Biblical Missiology writes much about contextualization and its application, both the good and bad. We do this because we believe that a healthy and good biblical theology produces good and healthy biblical missiology. That a good and healthy biblical theology of missions is not only good for you, it is important for you to know and draw closer to who God really is, breaking lies and false idols in your own life, and replicating good and healthy biblical missiology and theology to others in discipleship and gospel proclamation. This is a very good thing!

We believe that understanding good and healthy theology is vital because often, in missions, this is the first theology of the Bible unbelievers hear. This is how they will perceive God, and understand what it is to be a Christian, a true follower of Christ. This is how they will learn to worship God, or learn to worship an idol if a false view of God is given to them. This is why we at Biblical Missiology, and our partner organizations and members have taken a very staunch and unyielding stance on the unbiblicalness of Insider Movements, C5 contextualization, Muslim Idiom Translations of the Bible, Common Ground and Word Movements, and Jesus in the Quran trainings. We stand biblically against any teachers, trainers, organizations and mistranslations of the Bible that promote these false teachings. We extend the hand of sincere fellowship by calling them to see the errors of their ways, confess, repent, and to preach the true and real gospel alone. 1 John 2:15-29 is clear that false teachings often rise out from within the community and they need to be seen, and shed light on. They are not to be ignored, not to be swept under the rug, and certainly not to be encouraged.

In modern Evangelical circles in the United States, there are few people who hold as much weight as John Piper. He has written books on theology, loving and savoring God, and yes, missiology. Let the Nations be Glad is no doubt one of the best missiological books out there impassioning a generation. The church John Piper pastors is Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Bethlehem Baptist has been dealing with these issues for quite sometime, trying to work with individuals and organizations to move towards a biblical stance on missions. They continue to do so. In light of the trends, they have felt it necessary to take a stand, and we applaud them in this! Below is the Bethlehem Baptist Church’s stance on contextualization. We stand with Bethlehem Baptist Church and call other churches to take such a verbal stand, not ignoring, sweeping under the rug, and certainly not endorsing false teachings about God in the name of ‘missions’. It is no doubt that this stance will change how Bethlehem Baptist Church interacts with organizations it has previously worked with. We pray for their courage, and for their implementation of this new and biblical policy. Will you join with them?

Bethlehem Baptist Church Stance:

Four Basic Boundaries in Contextualization for BBC Ministers among Muslims

Within the last couple of decades the Twin Cities has seen exponential growth of Muslim immigrant populations (150,000+), accompanied by a rapid increase in Mosques being established (110). Rather than fear and avoidance we will seek bold and winsome gospel engagement among them. Our heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that many would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ! (Rom. 10:1-4). Our hope is that all BBC members will employ both biblically-integral and culturally appropriate means toward making Christ-exalting disciples among our Muslims neighbors in the Twin Cities and around the world.

Contextualization of the gospel message across cultures is biblical and necessary. However, all contextualization strategies should be within the bounds of sound Biblical teaching. Unfortunately, some contextualization strategies being promoted and practiced among Muslims today are not, from our understanding, biblically justified. Therefore, we felt it necessary to articulate the following boundaries for BBC ministers:

We believe it is not biblically justified to model or to teach that followers of Christ among Muslims should:

1. Recite the Muslim creed (Shahada): “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger”

2. Continue to participate in the ritual prayers (Salat) in the Mosque

3. Identify themselves as Muslims in terms of faith commitment.

4. Remove or replace “Father” and “Son of God” in translating Biblical revelation of God and Jesus Christ in any language.

Biblical Rationale: Acts 15:19-20 Gentile Background Believers were given four restrictions to show clear separation from previous religious practices; Rom. 10:9-17 One must confess Jesus as Lord to be saved; John 5:23 Whoever does not honor the Son, does not honor the Father who sent him; 1 Cor. 10:23-33 All things lawful but not all helpful; 2 Corinthians 4:2 We refuse to practice cunning; 2 Cor. 6:14-17 Believers not to participate in worship of other Christ-denying gods.

Cultural Rationale: In Islam the form is the meaning; the meaning is the form. The two are inseparable. If Muhammad did it, it is sunna and therefore incumbent upon all Muslims to pray in the same manner. No one may add to or subtract from salat lest they be charged with the sin of bid`a (innovation), heresy. Muslims perform the obligatory prayers because Muhammad said so. Salah has a divinely revealed form and meaning. How can this form be filled with Christian meaning when Islam itself determines the meaning? Should a Muslim see a Christian performing salat he will think the Christian is a Muslim – not a Christian who has given the Islamic form new meaning.

This is not to say that MBBs (Muslim Background Believers) early in their personal conversion or sanctification process might not continue to participate in these things for a season. Many will. It is to say, however, that we as cross-cultural ministers will not encourage such participation.

 

 

 

 

 

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12 Responses to John Piper’s Church Takes a Stand on Contextualization

  1. Propempo is very involved in helping church leaders mobilize their local church and their workers to difficult fields such as this. Our position is simplified:
    One principle applied over Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or whatever context would defuse and settle so much of the debate. It’s this:

    It is biblically and ethically inconsistent for a mature believer to encourage or enable a new believer to
    present themselves and their religious practices in such a way as to intentionally try to mislead
    onlookers to think that the new believer is still an adherent to their former religion.

    We assume that the practice of genuine, disciples of Christ will express their faith and practice in culturally appropriate ways which are consistent with biblical principles.This does NOT rule out culturally appropriate discernment regarding tradition, vocabularly, attire, food, events, etc. It DOES rule out mature believers coaching new believers to continue in prior religious practices “for the sake of witness”.

  2. […] John Piper’s Church Takes a Stance on Contextualization  – this document is a good example of how one church has engaged in this […]

  3. Benelchi says:

    dnessim,

    You’re welcome, and I really do understand where you are coming from; I was in the same place about four years ago when I was jumping into the middle of this issue. One of the challenges I found is that C5 missiologists I was discussing this issue with were very skilled at giving very incomplete answers to questions and for a long time I thought I was hearing answers that were very different than what was truly being said. For example, if I asked “What are your thoughts about C5 groups believing that the Qua’ran is the primary source of authority for our faith?” I would hear in response “Believing that the Qua’ran is the primary source of authority for our faith is a heretical belief!” and that is where the comment would end. In hearing that response, I thought I was hearing an agreement with my own convictions, but I was not. The problem was that we were not operating with the same definition of “heresy” nor the same definition of any other theological term. My assumptions in the conversation were that there are “essential beliefs”, “non-essential beliefs”, and “heretical beliefs”. The C5 missiologist had redefined these categories into the following two categories 1) “beliefs that are essential within an individual’s context” i.e. “essential beliefs” may be different in different cultural and religious contexts, and 2) “heretical beliefs” i.e. any belief that is not absolutely true from God’s perspective of truth; a perspective with which we can never fully identify and therefore never truly know. In later conversations, these philosophical differences came to light when I heard statements like “We all hold heretical beliefs, and the heretical beliefs of the Muslim followers of Isa are no worse than the heretical beliefs we has western Christians hold” and “I believe in God’s absolute truth, but recognize that no man can truly know what beliefs reflect God’s absolute truth.” As I listened, I began to realize that underlying the C5 missiological perspective was an acceptance of postmodern evangelicalism and part of the reason it was so difficult to get answers is because there is an underlying belief in postmodern evangelicalism that there are no real answers, only questions; postmodern evangelicals often pride themselves on having “Question and Response” sessions as opposed to “Question and Answer” sessions because they believe there are no definitive “answers.” Within postmodern evangelical circles, this is reflected in a cultural aversion to giving answers that commit oneself to a specific doctrinal position. What this means is that it often feels like “nailing jello to a wall” when you are asking questions in order to understand what they believe and it takes a whole lot of questions before you begin to really understand the details of the perspective they are presenting.

  4. Baruch says:

    dnessim,

    I find it strange that you have taken issue with my use of Eph. 5:10-14. I cannot think of greater examples of “unfruitful deeds of darkness” than the willful mistranslation of Scripture, and denying the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the Savior from sin (which is what Insider Movements do), coupled with the secrecy and dishonesty of those involved and their leadership.

    Second, my original post had nothing to do with WBT-SIL but was a challenge to Piper and BBC. But since you brought up the issue I would encourage you to look at the following charts and judge for yourself if WBT-SIL have been walking in the light:

    http://www.answering-islam.org/fileadmin/reviews/lop-lk1_26-35.pdf

    http://www.answering-islam.org/fileadmin/reviews/lives-of-apostles.pdf

    http://www.answering-islam.org/fileadmin/reviews/lives-of-prophets.pdf

  5. dnessim says:

    That’s an enlightening response, Benelchi, for someone like me who is jumping into the middle of the discussion! Thankyou. Of course, it is hard for me to countenance Baruch’s heavy handed use of Eph 5:10-14 however! We should stick to the issues.

  6. Benelchi says:

    dnessim,

    I do not think that Wycliffe has ever claimed the “right to mistranslate the Bible;” their claim is that they are offering a better translation. However, they have generally been unwilling to truly discuss their translation choices and many consider the basis for their translation choices fraudulent. At issue is whether, as Rick Brown claims, the term for ‘son’ and ‘father’ in languages used by Muslims always carries a sense of biological decadency. Rick Brown continually makes this claim but does not offer supporting evidence for this claim and has not responded to arguments that demonstrate this claim to be incorrect. And others (including many native speakers) have offered a substantial amount of evidence that contradicts this claim. When this position is argued by other C5 missiologists, they simply point to Rick Brown’s papers to support this linguistic claim.

    If this issues surrounding the textual changes that Wycliffe/SIL are making is based on purely theological reasons and not linguistic ones (as they have claimed) then their changes are unwarranted and should not have ever been made. At this point, all evidence that I have seen points to purely theological reasons for these changes being made; the linguistic arguments do not appear to stand when one examines the evidence.

  7. dnessim says:

    Hi, Baruch.
    It is a serious thing to charge SIL with participating ‘in the unfruitful deeds of darkness.’ We can all sling Scripture back and forth to one another. Your concern, on the other hand, I take seriously. Maybe you could clarify, with quotes, where in the article you quoted, Wycliffe claims the ‘right to mistranslate the Bible’? I would be much obliged.

  8. Baruch says:

    Evidently my plea has been rejected – BBC has not merely hit the snooze button they have unplugged the alarm clock!

    BBC has removed their stance on contextualization and instead posted an article defending Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT)-SIL and the right to mistranslate the Bible:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/a-justification-for-translation

    The petition is serving like a plumbline that is exposing that the BBC edifice is not as vertically true as most of us have supposed. Piper (and BBC) has to give account for his promotion of Ralph Winter, his writings in Perspectives and legitimizing the Rick Browns and Becky Lewises of the world (pun intended on “world”), his ongoing support of and providing public platforms for Greg Livingstone (e.g. 2011 Desiring God conference), and now the backtracking on translation standards. This latter is as egregious a sin as what the Jehovah’s Witnesses have done to the Bible yet even they have not perverted the terms, Father, Son, and Son of God. When did you think that evangelicals could look to Jehovah’s Witnesses as having more integrity in Bible “translation” than Wycliffe Bible Translators-SIL?

    1 Cor 16:22
    22 If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema. Maranatha.

  9. […] Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota), which came out with an official stance on this recently.  See http://biblicalmissiology.org/2011/12/05/john-pipers-church-takes-a-stand-on-contextualization/ for an excellent article on […]

  10. abdulasad7 says:

    Baruch,
    Quick reminder: If it wasn’t for men like Ralph Winter and Greg Livingstone, millions of people from unreached people groups would be on their way to hell. Furthermore, John Piper himself admittedly wouldn’t have been nearly as committed to world missions as he has been without the influence of these two men in his life. Please stop trying to police the spread of the Gospel according to your take on hermeneutics and instead, appreciate what God has done and is still doing through the efforts of soldiers like these men.
    -AA

  11. […] John Piper’s Church Takes a Stand on Contextualization (biblicalmissiology.org) […]

  12. Baruch says:

    This is an excellent stance but the recent Desiring God conference in which Piper praised Ralph Winter who was one of the main sources for contextualization gone awry and interviewing Greg Livingstone, of whom he along with John Travis of ******* and professor at Fuller Seminary, was intimately involved in the Malaysian mistranslation for Muslims (http://mykitabsuci.org/en) really saddens me and makes me wonder when such seemingly solid men like Piper are going to see beyond friendships and previous fidelity to the Gospel and call “Insider Movements” and “Muslim idiom translations” the heresy that they are and call their friends to repentance. I dislike having to so often be “the heavy” but God’s word to us from Ephesians is applicable:

    Eph 5:10-14
    11 And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says,

    “Awake, sleeper,
    And arise from the dead,
    And Christ will shine on you.”

    I plead with Bethlehem Baptist Church to stop hitting the snooze button and wake up to their own inconsistencies in these serious matters.

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