I was asked again just the other day about the CAMEL method for evangelizing Muslims. I tried to explain that the CAMEL method is a bridge, but just like any man-made bridge, it has some spots that might need repair. A bridge is useful to cross a barrier, but traffic flows both ways. The materials used to build that bridge will either stand the test of time or they will succumb to the elements. Therefore, it would behoove any bridge builder to give great care in how he builds such an instrument.
Kevin Greeson describes the bridge that the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has tailored for work among Muslims in his book, The Camel – How Muslims are Coming to Faith in Christ. In this work, Greeson argues for the use of an old Muslim proverb and one particular Quranic text, Al-Imran 3:42–55. According to the book, there is much frequency in God granting supernatural and revelatory dreams about himself, but Greeson claims that God is using this conversational method more than any other means for bringing Muslims to Christ. This method opens the door for controversy as to how much credence a Christian can give an extra-biblical text, especially that of another world religion, to be utilized for evangelism. Questions of both Christology and biblical authority can be raised.
The CAMEL Method
Greeson claims that the CAMEL method is a mnemonic device for remembering the words chosen, announced, miracles, and eternal life when exegeting Al-Imran 3:42-55. It would be similar to using the Southern Baptist acronym for FAITH (forgiveness, available, impossible, turn, and heaven) in evangelism. In this passage from the Quran, Greeson claims that it is possible to find a message about Jesus Christ. Almost tongue in cheek, he also employs an old Islamic proverb about only a camel knowing the last of the hundred names of God. He insists that the Quranic passage speaks about Jesus (Isa) as holy, as born of a virgin, as victorious over death, and as having knowledge of the way to heaven. The book places a great deal of stock in the conversion results that have occurred from using this method. Greeson’s thesis is that this method which he learned from a Muslim-background believer (MBB) is best program for finding a man of peace among Muslims (p. 13). He insists that “reaching Muslims for Christ is not the ultimate goal” in this method (p. ii). Instead, the method is to be a useful tool for finding the man of peace.
In his book, Greeson cites Paul’s message at the Areopagus as biblical proof that Christians should use non-Christian cultural texts in building a bridge for establishing communication that can turn toward evangelism. He claims that Paul quoted Greek poets as sources for what immediately communicated the gospel message and later became biblical text itself. He sees this biblical precedent as no different from a modern missionary or MBB using the Quran for expressing truths about Jesus Christ.
Greeson claims that the CAMEL method is a mere bridge for sharing the gospel. He then takes great great pains in the opening chapter to reiterate that it is only a bridge and should not be a parking lot. Throughout the book he reveals that method itself is potentially dangerous if not abandoned early enough in the evangelistic conversation.
Observations and Criticisms
Although the book has some strong points about engaging Muslims with their own cultural texts and perhaps even disarming the traditional animosity by citing their holy scriptures, Greeson’s book reveal some areas for potential criticism. Greeson claims that the Quranic texts reveal truth about Jesus Christ that can be cited for a gospel presentation, but the question immediately arises as to what kind of Christology can be formulated from the texts of a non-Christian religion. This in turn raises questions as to the authority that can be granted to non-Christian texts as well as the possibility of syncretism. Yet another question is the semantic nature of Christian terms.
Greeson admits openly that a Christian theology cannot be formed from a Quranic understanding of God. However, he toys with this premise by saying that these Quranic verses can be used to communicate truth about Jesus Christ. The very verses that are employed in the CAMEL method may communicate that the Islamic Isa is holy also may communicate that he is “one of those who are near to Allah” (vs. 45), thus contradicting the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. They also communicate that Isa was a man who was created (vs. 47) as opposed to being God himself. These verses, by implication, formulate a Christology that denies the divinity of Christ.
The dialogue used to converse with a man of peace might not be easily abandoned. The use of Quranic verses for finding a person of peace among Muslims might be akin to using the lyrics of Black Sabbath or AC/DC for finding a person of peace among head bangers. At some point the person of peace must come to understand that the very words used to attract him to an evangelistic conversation are in reality anti-Christian and therefore must be denied for his conversion. And yet the question remains as to whether the verses or lyrics used ever held any authority at all.
Greeson seems to imply that the Quran, albeit having no authority for salvation, still is a source for salvific truth. When Greeson poses the question, “May I show what I have found about peace and salvation in the Koran?” (p. 48) he is in essence still granting some semblance of authority for finding God and salvation through that Islamic text. In yet another place, Greeson tells a story which posits that the Quran’s translation “into all the languages of the world” provides the means for which we can “know what God wants us to do and believe.” Although he quantifies his statement with a clarification as to truly understanding God through further means, his implication is that the Quran is still useful for being introduced to Jesus Christ. The question arises as to conversion through this conversation, namely at what point a convert, if ever, renounces his former religion.
This problem is exacerbated by his instruction to “make some vocabulary changes” (p. 58). The word for God should be replaced with Allah, the generic name for a higher deity in the Muslim world. Jesus should be identified as the Isa of the Quran, and thus followers of Jesus would be called Isahi instead of the historical term Christian. In fact, Greeson admits that the term Christian carries a very negative and immoral connotation. The word church becomes jamat, and instead of having identification with the Christian churches of the western world, they are seen as specialized branches of Islam giving preference to following Isa.
These aforementioned observations carry some huge missiological implications. The question of biblical authority must be addressed at some point. Questions about Christiology and soteriology also must be clarified. Moreover, the issue of Christian identification is at stake.
Whatever tool employed to reach the lost becomes, by necessity, an instrument for ongoing discipleship. This has been seen historically in the western church as more and more elements of non-Christian culture have become staple forms for worship and entertainment among modern Christians. Extra-biblical texts and songs become forms of communication by which gospel truth as well as personal discipleship is passed on. Thus, any texts, lyrics, or speeches from extra-biblical sources are open media for communicating God’s truth, but they must be judged as to their ongoing value for growth in Christ.
Is it possible to exegete the Book of Shadows from the Satanic Bible or other non-Christian texts to witness to a Satanist? The question is the basis for general verses special revelation. Are there other ways outside of the Christian Scriptures useful to make a person wise unto salvation? Are dreams, visions, and other non-biblical sources truly valuable for missiological purposes? Greeson seems to believe they are.
Albeit attractive, these same sources can produce a faulty Christology and a heretical soteriology. Greeson seems to indicate that these Isahi have truly left Islam and have identified themselves with Christ alone. It could be argued though that building a Christology on such extra-biblical parameters has in reality created a new sect, one that arguably is more syncretistic than biblical. The missiological test of any church planting is the openness to not only identifying with Christ himself but also the universal Christian church. Anything less would be unhealthy.
Greeson places a great emphasis on this bridge, perhaps too great an emphasis. He is to be commended in identifying this method as a possible means for which to initially relate to persons of peace. His book has value as it opens a dialogue for further discussion about the ways for communicating the gospel to Muslims. Missiologically, it is a pioneering work in that it opens the door for dialogue about the means for gospel communication using cultural texts in an unprecedented way.
Unfortunately, there are theological grounds for rejecting the CAMEL method that Greeson fails to answer in his text. He also does not completely address the reaction of Muslims to his prooftexting of their sacred writings. It would be interesting to read a Muslim’s reaction to Greeson’s book. If Greeson’s purpose is to be simply descriptive of a possible method for reaching some Muslims through a nonbiblical text, the book has missiological warrant. However, it seems that he wrote the book to describe the method as normative and prescriptive, as a valid method to be indiscriminately employed. If this is the case, then at best the book is reckless.