<a href="https://biblicalmissiology.org/blog/author/ghoussney/" target="_self">Georges Houssney</a>

Georges Houssney

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.


  1. Trudy Beerman

    Excellent piece. I love how you clarified the flexibility of our freedom in Christ while acknowledging the boundary of it. It is almost like putting a protective hedge around a child and allowing him the freedom to move within that space. We have freedom but we should not use it to become a stumbling block to the weak.

  2. Georges Houssney

    Dear Foibeld,
    Thank you for your post.

    Please notice that this article is Part I. In Part two I address what Paul meant by the passage that starts with his claim that he was like a Jew to the Jews.

    As the author of this article I need to inform you that I am not a missionary from the West. I am a Lebanese Arabic speaking Christian. I agree that we need to contextualize appropriately, neither over contextualize nor under contextualize.

    The article is meant to help us understand Paul’s intent based on his teachings and practice.

    God bless
    Georges Houssney

  3. Foibled

    I see that my previous comment left something unclear. In my context, it has more often been the missionary from another culture who is offended by a practice which local believers find innocuous. The missionary therefore clamps down on it. That is quite the opposite of Paul’s stance. Of course, Paul had the huge advantage of being as conversant with the culture in question as those living in it, whereas many missionaries are not. But that is even more reason for a missionary to be triply sure before criticizing a practice local believers all participate in without any of them stumbling because of it.

  4. Foibled

    I have never worked in a predominantly Islamic context. I have had no contact with the insider movement. I am deeply concerned about the issue of the translation of Father and Son.

    The articles I read about the principles and Biblical basis for contextualization, including this one, do not do justice to the problems resulting from lack of sufficient contextualization.

    The Church of Pentecost is Ghana’s largest Protestant Church. It is totally self-supporting from within Ghana and is projecting itself to 80 countries worldwide. Its founder was a missionary, and other than his wife and for a while his brother, he was the only missionary the church ever had. He allowed worship practices which were banned and highly criticized at the time. He allowed theologizing by his converts and disciples which were equally condemned at the time. In short, he grew a church that was self-confident in the Holy Spirit not just in funds, but also in its theologizing and contextualization. Today, the churches that criticized the practices have adopted all of them. His acceptance of Ghanaian theologizing has been taken up by the best Bible-centered seminaries in the country and beyond. But more importantly, the church he founded is having a profound impact on Ghanaian society and on a large number of Ghanaians, including people groups and parts of society the churches who were critical of its practices are still not reaching.

    Lack of sufficient contextualization has resulted in dependency, internal focus, lack of confidence and syncretism. Contextualization taken too far can result in syncretism, but so can contextualization not taken far enough.

    This is a fine article, but it is unfortunately written with an agenda which makes it unbalanced. But I don’t see articles by more conservative missiologists that are written without an agenda. That will give new missionaries the unstated message that only going too far is bad – that one can never cause problems by not going far enough. In sub-Saharan AFrica, the problem of not going far enough is much more common than the problem of going too far. We need some teaching that will make missionaries (most especially African missionaries in our day) bold like Paul to be all things to all men. Not articles which will keep them timid and tied to forms and practices coming from Europe in the middle ages. We need an environment where Africans do not get criticized from conservative quarters when they contextualize, especially because the criticism has so often proved unfounded, even counterproductive, in the past.

  5. Pierre Houssney

    It seems there is some confusion as to the meaning of “decontextualization”. It is not the same thing as “noncontextualization” or “anti-contextualization”. As I understand it, “decontextualization” refers to the process of rising above one’s context. Interestingly, this is both a prerequisite and a consequence of proper contextualization of the gospel.

    Prerequisitory Decontextualization: A missionary, from the time he accepts Christ, must decontextualize from his own culture in order to sort out the differences between his culture and the Godly culture of the Bible. He also must “decon” in order to understand another culture, with the goal of seeing it in the light of the Bible rather than the lens of his own culture. Decontextualization is removing your cultural coke-bottle glasses.

    Biblical Contextualization: Communicating the gospel of transformation in Christ clearly, aided by a deep understanding of the receiving culture.

    Consequential Decontextualization: As people in the receiving culture accept Christ, they are discipled and their “cultural coke-bottle glasses” also get removed, as they grow deeper in the knowledge of God and are “washed in the word” (Eph 5…).

    Every single Christian, whether Western or Eastern, MUST be “transformed by the renewal of [their] mind” (Rom 12)

    That is decontextualization.

    Hopefully that will help in understanding this quote from the above article:

    “Does this sound like contextualization? Certainly not. This in fact is evidence that Paul’s sensitivity toward the weak is not an attempt to contextualize but rather to decontextualize. His aim is to give them a chance to heal from associating meat with idols.”

    My father does not mean that Paul did not take the context into consideration when communicating. He is saying that this passage in 1 Cor. 8 is not a lesson about how to contextualize, but rather a lesson about how not to hinder the de-contextualization of a new believer.

    Does that clarify the issue at all?

  6. mike

    Thanks George for your thoughts. I specifically like the warning that much of the insider movement could be guilty of syncretism, and confusing the gospel story with “Other” gospels. That is never a good thing, and there needs to be biblical truth balancing poor missiology.

    However, I tend to agree with Carl on this. You appear to be trading one set of bad exegesis for another. While it is true that this passage does deal with spiritual sensitivities as the gospel moved out into gentile/pagan lands, to say it is a passage supporting “De-Contextualization” is nonsense. Paul regularly went into the Synagogues to preach the gospel and debate those that did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah (There are too many passages to support this truth). The early church was formulated within the synagogues frequented by unbelieving Jews, but it was their starting point to meet unbelievers acquainted with the messianic narrative. Islam has similar claims as the first century Jew. As a matter of fact, it is usually agreed that the Quran has borrowed heavily from Jewish scriptures agreeing with a Jewish monotheistic viewpoint, and the belief in the prophets, especially the God of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael.

    Also Paul does engage pagans through their own poets and philosophers words in Acts 17:27-28. These words were clearly aimed at pagan gods, but Paul saw that though these were not true about Zeus, they were indeed true about Yahweh! To this John Calvin rightfully states, “In reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from the creator” All of culture is not evil, and that includes the pagan religions the human mind has concocted. Is it possible that we can communicate the gospel through the common truths of the culture as Paul does in Athens? If the Quran has true things to say about Jesus (And it does), then why wouldn’t we want to be like Paul and use it His glory?

    Paul also demonstrates the outworking implied intent of of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 when he has Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:1-3), in spite of his rant against it in Galatians. He does it “because of the Jews.” What for? So that they could minister without the barriers an uncircumcised Greek would have posed. What does this look like in a modern day Biblical Missiology George?

    Biblical writers have also used pagan terms such as “Logos” and the “Fullness” (Pleroma) to contextualize the incarnation of Jesus to the Greek/pagan world. It didn’t make Jesus pagan, nor did it take into account that some pagan converts may have stumbled by its use; it was merely was used to present Jesus in a vernacular that was understood, which is the goal of contectualization.

    The fact is George we all contextualize, we’re just used to a western, American contextualization, so we no longer critique our cultural gospel that does more to espouse a nationalistic, protectionist ideal than it does to proclaim and live out the truth of the gospel. We are simply blinded to the contextual idioms we have created within our own western paradigm. We are just used to calling things biblical because it agrees with our perspectives and hermeneutical prerogatives.

    There is no doubt much of the insider movement has syncretized, but the answer isn’t separatism. It is a radical engagement with the world on its ground, while upholding the truth of the biblical narrative; Jesus is Lord, no biblical contextualization should change that. But throwing this amazing biblical truth at an unbelieving culture without any form of contextualization is not only irresponsible, it is not even biblical.

    In Acts, Paul went from the crowd not knowing what he was talking about, to clearly communicating and contextualizing the gospel through their own cultural myths, and the result is exactly what we’d expect, “Some sneered, some wanted to talk further, and some believed.”

  7. suomi

    Very astute theological discourse. However, this critique of contextualization conflates the issue of reaching Muslims with that of not leading ‘weak’ converts astray (as an aside, it also does not discuss how Greek pagan and Muslim culture are radically different from another. Muslims seem to have much more in common with Jewish culture, whereas Greek pagan culture has resemblances with modern European, but also animistic cultures in Africa, etc.; in other words, there is no strong ready parallel to eating meat sacrificed to pagans within Islam).

    Paul says that these cultural forms have meaning only in as far as we perceive them to have meaning (the weak are led astray by the thought of eating meat sacrificed to idols). And if they do have this kind of meaning to other people, we should abstain. You are correct, the passage is not primarily about contextualization, but it is also not primarily a critique of contextualization in terms of reaching out to unbelievers. Rather, it is an admonishment to take care of those who might be lead astray. I know some MBB’s who do not want to have anything to do with Muslim forms (although sometimes that feeling has been encouraged by Westerners). And I know some MBB’s who find it much easier to worship and live out their faith in forms that they grew up in, that have spiritual meaning to them – not in terms of allegiance to Islam – rather than a more Western style of worship, which in turn would lead them astray.

    Christ’s model in Philippians 2 (the kenosis), however, clearly is a model of how to reach out to those who are NOT in the kingdom. Christ became man – a very dirty, sordid, demeaning transformation in one sense, given the history of us humans – in order to save us from an eternity without him. While we cannot entirely become “native” in a culture we did not grow up in, we are called to strip off everything that would lead those we want to reach astray (many Western, or Korean, or Indian, etc. cultural forms and values). Hindu background believers in India will not reach Muslims by using terminology that they grew up in – they will repel Muslims. We Westerners have many cultural accretions that we need to shed – and there are plenty of cultural forms and values that Muslims have that do not directly contradict allegiance to Christ and his church.

  8. hisham h

    The last paragraph explains an issue I had with an mbb who tried to use Islamic terminology in writing a study bible directed to Muslims…..well said

  9. roger dixon

    Georges brings out some good points. I applaud his statement: “It is incredible how much confusion there is on the mission field because of the serious misinterpretation and as a result, mis-application of this passage.” It is hard to understand how so-called Bible scholars leave out key words in their exegesis (thus becoming eisegesis). Georges takes the first and most important step in pointing out that the understanding of the passage is incorrect if based on an incorrect reading.

    For another scholarly and erudite discussion of this passage see: Thiselton, Anthony C. “The First Epistle to the Corinthians” (The New International Greek Testament Commentary- Eerdmans). While not dealing with the Christian/ Islamic dialogue, Thiselton elucidates all the scholarship about this section of 1 Cor. over the centuries which essentially agrees with Georges’ understanding of the passage. This section of 1 Cor. is not about contextualization.

  10. Georges Houssney

    Please notice that this article is Part I. In Part two I will address what Paul meant by the passage that starts with his claim that he was like a Jew to the Jews. Thanks to all those interacting and posting comments.

  11. Carl Medearis

    Good article. I can’t imagine calling myself a “Muslim” or praying regularly in a mosque or even saying that “Islam is good.” But I know that some do…. So in these things I’m with you. And I’ve also heard some say “to the Greek I became Greek.” Oops. No doubt, plenty of sloppy theology and missiology out there. And it’s fair to point it out and critique it.

    I do have some concerns with these words from the middle of the article:

    “Here we find the core biblical teaching on culture. At the core, cultural practices are demonic. We cannot separate the secular from the sacred, the cultural from the spiritual…

    …By this Paul teaches us that our freedom needs to be exercised responsibly toward others who are not yet completely free from their past. Certainly he is not promoting cultural sensitivity but spiritual sensitivity. He is not promoting a contextual approach but its opposite, decontextualizaton.”

    Here are my concerns from what Georges writes above:

    1. Maybe he didn’t mean to say that “cultural practices are demonic.” I hope not. I assume he meant that THESE cultural practices were demonic. But if all culture is demonic then we have a HUGE issue.

    2. While I agree that he is promoting spiritual sensitivity – which I think is by far the greatest thing we all need – I cannot believe that you’d call this “decontextualization.”

    Everyone contextualizes to some degree. Otherwise you wouldn’t learn a new language. You would shake hands with your left and put your feet on the coffee table whenever you felt tired. So were all contextualists (which is simply a newer word for the old one – incarnational).

    Fair enough to point out the flaws of how some use this passage – but then don’t overstate the other side by saying this it about anti-contextualizing.

    But overall I’ve appreciated the last two posts!

  12. Maral


    Thank you for your article. I think I’ve been expecting something more or something stronger.
    I regard this case as Paul’s explanation of delicate issues mainly dealing with food. I suppose it was important to the pagans of those times. To my understanding of the chapter is that Paul is accenting on an ability to seperate two things from each other: culture and spirituality. When you look at any culture it is impossible to seperate these two. Paul saying that for Greeks he became Greek means to me that he is no longer a Jew among Greeks; he doesnt seek kosher food, he doesnt insist on continuing the judaistic rituals. Many consider this as Paul is becoming a Greek in its full context. Paul was able to sacrifice his juadistic habbits for the sake of Gospel. I dont think he offered to sarcifice gospel for the sake of gaining souls. He sacrifices his own jewishness and his own ego in order to make gospel available to pagans. Nowhere in epistles he suggests to spiritually participate in pagan rituals, nowhere it is mentioned that he did so.
    An example. When American missionaries move to the Eastern countries they should stop being Americans. Why? Because Paul stopped being a Jew among pagans. What I remember is most western missionaries when they move to poor countries they never give up their western culture. Most of them import their food from the west for their entire stay in the east. They still eat and dress the western way, they bring everything from the west, thus they share nothing culturally with locals. Theres no self-denial when following Christ among many of us. Such practices are common in missions. And then as one of the locals you try to come closer to them through learning the western culture, at that moment you get pushed back: you stay in your culture, I stay in my culture. This way you learn that them are there to teach and you are to learn. You should know your place.
    Back to the subject. The same missionaries teach you that you should call yourself a muslim, keep a strong bondage to your family, dont burn bridges. Any attempt of getting into closer relationship ends up being rejected and pushed back into your old environment. It looks like you end up being isolated, you want a brotherhood with those who told you about gospel – you are not very welcome, at the same time your relationships with your old environment is something you dont want to return to. All these are frustrations caused by regenaration in Christ – a painful rebirth between cultures and religions, habbits and strategies, programs and missions. Very much confusing.
    Sometimes I dream of those home fellowships where everyone felt like a family, like brothers and sisters, not missionaries from better world and converts from poorer people. But this is me, too much idealistic.

  13. Georges Houssney

    I encourage you to interact more with the articles and not just say it is good. We need like-minded people to band together to promote a strong biblical position on ministry to Muslims. Please specify what you like and add your insights or stories and experiences. Thank you for visiting the blog.

  14. Maral

    Dear Mark S.

    Thank you for your comment! I share what you say!
    May the glory be to Him for all these articles.

  15. Joe Carey

    Thanks Georges. Very well written.

  16. Mark S.

    This issue is vital to glorifying Christ. If we miss out on practically and correctly understanding the Word of God, then how can we ever truly glorify Christ in the midst of them?

    I cannot tell you how troubling and disheartening it is to find ‘believers’ going to Mosques and praying the Muslim prayer in prostration, along with the Shahada (Muslim confession of faith that God is One and Muhammad is his Prophet), bowing to Mecca.

    This not only happens in the Middle East, it happens right here in the USA!

    These people say, “Oh, I think of Jesus when I do this.” But they never consider the toll that this behavior costs, not only to themselves in syncretizing their soul with Islam, but also the confusion it causes with Muslims, and the down of tying a weight around the neck of new believers out of Islam. It’s no more slanderous than going to brothels sleeping with prostitutes and saying I’m thinking of Jesus when I’m doing it, and seeing your weaker brothers and sisters partake and saying, well I do it to reach prostitutes.

    Even worse are other ‘believers’, churches, mission organizations who should know better, who being led by wise elders and leadership should see the folly in this behavior. In the end, you must ask, is it wise?

    Never, ever, ever did Paul participate in idolistic practices. He never went to the Greeks on Mars Hill in Acts 17 and worshiped the unknown god at his temple. He never pandered to them letting them think he was with them. In fact much as Georges wrote in this article, he DECONTEXTUALIZED. He clearly said that the greeks were ignorant, a great insult to a people who prided themselves on their wisdom. He preached the gospel so completely clear, so that the greeks knew he was teaching a new religion, and even called him foolish.

    Brothers & Sisters in Christ, why would you partake in things that are not of God? Why would you try to fit into ritualistic expressions that are clearly not of our God? Why would you bow to an idol, defiling yourself, even if you think of a ‘Jesus’, and defiling those around you who will only gain confusion and misunderstanding?

    Our God is not a god of confusion. He is not a god of relativism. He is a God who has clearly shown himself in His Word. He is a God that is jealous for our worship. Why would He ever share worship with false beliefs and idols?

    Is the Word of God imperfect and incapable of power? Is the Holy Spirit inadequate that it cannot call people out of death? If the Word of God is powerful, and the Holy Spirit with fullness of power able to pull even the dead from rotten tombs, then why do we treat it as incapable, with our strategies that seem to create these powers out of our own abilities.

    Let God save! Let the Holy Spirit redeem! Let us do only one thing, preach His Word doing so clearly with the Power of His message for the purposes of His glory, without any worldly wisdom, but with foolish abandonment for the power of God almighty.


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