Published: 15:32 GMT Standard Time - Monday 08 March 2010
Recent Changes in Christian Approaches to Islam
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
This paper is published to promote discussion of a vital issue in the contemporary Church. It is not intended in any way to impugn the Christian integrity of any of the people or organisations whose views are considered or critiqued.
Since 11 September 2001 (9/11) there has been a sea change in relations between Islam and the non-Muslim world, fed by the fear of a cataclysmic clash of civilisations and a war of religions. The devastating attacks by Muslim terrorists from al-Qaeda on the USA evoked not just condemnation of the violence but also a wave of sympathy for Muslims around the world, with Christians and many others in the West pointing out that most Muslims had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and asserting that their religion is peaceful.
The leaders of both the US and the UK governments, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, began to re-define the nature of violence and the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. They concluded in effect that there was no such thing as Islamic terrorism and that al-Qaeda was a heretical strain of Islam, a "virus" that had to be isolated, defeated and eradicated from mainstream Islam. Government policies in the two countries sought therefore to strengthen the institutions of Islam, driven by the rationale that the Muslim community should be brought into the mainstream wherever possible so as to prevent its radicalisation.
9/11 was followed by invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), both part of the so-called "war on terror". The Muslim world believed that the West, in particular the US, was attacking Islam. The West on the other hand, led by Bush and Blair, increasingly asserted that there was no war on Islam but only a "war on terror", with the terrorists now increasingly defined as "criminals". This claim led to Western governments' effectively legitimising Islam as a valid religion, whose values are shared by Judaism and Christianity, and which they therefore regarded as for all practical purposes the same religion. The alleged legitimacy of Islam was promulgated within both the US and the UK and also around the world in order to discourage Islamic violence.
The unfortunate use of the word "crusade" by Bush alarmed Muslims, who already believed that the war on terror was being fought by an alliance of the US government, Christian fundamentalists and Christian Zionists against Islam. Evangelical Christians were in a quandary, as they were labelled both by Muslims and by the Western media as fundamentalists bent on fighting Islam and were treated as the Christian equivalent of al-Qaeda. Many evangelicals responded by distancing themselves from the governments of their countries and their policies and by efforts to reach out to Muslims with gestures of peace and goodwill. As we shall see, these included active engagement in interfaith dialogue with Muslims and cooperation with Muslims in specific projects.
The next redefinition was of Islamic violence itself. The new political lexicon included the erasure of any possible links between violence and the Islamic religion. Those who engaged in violence were described simply as "terrorists". The underlying causes of the violence were deemed to be not religious but historical and geopolitical, coupled with economic interests. In the case of Muslim minorities in the West, the causes of violence were held to be alienation, racism and "Islamophobia". The Warsaw Declaration of the Council of Europe condemned Islamophobia alongside anti-Semitism.
As we have seen, both the Bush and the Blair governments went to considerable lengths to develop a policy of strengthening Islam at home and abroad. Abroad this included funding madrassas (Islamic religious schools) and other Islamic institutions. At home it included the funding of Islamic institutions and numerous conferences and meetings. In this context the Church was in effect unofficially co-opted as an arm of the government's counter-terrorism policies. In 2003 the US Justice Department gave a million dollars to the Fuller School of World Mission to work on peacemaking with Muslims. US Congress funding, as well as British Foreign Office funding, has gone into conferences, consultations and Christian organisations with the aim of bringing about reconciliation between Islam and Christianity. "Ecumenical" relations were redefined to include Islam as well as Christian denominations. Concepts such as the "Abrahamic religions" and the "Abrahamic covenant" were introduced to consolidate Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Interfaith policies were to be developed to influence all aspects of life, especially the media and education. The apparent aim was not just to rehabilitate Islam after 9/11 but to legitimise and establish it.
This evidence suggests that Western governments are seeking to court and contain Islam so as to diminish its potential threat. As a result and despite their secular character the US and British governments are now deeply involved in religion, endeavouring to shape it to suit their security and societal agendas. They are therefore putting great pressure on Christian churches and organisations to involve themselves deeply in interfaith dialogue and to engage in theological equivocation in pursuit of political goals.
Following 9/11 many governments, the UN, the World Economic Forum and the OIC have been conducting interreligious and intercivilisational dialogues globally. These have enhanced the role of religion, and especially of Islam, in international affairs. Religion is thus becoming an instrument in the hands of politicians everywhere.
Western Government Initiatives
The US Government has acted as a facilitator for interfaith dialogue. As in the many other sectors where government is expanding its role, federal and local authorities are increasingly utilising religion to further their policies. "Partnering" with religious leaders and organisations has begun a process of regulating relations between various faith communities. In February 2009, at the outset of the new Obama administration, the White House opened a new Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, an expansion of the Bush administration's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. This outlined four key priorities, one of which was to "work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world". The priority of interfaith action and "outreach" is not unique to the Office, however, but is being put into place at nearly every level of government.
Numerous dialogue programmes have been organised by local interfaith organisations and councils of churches. Two major academic centres providing programmes centered on Muslim-Christian relations: Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, which has specialised in the study of Islam and Muslim-Christian relations for many years; and the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (CMCU), founded at Georgetown University in 1993. Through research, publications, academic and community programmes, CMCU seeks to improve relations between the Muslim world and the West and to enhance understanding of Muslims in the West. In 2005 it received a $20 million gift from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia in order to strengthen and expand its many programmes; its full name is now the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
A Leadership Group on US-Muslim Engagement has been set up, which includes high-ranking bipartisan leaders from politics, religion and business. Its brief is to pursue engagement with the Muslim world based on common ground and to chart new directions for furthering this goal. Among its many recommendations is a dramatic expansion of interfaith dialogue initiatives. It urges that highly visible and well-publicised interfaith events should be held in the US, the Middle East and Asia to promote mutual respect based on shared religious values and to educate the public.
In the UK, the encouragement of interfaith dialogue has been even more evident. The UK Government has acted as a facilitator in order to promote peaceful relations between Britain's various faith communities. It maintains a close relationship with the Three Faiths Forum and the Muslim College. Following the London bombings of July 2005 (7/7) the British government created a taskforce with Muslim members, "Preventing Extremism Together".
The Local Government Association has issued guidance to local authorities on involving faith communities in local decision making. The Inter Faith Network for the UK, funded by the Home Office, has produced guidelines and a code of conduct for those wanting to set up local interfaith groups. These activities have increased since 7/7.
The Interfaith Alliance UK is a network committed to the "promotion of liberal and progressive aspects of diverse faith traditions". It attacked Archbishop Carey for including evangelicals in the advisory body for his proposed Christian-Muslim Forum for England. It attacks evangelical churches (including St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, All Souls, Langham Place, and Christ Church, Spitalfields) for targeting Muslim communities in evangelism, accusing them of inflammatory and provocative action against Muslims and of "repeated blasphemies against the person of the Prophet Muhammad". It characterizes these churches as "conservative evangelical" and claims that their evangelistic activities are polemical, targeted proselytism of the British Muslim community. Other bodies defined as belonging to the conservative evangelical network include the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) and some members of the Evangelical Alliance UK. The Interfaith Alliance alleges that the methods used by these bodies in Muslim evangelism are "highly provocative, dishonest and damaging to community relations".  It recommends that any Christian found to have made inflammatory remarks about Muhammad or to have been involved in the targeted proselytising of Muslims should not be allowed membership in the Christian-Muslim Forum. (At present the Forum appears willing at least to debate with those who take a more critical stance towards Islam.)
The German government created the "German Conference on Islam" in September 2006 to further the religious and social integration of Muslims in Germany. It aims at promoting an understanding of integration while accepting cultural and religious differences. It requires Muslims to accept Germany's liberal democracy. In May 2007 the conference set out a two-year agenda for discussing religious issues, Islamism and security, German values and German understanding of the constitution, the media and the private sector as bridge builders.
The French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM) was created in 2003 as a forum for consultations between the Muslim community and the state. It was the forerunner of a series of national dialogue initiatives.
The World Economic Forum
Western governments, through the medium of the Davos-based World Economic Forum, have founded a framework for interfaith dialogue aimed especially at improving Christian-Muslim relations, although it is presented as a dialogue between civilisations. The Council of 100 Leaders, C-100, was founded in 2004 as a community of business, political, religious, media and opinion leaders to promote dialogue and understanding in different parts of society in the West and the Muslim world. Its name was later changed to C-1 World Dialogue. Leading Christians and Muslims were recruited, including (on the Christian side) Richard Chartres, Bishop of London; Canon Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff, formerly Dean of All Saints' Cathedral in Cairo; and Miroslav Volf, Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale University; and (on the Muslim side) Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt; Mustafa Cerić, Grand Mufti of Bosnia; and Sayyed Jawad Al-Khoei, Assistant Secretary-General of the Al-Khoei Foundation.
In response to Iranian prompting, the Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) was established in 2005 at the initiative of the Governments of Spain and Turkey, under the auspices of the United Nations. It aims to facilitate harmony and dialogue by emphasising the common values of different cultures and religions. As a UN initiative, the AoC has a global scope and a universal perspective, while giving priority to addressing relations between Western and Muslim societies. A High-level Group was formed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to explore the roots of polarisation between societies and cultures and to recommend a practical programme of action to address this issue.
The AoC recognises that religion is an important dimension of many societies and a significant source of values for individuals, and that it has a critical role in promoting appreciation of other cultures, religions, and ways of life and in building harmony among them. The AoC aims to:
- Develop a network of partnerships with states, international organisations, civil society groups and private sector entities that share its goals, to reinforce their interaction and coordination with the UN system
- Develop, support, and highlight projects that promote understanding and reconciliation among cultures globally and, in particular, between Muslim and Western societies. These projects are related to the AoC's four main fields of action: youth, education, media and migration.
- Establish relations and facilitate dialogue among groups that can act as a force for moderation and understanding during times of heightened cross-cultural tensions.
The initiative in re-defining relationships between Western governments and Islam and arguing for their legitimacy has not come from only one side. Muslim governments too have been active in seeking to re-shape these relationships. They were deeply worried by the effects of the 9/11 attacks and the resulting equation of Islam with violent jihad as well as by their weakened legitimacy and security. They have argued that the West's failure to understand Islam has already led to violence and could lead to catastrophe if Islam and Christianity were to engage in new wars.
Muslim governments seem to have decided to pursue a respected position for Islam in the world while seeking also to expand its influence, and they have looked for partners in the West to further these ambitions. Among the allies they have sought are Christians.
In 1998 President Mohammad Khatami of Iran proposed to the United Nations a dialogue among civilisations that would include a major place for interfaith dialogue. This was apparently part of Iran's efforts to neutralise Western opposition to its policies and gain Christian sympathy for its version of Islam. As a result of pressure by Iran and the OIC the United Nations declared 2001 to be the "Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations". In 2004, Khatami founded the International Institute for Dialogue among Cultures and Civilizations, based in Iran. Iran has held several interfaith dialogue meetings with the Vatican and various "Religion and peaceful coexistence" conferences jointly convened by the Tehran-based Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization and by the WCC. It has also tried to reach out to Protestants and evangelicals. In February 2007 a delegation of American Christians including Mennonites, Quakers, Episcopalians, United Methodists and Baptists were invited to Tehran for a series of talks with Iranian religious leaders on interfaith relations and peacemaking.
In 2002, the annual Doha Conference on Interfaith Dialogue was inaugurated. In 2008, two hundred participants from thirty countries issued a declaration stating, "Interfaith dialogue is a necessity at every level: international, regional, and local; working groups on different levels ... should be established with emphasis on issues such as education, peacebuilding and the promotion of solidarity and understanding among different communities and cultures."
In 2003 King Abdullah II founded the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center (JICRC), which organises an annual conference for leading Muslims and Christians from the Middle East under his chairmanship. The Jordanian monarchy is trying to exercise intellectual and theological leadership within Islam. Crown Prince Hassan founded a think tank, the Amman-based Royal Al al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, and its interfaith activities have been supported by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad. This institute has significant government backing, produces scholarly documents and has launched intra-Islamic and interfaith consensus-building initiatives such as its "Amman Message". It has sponsored scholarly fatwas on takfir and jihad aimed at countering extremist, Islamist interpretations and practice. Then in November 2007 it coordinated a letter, entitled "A Common Word between Us and You", from 138 Muslim scholars to all Christian church leaders, requesting a dialogue on the common values of loving God and loving the neighbour. (See further below, page 16.)
The Bush administration placed immense pressure on the Saudi regime to moderate its established form of Islam (Wahhabism) and the radical statements issuing from it and to engage with Christians. As a result the Saudi government entered into interfaith dialogue against the wishes of some hardliners in the Council of Ulemas. In November 2007 King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia met with the Pope at the Vatican and discussed how to help adherents of different religions arrive at mutual understanding. He prompted Saudi clerics to call for joint Jewish-Christian-Muslim conferences. King Abdullah then proposed the "World Conference on Dialogue", which was organised by the Mecca-based and Saudi-controlled Muslim World League and held in Madrid in July 2008 under his patronage. He then sponsored a two-day Special United Nations General Assembly gathering on Interfaith Dialogue in November 2008. Another aspect of the king's interest in interfaith dialogue is his sponsorship, along with the OIC, of a campaign for a global law against blasphemy, meant especially to protect Islam from all criticism.
The king argues that there is an urgent need for an interfaith dialogue to counter the dangerous tensions in the world between Islam and other religions and within Islam itself. These endanger Saudi Arabia's security and prosperity. He claims that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and not one of violent extremism. Addressing 500 Muslim delegates from 50 Muslim countries in June 2008 in Mecca, he declared, "You have gathered today to tell the whole world that we ... are a voice of justice and values and humanity, that we are a voice of coexistence and a just and rational dialogue."
To follow up the 2008 Madrid conference the Muslim World League organised an International Conference on Interfaith Dialogue, which was held in Geneva from 30 September to 1 October 2009 under the auspices of Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz. The impact of King Abdullah's initiative, and ways of promoting global and popular support for his vision, were discussed. The conference called for the establishment of an international research institute for training the younger generation of religious leaders on the importance of interfaith dialogue. A plan was made to set up an international committee on interfaith dialogue that would include prominent personalities from around the world. The conference also called for the nurture of a culture of dialogue among the young and for greater cooperation between faith communities in the fight against poverty, ignorance, diseases and disasters.
Libya has long been involved in interfaith initiatives, organising conferences and dialogue especially with the Vatican. Recently it has also shown interest in dialogue with evangelicals, sponsoring and hosting through its World Islamic Call Society (WICS), a major Muslim mission organization, the "Evangelical Christian-Muslim Dialogue" events held in Chicago (November 2006) and Tripoli (January 2008). The second of these meetings included many evangelical leaders, such as Brother Andrew, from a variety of evangelical Christian institutions: evangelical colleges and universities such as Wheaton College, North Park University, Fuller Theological Seminary and the Arab Baptist Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon, and national and international organisations such as World Vision International, Sojourners, Venture International, and Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding. Muslim participants came from the American Islamic College, Temple University, Loyola University (Chicago), the Hartford Seminary Foundation, Lake Forest College (Illinois), and the University of Western Ontario (Canada).
Opposing the US and Israel
In March 2003 Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hizbullah in Lebanon, called for a new international alliance between Muslims and Christians. This was to have a two-fold objective. First, it would oppose Bush on the invasion of Iraq, and secondly, it would oppose Israel on the Palestinian issue.
This two-pronged Muslim strategy bore significant fruit in the following years. Heavy investment from Islamic sources led to the co-ordination of major marches around the world, which brought together groups as far apart as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, far-left organisations and evangelicals, to oppose both the invasion of Iraq and the continuing Western presence there. Marches were also held on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Furthermore, the media began to shape events, and a more coherent strategy began to evolve that had at its core an anti-American and anti-Israeli position.
Non-Evangelical Christian Initiatives
Christian-Muslim interfaith dialogue predates the events of 9/11 by several decades. The earliest initiatives were taken by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Roman Catholic Church; these have continued to the present and are summarized briefly below. The Anglican Communion has been at the forefront of more recent developments in Muslim-Christian relations.
The World Council of Churches
Three world missionary conferences (Edinburgh in 1910, Jerusalem in 1928 and Tambaram [India] in 1938) paved the way for ecumenical efforts at interfaith understanding under the auspices of the WCC. Delegates at these conferences debated issues of Christian witness and service in the midst of religious diversity.
In March 1969 the WCC held a conference in Cartigny (Geneva) in which some 20 Christians and Muslims explored the possibilities of dialogue and made plans for the future. In 1971 the WCC established the Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies (DFI) programme, in which Muslim-Christian relations were the primary focus. The DFI concentrated on organising large international and smaller regional meetings and on providing educational materials. Since then the WCC has published many books, articles, reports, working papers and reviews by both Christians and Muslims.
These efforts led to an international meeting in Broumana (Lebanon) in July 1972, in which some 50 Christian and Muslim delegates took part. The Broumana meeting was followed by two regional gatherings, one in Accra (Ghana) in July 1974, the other in Hong Kong in January 1975. Since then many conferences and meetings between Christians and Muslims have been organised by the WCC. Five regional Christian-Muslim meetings were organised in the 1980s: "Religion et Responsabilité", Porto Novo, Benin, March 1986; "Advancing Together into the Next Century", Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, December 1986; "Religion and Society", Kolymbari, Crete, September 1987; "The Challenge of Pluralism", New Windsor, Maryland, USA, March 1988; "Religion and Life", Usa River, Tanzania, June 1989.
Among other events has been the ongoing dialogue, mentioned above (page 6) between the WCC and the Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization (Tehran, Iran). Their fifth symposium was held in Tehran on 13-14 December 2008.
The WCC, the Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions (including the Lutheran World Federation) and the World Evangelical Alliance jointly organised a consultation in Chavannes-de-Bogis near Geneva from 18 to 20 October 2008. Some 50 theologians from a broad range of Christian traditions and scholars in the field of Christian-Muslim relations met to discuss Christian self-understanding in relation to Islam and Christian-Muslim relations today. The consultation included reflections on the Trinity, the implications of incarnation and the work of the Holy Spirit. Papers on various Christian approaches to Islam were presented and contextual experiences were shared through two panel discussions: "Christians living in majority Muslim contexts" and "Christian-Muslim relations in plural contexts".
The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) marked a new beginning in Catholic-Muslim relations, as it proclaimed the Roman Catholic Church's esteem for Muslims and emphasised the common ground between Islam and Christianity. Several major documents adopted at Vatican II focused on interfaith relations. In 1964 Pope Paul VI established the Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions (later the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue) as a centre for studying other religions and for promoting interfaith dialogue. A series of reciprocal visits was then initiated between the Vatican and Muslim religious and political leaders, aimed at improving relations between Catholics and Muslims.
The Vatican initiated contacts with several Muslim states and their religious establishments. In 1989 it began to meet occasionally with the WICS, and in 2002 they agreed on annual meetings. In 1994 the Vatican initiated contact with Iran, and a colloquium was held in Tehran organised by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue with the Secretariat of Interreligious Dialogue of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Tehran. The topic was a theological evaluation of modernity. In 1998 the Vatican and al-Azhar University in Cairo set up a joint committee and agreed to hold annual meetings to discuss topical issues from both perspectives.
Since 1989 the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has co-sponsored several meetings with the Al Al-Bayt Foundation, Amman. Six consultations have taken place: "Religious Education", Rome, 1989; "The Rights of Children", Amman, 1990; "Women in Society", Rome, 1992; "Religion and Nationalism Today: Problems and Challenges", Amman, 1994; "The Use of the Earth's Resources", Rome, 1996; "Human Dignity", Amman, 1997.
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue organised a series of regional meetings of Christians and Muslims. A conference was held in Assisi, Italy for delegates from North Africa (Mauritania to Egypt) to discuss the theme "Co-existence in the Midst of Differences". A similar meeting was held in Ibadan, Nigeria (1991), on "Cooperation in Development" for participants from the English-speaking countries of West Africa. The third meeting in this series, in Pattaya, Thailand (1994), brought together Christians and Muslims from South-East Asia. They discussed "Harmony among Believers of the Living Faiths". These meetings were prepared at local and national levels, and Christians and Muslims contributed not as separate groups but as mixed national delegations.
The Catholic-Muslim Liaison Committee was founded in 1995. On the Muslim side are a number of international organisations including the World Muslim Congress, the World Muslim League, the International Islamic Committee for Da‘wah and Humanitarian Relief and the Islamic Economic Social and Cultural Organization (ISESCO, an organ of the Organization of the Islamic Conference). The committee meets annually for an exchange of ideas on topics of common interest or current situations.
Then in a lecture at the University of Regensburg on 13 September 2006 Pope Benedict XVI called attention to the lack of reason in Islam and also quoted the words of the 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, who alluded to violence in the Islamic tradition and particularly that commanded by Muhammad. "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." This speech had international repercussions, with Muslims around the world expressing outrage, accusing the Pope of suggesting that Islam was violent and unreasonable. Violent protests broke out in the Muslim world, and demands for an apology were issued. When the Pope did no more than communicate his regret that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to Muslims, a group of 38 Muslim scholars wrote him an open letter (13 October 2006) to correct his views on Islam. No response was received, and it was then that the "Common Word" letter (see above, page 7) was written.
In response, experts on the letter met Vatican officials in 2008 at the first Catholic-Muslim Forum for theological discussions. In 2009 the Vatican and the Arab League signed an agreement to promote dialogue, justice and peace. Pope Benedict visited the King Hussein Mosque in Amman and urged further dialogue between Catholics and Muslims. In May that year the Pope visited Jerusalem's Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein at the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and urged Muslim leaders to continue interfaith dialogue.
The senior leadership in the Anglican Communion, especially in Britain, have made major efforts to be inclusive in their approach to Muslims and engage them in interfaith dialogue, apparently hoping to help the struggle against radicalisation and terrorism within Muslim communities. As noted above, the British government has encouraged these initiatives, seeking to use the Church as a way of engaging Muslims and neutralising the effects of radical Islamic ideologies and organisations that promote terrorism.
Several contemporary Anglican projects, all linked to the Archbishop of Canterbury, encourage dialogue with Muslims. Some of these initiatives reflect the Church of England's position as the state church with a sense of responsibility for the well-being of the entire British society. In these cases interfaith dialogue is pursued in the interest of good community relations in Britain. The projects are:
1. Monitoring of Christian-Muslim relations by the Anglican Communion Network for Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON)
At the 1998 Lambeth Conference the bishops asked the Network for Inter Faith Concerns in the Anglican Communion (NIFCON) to monitor the progress of Christian-Muslim relations around the Anglican world. NIFCON itself is not involved in dialogue with Muslim groups but offers a space for meeting and reflection to Anglicans engaged in such activities. It is a lightly structured network with limited financial resources. This monitoring project has focused on media reporting of critical themes and circumstances in different countries.
George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury (1991-2002), signed a formal agreement with Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in Cairo, in January 2002. This agreement established a Joint Commission of Anglican Christians and Sunni Muslims to explore ways in which their leaders can use their influence to encourage reconciliation and peacemaking and to increase understanding and fair representation of the other in their communities. Bishop Mounir Hanna Anis, head of the Episcopal Church in Egypt and North Africa (since 2007 also President Bishop and Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East) is a member of the Commission for Dialogue between the Episcopal Church and al-Azhar. A prominent theme in the Commission's work has been the issue of theological education for priests and imams: how those who will bear responsibility for the religious formation of their communities can be given opportunities to appreciate each other's beliefs and values.
The joint committee held its fifth annual meeting on 2-3 September 2006 in al-Azhar, Cairo on the theme "Freedom of Religion and Respect for Sacred Religious Values". Both sides agreed that their respective religions encourage freedom of expression but at the same time restrict it owing to respect for others. It is right to limit freedom of expression in certain circumstances, where people's feelings and beliefs are negatively affected.
Bishop Mounir Hanna Anis holds regular consultations with Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the two most recent being on 10 October 2008 and 31 January 2009. Together with the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, he is also in contact with the WICS, which they visited in January 2009.
Also in January 2002, Archbishop Carey and Grand Imam Tantawi acted as co-chairmen of a consultation that included the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, a representative of Israel's Chief Rabbinical Council, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, the head of the Palestinian Authority's religious courts, the Orthodox, Armenian, and Latin (Roman Catholic) Patriarchs of Jerusalem and the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem. The participants signed a declaration that included a joint condemnation of violence and incitement to hatred and misrepresentation, a commitment to work together for a just, secure and durable peace in the Middle East and a condemnation of the killing of innocent people in God's name.
In January 2002 Archbishop Carey, in cooperation with the Prime Minister Tony Blair, hosted at Lambeth Palace a seminar of 40 Muslim and Christian scholars under the title, "Building Bridges: Overcoming Obstacles in Christian-Muslim Relations". Archbishop Williams convened a further two "Building Bridges" seminars: the first in Doha in April 2003 at the invitation of the Emir of Qatar, at which some 30 Muslim and Christian scholars held discussions for three days; the second at Georgetown University, Washington DC in April 2004. Since then the event has become an annual one. The British Foreign Office contributes to its funding. While the Lambeth seminar covered the range of problems and opportunities that Christians and Muslims face in their past, present and future, that at Doha focused specifically on the reading together of Biblical and Qur'anic texts, and at Georgetown the same approach of "scriptural dialogue" was applied to the particular issue of understanding prophecy in the Bible and the Qur'an.
Archbishop Carey floated the idea for a Christian-Muslim Forum in 1997. He helped set up a joint Christian-Muslim Planning Group in 2000 and a larger Reference Group of Christian and Muslim leaders in 2001 to advise the Planning Group. Meetings were held in various British cities, bringing together Christians and Muslims from various backgrounds to define the most important issues on which both communities ought to work together. The initiative was coordinated from Church House, the administrative headquarters of the Church of England in London. In January 2006 Archbishop Williams launched the Christian-Muslim Forum, which brings together Christians and Muslims involved in community life to discuss issues of common concern and explore ways of promoting greater understanding between the two faiths. It aims at providing a space in which common ground can be affirmed and differences explored while working together for the common good of society.
Key Characteristics of the Interfaith Movement
The liberal tradition of Christianity, which dominates the Christian presence at the interfaith table, has long espoused a theology of ecumenical inclusivism, not only between Christian churches but also towards non-Christian faiths, especially Islam. This reflects the postmodern views propounded in the Western media and by many politicians. It advocates a value-free approach to other faiths and cultures that accepts them all as valid spiritualities and ways to God. Commonalities are stressed, while differences are seen as merely culturally-based variations on the same themes.
By their own admission liberal Christians hold only loosely if at all to the uniqueness of Christ and the need for evangelism. Indeed, some view evangelism as a threat to good interfaith relations, especially with Muslims. In response to a motion for debate in the Church of England's General Synod in July 2008, which called on the House of Bishops to "confirm their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in a multi-faith society, and to publish details of best practice in evangelising people of other faiths", Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Urban Life and Faith, stated:
Both the Bishop of Rochester's reported comments and the synod private members' motion show no sensitivity to the need for good inter-faith relations. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs are learning to respect one another's paths to God and live in harmony. This demand for the evangelisation of people of other faiths contributes nothing to our communities.
Therefore, as the interfaith movement has developed since 2001 through the various initiatives and events described above, it has developed certain defining characteristics. These include:
- A perception that Christians have treated Muslims badly in the past (as in the Crusades and the colonial period) and even in the present (as in contemporary neo-colonialism), and a belief that Christians should acknowledge these mistakes and repent. Often the behaviour of Christians is identified with that of Western governments.
- A conviction that the contemporary policies of Western governments, particularly since 1979 (from the creation of the Taliban to the current war in Afghanistan), have generated the recent Muslim violence towards the West, and a call to the West now to redefine its relationship with the Muslim world.
- A sense that Christian mission activities in the Muslim world, and indeed among Muslims in the West, embody Western hostility towards Islam. This position is now being argued not just by Muslim countries and organisations but also by Western governments and even by some Western Christian denominations. The freedom to propagate one's faith, enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, is quietly overlooked in this context.
- The embracing by many Western participants of a relativism and postmodernism that affirms everything and denies nothing. This includes not only an affirmation of Islam's legitimacy but also the belief that Islam should be protected legally, both internationally and nationally. As a result it tends to privilege Islam and downgrade Christianity.
- A widespread belief among Muslim participants that Christianity as a religion of violence, inextricably linked with a corrupt West.
Most notable, however, is the view of Islam espoused by the movement. In many programmes of interfaith dialogue with Muslims the Christian participants presuppose a pluralist view in which Islam is seen as a redemptive religion, Muhammad as a valid prophet of God and the Qur'an as a revelation from God. This implies that the Islamic view of Islam and Christianity as interlinked facets of one monotheistic, prophetic religion is correct. In its more extreme forms it contradicts the Biblical teaching that Jesus Christ is the ultimate and unique agent of God's salvation for all, or affirms Islamic understandings of God, Christ and scripture that are at variance with New Testament norms.
Furthermore, the idea is widespread that Islam is peaceful and tolerant and cannot be blamed for terrorism committed in its name. Participants in dialogue tend to be silent about the severe plight of Christian minorities in Muslim-majority states and regions and the dangers faced by converts from Islam (apostates). Raising such concerns, they believe, would harm the Christian-Muslim relationships that they are so carefully building. They sometimes criticise Christian advocacy agencies working on behalf of Christian minorities, alleging that they harm peaceful Christian-Muslim relations. They discourage a critical engagement with the Muslim source texts, because this might upset Muslim conservatives, and they trace the roots of Islamic violence not to Islamic scripture but to Western foreign policy.
It is in this context that we need to explore and evaluate the contemporary evangelical responses to Islam.
Evangelicals and Interfaith Dialogue
One of the most visible results of the change in relations between Muslims and Christians since 9/11 has been the greatly increased involvement of evangelicals in the interfaith dialogue movement. Conservative Christians, including evangelicals, have traditionally believed that the view of Islam described above amounts to a denial of the Biblical teaching on Christ, whom they confess as the ultimate and unique agent of God's salvation for all. Now, however, many evangelical leaders and missionaries to Muslims are promoting dialogue and accommodation with Muslims and with Islam.
This new trend can be clearly seen in evangelical responses to the "Common Word" letter, described above (page 7). One of the most high profile responses was the 18
November 2007 "Yale Letter", drafted by evangelical Christians at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and signed by over 300 Christian leaders, many of them evangelicals. The following July a conference was held at Yale, bringing together Muslim and Christian scholars, on the theme of "Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Muslims and Christians". A "Final Declaration of the Yale Common Word Conference" was issued on the last day of the conference, 31 July 2008.
Evangelical Christians, including some who are heavily involved with missionary work, were at the centre of the Yale discussions. But it appears that some of them signed the letter either without having read it in detail or without being fully conversant with the subject. Some have said that they signed simply because they believed it was right to respond with Christian love and charity. Others apparently signed without necessarily agreeing with the whole document.
But, by signing the letter, these leaders effectively affirmed that Muslims and Christians share the same understanding of love of God and love of neighbour, a view not traditionally taken by evangelicals. Muslims will take this affirmation at face value as representing the view of the whole conference. Moreover, the leaders have created confusion among some grassroots evangelicals, who cannot necessarily follow the detailed theological reasoning but who sense that basic Biblical and Christian positions are possibly being shelved.
There is no doubt that the evangelical leaders involved in the interfaith movement have the best of motives. They have a great love for Muslims and a desire to see many of them come to Christ. They want to be open with Muslims and sensitive to their feelings, and to establish genuine relationships with them as a context for raising hard questions, such as Muslim views of Christians as mushrikun (polytheists) and the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands. They also want to take seriously Christ's injunction to be peacemakers. But other evangelicals believe that they may be giving insufficient attention to the nature, history and goals of Islam, and that in seeking to achieve their purpose they may be in danger of diluting basic Christian doctrines.
We shall now examine the reasons that evangelicals have given for engaging in interfaith dialogue, and offer some cautionary responses.
1. Anti-Islamic statements and the demonisation of Muslims create misunderstandings of Islam, generate tension and hinder mission to Muslims.
2. It is appropriate to offer sympathy with Muslim grievances and acceptance of Western Christian guilt for the victimisation of Muslims throughout history.
3. Jesus calls us to love Muslims, forgive wrongs committed and be active peacemakers.
4. Islam is an ally against atheism and secularism.
5. Islam is a true though deficient way to God.
6. The future survival of the world is at stake.
1. Anti-Islamic statements and demonisation of Muslims create misunderstandings of Islam, generate tension and hinder mission to Muslims.
Lynn Green, International Chairman of Youth With A Mission (YWAM), argues that anti-Islamic statements weaken the impact of the Church on the Muslim world. He states that "the church cannot hope to have any impact in the Muslim world by trying to convince them that they are all demonized by their religion". Green also believes that sweeping anti-Muslim statements by Christians increase tensions with Muslims, arouse Muslim antagonism to Christians, and impede evangelism among Muslims; this approach plays into the hand of Muslim extremists. (His fears regarding mission among Muslims echo those of a group of missionaries from the Southern Baptist Convention who sent a letter to their church leaders in January 2003 pleading for a cessation of anti-Islamic statements that hampered mission work among Muslims and threatened the safety of missionaries.)
Green argues that it is important for Christians to engage with Muslims in the Common Word process so as to strengthen the majority of Muslims, who are committed to peaceful relations with Christians and who reject the use of Islam to justify violence. Otherwise this majority will be overtaken by the radicals, who want world domination and the destruction of Western culture and states. In his view, both Muslims and Christians living in "isolated, mono-cultural settings" easily resort to language and behaviour generated by hatred and fear.
I suggest that this view does not take seriously enough the teaching of both classical and contemporary Islam on "unbelievers", and that it presumes that Islam accepts the other "People of the Book" (Christians and Jews) as religious equals. The claim that Islamist violence against Christians is caused by the latter's critical approach to Islam is also open to serious question. Moreover, interfaith dialogue that excludes the possibility of criticising Islam or avoids contentious issues will eventually give an advantage to Islamic opinion-formers.
Other evangelicals have also argued that Christians must not spread fear of Muslims. Speaking at the July 2008 Keswick Convention, Steve Bell, the National Director of Interserve UK (an international mission agency seeking to serve across cultural boundaries), argued that Christians need not fear a Muslim takeover of Britain. He suggested that as the Muslim community in Britain becomes more prosperous, its birth rate will drop. A prosperous community with small families will be less tempted to espouse fundamentalist and radical forms of Islam. Muslims in the West will integrate peacefully into their societies and contribute to the formation of a more moderate form of Islam.
We believe that Bell's vision of the future may prove to be over-optimistic. Current demographic trends suggest at least that the influence of Islam in Britain may well increase over time. Moreover, Islamic fundamentalism and radicalism are not simply products of poverty but theological and ideological movements with deep roots in classical Islam and its tradition of revivals. A full analysis of this issue also requires consideration of the increasing Islamist presence in many Muslim institutions in the UK and the growing radicalising of many British-born and bred, prosperous Muslims. It must take account of the hijra model and the suggestion by some commentators that this is being deliberately implemented by some contemporary Muslims.
In any case, despite the best efforts of evangelicals, even moderate Muslims are resistant to at least some forms of Christian evangelism among Muslims. Thus Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the most respected Muslim scholars in the West, known for his inclusivity and moderation, in his address "Love of God, Love of Neighbour", at the 1st Catholic-Muslim Forum Conference, Vatican City, 4-6 November 2008, declared that:
We Muslims do not allow an aggressive proselytizing in our midst that would destroy our faith in the name of freedom.
Many non-moderates are hostile to Christian mission to Muslims in any form or context, and Islamists actively oppose Christian missions.
The interfaith process also creates surprising alliances and oppositions. Chris Seiple of the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) in the US, who is also linked to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), joined with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), an Islamist organisation, to criticise the film "Obsession", which was widely distributed in the US and seeks to present the dangers of radical Islam. The joint communiqué "Exposing ‘Obsession'" included criticism of a convert from Islam, Walid Shoebat (who was named and therefore exposed to danger), and of "right wing evangelical Christianity". In this case evangelicals' involvement with the interfaith process has involved their joining with radical Muslims in attacking other evangelicals.
2. It is appropriate to offer sympathy with Muslim grievances and acceptance of Western Christian guilt for the victimisation of Muslims throughout history.
The guilt cited here is a contemporary response to the Crusades and to the suffering imposed on Muslims, in colonial times all over the world, and in modern times in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. It is argued that Christians must compensate for these past and present evils by actively supporting just Muslim political causes. Colin Chapman, lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Near East School of Theology, Beirut, Lebanon until his retirement in 2004, states, "[A] more serious and sympathetic engagement with the anger of Muslims, combined with a little more willingness to accept responsibility for what we have done in Iraq, for example, and what we have allowed to happen in Israel/Palestine, might strengthen rather than weaken the Christian contribution to this crucial debate."
This approach also seeks to understand the motives of Islamist terrorists. Brother Andrew is the famous "God's Smuggler" who smuggled Bibles into Communist states from 1955 and founded Open Doors International to transport Bibles into the most anti-Christian countries of the world, including the Muslim world. Brother Andrew is firmly committed to supporting the suffering Church and to evangelism among Muslims, including leaders of radical movements such as Hamas and the Taliban. Sharing the Gospel with all is surely a Biblical imperative, and Brother Andrew and his colleagues are to be admired and commended for their witness to Muslim terrorist leaders, as well as for their help for the Church in Muslim countries.
But more controversially, in attempting to understand the motives of the terrorists, Brother Andrew and his colleagues borrow terms from Liberation Theology to describe them as oppressed people without any hope. The terrorists' violent response, he maintains, is therefore at least understandable (though not justifiable or legitimate):
While I could never support Hamas, I could understand why they concluded that they had no choice but to fight. [And in relation to suicide bombers:] I couldn't sympathise with them - I believed they were totally misguided - but I tried to understand that Hamas, from their perspective, was sending soldiers into battle.
Brother Andrew also offers forgiveness to terrorist leaders of Hamas, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. After the 11 September 2001 attacks he suggested that Christians should forgive the perpetrators.
Brother Andrew's perspective is valuable, but we believe that it needs to be applied with caution. The Gospel calls all people to acknowledge and repent of their sins before God will forgive and save; God's offer of free salvation is linked to His wanting "everyone to come to repentance". So although a right understanding of the causes of terrorism is essential to a wise response, these should never be presented in extenuation for terrorist acts. The Apostle Paul who boldly preached to Jewish and Roman leaders offered them the Gospel of Christ, but he did not seek to diminish the significance of their evil practices by listing extenuating factors.
Again, while we firmly believe that forgiveness is a great Christian virtue, we also believe that people can forgive only those sins committed against them. Western Christian leaders can properly forgive the 9/11 terrorists only in so far as they themselves have been affected by their actions; they cannot offer that forgiveness on behalf of others. Nor can they forgive their crimes against nations; in the name of justice, terrorists should be held accountable for their crimes and brought to justice for them. When Paul presented the Gospel to Felix in Caesarea, we read: "As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid ..." Paul did not offer forgiveness on behalf of the many Jews Felix had oppressed, wronged and robbed.
In offering sympathy for Muslim grievances it is also important to maintain balance by acknowledging the suffering imposed by Muslims on Christians over the centuries, such as the genocide of the Armenians by Turkey, the suffering of the Sudanese Christians in the recent civil war, and the recent massacres of Christians in Nigeria and Indonesia. The fear of offending Muslims and disrupting peaceful interfaith relations should not lead Christians to draw a veil over these events.
3. Jesus calls us to love Muslims, forgive wrongs committed and be active peacemakers.
On this view, Christians must express radical love to Muslims, in response to the radical demands of Jesus. Lynn Green calls on Christians to engage in the work of reconciliation and peace with Muslims and others. Dudley Woodberry, Senior Professor of Islamic Studies and Dean Emeritus of the School of World Mission (now the School of Intercultural Studies) at Fuller Theological Seminary, likewise urges Christians to become involved in a new ministry of reconciliation with Muslims. Rick Love, former International Director of Frontiers, believes that Muslim-Christian dialogue is important because "dialogue is the pathway to peace".
On this view, Christians must do their best to reduce Christian-Muslim tensions in the interests of peace, stressing the common ground between themselves and Muslims. The leadership of the National Association of Evangelicals and the influential conservative think tank the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) issued a joint set of guidelines designed to calm evangelical-Islamic tensions and initiate dialogue. The guidelines condemn stereotyping of Islam and Muslims and suggest that both groups share a concept of "natural law" or "common grace" in morality and theology. Chris Seiple of the IGE argues for a strategy of relational diplomacy with Muslims, built on common principles, which negates false stereotypes and builds mutual respect.
It is admirable to build good relations with Muslims, relations marked by humility and respect. But many Christians would disagree with the degree of equivalence between Christianity and Islam posited by Seiple. He claims that both at their worst are religions of the sword, and that both at their best seek for justice and mercy in the world; that both have Abraham as their father and are joined in one civilisation created by God; and that the Bible and the Qur'an give the same basic message. Further, despite this supposed theological equivalence, the two communities are not treated equally in the documents: Muslim minorities in the West are said to need protection and respect so as to prevent them from becoming a breeding ground for extremism, but Christian minorities in Muslim lands are not mentioned, perhaps for fear of provoking Muslim anger. So in practical terms the equivalence and reciprocity seem to go only one way, benefiting Islam but not the suffering Church in the Muslim world.
Seiple also states that contemporary Muslim terrorists are apostates from Islam who legitimise their violence through a perverted Islamic faith. He takes no obvious account of the violent streams within classical Islam and the modern mainline Islamist movements that nourish the ideology of the terrorist organisations, based on the many violent "sword verses" found in the Qur'an, or of the need for Muslims to grapple with these and offer non-violent interpretations of them.
There is some concern that this approach may lead to a downgrading of evangelism among Muslims. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times in December 2003, Fuller Theological Seminary in the US, a pioneer in the theology of missions, accepted a federal Department of Justice grant of one million dollars to develop an interfaith code of ethics that would prohibit proselytising for two years and ask Christians and Muslims not to say things that would offend each other. The story was picked up by other media. It raised questions among Christians: Why were government funds needed to provide religious codes? How could an evangelical seminary recommend a pause in evangelism?
In a private e-mail, however, Dudley Woodberry has refuted the original report as distorted and "inaccurate through misunderstanding, oversimplification, and sensationalism as various evangelical leaders were asked to comment on statements that were inaccurately attributed to Fuller". He says further that "the reporting got increasingly distorted as it spread through other media".
Woodberry states that the grant was not given to develop an interfaith code of ethics that would prohibit proselytising for two years, but rather for working on peacemaking with Muslims, which Fuller sees as part of its mandate alongside evangelism. At the request of some of the Muslim partners in the project, a code of ethics was produced, which clearly stated that within the programme there were no other agendas beyond seeking to understand Muslim perspectives on just peacemaking, but that the Christian partners would be clear about their "calling to evangelize all peoples in appropriate time, manner and context". Woodberry adds that there was no pause in evangelism outside the programme and that the materials used in it showed that evangelism was necessary for faithfulness to scripture.
Accepting Woodberry's corrections, two questions still remain. Firstly, should a missionary seminary ever accept government funding as part of government strategy to neutralise Muslim extremists? This question is especially pertinent given the frequent Muslim accusations that missionaries and mission agencies are tools of Western governments. And secondly, how can abstaining from evangelism within the framework of the programme be justified?
The approach has also led to evangelical dialogue with Islamists. In Britain, leaders of the Evangelical Alliance (EA) met with leaders of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) in February 2007 to "learn of each other's work and activities". The EA agreed to help further the MCB agenda with the British government, although the government had finally distanced itself from the MCB following the July 2005 London bombings. (The August 2005 Panorama programme "A Question of Leadership" revealed that the MCB is led by radical Muslims [Islamists] whose aim is an Islamic state under shari‘a in every country in the world, including Britain.) Joel Edwards, the then General Director of the EA, called on churches to open their doors to imams and ask them to teach Islam to their congregations.
Philip Lewis is the Inter-Faith Adviser to the Bishop of Bradford and a specialist on Christian-Muslim relations. He was recently involved in the drafting of guidelines for cooperation between mosques and churches, officially endorsed by the Bishop of Bradford, the Right Reverend David James, and Mufti Mohammed Aslam, president of the Deobandi Jamiat-e-Ulama Britain (a radical movement that seeks a return to classical Islam).
In my view this document obscures some of the real differences between Christianity and Islam. Thus, for example, Muslims and Christians are termed "believers in the One God", a phrase that assumes the word "God" to have the same referent in Islam and in Christianity. The guidelines also state that British Muslims are no more responsible for terrorist activities than British Christians are for the "excesses of western foreign policy", thus creating an equivalence between (say) the London suicide bombings and British foreign policy that many people would not accept. Finally, the document encourages Christian and Muslim preachers to say only things about the other religion that are well received by their neighbours and colleagues from it. This principle appears to suggest that no Christian critique of Islam can ever be legitimate, and might even be seen by some as an implicit acceptance of dhimmi status, which forbids non-Muslims to do anything objectionable to Muslims.
4. Islam is an ally against atheism and secularism
Since the 1970s Muslims have argued that they share a common enemy with Christians, and on that basis they have encouraged Christians to engage in dialogue. More recently some Christian commentators have also argued that Christians ought to search for common ground with Muslims against the threats of atheism and secularism. Colin Chapman argues: "We've got so much more in common with devout Muslims than with our pagan, secular British neighbours." Steve Bell sees the Muslim attitude of questioning secular humanism as a positive feature.
Such views are clearly right up to a point, but again they must be applied with caution. Christian and Muslim understandings of secularity are generally not the same. Many Christians, while rejecting radical secularism, accept the basic separation of Church and state, seeing it both as a principle taught by Jesus and as guaranteeing freedom of religion. Many Muslims, on the other hand, see every kind of separation of the two as an evil rebellion against God that must be eliminated; Islam must rule both politics and religion. So Christians and Muslims may be allies against secularism and atheism, but their goals in fighting it may be quite different. Belief in a common enemy may also make Christians more hesitant to be critical of Muslims.
5. Islam is a true though deficient way to God
In his book Grace for Muslims? (Milton Keynes: Authentic Media, 2006) Steve Bell expresses theological positions that seem to downplay Islamic rejection of the main doctrines of Christianity and to deny the uniqueness of Christ as the only way to salvation, of the Bible as the only written word of God, and of the Christian Church as the only people of God in the world today.
Bell states that Islam is neither a counterfeit nor a gross distortion of Biblical truth, but a serious reflection of it, an inadequate yet parallel manifestation of it. It is an attempt at faithfulness to the limited (Old Testament) light that it has received. It is an Abrahamic faith, differing from its alleged Jewish roots only in degree, not in kind, a variation on the theme of Judaism. The Qur'an is a valid commentary on the Jewish scriptures, and a correction to the inadequate Judaism of Muhammad's time. Muhammad himself is a prophet from the line of Ishmael, and his original mission was a kind of Apostleship to the Jews. The implication is that Muhammad was a valid prophet in the Biblical sense, performing God's will by turning Arabs from idolatry to monotheism.
Bell adds a fourth category to the New Testament's threefold categorising of humanity into Jews, Gentiles and the Church of God: Arab Muslims, whom he takes to be ethnic descendants of Abraham and neither Jews nor Gentiles, yet are part of the Abrahamic family through Ishmael. The implication is that they thus have a special relationship with God outside of Christ.
Bell argues that Islam's arrival into the world is willed and approved by God. But while some in the Church in the early days of Islam took this view, they saw it as part of God's judgment on the failings of Christianity, whereas Bell's statement seems to imply that it is Biblically legitimate. Taken to its extreme, his argument might require Christians to accept not only that anything that happens in world history is God-willed because he allowed it to happen, but also that it is therefore to be accepted as God-pleasing and legitimate, and that it is not to be resisted, but rather co-opted into Christianity. It would then follow that Hinduism and Buddhism, and maybe even Satanism, should be integrated into Christianity. There is no reason to think that Bell holds this view, but it seems to be where his argument leads.
Rick Love, in a personal response to John Piper (not as representing Frontiers), stated: "I believe that Muslims worship the true God. But I also believe that their view of God falls short of His perfections and beauty as described in the Bible". While there may be some truth in these statements, in the context of dialogue with Muslim leaders they have tended to encourage Christian participants increasingly to dilute Christian distinctives and issue ever more inclusive statements.
Ida Glaser, who is part-time missiologist at the Crowther Centre for Mission Education, has been involved in evangelism to Muslims in inner cities, and was Senior Teaching and Research Fellow at the Edinburgh Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies. She wrote notes on Genesis for Scripture Union's Encounter with God Daily Bible Readings for January-March 2008. These notes use the Qur'an to help shed light on the Biblical narrative. The notes suggest (albeit only by implication) that the Qur'an is somehow, and to some extent, authoritative and useful in Bible study, as it sheds new light on God's Word. The Bible is not to be understood only in its own terms, but also in light of the Qur'an. The author has not included any caveats, so the ordinary reader is left with the clear impression that Islam as a monotheistic faith, and the Qur'an as its scripture, have some God-given authority and truth that cannot be ignored, and that the Qur'an is a useful tool in helping the ordinary Christian better to understand the Bible.
6. The future survival of the world is at stake
Some Christians are concerned about the serious political issues dividing the Muslim world from the West, and about a possible cataclysmic war between them. They accept the view propounded by the Muslim scholars in "A Common Word" that the very survival of the world is at stake unless we engage in the dialogue process. As a result, such Christians agree with the statement in the Yale letter that "peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians stand as one of the central challenges of this century". They are willing to try hard to achieve harmonious relations with Muslims.
But there is a danger of compromising essential Christian distinctives when responding to Muslims who blame the (supposedly) Christian West for some of the conflicts and problems that aggrieve them. The Muslim leaders stated in their letter:
As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them - so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes.
This statement suggests that Christians may be to blame for at least some of the wars in which Muslims and Christians may be involved, now or in the future. Most Christians would deny the radical Islamist views that the war against Islamist terrorism is an aggressive global war of Christianity against Islam, and that Christians have a tendency to animosity, hatred and aggression towards Muslims. But the statement puts Christian participants in dialogue on the defensive and pressures them to compensate for the perceived offence by offering weaker Christian assertions and adopting Islamic viewpoints.
The war on poverty in the world is another area in which cooperation between evangelicals and Muslims is encouraged. At the July 2008 Yale Conference a paper, "Love and World Poverty", was presented by Geoff Tunnicliffe, International Director of the World Evangelical Alliance, and Christine Schirrmacher, Advisor on Islam to the World Evangelical Alliance. It introduced the Micah Challenge project for battling world poverty and praised Christian-Muslim cooperation in its eradication:
If Christians and Muslims want to make this world a better world then they must sit together and work for the support of the poor and the needy.
We fully affirm the need to take practical measures to tackle poverty, but it should also be noted that the Biblical view of the Kingdom of God rests ultimately on the preaching of the Gospel of Christ and the building up of His Church. We want to avoid implying that a utopian eschatological vision can be realised merely by Muslim-Christian co-operation.
The Insider Movement in missions
Some who embrace the new evangelical positions regarding dialogue with Islam are also proponents of the Insider Movement, a missiological movement based on an extreme form of contextualisation. This movement uses a radical form of the C5 stage of the contextualisation spectrum. It recommends that Muslims who accept Jesus should not be "extracted" from their families and culture (oikos, a Greek word for "house" or "household") but remain as "insiders", not just within the Muslim cultural milieu but also within the Muslim religious framework. It sees conversion as to Christ rather than to institutional Christianity, and thus believes there is no need for converts to make a cataclysmic shift into a foreign religious milieu. Insiders liken Muslim converts to New Testament Gentile converts who were not compelled to become Jews (to be circumcised) in order to be saved but could remain within their Gentile culture. Thus Islam is seen as analogous to pagan Gentile religious cultures. But Insiders also liken Muslim converts to New Testament Jewish converts who were not forced to become Gentiles but remained within their Jewish culture and religious framework (i.e. worshipping in the Temple and keeping some Jewish laws). In this case Islam is seen as analogous to Judaism with its God-given religious law.
Converts should continue to attend the mosque and to recite the shahada ("There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his apostle") and read the Qur'an alongside the Bible. On this view the Qur'an is one of a series of divine "God-breathed" books, and Muhammad is an authentic prophet of God who is to be praised for bringing the polytheistic Arabs to a monotheistic faith. As a result his example (sunna) and teaching are regarded as to some degree binding (including his teachings on Christ, the cross, the Bible, Christianity and Judaism). Insider Movement advocates accept a paradigm in which Ishmael is included in the covenant with Isaac as part of the "chosen people" of God. Muslims, as Ishmael's supposed descendants, are thus given a unique place in God's salvation plan. Kevin Higgins even posits the existence of an original Islam in the Qur'an that has been lost through the misinterpretation of orthodoxy. This core, he says, may be in close, if not complete, harmony with Biblical truth.
But in John 4:22 Jesus says to the Samaritan woman: "You Samaritans worship what you do not know, we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews" (NIV). Like Muslims today, the Samaritans claimed descent from Abraham and the patriarchs and divine sanction for their religious centre and their mode of worship. Yet the New Testament does not sanction their view, but stresses the uniqueness of the revelation to and the covenant with Israel through which God's salvation, effected in the divine Son of God, is offered to all humanity. While in the new covenant true worshippers are not bound to Jerusalem, the Temple and Jewish rituals, but can worship anywhere in Spirit and in truth, it is only through the unique Messiah Jesus that salvation is offered and only in the Church He founded as His body that fellowship is to be practised.
The Insider Movement encourages Muslim background believers to distance themselves from traditional Christian forms, but rather than returning to the New Testament paradigm, it at least implicitly endorses Muslim doctrines, rites and traditions, many of which were developed in conscious opposition to Christianity and the Bible. As a result its model leads to a marginalising of Christ, the cross, salvation, the Bible and the Church, leading to a weak and defective Christology, soteriology and ecclesiology. The Insider model's double analogy of Muslim believers with New Testament Gentile and Jewish converts is inconsistent. It also encourages syncretism among Muslim converts, which may lead them to drift back into Islam.
The mistake of the Insider Movement is in trying to establish a new and separate model for Muslim believers in Christ. Like all people, Muslims are saved simply by grace through faith as a free gift of God, not by works and the keeping of laws. But like other Gentiles, they are added to the Church of Christ composed of Jewish and Gentile believers. They do not constitute a separate entity. And like other believers from the Gentiles they must keep to New Testament prescriptions of a holy life according to God's will. This includes turning from idols to "serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath". (1Thessalonians 1:9-10)
Some forms of contextualisation are permitted to Christians. Thus Muslim background believers may retain cultural practices and religious rites that do not contradict Biblical truth so as to be more acceptable within their own culture. They may even claim to be culturally Muslim. But anything that denies the finality and deity of Christ, His sole position as God's final Apostle, Priest and King, or that denies the final authority of the Bible must be rejected. So believers from Muslim backgrounds must reject Muhammad as an apostle from God and the Qur'an as a word from God. Declaiming the shahada is wrong, as it ascribes divine authority to Muhammad.
Practitioners of the Insider Movement presume that Islam can be reformed from within by authentic Jesus movements. God's purpose, however, is not the reform of Gentile religious systems but the formation of a new community of true believers in Christ. To be capable of reform, Islam must be a form of Christianity, which it is not. While some analogies and some aspects of truth may be found within it and be used to win Muslims to Christ, they cannot form the basis of a true Christian community.
Some indigenous believers (also known as "MBBs", Muslim background believers, or "BMBs", Believers from a Muslim background) see the Insider Movement as a new form of paternalist imperialism in which Western missionaries are trying to convince their converts and other local Christians that the new paradigms are much better than anything they had been taught in the past. It appears to them that Westerners are again appointing themselves as arbiters in matters of non-western cultures and attempting to quarantine new believers, this time from Western culture.
Bassam M. Madany, a Syrian Presbyterian pastor, Arabic minister of the Back-to-God Hour (1958-94) and founder of Middle East Resources ministry, argues that most Muslim converts to Christianity in North Africa do not call themselves "followers of Isa", nor do they conform to the Insider Movement paradigm. They openly call themselves "masihiyin", the Arabic term for Christians, worship in a recognisably Christian format and are not ashamed of the cross as a symbol of their new faith. Most give as reasons for their conversion the cruelty of the Islamist terrorists fighting in the name of Islam during the Algerian civil war as well as Islam's discriminatory view of women. Madany concludes that the Insider Movement, while intending to be culturally sensitive, is actually rather imperialistic and hegemonic.
It should also be noted that many mission agencies are keeping secret their support for the Insider Movement, for fear that donors will stop giving to them in protest. Some of their missionaries also keep their identities secret, presenting themselves as ordinary foreign workers rather than as preachers of the Gospel. This apparent lack of integrity calls the Christian ethical basis of the Movement into question.
Finally, in these days of electronic media and open communication and discussion, we should be aware that Muslims are monitoring missionary conferences and reading missionary papers, including those that advocate extreme contextualisation and the Insider Movement. Here they may find reasons to accuse Christian missionaries of unethical conduct, lying and outright deceit. While much of their writing reflects traditional Muslim objections to Christian missions and exaggerates and distorts the truth, Christians should be concerned to avoid any appearance of evil and to present a credible, ethical, authentic and honest witness for Christ.
Areas of concern
The new evangelical enthusiasm for interfaith dialogue and accommodation with Muslims, and its missionary outworking in the Insider Movement, raise several major concerns.
The contemporary Church in the West is being cut adrift from its theological moorings, strand by strand. The value formerly placed on reason, debate, creeds and doctrines is increasingly dismissed as unimportant, particularly in the Western Protestant evangelical tradition. Instead, the Church has embraced postmodernism, and has defined the Christian faith in terms only of love and grace. These concepts now shape missiological approaches too. A faith that was once noted, particularly in the Islamic world, for its definite convictions is now being massively transformed.
The Protestant evangelical movement is faced with the further possibility of being engulfed by old heresies that are being given new life. The ancient heresy of Marcion has now re-emerged. Embracing only a gospel of grace, and thereby rejecting the wrath of God, is leading, as it did for Marcion, to a rejection of the Old Testament and ultimately of Israel as the elder brother, thereby producing anti-Semitism. Contemporary missiological leaders who accepted the Hizbullah representative's call for a new alliance between Christians and Muslims against Israel have effectively embraced Marcionism.
The heresy of Arianism has also revived. This heresy has surfaced again and again in Church history and is one that Islam, being unitarian, is well able to exploit. As the Church moves from its fundamental Christological base to a primary focus on the human Jesus and embracing the Muslim Isa, it embraces unitarianism with its focus on the one God. Unitarianism has been destructive of Christianity in times past. Will the Church be able to withstand such a re-emergence today?
In light of these theological trends, we believe that some evangelical Christians in the West, in their concern to forge peaceful relations with Muslims, may be implicitly accepting some aspects of Muslim theology. In particular the danger inherent in the Yale response to A Common Word, some evangelical endorsements of interfaith dialogue, and the Insider Movement is the implicit reducing of the Biblical Jesus to the status of the Qur'anic Isa, and the consequent reducing of Christianity to something compatible with Islam. Elements of the Muslim view of history and politics are also being endorsed.
Addressing and accommodating Islam without being aware of its belief-system, strategies and objectives is naive. The Christian desire for peace is sincere, but the Christian vision of peace is established when Christ rules in the hearts of people. The Islamic version of peace is realised when all people submit politically to Islamic rule. Theologically, we see Islam as contrary in important respects to God's covenant with Israel through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to the new covenant through our Lord Jesus Christ. Since its inception it has often attempted to stifle Christianity in its domains, and this process is still being actively pursued today in most Muslim states and societies. So in our view, while Muslims are loved by God and He wishes them to be saved, Islam is still hostile to the Gospel.
The commitment of some evangelicals to interfaith dialogue has led them to criticise others in their own tradition, and Christians outside it, who take a more cautious or sceptical view. Too often, we believe, these critiques have been inadequately grounded in either the Christian tradition or the contemporary context. Several examples could be given, but in this context one must suffice.
Rick Love (see above, page 20) is a leading evangelical participant in the dialogue movement. He invests much time and effort in Muslim-Christian dialogue events, and was a participant at the Yale conference:
I believe Muslim-Christian Dialogue is important. In fact this is the third Muslim-Christian dialogue I have attended in the last few weeks ... In addition, I have spent the last number of months working on the fourth dialogue I will be attending - the upcoming Common Word Dialogue to be hosted at Yale this July!
Love criticised the Pope for publicly baptising Magdi Allam, a prominent convert from Islam, on Easter Day 2008. Love agreed with negative Muslim comments on this event, such as those of Aref Ali Nayed, former Director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, who criticised "the Vatican's deliberate and provocative act of baptizing Allam on such a special occasion and in such a spectacular way ... It is sad that the intimate and personal act of religious conversion is made into a triumphalist tool for scoring points." Love comments:
I don't know the Pope's intentions, but I can certainly understand Aref Nayefd's comments, and I tend to agree with him.
He also seems to agree with the statement by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan: "The issue of the Pope baptizing Magdi Allam is not an issue of religious liberty; it is an issue of demonizing Muslims."
But baptism is Biblically and historically a public expression of the believer's identification with Christ. While in certain contexts it might be wise to perform a secret baptism so as to protect the convert, Love seems to go beyond that precautionary attitude and to be willing to subordinate a basic Christian rite and doctrine to Muslim perceptions. He also ignores the context of this special baptism, in which the Pope was responding to complaints by converts from Islam in the West that the Church was ignoring them and their plight and was not willing to offer them protection and refuge. It was an affirmation of Muslim converts and their right publicly to change their religion and live in security and peace.
As a result of some of these criticisms from within the dialogue movement the bonds of evangelical and Christian unity have at times been stretched quite painfully. While honest disagreements can and should be aired, the unity of the Spirit is not served by endorsing ill-informed non-Christian attacks on other Christians. To the extent that interfaith dialogue has tended to promote such attacks, its value to the Church must be seriously questioned.
The current evangelical practice of interfaith dialogue and accommodation threatens seriously to jeopardise evangelism, especially among Muslims. The only form of evangelism that can generally be tolerated by Islam is the "silent testimony" type traditionally pursued by Middle Eastern churches, which were forbidden to engage in any public display of their faith. Other forms are rejected as "aggressive proselytism". A strong commitment to overt evangelism is therefore perceived by some in the dialogue movement as a danger to good Christian-Muslim relations.
Even those evangelicals who would accept that evangelism remains a Christian imperative may still suggest that Muslim complaints about supposedly unethical Christian evangelistic methods are justified. For example, Rick Love affirms that evangelism and da‘wa are central to Christianity and Islam, but he suggests that "Da‘wa and evangelism should focus primarily on a positive presentation of what one believes, not on negative attacks on the other's faith". He quotes an Egyptian Sheikh who told him: "You must share your faith but don't attack Islam!" But while it is right to be sensitive to and respectful of Muslim sensibilities, such an approach would seem severely to limit the scope of evangelism among Muslims, as the proclamation of the Gospel and of the deity, Lordship and finality of Christ entails that Muhammad cannot be a true prophet and that Islam is at the very least an unnecessary religion. The Gospel is therefore inherently offensive to Muslims however it is presented, simply because Islam is a post-Christian religion.
The ethos of interfaith dialogue also discourages criticism of other religions and encourages participants only to focus on their positive features. But we must realise that calling Islam a religion of peace and tolerance while ignoring its core of violence and its anti-Christian ethos is not only false, and therefore dishonest, but also encourages Muslims with an interest in the Gospel to remain in Islam and strengthens Islamic institutions.
Christians in Muslim countries
In spite of all the goodwill shown over many years in the movement for dialogue with Islam, and more recently in the "Common Word" and Yale initiatives, the suffering of Christians in Muslim lands goes on unabated. Interestingly, it was while the Common Word letter and the positive Christian responses, including that from the Yale conference, were being published and discussed that Jordan, where the institute that produced the "Common Word" is located, expelled a number of expatriate evangelical Christians for allegedly being missionaries with the hidden agenda of proselytising and converting Muslims, and as a threat to national security. Jordanian evangelical pastors fear that locals will be targeted next if the pressure on foreigners is not challenged. At the same time Algeria changed its laws to provide a framework for the suppression of the Christian Church there, and Iran is in the process of passing new laws that may institute the death penalty for apostates. Persecution of Christians across the Muslim world is sadly not decreasing; interfaith dialogue does not appear to be helping them.
In fact we fear that the interests of Christians in Muslim lands and converts from Islam to Christianity may be being sacrificed in pursuit of peace with Islam. Moreover, if Christian involvement in dialogue comes to be perceived by Muslims as part of a Western plan to weaken authentic Islam, the implications for the persecuted Church could be even graver.
On 4 June 2009 President Obama gave a major speech in Cairo regarding relationships between the Muslim world and the West. He rightly and courageously addressed the issue of conversion, asserting the right of every individual to be free to choose their own faith, and called for respect and right treatment of minorities in Muslim countries. However, he also affirmed Islam, stated his intention to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear, and called for Muslims and Christians to engage now in interfaith dialogue and joint projects.
The President's speech will have major significance both for the Church in the Muslim world and for those ministering to Muslims. But although it has much to commend it, it illustrates another problem with evangelical involvement in dialogue: the possibility of manipulation by political and/or Islamic interests.
As we have seen, much of the initial impetus for the present dialogues came from Western governments and Muslim countries. The Yale conference and letter provide disturbing evidence that participating evangelicals are not engaging in critical analysis of the movement from within, but have implicitly accepted the policies of their governments and are allowing themselves (probably unconsciously) to be shaped by the Islamic agenda.
Many Christian leaders, including evangelical mission leaders, have little or no experience of geopolitical issues such as counter-terrorism and the appeasement or containment of Islam. Their laudable feelings of compassion, desire to stand up for the underdog and determination to do the right thing make them especially vulnerable to being used as pawns of Western government policy.
Many evangelicals, especially the missionaries among them, also find it difficult to live with the tension between love for Muslims as fellow human beings and meeting the challenge of Islam as an ideological, religious and political system. They have chosen to use interfaith dialogue and accommodation as the means of resolving that tension. But a Muslim analyst has claimed that Christian Westerners and Islamists understand dialogue differently. For Westerners, dialogue is a critical intellectual engagement to resolve problems; for Islamists dialogue is a bridge they can walk over (to further their goals).
To approach the dialogue process without this awareness, as some evangelicals seem to have done, is to run the risk of manipulation by international Islamic interests. We are concerned that some of the Muslim leaders involved in the Common Word project may be manipulating Christian naïveté and feelings of guilt to further the cause of Islamic da‘wa and Islamic hegemony, subordinate the Church to Islam, and fill the spiritual and moral vacuum in the West. Links between evangelicals, the far left and Islamist groups (see above, page 9) give particular cause for concern, especially in relation to the conflict in the Middle East.
An Agenda for the Church
In a globalised, shrinking world, and especially in contemporary Western multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, it will sometimes be necessary for Christians and Muslims, as good citizens, to have conversations and to cooperate for the common good of society in certain areas of concern. But such cooperation must never be at the expense of Biblical convictions in order to gain the goodwill of the Muslims involved. It must not assume the equal validity and moral equivalence of Islam and Christianity. Certainly it must never signify that Christianity is an archaic part of a superior Islamic tradition. There is also an urgent need for more theological reflection on the Biblical basis for joint, organisational Muslim/Christian enterprises before these are undertaken, in order to establish definite boundaries.
The love of Christ drives us to preach the Gospel to all, including Muslims, and it drives away all fear, including fear of Muslims. It follows that the Church should both fund and support evangelism to Muslims in many countries.
Christians engaged in dialogue should not be naive as to what is happening in the Muslim world or fail to support the suffering Church there. It must take seriously the plight of Christians in Muslim lands and that of converts from Islam to Christianity. Any dialogue with Muslims must address these problems and demand visible action rather than mere declarations of goodwill. Christians must also ensure that in common ventures with Muslims there is a clear understanding of equal commitments. Joint action should not serve only impoverished Muslims and ignore impoverished Christians.
The dangers of the political pressures in the dialogue movement must be fully realised. Christians should not offer themselves as pawns to powerful governments or parties aiming at purely political advantage. While Muslims endorse the unity of religion and state, Christians must always remember Christ's warning against such manipulation. (Mark 12:17)
The Church must preach love for all Muslims as human beings created in God's image and for whom Christ died. It should certainly not preach fear of Islam or hatred of Muslims. But it must also distinguish between Muslims and the religious-political system of Islam and recognise that Islamist terrorists (jihadists) are much more than a miniscule fringe group that has no legitimacy in Islam. The violence perpetrated by such groups is rooted both in the ideology of large contemporary Islamist movements and in the traditional, orthodox and classical version of Islam, especially its doctrines of jihad, da‘wa and dhimmitude, and also the law of apostasy, presented in the authoritative Islamic scriptures and commentaries. Most of the religious leaders represented in the interfaith dialogue process represent this classical form of Islam in its many local varieties. It follows that great discernment is needed when engaging in dialogue with official representatives of institutional Islam, as distinct from grassroots individuals.
Finally, in the continuing evangelical debate regarding the appropriate shape of Muslim-Christian relations transparency and integrity on all sides will be of critical importance. Participants need to know not only what each other are saying, but also what each other are intending (and not intending) to imply. Similarly, Muslim contributors to any form of discussion and dialogue should be assured that Christians will speak openly to them and not dissemble. We cannot expect respect from Muslims if we do not extend the same to them. Like Paul, we should renounce secret and shameful ways, not using deception or distorting the word of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)
© Patrick Sookhdeo March 2010
Jay Smith, "An Assessment of the Insider's Principle Paradigms" 
Towards the end of January 2009 I was asked by my mission board, the Brethren In Christ World Mission (BICWM) to attend the ‘Common Ground' Conference in Atlanta, a group promoting and teaching the ‘Insider' methodological model of evangelism to Islam. I was asked to assess its viability as a model for our mission work to Muslims living in a Middle Eastern country.
I knew something about the ‘model', which some have based on the C-5 category of the contextualization scale , due to my studies on contextualization at Fuller Seminary in the 1980s. Later on my colleagues and I tried a nascent form of contextualization in the late 1980s and early 1990s in a largely Muslim dominated West African country. We realized, however, that it caused a good bit of confusion, as some of our African Muslim friends felt we were being deceitful and dishonest, and trivialized what for them were time-honoured Islamic ‘identity codes' of practice and belief.
Since then, we have now moved to London, where, for the past 17 years, I have engaged in a highly public confrontational and polemical ministry engaging with the more radical elements within Western Islam, a methodology which is probably as far removed from that of the Insider Movement as one could imagine (possibly a negative C-5 on the contextual scale). Ironically, ‘Believers from a Muslim Background' (BMB) tell me that my model of evangelism is actually a truer form of contextualization, since, my forthright and public style is closer to the paradigm of what a religious man should be; one who is as willing to publicly go ‘toe to toe' with the best, and just as willing to die for what he believes...as are they.
The assessment below, therefore, needs to be read with that history in mind. I make no apologies; after working for over 27 years with Muslims, on three continents, and having taught others to minister with Muslims in over 20 countries, I come to the table with a good bit of experience, both contextual and eirenical, yet also confrontational and controversial, much of the latter in an hostile environment. I say this all up-front so that you know where I stand, and so you can better understand why I take the positions I do.
Concerning the Common Ground Conference itself; I was not invited, so I had myself invited; to which they finally relented, with the proviso that I was not permitted to say anything about the teachers nor the countries they represented. I can say, however, that they were quite an impressive group, all eloquent, mostly my age (40-50s), all white, very American, and all well groomed.
Security was tight, with only delegates permitted to enter the sanctuary. I was not sure why they felt it necessary, since we were in Atlanta; besides only those who had been invited could attend. What's more we were all Christians, vetted and so quite knowledgeable, but this was their conference, not mine.
It was a slick operation, keeping to time, with good technical facilities, and around 300 in attendance. I understand that they do these conferences regularly, and they mentioned that it will even be held in a Muslim country soon. All of this to say that the movement and their advocates are not an aberration, representing a fringe group, but seem to be increasingly popular, especially amongst the young. What's more, from the adulation expressed by those seated all around me at the conference, we should expect that this movement will become increasingly mainstream within Evangelical Christianity.
As to my assessment, I wanted to make sure that what I was assessing was true and accurate, and not simply my impression of what the Insider missionaries were saying. I have been misquoted and misunderstood by many who have critiqued my approach over the last 20 or so years, so am patently aware of just how easy it can be to be misconstrued and misrepresented. Thus, after the conference I wrote down what I believed were 16-17 of their core beliefs or principle paradigms and sent them to the leadership of that conference. They in turn (from what I understand) asked 4-5 of the primary leaders to go through the bullet points you see below, and respond to them as a group. Simultaneously, John Travis (a pseudonym), considered by many to be the ‘father of the Insider movement' also responded by personal e-mail with his reactions. Both the Common Ground (CG) and John Travis's responses are summarized below in blazing blue, while my assessment of their responses is in boring black.
As one might expect, upon receiving their replies I found that less than half of what I assumed were their core beliefs turned out not to be universal Insider principles or paradigms at all, since, as they state, there is a multiplicity of Insider opinions and practices. And there is the dilemma. How was I to assess something which not everyone could agree upon? What's more, much of what I thought I had heard at the conference in Atlanta they now considered either unimportant or irrelevant to their paradigm. Could it be that they were backing off some of what they said at the conference, knowing that I was now assessing them publicly, or had I and others simply miss-heard them? As one leading Christian intellectual stated, "The Insider proponents are just too slippery to pin down. Even when you quote them, they say that is not what they really mean! The movement is so fluid and vague in many ways that it raises many questions of credibility" [note: I have been asked not to give names or places by the leaders of the Common Ground conference. If there is a need to know whom I am quoting, feel free to e-mail me privately for further references].
With that in mind, let's nonetheless go into their responses, and then let me share with you my assessment of them.
(1) Insider: We [leaders representing the Common Ground, and John Travis] define "Insider" as "One who embraces Jesus, yet remains as a light in his ‘oikos' (household) so that as many as possible might be saved" (Matt 5:15).
Jay's Assessment: I had wanted the leadership to define what they meant by ‘Insider' here, but they declined, possibly because, as stated above, there are so many different definitions and practices within the movement. A recent definition calls it, "a popular movement to Christ that bypasses formal and explicit expressions of the Christian religion". To be more specific, an ‘Insider', as I understand it, is someone who considers Jesus as their ‘Lord' and ‘Saviour', yet who stays inside their culture (in this case their Muslim culture), inside their biological family (what they define as one's ‘oikos'), continues to call themselves a Muslim (as defined in Sura 5:111), therefore believes the ‘Shahada' (that God is one, and Muhammad is his prophet), continues to go to the mosque, attempts to pray five times a day, participates in the Ramadan fast, and some believe can go on the Hajj (pilgrimage). As one might imagine, there will be variations on this definition depending on whom you talk to and where they are ministering.
I will talk later concerning what they mean by ‘Jesus' in their above definition, and focus at this point on their reference to one's ‘Oikos', defined as one's biological Muslim family. There is nothing wrong with wanting to remain with inside one's own family and community, but not to the exclusion of one's greater family in Christ. I do question the use of ‘oikos' as simply one's biological relatives. Jesus very clearly redefines the family in Matthew 12:46-50, where, pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother". Do not those coming out of a Muslim background therefore have a stronger allegiance to those in their/our Christian culture or with their local Christian community, those who are their new ‘brothers and sisters in Christ' (as Christ defines it in Mathew 12), over and above their biological Muslim relatives, especially when they are being persecuted by their biological families, and so need the help of their near brothers and sisters in Christ?
‘As many as possible...' seems to be a strong impetus within Insider circles. In every conversation I have had with those who promote the insider model, at some point in the conversation the reference to numbers is introduced...suggesting that one of the primary reasons the Insider model is so attractive is due to the immense success of ‘believers' they are seeing in every country because of this model. I have heard anywhere from 100,000 to millions who have ‘come to Christ' thru this methodology; therefore, how could it be wrong; implying that "The ends justify the means". This is not only seductive (i.e. success is always attractive, regardless of the cost), but dangerous, as it leads to blindly adopting practices without looking at the long term consequences to those practices, not only to the world wide Christian community, but to the local ‘Christian' community as well, which the new believer may or may not participate in. Some of those costs and consequences I will talk about later on.
(2) Extraction: New believers should not be extracted from their Muslim families (their ‘Oikos'). Matthew 5:15 says to shine as a light in one's oikos. The dictum is actually ‘remain in'. The Holy Spirit will tell them some things that are okay. The point is that a believer is uniquely gifted by virtue of bloodline and upbringing to reach those of his natural Oikos. So our desire is to see this natural gifting used for the sake of the Gospel. The goal is for people to be salt and light in their ‘oikos'.
Jay's Assessment: Unfortunately, the above paragraph does not explain just how far the new believer must ‘remain' within one's oikos. For clarification, at the conference and in much of their literature the Insiders suggest that the new believer should continue to call themselves ‘Muslims', should continue to pray the five ritualistic Islamic prayers, go to the mosque regularly, and participate in the yearly fast. In other words, for all practical purposes, they should be seen publicly as a Muslim, and to continue doing so till they die, promising in some cases that they don't ever have to ‘leave Islam'.
This may not seem too alarming for some of us, at first glance, since in many C3-C4 ministries (which I adhere to), new converts are often encouraged to initially remain within their families as ‘secret believers', with the hope that at a more convenient time they will ‘come out' publicly as Christians, and therefore stave off any immediate persecution. What is problematic here is that most Insider proponents believe that remaining inside Islam, and calling oneself a Muslim is something that is not necessarily temporary, but permanent. There is much which needs to be questioned here, but that will be addressed later on.
Let's at this point look at the inference of ‘shining as a light' found in Matthew 5. In Matthew 5:15 it says, "Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house". I'm assuming that Christ here is speaking about the light of the gospel, evidenced by your ‘good deeds' (verse 16). Does not light confront darkness, and should it not therefore confront the darkness of Islam in one's family, which will bring about rejection, leading to extraction, and persecution by the family?
If that is so, then I wonder how ‘salt and light' can be construed to suggest acquiescing to a Muslim paradigm which already exists? If it confronts, then it stands against much in Islam which confronts the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, such as the ritualistic prayers, or the mosque, and the Rammadan fast, all of which I believe are rejections of those institutions modeled by Jesus himself. Perhaps, the Insiders are suggesting that these institutions are nothing more than benign practices, devoid of any spiritual overlay, which can be easily accepted, adopted and adapted within a Biblical framework...more about that later.
Returning to the problem of one's oikos; should not Matthew 5:15 be coupled with Matthew 10:35-37, which states very clearly that once we are Christ's disciples that we should expect to find a "son against his father, and a daughter against her mother...", and that "a man's enemies will be the members of his own household"? What this suggests to me is that our true family, as I have said previously, is no longer our biological relatives, but the new family we have in Christ Jesus, and that once one becomes a true believer, they should then expect to be "flogged", "arrested", "hated", "persecuted", and yes even "killed" (see Matt. 10:17-23) for being a ‘light to the world', which often in a Muslim context begins within the Muslim's biological family (their Oikos). There are many passages in the New Testament which propose extraction for the sake of Christ; Mark 8:34-38 or, 1 Corinthians 6:14-18 to name just two.
The early church assumed it as well. I'm not sure how the Insiders can read the story of the early church in the book of Acts, or the history of the first 300 years of Christianity (to say nothing of the last 2,000 years), and assume that extraction is to be avoided? Extraction was not only expected by Christ in Matthew 10, but was encouraged by the early church, and was the reason so many had to go into hiding. This extraction, due to new Christians being ‘salt and light' in their Oikos, caused much persecution, yet brought about some of the greatest stories we have of the courage and resolve of those who loved and sacrificed for their faith. In fact, I would venture to say that in the last 2,000 years, it was during those times of extraction, followed by persecution that the church has been at its strongest and has grown at its greatest; for it is then that new Christians have been forced to depend totally on their Lord to save and secure them, while refusing to acquiesce to the whims and desires of their own ‘oikos'.
A Believer from a Muslim Background (BMB) here in London, when he read the above asked, ‘What are [the insiders] saying to the hundreds of believers like me, who have obeyed Matthew 5:15, have refused to keep our faith in Christ hidden, or ‘under a bowl', have been ‘salt and light' to our families, have refused to compromise (i.e. claiming to be what we were not), and as a result have been persecuted for our obedience, tortured and some of us even killed; yet have a strengthened faith because of our extraction, which led to persecution, and now are blessed by the inclusion into a worldwide family?'
We will deal with this later, but I do wonder how new believers who do not extract from their Muslim families will then be involved with the world-wide Christian community? Not only will we not be able to identify them, they will feel threatened and alienated by most everything we do. I travel all over the world as a public speaker, and in every country I go I am overwhelmed by the love and care I receive unconditionally from my Christian brothers and sisters, a love which just won't be there for these Insider believers, due to their self-imposed isolation.
Furthermore, it seems that the Insider's primary concern is that their ‘new believers' be the agents to then bring others in the Oikos to Christ, thus the reason they ask them to stay in the family and retain many of the Islamic practices associated with Islam. Can this not be naive, by ‘putting the horse before the cart'? New believers in Christ are the most vulnerable to the seductions 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 (due to the constraints of an overwhelming Muslim family influence), the new believer can easily fall back into their old faith, and/or allegiances.
I have just returned from a Western country where a number of Western ‘Christian' couples have chosen to voluntarily join their local Muslim community as hidden ‘Christians' themselves. They have risen into positions of authority within this Muslim community, but, according to a Christian acquaintance, have now lost any view of Christ's divinity. If long standing Christians can so easily and quickly be seduced by the power of Islam, then why do we think the same will not happen to new believers?
(3) 7 Signs: It is one effective tool, of which there are others (i.e. shame/honor illustration is another). It has been field tested and is effective. It allows us to step into a Muslim's world dominated by the Qur'an. The 7 signs in skeletal form are found in the Qur'an. It is used primarily by the CG folks, but not necessarily by others.
Jay's Assessment: As is suggested here, it is really only one of many effective tools. It is similar to the ‘Chronological Method', popularized by New Tribes Mission in the last century, another tool which we used in West Africa to good effect, as it begins with the stories of the prophets in the Old Testament, and points to the sacrifice which is yet to come, which then leads to the Messiah who is Jesus.
My only concern, however, is that, unlike the Chronological Method, which starts with the Bible, the 7 signs tool begins with the Qur'an, and may inadvertently give undue authority to the Qur'an, unless it is used only as a ‘bridge' to then lead the Muslim to the Bible. I simply ask that in our zeal to bridge with the Qur'an we not give it undue authority, as it will make it more difficult later on to then be critical of it.
(4) Holy Books: We would say that the Tawrat, Zabuur, and Injil point to the Kingdom of God, while the Qur'an teaches a) Monotheism, b) against idolatry, c) Points to Jesus, d) Points to earlier books. Thus it can be used as a "stepping stone", a "candle" of light that shines toward Jesus and the Bible.
Jay's Assessment: Here is a case of moving the ‘goalposts' from what was stated earlier. In the Atlanta conference they implied strongly that, due to the areas listed above, the Qur'an was one of four authoritative ‘God breathed' books. In fact, there was an elderly female speaker whose adulation for the Qur'an bordered on incredulity. Having studied the Qur'an for 30 years she considered it almost divinely inspired, and so naturally found hundreds of parallels with the Bible; such as, ‘The incarnate Christ', whose Qur'anic equivalent, she believed was ‘al Baten', or the ‘inner one'. Consequently, she accepted that Jesus spoke from the cradle, because the ‘al Baten' certainly could, unknowingly crediting authority to the early apocryphal texts from which this story is sourced! (This anecdote is backed up by my notes as well as notes taken by two other missiologists at the conference, both with over 25 years experience in the Islamic world).
According to a study of C-5 believers carried out in 1998, 45 percent of the respondents said that they felt close to God when hearing the Qur'an read. Some 96 percent said that the Qur'an was a book revealed by God, along with the Torah, Zabur and Injil (three names of the earlier scriptures mentioned in the Qur'an), while 66 percent said that they considered the Qur'an to be the greatest of the four heavenly books. Above, however, the leadership only say it can be used as a ‘stepping stone' or ‘candle', which no-one would dispute. Until they come out clearly with what they believe concerning the Qur'an I cannot give a fair assessment.
One might ask whether we should ever use the Qur'an with our Muslim friends? The answer is certainly, but only as a point of clarification, due to the fact that it is their authority (i.e. pointing out where the Qur'an gives authority to the previous scriptures [Suras 10:94; 21:7; 29:49; 4:136; 5:45-46,68, similar to point ‘d' above], or to show them where even their revelation gives more authority to Jesus than to Muhammad [Suras 19:19-20; 3:46-49, etc..., similar to point ‘c' above]). At no time, I believe, should we assume that the Qur'an is our authority, or that we can find the ‘gospel' within its pages. Unfortunately, it seems that many Insiders, both at the conference, and in private discussions, do feel the Qur'an can be placed alongside the Bible as one of God's ‘inspired revelations'.
As I said above, in an attempt to accommodate our Muslim friends, there is always the danger of giving authority where it doesn't belong. In my doctoral studies, it has been made patently clear that the Qur'an is a fraud, written and compiled by men, with borrowed material from many apocryphal Jewish traditions and Christian Sectarian documents. Consider the below as simple examples:
(Note: The story of Cain and Abel (Sura 5:31-32), along with the story of the Raven (vs. 31) are taken from the ‘Targum of Jonathan-ben-Uzziah', while the blood of vs. 32 is derived from the ‘Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5'. The story of Abraham and the smashed idols, along with the fiery pit found in Sura 21:51-71 is taken from the ‘Midrash Rabah'. The story of Solomon and Sheba found in Sura 27:17-44, which includes the delightful story of the missing and talking hoopoe bird, and the mirrored floor is borrowed from the ‘II Targum of Esther'. When we look at New Testament parallels, the story of Mary-Imran-Zachariah found in Sura 3:35-37 is borrowed from the ‘Proto-evangelion's James the Lesser', while Jesus and the Palm Tree in Sura 19:22-26 is taken from 'The History of the Nativity of Mary and the Saviour's Infancy'. The account of Jesus talking as a baby, found in Sura 19:29-33 comes from ‘The first Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ'; while the reference to Jesus creating birds from clay, found in Sura 3:49 is borrowed from ‘Thomas' Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ').
It seems obvious to me that with so many borrowings from suspect sources, the Qur'an shares no place alongside our Bible as a holy book, and though certain ‘truths' can be found in its pages, as one can say for almost any other religious or secular book, to accommodate it on this level will at the least lead to appeasement, and at the worst to syncretism.
(5) Muslim Compliant Arab Bible: Mazhar Malouhi's user friendly ‘Muslim Compliant' Arabic translation has attempted to translate the meaning in a way that the message will speak to Muslims. He replaces references to God as ‘Father', changing them to: Allah, Rabb, Waliy, Al Aziz, Amri, Ruh Allah. We appreciate the difficulty in communicating the fatherhood of God in a Muslim context. The goal is to use meaningful terms for your audience, even if they are ‘Muslim compliant'.
Jay's Assessment: Yes, I would agree, the intent is fine; trying to contextualize the Bible for the audience it is intended for is perfectly legitimate, or finding a ‘dynamic equivalent' as an alternate is a practice which we do with all of our translations. The difficulty comes when you change the text itself, for the sake of a person's sensibilities, and in so doing give it a meaning the author never intended; that is not good exegesis, but ‘eisegesis'. This is particularly problematic when in attempting to ‘speak' to Muslims, Malouhi replaces references in the Gospels and the book of Acts to God as ‘Son' (‘Huios' in Greek, usually translated in Arabic as ‘ibn'), and changed them to ‘Habib' (beloved), or ‘sayyid ul bashar' (master of men).
Does this do justice to the original text, and will this not have implications for how we now explain the relationship between the first two persons of the triune Godhead, to say nothing of how we then apply that to the numerous applications of fatherhood/sonship used by Jesus in the gospels (i.e. "whoever denies the Son, denies the Father" 1 John chapters 2 and 4, and 3 John)? What about those of us who use the relational aspect of the Godhead as a model for our relationships within the family, community, fellowship, and the church? How can we explain them, once we have excised the model for this relationship from the text?
Lastly, how are we going to answer the accusation by so many Muslims today that we ‘change' the text of the Bible whenever we find a problem with it, and that is why it remains corrupted in their eyes? And just how far should we go in being compliant? In our haste to make the Bible relevant, should we then remove references condemning homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27 and create a "gay compliant translation", or remove all references to God for an "atheist compliant translation"?
As one long term missionary in a Muslim country recently stated, "[Muslim Compliant Translations - MCT] have caused a huge amount of headaches here...especially when displacing terms such as ‘Son of God' with ‘Representative of God'". Another missionary friend in a large Muslim country said that things seemed to have started off ‘well', but now the advocates of MCT's (mostly Western Missionaries) are now actually ‘fighting publicly' with those using traditional translations, and have decided to go ahead with their translation, despite the traditional churches objections, not realizing that the indigenous churches will have to bear the consequences of the missionaries actions!
(6) Biblical Exegesis:
a) Gen.16:12 = "Ishmael 'against' everyone", changed to "‘with' everyone" to accept Ishmael's line.
Explanation: "Against" is one of 21 possible meanings of the preposition "b-". The most commonly understood translation of ‘b-‘ would be "in".
b) Gen.17:18-21 = "Ishmael's blessing" proved his inclusion with Isaac as the chosen race.
-Isaac received the blessing of the covenant
-Ishmael received the promise of a blessing
-Isaac and his descendants are destined to be the agents of God's work
-Ishmael and his descendants are destined to be unique recipients of God's work
c) 1 Cor.7 = "Stay like" means Muslims stay in the condition that Christ met them; i.e. as Muslims.
Explanation: Culturally they remain, transformed by the Holy Spirit into their new nature, yet in their old Muslim culture.
d) 1 Cor.9 = Missionaries "Become like" means to be like Muslims.
Explanation: To ‘become like' as culturally as possible, but we are not insiders. We do not teach that Christian background folks should become Muslims. We strongly discourage missionaries from becoming Muslims, or from pretending to be Muslims.
Jay's Assessment: A common criticism I and others have had with the Insider proponents concerns their usage and application of scripture, especially when they use Biblical text in an attempt to find scriptural authority for their paradigm, and inadvertently go beyond what the author of that text intended. This is not proper exegesis, and can lead to a breakdown of scriptural understanding. Here are some examples I have trouble with:
a) Gen. 16:12 = To say Ishmael will be ‘with' instead of ‘against' his brothers seems highly improbable. Now I am not a Hebrew scholar, but I wonder why no other popular translations agree with the IM's rendering? We probably need the Hebrew scholars to help us here. A good definition, however, of what the writer is referring to as one's ‘brother' can possible be found in Deuteronomy 17:15, where it is clear that a ‘brother' must be a ‘brother Israelite', which precludes Ishmael.
b) Gen. 17:18-21 = If the Insider proponents believe Ishmael is to be blessed equally with Isaac, and that there was no scripture which kept them out of the promises given to Isaac, then I would suggest they look just a few chapters later, at Genesis 22:2,12,16, where three times God refers to Abraham's "one and only son Isaac", knowing full well that Abraham had two sons at that time. This suggests that as far as God was concerned he considered Isaac uniquely to be the son of promise, and not Ishmael. They might also want to consider Galatians 4:23-25; 28-31 where Paul eloquently compares the two covenants, that of Sarai (the free woman) and Hagar (the slave woman from Arabia), stipulating that we are to be a part of the free woman's covenant, and that we are to have nothing to do with the slave woman's son (i.e. Ishmael). So, ironically, borrowing the Insider's paradigm, this would mean that we were to have nothing to do with the Muslims, who, they believe are of his line.
c) 1 Cor.7:17-24 = The problem with "staying like", or remaining in Islam is that Islam is both a religion and a culture, and to stay in it then takes on all the religious connotations, as well as its spiritual power (more about that later). Paul in these verses certainly would not suggest that Gentiles should ‘stay' as pagan worshippers in their local temples (or mosques), but speaks specifically of newlyweds staying in their station in which Christ found them, i.e. their job or position in society.
d) 1 Cor. 9:19-23 = I believe the Insiders have interpreted this above portion correctly, and thankfully state that they themselves should not become like or even pretend to be like Muslims. Later, in #9, however, they say some of their missionaries do become like Muslims (i.e. borrowing Muslim forms, which I will speak to later). I trust they don't publicly claim to be Muslims. Nonetheless, the problem may come when they are asked by Muslims, or even new believers who they then are? If they do not claim to be Muslims, yet they ask their ‘Muslim believers' to remain and call themselves Muslims, will not someone see this as odd, or confusing, or even possibly disingenuous?
I found that at the conference in Atlanta, very few attendees questioned these interpretations of scripture, possibly because there was no platform for them to do so, or because they themselves did not know scripture that well. If the Insider proponents want to be held credible, they are going to have to take these interpretations and hold them up to public scrutiny, outside of the comfort of their conferences. I would suggest that they write up their interpretations of these verses in journals where bona fide Biblical scholars can assess whether they are indeed interpreting these scripture correctly. My impression is that they come to the scriptures with an agenda, and then look for those verses which they believe will back up or substantiate this agenda. This is unhelpful and perhaps even dishonest. Many cults have worked on that principle, to disastrous effect. I hope this is not the case here.
(7) Muhammad: New believers, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, are given the freedom to come to their own conclusions concerning the role that Muhammad played in their lives.
Jay's Assessment: By giving tacit approval in the above statement, they are saying that they do believe Muhammad is capable of prophet-hood. In the CG notebook they go even further, stating, "My own judgement is that I see Muhammad as an authentic prophet of God, even though like other prophets after the time of our Lord, neither morally perfect nor doctrinally infallible."
Like #4 above, here is another case of saying one thing at the conference and in their hand-out, then pulling back to a more neutral stance once they are held accountable publicly. Once a person admits to Muhammad's prophethood publicly they are agreeing with the ‘Shahada', which is often used as a ‘litmus' test concerning a person's allegiance to Islam, and thus is a clear ‘identity marker' for all Muslims. Many Christians can repeat the first part of the Shahada: "la ilaha illallah" (‘There is only one God but God [Allah])'; it is the second part which becomes problematic, ‘and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah'. It is this statement which any convert to Islam must say, and all Muslims before entering Mecca during the Hajj must repeat.
I certainly would not say the Shahada in its entirety, not only because I don't believe it, but because of its significance to Muslims. One must not trifle with such identity markers, nor impose our interpretations on them, as they are foundational for one's faith, and to do so will not only foster confusion, but be seen as disingenuous, and lead to anger.
To even suggest that Muhammad is a legitimate prophet opens the Insider movement up to a host of questions. To assert the shahada is to embrace Muhammad's life and example as 'of God'. Yet Muhammad opposed (even hated) the cross, denied the deity of Christ, and advocated many acts which Biblical morality would reject, as they were evil. To 'sign' one's assent to his prophethood is to submit spiritually to his example, and to endorse his rejection of Christ. It is not up to individuals from outside this tradition to redefine what this example and teaching mean.
What true prophet, following the time of Jesus would be permitted doctrinal fallibility concerning the nature of Jesus? Take for instance Muhammad's supposed revelation, the Qur'an, where in Sura 4:171 Jesus is considered only a messenger, not one of three, and not the son of God; or Sura 5:116 where one finds a confused notion that he and Mary should not be worshipped alongside God.
More worrisome, what true prophet would ever suggest that Jesus did not die on the cross, and state that another man was given his image, implying he took his place (Sura 4:157); denying in one sentence what is perhaps the greatest act in the history of mankind, to say nothing of the fact that if this were true, then we and all of humanity are still damned for eternity?! If Muhammad doubted Jesus' divinity (as every Muslim exegete for the last 1400 years has attested), and denied both the crucifixion, and the Atonement (likewise attested), then how can the Insider Movement proponents even suggest he is a prophet by simply stating he ‘pointed to Jesus', and then, as we'll see later, impose their own interpretation on Qur'anic text to support such dubious conclusions?
We also have to be honest about the negative aspects of Muhammad's life (i.e. his convenient revelations, aggressive wars, the treatment of the Jews in Medina, and the numerous caravan attacks in Surah 9:1-5; 9:29; 8:39, as well as the ‘Maghazi' documents [battle campaigns] within the Sira tradition). What should we do with Muhammad's multiple wives (Sura 33:50) in contrast to the Qur'anic allowance of only four (Sura 4:3), or suggesting Zayd, his adopted son, divorce his beautiful wife Zainab so that he could then marry her himself (Surah 33:36-37)...and the list could go on.
What is more problematic, from a Biblical perspective Muhammad does not qualify in any of the four Biblical criteria required to attain the office of prophet; namely 1) he was not in the prophetic race (i.e. via Isaac's line); 2) he did nothing to prove he was a prophet (i.e. neither a miracle nor a prophecy); 3) his revelations contradicted previous and later Biblical revelations (especially concerning Jesus Christ); and 4) he never knew the personal name of the God he was supposedly representing (Yahweh), though this is clearly shown in scripture as God's personal and eternal name (Exodus 3:14-15), a name every true prophet knew, and the name even Jesus appropriated for himself in John 8:58. As far as I'm concerned, we must not acquiesce on this point, but follow the dictum clearly stated by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:20 "...a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death".
(8) Christian Forms: Christian traditions and creeds ARE later accretions by definition. Yet, the Western expression of the Church with, "creeds & structures, baptism and the word trinity" is just as valid as any other form that God is using to reconcile people to Himself through Christ. However, where extra-biblical forms create a barrier which is keeping people away from reconciliation with God, they should be considered optional. The point is not that X-tian traditions/creeds can or should be simply replaced with Muslim ones. The point is that the Bible is our standard and not the traditions. Let the Bible be the creed and source of theology, rather that extra-Biblical terms like ‘trinity', which are part of Christian denominations. Muslims don't have to go thru Christianity, but Christ alone.
Jay's Assessment: There is a growing desire in Western Christianity to move away from the traditions of the church, and return to a purer Biblical paradigm. The Emergent church is reflective of this move, and I recognize the attraction. The Insider paradigm seems to borrow from this new tradition, and certainly owes much to it.
I wonder, however, if in our desire to get back to the fundamentals we too easily jettison 2,000 years of practice and tradition, most, I firmly believe, founded in scripture, modelled on Christ's example, and motivated by the Holy Spirit. To then, in one generation, move away from the creeds of the church, belittle the need for baptism, or suggest the word ‘trinity' is unhelpful, and then be replaced by seeming ‘dynamic equivalents' from a faith which from its very inception has been in competition with, and I believe a rejection of Christianity, is not only naive, but sparks of arrogance, and Western intellectual imperialism.
(9) Muslim Forms: (mosque, the Salat prayers, the Rammadan fast, the Qur'an) Muslim forms with transformed meaning can become ways of practically living out Jesus' commands to wholeheartedly love God and selflessly love one another. As the "perfect insider" Jesus used some of his culture and religion, he transformed the meaning of aspects of his culture and religion, and he threw some out. We should not quickly condemn nor absolve a particular form but we need to test it in its context to see its true nature. The CG team has always been very involved in spiritual warfare, deliverance, and freedom in Christ issues. When the meaning of forms are transformed by the Spirit of God they can become helpful and empowering. Some Insider Missionaries have become like Muslims (i.e. dress, vocabulary, lifestyle, even going to the mosque). They can continue using forms meaningful to them.
Jay's Assessment: Following on from the discussion above, in an attempt to divorce themselves from an accretion of 2,000 years of ‘Christian' forms, the CG and IM (Insider Movement) people have decided it perfectly acceptable to adopt and adapt an accretion of 1400 years of ‘Muslim' forms, which even they accept are neither Qur'anic, nor reflective of the prophet Muhammad's example. Why reject one set of forms, which I would suggest are modelled on a Biblical understanding of Christ's example, yet, deemed insufficient by CG proponents, and then turn around and adopt another set of even more inadequate forms? At least the Christian forms are an attempt at being Biblical. The Islamic ones from the outset have intended to be anti-biblical, anti-Jewish, and anti-Christian. Jesus, the ‘perfect Insider' could be so because the culture and religion from which he borrowed was deeply ingrained in Biblical forms, over which he applied Biblical meanings. The same cannot be said of Islamic forms.
What's more, many of these Islamic forms the Insiders are borrowing cannot so easily be publicly imbued with Christian meaning, at least not by Muslims who are knowledgeable and aware. One simply cannot call oneself a ‘Muslim', and then go to the mosque as one, hoping that the true Muslim will accept their (the Insider's) imposed meaning on them, anymore than if a Muslim did the same in reverse, forcing his view of Christianity on us. Not only would the true Muslim have something to say about it, but once they understood what was intended, will see this as nothing more than deceit, and what's more a threat to their whole identity. We cannot ourselves, as outsiders, create the meaning for the term ‘Muslim', anymore than we would let them delineate who is a ‘Christian'. To do so, once again, suggests arrogance, coupled with Western intellectual imperialism.
Finally, the Insider proponents make the point that "some Insider Missionaries have become like Muslims". Are they then endorsing this practice; because earlier in section #6 they seemed to repudiate such a notion. They need to be clearer on this point. Nonetheless, if "extraction" is not biblical and therefore wrong as they argue, how then can it be right for the missionaries to be "extracted" from their own "oikos" and become like Muslims? In practice, if everyone were to remain an "insider" there would be no mission. In fact, if the early Church had remained an insider movement, a Jewish Sect, there would have been no World Christianity today for there would have been no way to fulfil the Great Commission.
(10) Spiritual Power: There is no intrinsic spiritual power imbued in Islamic Forms (the Mosque, ritual prayers, fast, etc...). We would underline intrinsic. Similar to meat sacrificed to idols, the spiritual power which is present in Islamic Forms is dependent upon the faith / belief / conscience of the practitioner. This can be glorifying to God or maintain a bondage to demons. As in any forms in any religion (including Christianity), there can be demonic bondage.
Jay's Assessment: After more than a quarter century working with Muslims, I am convinced that there is a spiritual control which pervades this religion, imbuing its forms with a spiritual power, manifested routinely by their absolute conviction to its seeming truths. What other religion creates such utter fanaticism to its causes, and can send so many to their deaths. At the centre of this growing religion sits the mosque, the ritualistic prayers, the fast, even the public reading of Qur'anic verses, all of which have never changed in 1400 years, and which, I believe, must not be adopted but resisted, and yes even abolished, because of the spiritual control they have over those from ‘inside'.
When I talk to believers from a Muslim background (BMBs) here in London, and ask whether they can or should adopt or retain their former Muslim forms in their religious practices, they cringe in response. They understand something I believe many of us in the West are simply incapable of understanding, that many of these forms are imbued with spiritual power and have an evil and controlling influence which stretches back for generations, and often take much prayer to be released from.
As I travel and talk to missionaries in the Muslim world this area of concern, the immense spiritual control Islam has over its practices and its adherents is being voiced with increasing frequency, with growing numbers now spending the majority of their ministry in praying for release from the demonic and spiritual domination of Islam. We should therefore be careful before pronouncing judgement, suggesting they are simply benign, unwittingly trivializing something few of us outside of Islam have ever experienced, and even more cautious in naively adopting them either for ourselves or for the new believers.
(11) Contextualization: (1 Cor 15:3,4) This is the way in which the Gospel is presented. We allow meaning of forms to be transformed to bring them into accord with the rule and reign of Christ (under the law of Christ - 1 Cor. 9:21). We are not afraid of participation in some Muslim religious forms. Our principle is to follow Christ's example (1 Thess. 2:3). In practice, some Insider missionaries do this...some do not.
Jay's Assessment: I commend the CG people for contextualizing the gospel within every culture, including that of South East Asia, and now the Middle East. Most missionaries from a C-3 and C-4 paradigm do the same all over the world. What I caution is the prevailing CG view that all South Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures are necessarily and uniquely Islamic, assuming that the culture cannot be separated from the religion (i.e. to be an Arab or a South East Asian is to be a Muslim). While Islam has dominated these cultures for, in some cases, up to 1400 years, there was and still is a secular, or previous religious (even in some cases Christian) culture which existed long before Islam arrived, and which still exists today. In our haste to contextualize we may be jumping too quickly into adopting Muslim forms, without first asking whether there are existing secular or even Christian cultural equivalents which can be used, or are already being used by the existing indigenous secular, and/or Christian minorities in those cultures. Have not indigenous Christians also been adapting what they believe is Christ's example within their own culture, for over 2,000 years, and should they not be first consulted before adopting forms deemed by them synonymous with a faith which has persecuted them for 1400 of those years?
Furthermore, the CG proponents claim they are following Christ's example. But they themselves argue that Jesus was an Insider and that he stayed within Judaism and Jewish culture. If they were true in following His example, then there should be no contextualization. If it is unbiblical for non-Western believers to take on Western traditions, how can it be right for Westerners like the Insider Movement leaders to then take on Islamic traditions? You can't have it both ways and be intellectually honest.
(12) Kingdom of God: This is the central theme and message of Jesus Christ in the New Testament; the good news of the kingdom of God. Our commitment is to bring an unencumbered, pure gospel to Muslims. All men seek it first and enter it without any reference to a religious form or denominational creed. The rule and reign of God is broader than religious labels. Salvation is through Christ and entering his kingdom, and not through the joining of a particular "religion."
Jay's Assessment: I like the idea of coming directly to the Kingdom, unfettered with any cultural or religious overlay. I have difficulty, however, believing that Christianity and Islam (as symbolized by the two small circles above) are equally inadequate interpretations of that Kingdom. How can anyone take Islam's track record (i.e. the violence towards other faiths, towards women, and towards minorities), all of which can be sourced in their primary revelations (the Qur'an and the traditions), and best modelled by the prophet Muhammad; and compare it with the track record of Christianity (i.e. our paradigm of peace towards our enemies, the care we show for the widows and the orphans, and our charity to the poor, the oppressed, and the strangers in our midst), all of which likewise can be sourced in our primary revelation, the Gospel, found in the New Testament, and modelled by Jesus Christ himself? Have we become so cynical and so apologetic that we believe the witness and testimony of the Christian Church around the world is no better than that of Islam?
While recognizing that there may be unbelievers within the visible Church who do not witness the gospel correctly, what ground is there for condemning the entire visible church as being as ungodly, as unbiblical, and equally distant from the Kingdom of God as Islam is, or the followers of any other major religion, which seems to be implicit in this diagram.
Furthermore, what then would the CG and IM proponents suggest makes up this ‘kingdom of God', which is so much greater than that which we already have within the church body worldwide? Is it not rather audacious that they somehow know better what that kingdom is, than the more than 2 billion body of believers worldwide, or that they in the last 15-20 years have found what 2,000 years of Church theologians, pastors, priests and practitioners have not? Too often I find this ‘knee-jerk' cynical attitude towards the 21st century church disturbing, as it suggests gross political correctness, based on a strong post-modern critique which is increasingly infecting the American church.
It is not difficult to see that once this cynicism invites mistrust to the very foundations of our faith and practice, it's a simple step to then stride willingly into adopting the ‘romanticized' structures of Islam, not realizing that the very cynicism which brought about this mistrust is hopelessly incapable of guarding us from its dangers. The result; soon Islam, and not Christianity becomes the ‘new' Kingdom of God; and those who are its purveyors become almost evangelistically nativistic in their fervour, so that traditional Christians and Muslims alike are confused as to who they are talking to; resulting in the creation of a new ‘sect', what one might call ‘Chrislam'. Is this then what the IM proponents hope is their new ‘Kingdom of God'?
Finally, what about intergenerational transmission, that which will be passed on to the next generation? It has been documented that after the Islamic conquests in the 7th-8th centuries, some Christian communities gained permission to convert to Islam as 'insiders' - i.e. Christian followers, by simply repeating the ‘shahada'. This was to avoid paying the jizya tax, and all that this represented. In time these communities all disappeared, as their children were trained by the Imams, and inevitably lost contact with their former communities and co-religionists. What have the IM proponents put in place as their intergenerational strategy to keep this from happening with their new believers?
(13) Water Baptism: Confession of our relationship to Christ is central to the faith of the new believer. Water baptism and circumcision were both rituals in the Jewish community. Circumcision proved to be a tremendous barrier to the natural expansion of the gospel, and was internalized to be "circumcision of the heart". "What decision would the early church have reached had the Gentile revulsion been against water immersion instead of circumcision?"
Jay's Assessment: The analogy with Circumcision in this instance is incorrect. Circumcision was a public Jewish ‘identity marker' which no longer was needed in the first century Church, due to a fulfilment of all it signified in Christ Jesus, whereas water Baptism was introduced by Christ (Matthew 28:19) specifically as the new public identity marker. Baptism is a clear public statement that the believer is now dying to their old life and arising with Christ. There are some missionaries who are toying with ‘dynamic equivalents' which would be more adaptable for their environments, and I support their efforts.
What disturbs me here, however, is that the CG and IM people imply a complete renunciation of a primary Christian institution, and for many a sacrament of the church, jettisoning it out of a revulsion for, and a natural barrier to, the gospel. If public baptism brings about persecution; and it will (since for most Muslims it is the act of baptism which publicly acknowledges that one is leaving Islam), then, I can only assume that for the insiders, the solution is to discard it along with the other Christian forms, to accommodate the sensibilities of our Muslim friends. Should that ever be the motivation for renouncing a Biblically mandated sacrament? What, then, are they suggesting as a replacement?
How far will this accommodation go, and what will be retained (in this new Kingdom of theirs) which will be recognizable as a Biblically inspired ‘kingdom of God'?
(14) Christ's Divinity: The focus of the new ecclesia's is to ‘congregate' together for fellowship, and obey Jesus Christ, trusting Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Jamaats may simply be the people of God living and interacting together in community for prayer and reading the word, and not just once a week meetings.
Jay's Assessment: While I have little difficulty with dropping the name ‘church' and replacing it with ‘Jamaat', or any other name deemed appropriate (providing Muslims understand who we are and what we mean by this name), I do question the criteria needed to qualify as a new believer in the Jamaat. What do the Insiders mean by ‘Lord and Saviour'? Most Muslims I know consider a Lord as anyone in authority, and a Saviour the function of all prophets, though they would not include salvation from sin (a criteria hardly mentioned in any of the writings or speeches by the CG group). I would prefer a clear pronouncement that Jesus is indeed God incarnate, co-existent with God the Father, and God the Spirit. The Romans 10:9-10 passage demands that we must recognize Jesus as Lord; yet in the context that lordship definitely includes divinity. Somewhere there has to be a clear public recognition that Jesus is God, pure and simple. For me, that is the ‘Shibboleth' which proves the believer indeed knows the true Jesus of the Bible, and not simply the ‘Isa' of the Qur'an.
(15) Conversion: "proselytos" only refers to Gentiles becoming Jews. "epistrophe" (Acts 15:3) literally means to turn towards and "aparche" literally means first fruit. Neither necessarily implies changing one's religion. Our point is that the English translation falsely gives the impression that faith in Christ is connected with conversion (changing religion or denomination) and has an inflammatory implication for those of a Muslim background who are considering becoming followers of Christ.
Jay's Assessment: Whether you are changing from a gentile to a Jew, or from Islam to Christianity, or from Christianity to the ‘Kingdom of God', or even from traditional missionary methodologies to the Insider model, you are nonetheless changing one's allegiance from one set of beliefs/practices to another. Call it conversion, reversion, or whatever you like; it still requires a mind and heart change. To deny it because it is inflammatory to Muslims misses the point. Conversion to any belief or faith always has inflammatory implications, especially when the act implies that the faith one is leaving has proven inadequate, and inferior to that which they are accepting. To separate Christian conversion from visible Christian community is to separate two things which "God has joined together".
Furthermore, if conversion does not mean changing one's religion, then why bother with missions? Why not simply leave everyone in their respective religious traditions? Witness is about calling people (Romans 10:14-15). When you call someone the response includes going to answer the call, and the going means leaving one spot for another. To become a Christian does not necessarily mean being extracted from one's family, but it is a call to become part of a bigger, extended spiritual family. Paul ends vs 15 by saying, "how beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news". May we all walk proudly with ‘beautiful feet'.
(16) Quarantine: New Muslim believers are ‘guarded' from those western traditions that have nothing to do with the message of Jesus. We guard the new Muslim believer from those who "trouble those turning to God" and who "make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the new disciples" (Acts 15). If the new believer is "branded" Christian by the unbelieving community, the label, not the message becomes the primary obstacle for spreading of the gospel. It is therefore important to keep people separated for a period of time.
Jay's Assessment: There is wisdom in initially keeping the new convert or believer hidden, as a secret believer, a practice common to many missionaries in Muslim lands, due to the persecution which will befall them if they announce their belief in Christ too publicly or too quickly.
This idea of ‘guarding' them from any unhealthy Western traditions, however, sparks of political correctness, and drives a wedge between the western churches and believers (which I'm sure also includes all non-Muslim background churches). It will lead to isolation, and eventually, if not controlled adequately, to syncretism, and possible heresy. Will those of us in the worldwide church, due to such ‘guarding' and resultant isolation, even recognize them as fellow believers, or enjoy fellowship with them? If this quarantine continues, will the Insiders have not merely created a sect within Islam of those who love Christ, yet remain within and under the authority of established Islam, as I mentioned before, a sort of "Chrislam"?
Furthermore, I wonder what they mean when they say they are "guarding" new believers from western traditions that have nothing to do with the message of Jesus? Do they mean that these traditions have nothing to do with the message of Jesus, or that they are merely Western? If it is that they have nothing to do with the message of Jesus, then what do Islamic traditions (in which they are seeking shelter for the new believer) have to do with the message of Jesus? Islam is not a context that promotes long-term spiritual health and growth. Once again the Insider proponents on the one hand pretend to be champions of local culture and therefore champions of contextualization, while simultaneously demonizing their own local culture.
(17) Persecution: We believe persecution is Biblical, necessary and helpful. One's commitment to Christ and the cross should be the source of persecution. Jesus said we must love him more than any family member (Lk. 14:26). This applies in all cultures, including America. But loving Christ more does not always imply becoming a traitor to them or offending them. On the contrary, we are taught to honor all men 1 Pet 2:17, including our parents. If persecution is because we desire to live a godly life in Christ (2 Tim. 3:12) then so be it. If persecution is because of our rudeness, dishonoring of parents, etc., then it is not persecution for Christ.
Jay's Assessment: This is a hard one to tackle, for two reasons. To begin with, every Insider proponent I meet bristles at the suggestion that this movement is designed to stave off persecution, and so they emphasize emphatically that their entire paradigm is based not on preventing persecution, but on preventing extraction from the Oikos, or Muslim family structure. I've already dealt with the problems of defining a true family earlier, and the biblical injunction that we should expect, and even welcome extraction. What I ask here is whether deep down there is not really a fear of persecution, which is a common fear, evidenced by the entire church worldwide when dealing with Islam. Let's admit it and move on, since I believe this might just possibly be a subtle motivating factor for the whole Insider paradigm, though I'm sure I will be publicly castigated for even suggesting such a motivation.
Secondly, and more problematic...what will the reaction be of true Orthodox Muslims worldwide to the Insider movement, once they find out what they are doing to their religion, to their scriptures, to their God, and to their prophet (i.e. taking these sacrosanct religious identity codes and imposing their own meanings on to them, without their permission)? I don't mean the kind of ‘benign' Muslims the Insiders have met thus far; but the kind of Muslims I work with here in the UK, those who passionately and publicly define themselves by the very ‘identity codes' now being adopted by the Insiders (i.e. calling themselves Muslims, though they impose their own meaning to it; attending the mosque without applying the category of worship to Allah assumed by most Muslims; practicing the ritualistic 5 daily prayers, yet not praying to the Qur'anic Allah, but to Isa, which is an aberration to true Muslims)? Will the traditional Muslims not feel deceived, possibly threatened, and certainly angered?
And should we blame them; for would we not feel likewise if the same were done to us, in our churches, by Muslims posing as Christians, reading from our Bible, yet imposing their own interpretations on it; suggesting that Jesus never claimed to be God, or that he really didn't die on the cross, and that certain Biblical verses pointed to a final prophet yet to come, the ‘paracletos', better translated as ‘Ahmad', or Muhammad?
The traditional Muslim, once they understood our agenda, wouldn't be as benevolent as those of us who are proud to be called a ‘Christian' in public yet find fault with this movement on so many levels. They wouldn't simply write an assessment of it, as I have done here; no, their response would indeed be much stronger, more physical, and include public persecution, possibly greater than that reserved for apostates.
I posed this question to a missionary going to the Middle East as an Insider, and his response was to point his finger at me and say ‘I rebuke that thought'...not much of a defence, nor much of a consideration of where this Insider game could possibly lead; all of which is rather worrying indeed.
In conclusion, let me say two things. First, may I remind the proponents of the Insider paradigm of an oft repeated accusation we level at many Muslim apologists today, the practice of dissimulation, or ‘Taqiya', defined as "Concealing or disguising one's beliefs". Is this not what IMers are practicing, or asking new believers in Christ to practice? Is this really how we want the world to know us as, and does it fit the example and practice of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Secondly, and finally, there is a deep ethical issue for Insider proponents concerning accountability and reporting back to the Christian churches which fund their ministries. These movements, and their proponents, under the guise of security are often NOT forthcoming and accurate in reporting what they do to their financial supporters back in their home countries. I am surprised just how little churches and even families in the West know about this movement, and yet, despite this ignorance continue to fund it.
In summary, I leave below a set of concluding queries which I would like the Insider proponents to answer:
- Let's be clear, should not the true family of Christ take precedence over our biological family?
- Are we not challenged by Matt.5:15 to confront the darkness within our biological Muslim family, rather than to acquiesce to its model?
- If, when we do challenge, should we not expect and even welcome the resulting persecution, which has emboldened the church for the last 2000 years?
- Should we expect new believers to be the best agents for reaching out to their families, especially while they are such ‘babes in Christ', and therefore the most vulnerable to Islam's pernicious spiritual power and control?
- In giving undue credit to the Qur'an, will we not then find it difficult to move away from that which we have inadvertently given authority to?
- When faced with the fraudulent borrowings within the Qur'an, should we then put it alongside our own scriptures as a possible ‘holy book'?
- Can CG and IM proponents not see that Muslim Compliant translations of the Bible not only do an injustice to that which the author originally intended, but justify the accusation by Muslims that we change our Bible whenever we find it advantageous to do so?
- If we extricate the Fatherhood of God and the sonship of Jesus Christ from the Bible, how then will we explain the unique modelling of fatherhood and sonship which we now enjoy within the Christian family?
- In their attempt to include the ‘sons of Ishmael' within the covenant, uniquely reserved for the ‘sons of Isaac', do not Insiders ‘eisegete' certain scriptures, which tortures the text, and can lead to greater problems later on?
- Won't imposing our own agenda on scripture (i.e. ‘staying like', or ‘remaining in' Islam, taken from 1 Cor. 7:17-24) not only do injustice to that scripture, but stand it against so many other verses which refute it?
- What's more, if we ask the believers to remain in Islam, but then chose not to do so ourselves, will that not create confusion to not only the new believers, but the larger Muslim community?
- How can we suggest that Muhammad is a legitimate prophet, when so much of what he did and said goes diametrically against the example of earlier prophets, or the example of Jesus himself?
- Since Muhammad does not fulfil the four criteria of prophet-hood stipulated in the Old Testament, how then can we accept his him as one?
- How, for the sake of our Muslim brother's sensibilities, can we so easily jettison 2,000 years of questioning, debating, and coming to conclusions on how best to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then quickly and simplistically replace them with Muslim forms which not only contradict these traditions, but in some cases stand in direct opposition to the gospel message?
- If we believe that Christian forms are examples of later Western cultural accretions, then is it wise to simply adopt equally later cultural Muslim accretions as adequate substitutes?
- Is it right for those of us in the West to so easily dismiss the intrinsic spiritual power of Muslim forms, when in doing so we dismiss the very real fear our BMB brothers have for them?
- In our haste to adapt and adopt Muslim forms, may we not be neglecting other better and more dynamically acceptable secular or Christian cultural forms which exist in those cultures?
- Should we be so cynical to suggest that traditional Islam and traditional Christianity are equally inadequate representations of the ‘kingdom of God'? Certainly after 2000 years of trying to ‘get it right' we should have something viable to show for all our efforts? I certainly am proud of where we are, and how far we have come, and say so regularly and publicly.
- Where then are the models of this ‘kingdom of God' the CG and IM proponents speak so highly of; in Minneapolis, or Atlanta; or are their South East Asian jamaats the best examples?
- When jettisoning Water Baptism and other ‘Christian institutions', for the sake of stymieing a possible hostile Muslim response, do the CG and IM proponents have any Biblically acceptable alternatives to replace them with?
- How is the reference to Jesus as simply Lord and Saviour sufficient, since both are easily applied to many Muslim prophets? Should we not clearly state that Jesus is uniquely God incarnate, a member of the triune Godhead? If that is too difficult to say, then where is there a clear Insider equivalent?
- Why should we fear the public rejection of one set of beliefs for that of another (i.e. conversion), if, indeed the other belief turns out to be the better, and more Biblically truthful?
- Should we be spending so much of our energies and ‘Christian' finances in simply creating yet another sect within Islam, which remains under its auspices and control (i.e. a possible ‘Chrislam'), or should we be bringing home our Muslim friends to the worldwide family of Christian believers?
- Since fear of Islam is so widespread within the church today, could this not also be a contributing motivating factor for the IM proponents keeping the new believer within their Muslim environment?
- If we fear persecution now, how much more should we fear the future persecution by Muslim leaders, once they find out how we have adapted and even adopted what they consider to be sacrosanct Muslim identity codes (i.e. Muslim forms) for our own purposes?
- Is not this whole Insider paradigm nothing more than an act of ‘Taqiyya', or dissimulation, a deceit which we will all be held publicly accountable for, both traditional missionary and IM proponents alike, once the Muslim world finds out?
As you can see from what I have stated above, I am deeply troubled by the beliefs and practices of many of the Insider proponents, due to their desire to incarnate themselves and their message too deeply within an Islamic context, which then unwittingly and unnecessarily elevates Islam's foundational identity markers (i.e. the Qur'an, the mosque, the ritual prayers, and the prophet Muhammad) way beyond what I would deem safe or prudent. It seems to me that they fail to understand the dangers of such elevation, not only due to the spiritual powers these identity markers hold over Muslims, but the resultant reaction of more orthodox Muslims once they find out what they have done to such cherished Muslim forms. I feel somewhat relieved, however, that there are a few who know of the danger of such a practice, and have forwarded, I feel, a more healthy model in quickly bringing the searcher home to the safety and sanctity of Jesus and His gospel. Can we count our fellow missionaries within their number? Let's hope so.
In closing, let me end with an anecdote to what I believe was possibly happening at the Atlanta CG conference in January 2009, and could be a reason the Insider Paradigm is catching on so fast, primarily in the US. As I listened to the well developed and eloquent speeches of the leaders at the conference, I looked around at the hundreds of young faces, many of whom were students in Bible Schools and seminaries, and most of whom I was told were heading to the Muslim world. I saw them begin to revel in the possibilities of this new Insider paradigm, a model which allowed the new Muslim believer to remain where he or she felt comfortable, at home, with their Muslim family, and their Muslim traditions, and in peace. I began to want the same as they, and when the IM proponents began to name the large increase of new Insider believers around the world, and the large number of Jamaats being created, I, like those around me began to get caught up in the euphoria of the possibilities of such a movement. I wanted to belong to such a success story...who wouldn't?
Eventually, I started doubting what I had been taught all my life concerning what the gospel was, or what the church represented, and even the call to missions. I began to believe that maybe my parents, and my grandparents before them, all who were missionaries, maybe they were all wrong; maybe conversion to Christ within the Church was not the answer, and possibly, just possibly these bright and eloquent men and women knew something that no-one up to this time had known; that Islam really wasn't so bad, that Muhammad possibly was used by God, and that his revelation could be adopted and yes even adapted in bringing people to know not the ‘Western Jesus', but the ‘Muslim Isa', in a new and invigorating way. I remember leaving the sanctuary one evening towards the end of the conference wondering how I was going to break the news to my wife and to my colleagues back in England, to say nothing of my mission board.
It wasn't until I got back to the hotel room that I realized what had just happened. I had been seduced by the ‘numbers game', and seeming success of this movement, much like George Bailey in that most delightful movie, ‘It's a Wonderful Life' was so easily seduced by the banker, Henry F. Potter. George, down on his luck is offered a new job in Potter's bank, with a wonderful salary, and a wonderful life to look forward to; truly seductive. All he had to do was stop offering the poor people in the town affordable housing, housing which was in competition to Potter's dilapidated and expensive alternative. And just as the penny dropped with George when he realized how he was being seduced, so it dropped with me. Of course I would love to tell Muslims that they didn't have to extract from their family in order to follow Christ, that they could go on doing as they had always done, remain in their religion, follow their creeds, observe the Rammadan fast, and fulfil the five daily prayers. What's more, it seemed so successful. For someone who has seen only a handful of people coming to Christ, I could now point to over 100,000 who now believed. No-one quotes numbers like that, and at first, just as it was for George Bailey, I began to see the possibilities, the acclaim, and with it the downfall of Islam in my lifetime. It all seemed too good.
Which, in fact, it was.
(May 4, 2009)
Comments on "Gracious Christian Responses to Muslims in Britain"
Dr David Zeidan
There is no doubt that the Evangelical leaders who authored this paper have the best of motives: a great love for Muslims, a desire to be sensitive to their feelings and to establish genuine relationships with them. They also want to take seriously Christ's injunction to be peacemakers and to love one's neighbour as oneself. The paper has some high-sounding principles that no Christian would want to disagree with. However, the wording is often vague and ambiguous, and it is not clear what is actually meant by these words and what their real implications might be. There seems to be a danger that in the effort to be gracious to Muslims the uniqueness of the gospel is being sacrificed linked to a suppression of truth about Islam.
The main reason given for the writing of this paper is "that many Christians have been responding largely out of fear [to Muslims in Britain]. This recalls the words of Steve Bell, the National Director of Interserve UK, at the July 2008 Keswick convention. Bell argued that Christians need not fear a Muslim takeover of Britain. He suggested that as the Muslim community in Britain becomes more prosperous, its birth rate will drop and it will become less tempted to espouse fundamentalist and radical forms of Islam. Bell and the authors of this document seem to ignore some real causes of concern raised by the growing Muslim presence in Britain. They seem to ignore the Islamist infiltration of many Muslim institutions in the UK and the growing radicalisation of many British-born and bred Muslims. They also seem willing to ignore the frequent referral to Muhammad's hijra model by Muslim leaders, as well as deliberate anti-Christian discourse and practice in some Muslim circles.
Most evangelicals would agree with the wish to "encourage Christians to learn more about Islam, to relate to Muslims with genuine respect and friendship, to recognise the many different kinds of Islam and Muslims in Britain today, and to wrestle with the complexities of the political and social issues raised by the presence of Muslim communities". It would seem un-Christian not to agree to a "gracious approach to Islam and Muslims". The devil however is in the details:
Point 1 argues that all human beings are created by God and are to be treated with love, and that Christians should be concerned for the holistic well-being of individuals and of the whole community. While this is true to some extent, it fails to recognise the implications of the fall and of Satan's deceptions in individual human nature, in society and in religions. As Christians we know that the only remedy for the catastrophic results of the fall is in Jesus Christ. We cannot divorce our approach to Muslims or to others in society from this truth, and cannot naively assume that all will be well if only we naively adjust our approach to ignore or deny the evils, individual and institutional, in religious systems that have developed over centuries in a conscious antagonism to Biblical truth and to the gospel of Christ.
Point 2 states that "We want to welcome people of all kinds into the community and into our churches". While welcoming all into our communities is fine, what exactly is meant by welcoming people of all kinds into our churches? And what status will we give them there? Obviously we all welcome Muslims into our churches as seekers after the truth and are happy to offer them the gospel. But the intention might be to offer Muslim leaders a platform within our churches to proclaim the message of Islam which is anti-Christian in its essence. We would certainly oppose such ‘inclusiveness'.
Point 3 speaks of Western and Muslim history which includes episodes that "remind both faiths to be humble and penitent". This is true, but it ignores the fact that in our time Christians, individuals and churches, have come to terms with the evils in their history, confessed them, repented of them and apologized for them. There has however not been any reciprocity from the Muslim side. Muslims has not accepted any blame for evils committed in the name of Islam, and have never apologized to its many victims. A sense of self-righteousness and pride is still pervasive and the horror of the shame of losing face would keep many Muslims from even contemplating such confessions. Until this attitude changes, there can be no fair playing field in dialogue and attempts at finding common ground.
Point 4. We agree that Christians "have a vision for a society in which the values of the kingdom of God are upheld and honoured". However, there is no clear definition of the "broad parameters" within which Christians can work together with Muslims for the common good of the whole society. What are the limits? Where do we draw the line? As Christians we certainly are not in the habit of "unreasonable giving or taking of offence", but how do we respond to the commonplace radical and sometimes violent expressions by Muslims to alleged insults to Islam, Muhammad and the Qur'an? Do we legitimise the victimisation of Christians in Muslim lands for alleged offences committed by secular Westerners, or to false accusations within the scope of blasphemy laws, as in Pakistan? Do we suppress and deny such occurrences in order to safeguard peaceful relations with Muslims in Britain?
In a globalised, shrinking world and especially in contemporary Western multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies it will sometimes be necessary for Christians and Muslims, as good citizens (not as official representatives of religious institutions), to have conversations and to cooperate for the common good of a shared society in certain areas of concern. In such common ventures Christians must ensure there is a clear understanding of equal commitments and definite boundaries. Such cooperation must never be at the expense of Biblical convictions in order to gain the goodwill of the Muslims involved. It must not imply the equal validity and moral equivalence of Islam and Christianity. Certainly it must never signify the acceptance of Christianity as an archaic part of a superior Islamic tradition.
We also question whether there is an adequate Biblical basis for joint organisational Muslim/Christian enterprises, especially since in practice such joint ventures may tend to serve impoverished Muslims and ignore impoverished Christians.
Finally the dangers of the political pressures in the dialogue movement must be fully realised. Christians should not offer themselves as pawns to powerful governmental parties aiming at purely political advantage. While Muslims endorse the unity of religion and state, Christians must always remember Christ's warnings against such manipulation.
Point 5. While we agree that the church should have a prophetic ministry towards state and society, we do not think Christians ought to agree to the Islamisation of British political structures. We agree that "Christians should not seek to work from a position of power and privilege". We believe in equality before the law to all, but we also accept the primacy of the Judeo-Christian culture in this country, and cherish it as a precious heritage. Are the authors against the holding of a broadly Christian Assembly in state schools, or the teaching of Christianity in RE? The above statement might also imply a rejection of the establishment of the Church of England in the United Kingdom. Are the authors advocating a US-style separation of Church and state? Are they advocating that Christians support Muslim demands for the inclusion of shari‘a elements in the British legal system in the name of not working from a position of power and privilege?
Point 6. We certainly affirm the right of every person and community to freedom of religion. We are happy the authors draw attention to the plight of Muslims converting to Christianity in Britain. However, do we ignore the roots of Muslim persecution of such "apostates" in shari‘a and the necessity to openly change these attitudes and abolish the law of apostasy? Do we suppress all news about the severe limitations to religious freedom placed on fellow Christians in Muslim states?
Point 7. It is certainly praiseworthy to follow the golden rule in relations with Muslims. However, it is not clear what is meant by the phrase "to allow Muslims to interpret themselves". Does it mean that we naively accept all statements made by Muslims at face value, even when we are convinced they are false? Do we accept sanitising of Islamic sources and history as true? Do we accept as true the claim that Islam has always been a religion of peace that has never practiced aggression and intolerance against non-Muslims? That it has always treated Jews and Christians as equals and granted them complete tolerance and freedom? Do we accept false accusations brought against Christians in Muslim lands as a pretext for persecution as true? Do we accept as true denials of the Armenian and Assyrian genocide and of the ongoing severe persecution of Christians in many Muslim lands?
Point 8. "Dialogue" is a modern phrase used by Christians which elicits much sympathy and it is difficult to challenge it. Again, the question is what is meant by dialogue? Does it mean that Christians adjust their theology to accept a pluralist view of Christianity and Islam in which Islam is accepted as a redemptive religion, Muhammad as a valid prophet of God and the Qur'an as a revelation from God? Steve Bell, in his book Grace for Muslims? (Milton Keynes: Authentic Media, 2006) which advocates the approach taken by the authors of this document, arrives at theological positions that seem to downplay Islamic rejection of the main doctrines of Christianity while denying the uniqueness of Christ as the only way to salvation, of the Bible as the only written word of God, and of the Christian Church as the only people of God in the world today. Sadly, this seems to be the trend in most ongoing dialogue efforts between Christians and Muslims.
A Muslim analyst has claimed that Christian Westerners and Islamists understand dialogue differently. For Westerners, dialogue is a critical intellectual engagement to resolve problems; for Islamists dialogue is a bridge they can walk over (to further their goals). The Christian Church faces the reality of spiritual warfare, and the enemy will do his best to divide the Church, weaken it and water down its commitment to Biblical doctrine and practice. We believe that some of the Islamic leaders involved in dialogue are manipulating Christian weakness and feelings of guilt to further the cause of Islamic da‘wa and Islamic hegemony, subordinate the Church to Islam, and fill the spiritual and moral vacuum in the West.
Persecution of Christians across the Muslim world is sadly not abating. Surely any interfaith dialogue with Muslims must address these problems and demand visible action rather than empty declarations of goodwill.
Point 9. We salute the authors' commitment to mission. We also point to the fact that it is Muslims who actively oppose efforts at evangelism to Muslims at all levels and in all places. We agree that in neither religion "can there be any place for pressure to encourage people to convert". One of the problems in this "grace approach" is the placing of Islam and Christianity on a basis of equality, both as to their truth content and as to their practice. Do the authors really believe that Christians are placing undue pressure on Muslims to convert? If they know of such cases, can they be set as equal in scope and methods to what is evidently happening in the Muslim world? It is evident that even moderate Muslims continue to deny the validity of Christian evangelism among them and to actively oppose it. Thus Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the most prestigious Muslim scholar in the West, known for his inclusivity and moderation, in his address "Love of God, Love of Neighbour", at the 1st Catholic-Muslim Forum Conference, Vatican City, 4-6 November 2008, declared that:
We Muslims do not allow an aggressive proselytizing in our midst that would destroy our faith in the name of freedom.
"Aggressive proselytising" is simply a new name for traditional Evangelical missionary activity. At present it would seem that few if any Muslims will accept the legitimacy of Christian mission to Muslims in any form or context. We know of no Western state that forbids or hinders Muslim missionary efforts on the scale of what is accepted practice in Muslim states considered moderate, not to speak of what is normal practice in Saudi Arabia! The only form of evangelism that can be tolerated by Islam is the ‘silent testimony' type traditionally pursued by Middle Eastern churches, which were forbidden to engage in any public display of their faith.
Point 10. The final sentence is very problematic: "We are therefore aware both of situations where Muslims experience prejudice, discrimination or persecution from Christians and of situations where Christians experience the same from Muslims". Again the authors presume total equality in scope and method. Are they implying that whatever small measure of prejudice and discrimination Muslims might experience in the West can be equated to the systematic discrimination and brutal persecution suffered by Christians in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, etc.? This presumption of an equal playing field lies at the heart of what is wrong with this approach. Calling it a "grace" approach does not make it any more right or true to reality.
We commend the paper for its effort to encourage Christians to be aware of the Muslim presence in Britain and to reach out in love, respect and friendship to Muslims. However, while it is admirable to build good relations with Muslims marked by humility and respect, proclaiming an equivalence between Christianity and Islam would mean denying the uniqueness of the gospel. Do the authors totally accept the multiculturalist premise that there exists a moral equivalency among all cultures and religions? Some of this document's statements are deeply flawed and open to interpretations and implications that would seem to deny the uniqueness of Christianity and of Christ, as well as to misrepresent current trends, realities and events in the Muslim world.
Christians need to distinguish between Muslims and the religious-political system of Islam. We fear that the authors of this paper are in danger of embracing dhimmi attitudes towards Muslims accepting Muslim views of history, theology and politics in their concern to forge peaceful relations with Muslims. The victims of these moves may be Christians in Muslim lands and converts from Islam to Christianity, whose interests may be sacrificed in the interests of this peace process.
Embracing Muslims without being aware of the oppressive belief-system of Islam, its strategies and objectives, is naive. The Christian desire for peace is sincere, but the Christian vision of peace is established when Christ rules the hearts of people. The Islamic version of peace is realised when all people submit politically to Islamic rule. Theologically, we see Islam as a rebellion both against God's covenant with Israel through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to the new covenant through our Lord Jesus Christ. Since its inception it has done its best to stifle Christianity in its domains, and this process is still being actively pursued today in most Muslim states and societies. So in our view, while Muslims are loved by God and he wishes them to be saved, Islam is still an enemy of the Gospel.
Finally, the Lord Jesus acted in grace towards sinners who were open to conviction and repentance. Hypocritical religious leaders however received a series of severe "woes" from the lips of our gracious Saviour. Dealing with individual Muslims in grace is one thing. Dealing with Muslim leaders who represent a long tradition of anti-Christian and anti-missionary attitudes and teaching and who are openly seeking to subvert Christianity is quite another thing.
 A recent example of media bias against evangelicals is the BBC drama series Bonekickers. In one of its episodes (broadcast in July 2008) a fundamentalist Christian beheads a Muslim (see "BBC Bonekickers drama blasted for showing images of a Muslim being beheaded", Daily Mail, 13 July 2008).
 Summit of the Council of Europe, 17. May 2005, Declaration, Article 9, http://www.coe.int/t/dcr/summit/20050517_decl_varsovie_en.asp.
 John L. Esposito in "Islam and the West: Annual Report on the State of Dialogue, January 2008", World Economic Forum, 2008.
 "Muslim-Christian Dialogue", Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/print/opr/t236/e0567.
 "Report of the Leadership Group on US-Muslim Engagement," Changing Course - A New Initiative for US Relations with the Muslim World, Washington DC and Cambridge MA: US-Muslim Engagement Project, February 2009.
 "H.E. Sir Ivor Roberts on Inter-Faith Dialogue", Press Release, Three Faiths Forum, 28 October 2005, http://www.threefaithsforum.org.uk/PressReleases/28102005IvorRoberts.htm (viewed 25 May 2007).
 "H.E. Sir Ivor Roberts".
 "Safeguarding Trust Building Friendship: A Preliminary Statement by the Interfaith Alliance UK in Relation to the Proposed Christian Muslims Forum for England", Interfaith Alliance UK, 2005, http://www.interfaithalliance.org.uk/CMF.pdf (viewed 25 May 2007), p1.
 "Safeguarding Trust Building Friendship", pp3-4.
 "Safeguarding Trust Building Friendship", p10.
 Time to Talk: Faiths at the Table of Dialogue in Today's UK, Report on the 2003 National Meeting of the Inter Faith Network for the UK held at Coventry University, 3 July 2003. London: The Interfaith Network for the UK, 2003.
 The Local Interfaith Guide. London: The Interfaith Network for the UK, 2005.
 Kim Howells, at ASEM Interfaith Dialogue Meeting, Larnaca, Cyprus, 3 July 2006, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1134650519501&a=KArticle&aid=1152525787837 (viewed 25 May 2007).
 "Islam and the West: Annual Report on the State of Dialogue, January 2008", World Economic Forum, 2008.
 "Islam and the West".
 Alistair MacDonald-Radcliff and Roland Schatz (eds.), "Annual Dialogue Report on Religions and Values, 2009", C-1 World Dialogue Foundation, Beirut, Boston, Pretoria, Tianjin, Zurich: INNOVATIO Publishing Ltd. 2009.
 "Alliance of Civilizations, Implementation Plan 2007-2009", UN paper; "Alliance of Civilizations Report of the High-level Group 13 November 2006", New York: UN, 2006.
 "Creeping Dhimmitude at the United Nations", speech by David G. Littman at the Counterjihad Brussels 2007 Conference.
 "Creeping Dhimmitude".
 David Smock and Qamar-ul Huda, "Islamic Peacemaking Since 9/11", United States Institute of Peace, Special Report 218, January 2009.
 NCC among US and Iranian leaders discussing peace", http://www.daytonpeacemuseum.org/NCC%20visit%20to%20Iran.pdf (viewed 2 November 2009).
 Smock and Huda, "Islamic Peacemaking".
 Smock and Huda, "Islamic Peacemaking".
 Gleaned from personal discussion with a Saudi official.
 "The Madrid Declaration Issued by the World Conference on Dialogue", International Interfaith Organisations network, 18 July 2008.
 Donald H. Argue and Leonard A. Leo, "The Saudis' dubious interfaith agenda at the UN", Christian Science Monitor, 13 November 2008.
 "Geneva Conference calls for setting up an International Dialogue Centre", The Muslim Weekly, 9 October 2009.
 The Eastern churches have also been involved in discussions with Muslims, but these would require a fuller discussion than space permits here.
 "Muslim-Christian Dialogue", Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0567 (viewed 23 October 2009).
 "Muslim-Christian Dialogue".
 Michael L. Fitzgerald, "Christian Muslim Dialogue - A Survey of Recent Developments", 10 April 2000, http://www.sedos.org/english/fitzgerald.htm,
 "Joint communiqué of the symposium on ‘Five regional Christian-Muslim meetings', Religion et Responsabilité, Porto Novo, Benin, March 1986; Advancing Together into the Next Century, Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, December 1986; Religion and Society, Kolymbari, Crete, September 1987; The Challenge of Pluralism, New Windsor, Maryland, USA, March 1988; Religion and Life, Usa River, Tanzania, June 1989; Religion and peaceful co-existence'", World Council of Churches, 14 December 2008, http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/wcc-programmes/interreligious-dialogue-and-cooperation/interreligious-trust-and-respect/14-12-08-joint-communique-of-the-symposium-on-religion-and-peaceful-co-existence.html (viewed 6 November 2009).
 "Theologians Explore Further Possibilities for Interfaith Dialogue with Islam ",
The Lutheran World Federation, 28 October 2008, http://www.lutheranworld.org/News/LWI/EN/2296.EN.html.
 Fitzgerald, "Christian Muslim Dialogue".
 "Muslim-Christian Dialogue".
 "Factbox: Catholic-Muslim Relations", Reuters, 12 May 2009.
 Fitzgerald, "Christian Muslim Dialogue".
 Fitzgerald, "Christian Muslim Dialogue".
 Fitzgerald, "Christian Muslim Dialogue".
 Fitzgerald, "Christian Muslim Dialogue".
 Michael Ipgrave, "Anglican Approaches to Christian-Muslim Dialogue, Journal of Anglican Studies, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2005, pp219-236; Peter G. Riddell, Christians and Muslims: Pressures and potential in a post-9/11 world, Leicester: IVP, 2004, pp152-156.
"Bishop's Report January & February 2009", The Episcopal/Anglican Church of Egypt,
http://www.st-saviours.org.uk/files/Bishops_Report_January__February_2009.pdf (viewed 10 November 2009).
 Riddell, Christians and Muslims, pp155-156.
 Maria Mackay, "Church of England shelves debate on evangelising Muslims", Christian Today, 4 June 2008, http://www.christiantoday.com/articledir/print.htm?id=19271 (viewed 22 October 2008).
 For an example see the paper issued by the Committee on Inter-Church and Inter-Faith Relations of the United Church of Canada, That We May Know Each Other: United Church-Muslim Relations Today. Toronto: The United Church of Canada, 2004.
 Peter Riddell, "A breath of Islamic fresh air", Church Times, Issue 7516, 30 March 2007.
 "Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to ‘A Common Word Between Us and You'", http://www.yale.edu/faith/acw/acw.htm (viewed 27 January 2009).
 Colin Chapman, "Christian Responses to ‘A Common Word': Why I signed the Yale response", 3 March 2008, published under "Featured Article" at www.globalmissiology.org, April 2008 (viewed 27 October 2008).
 Tomas Dixon, "Youth With A Mission Calls for Reconciliation", Charisma, September 2002.
 Lynn Green, "The Common Word meetings with Muslims at Yale", 5 August 2008, http://www.lynngreen.com/ (viewed 22 October 2008).
 Michael Buettner, "Missionaries: Anti-Islamic Statements Put Us At Risk", Associated Press, 10 January 2003, quoted in Richard Cimino, "New Boundaries -- Evangelicals And Islam After 9/11", Religionwatch, http://www.religionwatch.com/doc/2005-Cimino-Evangelicals-Islam.pdf (viewed 23 October 2008). See also Laurie Goodstein, "Top Evangelicals Critical Of Colleagues Over Islam", New York Times, 8 May 2003.
 Lynn Green, "The Common Word meetings with Muslims at Yale", Lynn Green Blog Archive, http://lynngreen.com/?p=71 (viewed 22 October 2008).
 "Christians do not need to fear Islamic takeover in UK, says Interserve head", Christianity Today, 18 July 2008.
 The hijra is Muhammad's migration from Mecca, where he suffered persecution, to Medina, where he was offered the leadership of the community, and where he established the first Islamic government and state. It was the defining moment in the history of early Islam, and has since served as a model of migration to a safe haven in order to establish the hegemony of Islam.
 "Exposing Obsession", www.truthoverfear.org (viewed 17 November 2008).
 Colin Chapman, book review of Riddell, Christians And Muslims.
 Brother Andrew and Al Jansen, Light Force: The only hope for the Middle East. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2004, p179.
 Brother Andrew and Jansen, Light Force, p188.
 Hazel Southam, "Pray for your enemy", IDEA, January / February 2008, pp18-19.
 2 Peter 3:9.
 Acts 24:25, NIV
 "Meeting Brother Andrew", Interserveonline, http://www.interserveonline.org.uk/pdf/BrotherAndrew.pdf (viewed 23 October 2008).
 Tomas Dixon, "Youth With A Mission Calls for Reconciliation", Charisma, September 2002.
 Dudley Woodberry, "The War on Terrorism: reflections of a Guest in the Lands Involved", CBN.com, 14 February 2003.
 Cimino, "New Boundaries".
 Chris Seiple, "Engaging Islam", Institute for Global Engagement, 30 March 2007, http://www.globalengage.org/media/article.aspx?id=2876 (viewed 14 November 2008).
 Chris Seiple, "From the President: Ramadan & Reason", Institute for Global Engagement, 6 October 2006, http://www.globalengage.org/media/article.aspx?id=2150 (viewed 14 November 2008).
 Seiple, "Engaging Islam"; Chris Seiple, "Interrogating Islam ... and Ourselves", The Brandywyne Review of Faith & International Affairs, Fall 2004, pp38-39.
 Seiple, "From the President".
 Seiple, "From the President".
 Seiple, "Engaging Islam"; Seiple, "Interrogating Islam", pp38-39.
 Seiple, "From the President".
 "Non-evangelical evangelicals?", WorldViews, 12 December 2003, http://www.worldmagblog.com/blog/archives/000282.html (viewed 24 May 2007).
 "MCB meets Evangelical Alliance", The Muslim Weekly, 23 February 2007.
 John Ware, "MCB", Prospect Magazine, Issue 129, December 2006.
 Joel Edwards, "The rise of Islam", Christianity, 18 December 2006; also in a private letter.
 "Guidelines to encourage co-operation between mosques & churches, imams and clergy"; see "New guidelines on inter-faith harmony", The Telegraph & Argus, 14 October 2008.
 Colin Chapman quoted in E.T. Malone, Jr. "Plenary will probe the varied nature of Muslim-Christian relations", Lambeth Conference Communications, Anglican Communion News Service, ACNS LC052, 25 July 1998.
 Steve Bell, Grace for Muslims? Milton Keynes: Authentic Media, 2006, p3.
 Warmly endorsed in a foreword by Brother Andrew
 Bell, Grace for Muslims? pp74, 84, 87.
 Bell, Grace for Muslims? p82.
 Bell, Grace for Muslims? pp78, 82.
 Bell, Grace for Muslims? pp77, 79.
 Bell, Grace for Muslims? p79.
 Bell, Grace for Muslims? p79.
 Rick Love, "Why I Signed the Yale Response to "A Common Word", http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1036_rick_love_responds_to_pipers_thoughts_on_a_common_word/ (viewed 29 October 2008).
 Colin Chapman, "Why I signed the Yale Response", http://www.stfrancismagazine.info/ja/colinchapmansyaleresponse(1).pdf (viewed 22 October 2008).
 "Loving God and Neighbor Together".
 "A Common Word Between Us and You", http://www.acommonword.com/index.php?lang=en&page=option1 (viewed 29 October 2008).
 Geoff Tunnicliffe and Christine Schirrmacher, "Love and World Poverty", Yale University, Christian/Muslim Dialogue, 30 July 2008, http://www.worldevangelicals.org/pdf/Love_and_World_Poverty.pdf (viewed 17 November 2008).
 Phil Parshall, "Danger! New Directions in Contextualization", Evangelical Missions Quarterly, 34:4, October 1998.
 Kevin Higgins, "Acts 15 and Insider Movements Among Muslims: Questions, Process, and Conclusions", International Journal of Frontier Missiology, Vol. 24, No. 1, Spring 2007, pp29-40.
 Jay Smith, "An Assessment of the Insider's Principle Paradigms", http://www.i2ministries.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=68:jay-smiths-assessment-of-insider-movements-c5-missions-strategies&catid=3:current-news&Itemid=13 (viewed 2 July 2009). This article is reproduced as Appendix 1 below. For another thoughtful critique of Insider Movements see Gordon Nickel, "‘Insider Movements' in Muslim Contexts", http://quranandinjil.org/quranicstudies_files/Insider_Move_Among_Muslims.pdf (viewed 2 July 2009).
 The concept of Jesus as Son of God tends to be ignored. Some New Testament translations used by Insiders replace the term Son of God with "God's Representative". God the Father is presented as the "Guardian". A draft version of a translation of Matthew's Gospel into Turkish had all mention of "Son of God" and "Father" removed. ("Fuller Report" on Common Ground [Insider Movement] Conference, Nov 2009, p3.)
 There seems to be little talk in Insider circles of the cross and salvation, as Jesus, is presented as the great teacher rather than the great Saviour. ("Fuller Report", p3.)
 "Fuller Report", p4.
 John Azumah, "Islam and Contextualization: Clarifications, Questions and a Plea from Africa", paper delivered at a conference, "The Challenge of Uniqueness: The Gospel in a Plural Society", Larnaca, Cyprus, 14-17 June 2009.
 Bassam M. Madany, "The New Christians of North Africa and the Insider Movement", St. Francis Magazine, October 2009, http://stfrancismagazine.info/ja/images/pdf/5BassamMadanySFM5-5.pdf.
 Confidential source.
 Saraji Umm Zaid, "Secret War: Protecting Yourself, Your Family, and Your Community from Missionaries", http://www.modernmuslima.com/secretwar, 12 October 2009, now removed from web; Sheikh Salman Al-Odeh, "Christian Missionaries Sweeping the Islamic World", 9 January 2010, http://muslimsrus.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/christian-missionaries-sweeping-the-islamic-world/, (viewed 1 March 2010); "A Guide To Missionary Tactics", http://christianity-revealed.com/cr/files/aguidetomissionarytactics_xian.html (viewed 1 March 2010)
 Rick Love, "The Ethics of Da‘wa and Evangelism: Respecting the Other and Freedom of Religion", talk given at World Bank, 18-20 June 2008, http://www.weapri.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Ethics-of-Da-wa-and-Evangelism-at-the-World-Bank.pdf (viewed 8 March 2010).
 Rick Love, "The Ethics of Da‘wa and Evangelism".
 See Sandro Magister, "Death or Freedom for the Apostates? The Counter-Fatwa of the Liberal Muslims", Chiesa, 30 November 2005; Richard Owen, "Pope converts outspoken Muslim who condemned ‘religion of hate'", The Times, 24 March 2008; Cindy Wooden, "Vatican: Muslim convert has right to express his own ideas", Catholic News Service, 28 March 2008.
 Sandro Magister, "Dialogue among the Religions, The Vatican Prepares the Guidelines", Chiesa, 11 June 2008, http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/205101?eng=y (viewed 27 October 2008).
 Rick Love, "The Ethics of Da‘wa and Evangelism".
 "Some update on the situation in Jordan", 10 March 2008, St Francis Magazine, No. 3, 2008, http://stfrancismagazine.blogspot.com/2008/03/some-update-on-situation-in-jordan.html (viewed 22 October 2008); "Jordan: Authorities Expel Foreign Christians", Compass Direct News, 29 January 2008.
 Tufail Ahmad, "Reviving the Legacy of Reform - 191st Birthday Anniversary of India's Great reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan", Aafaq, 16 October 2008, http://www.aafaq.org/english/aafaq_today.aspx?id_news=162 (viewed 27 October 2008).
 http://www.i2ministries.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=68:jay-smiths-assessment-of-insider-movements-c5-missions-strategies&catid=3:current-news&Itemid=13, viewed 7 July 2009. This article has also been published in the St. Francis Magazine (http://www.stfrancismagazine.info/ja/content/view/313/38/), where further discussion of the Insider Movement may also be found.
 From the C1-C6 contextualization scale, made popular by John and Anna Travis (pseudonyms), "Maximizing the Bible! Glimpses from our context." MissionFrontiers [Jan.-Feb. 2006], pg.21
 David Garrison, "Church Planting Movements vs. Insider Movements: Missiological realities vs. mythiological speculations," International Journal of Frontier Missions 21 (2004), pg. 151
 Phil Parshall, "Danger!," pg. 406
 Adeney, Miriam, "Rajah Sulayman," 76-82
 A paper produced by a working group of Christians involved in ministry to Muslims in the UK, linked to Global Connections, as a proposal for endorsement by CRIB (Christian Responses to Islam in Britain). See: http://www.ricklove.net/articles/Gracious%20Responses%20090406.pdf, accessed 10 November 2009.
 "Christians do not need to fear Islamic takeover in UK, says Interserve head", Christianity Today, 18 July 2008.
 Tufail Ahmad, "Reviving the Legacy of Reform - 191st Birthday Anniversary of India's Great reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan", Aafaq, 16 October 2008, http://www.aafaq.org/english/aafaq_today.aspx?id_news=162, viewed 27 October 2008.
 Sandro Magister, "Dialogue among the Religions, The Vatican Prepares the Guidelines", Chiesa, 11 June 2008, http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/205101?eng=y, viewed 27 October 2008.
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