Thursday, March 25, 2010

CAMEL Method Debate: Another Case of Missing the Point

In a recent online article in Christianity Today they highlighted the debate between Jerry Rankin, president of the IMB and Ergun Caner of Liberty Theological Seminary on the “CAMEL Method” of evangelism among Muslims. Caner decries the method as conciliation and syncretistic. Rankin defends it as contextualization and sound missiology. Rankin cites the success of the method throughout the Muslim world; Caner, a Muslim background believer, is offended by the use of the Koran as a means of dialogue.

While I appreciate and encourage healthy debate, punches and counter-punches in some disputes end up missing the point. As with most discussions, be it religion, politics, economics or global warming, there is a line drawn in the sand and you are either for it or against it; you are right and they are wrong and, like all good fights, there is a winner and a loser.

So, call me a good post-modernist if you will, but I see the strengths and weaknesses of both arguments. Caner is right that some Muslim evangelism is dishonest, not only to Scriptural principles but also to Muslims. When a Christian, in an attempt to blend into the Muslim community so much that he/she hides their identity as a follower of Isa (Arabic for Jesus), then one reasonably can ask the question what’s the point of even working with Muslims? Rankin is correct that the extraction theory, i.e. that followers of Isa should renounce all that is Muslim and indentify with the new community of the church, is a non-starter in bringing Muslims to faith in Christ. Here is my problem with both Caner and Rankin’s position.

To Caner, dialogue is not compromise. If I am sitting in a village in North Africa that is predominately Muslim I would be foolish not to dialogue with my neighbors, using every contextual tool I can in the process of learning and teaching. This would include using the Koran, referring to God as Allah and agreeing that Isa was a prophet. All truth is God’s truth no matter what form it takes. My witness of Isa can and will be enhanced if I enter into discussion from the viewpoint of my hearers. Of course there is a point when every follower of Christ must make his or her faith definitive. When that takes place and what form it will take is not for me to dictate. If in the process of dialogue, which may take years, I am telling the story of biblical converts, then I am content to let new belivers come to their own conclusions as they are led by the Holy Spirit.

To Rankin, God’s work is not defined by methods or “best practices.” The IMB, and unfortunately most missionaries around the world, are enamored with programs. Chronological story telling, the Jesus Film, BAM (business as mission), EE (evangelism explosion), starting people movements and the CAMEL method are all great tools if they are recognized as such, a tool, not a silver bullet for evangelism. I used the chronological method among the tribal’s of Kenya before it came off the Broadman Press. How? By living with culture and understanding how they viewed their world. Building relationships in a community is not through starting a business. Contextualization is not manipulating dialogue. Good missiology is learning the questions before giving the methodological answer.

Caner and Rankin’s sparring is helpful, as long was we see it for what it is, good debate on how best to present the Gospel. They miss the point when they take the position that their answer to the problem is the best or only answer.