Reaching out to Muslims with the Gospel message is one of the most challenging evangelistic tasks the church faces. How do you share the message of Jesus when your audience is prepared to dismiss the Bible, and most common evangelism approaches, out of hand?
It’s no surprise, given the heated debates and apologetics that characterize much of the interaction Christian evangelists and Muslims, that missionaries would look for different outreach strategies.
One such alternate evangelism approach tries to do exactly that, but it’s not without detractors. It’s called the “Camel Method,” and it introduces people to Jesus not through the Bible, but through a book that’s much more familiar to most Muslims: the Koran. A New York Times article last month illuminated a growing controversy in missionary circles:
Instead of talking about the Jesus of the New Testament, missionaries using the Camel Method point Muslims to the Koran, where in the third chapter, or sura, an infant named Isa â€” Arabic for Jesus â€” is born. Missionaries have found that by starting with the Koranâ€™s Jesus story, they can make inroads with Muslims who reject the Bible out of hand. But according to [Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary president] Dr. Caner… the idea that the Koran can contain the seeds of Christian faith is â€œan absolute, fundamental deception.â€
David Garrison, a missionary who edited a book on the Camel Method by Kevin Greeson, the methodâ€™s developer, defends the use of the Koran as a path to Jesus. â€œYou arenâ€™t criticizing Muhammad or any other prophets,â€ Dr. Garrison said, â€œjust raising Jesus up.â€
The “camel method” has been criticized by many Christians for introducing Muslims to a non-Biblical Jesus, and some call it a “bait-and-switch” evangelism technique. But defenders of the practice claim that starting with the Koran, rather than the Bible, lets missionaries avoid predictable and unproductive debates.
They also say that starting with the Koran avoids giving Muslims the impression that you are attacking their faith and leaves them more open to dialogue. A Christianity Today article notes that:
International Mission Board trustees found the method valid after a 2007 investigation that included issuing principles of contextualization. “Historically, a missions approach has been to extricate Muslims from their community once they converted, which didn’t do much for planting the gospel among Muslims,” [IMB president Jerry Rankin] said.
An IMB-sponsored survey in 2002 found some 125,000 Muslims who had come to faith in Christ through the camel method, been baptized, and were orthodox in their practices.
Joseph Cumming of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture [...] estimates that 90 percent of missionaries living among Muslims refer to verses in the Qur’an without inciting the heated arguments found in the U.S.
What do you think? Is it dangerous to use a non-Christian text like the Koran as a first step in evangelism? Or is it worthwhile if it lets missionaries avoid pointless debates and out of hand rejection?