Liar! Liar! The current missiological debate on contextualization rages on…

Liar! Liar! The current missiological debate on contextualization rages on…

There is a lot of communication happening on the “contextualization” front. For some years, some missionaries have been using ministry forms which are highly indigenous in nature and rely on sources from within other religious traditions to make their case.  Others have been highly critical of this approach.  This dialogue has a language all its own and goes way beyond what the uninitiated may think.

As churches in the US begin to find out just what missionaries they fund are doing, I expect there will be a backlash; in fact, this has already begun.  In the past few months this debate has begun to gather steam.  Ergun Caner, President of Liberty Theological Seminary, has given a scathing interview about the Southern Baptist Convention’s use of the “Camel Method,” a strategy that uses the Quran to share Christ.  He later would have to recant the charge that IMB President Jerry Rankin was a liar!

FYI, I am C-4 proponent.  C-5 is, at best, a transitory phase of the development of the church.  It should not be a goal for missionaries to shoot for C-5 believers or churches.

Here are a few resources for you to educate yourself on this topic.  If you have more resources, please send them on through to me!

A Proponent Makes His Case
These articles are by John Travis, a pro-Insider Movement author.  From here you can find other resources that are quoted.

The Camel Method
Here is where you can buy the book yourself.  The author makes a defense in this article.

The IMB’s Statements on Contextualization
Here the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention outlines their position on contextualization.

St. Francis Magazine
This resource has carried a number of critical articles about the more extreme versions of contextualization.  This issue has lots of good info on both perspectives and tons of good links.  You can spend a couple hours on these resources and still be learning new things!  Highly recommended (you can download the whole issue and put it on your reading device!).

My experience with the Common Ground Movement
This is a critique from a CMB (Christian of Muslim Background) with a story
about how this strategy may be perceived as deceptive by a Muslim (a
conviction I share).

Note:  There is a difference between the Common Word movement and the Common Ground movement.  The former is more ecumenical/cooperative in nature while the latter is more about missionary strategy.  Sometimes I see them lumped together, but this isn’t really fair.  You can find the official site on the Common Word here, and this is a critique from John Piper.

Edit from original article…

I have been emailed about my lack of inclusion of the Common Path website. I didn’t know it existed. Here is the link for those that want to see what C-5/IM advocates have to say on the issue: Common Path Alliance

11 thoughts on “Liar! Liar! The current missiological debate on contextualization rages on…

  1. There is an excellent article on C5 and of the teaching tools that folks use when spreading the C5 paradigm. The actual one being refuted in this particular article was taken from the Common Path Alliance web site and was used in the Jesus in the Quran conferences. There are also audio clips of what is actually being taught at these conferences on this site.

    It is my belief that God is not pleased with this method of missions being that it contradicts the Gospel.

    Link to article and site:

  2. It is good to acquaint ourselves with the various approaches but we must judge everything through the eyes of Jesus. He did not come to affirm the establishment. He came to transform it. Contextualization whether C1 or C4 or beyond has the wrong focus even though I agree with some of its concepts. Why? Because the gospel is primarily transformational then contextual. We first look for the evil in the culture to bring in the gospel to it and change it. As we encounter innocent or redeemable cultural patterns we made decisions as to how to deal with these things. The primary responsibility however is on the shoulders of the nationals not the Western workers.
    Visit and

  3. Georges, I couldn’t agree more with the statement “the primary responsibility however is on the shoulders of the nationals not the Western workers.” However, there are vast populations in which there is either no national worker, too few national workers, or a national church under siege and unable or unwilling to take on the task. So, for better or for worse, it’s not possible to simply say, “leave it to the nationals.”

    But since we are on the topic…

    In my experience, nationals are seldom in favor of highly contextualized forms of ministry. So, you make a great point.

  4. A great biblically-based book to read about issues relating to missionary work among Muslims that also addresses the Insider Movement/C5 is Sam Schlorff's book, "Missiological Models in Ministry to Muslims."  It can be purchased directly from Middle East Resources in Upper Darby, PA: 610-352-2003.  The more I learn about the Insider Movement/C5 the more I think that this book is prophetic.

  5. Ted mentions that St.Francismagazine carries articles about the more "extreme version of contextualization." But one of the basic problems in the entire discussion about contextualization is that many people (perhaps most) think that the extreme version is the main version.
    However, contextualization is far wider than that including what Georges Houssney  refers to in his comment as the transformational nature of the gospel. Comprehensive contexualization is really about how the gospel engages and transforms culture- not how one adapts the gospel to another faith system. The error of the Insider Movement, Common Ground, and C1-C6 proponents is that they try to adjust the gospel to another religious structure/ another worldview and that is not possible because the worldviews are irreconcilable and that makes the religious structures incompatible.
    Back to the Bible brothers and sisters.  

  6. Roger,

    I agree with you that Islam and Christianity are different religious systems and therefore ultimately are not able to be placed in the same basket.

    What I find happening in this debate is that the proponents of "extreme contextualization" have redefined contextualization to mean the type that they employ.  When I speak at churches and mission gatherings in the US, I find that I am often quizzed by young people about the forms of contextualization Pioneers supports and uses.  If it's not C-5/IM oriented, the impression this leaves them with is that Pioneers is a "traditional agency."

    One level of this debate is the "real" debate about how much we can allow Islamic forms into Christianity without redefining the gospel.  Another level of the debate is the polemic that is being used by C-5/IM advocates (perhaps unwittingly) that argues that you either do it this way or you are a old-school colonialist.

    I am not prepared to "cede territory" to the C5 movement by agreeing that they are doing contextualization and others aren't.  The danger with your argument is that it suggests since the two world views are incompatible, there is therefore no need to argue the topic of contextualization.  I think it's important to fight for a proper definition of contextualization.

    So, yes, the gospel does not adapt to culture.  However, that leaves plenty of room for discussion regarding forms and practices.  Much of the debate should be centered on the symbolism behind these forms and practices.  Unfortunately, these forms and practices are being embraced by C-5/IM'ers as neutral territory; cultural expressions which are somehow void of meaning.

    – Ted

  7. Ted,
    We have a miscommunication here. The gospel does not conform to culture but it does engage it in order to adapt to cultural structures. Transformation of culture is affected through models such as those used in the political, leadership, law & justice, education, medical, and other fields in a culture. I meant that the gospel does not conform or adapt to religious structures. This is where the worldview clash prohibits assimilation of non-biblical religious structures. Of course, some religions may have some neutral structures or worldview ideas that can be accepted such as respect for elders. I think this is what you refer to as forms and practices although form and meaning can be tricky as well in application. 
    What I am saying about contextualization is that those promoting C5, etc. have done a good job in that most people who know little about how one culture integrates with another have bought into the idea that C5 contextualization is real. This is what the IM, Common Ground, C5'er want people to believe because it puts them out beyond all the others as the leaders in a new wave to win the final UPG's. But the C1-C6 scale and most of what has flowed from it that we see in writing is not true (comprehensive) contextualization. It is an empty bubble with a glossy outer skin. There has been very little real fruit from these practices that has been reported in verifiable social science journals. We have no way of knowing if there has been any significant success with these practices.  However, they have done a marvelous marketing job so that many segments of the church think that there has been great accomplishments in reaching souls. 
    However, as I mention in my note, the IM, Common Ground, C6 type of so-called "contextualization" is not comprehensive. I don't even consider it to be worthy to be called contextualization because it is so limited. To be effective, contextualization must be comprehensive.
    When I refer to worldview, I am not talking about cultural forms and practices. They are based on worldview. The customs, traditions, laws, etc. of a people group are undergirded by a worldview. Worldview underlies culture. Islam is a worldview as are all religions. What I am saying is that the biblical worldview can not be reconciled with the worldview of another religion. However, that doesn't mean that they won't have some similar cultural forms such as marriage, etc. However, these cultural forms will most likely have distinct differences as well. 

  8. Roger,

    Excellent input.

    I am intrigued by your statement, "We have no way of knowing if there has been any significant success with these practices."  Last month I was on a conference call regarding funding for projects within the Muslim world.  One of the people on the call stated, "The only work that is producing fruit seems to be among the IM crowd."

    Now, I know that isn't true.  I know of numerous teams from the organization I work for that have growing movements as a result (at least in part) of their efforts.  Yet, the word on the street is that C-5/IM strategies are working and non-C-5/IM strategies are not.

    If there is any substantive research on this topic I (and many readers here) would love to hear about it.

    – Ted

  9. Ted–I met you last November at the Pioneers "Open House" for pastors etc. Really appreciated the time you took with me, and since then I've enjoyed following you from afar.
    You post here reminded me of  talk Don Carson gave at the Gospel Coalition April 09. It was an exposition of 1Cor 9 called That By All Means I Might Win Some: Faithfulness and Flexibility in Gospel. As I recall he began with a brief intro to the C-positions and then towards the end talked about how 1Cor 9 might apply to the C-categories.  
    Here's a link to it, and please pardon me if you are already aware of it:
    Thanks again for your kindness!
    Brad Baugham

  10. Ted- I have tried to find documentation on IM & other related movements and there doesn't seem to be any except a study in Bangladesh several years ago that was supervised by Dudley Woodberry but never published. I hear that those results have been called into question. 
    It seems we only have individual opinions about the success of these approaches. I am told that the practitioners do not want to publish because of their secrecy model. Transparency creates problems for them as others come in and create dissonance in their work. 

  11. Just a very swift comment on why there is no data regarding C5/IM work. It is because no wise proponent would risk putting his data out in publication with a great many who are hunting for things to disprove and put holes into.

    A number of the Biblical Missiology people have even matched up names and pseudonyms of some people traveling to sensitive areas. We have crossed a line of respect never crossed before.

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