A Response to Joseph Cumming’s ‘Muslim Followers of Jesus?

Contextualization of the gospel message to the Muslim audience is a hot topic in mission circles. What I find distressing is the proliferation of noted evangelical leaders and authors who have written extensively about Islam but lack any first-hand experience with Muslims. When I queried one such writer as to his qualifications to pontificate so negatively and dogmatically on this subject, he responded, “I have been able to talk to my barber who is a Muslim.”

With that said, I would like to turn to Joseph Cumming—someone I consider qualified to speak to this issue with integrity and experience. I had the privilege of spending time with him in the Muslim country in which he once ministered. Joseph, his wife, and two children lived in two small rooms without electricity or running water. With summer temperatures in excess of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, I simply was overwhelmed with the reality that this lovely, highly educated couple would choose to live in such conditions for 15 years!

Joseph has done an admirable job of highlighting the distinctions between C4 and C5 approaches. From the time we as a team began our contextualization efforts in 1975 in Bangladesh, we have consistently fallen into the C4 category. C4 people are dedicated to keeping Muslim-background believers in Jesus (MBBs) within their own sociological and cultural setting. “Extractionism” is to be avoided as far as humanly possible. Therefore we prefer the term “followers of Isa (Jesus)” rather than a name like “Christian,” which is loaded with negativity to just about every Muslim on the planet.

My concerns about C5 have been well-documented in my writings. It is important to note that not all C5 folk are unified in how they implement their strategy. There are those of the C5 persuasion who are confident they can accept Muhammad as a Prophet of God. Some encourage MBBs to continue to pray in the mosque. I have been in a C5 teaching session where the leader gave his devotions from the Qu’ran.

Some say syncretism is in the eye of the beholder. That is, if an MBB is comfortable with continuing certain Muslim practices, then what right has the “outsider” to object? My response is to refer us all to the Bible as our guide to theological integrity. Pragmatism should never trump fidelity to God’s Word.

I agree with Joseph about the need for civility in our writings and discussions. We together must concur that even the most intelligent and articulate of the C4ers and C5ers still see only as through a glass darkly.

Phil Parshall has ministered for 44 years among Muslims in Bangladesh and the Philippines. He has authored nine books on Islam, including The Cross and the Crescent: Understanding the Muslim Heart and Mind.

This article was a part of a special series called ‘The Global Conversation’ jointly published by Christianity Today International and the Lausanne Movement in the months leading up to Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization to help prepare the global church for the issues to be addressed at the Congress. Each lead article had several commissioned responses, and was published by dozens of publications around the world. (View all Articles)

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