What is wrong with contextualization methods in Muslim evangelism commonly known as “The Insider’s Movement” or “C-5 level church planting” or “The Common Ground” method or the “Jesus in the Qur’an” seminars?
What is contextualization?
“Contextualization” is basically an application of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (“to the Jew I have become like the Jew, in order to win Jews”; “to those without the law, I have become like those without the law”, etc. ). That is, as much as possible, we seek to get rid of, or minimize, social, cultural, external, and political stumbling blocks and mis-understandings, but not compromising on the truth of Scripture. We are to preach and explain the incarnation and the cross, and issues of God’s holiness and sin, which are stumbling blocks to unregenerate man, and be willing to explain those theological stumbling blocks. Another passage related to contextualization is Acts 17, where Paul uses the idea of “the altar to the Unknown god” and quotes from the Greeks poets/prophets as a springboard to talk about the true God. Good contextualization involves more of changing ourself (putting aside our own freedom and culture and biases) and, it means not being rude; but it does not mean changing the message. Although many Evangelicals have today drifted into un-Biblical forms of contextualization and compromise with the message, I believe there is a valid and Biblical and right kind of contextualization.
Communication of the Gospel into another context
“Contextualization” originally was meant to put the truth of the gospel and God’s word into the context and language of a person from a different culture and language and religion. It involves understanding the other person’s worldview and culture; if you will, “where they are coming from”. It also involves clear communication of the gospel, (translation of the message into their language, and/or speaking their language) and illustration of the message. It should never have meant to mean “changing the message so it is more palatable” or “agreeable”. Neither is it meant to mean the removal of all stumbling blocks or offenses. If you truly preach the gospel, even with love and understanding and patience and knowing the other person’s language, some people will still not receive it. Some are going to be offended no matter how much language learning and good contextualization we do. We must trust God to open hearts (Acts 16:14; John 6:44); but also have to work hard at communication and clarity.
A Watershed moment in recent missions history and thinking
In October of 1998, in the Evangelical Missions Quarterly, veteran missionary to the Muslim world, Phil Parshall wrote an article entitled, “Danger: New Directions in Contextualization”. It was re-printed in the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course textbook, under the title,
“Going Too Far?” along with John Travis’ (a pseudonym of a missionary in a Muslim country) “C-1 to C-6 Spectrum.
(scroll down, see pages 663-664) Some missionaries had already been experimenting with these methods for a while. In order to understand the controversy, one needs to read these two articles or get the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement text, edited by Ralph Winter and Steve Hawthorne, or the original Evangelical Missions Quarterly article in October of 1998. Some articles you can see linked to here and some of the articles in the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement text are too heavily influenced by cultural anthropology and sociological analysis that tends to over-shadow sound Biblical doctrine. But with discernment, someone who is deep in the Scriptures and has a sound theology can benefit from some of the cultural anthropology and sociological insights that they write about.
Addendum: (April 27, 2015) – I found Phil Parshall and John Travis’ article here. You have to scroll down to read it. (pages 663-664)
John Travis’ C-1 to C-6 spectrum, it seems to me, is a human model of seeking to understand what is happening in the Muslim World as regards the gospel penetration into Muslim cultures. It is not a definite hard science in itself, but a tool to get a basic handle on missions and church-planting in the Muslim World. It seems to me to be his way of getting a handle on the main levels of contextualization and application of the gospel and church planting in the Muslim World. Travis calls the different points on his spectrum “Christ -Centered Communities”; but it also seems to me to be levels of contextualization. C-1 is where there is some Christian or church presense in the Muslim country or area, but they don’t speak the Muslim’s language. Examples of C-1 level are international churches who speak English or, an Armenian or Assyian or Coptic church that does not speak the majority languages of Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, or Kurdish in those areas. Or it could be Chinese language speaking churches in Indonesia who do not speak Indonesian and have no outreach to the Muslim majority around them.
A Historical reality
It is probably helpful to take a historical interlude here and explain some background on the minority churches that survive today in the Muslim world, also because they are in recent years under more and more attack from Muslims in Muslim majority countries. The rise of Islamic terrorism in recent years has caused many of the minority churches to be destroyed and many of these people have fled their countries.
In fairness to many of these churches, historically they were basically forced to be that way by the Muslims when the Muslims conquered their areas and instituted Sharia Law and the Dhimmi System and Pact of Umar or Omar 1 (2nd Khaliph, from 634-644 AD – Omar Ibn Al-Khattab) and the later developments of the Dhimmi system under another Caliph (means “successor” to Muhammad after his death to lead the Muslim community) named Omar, Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz. (Sunni Caliph from 717-720 AD) On the other hand, many of these churches chose centuries ago to compromise with the Islamic government and agree to not do any evangelism or outreach to Muslims. Most of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Church, and Oriental Orthododox churches left in the Middle East and Muslim countries survived, but had no evangelical doctrine or real spiritual life or outreach to the Muslims. They became closed minority communities that were quiet and survived out of fear of the persecution and violence that the Sharia law and Dhimmi system seems to instigate.
(For some examples of resources that explain these historical realities, see
Laurence E. Browne, The Eclipse of Christianity in Asia: From the Time of Muhammad to the Fourteenth Century. (1933; unfortunately this book is out of print.)
See also, Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment. and also,
Bat Ye’or, who has written several books on Dhimmitude and Dhimmi-ism.
Dhimmi is from an Arabic word, ذمّی , which meant the minority protected peoples of the book, Christians and Jews, who agreed to not resist the Muslim conquests and agreed not to do any evangelism and paid the Jiziye submission tax, based on the Qur’an, Surah 9:29. This was later expanded to include Zoroastrians and Hindus in some places, according to some; but the mass exodus of Zoroastrians from Persia to Mumbai, India over the centuries and the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus in India-Pakistan don’t seem to exemplify that they will be protected very much. Today, there are some Zoroastrians (also called Parsees) that survive in Iran, but there are more of them in Mumbai, India, who have lived there for centuries after fleeing the Arab Muslim conquests of Persia from the 630s to 900s AD.
Back to the C-1 to C-6 spectrum:
The C-2 and C-3 levels are when the minority Christian Churches speak and do outreach in the Muslim majority language and culture; in increasing levels of contextualization and use of neutral Muslim forms (men wearing a beard, taking shoes off at the door, not using pews or chairs for worship, praying with open hands up-ward, etc. ) The C-4 level is the highest level of contextualization that one can implement and still be Biblical – in my opinion. Therefore, I think the C-5 level is wrong and crosses the line into syncretism at most or deception at least to the Muslim.
I encourage anyone who has not read these articles to read them as background to the whole “contextualization controversy”. In fact, it is necessary to first read and digest these 2 short articles before proceeding in order to get a handle on what we are talking about.
When the documentation of these methods started coming out in the public, there was at least some level of discernment and warning. The C-5 level was criticized by Parshall, who had advocated something close to what Travis calls the “C-4” level of contextualization. The C-5 label / description later morphed into what is called “the insider’s movement” and is promoted by a team of teachers who now go all over the USA and oversees and teach “the common ground” and “Jesus in the Qur’an” (JIQ) methods.
Reading these two articles (at the links to the Perspectives course readings) and understanding the spectrum of levels of contextualization in the C-1 to C-5 levels is important background to this discussion. The C-4 level is the highest level to which one may involve oneself in contextualization and still be Biblical. I believe that the C-5 or now called “Insider’s Movement” crosses the line from legitimate contextualization into syncretism and deception. “Syncretism” is mixing a false religion (in this case, Islam) into the gospel and truth of the Bible. Muslims and Muslim governments will be especially angry with this kind of deception, in their own country, after it is discovered. It is a bad witness. Many Muslims have told me that they respect me more because I am more up front and honest about my doctrine and I don’t try to hide from hard doctrines like the Trinity or the Deity of Christ.
As we mentioned earlier, a C-1 level is a bible study or church overseas that speaks English or another foreign language, and has no outreach to the people of that country in their own language. There are some international churches like this that are there to serve English speakers who live and work in a foreign country. This is not a condemnation of those kind of churches, as English speakers who work in other countries can have a church to go to; that is fine. I think everyone can agree that Biblical evangelism in another culture will involve learning their language and reaching out to them and having evangelistic Bible studies in their language.
The C-2, C-3, and C-4 levels of contextualization are speaking the Muslims’ language and spending time with them in their cultural context; in increasing levels of relationship and using some Islamic forms that are not sinful or wrong – like for men having to wear a beard in areas of Afghanistan among the Taliban, and praying with hands open (very Biblical), and taking one’s shoes off, and using the word “Allah” for God and the word “Isa” for Jesus. (* see at the end of article).
Putting human methods of trying to win people over the power of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to change hearts
Certain kinds of missionary methods that put methodology over the Scriptures and the power of God to change people, can be, and in fact, many times, are deceptive to Muslims. Especially if we are not careful in our communication and exercise discernment and wisdom in how we use methodologies. For example, the C-5/ Insiders Movement / “Common Ground” teaching methods appear to affirm the Qur’an as an inspired book; and suggest that Muhammad was a true prophet from God. I was very shocked when I attended one of these “Common Ground” seminars and they were saying that Muhammad can be viewed as a prophet like David and Solomon in the OT, or that Muhammad may have had the New Testament gift of prophesy!! Can any Bible believing Christian comprehend that? There is a lot of post-modern hermeneutics and American pragmatism and “emerging church” / “seeker-sensitive” type of philosophy and ideas that are the roots of these methods that put the methods over the power of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12 ), the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16 ), and it seems that the people who use these methods are not trusting the power of the Holy Spirit when the word of God is preached and explained to blow where He wants and change people. (John 3:8 )
The Big Problem with “Insider’s Movement” – it affirms the Qur’an as revelation from God
The problem with these methods are that if they are actually opening up the Qur’an and studying it as if you are treating it as a Muslim would, as, “this is what God says”; it is treating it like an authoritative, “God-breathed” (see 2 Timothy 3:16) book – this is deceptive because the Muslim thinks you are affirming everything in it as inspired. (Even if you don’t.) I have had former Muslims tell me this when I quoted a verse from the Qur’an to make a point. In the Muslim contexts overseas, in their cultures, you would have to respect the Qur’an, wash your hands, and put it on a stand with Muslims in order to actually “get into it” deeply with serious Muslims. If you don’t say anything about the parts of it that are wrong, you will give the wrong impression to your Muslim friend.
Insider’s Methods are Deceptive to Muslims
The C-5 / Insider’s Movement level methods of calling oneself a “Muslim” is deceptive also, especially without qualification and explanation that we actually believe in Christian submission to God. They can see through that game. The word “Muslim” means “one who has surrendered” or “one who submits”. (But it is understood in an Islamic context of “submission to Allah, and following the example of the prophet Muhammad, and following the Qur’an and the Sunna in the Hadith, and other Islamic sources”, etc.)
The concept of submission can be explained to Muslims in a biblical way, especially if you have a context of hospitality and love, where you can explain that the Bible speaks of submission to God’s will and we also believe in submission, that repentance and faith in Christ is true submission to God. (Mark 1:15 ; Luke 22:42 ; Romans 12:1-2 ; Romans 6:11-14 ) Muslims need to understand that we believe in repentance and that Jesus demands repentance. (Luke 13:1-5 ; Acts 3:19 ; Matthew 3:8 ; Luke 3:8 ; Acts 17:30-31 ; Acts 26:20 ; Revelation 3:19 ) Muslims think that Christianity is “easy believe-ism”, (No repentance from sin and no Lordship of Christ)- “that you just get fire insurance from hell, and live like the devil.” Many Muslims, in almost 30 years (10 in witnessing to Arabs, and the last 20 in witnessing to Iranians) have said to me, “The Christian message of “faith alone” and Jesus paying for your sins breeds sinful behavior and moral laxity in your cutlures; we know this is true, that you get forgiveness and live like the devil, because we see the results in your sensual, sex-saturated, materialistic, selfish, rebellious, individualistic western cultures.”
[Muslims usually mis-understand the gospel that we are justified by faith alone, when we don’t explain that it also means that true faith necessarily carries with it repentance from sin, and also true faith will result in a faith that does not stay alone; rather it results in good works and a changed life, and fruit and deeper levels of growth and repentance.]
The True things in Islam orginally came from Christianity and Judaism
Basically, there are some things in the Qur’an that are true, because they actually came from the Christians and the Bible. The things that are true in the Qur’an came from previous revelation. The problem is that Muhammad took information from the Bible and changed some of the details and most of the meaning and significance of most of the stories that the Qur’an uses from the Bible. The Bible had not been translated into Arabic yet; and the early church had left their first love (Revelation 2:4-5 ) and allowed the Mary cult of statues and icons and praying to her as mediator; and the churches at the time of Muhammad had fallen into a works/rituals/externalist/sacerdotal conrolled religion. (sacerdotal comes from a Latin term which has to to do with priests and the priesthood in the Roman Catholic system of the sacraments) These externalistic and ritualistic systems overshadowed and eclipsed the Biblical doctrines of salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone. Muhammad and the Arabs could not see Christ, because of all the false doctrines and practices that existed at the time. Furthermore, the “Christians” closest to Arabia were mixtures of heretics and Gnostics and nominal Christians. Alot of the information about Christianity, Jesus, and Mary actually came into the Qur’an from Gnostic and apocryphal sources.
The biggest problem with contextualization methods like the C-5 / Insiders Movement / Common Ground teaching is that it appears/gives the impression that it is treating the Qur’an as an inspired book. Without biblical discipleship teaching, these large numbers that people are claiming is happening in some parts of the Muslim world through these methods, will naturally create lots of syncretism and heresies. And it already has. They don’t seem to be willing to teach on the Trinity or the hypostatic union/2 natures of Christ. It also angers the Muslim authorities when they find out what is going on. Muslims can sense heresy and syncretism of mixing the two religions into something that is neither Islam nor Christianity. It gives the Muslims that impression, when you open the Qur’an up and look to it for study; and if one takes too long to actually get to the Injeel (NT); then many Muslims have later said, “You did not tell us that at the beginning; you deceived us!” This has created even more anger.
Dr. James White, a Christian apologist of Alpha and Omega Ministries, has a saying, which I think is true, and sums up a lot of problems with recent Evangelical attempts at seeking to win people: “Whatever you win people with, that is what you win them to.” (He has said this many times over in his Dividing Line Web-cast over the years, and in various blog articles, at www.aomin.org)
For some excellent formal debates between Muslims and Dr. James White, see here. (see also his new book, What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an. released in 2013)
There are also other debates with Muslims here at www.answeringMuslims.com and other apologetic information on Islam here at www.answering-islam.org. Sometimes, in my opinion, the brothers at “Answering Muslims” are too “in your face” at Muslims and sometimes spend too much time emphasizing things like Muhammad’s marriage to Ayisha (a 9 year old girl), but aside from sometimes being too harsh and emphasizing things that are just going to make Muslims angry, the content of what they write about and debate on is accurate. Not everyone will agree with everything at these sites, or everyone else’s methods or emphasis, but if you have a discerning mind and heart, you should be able to equip yourself and gain tools in your life in order in order to use with Muslims, without necessarily agreeing with everyone else’s methods or emphases.
The “Insider’s Movement” (C-5 level contextualization) is definitely deceptive; and some of the proponents of it have suggested that Muhammad may have had the NT gift of prophesy (! – Can you believe this?); and it suggests and implies that the Qur’an is an inspired book. They also encourage Muslims who come to Christ to keep doing all the Islamic rituals and keep on going to the Mosque. This does not teach them salvation by Grace alone, justification by faith alone, nor the biblical doctrines of what church (ekklesia) is. The new converts will quickly fall into the Galatian heresy of legalism and mixing works and rituals in order to “earn points with Allah”. These methods do not teach a clear repentance from the false system of works and to the Tri-une God of the Bible. Jesus said, “unless you believe that “I am”, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24 ) – this is a clear verse that teaches that a person must beleive in the Deity of Christ in order to be saved. The proponent of the C-5 and Insider’s Movement methods reinterpret everything that does not agree with the NT, or just avoid the stuff in the Qur’an that is clearly not Biblical. Some have done so far as to say that they re-interpret everything in the Qur’an in such a way so that they can honestly say that there is no contradiction with the Bible or Christianity!
“Springboards” not “Bridges”
These kinds of methods can be deceptive, and usually are deceptive, because the missionary of this method seems to be actually opening the Qur’an on certain verses, and is not saying he disagrees with the rest of the Qur’an; he is trying to focus only on some good “bridges” in the Qur’an. I prefer to call them “springboards” rather than “bridges”, as bridges are built for 2-way traffic. The people who advocate the Insider’s Movement and C-5 level of contextualization don’t seem to call for repentance from the false religious system of Islam itself and its “faith +works” righteousness. Continuing to do the rituals of Islam and going to the Mosque continuously will not help the new converts from Islam understand salvation by grace alone nor justification by faith alone.
Focus on Christ and who He is
Generally, I agree with the principle of focusing on Jesus Christ and His character and His word in the NT and avoiding direct attacks against Muhammad as much as possible. It is clear to the Muslim that when you say, Jesus the Messiah and His apostles were the last and final revelation from God; that that necessarily means that Muhammad was not a true prophet from God. Muslims are eastern people; they will understand when you focus on Jesus and that He and His rasoolan رسولان (Farsi) (apostles) were the final revelation. (John 17:8 ; John 16:12-13 ; Jude 3 , Hebrews 1:1-3 ; Ephesians 2:20 ; Revelation 22:18 (by principle).
When Muslims read that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was meek and gentle and endowed with Salvation; (Matthew 21:1-10 ); they immediately get the contrast with Muhammad, who rode in a horse and sword to conquer. They understand this without you having to directly point it out. I have seen this many times over the years.
Jesus was also eastern, and the Bible is an eastern book. He asked questions and many times, especially at the beginning, He spoke indirectly to the Monotheistic and zealous Jews in their context. (Later, Matthew 23 is certainly very direct against the Pharisees.) When Jesus asked, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 ), Jesus was not denying He is God, He is actually saying that He is God, because He is good, and if people recognize Him as good; and if only God is good, then they should recognize Him as God. It was an eastern method of indirect communication. Zealous and Monotheistic Muslims can be approached in the same way to get them thinking. That is their culture. The parables of Jesus are like this. They teach a powerful truth in an indirect way in stories and illustrations. When Jesus said, “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”, the Pharisees and scribes understood that He was claiming to be God. (Mark 2:1-12 )
Some concepts in the Qur’an can be used as “springboards”
Notice I am using the term “springboard” and not the common term that many missionaries use, “bridges”. I remember years ago hearing R. C. Sproul commenting on wrong evangelistic methods and the fact that a bridge can be used for the other side to come over and teach their wrong ideas and false doctrines to our side. I understand the sentiment of a bridge, and certainly it is right if one means we are crossing into their territory and culture and language and country and seeking to learn their language so we can accurately communicate the truth of the Gospel in their culture, to those who have never heard.
I think that we can use some truths that are mentioned in the Qur’an about Jesus and the books before the Qur’an as starting points with Muslims, but without opening up the Qur’an itself or affirmed it as another revelation from God. We should know that the Qur’an says these things and use them in witnessing, mentioning them, but we should open up the “Injeel” انجیل (“Gospel” – for us that is the New Testament, in whatever language is the main language that your Muslim friend speaks.) with them. The Injeel, in an Islamic understanding, teaches, is the revelation that was given to Jesus by Allah. Popularly understood, Muslims believe it is “the book of Jesus” and many Muslims assume that Jesus wrote it. For Christians, it is whole gospel message, summarized in I Corinthians 15:1-9 , but includes all of the whole NT message; Injeel is the Arabic word for “Gospel”, which is a corrupted form of the Greek word, the shorter version, “Evangel” (The Anglicized form of the word, from “Euangel”; from the Greek, “euangellion” (The Gospel; good news). The gospel message assumes our sinfulness (Christ died for our sins) and the condition of being under the just wrath of God (John 3:36 ; Romans 1:18 ; Ephesians 2:1-3 ), which is bad news. (Mark 9:48 ; Matthew 5:21-30 )
These points below are good and truthful concepts that are in the Qur’an that we can use as starting points or “springboards” in conversation with Muslims and getting into the Gospels with Muslims. By using them, I am not affirming the Qur’an as an inspired book; but I am saying that some of the information that Muhammad got from the Christians was true. The problem is, it got distorted and corrupted and then Muhammad re-interpreted most everything he got from the Jews and Christians.
14 points of springboards in conversation with Muslims to get into the New Testament
1. Jesus (or, as the Muslims know Him as, “Isa” عیسی * [see at end of article] ) – Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. (Surah 3:45-48; 19:19-21) This is why the Jesus film that many missionaries have used over the last 30 years, was from the Gospel according to Luke – because of the emphasis of the virgin birth in the beginning, and that it seems that the Qur’an got its information (mixed with other things) from the Gospel of Luke. Some Christians don’t like the Jesus Film (or any portrayal of Jesus) because they feel it violates the 2nd commandment, but if used wisely and with discernment and clear explanation, it does not seem to me to be that kind of a violation, since no one is advocating bowing down or worshiping the image on the screen. (Like Roman Catholics do in front of statues or pictures of Jesus, and / or Mary.) The Qur’an got its information also from other heretical and non-canonical works, that affirm the virgin birth of Christ, but also, those apocryphal works go too far in exalting Mary too much; and present Jesus as a child being cruel to other children and other problems. Examples where the Qur’an gets some of its information from are: the “Proto-evangelium of James” and “The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew”; and “The Arabic Infancy Gospel” and “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas”) This last one mentioned is different from the famous, “The Gospel of Thomas”, which is also a heretical Gnostic work.) Since the virgin birth of Christ is taught in the Qur’an, it is a powerful reason to start with Luke or Matthew in the New Testament with Muslims. They need to read the Gospels first to get the whole birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Spirit uses His word. John 3:8 ; I Peter 1:23-25 .
2. Jesus is called “Al Masih” (المسیح = “The Messiah”) many times in the Qur’an. (But the Muslim concept of “Messiah” denies the prophesies of His substitutionary sacrifice, as in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, but Muslims who are informed, do agree that it means, “the anointed one”) I had one Palestinian Muslim tell me one time that Messiah means, “He cruised on carpet all over he world”; so you should realize that many Muslims don’t know their own religion very well and sometimes have some really goofy ideas.
3. Jesus was sinless. (The Qur’an, Surah 19:19) (Surah means basically, “chapter”)
4. Jesus is the Son of Mary. (many times in the Qur’an and in the Muslim’s written traditions, called “Hadith”)
5. Jesus did miracles. (Healed the lame and blind, and raised the dead.)
6. Jesus is called “the Kalimat’allah” کلمه الله(Qur’an 4:171; the verse says “and His word”, “His” referring to Allah. “The word of God”. Kalimeh ( کلمه ) is equivalent to “logos” / λογος in John 1:1 ; 1:14 and I John 1:1 ; Revelation 19:13 .) Muhammad got this information from heretical, and nominal Christians and Gnostic gospels that were mixed in with a growing cult of Mary encircling Arabia (N. Arabia, Jordan, Yemen) and Palestine/Lebanon/Syria. Islam denies that “Kalimat’allah” means the Deity of Christ in the way that John 1:1 , 14 teaches, but it is still a useful phrase to use in discussing Jesus with Muslims, without affirming the Qur’an or the Muslim interpretation of “Jesus is the Word of Allah”.
7. Jesus is called “a Spirit from God” روح من الله = Ruh min Allah – Qur’an Surah 4:171; The concept that Jesus is a “spirit from Allah” is an important one to use to show that His divine nature is His Spirit and soul inside of Him; and He, as “spirit” (God is Spirit, John 4:24 ) was incarnated – He became flesh and entered into time and creation. I use Luke 1:34-35 and Hebrews 10:5 with Muslims, “A body, you have prepared for Me”, Jesus said.
8. The problem with this verse (Surah 4:171) in the Qur’an is that the same verse also denies Jesus’ Deity and denies the Trinity. “Say not three” -can be interpreted from a Christian point of view that we do not believe in three gods, which is what Muslims think – tri-theism. Unfortunately, Muhammad did not understand that the word and concept of the Trinity is from 2 Latin words, Trinitas and Unitas. The “unitas” (one, oneness, unity; see the Spanish: “Uno” – this emphasis is lost and we have to work extra hard to help Muslims understand that we do not worship three gods and that “Son of God” does not mean marriage and sex and that the Roman Catholic usage of “Mother of God” is wrong; along with the statues of Mary and prayers to Mary. )
Also, I always take the opportunity to say to Muslims that the idea of God having sex with Mary is what the Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) have taught in the past – that God has a body, was once a man, and had sexual relations with Mary and pro-created Jesus. I take that opportunity to call Mormonism a cult and a non-Christian religion and the Muslims usually say, “Oh, I did not know that; I thought you are all Christians.”
It is also good to learn things like what Muslims say when they hear something blasphemous – Istaqfr’allah!! استغفرالله ( “I seek the forgiveness of God”)
9. The Qur’an affirms the books revealed before it, the OT and the NT as the Word of God. (Surah 2:136; 29:46; 5:46-48; 5:68) The Qur’an speaks of the “Torah of Moses” and the “Zabur of David” (Zabur- e- Davood- Farsi) and the “Injeel of Jesus”.
10. The Qur’an encourages the Christians “to judge by that which Allah has revealed therein”, in the Injeel. (The Gospel) ( Surah 5:47). Dr. James White uses this verse a lot in his debates with Muslims, and missionaries have been using this verse in the same way for decades, even centuries, in order to show that the Bible at the time of Muhammad was not corrupted. So, it is not wrong to use some verses from the Qur’an, depending on what it is and how it is used.
11. One of the most powerful verses in the Qur’an to know when dealing with Muslims; “If you are in doubt about what we are revealing to you, go and ask the people of the book.” (Surah 10:94) This, along with Surah 5:47 and other verses, show that the Bible has not been corrupted.
12. There is some kind of idea in the text of the Qur’an of a substitutionary sacrifice for sin, even though Islamic interpretation denies this. – “We have ransomed him with a mighty sacrifice.” Qur’an 37:107 See my previous article, “So Why did Allah substitute an innocent ram (or lamb or sheep) for Abraham’s son?”
(at another blog of mine)
13. The Qur’an also affirms that Jesus’ disciples were “full of integrity”, “helpers of Allah” and honest. (Surah 3:52; 61:14) So, I believe we can use this verse as a springboard to teach that Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul did not corrupt the gospel. (Although Muslims will reject Paul as an “apostle”; we have to show them that he was a true apostle.)?
14. The Qur’an also says, “no one can change the words of God” (Surah 6:34; 6:116; 10:65; 18:27). So a good question to ask Muslims, when they say that the previous Scriptures have been corrupted, is, “How can puny, sinful man, change the eternal word of God?”?
With that list of 14 “springboard” starting points, we conclude this modest introduction to the issue of “the contextualization controversy” that has engulfed evangelical mission efforts and churches in recent years.
Usually, this discussion brings up the issue of the word “Allah” in Arabic and the question, “Is Allah the same God as the God of the Bible?” See my previous article that fleshes out that issue.
Doctrinally, the Allah of Islam is not the God of the Bible (since it denies the Deity of Christ and the Trinity), but linguistically, it is still the best word in Arabic to communicate to Arabic speakers and other Muslims “the one true creator, Sovereign God” and equivalent to Elohim ( אלוֹהים) in the OT and Theos ( θεος ) in the NT. Arabic speaking Christians in the Levant areas still use this word for God, but because they are Christians, they also fill the word Allah with the doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ.
If you search back at past articles at this blog – you can see other articles on issues in Muslim Evangelism such as explaining the Trinity, the Son of God, the Word of God has not been corrupted, explaining the cross to Muslims, etc.
Two Other Important Articles that relate to this issue:
1. See also, an earlier article about Athanasius, (Part 1) bishop of Alexandria in the 4th Century, and how his stand for truth relates to missions, apologetics, sound doctrine, and contextualization.
2. Also, see this article on the need for evangelism, apologetics along with hospitality and friendliness.
* “Isa” = عیسی – is the Qur’anic word for Jesus and no one knows where it came from with certainty or how it is related to the other Arabic word, یسوع (Yasou’a). یسوع / Yasou’a is closer sounding to the Hebrew/Arabic, “Yashoua/Yasoua” (Joshua), and this is the word that most minority Christian churches use in the old Byzantine Empire areas (Arabic speaking Levant/Middle Eastern areas). Most of the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelicals and Protestants who came out of the Roman Catholic/EO ancient churches that are in the Middle East prefer the word Yasou’a for Jesus. Lord willing, we will discuss this issue more in the future also. I believe it is ok to use the word “Isa” for Jesus, as long as you are willing to explain who He really is, that He is the eternal Son of God, the Word of God who became flesh, was crucified, risen, Lord, etc. Iranians and Turks and other Muslims who did not come from the ancient Byzantine Empire (where the Greek word informed the word “Yasou’a), don’t know of any other word, so their translations of the Bible have “Isa”. This is more of a debate within the Arabic speaking world in churches and mission contexts. Unfortunately, there is a lot of emotion on each side and it has caused a lot of division between the Evangelicals who came out of the Roman Catholic and Byzantine Orthodox Christian cultures, with the Christians who have come out of a Muslim background. More on that later, as I said.