by Sam Schlorff
Schlorff confronts those who take contextualization too far in respect to Muslims.
Middle East Resources, P.O. Box 96, Upper Darby, PA 19082, 2006, 202 pages, $19.95.
—Reviewed by Warren Larson, director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies, Columbia International University.
Work on this outstanding literary piece began over forty years ago when Sam and Frederica Schlorff were fresh recruits in North Africa. Inspiration for the project may have come from a new term introduced in mission circles, but seldom used with understanding, much less of agreement. Having thought long and hard about something that is still controversial—and crucial—this text is finally off the press. Schlorff confronts those who take contextualization too far in respect to Muslims. Yet, when critiquing a colleague, he does so with grace, expressing appreciation for what he has learned from those who hold opposite views.
The book opens with a helpful overview of six mission models. Among other insights, it shows that certain approaches to Muslim evangelism have been extreme, to say the least. One was simply polemics (Imperial Model) against Islam in the nineteenth century; another saw Islam as “fulfillment” (Translational Model) in the twentieth century. This history lesson, however, is surely a prelude to what Schlorff wants to press home.
First, he gives his blessing to C-4, and this is refreshing. Second, he questions how a follower of our Lord can remain in the mosque—where Muhammad not Christ—is exalted, or continue the salat (prayer forms) and the shahida (creed). Schlorff fears that to do so compromises the gospel and leads to syncretism. He opposes aspects of “Insider Movements” (C-5 and C-6 approaches to church planting), supporting each argument with biblical references. However, he is careful to say that questioning C-5 is not to question a C-5 Muslim background believer.
Finally, Schlorff touches on other thorny issues. For example, in search of the most appropriate word for Jesus, he refers to a survey of seventy New Testament translations in languages spoken by Muslims. He finds that thirteen translations use ‘iisa (Qur’anic term for Jesus), seventeen use a form of Yesu Almasih and forty-two use a transliteration of Iesous Christosesu almashih (Jesus, the Christ). He agrees that if ‘iisa is accompanied by a full explanation, Muslims may recognize him more easily. Yet, in deference to Christian minorities who often resist all Islamic terms, he stops short of saying that every biblical translation among Muslims should use ‘iisa. In this he may be yielding to scholarly benevolence, because in some contexts, receptivity to the gospel seems to hinge on whether or not Muslims read a contextualized translation of the New Testament.
It is hoped that this well-researched, well-written book, penned by a scholar-practitioner par excellence, will receive the wide readership it deserves.
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