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Inside out

"Inside out" Continued...

Issue: "Tick, tick, tick ...," May 7, 2011

The leadership affirmed the organization's commitment to the Bible as the ultimate and inerrant authority for its work, but Harriman said certain practices had changed. Church-planting in Muslim contexts gave way to a more individualistic personal affirmation of faith, he said: "There's a profound need for Frontiers to find clarity."

Harriman doesn't believe Frontiers was directly involved with any of the Muslim-friendly translations, but said he "facilitated" fundraising for one, The True Meaning of the Gospels and Acts, an Arabic translation by Mazhar Mallouhi (who calls himself a "Muslim follower of Christ") that changes the familial phrases: "Your father who is in heaven" is rendered "God your supreme guardian," for example.

"If Frontiers was unaware, shame on Frontiers and shame on me for not knowing," Harriman said.

Bob Blincoe, the U.S. director of Frontiers, said Harriman was "misguided" and that Blincoe had "answered his objections adequately." Blincoe told me that Frontiers would not "play loose with the terms of the Bible." When I asked if Frontiers would use translations that changed the phrase "Son of God," he responded by saying that Wycliffe Bible Translators does translations, not Frontiers. He had spoken to Wycliffe's president Bob Creson about the issue. "They're trying to be faithful to the Scriptures-but helpful," he said. "I do not want to hear anybody say that Frontiers or any other organization that is worthy of the name missionary is compromising the gospel to make it somehow easy or smooth for the gospel to go down in people's hearts."

One of Wycliffe's translators, Rick Brown (though Wycliffe would not say whether he remains affiliated with the organization because of policy not to disclose personal information about staff or ministry partners), has been a proponent of changing the phrase "Son of God" to "Messiah" in order to remove a stumbling block to Muslims. In the Spring 2000 edition of the International Journal of Frontier Missions, Brown alluded to organizations that objected to such translations: "On the day of judgment, will those who might have heard and believed the Gospel stand up to accuse such Christians of hindering their salvation? Only God knows."

When I asked how the organization renders the phrase "Son of God" in Muslim contexts, Wycliffe issued this statement: "Wycliffe and our partners have very specific ways of checking translations to ensure that 'Son of God' is accurately translated and communicated that in no way diverts the reader from the true meaning of the phrase. It is critical that the deity, authority and position of Jesus be accurately communicated and that they be communicated in such a way that also does not hinder potential for a growing understanding of the Trinity," the statement read. "This may mean using the term 'Son of God' in the text and then including explanatory footnotes. Or, it may mean using an equivalent or similar term in the text (one that will not result in wrong or harmful misunderstanding of the meaning) with footnotes that further explain the meaning."

Seaton believes all Christians should urgently seek more clarity on such matters. "The reason we're in this mess is the church hasn't been the church," he said. "We have to begin with a posture of self-critique and repentance."

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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