by Phil Parshall
Response to the article “Muslim Missions: Cutting the Nerve?” by Richard Hildenbrand, EMQ July 1982.
Providentially, I feel, the Lord arranged for me to meet Dick Heldenbrand last February in Casablanca. There would be reason to speculate that Dick would write his article differently following our sessions together. However, as time factors prohibit a rewriting, I will address my comments to his article as found in this issue of EMQ.
My epistemology is totally based on an inerrant view of Scripture. I am an avowed opponent of theological relativism. Without a firm stand on biblical authority, we as missionaries to Islam will only be erecting a structure of wood, hay and stubble.
Dick quoted me as "favoring" and "commending" the keeping of the Muslim Fast and observing the Sheep Feast. In both of these instances, as well as others, I am really only asking questions. New Paths is a book written not as a dogmatic treatise, but rather as a stimulant to further thought and discussion on the subject of methodology. Even in the areas of retention of Islamic forms, I repeatedly affirm the need for a proper biblical interpretation to Muslims of each ritual. The rationale for maintaining these forms is to build bridges to the Muslim heart. Syncretism can be avoided if there is a constant emphasis on this reinterpretation of forms. Christianity is tainted with subbiblical observances, but they have become "ours" and we are no longer concerned with origins. It is the contemporary understanding that matters.
Is it a bad thing to draw the Muslim focus away from a deficient sociological term (Christian) and direct him toward a phrase of identity which highlights the person of the Godhead (Follower of Jesus)? To a Muslim, "Christian" is interpreted as one who eats pork, drinks wine, is immoral, is a colonialist, and a foreigner. Is this what we want to communicate to Muslims? Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to identify ourselves as Christians. In Western societies this is a beautiful word. In most Muslim countries it is a term of denigration.
One should be cautious of building a case on what a new convert from Islam says. I have asked similar questions and received exactly opposite replies from that which Dick received. It is important to ask questions broadly from Muslims" as well as from new converts who are unbiased, by first hearing the opinion of the foreign missionary.
Dick writes forcefully about not using "Isa" in witnessing to Muslims. My question is why does the total church and missionary community in North Africa use "Allah" in spoken communication as well as in the Arabic Bible? If they are consistent, they must use a Hebrew word for God if they want to use one for Jesus. Every time a Muslim hears the word Allah, he is thinking of the Quranic view of God. That, of course, is theologically inadequate, but it is a starting place in witness. It is my view that Allah and Isa can be used to help bridge the gulf between Islam and Christianity. These words, with biblical interpretation, move the Muslim from the known to the unknown. "Yashoua" is a meaningless jumble of sounds to the Muslim’s ear.
Dick protests the metaphysical interpretation of "son of God." Does he mean to give it a physical definition? God used human language to communicate divine truth. There is no other way in which Scripture has been given. So, we take human words and explain them from divine perspectives. "Son" as it refers to Jesus is not the result of a physical union bringing forth a child. That is exactly what it means, as it stands, to a Muslim. Other than a metaphysical interpretation of "Son" what can be suggested?
Sin, Dick states, is "first and last against God." I agree, it is against God, but it is very definitely also against man. Therefore, I stick with the idea of sin being perceived as guilt before God and shame before man; i.e., the prodigal son saying he had sinned against heaven and also against his father.
The conclusion of the article "contrasts"’ the guidelines of Kraft and Parshall with Dick’s own six-point methodology. I fail to see any contrast. I am in agreement with each phrase. Perhaps’, in reality, Dick and I are much closer in outlook than his article suggests.
Paul spoke of being "all things to all men that he might by all means save some. " In II Kings 5, Elisha did not rebuke Naaman for continuing to go into the temple of Rimmon even after conversion to the true God. Rather, he told him to "go in peace." Perhaps we too should be even more sensitive than we have been in the past as to where the Muslim is coming from and how we can best share Christ with him. My thinking, preaching, and writing has no other aim than this.
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