Monday, March 15, 2010

The Balance of Apologetics and Agape Love

My friend, Mark, in the combox of my previous article on "Khoda or Allah??" (Another Mistake by Ergun Caner) asked about "The Camel Method" of Evangelizing Muslims, which is referenced in a NY times article about it and Ergun Caner.

UPDATE: Please see the updated information in the comboxes on the Camel Method. Because of this new information to me; especially the letter from Phil Parshall, and my need to read the Camel Method again; I will refrain at this time from speaking about the Camel Method and take the references to it out; but I will leave my analysis and critique of the C-5/Insiders Movement/"Common Ground" methods. I confess I was speaking out of my years of conflict/tension and confrontation with fellow missionary types on the C-5 level and the emotional tension that that caused. I apologize for including the Camel Method in with the clearly wrong C-5 level methods. But I do need to study that book again. I want to thank Erwin for coming here and commenting.
Dr. Ergun Caner and Dr. James White are right that certain kinds of missionary methods that put methodology over the Scriptures and the power of God to change people, can be 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. 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 to blow where He wants and change people. (John 3:8)
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” book – this is deceptive because the Muslim thinks you are affirming everything in it as inspired. I have had former Muslims tell me this when I quoted a verse from the Qur'an to make a point. In their contexts, 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, we can give the wrong impression to our Muslim friend.
The C-5 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 26 years (10 in witnessing to Arabs, and the last 16 in witnessing to Iranians) have said to me, “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.”
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 church at the time of Muhammad had fallen into a works/rituals/externalist/sacerdotal controlled religion to overshadow 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.
The biggest problem with contextualization methods like the C-5 / Insiders / 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. They know it is heresy and syncretism of mixing the two religions into something that is neither one. It gives the Muslims that impression, when you open it 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. White’s saying is true: “Whatever you win them with, that is what you win them to.” And his saying, "Theology matters" is true also.
The “Insider’s Movement” (C-5 level contextualization) is definitely deceptive; and suggests 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. They 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) They reinterpret everything that does not agree with the NT.
These kinds of methods can be 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. They don't seem to call for repentance from the false religious system of Islam and its "faith +works" righteousness.
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. Muslims are eastern people; they will understand when you focus on Jesus and that He and His rasoolan (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.) 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; 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)
Having said that, I do think that the questions that David Garrison asks in the NY times article are good questions to ask Muslims. Let’s be balanced and wise and think.
I don’t see a problem with asking Muslims these questions and then getting into the Injeel (the NT), especially Luke and Matthew with them.
He [Garrison] explained that after reading the sura in which Maryam, or Mary, gives birth to Isa, a missionary might ask a Muslim, “Do you know of any other prophets born of a virgin?”
And, Dr. Garrison continued: “It says in that passage that Isa would be able to cleanse the leper, even raise the dead. At that point in the conversation with Muslims, we say, ‘Isn’t it interesting that Isa had this tremendous power that God gave to him? Even death was under his power.’
“Then you ask the question, ‘Is there any other prophet that had this kind of power?’ And in Islam, there isn’t.”
And 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. We should know that the Qur’an says these things and use them in witnessing, mentioning them, but opening up the Injeel with them. The Injeel, Islam teaches, is the revelation that was given to Jesus by Allah. Popularly understood, Muslims believe it is “the book of Jesus” and some 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, “Euangel”; from “euangellion” (The Gospel; good news). It assumes our sinfulness and 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)
I do think that these below are good and truthful concepts that are in the Qur’an that we can use as starting points in conversation with Muslims and getting into the Gospels with Muslims: 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.
  1. Isa (Jesus) was born of the virgin Mary. (Surah 3:45-48; 19:19-21) This is why the Jesus film was done from the Gospel according to Luke, and why it is good to start with Luke or Matthew 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 many times in the Qur’an. (The Messiah)
  3. Jesus was sinless. (Surah 19:19)
  4. Jesus is the Son of Mary. (many times)
  5. Jesus did miracles. (Healed the lame and blind, and raised the dead.)
  6. Jesus is called “the Kalimat’allah” (Qur’an 4:171; “The word of God”. Kalimeh کلمه is equivalent to “logos” 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 can be a useful phrase to use in discussing Jesus with Muslims.
  7. Jesus is called “a Spirit from God” - 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 (4:171) in the Qur’an is that same verse also denies His 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 Trinity is from 2 Latin words, "Trinitas – Unitas" (Theophilus of Antioch, around 180 AD, and Tertullian, around 200 AD). 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 that is what the Mormons 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 though you are all Christians.”
  9. The Qur’an affirms the books revealed before it as the Word of God. (Surah 2:136; 29:46; 5:46-48; 5:68)
  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. White uses this verse 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 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 you with a mighty sacrifice.” Qur’an 37:107 See my previous article.
  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 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?”
Not everyone can be a formal debater with Muslims like Dr. James White. His work in NT studies and theology is excellent. His book, The King James Only Controversy and NT textual materials are excellent, and are honest with the few textual variants that do exist; and this demonstrates that 99 % of the text we have today is the same as what was revealed originally to the prophets and apostles. No textual variant affects any major doctrine. We can be honest with our Bible manuscripts and how they came down to us in history. His material on affirming the text of the NT is crucial and some of the best, in dealing with Muslim apologists and scholars who use liberals and skeptics to attack the Bible; people like Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, Robert Price (debate coming up; see, and atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, and popular liberals like John Shelby Spong and Barry Lynn; and the popular level NPR shows, Bill Maher, and the Comedy Central Shows such as “The Daily Show”, and “The Colbert Report” types of attacks against the Bible.
Everyone will not be a skilled apologetics debater like Dr. White, but all Christians are to witness, and can be equipped and reach out to Muslims with respect and friendship and hospitality. Doctrinal folks like me need to be balanced. I like to call my approach, “The Balance of Apologetics and Agape”. (Jude, verse 3 along with verses 20- 23; I Peter 3:15) We must do both; be equipped in all the apologetic issues that come up with Muslims, but love and respect them as people and learn some of their culture in order to not bring unnecessary stumbling blocks in addition to the necessary stumbling block of the cross and the gospel. Be willing to meet Muslims and accept their hospitality when they invite you to their home; and have a strong cup of Turkish coffee with them; or Iranian tea; or Shish Kebab and Hummus and Pita bread with an Arab. Love them as people created in the image of God. Be the friend of sinners and tax collectors as Jesus did. (Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 5:27-32; Luke 15)If you start with hospitality (eating a meal in their home, and inviting them to your home), love and respect, you can most always create a context where you can open up the New Testament Scriptures with them.
The best chapter of Ergun and Emir Caner’s book, Unveiling Islam, is chapter 16, where they discuss reaching out to Muslims with hospitality and love and respect and cultural issues; and using some key verses from the Qur’an to know.
I also agree with Dr. Caner's point in the NY Times article that George Harrison meant “Hare Krishna” by “My Sweet Lord”, as he clearly praises and calls upon “Hare Krishna” at the end of his song. George Harrison was a Hindu. Hinduism is a false religion; paganism; polytheism. Anyone who knows George Harrison and the Beatles history, understands this.
But, I disagree with Dr. Caner when he says we cannot use the word “Allah” for the God of the Bible, for Arabs and Arabic speakers as my previous article shows.
See Again, here. Doctrinally, Allah of Islam is not the God of the Bible, but linguistically, it is the best word in Arabic to communicate “the one true creator, Sovereign God” and equivalent to Elohim in the OT and Theos in the NT for Arabic speakers.


Erwin said...


Great article on the use of "Allah".

I'm curious, have you read the Camel book? Where did you get your information about the Camel method?

The reason I ask is that you label the Camel Method along with the "Insider Movement" and "C5". At the same time you state that what Dr. David Garrison said was OK. You may not know that Garrison helped produce the Camel book. Are you aware that Dr. Phil Parshall (C4 advocate) conducted a thorough on-the-ground assessment of the movement mentioned in the Camel book. He clearly states that the Camel method and the results are C4.

I read the Camel book and I did not see anything that hints that this approach pushes the Quran as inspired. In fact, Garrison is summarizing the approach in the NY Times article. Also, the book does not encourage converted Muslims to refer to themselves as "Muslims". The author is descriptive when he reports that Muslim background believers refer to themselves as "Isahi" or "Isahi Muslims". For outsiders of Islam, he encourages the reader to not be deceptive and refer to yourself as Followers of Jesus who love Muslims.



Erwin said...


Here is the letter that is being circulated by Dr. Parshall:

September 23, 2007

To Whom It May Concern:

Greetings. I am an SIM (Serving in Mission) “Missionary-at-large,” presently based in Charlotte, NC. My wife and I served in Bangladesh from 1962 to 1982. We had extremely close working relationships with IMB folk, whom I hold in highest regard. Jim McKinley is one of the most dedicated missionaries I have ever met anywhere. From 1984 to 2006 Julie and I served in the Philippines among Muslims.

One of the most exciting new tools to enhance outreach among Muslims is Kevin Greeson’s Camel. I am totally supportive of this approach and feel Kevin is postulating a methodology that is biblically conservative as well as contextually appropriate. As recent as July, I required this book as a text in my class on Islam at Columbia International University. The students were 100 percent enthused with the postulates set forth in Camel, and were committed to implementation of the strategy where contextually appropriate in the countries where they labor.

There has been some confusion concerning whether Camel represents a C5 position: i.e., have Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) remain in the mosque, say the Islamic creed, delete “Son of God” from New Testament translations, and call themselves Muslims without qualifier. I was on the 2005 IMB survey team in Bangladesh and saw no evidence whatsoever of C5 in any of the IMB-related ministry. I personally interviewed 72 MBBs in Bengali and each one gave a clear profession of faith. On the scale developed by John Travis, the work is C4, which is what I have practiced and taught since 1975. I am sorry that some folk have felt my Evangelical Missions Quarterly articles were concerned about a Camel-type approach. Not true. My concern is C5, of which I saw and heard nothing in my Bangladesh visit and see no evidence of in Camel.

It would be my heartfelt desire that this controversy over Camel not be used by Satan to distract IMB from the new, exciting direction they have taken in Muslim outreach. This is a kairos moment in evangelistic opportunity. IMB has personnel and resources that can be extremely effective in bringing Muslims to the feet of Jesus.

With warm appreciation….

A Fellow Baptist,

Phil Parshall


Ken said...

Thanks Erwin
That is very helpful.

I am glad to hear that the Camel method is not C-5 contextualization/insider's movement/common ground methods.

The letter from Phil Parshall is certainly important; for he was one of the main objectors to the C-5 level of contextualization in his EMQ articles and in the Perspectives and EWI courses. I have always respected him, and took a course on Islam/missions from him in 1984 in Seminary at C.I.U. (Columbia, SC)

If the Camel Method is a c-4 level of contextualization, then I don't think it crosses the line from legitimate contextualization to Syncretism.

One problem is that the modern "seeker sensitive" approach and the Emerging/Emergent Church here in our own culture has caused doctrinal believers and churches to be suspicious of all and every type of contextualization, even questioning the word "contextualization" itself; and questioning a good and biblical model of an "incarnational lifestyle". I fully understand that and share their concerns.

I suppose that each context and person would have to be evaluated and many fine servants can use books and tools to help them without agreeing with every thing in a book or method. Believers and missionaries and evangelists need to have lots of discernment and wisdom on which verses from the Qur'an to use and how one communicates to his Muslim friend.

I believe that C-4 level is the highest level of legitimate, Biblical contextualization that one can go, without compromising the gospel or the word of God.

When I read the Camel book, it gave me the impression that it was opening up the Qur'an with Muslims and affirming it in a similar way that the C-5/insiders/common ground does. Maybe my aversion to the C-5 stuff and my conflicts and tension and confrontation with other missionary colleagues for years affected me to react too quickly in condemning the Camel method also.

That is one reason I wrote "if" they are opening up the Qur'an in an evangelistic context (without ever getting to the Injeel); and that it "can be deceptive" and/or misunderstood by Muslims.

That is also why I wanted to affirm that those were good questions that David Garrison said in the NY times article; they are; and why I enumerated the 14 points of how I think we can use some verses and concepts in the Qur'an legitimately in evangelism.

That is also why I think we need the balance of "apologetics and agape (love)".

The NY times article did mention that Garrison helped produce the book.

I read the Camel book once, but now I see I need to study it more closely. I am not as familiar with the details of it as I am about the Insiders/c-5 /common ground teachings and methods.

I will have to correct some of what I wrote. (and study the book more closely) Thank you for coming here and commenting.

If what the Camel method is doing is using those 14 points from the Qur'an in the way that I explain, or something similar, then it appears that it is not crossing the line.

Erwin said...


You are not alone. There are several confusing the Camel Method with Common Ground and C5 approaches.

Another difference if I might point out between the Camel Method and the C5 approach is that the Camel Method clearly states that after using the Qur'an as a bridge..."realize that if you have used the Camel Method that you still have not shared the Gospel with your Muslim friend." (my paraphrase, I do not have the book beside me at this time). Then it goes on to say that it is now time to share the Gospel. This is done through a presentation called, "The Korbani Plan of Salvation".

So it appears to me that the bridging exercise and the sharing the plan of salvation are done with your Muslim friend in one sitting.

The C5 approach (as I understand it) gives me the impression that I need to spend days, weeks, maybe even months in convincing my Muslim friend that I am like him and can be trusted. At some point in this relationship I will have the opportunity to share the Gospel.

These are two different approaches.

By the way, I have read several other blogs related to missions and contextualization. The fact that you are giving the green light to use "Allah" with Arabic speakers, many bloggers would put you in the Common Ground or C5 camp, just like they do with the Camel Method. There appears to be a lack of understanding of the C4 approach and its limitations.

Bless your ministry. You are a scholar and a gentleman.