Series By Rony Tomo, Guest Blogger Working With Muslims in the Middle East
Part One, The Great Commission Resurgence and Islam
Part Two, The Great Commission Resurgence and Islam: Barriers to the Gospel
After looking at some of the common barriers that Christians face when discussing the Gospel with Muslims, I now want us to examine three possible bridges that can be used when engaging Muslims in conversation. You will notice that the same three topics that served as barriers can also be used to serve as bridges. When one is involved in Muslim evangelism, a wise warning is to be careful not to spend 3 hours arguing (although at times this can unavoidable). A more useful method is to find some common ground. This can be challenging, but contrary to popular belief, most Muslims are not jihadist who want to take your head off with a sword, but rather people who thoroughly enjoy dialoguing about their faith. Therefore, since they love talking about their faith and we love talking about our faith, it is often simple to get into a conversation with a Muslim about spiritual matters. When those conversations arise, here are three bridges that one can utilize to share the Gospel in a jovial and cordial manner.
- Jesus is a highly respected prophet in Islam. Jesus is simultaneously a barrier and bridge for Muslims. We know that initially they will almost 100% of the time reject Jesus as the Son of God. However, they will not reject Jesus as a good prophet sent by God. This understanding provides just enough common ground to build a case for the biblical Jesus. The biblical (true) Jesus is much more than just a prophet, He is the Messianic promise of Gen. 3, the seed of Gen. 12, and the coming King of II Sam. 7. Muslims may not agree on all of this, but they do hold a reverence for Jesus. The Qu’ran is a book full of errors, yet in its fallibility it affirms Jesus’ virgin birth, His second coming, and His power to resurrect the dead. These are good starting points for Christians to use as they seek to construct a “new” understanding of who Jesus truly is, as opposed to the idea that He is just a “good” prophet. It is best to highlight His holiness and sinless nature. Ask many questions about Jesus. A few example questions that might be helpful to ask: Did Jesus ever sin? If not, does that distinguish Him from the other prophets? What is the significance of Jesus being born of a virgin? The Qu’ran (Surah 3:49) states that Jesus has the power to raise the dead, can you explain that to me? I always thought that only God had the ability to give life? One must exercise caution, but at times, it can be even be effective to compare Jesus with Muhammad. It is best to do this without dragging Muhammad’s name in the mud. Nonetheless, the truth remains that in every category Muhammad falls well short in comparison to Jesus.
Conclusion: I am not condemning or advocating using the Qu’ran as a bridge to the Gospel. You cannot get the Gospel from the Qu’ran; it just is not there. At the same time, any conversation with a Muslim is going to consist of dialogue about Jesus and how He is portrayed in the Qu’ran. After all, the only Jesus (Isa) they know anything about is the one presented in the Qu’ran. You begin there, but quickly move to what the Injil (Gospels) teach about Him. This will eventually be met with opposition, but we can remind them of the Qu’ran’s instruction for them to read the books that came before. Believers must be prepared to discuss Jesus, the Qu’ran, the Bible, and the Gospel with a Muslim to the end that the non-believer will put down the Qu’ran, open up the Scriptures, and cry out in faith to Jesus.
- The Bible. This is a book that they have heard about and never read. They are familiar with many of the same characters that are found both in the Bible and the Qu’ran. The Bible is not just an ordinary book. We know from the author of Hebrews that it is living and active (Heb. 4:12). The Holy Spirit plays a central role in a person coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ. A Muslim may respond in anger when you tell him that the Bible is God’s Word and contains no error. But if he begins reading the words, Scripture (preferably in his heart language) and the Holy Spirit can begin convicting and piercing his heart. He will come face to face with his sin and his desperate need of a Savior. Furthermore, the Bible compared to the Qu’ran is a fascinating read to many Muslims. The Qu’ran is not well organized and comes across more as list of rules than a grand narrative like the Bible. We must remember that the Bible is a grand narrative and we have the responsibility to present it in that way.
Conclusion: Get the Bible into the hands of a Muslim as soon as possible. If you detect even a slight interest on their part, make sure you get the Scriptures in their hand immediately. We cannot neglect the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person seeking truth in God’s Word. Often we try to break down the barriers with our eloquent arguments. Let’s do our part and be a faithful messenger, but be active in putting the Scripture in their hands and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. He is much more convincing than we are!
- Authentic Lifestyle. As mentioned above, often the lives of Christians are a joke to the average Muslim. A devout Muslim wakes up in the early hours of the morning to pray, he visits the Mosque regularly to learn, and he even exercises a measured amount of self-control over his eating and drinking habits. Now, one must keep in mind that their salvation is works-based, which drives much of how they act. They expend so much energy trying to be pleasing to Allah and then they look at the “Christian” next door who watches loosely dressed women on TV, yells at his children in the front yard, and has no control over his weight. Obviously, this is meant to make a point and not an accurate description of every follower of Christ. Nonetheless, disciples of Christ must realize the significance and impact that an authentic Christian lifestyle can have on Muslims. They watch you interact with your wife, children, and your boss. They observe how you treat the poor, the widow, and the orphan. They want to see if your faith in Christ really does make a difference in how you live your life.
Conclusion: This is a wake-up call for all of us. It is time for us all to look in the mirror and ask if we are above reproach. For too long we have been turning Muslims away from Christ because we do not live what we say we believe. I am not advocating a lifestyle evangelism that is void of words. What I am advocating is a reminder to live as if God is always watching. We are not seeking to become legalists, but we want to be careful to not construct any unnecessary barriers by the way that we live our lives. Instead, our lives should reflect the change that Christ has made and the desire that we now have to live for Him. This exhortation to authentic living extends to our churches. As a corporate body of believers, we must live in community with each other while fulfilling the “one another” commands of Scripture. To Muslims, the “church” is a building. They do not have a concept of a community of faith that fellowships and share life together. When they see the people of God living together in harmony and genuinely loving one another, all their preconceived notions of Western individualism will be shattered. People desperately want to be apart of a community, and Muslims are no different. This type of authentic faith and community is very attractive to a Muslim.
No matter where we live, we must accept that Islam remains a challenge to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Every day young Muslims around the world are being taught that Jesus is a good prophet, but not God’s Son. Many of them are forced to read and memorize the Qu’ran in a language they do not even speak. Some have stated that it takes a Muslim an average of 7 years come to faith in Christ after he has heard the Gospel for the first time. Even so, we know from reports that more Muslims have come to faith in Christ in the past 100 years than in all the previous 1300 years combined. God is moving and working. A recent survey conducted with more than 450 Muslim Background Believers (MBB’s) shows that there are three common factors in their coming to saving faith in Christ. First, God enters their lives through dreams and visions. Second, the Word of God (Bible) is placed on their hands. Third, God brings them into a relationship with an authentic local or near-culture believer. Let us pray that God would continue to work in the hearts and lives of Muslims around the globe.
In the end, we are accountable to Christ for our participation in His Great Commission. We know that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers few. As Southern Baptists in the 21st century, let us plead with Jesus that the Lord of the harvest would send out more workers into His harvest. The task is tough. The work is not easy. Yet, we are reminded that we are not sent out alone. We can be encouraged that the battle has already been won. After all, the King said, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
Thanks for this series. As a person whose family is working toward getting overseas to work with Arab Muslims, I appreciate your insight.
When I worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley I would often have assignments at various customers in the Valley. I’d be working at the customer’s site for weeks or months on a project.
Once I shared an office at a place in Los Gatos with a guy who had a PhD in Math from the University of Kansas. That same guy was an Immam (spelling?) at the mosque while he was at the University of Kansas working on his PhD.
He gave me a book on Islam which I still have. I used to talk to him all the time about Christianity vs. Islam. From my own experience, I don’t think it is likely that a person from Islam is ever going to switch and become a Christian — at least not as a result of any rational discussion or argumentation. That guy and I became good friends. I helped him work on his car once when it wouldn’t start.
I also worked with another guy from Turkey who was Muslim. I gave his son a slightly downlevel version of the Microsoft Visual Studio Professional Edition because he was a senior in high school and was getting interested in programming. He had pretty high ACT scores and was hoping to major in math at the University of California. That software was probably worth $800 when new, but it was V5.0 when V6.0 had just come out.
Neither of these guys ever showed much interest in Christianity. If and when any of them became Christians I think God would be doing 99% of the work, not any of us.