Paul talked about Peter’s commission of the “gospel for the Jew” and his own commission of the “gospel for the Gentile” (Gal 2:7). In the same way, we need a “Gospel for the Muslim.” Of course, there is only one gospel by which both Muslim and non-Muslim must be saved, but it must at times be expressed differently so that each can more readily grasp it.
Three words describe the current Western approach to the gospel: formula, forgiveness, and death. Westerners typically present the gospel as a formula, a series of propositions about God, which addresses our need for forgiveness from guilt. The basis of that forgiveness is the death of Jesus.
This is accurate and sound. However, for Muslims, I’d suggest three different words: story, cleansing, and victory.
1. Instead of presenting the gospel in a formula, we ought simply to let the story of Scripture unfold before them. Muslims respond to our apologetic reasoning and proof-texting with versions of their own. They are curious about the Bible, though, which contains the stories of the prophets whose names they’ve heard. In these stories the beauty of Christ is revealed. As they see Him, by God’s enabling grace, they desire Him. God has one way of giving someone a taste for glory: letting them see it in the gospel (2 Cor 3:18).
2. Instead of presenting the work of Christ in terms of forgiveness, we can emphasize the cleansing power of the gospel. Muslims understand the need for purification; they undergo a process of ritual cleansing, called wudu, every time they pray. Such a cleansing is only external, but Christ offers wudu for the soul. There is no division, of course, between purification and justification, and both are intricately tied to one another. One metaphor may more readily connect with our audience than the other, however.
3. Instead of presenting the death of Christ merely as a point of self-sacrifice, we should point to the victory of Christ’s work on the cross declared in the resurrection. Muslims believe God to be “most powerful” and the “most merciful,” declaring that every time they pray. Is not the cross the greatest demonstration of those two attributes? What greater demonstration of power is there than a God who overcame sin and death? God’s greatness is actually shown in His humility. As Gregory of Nazianzus said, “The strength of a flame is shown by its ability to burn downward.” And what greater demonstration of mercy is there than in Christ’s death and resurrection? The God of the universe conquered sin and death in order to redeem us for Himself, through no merit of our own.
The Bible, from cover to cover, is the story of a victorious God who cleanses us so that we might live forever with Him.