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Can Jesus followers still call themselves Muslim?

Can followers of Jesus from a Muslim background continue to call themselves Muslims? This post will explore whether one’s Muslim identity as a Christ follower is an ongoing permanent identity or is simply a transitional phase as the believer matures.  Many Insider Movement advocates see the retention of one’s socio-religious identity as permanent (see Rebecca Lewis’s article, “Insider Movements: Honoring God-given Identity and Community,” in Understanding Insider Movements). In fact, retention of one’s socio-religious identity is one of the distinctive elements of Insider Movements. I question whether this is possible without redefining Islam or Christianity or both.

Who defines whether one is a Muslim?

Fred Farrokh is “a Muslim-background Christian who has been involved in ministry to Muslims for over 30 years” (see his article, “Indigenous Perspectives on Muslim Identity and Insider Movements.”) In the last month, Farrokh has written a very helpful seven-part series on “Identity Development and Transformation in Christ” and it can be found on BiblicalMissiology.org.

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Talking with Muslims about faith

In my colleague’s review of the book, Dialogical Apologetics, in this blog, Gary Ridley noted that dialogue with adherents of other religions has often been seen as mutually incompatible with evangelism.  Dialogue has been used to describe inter-religious discussions in which evangelism is not seen as necessary or even a desirable goal. The book Gary reviewed points to another way of viewing that dialogue.

I would like to extend that conversation to focus particularly on dialogue with adherents of the Islamic faith. Unknown to most of us,  including myself until recently, Christians have a very long history of these interactions, extending back for many centuries.

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Photo by Jessica Sysengrath on Unsplash

Review of Dialogical Apologetics

I have a couple of shelves full of books on apologetics in my library. Some are very philosophical and technical – the kind you need a dictionary handy in order to understand. Some are like cookbooks that give recipes for every question you might encounter in defending Christian faith. A good friend recommended David K. Clark’s book, Dialogical Apologetics: A Person-Centered Approach to Christian Defense, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993. It has been around a while but I was not aware of it.

Clark’s book emphasizes dialogue, a common topic in missiology, especially when interacting with adherents of other religions. Dialogue is often seen as antithetical to proclamation and defense of Christianity. The author makes a case that dialogue does not require neutrality or a commitment to pluralism. He writes:

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Can we call Muhammad a Prophet?

Insider movement advocates discuss the appropriateness of converts saying the Shahada which identifies Muhammad as God’s prophet. There is not a consensus on this point. Yet saying the Shahada is part of Muslim identity.  Is there any way that we can refer to Muhammad as God’s prophet without compromising the authority of the Bible?

In 2014 the International Journal of Frontier Missiology published an article by Harley Talman entitled, “Is Muhammad Also Among the Prophets?” (vol.31:4 Winter 2014). Subsequent issues contain responses and counter responses with Ayman Ibrahim (vol. 32:4 Winter 2015; 33:3 Fall 2016) and John Azumah (vol. 33:3 Fall 2016). I am not going to detail their discussion. You can read their whole dialogue in the archives section of the IJFM website.

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How do we decide whom we can work with?

Mission agencies, including the one in which I serve, are increasingly drawn to work in partnership with other mission organizations and churches. As Missio Nexus’ tagline says, “The Great Commission is too big for anyone to accomplish alone and too important not to try to do together.” 

So we do not often hear calls to be careful about ecumenism.  (Wikipedia defines ecumenism as the “efforts by Christians of different church traditions to develop closer relationships and better understandings.”)

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The Kingdom of God paradigm and Insider Movements

In our ongoing discussion of Insider Movements, we turn now to the question of what implications an understanding of the Kingdom of God might have for insider movements. In chapter 20 of Understanding Insider Movements, Anthony Taylor prefers the “Kingdom of God” paradigm over the “conflict of religions” paradigm. He writes:

An alternative to the ‘conflict of religions’ paradigm is the paradigm of the kingdom of God. This paradigm assumes that what is most important is the quality of one’s relationship to Christ and to a community of believers, and that such communities can have different practices and emphases, whether novel or traditional, foreign or indigenous, as long as they are compatible with the Bible.  (UIM, kindle loc. 4293)

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Learning from Mission History

As I look at the missiological landscape more than halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, I join others in noting similarities with the early 20th century. Christopher R. Little writes:

Indeed, the problems the missionary movement generated at the early part of the twentieth century have returned with a vengeance at the beginning of the twenty-first century. … It is a hard fact to face, but the church has failed to learn from history and is therefore repeating it. – Polemic Missiology for the 21st Century: In Memoriam of Roland Allen, Kindle loc. 137

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