Southern Religion

Caner apologizes for calling Rankin a liar

The president of a Baptist seminary has apologized for a personal attack on the head of the International Mission Board.

Ergun Caner, the president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, said he got carried away while criticizing the Camel Method of outreach to Muslims, according to a report by Associated Baptist Press. Caner said the deceptive strategy meant IMB president Jerry Rankin is lying.

Caner said he admitted in a chapel service at the seminary that he made a mistake. He also sent Rankin a letter of apology.

“If you’re dumb enough to say something like that, you’ve got to be man enough to own up to it,” he said.

February 26, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , , | Comments Off on Caner apologizes for calling Rankin a liar

Attack on the ‘Camel Method’ gets personal/political

It’s intuitively obvious why a former Muslim would criticize the controversial “Camel” method of evangelizing Muslims. But it is startling to hear a Southern Baptist theologian accuse the retiring head of a key mission board of lying.

Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va., is the latest to take issue with the evangelistic method promoted by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) International Mission Board as a way to reach Muslims.

Caner said on a podcast at the blog SBC Today that the “Camel Method” is heresy. He went on to say that the method is based on deception and that means Jerry Rankin, the president of the mission board, is lying.

Caner’s opposition takes on new light considering the wrestling for position brought on by Rankin’s upcoming retirement? Keep in mind that Caner and his brother, Emir, have strong ties to Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a major player in SBC politics.

In his book, Hardball Religion, former IMB trustee Wade Burleson says trustees loyal to Patterson tried to embarrass Rankin with the intention of removing him, according to a review by Baptists Today editor John Pierce.

In 2003, Patterson sent IMB trustees a paper questioning the mission board’s theological foundation. The document was written by Keith Eitel, then professor of Christian missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where Patterson previously served as president and now dean of the School of Evangelism at Southwestern.

Ongoing efforts to discredit Rankin could convince trustees that a new direction is needed at the IMB. Perhaps one led by Eitel. Or someone else loyal to Patterson and his allies.

February 16, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , , | Comments Off on Attack on the ‘Camel Method’ gets personal/political

Evangelism through the eye of a needle

Christians who use the “Camel Method” in an attempt to evangelize Muslims refer to God as Allah, a practice that has caused a great deal of controversy, but that’s not the only reason some oppose it.

The strategy, in which a Christian uses the Quran to talk to a Muslim about Jesus, was highlighted in a June 2007 article in the Christian Index, the state Baptist newspaper in Georgia. Jerry Rankin, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention‘s International Mission Board, talked about the Camel Method, which his organization promotes.

The Index article mentions several objections to the method, including Christians using the name Allah for God. Some think that using that term means that missionaries are affirming the Muslim view of Allah, according to the article.

Rankin calls that notion preposterous.

“In a cross-cultural witness you use the language of the people and you use whatever terminology they have for God.”

Some Muslims take great offense at Christians using Allah to refer to God. Violence broke out in Malaysia when a judge ruled that Christians there could continue the practice.

Another criticism of the Camel Method is that it does not require Muslims who become Christians to renounce their Muslim identity, suggesting that they continue to view God and Christ through a Muslim worldview.

“The Camel Method does not advocate that, but advocates being Christian while retaining your ethnic identity in that Muslim culture,” Rankin said.

The Index article prompted a letter from David Mills, assistant professor of evangelism and associate dean for applied ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Mills compared the Camel Method to how he said Mormons use the Bible when talking with their neighbors.

“The Mormon does not believe it, but he knows the neighbor does, so he portrays himself as a Bible believer.”

Mills encouraged missionaries to forgo the Camel Method and instead “use some of the superior methods of Muslim evangelism our seminaries offer.”

Mills’ letter led to a “clarification” from IMB executive vice president Clyde Meador.

“Helping a Muslim to see that his own book tells him that he should be interested in Christ is often an effective way of opening the door to a gospel witness. It is a proven method that has opened the door to Truth to untold numbers of Muslims in many parts of the world, and continues to do so today.”

Mike Morris, a Baptist blogger in Tennessee, used the Camel Method in a conversation with a Muslim imam, who is an Islamic leader. The imam, who obviously knew his religion, didn’t respond as literature for the evangelism strategy suggested a Muslim might.

For example, the Camel Method suggests talking about a Muslim festival Korbani Eid, which includes a sacrifice as a way of beginning a conversation about the New Testament concept of salvation. The imam said, however, that the festival was about obedience rather than a transfer of guilt.

“For solid, well-trained Muslims such as the imam, the festival cannot be utilized as a bridge to the Christian understanding of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross,” Morris said.

Bart Barber, another Baptist blogger, has written a number of posts that deal with the Camel Method. (A list can be found here.) Barber believes the strategy violates the IMB’s own guidelines.

In the Christian Index article, Rankin reveals the Camel Method’s origin.

“This is not a method of witness that we have contrived in order to reach Muslims. It is something that Muslim-background believers were using effectively to share their faith within their Muslim communities.”

But a strategy that works well for former Muslims with an established level of trust can seem downright deceitful when practiced by Christians without that background.

The Camel Method’s web site has four endorsements of the strategy, including one from David Garrison, who edited a workshop based on the method:

Every great work of God provokes a predictable backlash from Satan, as his domain is threatened. The Camel method has been no exception.

Neither the Camel Method’s supporters nor its detractors have acted in a manner that indicates they’re in league with the devil. But the method itself is the wrong way to accomplish what well-meaning people believe is the right thing.

January 19, 2010 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , , | Comments Off on Evangelism through the eye of a needle

God by any other name

A judge’s ruling in Malaysia that Christians there can use “Allah” to refer to God set off violence against churches with several being fire-bombed or vandalized.

Christian leaders in Malaysia are calling for calm and unity, but some Christian groups there say they will continue to use Allah for God.

Coverage of the attacks focused on Muslim anger over the decision, but some Christians also oppose using Allah to refer to God.

The court decision in Malaysia was the result of a lawsuit filed two years ago by The Herald, a Catholic newspaper. The suit asked the court to set aside a government regulation that only Muslims could refer to the deity as Allah. Enforcement of the ruling is delayed while the Malaysian government appeals.

The Herald’s editor told the London Times that his paper’s references to Allah are not an effort to convert Muslims to Christianity. Other uses of the term, however, clearly aim to evangelize Muslims. One such effort, based on the book “The Camel — How Muslims are Coming to Faith in Christ,” is promoted by the Southern Baptist Convention‘s International Mission Board.

Wade Burleson, a former trustee of the IMB, wrote about discussion of the method while he was on the board in July 2007. He said the book teaches a “unique method of sharing the gospel to Muslims” using parts of the Quran to convince them that the “true” Allah can only be known through his son, Jesus Christ.

Kevin Greeson, the author of The Camel, told the Texas Baptist Standard that the name of the book comes from an Arabic says that every good Muslim knows 99 names for Allah, but only the camel knows the 100th name.

“We tell them we know the 100th name. It’s Jesus,” Greeson said.

Burleson said that during the 2007 IMB meeting Gordon Fort, vice-president of overseas operations for the IMB, talked about why it was essential that the name “Allah” be used for “God” when speaking to Arabic speaking people in their native tongue. Gordon said there is no Arabic equivalent to convey the idea of a Supreme Being other than “Allah” and when missionaries use the word “Allah” for God, they tell the listeners that the only way to know the one true “Allah” is to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Winston Curtis, another trustee, followed Fort’s remarks by saying that only “Bible” names like Yahweh, Elohim, and El-Shaddai should be used by Christians when referring to God.

Burleson said Curtis used the word “God” 35 times during his remarks, in effect using the English word “God” the way Arabs would use the Arabic word “Allah.” Burleson further pointed out that missionaries who use the word “Allah” for God “are only doing what the Apostle Paul did on Mars Hill — starting at the very place the people who need Christ are — and taking them to where they need to go — to repentance from their sin and faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

But Bart Barber, a Southern Baptist pastor and blogger, said Paul’s evangelistic efforts at Mars Hill included confrontation.

“Greeson’s book very delicately avoids confrontation with Islam,” Barber said. “Indeed, the fundamental distinctive of The Camel seems to be its way of trying to present Christianity without confronting Islam.”

Others in the SBC have debated the wisdom of using “Allah” to refer to God.

Fred Smith, a professor at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an article for the blog SBCToday taking issue with a post on the blog SBCImpact written by an anonymous writer identified as “From the Middle East.” The writer’s use of Allah for God was among Smith’s issues.

Smith said that Allah in the Quran is remote from creation, promotes salvation by works, and “begets not, nor is he begotten.”

“This is a completely different person from the God of the Bible who is deeply involved with His people, who calls us to repentance and faith, and who ‘sent His only begotten Son’ that we might be saved. These two beings are not the same god and cannot be!”

In a separate post, the anonymous blogger defends his use of the term, saying that the word was used by Christians before Islam existed and pointing out that Arabic translations of the Bible refer to God as Allah.

Emir Caner, a former Muslim who was then dean of the College at Southwestern in Texas but is now president of Truett-McConnell College in Georgia, wrote a column for Baptist Press in 2007 saying “the god of Muhammad is not the Father of Jesus.”

“The subject in its essence is not a linguistic issue, but a theological matter with eternal ramifications. To say that since Allah is Arabic for God and YHWH is Hebrew for God, Christians and Muslims worship the same God is beyond naive –- it is blasphemous.”

Former SBC president Jerry Vines got national attention in 2002 when he called Mohammed “a demon-possessed pedophile” at an SBC Pastors’ Conference.

“Allah is not Jehovah, either. Jehovah is not going to turn anyone into a terrorist that will try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people.”

But one can refer to God as Allah without equating the Muslim deity with the Christian supreme being. The larger issue is whether missionaries and Christians in general are being completely honest when they use the term in their discussions with Muslims.

If you have to ask if the end justifies the means, the answer is almost always no.

Christians are used to asking “What would Jesus do?” Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondent for the London Times, asks her readers a similar question in a column about the upheaval in Malaysia.

“What would Allah say?”

Unfortunately many Christians will be too offended by the question to even consider it.

January 12, 2010 Posted by | Religion | , , | 1 Comment