Tag Archive: Islam

Followers of Jesus in Islamic Mosques

In chapter eight Tennent explores “churchless Christianity.”  He wonders if someone can say, “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the visible church.  Tennent’s motivation for asking the question comes from the Jesu bhakta (“devotees of Jesus”) in India.  Tennent cites a scholar who believes there are more nonbaptized followers of Jesus in Madras than there are formal Christians.

However, the focus of Tennent’s study in “churchless Christianity” is on the spectrum of Muslim background believers (MBBs) in the Islamic world.  In his evaluation of these believers Tennent examines the C-1 to C-6 Spectrum developed by John Travis in 1988.

The C-1 to C-6 Spectrum places MBBs into the following categories:

C-1: “traditional church using outsider language” – These churches of MBBs worship in English, use pews, and follow a Western liturgy.

C-2: “traditional church using insider language” – These churches of MBBs worship in the Muslim language (Arabic or Turkish), but are otherwise the same as C-1.

C-3: “contextualized Christ-centered community using insider language and religiously neutral cultural forms” – These churches adopt the language of the surrounding Islamic community, but also embrace non-religious cultural forms of music, art, or dress.  However, these groups filter out any religious form associated with Islam.

C-4: “contextualized Christ-centered community using insider language and biblically permissible cultural and Islamic forms” – These churches are like C-3, expect they adopt Islamic and cultural forms so long as they are not forbidden by scripture.

C-5: “Christ-centered communities of “Messianic Muslims’ who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior” – These followers are legally and socially Muslim.  Tennent describes these people as “Christ-loving Muslims who remain fully embedded in the Islamic community” (197).

C-6: “small Christ-centered communities of secret/underground believers” – These believers live under the threat of persecution from the government of family due to their allegiance to Christ.

While Tennent’s typology helps locate the variety of believers in the world, his lengthy description and evaluation of the various positions is slow reading.  He never satisfactorily explains the connection between the C-1 – C-6 spectrum and ecclesiology.  He ultimately objects to a “churchless” or “mosque-centered” ecclesiology saying, “one’s religious identity with Jesus Christ should create a necessary rupture with one’s Islamic identity” (217).  Yet, I would have appreciated more evidence or explanation of the conclusion.  Are we to understand C-1s, C-2s…C-6s as faithful Christians?  Are these “categories” transitional steps to explicit Christian faith?  Must we talk and work (evangelize) with each group differently?  Tennent is vague whether these MBBs are even part of the Christian evangelistic audience.  Nevertheless, the picture of faith outside of the West is enlightening.

This is the eighth review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.


Islamic and Hindu Sacred Texts in Pre-Christian Past

In chapter three Tennent surveys the role of non-Christian sacred texts in relation to the Christian canon.  Specifically he asks, how do Christians with a Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu background regard the sacred texts in their pre-Christian past?  Tennent offers four ways the New Testament canon interacts with other sacred and/or authoritative texts:

1. OT and NT: For the Christian (or Jew) the interaction of the OT and NT is quite obvious.  Throughout the NT there are quotations and applications of the Hebrew Bible Law, Prophets, and Writings.  Tennent notes the Christocentric (NT) focus of OT passages such as: Ps. 2, 16.10, 110, and Isa. 53.

2. Noncanonical “Jesus Material” used in the canonical texts: Tennent also notes passages such as John 8, a story that is included in John’s gospel but not found in many of the earliest manuscripts of the gospel.

3. Noncanonical, Non-Christian texts in the NT: Tennent ponders the role of texts that contain no “Jesus material,” but are connected somehow with the NT.  For example, the letter of Jude contains a quote from 1 Enoch and the Assumption of Moses.  Also, Paul quotes Greek poets in Acts 17.16-34.  The use of these non-Christian texts in the Christian sacred texts raises the question: Should we quote the Quran or Upanishads when preaching to Muslims or Hindus?  To what extent do we adopt the “language ofthe audience” we seek to evangelize?

4. Biblical texts appearing in the canon of another religion: Finally, Tennent highlights that the Quran contains hundreds of biblical references (mostly OT) including: Noah, David and Bathsheba, Moses and Pharaoh, and Jesus being born without sin to the Virgin Mary.

How are we to navigate the non-Christian sacred/Christian sacred textual relationship?  Tennent suggests that Western Christians have gotten the relationship wrong for some time.  Liberal Christians, he claims, have drunk deeply at the well of relativism, while conservative Christians react defensively to the suggestion of any spiritual light outside of the Bible (68).  Instead, he argues that any non-Christian texts be checked for their Christological claims.  The result of such measuring means that any Jewish or Christian texts in the Quran are not to be spoken of as either inspired or revealed since they are devoid of Christological and ecclesial contexts (67).

Not satisfied witha mere suggestion, Tennent offers prescriptive guidelines for using nonbiblical sacred texts.  First, he suggests that the use of nonbiblical texts be limited to evangelistic outreach.  Second, the texts should only be used as a corroborative witness to a biblical message (not as independent testimony to biblical witness).  Finally, if we lift a nonbiblical text out of its original setting it should be clearly reoriented within a new Christocentric setting.  All inspired texts must ultimately bear witness to Christ (73).  Also, we should not use the texts liturgically.

While I find Tennent’s “guidelines” to be helpful, they seem somewhat artificial.  Are we to “score” a nonbiblical text and see if it carries enough points to be useful for our Christian mission?  Nevertheless, if we adhere to Tennent’s methodology I might add another guideline.  If we are to use a nonbiblical text (in a sermon, study, conversation, etc.) our usage may be most fruitful is our audience has some familiarity with cited nonbiblical text.  Can you imagine how confusing (and down right strange!) quoting the Upanishads would be to someone foreign to that text?  It seems the use of nonbiblical texts, even if Christocentric should be limited to interactions with those familiar with the nonbiblical tradition.

This is the third review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.

Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?

Tennent begins chapter two with the question: Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?  He argues that 20 years ago this question may never have been asked outside of universities or seminaries.  However, September 11th changed the world and many began asking, “Do Christians and Muslims follow the same God?”  Tennent interprets this large question in two ways: Are the terms “God” and “Allah” interchangeable?  Are God and Allah ontologically equal?

While never fully putting his finger on the answer to the terminology question, Tennent explores the etymology of “Allah.”  He concludes that the term “Allah” was in use before the time of Muhammad, and was likely used by monotheistic Arabs, Jews, and Christians.

Tennent deals with the ontologically question more fully.  He argues that no monotheist can hold that more than one Supreme Being exists.  So, how can we say we serve different gods?  We must examine how we respond to the array of predicates attached to the single God/Allah.  Here represents the differences between God, the Father of Jesus, and Allah, the God of Muhammad.

First, Tennent asks if both Muslims and Christians can say, “Allah/God is one.”  He concludes that Christians and Muslims cannot apply the predicate of “one” to God/Allah in the same way.  The Christian doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons) is incompatible with the Islamic belief in the indivisible nature of God (40).

Next, Tennent explores whether or not Muslims and Christians can agree, “Allah/God is powerful.”  Again, he concludes that Muslims and Christians understand the predicates of power and strength differently.  For the Christian, God’s power is most revealed in God’s weakness, a belief Tennent posits is unique to the Christian understanding of God.

Tennent ends his chapter with a definitive answer to his opening question: Those who follow the “God of Muhammad” and those who follow the “Father of Jesus” are in a state of profound discontinuity (48).  “It would fragment our very identity as Christians to accept the statement that the Father of Jesus is the God of Muhammad” (48).  He puts it bluntly, Muslims still need to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ (44).  Despite the uncompromising claims, Tennent praises Muhammad as one who prophetically pointed the Arab people to their rejection of idolatry and acceptance of monotheism.

While chapter two tackles a difficult question (and leaves many loose ends) it brings to light issues we cannot ignore.  Increasingly we (Western Christians) face questions about Islamic beliefs.  Tennent provides a foundational basis to begin thinking through such difficult questions.  As he argues, we spend years studying deceased German theologians whose followers are few, but no time engaging the more than one billion living, breathing Muslims.

This is the second review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.

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