Contextualization

I’ve got issues. Contextualization issues. It all started Saturday during training for the Muslim outreach. It was suggested we use the stories and words of the OT prophets to launch into the gospel. Of course the Old Testament characters can be used to tell the story of creation, sin, judgment, sacrifice, grace, redemption, and faith in Jesus unto salvation.

But it was suggested that we use the name of God from the culture; we were told to call God, Allah, since Allah means ‘God’ in Arabic. “This is not syncretism“, we were told, “but using the culture to help deliver the gospel message”.

I think this is an issue that needs to be studied, understood as much as possible, prayed about and considered, as we involve ourselves in cross cultural missions (evangelism) here where we live.

There is a huge movement in missions, Contextualization, which seeks to use the culture as a starting point in sharing the gospel. Unfortunately, what started out as a desire to be culturally sensitive and understanding, has resulted in teaching those being reached that the main god of the culture is the true God; they just know him by a different name, and this god (their culture’s main god) sent Jesus to redeem us.

Yes, we know that Allah means ‘God’ in Arabic. But unlike the English word, ‘God’, ‘Allah’ is not just a general word for ‘God’. The problem is that Allah is also the personal name for the Islamic deity. Allah is not the name of the One True God of the Bible, and it is not a name for the One True God of the Bible, nor is the name ‘Allah’ mentioned in the Bible.

Likewise, the actual name of the God of the Bible is not in the Quran! God is particular about His Name and the fact that He differentiates Himself from the host of the world’s false gods.

A little research shows that the character and attributes of Allah are not those of Yahweh. They are just not the same. The Allah of the Quran denies the character and attributes of Yahweh.

Here is some food for thought on the issue:

Words do have meaning and therefore, they must be used appropriately. In the Muslim-Christian debate there are certain words (viz., ‘God’, ‘Allah’ and ‘Yahweh’) which share commonalities. Too often, in a naive attempt to foster dialogue, we make these commonalities the pinnacle of our discussion. The words used by Muslim and Christian do not necessarily have the same meaning. When it is stated that Allah = Yahweh = Brahman = Allah, this is more than oversight. It shows a lack of understanding of the meaning or content of the words.

Never let it be said “We are arguing semantics.”

It behooves us to use words carefully and thoughtfully. We must not be guilty of assuming that when the Muslim says Allah he is speaking of Divinity with all the characteristics, attributes and essence of Yahweh. To do so is to be guilty of the fallacy of equivocation. We do not want equivocation to become our avocation.

From Article: Words Have Meaning, from Answering Islam

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What this basically comes down to is that if the word Allah is derived from ilah, then there is nothing special in the Muslim god being called Allah. Allah, much like the English word God, just so happens to be a generic noun that can be used for any deity, not just for the true God of the Holy Bible. Thus, just because Muslims call their god Allah doesn’t mean that they are worshiping the same true God as revealed in the Holy Bible. In other words, even though Arab speaking Jews and Arabic Christians use the word Allah when speaking of the God they believe in, this doesn’t mean that they have the same God in mind as the Muslims.

If, on the other hand, Muslims claim that Allah is not derived from ilah, but is the eternal, unchangeable name of their god, then this only proves that the god revealed in Islam cannot be the true God revealed in Holy Scripture. The everlasting name of the true God of the Holy Bible is not Allah, nor is it el, elohim, eloah, elah etc. The proper name of the God of Abraham is Yahweh (Jehovah):

“God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “Yahweh [YHWH], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is my name FOREVER, and thus I am to be remembered throughout ALL GENERATIONS.’” Exodus 3:15

“God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by MY NAME Yahweh I did not make myself known to them.’” Exodus 6:2-3

“that they may know that you alone, whose name is Yahweh, are the Most High over all the earth.” Psalm 83:18

I am Yahweh; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” Isaiah 42:8

It is truly astonishing that the name Yahweh does not appear even once in the entire Quran, despite its repeated claim that it comes from the same true God of Abraham! The Quran in several places claims to be complete. If the Quran is a book complete in and of itself, why does it nowhere contain the name of God as revealed to His previous prophets?

There are other reasons proving that Allah of Islam is not the true God of the Holy Bible, Yahweh, some of which we include here:

Yahweh is Father and has children, whereas Allah is not a father to anyone:

Allah says in the Quran:

The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the Son of God’; the Christians say, ‘The Messiah is the Son of God.’ That is the utterance of their mouths, conforming with the unbelievers before them. God assail them! How they are perverted! S. 9:30

And they say, ‘The All-merciful has taken unto Himself a son. You have indeed advanced something hideous! The heavens are wellnigh rent of it and the earth split asunder, and the mountains wellnigh fall down crashing for that they have attributed to the All-merciful a son; and it behoves not the All-merciful to take a son. None is there in the heavens and earth but he comes to the All-merciful as a servant; He has indeed counted them, and He has numbered them exactly. Every one of them shall come to Him upon the Day of Resurrection, all alone. S. 19:88-93

Contrast this with what the true God says:

“You neglected the Rock who begot you, And forgot the God who gave you birth.” Deuteronomy 32:18

“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’” Psalm 2:7

“He will cry to Me, ‘You are my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation.’ I also shall make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth.” Psalm 89:26-27

“Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His Son’s name? Surely you know!” Proverbs 30:4

For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us And Israel does not recognize us You, O LORD, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name.” Isaiah 63:16, cf. 64:8

“Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?” Malachi 2:10

For this reason seeing the greatness of this plan by which you are built together in Christ], I bow my knees before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, For Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named [that Father from Whom all fatherhood takes its title and derives its name].” Ephesians 3:14-15 Amplified Bible

“Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’” Mark 1:10-11

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:16-18

According to the Holy Bible, Allah of the Quran is the spirit of Antichrist since he denies both the Fatherhood of God and the Sonship of Christ:

“Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.” 1 John 2:22-23

Yahweh manifested in human form and took on a human nature. Allah did neither:

“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.’ Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’” Genesis 32:24-30

After all, just because someone uses the same word for God that someone else uses doesn’t mean that they both have the same God in view. Or Abualrub may wish to say that Allah is the eternal name of his deity, the proper name of the god proclaimed by the Quran, and if so, then this further proves that Allah of Islam is not the true God of the Holy Bible, Yahweh Elohim. In either case, Abualrub must contend with the fact that the Holy Bible conclusively proves that the Allah proclaimed by Muhammad is a false god.

From Article: Allah of Islam: Is he Yahweh God of the Bible, by Answering Islam.

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Therefore, since we can rationally propose a situation where the God of Islam will forgive a Muslim without there being punishment according to law, we can conclude that the God of Islam is unjust. If Allah is unjust, then he is not the true God.

In Christianity, every sin is dealt with by God in one of two ways. Either God satisfies the law by exercising his punishment upon the sinner by sending him to eternal damnation, or, he places the sins of the person on Jesus Christ who suffers the punishment in place of the person. Either way, the justice of God is never ignored. It is proper that sin be dealt with by a punishment relative to the sin. To not do so is to not be just.

Therefore, all who trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, are trusting in the sacrifice of Christ who fell under the wrath of God the Father and was punished in their place. In this way, sin is dealt with by an act of justice. Remember, a holy and righteous God cannot let sin go unpunished. We must ask then, why does the God of Islam not do what is just?

From Article, How Just is the god of Islam? by CARM.

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The name (YHWH) Yahweh was used over 6,000 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is unthinkable that God would allow His people to call upon Him by another culture’s god’s name (as He knows that it is not Him) and make believe it is Him. The Gentile nations named their own gods. God did not reveal Himself to them. The name is not correct if the name is not revealed by God to man, for God’s Name reveals Who He is in His nature and character.

Obviously, God did not think these supreme gods were just different names for Himself.

This makes the point that it is this God who made the heavens and the earth, Israel’s God, not the other gods of the nations. There is no other God in history that was ever considered to be the same God that chose Israel and sent the Messiah.

From Article: Changing God’s Name, by Discernment Group. This is a must read article.

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Here is some advice I received from a brother from Answering Islam:

All of us agree the gospel is translatable. God “translated” himself when he tabernacled into humanity, at the burning bush, the angel of the Lord, Mt Sinai, etc. Part of that translation is contextualization of the message. Let me give you an example from the Bible. Up until chapter 11 in the Book of Acts, the early Christians were mostly Jews and they called Jesus Messiah, Son of Man, and Suffering Servant. Then in Acts 11 some Hellenist Jews shared the gospel with Greeks and the latter became believers. Jesus was now “Lord” and even later (2 centuries later) he would be Son of God. Jesus never stopped being the suffering servant, but for the Greeks to understand the gospel, lord was more effective. Lord does not communicate suffering servant, but it does communicate another real attribute about him that, in the case of the Greeks, proved effective.

Critical contextualilzation looks for acceptable terms from the new language that will effectively and relevantly transmit the same meaning – or nearly the same meaning! – as the host language. The good news: it is possible for us to do this! Jesus translated and contextualized YHWH completely and effectively. So, it can be done. The bad news: contextualization/translation is very difficult and has an element of risk.

One final thought: you know, of course, that Arabic-speaking Christians call the God of the Bible Allah. And when they evangelize Muslims they speak of Allah. But the Christians also know that when they speak of Allah, they have pre-filled the word with biblical meaning.

So, I caution each of us to prayerfully and thoughtfully approach the use of certain terms in our evangelism. Is it always wrong for a Christian to call YHWH Allah? No. Is it always the best thing to do? No.

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My friend Jessi made a good point:

And remember Paul, who became all things to all men, talked to some about the ‘unknown god’ — he did NOT, however, contextualize by referring to some other named (Greek or Roman) god, saying, ‘oh, this is who he really is and Jesus is his son’.

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Berit Kjos from Crossroad, had this to say:

Calling our God Allah would imply an acknowledgment that we define God the way they define Allah. Since the nature, attributes and ways of our God are not at all those of the Muslim’s Allah, we would would be presenting a different reality and sharing a deceptive gospel.

But that’s what contextualization is all about.

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So I understand about context, that Muslims(and Arabic Christians) use ‘Allah’ when speaking of God. But I am not comfortable using this, even as a ‘linguistic bridge’ to deliver the message about the true God. Allah is a personal name for a god that has character and attributes that are not the character and attributes of the True God. The word Allah specifies a false god. God is particular about His Name. Out of personal conviction, I would prefer to define and differentiate the LORD from the names of other gods, even if this is out of cultural context. I will not call the LORD, ‘Allah’. What do you think? I believe for cross cultural missions, we need to boldly tell who the true God is, as well as what He has done, in Jesus.

I will now offer some final thoughts on VIDEO from John Piper. His advice:
Don’t Contextualize the Gospel!
Just tell it like it is. The same gospel for everyone! It isn’t complicated.


“For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5)

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5 thoughts on “Contextualization

  1. Good post!
    There are such serious issues regarding evangelism to the Islamic communities and so much compromise. It is about the worst sin possible in Islam, to say Jesus is Gods son let alone that we are his sons and daughters so most outreach leaves this very important fact out. This makes me wonder just who they are believing in when Jesus is not presented as the son of the Father God, of Yahweh.
    If he is just another prince of heaven or prophet, then they are not seeing him as He is!
    And if we call our God, the One true God after another gods name, what a transgression. May the Lord help us to genuinely represent Him in every way.

    Thank you for a timely and well thought out post !

    Blessings to you always in Jesus,

    Susan

  2. hi Susan! Yes, we must be clear who the true God is, and that Jesus is come from this God, and is God. I think we can initially proclaim this without using the term ‘Son’. But we should declare Who the true God is, and Who Jesus is also. I have not had a lot of experience witnessing to Muslims, but I would use “Lamb of God” to describe Jesus and His role. Yes, may the Lord help us to communicate clearly (to Muslims,) while being totally faithful to Him.

    love to you, dear sister.
    Loretta

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