Two weeks ago in Dearborn, Michigan, Horizons held two conferences at two local area churches whose leadership and congregations evinced a true passion for outreach. Due to the large Muslim population in Dearborn, these churches have also attracted missionaries from across the U.S., many with overseas experience, to minister in the local context. Thus passion to see the Lord Jesus exalted, passion to see Muslims set free, and a desire to see their church members and others trained for effective evangelism, set the tone for a gathering whose four days of talks, meetings, and breakout sessions helped to motivate and equip over 300 attendees. This is because the featured speakers were not simply missions theorists and scholars who spoke on academic ideas, but actual practitioners whose work has borne self-evident and plentiful fruit in the Bible translation and evangelistic fields.
The Biblical Missiology Consultation
The Biblical Missiology Consultation was a roundtable discussion hosted by Biblical Missiology, which was attended by 80 people and which addressed the critical need for accurate, comprehensible, and faithful missions approaches and Bible translations. Speakers included veteran translators, Hebrew scholars, and experts on Muslim Idiom Translations (MITs), as well as former front-line personnel from large missions agencies who highlighted the dangers of a missions and Bible translation industry that raises money from donors for projects that misrepresent and corrupt the true gospel. The theme that linked all the presentations was a deep concern for fledgling churches worldwide, who must struggle with Bible translations that are at best poorly done—and at worst, theologically indefensible.
To illustrate the danger of contextualized and dynamically equivalent Bibles, specifically in relation to MIT common practices, speakers gave examples of “idiomatic” substitutions for foundational biblical terms and verses whose alternate rendering often change their meaning completely. These substitutions include the following:
- Removing all references to the terms “Father” and “Son” as they relate to God and Jesus. This includes not only replacing those terms as they appear literally, but removing or altering any verses that make reference to Jesus as Son, or to God as a Father.
- Replacing all instances of “YHWH” with “Allah”
- Translating “Lamb of God” as “Piglet of God”
- Incorporating Quranic verses and terminology, as well as the Islamic shahada prayer
These approaches and practices follow the Insider Movement philosophy, which seeks to portray Islam as an equivalent to Christianity. The Insider Movement also asserts that if biblical concepts offensive to Muslims are diluted, then Muslims would more readily and easily accept Christ. However, the speakers at this consultation pointed out the theological fallacy of thinking that a new believer could access the saving power of God while remaining ignorant of a God who is our Father, or believing that Allah is the One True God whom the Bible references.
Many attendees were in shock that these errant translations have a worldwide reach, as they are undertaken and promoted by well-known and widely trusted missions and translations agencies. Additionally, the poor results of these projects, including resistance from national scholars who reject these translations, are often obfuscated and even misrepresented to supporters and partners, in order to preserve future funding. Awareness of this deceitful and dangerous movement caused many attendees to question, “What must we do?”
Multiple suggestions for moving forward were tabled and examined. These included:
- Promoting transparency in Bible translation practices to hold translators and their supporting agencies more accountable
- Examining whether a new school of translation theory is necessary to coalesce and preserve key theological tenets of the Bible and linguistic accuracy
- Launching a new Bible society dedicated to building a community of scholars, translators, and other missions specialists who reject the theory of “dynamic equivalence”
- Starting a new translation agency to address specific translation needs, such as a current Bible translation in Albanian, and a revision of the NAV Arabic Bible translated in 1971-83 by Georges Houssney.
With many attendees and speakers pledging support and commitment to these various ideas, it became clear that these issues must be addressed. In addition, it was resolved that larger Body of Christ must be made aware of the murky and fallacious arguments supporting idiomatic translations, and the great harm that such translations inevitably cause when they are imposed upon new believers.
In addition, the Biblical Missiology Conference also featured the first-ever release of a new book: Muslim Conversions to Christ: A Critique of Insider Movements in Islamic Contexts. A collection of over 30 essays from distinguished Islamic scholars, evangelizers and church planters in the Muslim world, Christians from Muslim backgrounds, and other missions field workers, the book presents a fascinating analysis of all the elements of Insider Movement theology and their dangers. Applicable to theoretical models, practical evangelistic approaches, Bible translation issues, and overall church unity, this book is an exciting new development. With a retail price of $120, buyers are offered an incredible 45%-off deal at the Engaging Islam website, which is currently selling it for only $60!
Legacy 2018: Liberty to the Captives!
The 2018 Legacy Conference drew over 300 attendees for three days of of plenary speeches, breakout sessions, panel discussions, times of worship and prayer. Hosted by Horizons International, Legacy is also sponsored by Engaging Islam, Biblical Missiology, Hope for the Nations, and the Middle East Center. In addition, a number of ministry exhibitors displayed tools for outreach to Muslims. In order to address attendees whose experience experience in ministry to Muslims varied widely, talks were tailored to all levels of personal and corporate ministry. The following topics are among many that the speakers covered:
- “The Bondage of Islam for Muslims and non-Muslims” by Mark Durie
- “Report: What is God Doing in the Muslim World?” by Georges Houssney
- “Spiritual Warfare and the Struggles of Christians from Muslim Backgrounds” by Amani Mostafa
- “From the Insider Movement to Apologetics” by Jay Smith
- “Evangelism Models for Muslim Ministry” by Fred Nichols
- “Can We Trust the Bibles We Give to Muslims?” by Adam Simnowitz
It was evident from the lively discussions at lunchtimes and during the breaks that new ideas were challenging old ways of thinking, and new friends were being made. The theme of the conference,“Liberty to the Captives,” was derived from the title of the Rev. Dr. Mark Durie’s new book of the same name—and like the book, Legacy relayed a concept that was new to many attendees: the spiritual bondage Islam imposes upon Muslims, who recite the shahada prayer and live under the threats of a despotic God who is especially tyrannical towards women; and even upon non-Muslims, who are viewed as inferior to Muslims in sharia societies, and who must pay an annual tax to be allowed to live.
Many church leaders, academics, and former Muslims described how various missions strategies have failed to adequately grapple with these spiritual realities. Many strategies have simply focused on out-arguing Muslims. Legacy Conference underscored the need to be equipped on all levels—employing relationship, informed and loving debate, and first and foremost the freeing power of the Gospel empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This conference demonstrated that its organizers and presenters actually believe in the power of the Gospel to effect salvation, and that they are unashamed to proclaim it. Evidently that they love the praise of God more than that of people, so even the challenges they face in ministry discussed. This emphasized that we can trust in God’s ordained methods of ministry to Muslims—which are simultaneously realistic, bold, and friendly—rather than novelty, hyper-Muslim-friendly “silver bullet” techniques. In the models of ministry Legacy explored, the struggles of ex-Muslims were not seen as taboo, but were treated with respect, and the pains of rejection that some had incurred were treated as noble wounds, rather than as something to hide.
The organizers of both of these venues are to be commended for speaking truth unashamedly, loving to honor Jesus instead of themselves, submitting to the authority of the Word of God, making sacrifices to reach Muslims, and wrestling honestly to ask whether any and all of their outreach methods would bring the maximum glory to the Triune God. Legacy Conference is certainly a rare and precious event in missions circles today, and a blessing for all who have a heart for ministry.