by John Mark Terry
For the past three years, cultural exchanges have placed English-speaking Christian students in Tunisian homes,” a ministry leader reports.
For the past three years, cultural exchanges have placed English-speaking Christian students in Tunisian homes," a ministry leader reports. "At least two North American graduates have been able to stay on in a university context. African Christian students also continue to answer questions about their faith. They have formed their own Bible study group and seek to reach other international students scattered on university campuses in the major cities."
• The leader of the Muslim Tong-Gan people of Kyrgyzstan has invited the Great Commission Center (Lewisville, Tex.) to send as many as 20 medical, development, and educational specialists. Short-term workers will establish clinics and water treatment systems and will teach computer use, Chinese, and other subjects. The 300,000 Tong-Gan people of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were driven from China a century ago. "This is a ministry of pre-evangelism?it requires love, kindness, patience, compassion, and a high degree of sensitivity. This is a very rare opportunity for Chinese Christians to serve among Muslim people of our own kindred," Thomas Wang of the Great Commission Center stated. "In my lifetime, this is the first invitation of its kind that I have witnessed."
• As part of a strategy called "Pillars of Hope," local Christians and workers with the Christian and Missionary Alliance have started a church of Muslim converts in western Cote d’Ivoire. Two Lebanese missionaries are working among Middle Eastern Muslims in Abidjan, while four couples have been assigned to work through 20 Alliance churches to reach out to Muslims in Bouake.
• "A combined mission umbrella organization in Cote d’Ivoire has called its first ever conference of 150 converts from Islam for mutual encouragement," WEC International (Fort Washington, Pa.) reports. "When people were invited to stand together by people groups or regions, it was discovered that over the whole country Muslims are coming to Christ." WEC says a committee was formed to help those who lose everything when they convert.
• Members of the international Yemen Prayer Fellowship report continuing spiritual interest in that civil war-battered country on the Gulf of Aden. At one undermanned hospital, YPF says, "A vital witness continues and signs of hunger for the truth are evident." A broadcasting agency says it received 134 letters responding to broadcasts in April, compared to a monthly average of 33 during 1994. Christ Church in Aden, "almost totally destroyed at the end of the war" in 1994, has appointed a new chaplain to oversee the church, the planned rebuilding, and the establishment of a clinic. YPF also states that some of the 50,000 Iraqi refugees in Yemen have turned to Christ.
• A major evangelistic effort in Spain, uniting local churches with specialized missions and organizations, takes place every summer. In July and August, the highways fill with 800,000 Moroccans and Algerians who are either going on, or returning from, vacation. The Muslims are concentrated in Alicante, Almeria, Malaga, and Algeciras. According to the Bible Society, in 1994 workers distributed 3,374 Bibles, 188,179 New Testaments, 399,970 Gospels, 131,450 Bible portions, 22,542 audio and video cassettes, and 5,544 books.
• There are about 400 known Christians meeting in 10 or more small groups in Morocco, according to Arab World Ministries (Upper Darby, Pa.). "There are groups of Christians in all major cities and new people meeting the Lord almost everywhere," a ministry source reports. In addition, about 150 Christian tentmakers work in the country.
Christianity has confronted Islam since the age of Mohammed. From the time of Raymond Lull (13th century), missionaries have sought to win Muslims to Christ. Generally, this has been a difficult, discouraging task, but as the reports above show, there are some encouraging signs.
MODELS OF MUSLIM EVANGELISM
The many different models or approaches to Muslim evangelism fall into five major categories.
1.Confrontational. In the 18th and 19th centuries some missionaries — Henry Martyn, Karl Pfander, and St. Clair Tidall, for example — tried to win Muslims by public debate. They also preached in the bazaars and produced apologetic and polemical literature in English and the vernacular. Their approach was never very successful in terms of converts, and it often aroused increased Muslim antipathy toward Christianity.
This approach is not widely used today. First, most Muslim countries do not allow it. Those earlier missionaries often worked under the protection of colonial governments. Second, today’s missionaries prefer to emphasize the positive nature of the gospel, rather than expose objectionable elements in Islam. Finally, this method is not usually successful. Occasionally, a Muslim intellectual is convinced, but the debates do not move the masses.
2. Traditional evangelical model. Samuel Zwemer (1867-1952), the "apostle to the Muslims," was the pioneer of this method. During his early years (1890-1916), he tended toward confrontation. In his books, The Disintegration of Islam (1915) and Mohammed or Christ (1916), he called for "radical displacement," a complete rejection of Islam by its adherents. However, later in his career he followed a more anthropological and Christocentric approach. He wrote empathically of Muslims as seekers after God, though he still maintained that only Jesus could satisfy their needs.1
Zwemer believed that evangelism must emphasize the incarnation, atonement, and mediation of Christ. The evangelist must call Muslims to repentance, to submission to Christ, and to involvement in the church. Zwemer in later years advocated witnessing to individuals and small groups. He advised his students to engage in friendship evangelism. He believed the human personality was the best bridge for conveying the gospel.2
Zwemer was a prolific writer and evangelicals have followed his example. They have produced innumerable books and tracts. They have distributed the Scriptures as widely as possible. They have propagated the gospel by means of radio and Bible correspondence courses.
The traditional approach has resulted in Western-style churches. Missionaries have told their converts to break with Islam and publicly identify with a church. Zwemer rejected the idea of allowing a convert to remain in Islam as long as possible so as to influence other Muslims.3
The main criticism against the traditional approach is simply that it has not been very effective. Critics also say it is too Western. But defenders say the approach is biblically sound. They see themselves as sowing seed that will bear fruit in time. They admit meager results, but attribute this to political, historical, and social barriers beyond their control. They continue to sow faithfully, hoping for more favorable results.
3. Institutional model. Several denominational missions have used this model. For example, Presbyterians and Congregationalists tried to win Muslims through hospitals, schools, and orphanages. The Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has operated three hospitals in Arab countries, as well as schools and orphanages in Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel (for Palestinians).
The assumption is that demonstrations of love, compassion, and humility will break down the walls of prejudice. Some missiologists say we should send more teachers, doctors, nurses, and agriculturalists, because their deeds will speak louder than their words.4
The institutional model continues to be valid. Institutions are a good way to overcome prejudice and win a hearing for the gospel. However, institutions face difficult times. For one thing, governments are taking over many of their services. Also, inflation makes it hard to maintain them. Nevertheless, in some countries—Yemen, for example—institutions are the only Christian presence allowed.
4. Dialogical model. The dialogical approach was pioneered by Temple Gairdner (1873-1928) and developed more fully by Kenneth Cragg. Dialogue is motivatedby a sincere love that seeks to reconcile Muslims and Christians. It has four purposes: (1) to learn what Muslims believe and to appreciate their beliefs in relation to their culture; (2) to seek to establish both contact and rapport on the basis of sincere, honest friendship; (3) to learn how to witness to them; and (4) to bring them ultimately to salvation in Christ.5
This approach must not be confused with the syncretistic, universalistic dialogues sponsored by some ecumenical groups. The missionary does not surrender his convictions. Rather, he affirms them in a way that permits him to grow in his understanding of Muslims.
5. Contextualization model. In this approach missionaries try by every possible way to become like Muslims so they can present the gospel in religious and cultural forms that Muslims can identify with. This model does not forget "the offense of the gospel," but seeks to avoid objectional factors.6 It calls for changes in missionary lifestyle, worship forms, theological terms, and strategy.
Proponents argue that missionary strategy for Muslim evangelism needs a major overhaul, including:
1. The missionary should make initial contact with Muslim leaders. Even if they do not become Christians, the missionary can reduce the possibility of overt opposition by befriending them.
2. People on the fringes of society should not be the focus of witness, but rather opinion leaders of the community.
3. Families, relatives, and groups of friends should be the initial conversion goal rather than individuals.
4. In the beginning only basic theological concepts should be presented.
5. We must allow adequate time for change to take place.7
6. It is best not to encourage converts to repudiate Islam. Instead, it is better to allow them to "remain in the state in which (they were) called" (1 Cor. 7:20). This way they can influence their peers.
7. In many cases, baptism should be postponed, so converts will have a greater opportunity to win other Muslims. Confession of faith should be open, but baptism is seen as a political act in some countries.
8. Missionaries should study animistic practices among Muslims to discover areas of felt need. These may provide useful points of evangelistic contact.8
The institutional model will have to be used in Arab countries where no other ministry is permitted. The dialogical model provides a way to approach Muslims in different settings. The church-oriented emphasis of the traditional model is biblical and should be stressed. The contextualization model has drawn on the insights of anthropology to suggest long-needed reforms that will lead to truly indigenous churches.
I have tried to incorporate elements from all the models, bearing in mind that Muslims vary culturally from place to place. One strategy does not fit all situations. These are some general rules that should characterize a strategy to evangelize Muslims.
Any model must be church-oriented. As Kenneth Cragg said, "No man comes into a churchless Christ."9 However, the church must be contextualized. Any model that does not bring new converts into a nurturing church is sure to fail.
The successful model will emphasize worship. Worship should be designed to meet the needs of the people. The forms will be different in Africa and Asia, but here again contextualization is the key.
Missionaries should use certain passages from the Koran as a springboard for explaining the gospel. They should feel free to use the names Allah and Isa (Jesus).
Missionaries in Muslim countries will have to adjust their lifestyles for the sake of the gospel. Mission agencies would do well to give candidates special tests to see if they are psychologically fit for service among Muslims.
New missionaries should be given several years to study the language and culture of their assigned country, as well as Islam itself. Intensive preparation and reasonable expectations will reduce missionary dropouts and enhance productivity.
Missionaries needto adapt their preaching to the culture of their people. Storytelling may well be more effective than sermons.
We should increase our use of the media. Radio, television, and literature could all be used more fully. Programming and writing must be contextualized. Drama would be more effective than the traditional hymn and sermon format.
Above all, whatever model we use, it must be characterized by love and prayer for Muslims. A Muslim convert wrote: It is stimulating to think that cases of conversion through sheer reasoning between dogmas of two religions are very rare, perhaps nonexistent. In cases of conversion where prosperity, social status, security, vengeance against native society, emotional experimentation and the like are not the motives, the change of faith is motivated perhaps more frequently by love for charming virtues, of a magnetic person, or love for a group of lovable associates, than by cold religious arithmetic.10
1. Lyle Vander Werff, "Our Muslim Neighbors: The Contribution of Samuel Zwemer to Christian Mission," Missio-logy 10 (April, 1982), p. 191.
2. Ibid., p. 195.
3. Samuel M. Zwemer, The Cross Above the Crescent (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1941), p. 261.
4. C. George Fry and James R. King, Islam: A Survey of the Muslim Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), p. 133.
5. Ray G. Register, Jr., Dialogue and Interfaith Witness With Muslims (Fort Washington, Pa.: Worldwide Evangelization Crusade, 1979), pp. 11, 12.
6. Bashir Abdol Massih, "Incarnational Witness to Muslims: The Models of Jesus, Paul, and the Early Church," World Pulse, Sept. 12, 1982, pp. 1-8.
7. Phil Parshall, New Paths in Muslim Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), pp. 92, 93.
8. John D.C. Anderson, "The Missionary Approach to Islam: Christian or Cultic"? Missiology 4 (July, 1976), pp. 295-299.
9. Kenneth Cragg, Sandals at the Mosque (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 143.
10. Frank Khair-Ullah, "Evangelism Among Muslims," in Let the World Hear His Voice, J.D. Douglas, ed. (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1975), p. 824.
JOHN MARK TERRY is associate professor of missions and evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. His article is based on a paper given at the Southeast regional meeting of the Evnagelical Missiological Society, March, 1995. He holds a Ph.D. in missions from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Tex. and previously served as a missionary int he Philippines from 1976 to 1989.
By James Tebbe
Many evangelicals engaged in mission to Muslims are at times schizophrenic. We develop a respect for them, but slide over the sticky theological questions. We struggle with an inconsistent approach. By avoiding a clear position, the evan-gelicals’ approach to the other faith is in a precarious position for two reasons.
First, we do no service to those we seek to reach by hiding our true thoughts. Surely integrity demands some kind of response. The confrontational approach used to be the commonly accepted position of evangelicals. I was frankly astonished to read Samuel Zwemer’s strong line in one of his books. He simply wouldn’t get away with it today.
I don’t advocate Zwemer’s full approach, and I doubt many of us would. But at least he had a clear theological position, something we don’t hear much of today.
On the other side is the eclectic tolerance that permeates the post-modernist West. “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as we understand each other.” There is very little difference between the lack of appreciation and fear on the one side and the universalism on the other.
What evangelicals lack is a clarity of the ground on which they stand in relation to people of other faiths. The confrontational approach of the last century was a product of the times, yet today we have precious little to replace it, apart from avoidance. This avoidance leads to retreat and defensiveness in ministry, leaving the task of engaging another faith to the universalists.
Is it any wonder that many who are engaged in mission to Muslims are discouraged? The apostle Paul told us that the way to keep from losing heart is to renounce secret ways and set forth the truth plainly (2 Cor. 4:1, 2). It’s amazing that he linked discouragement to secrecy, but I believe it is true. We must be careful not to let our security turn into secrecy. We don’t have to say everything, but we should know where we stand, and be able to give an account of it.
As we are confident of a firm ground on which to stand, we will be able to draw close to Muslims without fear. In our theological understanding we can find clear confidence. Absolute truth is vital to us. The lack of it leads to skipping over understanding and concentrating on techniques.
Technique rather than theology is the hallmark of evangelicals’ cross-cultural work. Out of uncertainty we are afraid. Out of fear we keep our distance. From that distance we hide what we need not hide. Thus our incarnational witness—the heart of the gospel—is lost. Our proclamation becomes like throwing rocks (messages) over a wall, not knowing how they land. We need to rise to the challenge and retake the high ground through understanding, integrity, and the renouncing of “secret ways.”
JAMES TEBBE is international director of InterServe, Nicosia, Cyprus. Born in Pakistan, he began his missionary career there in 1976 and transferred to the international office in 1986. He is a graduate of Indiana University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
EMQ, Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 168-173. Copyright © 1996 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.