In discussing the theological differences between Christianity and Islam there are two dangers that exist; two wrong ways in which to respond. If our goal is to see unbelievers, in this case Muslims, come to Christ, then we must work at avoiding both pitfalls.
The first is an angry, and often arrogant, dismissal and denunciation of all things Islamic. Nothing is gained when Christians characterize Islam as the heinous, wicked religion of pedophiles, polygamists, and misogynists. That only reinforces misunderstanding and mistrust. Few, if any, will be lead to Christ through such an attitude. The Gospel message is offensive to the unconverted heart and mind, but the messengers of the Gospel should not be. As Timothy George writes,
“We dare not mitigate the scandal of the cross, but sometimes what is scandalous is not the cross but we ourselves.”
We are “scandalous” when we fail to approach and treat people, specifically Muslims, with the respect and forbearance due all people made in God’s image. It also happens when we confuse preaching the Gospel of Christ with the promotion of our particular culture. Our Lord is our example, and our Lord’s message was offensive to those who did not believe. He never was. Never forget 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
Many of you are familiar with the Great Commission, especially from Matthew 28:19-20. Let us not forget John’s record of the commission. In John 20:21, “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace [be] unto you: as [my] Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” There is a direct correlation between the content of the message we preach and the character with which we preach it. John 20:21 dovetails well with 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
Defend the truth and proclaim it with gentleness and respect.
Interactions with Muslims that are flavored with an “My God’s better than your god!” attitude will probably be ineffective.
The second pitfall which we must avoid is pluralism. In our postmodern culture the trend is to downplay the differences between all faith perspectives; to avoid talk of conversion; to encourage spirituality that is bereft of any Biblical framework. George writes in his book Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad about a university educated Muslim man who after many years of searching for the truth trusted in Jesus Christ. When he informed one of his “Christian minister” friends, the minister’s reply was, “You disappoint me.” How pathetic.
As Christians, we should of all people be interested in and committed to respectful, honest, and humane behavior towards and dialogue with all people groups. That does not mean we preach some relativistic, pluralistic, generic Gospel. We have a message to deliver to all people everywhere regardless of their religion (or if they claim none). 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech [you] by us: we pray [you] in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”
We “should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” Jude 3. Let’s just do it without contentiousness.
In order to contend for the faith, calling Muslims to be reconciled to God, and doing so with gentleness and respect, even as Jesus did, it is important for us to not have a jingoistic or pluralistic response. We should also interact devoid of serious misconceptions. In the next post we’ll seek to clear up misconceptions that we may have about Muslims, and to understand misconceptions that they normally hold towards us.