Tuesday, August 08, 2006

When Witnessing to Muslims... Know the Gospel

From time to time, I have had the privilege of being invited to serve in a dialogue or debate with Muslims on some central points of disagreement between Christianity and Islam. Usually, churches have organized these events and have, at least in part, wanted to use the events as training opportunities for other Christians.

I've appreciated every one of those invitations and opportunities, both for their immediate purpose of lifting up the Savior and their secondary aim of equipping the saints. As a former muslim who introduced my share of people to the teachings of Islam, I receive these opportunities as tangible expressions of God's grace in my life. I've often felt that the blood of others is on my hands because of my former life and that these events are something of a cleansing, a God-given opportunity to now sound the trumpet of truth so that many others might find eternal life.

While I've appreciated these events, I don't necessarily find them the best form of training or equipping others when it comes to witnessing to muslims. So much happens so fast that the discussions often become something closer to "entertainment" or passive viewing rather than good "how to" instruction. So, I'm turning to the blogosphere to help with the task (not that the blog is perfect, but it's at least one more medium).

In this series of posts, I want to share a few ideas for speaking of Jesus with our muslim neighbors and friends. I pray they're helpful.

#1. Know the Gospel
Surely this is obvious, but it bears stating. I've been surprised at the number of times Christian friends have found themselves in discussion with muslims and left the exchange realizing how shallow their understanding of the gospel is. And I've been surprised at how many times I've left conversations with muslims scratching my head about this or that Christian belief I was unable to communicate well.

So, the first order of business is to drink deeply from gospel waters. The thimble-sized sips that are reflected in so many evangelical "presentations" of the gospel actually leave you thirsty when you're sitting across the table from someone who not only doesn't believe the gospel but actually believes you're going to hell for believing it. In those encounters we need to do more than whet our whistles with the good news. And swallowing our spit won't do either. We need to be bathed in the Good News! We need to be soaked with an understanding that far surpasses the "four spiritual laws." We need rock-ribbed, Trinitarian, virgin birth, hypostatic union, definite atonement Theo-logy. Whimpy "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so" understandings will leave you unsettled and ashamed.

I think Piper's articulation of the Gospel at the T4G conference is perhaps the best outline I've heard. If you're one of the few who hasn't heard this sermon and cried, "Woe is me for I am undone!" then you need to get this sermon and meet the God of the Gospel. Consider how he unpacks the gospel as historical events, propositional truth, experiential truth, and ultimately God himself. It will serve you well in any encounters with muslim neighbors, co-workers, and friends.

A few books on the gospel and evangelism from recent years should also be helpful: John Piper, God is the Gospel
Peter G. Bolt, The Cross From a Distance: Atonement in Mark's Gospel
James Montgomery Boice & Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel
Will Metzger, Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People

Prepare for your discussions by reading good literature. A muslim will not understand the necessity of the gospel because he won't understand the God-hating seriousness of sin the way Christians do. Nor will he permit the possibility of God being One and yet three persons, or that Jesus is uniquely the Son of God. This is shirk, the highest blasphemy in Islam. The concepts that are taken for granted in a nominal Christian culture are challenged at most every point when witnessing to muslims. So, there is a necessary apologetic task that is best met by understanding Gospel truth in a more profound way than is taught in most evangelical circles.

The Lord has given us a tremendous gospel opportunity by bringing muslims to our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces. It seems that not enough of us have heeded the urgent call to "Go," so He has brought them to us. Now, in view of the millions of souls that need to hear the gospel, we must shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace and bring the glad tidings of the Savior to the lost and perishing muslim friend across the street. Once you know the Gospel, then begin with urgency the task of witnessing to muslims. In the next post, we'll consider the muslim attitude toward the Bible and how, by God's Spirit and grace, to break through it for gospel conversation.


Shawn Abigail said...

You must also be able to show from the Bible that Jesus is God. And it helps if you can do it without using the Gospel of John (the Muslims I know have been trained to reject John as being particularly untrustworthy).

Nick said...

Thanks so much for this post. I will try to read the books you have recommended this year. I have found that as I have tried to explain the gospel to non-Christian youth: Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Bahai, etc., the last two years, that my understanding of the gospel was shallow and incomplete. Two aspects of the gospel have come clear to me as I have shared (that I would not have emphasized earlier):

-we saved from God's wrath primarily (not just our sin, or hell, etc.)
-we are justified by faith and faith is not alone (if it is true faith)

Thank you so much for these evangelism posts; they have been a real source of encouragement to me,


Scoop said...

I'd love to listen to the Piper sermon you mention, but the link doesn't lead to it any more. What was the full name of that "T4G" conference that you mentioned? Where was it?

Thanks so much for these posts! They are an encouragement to my own faith, and my love for this Great God that sent a Redeemer for all men to know.