In a growing controversy where Wycliffe Bible Translators is removing “familial terms” such as Son of God and Father in their Bible translations in order to accommodate Muslim readers, the organization posted a statement on February 7th, saying:
While we have never intentionally sponsored a translation that neglects to properly communicate the divine familial terms, some observers have raised concerns about whether our methodology has consistently met our goal. We are listening to those concerns and are seeking God’s guidance as we re-evaluate our methodology and investigate to ensure that our commitment to accurate and clear translation is being reflected in every project. We are engaged in meaningful conversations with partner organizations, constituents, and church leaders to evaluate our standards, and expect to be prepared to issue a more complete statement soon. Thank you for your patience and prayer as we seek to fulfill our mission to make God’s Word accessible to all people.1
This statement came on the heels of Wycliffe issuing a statement a few days earlier than the one above, criticizing accusations that they had indeed been removing the terms. That earlier statement said:
Wycliffe is not omitting or removing the familial terms, translated in English as “Son of God” or “Father,” from any Scripture translation. Erroneous information and rumors on the internet have recently raised questions concerning this issue.
A large public response caused Wycliffe and their “sister organization,” SIL International (the translating arm of Wycliffe), to make the February 7th re-evaluation statement. Lighthouse Trails contacted Wycliffe on the 7th and asked the names of the “constituents” and “church leaders” who were “engag[ing] in meaningful conversations to help Wycliffe evaluate this situation. We were directed to the President’s Office to leave a message, but no one got back to us. Upon further research, we discovered that one of the “ministry partnerships” that Wycliffe lists on their website is YWAM.2 This, of course, produces even more concern because of YWAM’s promotion of what we call the “new” missiology, which would include doing things like changing the names Son of God and Father to lessen any offense to Muslims.
Wycliffe calls SIL International their “primary strategic partner,” whom Lighthouse Trails also spoke with and who has also now posted a response to this practice of removing familial terms from their Bible translations. The SIL statement said:
SIL announces that as of today, February 6, 2012, in situations where we are involved and partnering with others in translation, and have the responsibility to do so, we will put on hold our approval of publication of translated Scripture around which this criticism is focused.
We expect this dialogue with partners, and the corresponding hold period, to commence immediately and run for an extended period.
In light of a number of questions raised about our Best Practices Statement on the translation of Divine Familial Terms, we recognize it is important to have a fuller dialogue with our many partners globally and benefit from their input to our approach in Scripture translation related to this issue. Since questions about our commitment to these translation principles have been raised, we will proactively engage to understand the concerns, clarify misunderstandings, and where indicated, adjust practice. 3
It is clear that Wycliffe and SIL did not anticipate such a strong public response regarding their “approval of publication” to alter the familial terms in their Bible translations. An article from World Magazine titled “Holding Translators Accountable” offers some interesting insights to the controversy. The article addresses a meeting held last year in Istanbul where discussion took place on how to translate the phrase “Son of God” and “God the Father” in Muslim contexts. The “private” meeting was called by Wycliffe and SIL. The World Magazine article stated: “Through several days of conversations between attendees in Istanbul who had been deeply divided on the matter, the participants agreed on new translation standards . . . Soon after the Istanbul meeting, Wycliffe/SIL officials began briefing staff members on the new standards.”
The World Magazine article relays the story of a couple who were being trained to do mission work for Wycliffe. During the training, the couple began to grow increasingly concerned about the direction Wycliffe may be heading:
Wycliffe required David to read Muslims, Christians, and Jesus, a book by Carl Medearis, an advocate of several ideas associated with the “insider movement,” something the Irvines didn’t know anything about at the time.
The movement generally questions the need for outward “conversion” to Christianity as long as someone has a personal relationship with Christ, and “contextualizes” Christian teaching and practice for Muslim cultures by finding common ground between the two.
Believers in the following video talk about the “insider movement” and how it is causing a lot of confusion and problems for faithful Bible-believing missionaries:
The book by Carl Medearis that Wycliffe told the couple (in the World Magazine article) to read advocates the “insider” viewpoint. Medearis states the following in his book:
Truth be told, there is a growing number of Muslims around the world who maintain their cultural identity as “Muslim” but choose to align themselves with the spiritual and moral teachings of Jesus, becoming his disciples while becoming what “Muslim” really means: ‘Submitted to God.’ (p. 134)
If [a Muslim] can retain his cultural identity and yet follow Jesus without having to convert his religious title to Christianity, he benefits in that he can keep his family and his normal healthy relationships. He also can begin what I like to call ‘an insider movement toward Jesus as Christ. (p136)
Roger Oakland addresses this “new” missiology in his book Faith Undone. In Oakland’s article (an excerpt of Faith Undone) “The New Look of Christian Missions,” he explains:
Emerging spirituality is changing the way missions is being conducted. The idea is that you can go for Jesus, but you don’t have to identify yourself as a Christian or part of the Christian church. This concept spills over into some missionary societies too, where they teach people from other religions they can keep their religion, just add Jesus to the equation. They don’t have to embrace the term Christian.
A May/June 2000 issue of Watchman’s Trumpet magazine explains what this new missiology really entails:
“Several international missions organizations, including Youth With a Mission (YWAM), are testing a new approach to missionary work in areas where Christianity is unwelcome. A March 24, 2000, Charisma News Service report said some missionaries are now making converts but are allowing them to “hold on to many of their traditional religious beliefs and practices” so as to refrain from offending others within their culture.”
The Charisma article in which Watchman’s Trumpet reports elaborates:
“’Messianic Muslims’ who continue to read the Koran, visit the mosque and say their daily prayers but accept Christ as their Savior, are the products of the strategy, which is being tried in several countries, according to Youth With a Mission (YWAM), one of the organizations involved.”
The Charisma story reports that a YWAM staff newsletter notes the new converts’ lifestyle changes (or lack thereof):
They [the new converts] continued a life of following the Islamic requirements, including mosque attendance, fasting and Koranic reading, besides getting together as a fellowship of Muslims who acknowledge Christ as the source of God’s mercy for them.
When one of the largest missionary societies (YWAM) becomes a proponent of the new missiology, telling converts they can remain in their own religious traditions, the disastrous results should be quite sobering for any discerning Christian. (Oakland, Faith Undone, ch. 10)
Mike Oppenheimer (Let Us Reason Ministries) and Sandy Simpson (Deception in the Church) have done extensive research on the matter and address it in their book on the indigenous people’s movement, Idolatry in Their Hearts. Oppenheimer and Simpson present page after page of documentation showing this paradigm shift in Christian missions. They ask the question, “Can one be a Hindu or a Muslim and follow Jesus?” They explain why the answer is no:
One cannot be in relationship with Jesus within the confines of a false religion. One must leave his or her religion to follow Jesus, not just add Him on….
This broadens Jesus’ statement of the road being narrow into a wide, all encompassing concept. What is concerning is that these same kinds of statements are also made by those who are New Agers that hold a universal view. (Idolatry in Their Hearts, p. 358).
In an article by Mike Oppenheimer “A ‘New Evangelism’ for the 21st Century,” Oppenheimer states:
Can a Christian now call himself a Muslim? The word Muslim is made up of two words, Islam and Mu. Muslim does not just mean submission; it means submission to the God Allah; not the Lord Jesus Christ or Yahweh. Can a Muslim be called a Christian and walk with Allah? This seems to make no doctrinal or practical sense, unless they change the names and the meaning. This only brings confusion. Why do this when you can introduce Yahweh as the true God without any baggage and shuffling around in names, nature or descriptions? The answer is that you may not see the same results. This is what this is all about isn’t it, results; pragmatism, the end justifies the means.
In Faith Undone, Roger Oakland elaborates on this “new” missiology. Oakland discusses an article titled “Christ-Followers in India Flourishing Outside the Church,” from which the following statement is made regarding the research of Herbert Hoefer (author of Churchless Christianity):
In striking research undertaken in the mid-eighties and published in 1991, Herbert E. Hoefer found that the people of Madras City are far closer to historic Christianity than the populace of any cities in the western Christian world could ever claim to be. Yet these are not Christians, but rather Hindus and Muslims. In their midst is a significant number of true believers in Christ who openly confess to faith in fundamental Biblical doctrines, yet remain outside the institutional church.
Oakland explains that the article “expands this idea that one does not need to become a Christian or to change his religious practices; he just needs to add Jesus to his spiritual equation ” as shown by a further statement by the article:
However, some might argue that this [the “smothering embrace of Hinduism”] is the danger with the ishta devata strategy I am proposing. It will lead not to an indigenous Christianity but to a Christianized Hinduism. Perhaps more accurately we should say a Christ-ized Hinduism. I would suggest that really both are the same, and therefore we should not worry about it. We do not want to change the culture or the religious genius of India. We simply want to bring Christ and His Gospel into the center of it.
Oakland shares his concerns about Herbert Hoefer’s research:
[Hoefer’s] idea [is] that rather than “changing or rejecting” the Hindu and Muslim culture missionaries should be “Christ-izing” it. He says there are thousands of believers in India whom he refers to as “non-baptized believers.” Reasons for the believers not becoming baptized vary, but usually it is because they will suffer financial or social loss and status. Hoefer admits that these non-baptized believers are not Christians, and usually they do not choose to call themselves that. In many of his examples, these non-baptized believers continue practicing their religious rituals so as not to draw suspicion or ridicule from family and friends. Hoefer explains one story:
“[There is] a young man of lower caste who earns his livelihood by playing the drum at Hindu festivals and functions. ‘All this is what I must do,’ he said, ‘but my faith is in Christ. Outside I am a Hindu, but inside I am a Christian.'”
Another family of the Nayar caste consisted of a wife, her husband and one son. Hoefer describes their situation:
“[H]er husband and son have been believers in Christ for eight years. They both had studied in Christian schools and learned of Christ. The husband’s father had a vision of Christ, and one brother also is a non-baptised believer. The husband does not join his wife in coming to Church, but he occasionally joins her for the big public meetings. They do not have family devotions, but worship Jesus along with the Hindu gods in their home. Their approach to the Hindu festivals is to carry them out but to think of God, not Jesus specifically.” (source)
Oaklandsays “[I am not] “here to judge whether these non-baptized believers are truly born again. That is for the Lord to decide. My concern lies with the way missions is changing and how the Gospel is being presented. To say that someone does not have to leave their pagan religion behind, and in fact they don’t have to even stop calling themselves Hindu or Muslim, is not presenting the teachings of the Bible” (Faith Undone, chapter 10).
In an article by columnist Paul Proctor, The ‘Camel Method’ of Evangelism is Not Biblical, Proctor addresses other aspects of this new way of doing missions:
I have addressed, on numerous occasions, the Church’s ongoing efforts to reinvent Christianity into a global religion of Results & Relationships by using the powers of pragmatism and consensus to artificially grow itself into something more widely accepted by the world instead of faithfully proclaiming the Word of God “in season and out” as we are commanded to do in 2nd Timothy 4:2.
Proctor talks about a story where “Christians are encouraged by a ‘veteran missionary’ to employ what’s called “The Camel Method” to evangelize, where the Quran is used, instead of the Bible, to share Christ with Muslims – a method that reportedly utilizes ‘selected verses’ and ‘doesn’t teach or lecture, but asks questions.’ Proctor is concerned about this approach:
[W]here in God’s Word are we commanded to “take up thy Quran” and “go ye into all the world and start a movement?” It’s alarming enough that the Bible is set aside with this method of “evangelism,” but it’s outright heresy that Jesus Christ is presented as the son of Allah, since Allah was widely recognized and worshipped as a pagan moon god even before there was a Mohammed. How then can the truth set you free if it begins with a lie?
There are many changes taking place within evangelical/Protestant missions today. What Wycliffe andSIL are doing, in conjunction with organizations like YWAM, is part of this paradigm shift toward a “new” progressive emerging missiology. Paul Proctor urges biblical Christians to beware:
The leaders of the new spirituality and its church growth movement have always had a hard time avoiding the “wide gate” and “broad way” choosing clever methods of “evangelism” that are not only incompatible with God’s Word, but also prove them unwilling to trust Him with the increase – ever looking for something more clever, spectacular and impressive to glory in and boast about to a watching world.
While advocates of the “new” missiology are taking the “fruit” of evangelism into their own hands by manipulating and distorting biblical truth to make it more palatable for the lost, trusting God alone to reap the harvest of true biblical evangelism is being put on a back burner. We pray that Wycliffe Bible Translators will truly re-evaluate the direction they are heading and reject the “new” missiology. We pray they will not succumb to pressures by other organizations that are telling them they must get on board this progressive missiology. We are instructed in Scripture to plant and to water and to trust the Lord to give the increase. If this new way of mission work had been practiced by the apostle Paul and the other disciples, they probably wouldn’t have been martyred, but they were willing to count the cost of discipleship. They could have kept their conversion to Christianity a secret, but they didn’t; they did not compromise nor hide their faith to anyone, and for this they were martyred. Similarly, in present day Christianity there is a paradox where Muslims and Hindus converting to Christianity encounter extreme persecution while others hope to avoid persecution by hiding their faith. Roger Oakland reminds us that “Paul exhorted believers to be willing to give up all for the sake of having Christ.” Shouldn’t missionary societies such as Wycliffe and YWAM do so as well?
I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)