Archives For Breaking the Islam Code
Many obstacles stand in the way of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus—theological confusion and the cost of conversion being two of the most daunting. And of course the most common reason why Muslims are not coming to Christ is that most have simply never heard the gospel.
That said, there is a set of misconceptions that most Muslims have about Christians that keep them from even considering the gospel. During the two years I spent serving in a conservative Muslim country, here are two I encountered frequently:
1. Christianity is morally corrupt.
MTV was huge in the part of the world I lived. Western music videos frequently featured rap stars or scantily clad women wearing crosses. My Muslim friends assumed, naturally enough, that these were Christians and that their behavior was typical of Christians.
I was once even asked by one of my friends, a Muslim college student, if I would throw her a “Christian” birthday party. When I asked what she meant, she replied that she wanted a party with a lot of booze and racy dancing, just like she had seen on television. Misunderstandings like hers, sadly, are the norm and not the exception.
Many Muslims will not even consider the gospel because they know (correctly) that such behavior is offensive to God. You can leverage this for your advantage, though. When Muslims find out you are not that way, they will want to know what makes you different. This is your opportunity to explain to them what a living faith in Christ is all about.
2. “The West” and “The Church” are synonymous.
“Separation of church and state” is part of the cultural fabric of Westerners. Muslims, however, do not understand such a distinction. Islam is, in its very nature, a political entity, replete with numerous societal codes. There is no parallel Muslim concept of the “separation of mosque and state.” So when Muslims look at Western nations like the USA, Germany, France, or the UK, they see “Christian countries.” Our presidents are assumed to be Christian leaders, and our political policies are assumed to be reflective of church policy. What the US does, the Church does. I was once asked, for instance, why “the Church” bombed Iraq.
To engage Muslims with the gospel, you must delineate these two entities. And you’ll probably have to, in many situations, put your patriotism aside. If you want to be an advocate for American policies, you likely will not gain much of an audience for the gospel. There is a place for discussion of both, but we each have only enough bandwidth to represent a certain number of issues, and to me (as a representative of the church) it is simply not worth it to sacrifice a gospel platform for the sake of defending American political decisions. I was recently told by a Turkish Muslim that “all of the problems in the world are caused by America.” Do I agree with him? No. But is this where I want to stand my ground? No. For the sake of the gospel, our patriotism must die when we serve in Muslim countries.
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.