The Camel’s Secret…Should Christian’s Be Telling It?

Today I received a notice that Kevin Greeson, author of the Camel Training Manual, will be in an area church next week speaking on the International Mission Board’s strategy of converting Muslim’s as set forth by this manual.

Here is published information about the strategy that Greeson advocates:

For centuries, Christians have feared, hated, or simply avoided Muslims. In his new book, Greeson shows us how we can love them as God loves them and bring them to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Greeson’s Camel Training treats Muslims with respect and invites them to confront their own sacred writings as a bridge to the good news found in the Bible.

The book’s title comes from an old Arab proverb, “Allah has one hundred names. Man knows 99 of these names, but only the camel knows the one-hundredth name.” Today, Muslims are learning the secret of the camel, the one-hundredth name of Allah is ‘Isa al-Masih (Jesus Christ).

In his gripping new book, Kevin Greeson gives a first-hand account of how hundreds of thousands of Muslims have come to Christ in a single Church Planting Movement. Greeson reveals how more than 10,000 new churches have been started and 400,000 Muslim men and women have shift their allegiance from Mohammed to Jesus in what has become the largest turning of Muslims to Christ in history
Greeson’s Camel Training Manual tells us the true inside story of this contemporary movement that continues to build momentum to this day. Greeson then proceeds to show us how we, too, can learn to ride the camel and reveal his life-giving secret to our own Muslim neighbors.

What emerges is a truly indigenous pattern of Christianity among Muslims. These passionate new followers of Jesus submit themselves to the authority of the Injil (New Testament), worshiping in Isa Jamaats (Jesus Groups), while calling themselves Isahiin (those belonging to Jesus).

In a day when threats of terror and war are pitting Christians and Muslims against one another at a level unprecedented since the Crusades, Greeson shows us another way. We learn that God is already at work in restless Muslim seekers filling their hearts with spiritual hunger and thirst for His Word. Camel Training teaches us how to find these hidden friends of the gospel and how to draw them into saving faith with Jesus Christ.

I have not read this manual. But I have read Greeson’s Camel Tracks…Discover the Camel’s Secrets, which is a tract based on the “camel method.” I am perplexed, conflicted and alarmed by what I have read. Perplexed because so many reputable Christian leaders and missiologists have evaluated this material and commend it without apparent qualification. Conflicted because while I deeply appreciate the missional determination of this approach (as I understand it) I have serious concerns about apparent compromises with foundational truths of biblical Christianity (please note the word, “apparent”). I am alarmed because, if my concerns are well-based then this approach may well be sewing seeds that will sprout into full blown enemies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hear me out. I am trying to be cautious, because I have not yet read the manual and out of deference for those who have that are touting it highly. If my concerns are unfounded, I will be delighted to have that demonstrated. Malcolm Yarnell, of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, issued a brief warning about some who have employed the camel method in biblically illegitimate ways (see his white paper entitled, “The Heart of A Baptist,” p. 13). Beyond this, every other treatment of this approach that I have seen is overwhelming positive, even exuberant.

Here are my concerns. In the effort to be appropriately contextual I a fearful that the camel method (as employed in “Camel Tracks”) gives away biblical ground that is essential to the saving message of Jesus Christ. For example, Greeson begins the tract with these words,

I am grateful to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Islamic Foundation, and others who are translating the Arabic Koran into all languages of the world. I feel blessed as I read the Koran in my mother tongue (1).

He further writes,

As I was reading the Koran in my mother tongue, I came upon a passage that flooded my heart with hope. You too can experience this same hope after you seize the truth of Surah Al- Imran 3:42-55. It hurts my heart to know that not everyone has eyes to see this truth. I pray that Allah will open your eyes to recognize truth.

I recognize that there are some people groups that have no other name for God than “Allah.” But I find it disconcerting that a Christian should express a prayer to “Allah” in the context of quoting the Koran. Maybe I am simply being too restrictive in my thinking at this point. But I am harder pressed to sanction a Christian speaking of feeling “blessed” to read the Koran in general and to have one’s heart “flooded with hope” by one particular text of the Koran. Yet, this kind of disposition is evidently central to the Camel method.

Is this the same as Paul quoting a Cretan prophet (Titus 1:12) or Greek poet (Acts 17:28) to buttress his point? It feels different to me. Paul does not attach any blessing to nor anchor the hope that floods his heart on sayings that come from sources other than Scripture. If the Koran is treated as authoritative at the threshhold of the Christian life, on what basis do we then later convince MBBs (Muslim background believers) to reject it out of submission to the sole authority of the Bible?

In the exegesis of the crucial Koranic passage, Greeson argues that it refers to Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Messiah of sinners. I have not read the Koran and could not begin to discuss it’s text with any degree of authority, but it seems highly doubtful that this reading of its text is legitimate. Furthermore, if it is legitimate, then is our evangelism of Muslims to go like this: “You have misunderstood your holy book. Here is the correct understanding of it. Allah [and Mohammed?] have always wanted you to know Jesus Christ as Savior”?

One more sample from the tract of why I have some serious questions about this approach: Greeson argues that Muslims who come rightly to understand Surah Al- Imran 3:42-55 from the Koran become “Pakka” (or “Complete”) Muslims (3). The impression is given that this is what true Islam has always been aiming to accomplish, but what most Muslims have simply failed to attain. But is that accurate?

I applaud Greeson’s cultural sensitivity and thoughtful determination to contextualize the Gospel message for Muslims. Certainly the Arabic name for Jesus (‘Isa) and even God (Allah) can and should be used. But nowhere in the tract do I remember seeing the claim that ‘Isa is Allah.

Well, there you have it. I am perplexed, conflicted and alarmed. Am I missing something? Am I simply too long enslaved to my own cultural captivity that I can’t see the legitimacy of this approach? Should I be concerned? Or should I join the chorus of those who are applauding this method of evangelizing Muslims? These are far more than academic questions to me. The church that I pastor has focused on Muslims in unreached people groups for the last 11 years and we have sent two families to take Gospel to them. I am open to any insights you can give.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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