Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Conversion in Layers of Identity (Part 5 in the “How are Muslims coming to Christ?” Series)

Previous posts in this series: How are Muslims coming to Christ? Introduction, Part 1: Conversion is a Contextual Process, Part 2: The Prominence of the Affective Dimension, Part 3: The Silent Witness of Love and Integrity, and Part 4: A Patron – Client View of the Gospel.

This next theme in MBB conversion factors is probably the most significant missiological breakthrough in the last few years. The question, “Can a someone be a Muslim and a follower of Christ?” is overly-simplistic. We shouldn’t be surprised that this wrong question has led to a polarized (and politicized) debate. There is  better way at look at the issues (from this article):

5. Conversion in Layers of Identity


Rebecca Lewis argues that we should “free people groups from the counter-productive burden of socioreligious conversion and the constraints of affiliation with the term “Christianity” and with various religious institutions and traditions of Christendom” (2007, 76). Georges Houssney disagrees, “You cannot claim to be a follower of Christ and deny being a Christian. This would be dishonest, confusing and not true. To follow Christ is to be a Christian” (2011). This debate concerning socioreligious identity often seems to be more based around semantics and one’s view of “Islam” than actual Biblical exegesis and theology.

Muslims who consider embracing Biblical faith and MBBs themselves often feel torn between the ill-defined, binary categories of “Muslim” and “Christian.” In light of this struggle, the sociological theories of identity put forth by Kathryn Kraft[i], Jens Barnett, and Tim Green in Longing for Community (Greenlee 2013) have the potential to significantly reduce the polarization of views in the current debates. (These theories are summarized in Greenlee’s article in this issue). Identity is far more complex and dynamic than is unfortunately portrayed by many evangelicals on all sides of the issues. Layers of identity abound for people in every culture, and belonging to multiple traditions is a reality in today’s globalized world.

As the research seems to show, identity is multidimensional, the titles “Christian” and “Muslim” mean various things to different audiences, and new MBBs, especially in unreached contexts, inevitably need time and space for their identities to transition. Dissatisfaction with and rejection of “creedal” Islam precedes most MBB conversions, but many of these same MBBs remain in “cultural” Islam.[ii]


Conversion in Layers of Identity – There are two twin errors I see being made in mission praxis when it comes to the identity issue. The first error is to ask Muslims who are considering embracing Biblical faith to identify as “Christians.” The other error is to insist that MBBs continue to call themselves “Muslims.” Both errors over-assume the role of the Kingdom worker in local theologizing. And both errors also point MBBs to socio-religious identity, when we should instead be making sure MBBs are grounded in the Christ of the Bible.

Do you think this helps us move beyond the so-called “insider” debate?

[A side note: I think identity is more complicated than these layers portray. See here, for example – more research is needed...]

Next: Part 6, The Congruence of Cultural Values.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Yes, this certainly does help us move further along in the conversation. Of course, the loudest and most obnoxious will not take enough of a breath to even consider what you are saying. Extraction was their mode, it must be the mode of everyone else.