Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Tinkering With the Christian Mission
to the Muslim World 
 

October 2009

 

One of the greatest problems in today’s society is not radical Islam, but the type of nominal Christianity in which Christians are woefully unprepared to defend their faith.  (Dr. Joshua Lingel)

The missionary outreach to the Muslim world has been characterized by controversy and disagreement within the Christian Church. This subject has taken a new turn with the rise of the so-called Insider Movement.

The discussion about this topic has taken place mostly within the church hierarchy and those who are directly engaged in presenting the Gospel to Muslims. Since the issues at stake concern the very character and meaning of the Church as the Body of Christ, every church member should take a vital interest in the state of this debate. This article is an attempt in that direction, which can only be done in a very cursory way.

The Insider Movement arose out of the attempt to be sensitive to the cultural, political, and social environment of the Muslims who are approached with the Christian Gospel. Such an effort is laudable but, as history has shown, it has tendency to water down the Gospel.  In this case it has led some to insist that there are many similarities (Common Ground) in the teachings of the Koran and the Bible.

One of the major advocates of the Insider Movement is John Travis who has developed a scheme describing six different types of followers of Christ. One of them (C5) holds that Muslims can become followers of Christ while remaining in their Muslim community - hence the term Insider -  continuing to attend the mosque, participate in the fast, and recite the Shahadah (Allah is the one God, and Muhammad is his prophet). They are sometimes called Messianic Muslims.

The Debate Heats Up

Recently, the debate, pro and con, has heated up as various  events have been  scheduled to debate and challenge the underlying assumptions of the Insider Movement.  Taking part in this debate is a number of missionaries and authors deeply involved  in the actual work of bringing the biblical message to the Muslim world. 

Professor Joshua Lingel, Director of i2 (Islamic Institute), Biola University, is hosting an  Insider Movement Conference: A Critical Assessment” on October 13, 2009. In his invitation letter he writes that he is concerned with  the “Islamization” of Christian missions  which he  calls “ Chrislam – neither Christianity nor Islam.” 

 Professor Lingel knows U.S. pastors who  are teaching their congregations to preach an Islamicized “Jesus,” and they are inviting “Islamo-Christian  missiologists” to teach them how  to preach from the Koran. In doing so they falsify  not only the Bible but also the Koran.  Lingel takes issue with those who teach that Muhammad is a true prophet and that there is biblical ground  for reciting  the Shahadah.    

The August 2009 issue of the St. Francis Magazine, a  journal dedicated to the study of “Religion and mission to the Arab world,” has devoted ten articles to a discussion of the Insider Movement. The editor, the Rev. John Stringer, introduced  this subject  as follows: 

“The Insider Movement, also called C5 or Messianic Islam, has been a pervasive, outspoken presence in the world of missions for the last three decades. Missiological journals, Christian magazines and newspapers have been awash in anecdotes from the field extolling this purportedly, new, biblical, approach to ministry. At times, it has seemed almost unthinkable  to offer criticism of this broad movement. That is why this entire issue is dedicated to a detailed examination of the Insider Movement, its theology, methodology and tactics.” 

The authors include seasoned missionaries and scholars, most of whom  provide a thoughtful and critical analysis of this new movement. Jay Smith  has worked for nearly 30 years reaching out to Muslims in more than 20 countries.* Living in London during the past 17 years,  he has engaged in what he calls “a highly public confrontational and polemical ministry with the more radical elements within Western Islam.” He gives an evaluation of a Common Ground Conference held in Atlanta in January 2009, which had as its purpose the promotion of the Insider method of evangelism to Islam.

 A Warning

Smith assesses 17 core beliefs  or paradigms as they were articulated at this conference. He concludes that these  touch on what lies at the heart of biblical religion  and of the Islamic religion as formulated in its sacred scriptures. If the Bible is true, the Koran is not; they cannot both be true, or partly true. After all, those differences are not at the margin, but at the heart of what we are as Christians  and as  Muslims.

The first tenet of the Insider’s beliefs Smith evaluates is the definition of such a person as   One who embraces Jesus, yet remains as light in the oikos (household) so that as many as possible might be saved.”

He points to a number of problems this creates, as follows: 

“New believers in Christ are the most vulnerable to the seduction of Islam, to the spiritual forces within Islam, and especially to the strong control Muslim families have over them, emotionally, socially, and physically. With little contact or discipling from more mature Christians ,... the new believer can easily fall back into his old faith, and/or allegiances.”    

Roger L. Dixon, in his contribution published in the St. Francis Magazine, points out that the Insider Movement  is attempting  to reconcile the Bible with Islamic teachings. This would mean that Muslim believers will be both”Christian” in their core beliefs and “Muslim” in their basic tenets. But trying  to reconcile these two opposing worldviews  defies all logic. He issues a warning that should not fall on deaf ears: 

“One of the worst mistakes a Christian evangelist can make is to justify a non-biblical world view. I urge every missiologist to examine these C5 claims in great depth before buying into this immature conception of reality with its grandiose claims of success. The delusion of this  approach has led some  western missionaries to  pray the Shahadah (Muslim confession of faith)  and become official members of the religion of Islam.  What a tragedy and what an accountability must be given by some.”

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Asking the Right Question

The Rev. Bassam Madany was born in Syria and for 35 years preached the Gospel to the Arab world via the Christian Reformed Church’s Back to God radio broadcast.

 Retired since 1994, he is still very active in the same ministry, while also serving as a rich source of insight for the English-speaking world. His Bible and Islam (1979, 2003), and An Introduction to Islam, co-authored with his late wife Shirley (2006), are suffused with biblical wisdom.

Recently Madany joined the debate about the Christian mission to the Muslim world in an article “The New Christians of North Africa & the Insider Movement,” available on the website of the  Middle East Resources: http://www.unashamedofthegospel.org/the_new_christians.cfm

The following is a summary of that article.

Madany begins with one important question. How do the new converts from Islam to Christianity themselves view their conversion? He writes that those views, which have lately been reported on “reformist” Arabic websites as well as in the European media, indicate that the new converts are bold and forthright in their witness and enthusiasm about their new-found faith.

At a conference devoted to “The Defense of Minorities and Women,” held in March 2007 in Zurich, a lecturer reported that a considerable number of North African Muslims have embraced the Christian faith. The weekly journal, Jeune Afrique, devoted three reports about such conversions in Tunisia . Morocco and Algeria .

The same lecturer mentioned that a key factor that led Muslims to convert to Christianity was “the violence of the fundamentalist Islamist movements.” A Christian evangelist working in Algeria stated that these terrible events shocked people to discover that Islam was capable of unleashing all that terror and those horrific massacres, which took place over many years in the 1990s.  Nobody was spared. Many people asked: Where is Allah? Some Algerians committed suicide, others went mad, some became atheists, and still others turned to Christianity.

Another factor that led Muslims to become  Christians is the biblical message  that God is a God of love. They were overwhelmed by the reality that God loves them and that the Messiah died on the cross and rose again to reconcile sinners with their heavenly Father. This message was especially of significance for women who in Islam are seen as the embodiment of evil and therefore must be punished for the simplest act.

No Regrets

Madany translated a news item posted on the Arabic-language website, Aafaq (Horizons) on April 24, 2009 about the conversion of an Algerian policemen and his daughter. Despite being accused of having committed a capital offence testified about his newly-won  sense of freedom and peace after embracing the Christian faith. His daughter  explained that her reason for becoming a Christian,

was due to her feeling that Islam treated women as maids and concubines, only to be sexually exploited by men. Muslim men regard women only  from a physical point of view. Now, having embraced Christianity, she began to feel as a dignified human being. Her decision is final, and she does not  regret it at all.”

Madany  comments that  these courageous new Christians who are not afraid openly to profess their faith in a hostile environment are a powerful testimony  against those who say that they need not call themselves Christians nor stop their former Islamic practices.  He thinks that this novel Insider methodology, seen as a way to solve the problem of the small number of Muslim converts, amounts to a radical discontinuity with the work of the great missionaries of the past.

As an Eastern Christian, who spent most of his life  bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the followers of Islam, Madany urges his readers to pay careful  attention  to the biblical directives  on missions.  Despite the Jewish and Gentile outright rejection of the gospel of the cross, Paul did not hesitate to proclaim it. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

Madany  writes that he cannot hide  his joy  when he hears about  the rebirth of the Christian Church in North Africa , and he praises God for the  boldness of these new Christians who are not ashamed  of the Cross of their Saviour.

In considering the case of the Insider Movement in light of  the biblical message, we do well to pay careful attention to the testimony  of this seasoned, Arabic-speaking  missionary to the Muslim world.

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*Jay Smith’s essay “Dare We Confront? (A Call for a new Paradigm in Muslim Evangelism)” is a bold and thought--provoking contribution to a much-needed discussion. It is posted at this user friendly web site: www.i2ministries.org