Engaging Muslims part 1: 5 Guiding thoughts
For the last seven years, my family and I lived in the Middle East as Christians in the midst of majority Muslim countries. During this time, we ran a business that hosted upwards of twenty “cultural exposure trips” consisting of small groups of Americans who visited us, learned about the region’s culture and history, and entered into conversations with many of our Muslim friends.
This short series of blog posts will attempt to distill some of the lessons that we learned about advising those encountering Islam through relationship with Muslims for the first time.
Intentionally basic, the purpose of this series is to first inspect our posture towards our Muslim neighbors, second to anticipate some of the common objections that Muslims raise regarding Christianity, and finally to provide some suggestions as to how we might begin gospel-driven relationships with Muslims living in our neighborhoods. This first post addresses five tendencies that we have observed in Americans (ourselves included) when seeking to share the gospel with Muslims.
The power of a question to open meaningful conversation can hardly be overstated. (See Randy Newman’s helpful book, Questioning Evangelism.)Regardless of how much we have studied the teachings of the Qur’an, hadith, and Islamic culture, it is essential to remember that our conversation partner is not Islam embodied, but rather a person with a unique history, set of concerns, and understanding of their faith. Asking questions and listening well engages a human person–an image bearer–rather than an imaginary embodiment of a belief system. This allows the Christian to offer biblical answers to the questions that are personally important to the individual.
While asking questions serves to begin a conversation, inevitably the Christian will have opportunity to begin sharing his or her perspective. Often this comes when the conversation partner asks a question or poses a challenge to the Christian. Naturally, when someone asks a question, we are inclined to respond with an answer. Furthermore, the pressure to have a ready response that demonstrates the reasonableness of our faith drives a tendency to respond with immediate answers. While giving an answer is necessary and helpful, I want to caution against allowing our answers to be the end of the conversation. When providing an answer to a challenge or a question, we should seize the opportunity to invite our conversation partner to study Scripture with us in order to provide the biblical evidence for our answers. This invitation serves the dual function of determining whether our Muslim friend is genuinely interested in our answers and demonstrating our ultimate commitment to biblical authority.
Perhaps the most common contention that one encounters in discussions with Muslims is that the concept of the Trinity is irrational. Our temptation at this point is to resort to analogies or philosophical apologetics to defend the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. However, again, the most potent defense of the Trinity comes by way of long drinks from the Biblical text. More than anything else, the beauty of the Trinity is found in God’s self-revelation through Christ discovered in pages and story of Scripture. Philosophy and apologetics have their place, but should serve as secondary explanations of our primary commitment to the Bible. Such commitment will often evoke respect from our Muslim friends.
Building on the previous point, getting into Scripture exposes our Muslim neighbor to the text that the Holy Spirit uses to open eyes, soften hearts, and speak truly of the one creator God. While certainly important, our philosophical renderings of how God exists as one God in three persons pale in comparison to the way the Bible, through the enlightening power of the Spirit, works in the human heart encountering the living Word of God.
Finally, as long as the person we are speaking with is breathing, they are within the reach of God’s saving love in Christ. Likewise, they are no more worthy of damnation than we were prior to our salvation. Thus, while our confidence in the gospel comes from the love of Christ toward us, our sharing our faith with Muslim friends should be motivated by love. Too often evangelistic encounters with Muslims become debates to be won. Let us fight to remain motivated by neighbor love, driving us to extend the gospel that Jesus is king and all who will can find forgiveness and reconciliation in him.
Since such forgiveness finds its motivation in the boundless love of God for his creation, so too should our extension of the gospel derive from Christ’s love working its way out of us to our Muslim neighbors. The next post in the series will look at five common objections to Christianity often advanced by Muslims and thoughts about how to lead them to the biblical foundations for our answers.