Alan’s monthly letter for November 2010
I met a pastor from Bangladesh last month. He left Islam in 1978, now oversees several churches, and has a heart to see more Muslims come to Christ. So when an American missionary came to his country to offer help in reaching Muslims, the pastor was excited. But the missionary asked him to do something that took him by surprise: he asked him to become a Muslim again.
Like you, I was mystified by this request. It turns out that there is a growing trend among American missionaries to practice a new methodology to reach Muslims called the Insider Movement (IM). Their goal is to develop self-identified “Muslims” who believe in the biblical Jesus while they remain “inside” their social and religious (Islamic) communities. Since many former Muslims are persecuted for becoming Christian and are often forced to flee, the IM approach keeps new converts as a kind of closet Christ-follower so they can remain as a witness for Jesus among their family and friends.
Although I applaud the effort to win more Muslims to Christ and reduce the persecution of new believers, many aspects of the IM are troubling. Here are just two that warrant concern:
First, new believers in Jesus Christ continue to identify as Muslims and participate in Islamic religious practices.
Some still attend mosque, recite the Islamic creed (a confession that you believe in Allah and Mohammed as his prophet), or perform Muslim prayers. Even missionaries sometimes enter Islamic countries, take on a Muslim identity, and operate inside Islamic communities to trickle the Gospel message to Muslims.
But engaging in the practices of a false religion is strikingly similar to the syncretism condemned in the Old Testament. Israel was often punished for taking on the religious practices of pagan religions. They worshiped idols, sacrificed in the high places, and built altars for Molech. Merely participating in the rituals and religious practice of another religion was damnable in the sight of God. Yet this is precisely what the IM advocates.
There are also pragmatic concerns. New and immature believers are expected to remain under the powerful and oppressive force of Islam. And since they’re insiders who are not supposed to fellowship with other Christians, they are left without the ability to be nourished and discipled by mature Christians.
It’s no wonder, then, that reports from the missions field confirm that second generation insiders are deeply confused about their faith. They grow up in the mosque, study the Qur’an, and worship like other Muslims. It’s not surprising that their faith is no different than that of a Muslim.
A second concern with the IM is the production of “Muslim-friendly” Bible translations.
Because Muslims are offended by the terms “Son of God,” “Heavenly Father,” and other familial language, some new Bible translations are replacing these terms with more Muslim-friendly ones. Jesus’ self-referential statements of “Son of God” are replaced with “Messenger,” “Messiah,” or “only Beloved.” The term “Father” is replaced with “Allah,” “God” or “God, most high.”
For example, the Great Commission passage in Matthew 29:19 is changed from “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” to “in the name of God and His Messiah and the Holy Spirit.”
One obvious problem with these “translations” is that they aren’t faithful to the original Greek and Hebrew text. But more disconcerting is the audacity to think that mere mortals have the right to change terms that God chose to use when revealing Himself. It’s God’s prerogative to name Himself, and it turns out that it’s for good reason.
For example, the ability to call God “Abba, Father” is a radical concept because it compares our connection with the living God to a child-father relationship. This is precisely one element that is missing in the Islamic understanding of God. The God of the Bible becomes as approachable as a human father. But by abandoning the familial phrase, IM advocates are robbing Muslims of an attribute of God that adds to their deficient understanding of Him.
While it’s true that the terms can be offensive to Muslims, they were also offensive to the first century Jews who recognized that Jesus was equating Himself with God. Apparently Jesus, His disciples, and the apostle Paul didn’t feel the need to replace the terms with more palatable ones. It’s hard to imagine, then, that American missionaries in the 21st century know better what to call Jesus and the Father.
But here’s the great irony. For centuries Muslims have claimed the Bible is unreliable because Christians have corrupted it. With these new “translations,” their charges will finally be proven right.
These are just two concerns with the IM approach. There are many more, equally egregious, that I will continue to write and speak about. But I take no joy in reporting this trend among some evangelicals. I only do so out of concern for the integrity of the Gospel. Please pray with me that the truth would be proclaimed without shame or compromise. And thank you for your partnership that enables me to equip the body of Christ to respond to challenges like this.
For the integrity of the Gospel,