Friday, June 28, 2013

The PCA's Insider Movement Study Committee

My goal was to make it through my entire career as a PCA minister without ever speaking from the floor at the General Assembly. However, I chose to give up that dream this year. I had asked my friend, Dr. Nabeel Jabbour, to serve on the PCA's Study Committee of the Insider Movement. I knew our denomination needed to hear his voice. He is a man who loves Jesus and has sacrificed much in taking the gospel to the Muslims. I knew that some would misunderstand his position. So, when he chose to offer a Minority Report at the Assembly, I chose to stand by my friend, hoping that my brothers would listen to what he had to say, things we needed to hear.

Since that time, a number of articles have appeared in The Aquila Report that are critical of the Minority Report of the PCA’s Study Committee of the Insider Movement. While I am sure that these articles were written with a love for God, for truth, and for the church, I believe there are a number of inaccuracies and misrepresentations in several of these. Since I was mentioned by name in one of these reports, I felt that it was important that I offer a response.

First of all, it must be remembered that the Minority Report affirmed the very same Affirmations and Denials as the Majority Report. That is, both reports reached the same conclusions. In fact, I tried to offer a substitute motion on the floor that would only accept these Affirmations and Denials as well as the Recommendations to the Churches. However, I was properly ruled out of order. 

One must remember that the Minority Report, together with last year’s report, affirms that God is Trinity and can only be properly worshipped as such, that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that Jesus is the Son of God. In no way does the Minority Report suggest that salvation is found in any other than through Jesus Christ.

One charge leveled against the Minority Report was that it said that a Muslim Background Believer (MBB) could continue to worship at the mosque. It says no such thing. A Christian could not continue to engage in Muslim worship at a mosque and pray the prayers at those services. That would be syncretistic. The Minority Report never endorses any such activity.

In reading the critics of the Minority Report, one is left with the impression that the Minority Report is saying that Jews, Muslims, and Christians all worship the same God and therefore essentially the same faith. The Minority Report says no such thing. That is a misreading of the clear intent of the author. If that were the case, there would be no need to evangelize Muslims. The Minority Report (and those who supported it) would clearly affirm that salvation is only found in Jesus and one cannot worship the true God without coming through Jesus. Furthermore, the Minority Report states that Muslims recognize the true God “when the veil is lifted from their eyes and Muslims see Him as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 2329, line 26). That is, they cannot come to know God apart from Jesus.

During the debate, the author of the Minority Report was charged with saying that he hoped that the gospel would penetrate Islam. That is a misrepresentation of what he said. What he said was that he hoped that the gospel would penetrate the Islamic world. There is a critical distinction between those two statements. There are some proponents of the Insider Movement who believe that the gospel can penetrate the religion of Islam. They view it as yeast infiltrating the loaf and even believe that Islam can be transformed. Such a belief is syncretistic. The Minority Report in no way endorses that. Islam is a false religion. Christianity cannot be mingled with it and remain Christianity. However, all of us, I assume, hope and pray that the gospel will penetrate the Islamic world. That is why we send missionaries to Muslim countries.

Another argument leveled against the supporters of the Minority Report was that they appealed to emotion rather than the facts. My impression was just the opposite. The most emotional speech at the Assembly was by a delegate claiming that the term “Allah” could not properly refer to the one true God. This statement is not only inaccurate but offensive to every Arabic speaking Christian who has ever lived. The Bible was translated into Arabic long before the English language came into existence. Just as the term “god” can refer to both the true God and to idols, the term “Allah” can, and does, refer both to the God of Scripture and various other deities. It is a generic term. I am sure the brother who made that statement was well-meaning, but it is both false and damaging. 

Furthermore, most of the arguments against the Minority Report’s stance on the Arabic word “Allah” could be leveled against the Majority Report as well. It seems that many who argued against the Minority Report had not read this section of the Majority Report. Attachment 2 of the Majority Report gives a solid explanation of the use of this word and some of the complexities surrounding it.

The most controversial statement in the Minority Report is found on 2329, line 26: “Are Allah of Muslims and Yahweh the same God? Yes, when the veil is lifted from their eyes and Muslims see Him as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fine-tuning to see Yahweh as He truly is takes place through Christ. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” If one reads the entire section, one can see that the Minority Report is saying that the Muslims recognize the true God only when the veil has been lifted. The report would have been more clear if the word “Yes” above where changed to “only.” Yet, that was clearly the meaning the Minority Report had in mind. Only the most uncharitable reading could come to any other conclusion.

The question raised by this statement is, when the Muslim refers to Allah, to whom is he referring? Both Muslims and Christians agree that there is only one God and that this God is the God of Abraham. However, the Muslim does not recognize this God as the Father of Jesus Christ, a truly fatal flaw. If one reads Attachment 2 of the Majority Report (p. 2261, line 6 and following), one will find that Luther believed that the Muslims had a corrupt understanding of God while Calvin claimed that the Muslims worship an idol, a different god altogether. While I tend to agree with Calvin, I do not think Luther is blasphemous in his assertion. Yet, the critics of the Minority Report are making this very charge. Is it really blasphemous to say that Muslims have a corrupt understanding of who God is? Again, I would urge the reading of the Majority Report’s Attachment 2 and one will find little difference between the two reports on this matter.

Finally, one must remember that the reason the Assembly voted to amend the Majority Report by adding to it the Minority Report was due to some deficiencies in the Majority Report. When I spoke at the Assembly, those were the issues I addressed. I will not go into them here. My hope and prayer is that the Committee will have heard the concerns of the Assembly and address the weaknesses in its Majority Report. I am hopeful that there will be one report coming back to the Assembly next year that we can all heartily support.


Professor said...

Mark, thanks for this. I have been dismayed reading these recent articles in the Aquila Report, because they seem to misunderstand what Nabeel is saying. The positions these articles are attacking are worth condemning, but the fact remains: Nabeel isn't advocating those positions. So, the critics are in fact fighting a straw man. I sincerely hope people will read both reports carefully before commenting. It is true that the Minority Report can profit from better wording at points, but if we're going to critique it, let's do so at the points of actual weakness.

Again, thanks for clarifying these significant points.

kenell Touryan said...

Excellent defense of the minority report. Thank you Mark Bates.
Ken Touryan Ph.D

Chris Coppenbarger said...

Thanks for posting this. As a former student of Nabeel's at CIU, I know where he is coming from. I read portions of the report, and came to the conclusion that, either the critics had not read the report, or they read it through very dim glasses. Maybe your clarifications will help, but there are still some who will refuse to take off the glasses.

Mike said...

I agree with you, Mark. I fully respect Nabeel and see his Minority Report as a needed perspective for our denomination. Thank you for speaking in his behalf at GA.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mark, for your clarification of the wording in the Minority Report. I read it yesterday from Nabeel's email. Years ago, at a Village Neighbors group, Barbara Jabbour said that Allah and Yahweh were the same God, and I remember being very disturbed by that statement. I never discussed it with them, but reading Nabeel's report, and now your blog, have made the distinction very clear. Thank you for contributing to my understanding of what she meant, and what Nabeel means. The sonship of Jesus Christ is, of course, the deciding factor. Isn't is interesting that Muslims believe Jesus was a Muslim? Kamal Saleem brought that to my attention recently. I had never heard it before. Blessings to you. Marilou Dody

William (Bill) Yarbrough said...

Many, many thanks amigo for a response that is both truthful and charitable...may the Lord be pleased to lead us all down a similar path....

William C. (Bill) Yarbrough

Camille Costa said...

Pastor Mark: This is Camille Costa. I have known Nabeel and Barbara Jabbour since my days at the American University of Beirut when they opened their home for us students stranded because of the civil war at that time. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for standing by my good friend and brother. God used a footnote...yes a footnote in the Minority Report to break my prejudice against Muslims....A prejudice that I held for the longest time. The footnote had a link to a video clip showing how is our God moving mightily in Egypt using a Coptic priest preaching to a congregation that had veiled Muslim women responding to the message of salvation! That is the MInority Report in action. Does anything else matter? May God bless you richly.


D Ohwell said...

Is it really a matter of semantics in deciding whether the use of Allah is a proper or a common noun? Allah is the name of the moon god of the ancient Sabeans. Jesus is the name of the Savior God, the generator, operator, and destroyer (G, O, D). He is the Creator, Word of God incarnate, all things consist by Him, His judgments are His wrath.

Susanne said...

Thank you for sharing this. I greatly appreciate the ministry of Nabeel and Barbara. They truly love God and others.

Scott Puckett said...

Mark, thanks for taking the mic at General Assembly and writing your blog clarification. The cause of Christ and the Great Commission are too important.

Scott Puckett said...

Mark, thanks for taking the mic at General Assembly and writing your blog clarification. The cause of Christ and the Great Commission are too important.