I just finished reading the 2012 report of the PCA Ad Interim Study Committee on Insider Movements titled, A Call to Faithful Witness - Part One - Like Father, Like Son: Divine Familial Language in Bible Translation. Here is The Aquila Report's summary of the 2012 GA's action of approving the report.
For those who aren't familiar with the controversy, perhaps a little background would be helpful. In recent years, well-known missionary agencies have been sponsoring or have otherwise been involved in translations for Muslims in which biblical language that speaks of Jesus as God's "Son" or of God as "Father" (whether in reference to Christ or believers) has been systematically replaced with other terms so as to avoid giving offence to Muslims. These translations are referred to as Muslim Idiom Translations.
For example, a Turkish translation of the Gospel of Matthew called "The Noble Gospel" renders the Trinitarian baptismal formula, "in the name of the Protector, his Representative (deputy, agent) and the Holy Spirit" (back translation provided by Turkish Reformed pastor Fikret Bocek; cited on p. 44 of the Report). Other translations use "Messiah" or "Uniquely Beloved One" instead of "Son."
The concern of the translators involved in these projects is to avoid giving the mistaken impression that Jesus was the offspring of a sexual union between God and Mary. Muslims rightly view this as blasphemy but wrongly attribute it to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Experts in Muslim missions claim that many Muslims take such offense at the notion of God having offspring that they will not even touch a Bible that speaks of Jesus as "the Son of God" (p. 25).
Of course, the work of translating the Bible into indigenous languages is extremely important. We must also recognize the importance of avoiding needless misunderstaning on the part of users of Bibles written in various target languages. This requires tremendous skill in navigating the many hidden landmines in cross-cultural communication of the gospel. We cannot rule out the idea in principle that there may be cases where a free or dynamic equivalence rendering better expresses the meaning of the text than a literal or formal equivalence rendering of the Greek or the Hebrew.
However, the Ad Interim Report convincingly argues that Jesus' title as "the Son of God" is not such a case. The Report argues that Muslim revulsion to calling Jesus God's "Son" stems not primarily from a linguistic confusion or the limitations of the languages many Muslims use, but from the false views of God taught by Islam itself.
Furthermore, those seeking to replace "Son of God" with "Messiah" or "God's beloved representative" reveal that they have a less than orthodox conception of what it means to affirm that Jesus is God's Son. Many of these Muslim Idiom Translations have footnotes and essays attempting to clarify and explain certain biblical teachings for Muslims. One explains that Jesus' Sonship means that he is "God's vice-regent" who has a "deep spiritual bond" with God (p. 41). Another, commenting on the baptism of Jesus where God speaks from heaven, "You are my beloved Son," glosses this as "my one and only Representative who is my Beloved," and appeals to the supposed fact that in the OT/Jewish background to call someone "God's son" was merely a way of referring to him as "God's beloved ruler" and was equivalent to "Messiah" (p. 44).
It seems to me that some of the authors of these Muslim Idiom Translations are not merely attempting to avoid needless offense. They appear to be misleading (presumably unintentionally) the Muslim community by articulating a low Christology that is neither biblical nor in accord with the church's historic doctrine of the Trinity. For the affirmation that Jesus is God's Son means that, as to his nature, he is all that the Father is. Just as a human father begets a human son in his own image and likeness, so the Father eternally begets the Son in a manner that involves the communication of the divine essence. (See my paper on The Eternal Generation of the Son.) Jesus is not merely God's representative on earth.
Nor is the title "Messiah" interchangeable with "God's Son." The eternal Son of God became man and, as the incarnate Son, was then appointed to be God's Messiah in order to accomplish atonement and salvation for his people. The logos asarkos was not the Messiah in eternity past. But he was the Son in eternity past.
Muslim offense is not linguistic but theological. It is the same offense that the Jews took in response to Jesus' claim to be God's Son and later to the church's confession of the same, leading ultimately to "the parting of ways" between the Synagogue and the Church. And the Jewish rejection of the notion that God has a Son is based on reasoning nearly identical to that which drives the Muslim rejection. How blasphemous to think that the transcendent Creator God has a divine child! How utterly incompatible with the very conception of deity that it should replicate and divide itself! The unity and transcendence of God is taken by both Jews and Muslims to militate against the Christian conception of Jesus as the eternal, ontological Son of God.
But if Jesus and the Apostles did not seek to avoid Jewish offense by retooling their language, neither should we seek to avoid Muslim offense. Christ's eternal divine Sonship is part of what makes the gospel an offense and a stumbling block to unitarian monotheists of all stripes.
It is quite disconcerting to contemplate that, through the instrumentality of such distorted translations claiming to be Bibles, there will undoubtedly arise individuals and whole communities who confess some allegiance to the Prophet Issa (the Quran's designation for Jesus) while maintaining woefully deficient views as to his true identity as the eternally divine Son of God who took a true human nature into personal union with himself in order to accomplish the redemption of sinners.
I would encourage everyone interested in the intersection of missiology and theology to read the Report. It is an excellent summary of the issues, and I look forward to Part Two hopefully later this year. It is going to provide a critical analysis of Insider Movements where we hear of folks calling themselves "Muslim followers of Jesus."