A Seventh-day Adventist approach to Islam
From its inception the Seventh-day Adventist church has espoused the belief that as a distinct organization it has a unique biblical message for a world on the verge of apocalyptic events. Its official doctrine teaches that Seventh-day Adventist self-identity, in a church composed of people from “every nation, kindred, tongue, tribe, and people”, is based not on the cultural uniqueness or the ethno-theology of indigenous religious movements, but upon broad biblical truths and principles applicable to all people everywhere. This emphasis upon a universal message has had such great appeal around the world, that according to its own official documents it is one of the fastest growing Christian denominations and is represented in over 207 countries. However, this great missionary success in the conversion of individuals from various backgrounds, religions and people groups has not been translated into proportionate success in winning Muslims to the gospel. As in the mission efforts of other churches, the phenomenon of strong resistance of Islamic peoples to the gospel message and low conversion rates has led to greater discussion among Seventh-day Adventist missiologists of the benefits of applied contextualization theory. There is an ongoing discussion by Seventh-day Adventists concerning the creation of indigenous churches/worship groups among resistant Muslim peoples in an attempt to lower the cultural barrier that must be crossed for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. There is however a particular theological dilemma that SDA’s face in attempting to create fully contextualized churches of Muslim background believers because by definition fully contextualized ethnic or socio-ethnic religious bodies develop exclusive, ethnic or cultural theology. The very real challenge is that the goal of creating culturally homogeneous “Adventist” worship groups among Muslims that in many respects resemble Muslim culture, belief and worship style, runs counter to the inclusive, universal Adventist theology and self image. Given these dilemmas, in missionary efforts for the conversion of Muslim peoples to Christianity, an approach based on a thematic emphasis of Bible doctrine as believed and understood by the Seventh-day Adventist church and as outlined in its official doctrinal statements provides the ideal and superior alternative to missionary efforts based on contextualization theory by avoiding the theological inconsistencies for Seventh-day Adventists, the ambiguities and the predisposition to syncretism inherent in contextualization. Research Scope and Methodology This thesis used a descriptive–evaluative approach. The research relied for detailed descriptions of SDA doctrine and policy on its own official publications in book form, and electronic document format available on the church’s official web site. Equally broad descriptions of modern contextualization theory as it relates to missionary efforts among Muslims was provided with the aid of books on the subject, books in CD ROM format, online journals and pamphlets and brochures. Descriptions of Muslims belief and doctrine were drawn from a variety of original sources such as the Koran, hadith material, Muslim commentaries and other original sources in both French and English. In its evaluative aspect the thesis gave special significance to the SDA church’s official policy of the rejection of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation upon which much of the church growth and contextualization movements are based. In the evaluation phase this document sought to answer several research questions: How does SDA theology conflict with attempts to contextualize the gospel among Muslims? What ambiguities exist in such efforts that make this an approach that it is not ideal? What alternatives are there to contextualized ministry to Muslims? The Seventh - day Adventist church like many other Christian denominations is grappling with the very real problem of how to win Muslims in larger numbers to Christ. As in many other churches, one vehicle being explored as a possible key to achieving the goal of seeing Muslim multitudes come to Christ is a contextualized approach that incorporates Muslim cultural and religious forms and seeks to blend these beliefs and practices with Christian worship and doctrine. It is a goal of the research outlined in this thesis to study out, elucidate, and evaluate some of the dangers and problems of this approach especially as it relates to SDA doctrine and to propose an approach that is less problematic and has great potential for success. It is vital that in such ventures as missions where syncretism is a potential hazard, that these dangers be clearly elucidated and that alternative measures be explored. As contextualization among Muslims is still a relatively new phenomenon in SDA circles, it is important that clear guidelines be established for all such ventures and where there have been errors leading to syncretism that these mistakes be corrected. As another voice in the debate and discussion surrounding how to approach Muslim people with the gospel, this paper has for another goal to lend a constructive voice toward developing an Adventist approach to Islam that is true to the Bible and yet sensitive to the special issues surrounding Muslim evangelism.