(Originally published at www.thecgcs.org on November 6, 2018)
Recently two Southern Baptist missiologists and professors have put together a book addressing one of the most crucial questions about Muslim evangelism and Missions. Dr Ant Greenham, Associate Professor of Missions and Islamic Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Ayman Ibrahim, Bill and Connie Jenkins Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and director of Jenkins Center for Christian Understanding of Islam, at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, co-edited Muslim Conversions: A Critique of Insider Movements In Islamic Contexts.
We had a chance to chat with Dr. Greenham. Below is a brief interview with him why they wrote this book and their hopes for its use in missions to Muslims:
Dr. Greenham, thanks for taking a few minutes to talk with us about your new book, Muslim Conversions.
1. Can you share with us the genesis of this book idea?
It began with a question which exploded in the lap of my co-editor and Southern Seminary colleague, Dr. Ayman Ibrahim, in mid-2015: “Is it really biblical to consider Muhammad a prophet?” The concerned missionary who asked was troubled by those who give a tentative yes to the question. Soon afterwards, a substantial volume, Understanding Insider Movements, edited by Harley Talman and John Travis (both pseudonyms), was handed out free to all the delegates attending the Evangelical Missiological Society meeting in Dallas. Claiming to promote understanding of Insider Movements (IMs), it did nothing of the sort. It omitted important issues like biblical translations (at the authors’ own admission), it used pseudonyms without informing the reader, and in particular, it presented IMs (often in republished articles) in a way that effectively ignored numerous, repeated, respected, evangelical voices expressing concern about such movements. Clearly, a response was called for.
Despite the need for a response, I had no intention of being part of it: I had a big project on my plate. Well, in quick succession, it became clear that my project was going nowhere and I was copied on Dr. Ibrahim’s emailed pleas for someone to help him with a substantial reply to Talman and Travis volume. To cut a long story short, it is my sincere conviction that the Lord brought us together, from opposite ends of the African continent (but living in America), to produce a work written afresh by 34 scholars, pastors, believers from a Muslim background (BMBs), and missionaries. We were thus privileged to edit (and contribute to) a response to IMs conveying voices from Africa, the Arab World, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States.
2. Can you explain to the readers what “Insider Movements” are and why they are so concerning to you?
Quite simply, proponents of IMs claim that followers of Jesus should remain within their religious (or socio-religious) communities. In the case of Muslims, this typically means remaining true to the supposedly non-consequential outward forms of Islam while following Christ. So what does this look like—and are those outward forms of Islam all that unimportant?
A typical account, drawn from our book, concerns a Southeast Asian—endorsed by a Christian missionary—who presents himself as an observant Muslim. Rather than identify as a Christian, he claims to be a Muslim follower of Isa al Masih(“Jesus the Christ” in Arabic). Regarding the Qur’an and the Bible, he prefers the latter, but affirms the Qur’an. And while he says he has differences with other Muslims, he has no hesitation in affirming Muhammad’s prophethood—simply because the Qur’an, he claims, led him to Christ. He also asserts the ongoing validity of Islam’s sacrifices and rituals.
Why is this a problem? Islam rejects Jesus’ death on the cross, denies his deity, claims the Bible is corrupted, and insists that Muhammad is the final “seal of the prophets,” with his changeless message conveyed perfectly in the Qur’an. In other words, the outward forms (i.e., duties) of Islam, including communal fasting and sacrifice, the way in which one prays (five times a day, toward Mecca), and especially the confession that there is no god but God (“Allah” in Arabic) and Muhammad is the messenger, are truly consequential. Quite simply, Islam sets out to correct (and effectively replace) the biblical Jesus, in the name of submission to an unknowable God, as advocated by Muhammad. I am convinced that remaining faithful to all this and following Jesus at the same time is impossible.
Jesus’ way is demanding, and the New Testament demonstrates that his followers inevitably experienced a dramatic discontinuity with their past religious lives. As the apostle Paul found, remaining within the confines of a Christ-rejecting Judaism soon proved impossible. And the NT certainly knows nothing of Apollo insiders—or anything else you choose from the Greek pantheon! By the same token, identifying as a Muslim for Jesus is simply untenable.
Another concern is the existence of so-called Muslim-idiom translations (MITs) of Scripture. Tragically, many donors have unwittingly contributed to Bible translations which avoid terms offensive to Muslims, especially Son of God language. Muslims typically misunderstand “Son of God” to mean that God in some way had physical relations with Mary in order to produce Jesus. However, rather than correct such ideas through a process of careful discipleship, producers of MITs use phrases such as “Beloved of God,” “Prince of God” or “God’s Heavenly Representative,” and relegate God the Father to “Creator,” “Sustainer” or “Protector.” Effectively, such language confirms faulty Islamic theology in the mind of the reader and denies Muslims the opportunity to know the Trinitarian God of the Bible—or (later) to craft a correct theological understanding of him on the basis of an accurate translation of Scripture.
So, I don’t believe it’s too much to say that IM proponents (and their MIT associates) risk abandoning the gospel.
3. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Despite the siren-call of IM proponents, IMs are biblically, theologically, missiologically, and practically untenable.
4. As a missiologist, how would you instruct churches, and potential missionaries, to pursue Muslim evangelism?
Relationship is key. However, a relationship with a Muslim, characterized by integrity and genuine concern for another’s welfare, must never come at the cost of compromising the gospel, our new identity in Christ, or the essential truths and practices of Christianity. Put differently, our missiology must be driven by biblical theology, not by anthropology. So, to close, let me recommend a helpful resource (to which I contribute a chapter) for churches and potential missionaries. It is Micah Fries’s and Keith Whitfield’s Islam and North America: Loving our Muslim Neighbors (Nashville: B&H, 2018).
5. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Don’t be afraid of Muslims you meet! Do your best to be friendly, and if appropriate, invite them to your home for a meal. Muslims love hospitality! And especially, ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in the challenging task of building Christ-centered relationships.
The price point for this book is quite steep. However, most libraries will have a copy of it. We at the CGCS suggest that you find a copy of the book and read through it. As we consider the Great Commission implications of the expansion of Islam in our world, it is important for us to have a handle on the issues discussed in the book.
This book comes highly recommended.