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, Part 4: A Patron – Client View of the Gospel, and Part 5: Conversion in Layers of Identity.
Rather than getting bogged down in a debate about contextualization and syncretism, I think Greenlee’s term “The Congruence of Cultural Values” better fits this sociological theme of factors that influence Muslims to embrace biblical faith (from this article):
6. The Congruence of Cultural Values
Continuing with the sociological discussion of conversion, some missiologists argue that a paradigm shift is happening in church planting and evangelism strategies (Gray and Gray 2010a). Previous strategies argued for an aggregate (or “attractional”) model of church planting, where new believers/seekers who do not previously know each other are gathered together in fellowship. In contrast, the social network[i] (or “transformational”) model seeks to implant the gospel into a group of people who have previously formed social relationships, and thus not try to introduce unknown believers to one another. “The ‘church’ meets when the normal social network gathers” (Gray and Gray 2010b, 278).
This idea of spreading the gospel through social networks is very similar the “homogeneous unit principle” (HUP) posited by Donald McGavran, who famously stated that “People like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers” (1990 , 163). Arguing against this as a strategy for mission, René Padilla declared that the HUP is not only counter to the example of Jesus and the apostles who intentionally worked with an aggregate model, but also fails to take the ministry of reconciliation seriously and has “no biblical foundation” (1982, 29).
However, since research shows that “facilitating the movement of the gospel through natural social networks [contra the aggregate model] seems to be correlated with planting more churches” (Gray et al. 2010, 94), it seems best to think of social network theory as a provisional, temporary strategy until there are more robust forms of church that reach the biblical goal of the so-called “Ephesian moment” (Walls 2002), where people of different caste, race, gender, etc., who have little in common except Jesus are reconciled together in fellowship through him. In any case, a key theme in factors that influence conversion is the congruence of cultural values between the MBB and the values of the witnessing community.[ii]
The Congruence of Cultural Values – Contextualization is not a dirty word. It is inevitable, and we need to work hard at it. But even more so, MBBs need to contextualize as they share the gospel through their social networks. We have much to learn from MBB local theologizing.
Next: Part 7, The Differing Female Experience.