Few issues facing the contemporary church are more pressing than how Christians should relate to Muslims. For Christians, the problem is evident. Islam is a religion that shares Abrahamic origins but denies Christological salvation. Islam, like Christianity, is monotheistic, but Allah, as Muslims call God, barely resembles the God of the Bible. Islam and Christianity don’t treat the idea of Holy Scripture the same. Islam doesn’t see the role of grace, faith, the means for salvation or holy living the way Christians do. The undeniable bottom line is that the gaps between Islam and Christianity are vast.
While there are considerable chasms between the beliefs of a believer in Christ and the devotee of Muhammad, the demand on the Christian to bridge the gap in accordance with the Great Commission remains. This, the place where Christianity and other religions must meet, is where sharing the gospel absorbs and employs apologetics, typically understood as a prepared and thoughtful defense of the faith.
As an initial conversation starter to this vitally important topic, and as the first part of a two part blog, I want to provide a few points to consider to help the way we think about and approach dialoguing about the faith with our Muslim neighbors.
- Begin to see Muslims as providentially poised to receive the gospel. I was just thinking about Paul’s speech at Mars Hill, and I was struck by his approach to evangelism from the place of God’s providence. Paul says, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26-2) Here’s why that matters to the Christian/Islam conversation. To a sovereign God, someone being born into a family practicing a religion counter to the salvation exclusively accomplished through His Son comes as no surprise. God isn’t caught off guard by it.t conClearly included in Paul’s explanation of God’s oversight of the world is the idea that people are born when and where and in whatext because God sovereignly appointed those parameters. This doesn’t make a lot of sense apart from a sovereign God, but God isn’t just passively aware when someone is born into Islam, he is actively at work. In fact, it could be that the Muslim’s religious upbringing provided a spiritual conditioning that prepared the heart for the truth of Christ. In a post-enlightenment, increasingly atheist world, just seeing someone move from a naturalist to one who accepts the spiritual is a feat. Very often, those with some religious acceptance of the supernatural or belief in God are better positioned to believe in Christ. Use the Muslim’s acceptance of God. Considering how many gaps exist between Christianity and Islam, accepting that a sovereign God knew exactly what He was doing in allowing them to be born into an Islamic family, and focusing on the important commonality of monotheism, matters. Christians should use what they do have in common with Muslims to help address all those things they don’t have in common. Remember, God in all his providence is not far from you, your Muslim friend, or your attempt to share the gospel.
- Remember that it’s the good news of global redemption that we bring, not a message of continual criticism and condemnation. And we bring this news to all people groups practicing any religion in the world. This basic Christian truth never seems more challenging or alive than when placed at the heart of loving our Muslim neighbors. A major part of apologetics is representing the God we defend well and in accordance with His gracious nature. The Christian’s acceptance of his or her identity as an Ambassador of Christ is bedrock to how he or she should relate to followers of Islam. That identity begins and ends with representing a loving Savior to a lost world. Before we get into any polemical punch out over doctrinal differences concerning the person of Christ, let’s remember that it’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). If we want to be seen, then our apologetics must wear the cloak of Christ’s kindness.
- Let’s adorn kindness with intelligence. There is no greater scriptural mandate for apologetic preparation than 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” That word for defense is “apologia,” which means a “speech in defense.” It does little good to show the kindness of Christ if 1) we don’t know what that kindness means theologically and 2) if we don’t have a firm scriptural grasp of the Christ we proclaim to be so kind. We Christians are called to know why we believe what we believe, and we are called to know how to defend what we believe and why we believe it. Yes, the gospel is God’s. It’s not of our intellectual contrivances. Yes, it’s the job of the Holy Spirit to convict and convert. But the New Testament is clear that ambassadors of the gospel and vessels of the Holy Spirit should be fit for the task. Jesus was a legitimate genius. Peter, John and James astounded people with what they knew. Paul was brilliant. And each studied the scriptures ferociously. Simply put, if you want to be effective in dialoging with those of the Islamic faith, you need to know your stuff.
Next time we’ll get into practical ways to discuss specific differences between Islamic and Christian belief. Until then, grace and peace.