked at some of the problem found in Wagner’s essay “On the Cutting Edge of Mission Strategy.

One of the things that Wagner said that I didn’t get to unpack in my previous post is Wagner’s view that Jesus prefer a demonstration of miraculous power rather than a”carefully reasoned argument” which he sees as a sign of Western “secularizing influence.”  I quote Wagner in his own words:

One of the more disturbing things we are beginning to discover is that, in more cases than we would care to think, our missionary messsage in the Third World has been having a secularizing influence.  I first realized this when I read an article by my colleague, Paul G. Hiebert, called ‘The Flaw of the Excluded Middle’ in 1982.  He begins the article by citing the question that John the Baptist had his disciples ask Jesus: ‘Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ (Luke 7:20).  Hiebert emphasized that Jesus’ reply was not a carefully reasoned argument, but rather a demonstration of power in healing the sick and casting out of evil spirits” (Wagner, 581).

As one can see, Wagner came to his position through the writing of another professor at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission: Paul Hiebert.  The relevant quote that Wagner read is quoted below:

The disciples of Jesus asked Jesus, ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ (Luke 7:20 RSV).  Jesus answered, not with logical proofs, but by a demonstration of power in curing the sick and casting out evil spirits.   This much is clear.  Yet when I once read the passage from my perspective as a missionary in India and sought to apply it to missions in my day, I felt a sense of uneasiness.  As a Westerner, I was used to presenting Christ on the basis of rational arguments, but by evidences of his power in the lives of people who were sick, possessed and destitute” (Hiebert, 407).

Note how both Wagner and Hibert appealed to Luke 7:20.  Here is Luke 7:20-23 in context:

20 When the men came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the[o]Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’” 21 At that [p]very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. 22 And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, thepoor have the gospel preached to them. 23 Blessed is he [q]who does not take offense at Me.”

There are problems with what these two Professors of Fuller Seminary has to say against “reason:”

  1. Wagner’s and Hiebert’s position is self-refuting in that they are both against carefully reasoned argument, and yet they end up trying to present what they think is a carefully reasoned argument for their position when they invoke Luke 7:20.  On the one hand they don’t think carefully reasoned arguments are legitimate but they inevitably presuppose the endeavor is legitimate when they try to set forth their reason against carefully reasoned argument.
  2. Wagner believes “carefully reasoned argument” is an example of Western missionary’s secularizing influence upon the Third World.  But this does not logically follow.  Wagner commit the logical fallacy of slippery slope when he thinks that carefully reasoned argument is going to lead one to become secularized.  This is not the case and portray a misunderstanding of what reasoning is on the part of Wagner; if one’s premises is not secularized but Biblically informed and “sanctified” then one will not become secularized in their conclusion.  Again, Wagner’s concern does not logically follow.
  3. It is important to exegete Luke 7:20-23 accurately.  Nowhere in the passage does Jesus condemn “presenting Christ on the basis of rational arguments” (to use Hiebert’s own words).
  4. In light of point 3, it must be pointed out that both Hiebert and Wagner commit the logical fallacy of a false dilemma when they present the option as either we accept Christ’s miracle as having evidential value or we accept rational arguments as having evidential value.  Why must a Christian accept either/or instead of both/and?
  5. We can agree with Hiebert and Wagner that Jesus’ purpose of performing miracles was to confirm the truth about the claims of Jesus Christ for as Hebrews 2:3-4 attests on the nature of signs, wonders and miracles: “how will we escape if we neglect so great asalvation?[d]After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various [e]miracles and by [f]gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” (Hebrews 2:3-4)  But notice Jesus expected the right extrapolation of what the miracles mean and this proper interpretation of what does the evidence mean is act of engaging in reasoning.
  6. Point 5 enjoy further support from the immediate context in Luke 7 if one examine verse 22.  What Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist is very significant since this is an echo of Isaiah 61:1 as presented in Luke 4:18.  Jesus description of what He is doing also should make His hearers think of Isaiah 26:19, 35:5-6.  This heavy use of Isaiah’s terms and phrases indicate that Jesus wants John to think Biblically in interpreting the evidence of Jesus’ miracles.  He is making an argument!  He is not merely arguing from miracles alone but bringing in Scripture to show that His miracles fulfill Messianic Prophecies.
  7. The most ironic thing about Wagner’s complaint that missionaries who use carefully reasoned arguments are “secularizing Third World Nations” is that it is those who are like him who are secularizing Third World Nations and not the ones who believed in the Sanctified Use of reason and argumentation, etc.  Note how Wagner thinks the performance of miracles are sanctified for the Christian but reasoning is not.  This is the same paradigm that secularists adopt when they separate the domain of God and the miraculous from the domain of “reason.”  Contrary to his claim, it is the Christian who do employ sanctified reasoning that is consistent in rejecting the dualism of secular/sacred.

Bibliography

Hiebert, Paul. 2009. “THe Flaw of the Excluded Middle.”Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 407-414.

Wagner, Charles Peter. 2009. “On the Cutting Edge of Missions Strategy.”Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 574-582.

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C Peter Wagner on the Cutting Edge of Missions Strategy

Charles Peter Wagner is probably best known as one of the leaders of the Church Growth movement that was a former professor of Church Growth at Fuller Seminary up until 2001.  He has also founded Global Harvest Ministries and Wagner Leadership Institute.  Wagner himself was a missionary in Bolivia from 1956 to 1971.

Wagner has an essay that appeared in an anthology on the Worldwide Christian Movement that I want to look at more closely:

Wagner, Charles Peter. 2009. “On the Cutting Edge of Missions Strategy.” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 574-582.

What Wagner pushes forth in his essay is for Evangelicals to have a “fresh look” with incorporating “supernatural power” with missions.  Wagner states this in the conclusion of his essay:

I feel that one of the callings that God has given me is to be an encouragement to traditional Evangeical non-Pentecostal and non-Charismatic institutions so that they will begin to take a new look at mission power–ministering supernaturally as we encounter the enemy” (Wagner, 582).

And also in the middle of his essay:

I believe that we Evangelicals need a fresh look a supernatural power, a fresh awareness of worldview and a fresh examination of the theology of the Kingdom” (Wagner, 579).

By “supernatural power” Wagner has in mind the ministry of supernaturally healing the sick and casting out demons.  Wagner does admit in the essay that

We are still at the beginning stages of this, and we are not yet satisfied with the way we are doing the job, but we are trusting God to continue to teach us so that we can in turn teach others” (Wagner, 582).

The anthology does not say when Wagner wrote the essay but if the last few years is any indication with his institute providing leadership and training for the New Apostolic Reformation Movement, it isn’t heading in the right direction.  The following are my concern for Wagner’s “cutting edge” of missions strategy:

1.) First off, concerning the New Apostolic Reformation Movement, I don’t have the time or space to rehearse the theological problems and heresies spewing out from this group but my friend Lyndon Unger has done a good job describing it in his Primer on the NAR.  If NAR is the fruit of Wagner’s more mature stage of the “supernatural” that he talks about in his essay, we shouldn’t seek to merge it with missions since it is bad even for those within the church.  Why export it overseas?

2.) Second, it seems that Wagner’s cutting edge approach towards missions suffer from the problem of theological integrity.  Wagner is essentially a Charistmatic but doesn’t seem to own up to it.  Note what he says:

The third wave involves those of us–and I include myself–who, for one reason or another, do not personally wish to identify with either the Pentecostals or the Charismatics.  We love, respect and admire our friends in those movements, and we pray God’s blessing on them in all their work.  We recognize that currently they represent the most rapidly growing segment of the Body of Christ worldwide.  We have learned a great deal from them and desire to learn more  But our style is slightly different.  We minister in very similar ways, but explain what we do in alternate theological terminology” (Wagner, 579).

From the above, does Wagner distance himself from the Pentecostals and Charismatics over actual theological content?  Wagner says the difference is not of essence but of “style,” which incidentally “is slightly different.”  He even said “We minister in very similar ways.”  The other difference between him and Pentecostals and Charismatics is an “alternate theological terminology.”  I think his alternative terminology is much ado about nothing: We can have an alternative terminology for “horse” in Chinese (“ma”) but that doesn’t make it not a horse in essence.  He is a Charismatic and ought to own up to it.  Will God bless a strategy that does not uphold integrity?

3.) Third, the cutting edge of missions as described in Wagner’s essay has the spirit that sees doctrine as irrelevant in general and Reformed theology in particular.  Wagner agreeably quotes Richard De Ridder of Calvin Theological Seminary taking a swipe of Calvinism as being irrelevant for modern missionaries, saying

One thing deeply impressed me: how irrelevant so much of traditional Reformed Theology was to these people and their situation, and how seldom this theology spoke to their real needs.  The question that concern Satan, demons, angels, charms, etc., are not of great concern, nor do they receive much attention in the West

When the ‘Five Points of Calvinism’ were preached to these people, they often respond with the question, ‘What’s the issue?’  Missionaries and pastors were scratching where they didn’t itch” (Wagner, 580).

Now one does not have to be Reformed to see the problem with this attitude.  First off, the professor dismisses “traditional Reformed Theology” as not address the concerns that arise from “Satan, demons, angels, charms;” but historically it was Reformed Theology that liberated Medieval Europe from the shackles of “Satan, demons, angels, charms.”  It also rescued people from the shackles of superstitions.  This liberation of Reformation Europe was possible because once you have a Sovereign God who controls all things, with authority over all things including “Satan, demons, angels, charms” there is no need to be overly occupied with fear of them.  Also Reformed Theology is heavily Christ-Centered and a Christ-Centered Theology include the truth that Christ is the Creator and controller over everything including the forces of darkness:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16 ESV)

Rather then being irrelevant, Reformed Theology’s Christology and doctrine of God is an antidote to the problems and questions of “Satan, demons, angels, charms.”  Secondly, who made “Satan, demons, angels, charms” the litmus test of a missionary strategy that is relevant?  I think the professor here confuses felt needs with real needs.  God knows what man’s real need is and has revealed it in His Word.  If Calvinism’s and Reformed Theology’s proposition is true that man is under wrath from God because of man’s sin, then the discussion about man, sin, God, Jesus and the Gospel is more crucial and relevant than the discussion of “Satan, demons, angels, charms” per se.  It is more “relevant” even though the unbeliever “feels” “Satan, demons, angels, charms” are more important.  Thirdly, I have reservation with the claim that people’s response to the ‘Five Points of Calvinism’ is one of a question of ‘What’s the issue?’  The first point of Calvinism, Total Depravity, defines the issue: Sin.  A nonbeliever might not like the issue or disagree with the issue but surely if someone presents the five point of Calvinism correctly a nonbeliever will not say ‘What’s the issue?’  One has to wonder about how truly Reformed this professor from Calvin Theological Seminary is with his incompetence with Reformed Theology.

Conclusion

There will always be people coming forward saying this or that is the new cutting edge strategy for doing ministry, whether it’s missions, evangelism or growing members.  We must never forget to test them whether the method agrees with the Word of God and also whether it is logically sound and factually true.  I think a good example of a cutting edge strategy that suffer from all three defect is Wagner’s missions strategy.

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In our series on “Missions, Culture and Being Biblical,” we have noted some of the problems with the missions method known as the Insider Movement.  We have pointed out their faulty theology of religion and faulty theology of culture.  Here we also want to focus on the Insider Movement’s faulty ecclesiology.  We will be examining two “case studies” that is found in the fourth edition of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement : A Reader.

Perspective on the Worldwide Christian Movement

These two articles are:

Lewis, Tim and Rebecca. 2009. “Planting Churches: Learning the Hardway” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 690-693.

Guzman, Andres and Angelica. 2009. “Ourselves as Servants: Latin American Workers in the Middle East.” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 700-702.

The reason why I want to focus on these case studies is because of the fact that it is one thing to see theoretical disucssions about how to do missions in missiological journals but it’s another thing to see reports of what is actually being done.  In the end, we don’t want merely “what works,” lest we fall into pragmatism but we must test all things and see if they are Scriptural.

I also picked the first article because Rebecca Lewis is one of the leaders of the Insider Movement.

Both articles are written by couples who work among Muslims.

After describing their missionary efforts, Andres and Angelica Guzman reported the fruit of their effort to reach Muslims in the Middle East:

Through all of this, several of our friends decided to become followers of Jesus.  Some (not encouraged by us) decided to follow him as Christians and some (through their own choice) decided to follow Jesus while remaining religiously Muslim.  Most decided to say outside established of religious institutions, simply calling themselves ‘believers.’ (Guzman, 701).

What is unfortunate to read here is that some of these “followers of Jesus” “decided to follow Jesus while remaining religiously Muslim.”  Even more discouraging is how both missionaries didn’t see any concern with this.  Sadly “most decided to stay outside established religious institutions, simply calling themselves ‘believers.'”  Is it alright as believers “to stay outside established of religious institutions” and just call themselves believers?

An important institution that God set up for true followers of Jesus Christ is the church.

In the first New Testament reference to the church, Jesus promised that the church will be something He will build and will last: “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18).

Every believer ought to be part of the church, which is also known as the body of Christ.  As Paul told the believers in 1 Corinthians,

  • “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
  • “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)

Given that the church is something that Hades will not prevail over, and is something every believer ought to be a part of,  Andres and Angelica Guzman’s method and practices in the missions field fall short of Biblical standard.

The problem with the Insider Movement understanding of the church seem to go deeper than that when we read the report by Rebecca and Tim Lewis.  In writing about their missions effort they wrote:

A church was born within a natural community without creating a new group just for fellowship.  It reminded us of something Ralph Winter had said: ‘The ‘church’ (in the sense of being a committed community) is already there, they just don’t know Jesus yet!'” (Lewis, 693).

Both Tim and Rebecca ought to be commended for their strategic effort in reaching out to people in the context of their community.  However, when it comes to what the church is, their agreement with Ralph Winter is problematic.  First off, to see the church as merely a committed community is biblically unsatisfactory.  By definition, the church must be committed to it’s head Jesus Christ.  Church is not merely a community.  Secondly, the concept of “church” as a community that have yet to know Jesus is lacking in Biblical precedence.  Sure, there are God’s elect who have not come to faith yet but no where do we see the Bible describe them as already part of the church before their knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I believe if advocates of the Insider Movement would see more of what the Bible has to say about the church there might be less of this direction of believers still being able to retain their previous religion and attend their previous religious institution.

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Note: Originally I wanted to add more essays to our series on “Missions, Culture and Being Biblical” but this turns out not to be the Lord’s will because of things with pastoral ministry and my trip last week through some states in the Mid-West .  Here’s a post I didn’t get to finish until now. cfysf Can there be such thing a thing as “Messianic Muslims”?  Apparently some missiologists who are associated with the Insider Movement thinks its possible.  My contention is that this is problematic. In what follows I am interacting with the following essay by Shah Ali and J. Dudley Woodberry that was provided as “case studies” in the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement:

Ali, Shah and J. Dudley Woodberry. 2009. “South Asia: Vegetables, Fish and Messianic Mosques.” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 715-717.

Shad Ali is a pseudonym for a worker among Muslims in a South Asian country that is currently persecuting Christians while Dr. Woodberry is Dean Emeritus and Senior Professor of Islamic Studies over at Fuller Seminary’s school of Intercultural Studies (formerly called the School of World Missions).  Woodberry has been a leader of the Insider Movement. To play on the title of their essay, I think the concept of Messianic Muslims and Messianic Mosques is somewhat “fishy.” In their essay Ali and Woodberry gives the rationale for why they would call themselves “Muslims” rather than “Christians:”

Our Muslim neighbors defined ‘Christianity’ as a ‘foreign religion of infidels,’ so we often referred to ourselves as ‘Muslims’ (literally, ‘submitters to God’).  The necessity of submitting to God is certainly Christian (see James 4:7), and Jesus’ disciples called themselves ‘Muslims’ according to the Qur’an (5:111).  When villagers have decided to follow Christ, the people continued to use the mosque for worship of God–but now through Christ” (Ali, 716).

Response: Several problems are evident in this paragraph.  First off, while Ali’s neighboring Muslims precieve Christianity as a foreign infidel’s religion, it does not logically follow therefore that missionaries and their followers should call themselves “Muslims.”  I think it is possible for missionaries and converts to say they are Christians and explain what Christianity really means to their neighboring Muslims which involves correcting preconceptions, whether real or imagined; it is also a logical possibility to use a different term to describe their new relationship to Christ than terms used by current Muslim paradigm.  Again, just because Muslims (or anyone else for that matter) have a bad preception of Christians and Christianity does not mean we now use the same label they give of themselves to identify ourselves.  This is an issue of integrity.

Secondly, Ali and Woodberry further argue that the reason why they referred to themselves as ‘Muslims’ is because in Arabic the term “Muslims” literally means ‘submitters to God’ and this term is a legitimate designation for Christian missionaries and their convert since “submitting to God is certainly Christian.”  But this is a word-study fallacy; while it is true that etymologically the term means “submitters to God,” in the actual context of 21st Century missionary outreach the term Muslims have a deeper connotation than a mere generic “submitters to God.”  Which God?  Is it the God of the Bible or the God of the Qur’an?  A follower of Islam is using the term Muslim to refer to those who submit to the teaching of Islam (including their scripture, the Qur’an) and believe Muhammad is Allah’s prophet. The term Muslims would also be understood by followers of Islam to be distinguished from those who believe Jesus Christ is God, who believe Jesus came to die as the Savior of the sins of those who would repent.  With this understanding of the term “Muslim” within Muslims’ own community, these missionaries (and their converts) are not Muslims.

Thirdly, the writers note “Jesus’ disciples called themselves ‘Muslims’ according to the Qur’an (5:111)” but while it is true that Islamic theology sees the early followers of Jesus as Muslims, that does not mean they would designate that term today to describe current followers of Jesus since they believe Christians today have strayed from the actual teaching of Jesus (which they believe is similar to the teaching of Muhammad).

Fourthly, in the last sentence the writers mentioned about followers of Christ still continuing worshiping God in their mosque “but now through Christ;” but is it really possible to worship God in Muslim Mosque through Christ?  Remaining in a Muslim Mosque means remaining in a worship service that denies Jesus Christ as the Son.  Don’t forget the words of 1 John 2:23: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.”  You cannot worship and have the Father if you deny the Son (which a Mosque does deny)! Biblically, going to a Muslim Mosque to worship is to worship with nonbelievers.  Heed the words of 2 Corinthians 6:14-15=

14 Do not be [j]bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with [k]Belial, or [l]what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?


There is also dangerous implication of the fruit of the Insider movement towards ecclessiology and specifically with the church’s ordinance of baptism; few paragraphs after the above quote the two writers goes on to say:

People have only been baptized if the head of the family was baptized” (Ali, 716)

Response: I have addressed this elsewhere in this series in particular with my essay “Closer Look at Donald McGavran’s People Movement Missionary Approach versus Conglomerate Church Approach.” We must ask the question whether this is biblical: Do we see in Scripture the command that we SHOULD ONLY baptize people if the head of the family are baptized first?  Do we see any Biblical data that its okay for believers not to be baptized if one’s head of the family is not baptized?


Finally we find another theological argument for the concept of “Messianic Muslims” (and “Messianic Mosques”) towards the end of the essay:

The concept of Messianic mosques and completed Muslims (following the model of Messianic synagogues and completed Jews) still causes considerable misunderstanding among other Christians” (Ali, 717).

Response: First off, the burden of proof is upon both Shah Ali and J. Dudley Woodberry to demonstrate that Islam parallel Judaism in order for the concept of “Messianic mosques” and “completed Muslims” to work.  Secondly, don’t forget that unlike Judaism, Islam came after Christianity 600 years later and twisted the truth of Christianity so it cannot be seen as something needing Christian theological “completion” but historically it is the rejection of Christianity.  Thirdly, whereas the Bible does teach the special redemptive role of Israel and her faith in the history of redemptive history, the Bible does not give Islam the same role; and to talk about Messianic Mosques is to make a theological move that fail to take into account the unique role of Biblical Judaism.  Here Ali and Woodberry is making an analogy that doesn’t work.  Fourthly, the idea of Messianic mosques and Messianic Muslims is not something that other Christians merely misunderstood; I believe in this essay I have demonstrated there are real legitimate problem with their arguments and their position.  Fifthly, this alleged “misunderstanding” about Messianic Mosques turns out that its not coming from Christians alone but also Muslims.  Apparently from within their own essay Ali and Woodberry acknowledges that other Muslims “misunderstood” that these “Messianic Muslims” are not Muslims at all (thought they try to play off as Muslims) when the report gives account of their persecutions from Muslims.  There is the irony from the essay’s own description of the author Shah Ali: “His identity is being concealed (There is currently persecution of Christisn in his country” (Ali, 715).

Again, I think the whole idea of Messianic Mosques and Messianic Muslim is fishy.

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world map missions Our Marathon Series on “Missions, Culture and Being Biblical” was launched on September 17th, 2014. While there were other issues being addressed there was a lot of focus in our series on the Insider Movement and the problem of faulty theology driving one’s missiology and one’s contextualization of the Gospel.  I felt that Solid Christians addressing the problem with the Insider Movement and their approach towards Mission was long overdue and I am glad to see the last two years an increases of Christian theologians addressing this problem. Below is an “index” to the posts in our series.

Essays by SlimJim

Quick Thoughts on Question of those who never Heard

A Bad Theology of False Religions in Contemporary Evangelical Missionary Thought?

Missionary Contextualization understood in light of the relationship between Culture and the Bible

Messianic Mosques and Messianic Muslims? Taking on Shah Ali’s South Asia Report  NEW

Faulty Ecclesiology in two Insider Movement Case Studies NEW

Insider Movement’s John Travis view of Apologetics and Islam  NEW

Concerns for C. Peter Wagner on the Cutting Edge of Missions Strategy  NEW

Is it True Anyone Can be a Missionary if they Speak English?

Missions: Distinguishing between Relief and Transformational Development

Reviews

Book Review: The Road to Reality

Review: Conquer Your Fear, Share Your Faith by Kirk Cameron, Ray Comfort

Other Online Resources

Reformed Forum Critique of the Insider Movement and resources recommended

PCA General Assembly Report on the Insider Movement

David B.

Garner’s 5 Part Series on Insider Movement over at Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

Video: Piper Responds to the Insider Movement | The Domain for Truth

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