A Concern about the Recent Trends in Contextualization Discussions: A Lack or Absence of A Biblical-Theological Emphasis (A 5-Part Series)

Part 1 (5/14/18): Introduction
Part 2 (5/21/18): A Critical Evaluation of Three Contextualization Proposals: The Insider Movement
Part 3 (5/28/18): A Critical Evaluation of Three Contextualization Proposals: Muslim Idiom Bible Translations (MIBT)
Part 4 (6/4/18): A Critical Evaluation of Three Contextualization Proposals: New Favorable Approaches to Islam and the Qu’ran
Part 5 (6/11/18): An Appeal for Healthier Missiological Discussions on Muslim Evangelism


An Appeal for Healthier Missiological Discussions on Muslim Evangelism

This essay selectively reviewed the recent missiological discussions and debates on Muslim evangelism and demonstrated a worrisome phenomenon: the lack or absence of biblical and theological perspective in Muslim contextualization. This is worrisome, given that some of these practices may mislead field missionaries or national leaders and may further cause chaotic results in missions to Muslims. Certainly, contextualization is a biblical principle as can be traced all the way back to the ministries of Jesus and Paul. However, any contextualization discussion apart from a biblical-theological framework will produce dangerous and counter-biblical results in mission fields. Both anthropology and communication theories have contributed to the formations of contemporary missiological thinking. However, some assumptions or presuppositions behind these two social sciences have not passed through a sound biblical and theological framework before they were utilized in missiology. 1

Both evangelical missionary movements and mission theologies for the ministries among Muslims must stand on sound biblical theological foundation. First and foremost, the understanding of Islam must come from a biblical-theological foundation in a fair and objective manner. It is certainly helpful to use a phenomenological study of Islam or a comparative study of religions for a specific purpose. It is not, however, biblically and theologically healthy to conclude that one can accept Islam itself as a valid religion or a religion that contains many common grounds based solely on similarities and historical connections between Islam and Christianity. The river flowing between Islamic theology and Christian biblical truths is very wide and deep. Therefore, it is necessary to build a solid bridge over this river for Christians to meet with Muslims, and it is certainly possible. However, it is completely another thing to consider this bridge as a common ground by admitting the Islamic theological factors as acceptable biblical equivalents. The overarching exclusivist stance of the biblical theology does not provide a venue for this common ground approach.

Second, understanding the Qur’an must be achieved within an Islamic theological framework, and at the same time a biblical theological evaluation of the Qur’an must stand under the authority of Scripture. One cannot neglect or overlook the Islamic theological criticism on the major biblical truths because the Bible contradicts the Qur’an and the Islamic theology. If one observes some positive portrayals of Jesus in the Qur’an, the contradictory statements about Jesus between the Qur’an and the Bible must be equally weighted for a fair treatment. It is crucial for evangelists to lead Muslims to realize that the Qur’an does not stand on the continuation of God’s revelation in the Old and the New Testament.

Third, it is far safer and fairer to explain the differences between biblical truths and Islamic teachings from a genuine caring heart and with an honest and objective evaluation. It is almost impossible to communicate the gospel only through emphasizing similarities or commonalities. On the contrary, demonstrating the differences or contradictions between Islamic teachings and biblical truths may communicate the gospel better for illuminating the hearts and minds of Muslims. 2  This coincides with Paul’s principle of “telling the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

This writer believes that the desperate heart of Christians for lost Muslim souls lies behind the ongoing pursuit of more effective approaches and/or methods of Muslim evangelism. This motivation derives from a genuine concern for the lost Muslim nations. All these contextualization models reviewed in this essay have originated from those who have this godly desire. However, any contextualization approach or evangelism methods that do not pass sound biblical theological tests, even if they seem fruitful in the field, will produce dangerous results in the end. The evangelical missions community must return to the very foundation of biblical theological thinking in its effort to make disciples of all Muslim nations by re-emphasizing the authority of Scripture.

Carson’s advice deserves a renewed hearing in the evangelical missionary community:

Missionary training must include substantive courses in biblical theology; for, although the study of contextualization may help the missionary free himself from the cultural accretions of his own society, there is a growing danger that contextualization will be used as a new tool to pervert the gospel into something unrecognizable. Nothing will provide a better safeguard than the constant study of the Word of God. 3

This article was originally published in Korean Missions Quarterly (2016 English Edition), 197-225.

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  1. This writer demonstrated how Charles Kraft provided a theology of missions for radical forms of Muslim contextualization in his paper, T. Hwang, “An Evangelical Evaluation of Charles Kraft’s Missiological Model for Contextualization,” paper presented in the Annual Meeting of Evangelical Theological Society, Milwaukee, WI, 14-16, 2012. Enoch Wan also observes the misuse of social sciences in Kraft’s missiological model in his essay: “A Critique of Charles Kraft’s Use/Misuse of Communication and Social Sciences in Biblical Interpretation and Missiological Formulation,” in Missiology and Social Sciences: Contributions, Cautions and Conclusions, eds. Edward Rommen and Gary Corwin, EMS Series 4, 121-64 (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1996).
  2. David Hesselgrave, “Christian Communication and Religious Pluralism: Capitalizing on Differences,” Missiology 18 (1990): 131-38.
  3. D. A. Carson, “Response to Paul Hiebert’s ‘Sets and Structures: A Study of Church Patterns,’” in New Horizons in World Mission: Evangelicals and the Christian Mission in the 1980s, ed. David J. Hesselgrave (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 231-32.

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