Caner calls IMB Camel strategy 'heresy'
    February 11 2010 by Bob Allen, ABP News

    Lynchburg, Va. (ABP) -- The president of Liberty Theological Seminary has labeled a method used by Southern Baptist missionaries to spread the gospel in Muslim lands deceptive and heretical.

    In a podcast interview on the SBC Today
    blog, Ergun Caner blasted the "Camel Method," developed by longtime International Mission Board strategist Kevin Greeson to engage Muslims into talking about Jesus using a familiar legend from Islam. The story goes that every good Muslim knows 99 names for Allah, but there is a 100th name that was revealed only to the camel. 

    According to the
    Camel Method, the 100th name is Jesus, or "Isa," as the name is rendered in Arabic. Using selected verses from the Quran, the method establishes three points: that Isa -- honored in Islam as a prophet but not as divine -- is holy, has power over death and knows the way to heaven. From there it goes on to present the plan of salvation by relating it to Eid al-Adha, the Islamic feast of sacrifice.

    Through reportedly very effective in working with Muslims, the method has detractors who say it crosses a line between "contextualization" -- embracing Christianity in ways that are culturally relevant in a given society -- and "syncretism" -- a fusion of two different belief systems that cannot be reconciled with biblical Christianity.

    For Caner -- himself a Southern Baptist and a former Muslim who has written books labeling Islam a false religion -- that line is clear. "The IMB is teaching heresy," he said matter-of-factly.

    Caner said Allah as described in the Quran and the God revealed in the Bible have nothing in common. To suggest otherwise, he said, is "absolute, fundamental deception."

    "You can't start an evangelistic enterprise based on deception," Caner said. "I just can't imagine that type of lying, and that's exactly what I call it.

    "So you're saying [IMB President] Jerry Rankin lies?" he continued. "That's exactly what I'm saying."

    Greeson, who has served with the International Mission Board since 1993,
    says he had little success during his first two years of working with Muslims in South Asia. They didn't believe Jesus was the Son of God or in his resurrection. They did not acknowledge the authority of the Bible, so quoting Scripture was useless.

    After discovering a Christian movement in a village where many people were converting from Islam, Greeson asked about the catalyst. From there he developed the Camel Method as a way to treat Muslims with respect while challenging them to confront their own sacred writings as a bridge to the gospel.

    The method is not intended primarily for one-on-one witnessing, but for planting of reproducing indigenous churches called "Jesus Groups." Greeson says there are thousands of such congregations in what he calls the largest turning of Muslims to Christ in history.

    Caner said the issue is not whether the method works, but rather if it represents biblical Christianity.

    "There's a huge difference between building a church and building a crowd," he said. "There's a huge difference between having a movement with results and having a movement with eternal results."

    Caner said he has no problem using the name "Allah" for God when speaking in Arabic -- that is the name Arab Christians have used for the deity since before Islam began -- but telling a Muslim that Allah in the Quran refers to the Christian God is dishonest.

    Proponents of the Camel Method say it isn't intended to be a full presentation of the gospel message but a point of connection with a goal of leading Muslims to accept Christ as revealed in the Bible while retaining their ethnic identity in an Islamic culture.

    John Travis, a pseudonym for a Christian who has worked with Muslims in Asia for many years,
    said that for the majority of the world's 1 billion Muslims, changing religions is something that is never seriously contemplated.

    Yet, Travis said he personally knows many Muslims who have put their faith in Jesus. Some formally convert to Christianity and worship at local churches identified with Western denominations or in small home fellowships with other Muslim-background believers. Fearing persecution, others worship underground. Still others, sometimes called "Messianic Muslims," reject teachings of Islam that directly contradict the Bible -- like the teaching that Jesus did not die on the cross -- but do not view or describe themselves as Christians.

    IMB trustees adopted
    guidelines in 2007 regarding "contextualization" of church-planting methods among unreached people groups.

    The IMB supports, for instance, using "Allah" when describing the God of the Bible but not the theological construct represented by the name as used in the Quran. While condoning the use of a culture's sacred text for "bridge building," the guidelines caution missionaries to take care not to imply wholesale acceptance of those teachings. The policy affirms the need to be "ethically sound" in church-planting efforts.

    "Integrity requires, for example, that we not imply that a false prophet or a body of religious writings other than the Bible are inspired," the policy says in a footnote. "There is a level of contextualization that crosses the line of integrity. Our board has dismissed personnel who have refused counsel and deliberately positioned themselves beyond that line."

    Caner said he does not believe IMB personnel who use the Camel Method are "heretics," just "Christians who are teaching heresy.”

    2/11/2010 2:40:00 PM by Bob Allen, ABP News | with 14 comments

Thank you for your thoughtful insights.
2/23/2010 4:02:18 PM

James - I didn't notice the 24 hour time difference. Your questions are good ones which missiologist far more educated than I continue to debate. Is Allah of the Qur'an the Elohim of the Bible? I'm not sure it's a definitive yes or no answer. If you look at the foundational mantra of Islam - "there is one God (Allah) and Mohammad is his prophet" - then the answer is certainly "No." But if you look at the historical foundations, Allah is the God of Ibrahim (Abraham), then the answer is "Yes." The name Allah predates Islam. At some point, I believe Allah was the God of Scripture. Personally, I still struggle with this issue. But I do have a high level of trust in friends and co-workers who work in Muslim countries. I know they have a deep love for God and, obviously by working in these countries, a strong commitment to make Jesus known to all peoples. As they work in some of the most closed countries, among people with closed minds, I know that they prayerfully seek the best way to communicate the gospel in a way that would never compromise God's word. I do believe God often reveals Himself within a culture which allows for a bridge to the gospel. I have worked in an animist/Buddhist culture for over 10 years. The people here believe in the "god of heaven." This god is the all powerful, creator god. This is a bridge. Like Paul (Acts 17:23), we share that this creator god who they do not know is the true God. In Buddhism, the Buddah said there would be a Holy One to come who "will keep the world in the future will be like this: In the palm of his hands and in the flat of his feet will be the design of a disk, in his side will be a stab wound; and his forehead will have many marks like scars. The Holy One will be the golden boat who will carry you over the cycle of rebirths all the way to the highest heaven [Nirvana]. Do not look for salvation in the old way [trying to merit salvation]; there is no salvation in it for sure..." Does this validate the Buddhist scripture as the word of God? Of course not. But I do believe it is an incredible bridge God has give to reach Buddhist with the gospel.

I do not have a copy of the Camel Method in my home library. Though, I do have an overview. The Camel method really has nothing to do with God telling a camel his name. The book states - "Arab Muslims have a saying that Allah has 100 names; man knows 99 of those names, but only the camel knows the 100th name of Allah. For our purposes, CAMEL is an acronym - Chosen, Announcement, Miracles, Eternal Life." I would encourage you to find a copy of this before passing judgment.

For me another important aspect of this discussion is not the content but the civility with which the content is discussed. James, I don't know you. But it certainly appears we are brothers in Christ. If we disagree on this matter, I truly believe we can do so with a Christlike attitude. It is neither necessary nor becoming to call each other liars and heretics.
2/20/2010 10:33:11 PM

And Paul - what do you think the chances are that we would have posted our comments exactly 24 hours apart???
2/19/2010 9:02:36 PM

Paul - I know about the issues with the name "Jehovah" so let me try the questions again and then perhaps we can answer them:

Do we believe that Allah of the Quran is same as the God of the Bible? Do we believe that his name was revealed to a camel? As for me the answer to both of these questions is "no" and thus I agree with Caner.
2/19/2010 9:01:02 PM

"do we believe that Allah of the Quran is the Jehovah of the Bible?" - James

No. There is no "Jehovah" in the Bible. The name Jehovah has never been a biblical name for God. "Jehovah" is the result of a translation error. The name which is actually in scripture is YHWH (Yahweh). Is everyone who uses an un-biblical name for God a liar and heretic?

I agree that Caner should apologize for these statements. The use of words like "deceitful" and "heretical" are inflammatory and uncalled for. To publicly call Dr. Rankin a liar over this issue, in my opinion, is sinning against your brother.

The lost should "know that we are Christians by our love." But because of statements like this, we Southern Baptist are becoming much better known for our fighting.
2/18/2010 9:01:49 PM

Nivro Masters
I believe that Caner is correct in this instance. If there is something presented as gospel truth and we find out that it is incorrect, I would appreciate someone calling it to our attention. If the Camel Method is not in fact all truth, then it needs to be eliminated. If we as southern baptists believe that a false method is worthy because it "produces numbers" then we have failed the Great Commission commandment to "make disciples." We need to seek to make true disciples of Jesus Christ. It would seem to me that an individual who was raised Muslim, would know the more intimate beliefs of Islam and understand the Quran more than many believers today. The fact that Caner would be offended at such methodology by the IMB should motivate us to thoroughly investigate the Camel method in order to see if we would come to the same conclusion as Caner does.

2/18/2010 8:29:41 PM

Caner is correct.
2/18/2010 12:38:38 PM

John Carpenter
In Acts 17 Paul begins with the little Christianity and Greek philosophy had in common. He says an idol to an unknown god is being revealed to them. He quotes pagan poetry originally addressed to Zeus and ascribes it to the Lord. Does that mean that he meant everything about Zeus is true of the Lord. Of course not. Certainly there are teachings about Allah that are also true of the Lord. So we have Biblical precedent to start with those points of agreement. Caner is wrong both in strategy and certainly wrong in his judgmental language.
2/18/2010 12:23:07 PM

Gene Scarborough
Wow--this controversy takes the Conservative Resurgence cake for distortion in every way!!!

First, there is distortion in accusing Jerry Rankin of almost starting it.

Next, there is so much impetus to claim numbers converted, when it isn't a real conversion. It is putting a distorted Jesus as the Christ instead of his real nature and uniqueness.

Would Jesus use a lie to convert anyone? Would he, instead, present himself honestly and simply say, "You decide who I am!" I am sure the latter approach of honesty would be his.

We have a lot of things in recent years not to be proud of, nor to claim, under the name of Southern Baptist. This new one now leads the pack of things to avoid for the sake of honesty--which is a clear attribute of our Saviour and any true followers of his Way!
2/15/2010 7:59:41 AM

Let me be more specific - do we believe that Allah of the Quran is the Jehovah of the Bible? Do we believe that his name was revealed to a camel? I would agree with Caner that those statements are heresy and a lie. He did not call them heretics and liars for attempting to help Muslims find Christ, he called them this for the methods they are using.
2/14/2010 9:05:27 PM

"God" is not God's name. God is what God is. We understand God's revelation of Himself to us through Jesus. Jesus taught us to pray. If a people/person/tribe refers to God by another name because they do not yet know Jesus, are they referring to a different God? Of course not; there is only one God. For a Christian to call another Christian a heretic and liar for struggling to find an appropriate way to help Muslims understand the God of the Bible, the God who revealed Himself to us in Jesus, is a sad commentary on both the name caller and the condition of relationship in the Christian family.
2/14/2010 3:03:54 PM

James Barrett
Before being critical of Caner, you must decide whether the Camel method is correct or not. Do you believe the Allah of the Quran is actually speaking of the God of the Bible? (I don't, and I would say Caner as a former Muslim knows better than either of us)Then, if it is wrong, then it is in fact heresy and a lie!
2/13/2010 8:50:37 AM

Welcome back. I thought you'd gone silent! I agree with you that the intemperate language is uncalled for and Caner owes Jerry Rankin and the IMB an apology.
2/12/2010 1:07:32 AM

Brent Hobbs
Caner should apologize for these statements. Can't we disagree over methods without resorting to this kind of inflammatory language?

This article is the most detailed explanation I've come across of the Camel Method. I've heard of it before but am not familiar with it. I honestly don't know if I like it or not. But it is obvious to me that using a word like 'heresy' is over the top and unhelpful. Just as a side note, this kind of nonsense is typical of what is found at SBC Today. So this is sad but not surprising.
2/11/2010 11:36:05 PM

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