by Charles H. Kraft
Response to the Article: Mission to Muslims: Cutting the Nerve? by Richard Hildenbrand, July 1982 issue of EMQ.
"Though Mr. Heldenbrand’s criticism is sharp and betrays considerable misunderstanding of both the nature and the spirit of my position, I understand his concern and share his aims. I even agree with what he has labeled "affirmative guidelines" in nearly everything, except the combative posture that he advocates in presenting them to Muslims. Though I cannot deal in detail with each issue raised by Mr. Heldenbrand, it seems important to register the following thoughts.
Our differences result from my distaste for that combative approach to witness and my willingness to experiment with forms of witness that demonstrate the kind of Christlike love that we profess to recommend. I don’t believe that my recommendations are always correct. But where, as in the ministries of Parshall, McCurry and others, they seem to be bearing more fruit than the combative approach, I wonder if the experiment is not justified.
Jesus was very hard on (combative toward) those who knew a lot but practiced little of what they knew (i.e. Scribes and Pharisees). He was, however, gentle toward those who knew little (the common people). To the latter Jesus adapted his manner of life, his language, his total approach to the message he came to bring. Indeed, he even identified with them in their criticisms of the orthodoxy of those who represented "God’s true way" to them. The question I seek to raise is whether contemporary Muslims fall into the category of those whom Jesus sought to combat because they lead themselves and others astray (Mt.23), or into the category of those to whom Jesus would have adapted. Undoubtedly, there are some in each category.
The traditional evangelical approach seems, however, to assume such things as (1) that all Muslims know better and that, therefore, we do right to condemn their whole approach to relating to God (as Jesus did with the Pharisees); (2) that the meager success of our combative approach to Muslim evangelism is the fault of the unresponsiveness of our Muslim receptors, not of the approach itself-we do not, therefore, need to examine critically that approach and to experiment with new approaches; (3) that we deny or compromise the truth God has given us if we strategize our witness in such a way that we focus first on those Christian truths most acceptable to Muslims, leaving more difficult truths for later in the process; (4) that the only correct approach is early in the process to lay even the most difficult truths on them and to pray that God will supernaturally intervene to overcome their revulsion toward a form of polytheism (i.e., the Trinity as they understand it) that recommends a defeated God (i.e., by Jesus’ death) who produced a son through sexual intercourse with a human; (5) that if we admit that God can use the Koran or anything else Muslim either to lead Muslims to Christ or to help them to grow in Christ, we are compromising the Christian gospel.
(6) that since Muslim cultural forms are inherently misleading and even evil, conversion to Christ can only come through radical replacement of their whole religious system (including much of their culture) by our system. (This kind of assumption seems to lie behind Mr. Heldenbrand’s suggestion that we translate the Hebrew Yashoua in place of the Arabic Isa as the name for Jesus. As the Spanish use of Dios for God in Latin America demonstrates, such an approach virtually assures the syncretism it seeks to avoid. Whether consciously or unconsciously, every Muslim will start with his concept of Isa no matter what term outsiders use); (7) that the lack of love we often manifest in our approaches to witness has nothing to do with the way our hearers perceive the love of the Christ we recommend.
I assume, rather, that we should (1) take seriously those passages of Scripture (e.g., Acts 14:17; 17:22-31; Rom. 1, 2; Gen. 14:18-20) that indicate that God has been at work with every people at every time; (2) that, therefore,, Chris- tian witnesses need to be diligent in discovering such workings (e.g., in redemptive analogies); (3) that Paul’s contex- tualizing principle articulated in I Cor. 9:20-22 (a Jew to Jews, a Gentile to Gentiles) and demonstrated throughout Scripture is just as applicable today-Muslims should not, therefore be required to convert culturally to European (so called "Christian") culture (including specifically European interpretations of Christianity with which our theologies are laden) in order to respond to God through Christ; (4) that, as with all examples of the people of God in the Scriptures, we can expect the majority of the lifestyle and thought patterns of Christian converts to be con- tinuous (rather than discontinuous) with their previous lifestyle and thought patterns (e.g., Hebrew responses to God were distinctly Hebrew, Greek distinctly Greek, etc.); (5) that a combative approach to winning those who are in ignorance (i.e., who are "informationally B.C.") is unloving and unworthy of the Lord we seek to serve.
Is my attempt at open, creative Christian witness wrong and dangerous? Perhaps. If so, what are we to say concerning the closed, uncreative approach that Mr. Heldenbrand recommends that we continue, even though it has been found in practice to be desperately wanting? Should not that approach also be examined (as I am trying to do) on biblical grounds? If so, can we not employ the perspectives of anthropology (as I do) to aid us in understanding the Scriptures? (I reject out of hand Mr. Heldenbrand’s accusation that I have exchanged "revelational absolutes for cultural relativities." What I have exchanged is a fallible human ethnocentric theological perspective for interpreting God’s inspired Word.) My approach is undoubtedly limited by the same factors that affect every human perspective (i.e., culture, finiteness, sin, limitations of knowledge and experience, etc.). It advocates, furthermore, the kind of incarnational risk that God took in committing his message to human cultural and linguistic forms (e.g., Hebrew and Greek) that were already "infested" with pagan meanings, in confidence that his Holy Spirit working in and through his people within those pagan cultures could adequately convey his meanings and grow his church. Do we have faith that God’s Holy Spirit can work within (rather than against) Muslim peoples and cultures? Or must we in fear bury the God-given " talent" of contemporary cultural and linguistic insight and continue the Crusades?
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