A debate within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over a method to evangelize Muslims demonstrates the difficulties of gospel contextualization.
The ongoing disagreement flared recently when Liberty Theological Seminary president Ergun Caner labeled as heretical the "camel method," an SBC evangelistic strategy.
Though he later apologized for calling International Mission Board (IMB) president Jerry Rankin a liar in the same interview, Caner did not retreat from criticizing what he called a deceptive practice.
The method uses the acronym CAMEL to explore a Qur'an passage describing the Virgin Birth, miracles, and resurrection of Isa al-Masih (Arabic for "Jesus the Messiah") as a bridge to the New Testament. The method was detailed in a 2004 book by SBC missionary Kevin Greeson, who observed Muslim-background converts in Asia using it successfully.
Critics fear the method impedes evangelism and discipleship by treating the Qur'an as a credible source of divine truth.
While Caner, a Turkish convert from Islam, contextualizes messages to his college students with references to American Idol and current movies, he said the camel method crosses the line into syncretism.
"The increasing popularity of this practice is disturbing," Caner said. "I could not see the early church pinching incense to Emperor Nero but in their hearts actually visualizing Jesus. They chose to die rather than even follow the false forms of a false god."
But Rankin said IMB trustees found the method valid after a 2007 investigation that included issuing principles of contextualization. "Historically, a missions approach has been to extricate Muslims from their community once they converted, which didn't do much for planting the gospel among Muslims," he said. ...1
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