Insider Movement Theological Continuum – The C1–C6 Contextualization Spectrum

This tool, developed by John Travis (a pseudonym), has proven helpful and is widely accepted as a tool for differentiating different kinds of “Christ-centered Communities” in Muslim contexts. The tool focuses primarily on doctrine, theological language, and ecclesiastical practices. It would be interesting to create a corresponding continuum measuring the degree of Christ-like behavior characterizing a group of Christians—a DWJS (doing what Jesus says) spectrum. If such an analytical tool were applied to many doctrinally orthodox communities, it would help reveal the degree of compromise—“behavioral syncretism”—blighting some of our evangelical churches and religious communities.

C1 – Traditional Church Using Outsider Language. These are traditional Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant churches which may pre-date Islam. Many reflect Western culture and are significantly different from the surrounding Muslim culture. Some Muslimbackground believers may be members. They call themselves “Christians.”

C2 – Traditional Church Using Insider Language. Essentially the same as C1, but using an insider language. Theological language is distinctively Christian. Often there are more Muslim-background believers than in C1 churches. Believers call themselves Christians.”

C3 – Contextualized Christ-centered Communities Using Insider Language and Religiously Neutral Insider Cultural Forms. These may adopt local forms of dress, folk music, and art. The aim is to reduce the foreign atmosphere by “contextualizing to biblically permissible cultural forms.” The meeting place may be a church building or another location. Believers call themselves “Christians.”

C4 – Contextualized Christ-centered Communities Using Insider Language and Biblically Permissible Cultural and Islamic Forms. Forms adopted may include praying with raised hands, kneeling, keeping the fast (Ramadan), avoiding pork and alcohol, or not having dogs and cats as pets. Meetings are not held in church buildings. These communities are comprised almost entirely of Muslim-background believers.
Believers identify themselves as “followers of Isa the Messiah” (or something similar).

C5 – Christ-centered Communities of “Messianic Muslims” Who Have Accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. These believers remain largely within the Islamic community. Islamic theology that is incompatible with the Bible is rejected. Some will attend the mosque. When entire villages convert, they may form “Messianic mosques.” They are perceived by the community as Muslims and refer to themselves as Muslims who follow Isa the Messiah.

A much earlier advocate of what has since been labeled C5 was John Anderson, who suggested that the traditional “Cultic,” that is, formal and sectarian, approach by missionaries had been ineffective. Instead of being perceived as holy people, Christians were perceived by Muslims not as true worshipper of Allah, but as blasphemers; not as good citizens of their country, but as quislings; not as men who honor father and mother, but as reprobate sons. He argued that conversion to Jesus as Savior was the aim, not acceptance of formal Christianity. Anderson argued that believers in Christ could remain within the Muslim community and even recite the Creed (“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Prophet of God”), while they sought to convince their family and friends of the Lordship of Jesus.

Anderson acknowledged that a Muslim believer’s confrontation with conservative Muslim theology would come, sooner or later, but when it comes the only issue on which they may feel justified in killing and persecuting him, will be his confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and on no other; and in this way the true issues of discipleship will have become clarified.

C6 – Small Christ-centered Communities of Secret/Underground Believers. These believers meet in secret to avoid governmental or community legal action. They are usually silent about their faith. For a time, they are perceived as Muslims and identify themselves as Muslims. C5 is by far the most controversial of the above approaches. In some cases, Christians become “Muslims” in order to win Muslims. Phil Parshall, a pioneer in C4 Muslim evangelism, has argued strongly against the C5 approach, believing it to be syncretistic.

Theological objections – Parshall sees the mosque as “pregnant with Islamic theology. There Muhammad is affirmed as a prophet of God and the divinity of Christ is consistently Denied.”

Ethical objections – We would resent a non-believing Muslim coming into our assemblies and partaking communion in an effort to gain our trust in order to promote Islam. Muslim’s abhor hypocrisy and would be especially offended by a foreigner coming in as a “C5 missionary.”

In defense of a C5 approach, Travis has argued:

  • Continuing to attend the mosque compares with early Jewish followers’ habit of meeting both at the temple and in homes. Like temple attendance, a C5 modality may also be a temporary situation, until such time that the Muslim community forces a separation, in the same way that Christians were driven from Jerusalem.
  • Just as some “evangelical Catholics” attend mass but do not pray to saints or exalt Mary, Messianic Muslims may attend with the same mindset. As many nominal Muslims do not attend prayers at the mosque, it may not be necessary for the believer in Jesus to do so either.
  • Some Muslim-background believers change shahada to exalt Jesus, some pray silently or not at all when others are reciting it, while others reinterpret the word “prophet” in a way that they are comfortable applying it to Muhammad.
  • There is a need to develop an apologetic which affirms the Qur’an without putting it on an equal standing with the Injil.
  • Muslims are more likely to attend Bible reading sessions if the Qur’an is also read.

* * *

Note: Source: Jonathan Bonk – ‘The Gospel and Ethics’, a paper presented at the Lausanne Theology Working Group International Consultation, in Chiang Mai Thailand, 11–15 February 2008. You may find HERE an earlier post I have published on this blog.


Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: