Assessment of the Bridging the Divide Consultation Houghton College, NY. June 20-23

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Introduction: Houghton College hosted a consultation to bring together mission leaders to address the controversy pertaining to the Insider Movement. The organizing committee invited almost 100 people to attend. Fifty people on both sides of the argument attended.

Many of those invited were not able to attend. But those who did constituted a balanced group of proponents, opponents and moderates. This report is my own assessment of the consultation.

 

Article:

As a member of the organizing and inviting committee, I struggled almost every day for several months since the consultation was conceived. This recurring question troubled my mind “Will we accomplish anything at all?” Is bridging the divide possible? I knew a number of those who are both for and against the Insider Movement and I knew how stubborn each party can be.

Since the mid 1970’s I have been following the development of the Insider Movement and have been extremely disturbed by it. Having confronted a number of the IM proponents personally, I was not left with any hope that they would change their positions. By the same token I did not think any of us who were opposed to the movement would be willing to modify our positions either.

The opening evening went well. Each committee member had 5 minutes to address the 50 participants. The atmosphere was good. The appeals focused on the need for humility and for listening to each other. My exhortation affirmed the others’ call to humility and I added the challenge for self-examination. “…the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 1 Corinthians 3:13. This indeed was a sober reality. Who can stand the test of God’s fire?

The next three days were filled with meetings of various kinds. Round table discussions occupied the majority of time. There were also case studies, short talks, and panels. At times the atmosphere was electric. Arguments were heated. Other times there was a spirit of listening and learning. Some times we witnessed tears and various emotional expressions. Even during meals there were some heated discussions. There was much fellowship as well as laughter. Perhaps the best times were when we all entered the throne of God together seeking the Lord’s face.

The last night was the most difficult. There was a heated debate over whether we should produce a common statement or affirmation. Deliberations went late into the night approaching midnight. Under the pressure of the clock, tired eyes and saturated minds, a select team went out to draft the document. When they returned it was decided to name it a report to avoid the appearance that it had a formal authoritative weight. The decision was driven by the desire to report back to our constituencies. Rather than have each one come up with his or her own report, we would share at least what we agreed on. The report acknowledges that we were not able to agree on everything and that we will continue to dialog on these issues in the future. Some including me, recommended that we state also what we did not agree on. This was turned down. One who played a vital role in the discussions walked out objecting to the removal of some of the significant elements of the report, namely that we should not encourage the recitation of the Fatiha, call Muhammad a prophet, or elevate the Quran.

Following the consultation, many emails were exchanged among participants. Different people had different opinions as to the efficacy of the consultation. One IMer withdrew his support of the report, another threatened to withdraw, most affirmed the report and kept a positive and a hopeful attitude toward the ongoing process.

Here is my assessment of what actually happened at Houghton College.

POSITIVES:

  1. It was a good thing that both sides came face to face with each other. For too long each side has been demonizing the other and speaking against people they have not met before.
  2. There were healing moments that included confessions, apologies, and reconciliation between individuals.
  3. There were emotional moments including some tears and heated arguments. Communication was happening.
  4. Some misunderstandings and misperceptions have been rectified by some in both camps.
  5. The most significant accomplishment is the agreement reached to keep the familial language in Bible translations. The Father-Son relationship between God and Jesus was affirmed. At one time, as best I can judge, Rick Brown stood up and confessed that he had been wrong on some of the alternative translations of “Son of God.” A number of us were surprised but delighted.

NEGATIVES:

  1. Most of the case studies represented the Insider Movement. My case study was the only one that covered the traditional approach to church planting. Both during and since the consultation, people on both sides have complained that they were outnumbered by representatives of the “other side.”
  2. It was disturbing to hear in some of these reports that a large percentage of those purported to be “followers of Isa” do not attend church, do not sing in worship, and believe that there are four holy books including the Torah, Psalms, Injeel, and the Quran. Most attend mosques and pray the Shahada’. One of the reporters admitted that they left the decision regarding Polygamy for the local leaders. It seemed to me from what some proponents have shared that they had a hands off policy and did not see themselves as overseers or mentors.
  3. There was still a lot of semantics and beating around the bush concerning the nature of Islam, Muhammad and the Quran.  No agreement was reached on these issues. In fact, a clause in the report was struck out because there was no agreement reached on whether “converts” should be allowed to recite the Shahadah, call Muhammad a prophet and attend the mosque.
  4. Some Insider proponents were still convinced that it was OK for converts to retain their Muslim Identity and remain in their socio-religious context.
  5. My biggest concern was that Insider proponents may use the report as endorsement of their positions because it does not strongly condemn the practices mentioned in 3 and 4 above. My concerns proved to be true in some situations.

 

Since the Consultation:

Heavy email traffic was exchanged among various individuals and groups after the consultation. Some of it was good; some was disturbing.

Negative: Some of those who agreed to retain the familial language in Bible translation seem to have either changed their mind or they deceptively gave lip service to the report. Some emails from Insiders seemed to confirm these allegations.

Positive: Communication is continuing among the attendees. Three subcommittees have been formed to continue the dialog and hold us all accountable to what we agreed on.

  • Bible Translation Committee dealing with the familial language of Father and Son.
  • Ethics Committee to draft a code of ethics in representing self and others.
  • Ecclesiology to discuss the missiological implications on the Church.

 

Analysis:

My feelings are mixed. I came to the meeting with a bias that the Insider Movement is in the wrong. Its proponents have misunderstood the Bible as a whole and Jesus and Paul in specific. They have a low view of Christ and His Church, and a high view of Islam and cultures. During the consultation, I became confused. I heard confessions from proponents of the Insider Movement that if taken at face value demonstrate a strong commitment to Christ, his Church and the spread of the gospel. I heard a number of them speak emphatically that Muhammad is not a prophet of God and that the Quran is not the word of God. One who has promoted alternative translations of “Son of God” stood up and with tears confessed that he had been wrong and that he regrets his previous positions.  Yet when questions were raised about specifics, these same people began to beat around the bush and they would not take a clear stand. I asked one of them at the lunch table:

Question: “Tell me straightforwardly: Is Muhammad a prophet.”
Answer: “It depends on what you mean by prophet.”
Question: Is the Quran a word of God?
Answer: Well the Quran contains truth.

This type of discussion frustrated me to no end. It seemed to be a game of words and semantics.  Most of the IMers appeared scholarly and spoke with almost no emotion. They kept their cool and seemed well collected and confident. On the other hand the opponents, including me, were more passionate and emotional.

It remains to be seen what lasting benefits this consultation may produce. I am hopeful that continued dialog may help some if not most people on both sides of the debate to be more truthful in their characterizing the opposition and that the divide may narrow over time. Already I believe some insiders have modified some of their extreme positions. My biggest hope is Wycliffe will return to retaining the familial language in Bible Translation. If that happens then the consultation would have been worth all the effort.

The following is the report produced by participants in the last night of the consultation:

——————————————

Consultation Report, June 23, 2011

At the end of our time together we reached broad consensus on the following:

We gathered for the purpose of “Bridging the Divide” over the differences related to ministry practices in the Muslim world. Over these days we have prayed, worshiped and examined the scriptures. We have examined case studies from the field and celebrated what God is sovereignly doing to call Muslim peoples to Himself and a place in the body of Christ. We have spoken openly and honestly, showing love and respect to one another about our differences. Although serious differences remain and ongoing interaction is needed, we have sought to listen and learn and most of all to hear what God would say to us corporately as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. We have sought to be faithful to Scripture, and by the grace of God we have found agreement on certain issues, clarified misunderstandings and identified issues for further study, reflection and dialogue. With mutual respect and in submission to God and His Word, our authority for faith and practice, we have come to agreement on a number of points and committed ourselves to continue the process that we have begun in these days.

To glorify the Lord and help to bridge the divide between us as we seek to extend the Kingdom to Muslim peoples,

We repent of

– Our careless and harmful and unconfirmed words, gossip, slander, and bitterness that we may have used against each other,

– Our failures to seek to honor brethren above ourselves; and

– Our contributing to a divisive spirit, since God has called us to be co-laborers in declaring His glory among the nations.

We reject

– The insistence that the particular ways God has worked with our community are the only or preferred ways He must work with others in His great harvest ingathering, and

– The practice of encouraging cross-cultural workers from a Christian background to take on a Muslim identity.

We affirm

– God is moving globally in a variety of ways to draw Muslims to Christ,

– The primacy of the Word of God for all aspects of faith and practice guided by the Spirit of God for the people of God, and

– Practicing fidelity in Scripture translation using terms that accurately express the familial relationship by which God has chosen to describe Himself as Father in relationship to the Son in the original languages.

We commit to

– Examine the Scriptures and our own hearts diligently to renew and transform our theological, missiological and ethical understanding and practice,

– Love those in the global community lifting up the Lord among Muslims, pursuing the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and to

– Intentionally seek out opposing peer review for our proposed publications that attempt to  characterize the views of those with whom we disagree

– Promote unity and understanding between new and existing expressions of the church, the body of Christ.

To the End That all may know the Gospel so that, when Jesus returns in power and great glory, as many as possible will enjoy the new heaven and new earth, for the glory of God alone.  Even so come Lord Jesus!

 

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About Author

Georges Houssney was raised in the predominantly Muslim city of Tripoli, Lebanon. He came to faith in Jesus Christ as a teenager. Soon God grew a deep love for Muslims in his heart, and he began to sense God's call for full-time service among them. Well-known for his work supervising the translation and publication of the Bible into clear modern Arabic, Georges and his family moved from the Middle East to the United States in 1982 to minister to international students. Georges is passionate about reaching internationals here and abroad with the great news of salvation. He writes and lectures internationally about ministry to Muslims, and he strives to awaken a new generation who will proclaim the gospel boldly. Georges is founder and director of Horizons International and does Muslim evangelism training through his training Engaging Islam.

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Assessment of the 2nd Bridging the Divide Consultation, June 17-19, 2012

  2. “There was much fellowship as well as laughter. Perhaps the best times were when we all entered the throne of God together seeking the Lord’s face.”

    In this assessment, Houssney acknowledges that the consultants could not agree on whether or not Muhammed is God’s messenger, whether the Qur’an is divine or Satanic, whether the shahada is acceptable or anathema, etc. Again, in the face of the precious and crucial Sonship of Jesus Christ being eviscerated from Bibles in Muslim lands all over the world, this consultation produces an ecumenically vague and utterly impotent statement about “Practicing fidelity in Scripture translation…” which is precisely what the Son-removing folks have been claiming they have been doing all along.

    Now, Georges Houssney is one of the more prominent evangelical voices out there critiquing the “Insider Movement”. Yet despite these “differences” in “position” noted above, Houssney sees nothing that would be a barrier to “fellowship”, and rejoices in being able to gather around the “throne of God” together. So my question is: is Georges Houssney not unwittingly an Insider himself? What I hear Houssney saying is that folks can disagree over, or play extremely loosely with, crucial truths central to the heart of God, but as long as we all come together with an attitude that we are “seeking the Lord’s face” as each thinks he knows best, then we can be united in worship. Is that not precisely the Insider position? Perhaps this consultation produced a convert to the other side after all!

    This type of discussion frustrated me to no end. It seemed to be a game of words and semantics.

    Well, Georges, I’d say you’ve got a decision to make. Either for the sake of “unity” you continue to allow double-speak and word play to gloss over huge, essential differences in substance, or you don’t. Getting frustrated and complaining about it isn’t going to change things one way or another.

    As for me, my stance is clear. If anyone is wishy-washy about something so essential as the fact that Jesus is the Son/Ibn/Anak of God, then I love them… as an outsider to the faith that I hold dear. Love is for all, unity is reserved for the brethren. I have no qualms with being “divisive” if that means separating from those who act as enemies of the gospel (compare 2 Cor 6). I’ll continue to love those who have been deceived by the Insider Movement—my love will primarily take the form of continuing to pray for their salvation and share the true Gospel with them when I have opportunity. But they are outsiders, not insiders, to the faith that I follow. Love is for all. Unity is reserved for legitimate brethren.

  3. Dear Salaam,
    Have you been following me around everywhere for the last 40 years? What you described is EXACTLY how some people respond to me. You must have had the same experience. The good news is: this blog is bringing together a large number of like minded, Bible honoring men and women of all walks of life. We have missiologists, theologians, missionaries, Bible scholars who are communicating with me and each other and the momentum is building. There was a time where the only audible voice was that of the Contextualists and Insider Movement proponents. Thanks to the internet, this has changed and many of us are finding each other and a lot of good and productive networking is taking place. Finally the church is beginning to wake up. The PCA general assembly in June made a huge decision on the Bible Translation issue. Other churches and denominations are finally waking up too. You will soon see many of those promoting the Insider movement distancing themselves and calling their ministries something else. Amazingly some are returning to what Contextualists in the seventies rejected: Indigenous Movements. Recently someone began to call this movement Jesus Movement as though all the other movements are not Jesus Movements.

    Thank you for spelling out the response of people who are intent on not learning anything while accusing us of not being teachable. Strange turning of the tide.

    Anyway, Muslims are coming to Christ without our methodologies. The Holy Spirit is moving and he is unstoppable. We do well if we would just hop on God’s band wagon and rejoice.

  4. Salaam-Corniche on

    Greetings Georges:
    I found your article to be a text-book example of group dynamics. It also caused me to think of a number of group situations that I have found myself in over time, as issues of a substantive nature were discussed or debated. Since I did not attend the consultation I wonder if you would resonate with any of the following dynamics?

    Have you ever?
    a. Debated a topic with someone and they give you a kind and patronizing smile, which could be interpreted variously, but at the end of the day seems to say, “I have a superior wisdom to your slightly antiquated view of things. Maybe you just need to get with the times.”
    b. Walked away from a discussion where you have used scripture, it would seem faithfully, and your respondent says, “Well it is all how you look at it” which is another way of saying, there is really no absolute truth or standard, each observer is his/her own ultimate referee.
    c. Sat with a group of people who all have made up their mind about a certain issue, and who derive a certain group solidarity from it? When you present a good Biblical resource with solid facts that might challenge their thinking, some kind of shutters seem to go over their eyes as they look at one another for affirmation of their group-think, and politely you are told “Thank you for such an opinion. It is interesting,” but, not directly of course as that would cause one to appear less than tolerant or having largesse to other opinions the body language says…”Thank you for your presentation of facts, but I will dismiss them as opinion. I have my opinion and have made a large emotional commitment to it, as has our group, thus please don’t bother me with the facts, my mind is made up.”
    d. Had someone play the Pharisee card on you? In effect you are told that you are a doctrinal purist that has no love for the lost. The card is like a 5th Ace that one has up their sleeve. At first glance it looks authentic, but it is really a cheat card that is used to slap a label on those who stand in the way of false teaching, compromising change and a watered-down gospel. Jesus never chided the Pharisees for doctrinal purity. He chided them for being false teachers. Who is labeling who?
    e. Stumbled across a book like that of Jim Bakker with a title that read, “I was Wrong” or a collection of recantations by Augustine that in effect say the same thing? These are the stuff of Divine intervention, especially when no alligator tears are evident in days and months to come.

    Blessings on your life and work as you live as a disciple who passionately loves Jesus and as a result doctrinal purity

    Salaam

  5. Thank you for an honest report, and for especially addressing the apparent deceitfulness of Brown in “agreeing” to retain familial language yet having no intentions of stopping what he and his colleagues are currently doing, nor trying to undo the damage that has already been inflicted.

    Unless and until concrete steps of repentance are taken, their words cannot and must not be trusted. This is strong language but I am not writing in anger but matter-of-factly. As of now, they are still being given the benefit of the doubt whether in the name of courtesy/love/kindness or “wisdom.”

    I am privy to several official responses of WBT-SIL in which they continually justify these mistranslations for Muslims. The fact of their internet article by Susan Van Wynen (http://www.wycliffe.net/Missiology/BibleTranslationandMission/tabid/94/Default.aspx?id=2213) is proof enough that the leadership defends this perversion of Scripture.

    Barring genuine repentance or a drastic change of leadership within WBT-SIL, I think that the process of engaging them will prove disappointing, frustrating, and perhaps angering. These mistranslations have been going on full-speed for over a decade. The time for “niceties” and protocol has expired. It is past time to shine light on this darkness if for nothing else than for the church here to realize what is happening. Even in these days of “Post-modernism” and the “Emergent Church” God still has His “7000” who have not bowed to the baals of our age and will no longer be unknowingly complicit in prayer and financial support for these things.

    May God help us to be people of conviction and at least bring an end to all the secrecy.

    Adam

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