With Advent upon us, our thoughts anticipate the many gatherings that will punctuate the upcoming weeks, recognizing opportunities for gospel witness among friends and family. But what can we possibly say in such situations? Randy Newman in his recent article “Don’t Just Share Your Testimony” offers a helpful answer by explaining the apologetic nature of these encounters. I would like to approach the issue a little differently by reflecting on how your personal testimony captures attention and leads friends to consider Christ.
Stories have sticking power. When Greeks of old studied Homer’s Odyssey, the narrative shaped their ideals, intuitions, and eventually their behavior. The sequence of action, dialogue, thoughts, description, and suspense unfold in such a way as to pique interest. This is true when we read the Chronicles of Narnia with our children or when we listen to a colleague retell her story of sprinting through the JFK Airport terminal to catch a plane just moments before the door was shut. Stories communicate.
Sharing our redemptive story requires a variety of approaches, one of which—-an especially valuable one—-is the “conversion testimony.” The following example, which I shared last month when a friend asked me, “Why did you become a Christian?” illustrates the two major movements of a gospel testimony: the futility of life outside of Christ contrasted by the inexplicable joy of salvation.
All Is Vanity
At age 19, a case of meningitis landed me in the hospital for five weeks. The time of my convalescence raised profound questions about life’s meaning. Why was I alive? Is there really a God, and if so, does he care to be involved in my life? With each day, questions grew and eventually settled into a resolution to find answers.
The first step of my quest was to pursue transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. After a few months of making unusual noises in a lotus position, I understood why the Beatles became disenchanted with Mr. Yogi’s method. From there I attended seminars through the Learning Annex, studying under world-class gurus like M. Scott Peck and Deepak Chopra.
Working at the time with New York Telephone in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, I was surrounded by a broad range of religions and philosophies. The Village became my classroom. For instance, when I wanted to learn from someone in the nearby Buddhist Center, I arranged for a personal meeting. My method for doing this was dubious, even though at the time it made sense. After locating the center’s phone terminal, I disconnected their cross-connection wires, reported the trouble, took the repair, and rang the Buddhist Center doorbell to be received by a grateful host. Once inside, I found the person to interview, sat beside a wall jack in her office, pretended I was on hold with the central switchboard, and asked questions. As I recall, I think the Buddhist lady even made me a cup of coffee.
My search for life’s purpose was heading nowhere fast.
My movement toward Christ began just after my commute to work one morning. After reaching my Manhattan office, my grandfather phoned. In a serious tone he spoke a brief message: “It’s your Dad; come home.” Somehow I knew not to ask questions. It turned out to be a severe heart attack. The waterline of fear and anxiety quickly rose above our heads.
During this time, a friend, knowing of our crisis, invited me to her evangelical worship service. Having never before stepped foot in a Protestant church, I decided to go. After 40 minutes of choruses that seemed familiar to everyone but me, the senior pastor finally entered the pulpit and explained:
“Humanity attempts to produce its own fruit. We run around exploring this and that religion, this and that philosophy, and by the end of the day, when we lay our heads down upon our pillows, our souls are still empty.
In what are you resting? In what does your life find meaning and purpose? What will be there for you the second after you take your last breath and depart in death? Consider the Good News! Jesus the Christ died for our sins, rose from the dead, reigns in eternal glory, and at this moment is calling you to repent and embrace him.
Everyone on earth faces the same fundamental choice. Will we continue to live independent of Christ, in restlessness of soul, eventually to be gathered like a useless branch into a pile to be burned? Or will we submit to his authority and abide in his peace? The former person dies in a never-ending state of alienation; the latter enjoys God’s acceptance now and for eternity. What will it be?”
I don’t know how to properly describe what came next. Anticipation surged through my veins and my mind swirled with questions. Then, suddenly, the eyes of my soul opened. They immediately blinked, again and again, as though they were awoken from sleep by a flash of light. The object of my vision appeared so new and bright that my initial response was to retreat.
As my inner eyes tried to adjust, I sensed an imposing presence. I didn’t see the angelic host or hear them singing. Instead, I felt divine mercy closing in on me. After a moment, this mercy, now accompanied by grace, reached out to grasp my guilt and shame—-previously reasons for hopelessness—-and brought to mind three simple words: “It is finished.”
In that moment I finally understood the meaning of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. My search for hope had ended. To this day, I don’t have a better way to describe it than with the words of Charles Wesley in his famous hymn “And Can It Be That I Should Gain”:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth and followed Thee.
Maybe you feel like you could never share your conversion story. You think of Christmas dinner among family, with the prospect of articulating your faith, and you get sick to your stomach.
Let me encourage you. Simply explain the reality of your heart’s emptiness before Christ—-your vain pursuits at finding truth, the futility of running on a self-centered hamster’s wheel. Then, after explaining how you came to the end of yourself, give them the good news. Tell them of God’s mercy that set the cross of Christ between divine judgment and your soul to provide you with pardon and rest for all eternity. Tell them of how God bestowed upon you the brightness of his redemptive light and placed in you the fire of presence that cleanses and empowers. And tell them of your future hope, in which death has lost its sting and grave the victory, wherein life and death you are a child of God.
This post was written by Chris Castaldo and can be found here. Chris serves as director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He is the author of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic and a main contributor to Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Anglicanism. He blogs at www.chriscastaldo.com.
“Against those forms of Judaism that saw the law-covenant not only as lex [law] but as a hermeneutical device for interpreting the Old Testament, Paul insists that the Bible’s story line takes precedence and provides the proper hermeneutical key.”
–D. A. Carson, “Reflections on Salvation and Justification in the New Testament,” JETS 40 (1997): 585.
There are two ways to read the Bible. We can read it as law or as promise.
If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us we should do. Even the promises will be conditioned by law. But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do. Even the law will be conditioned by promise.
In Galatians 3 Paul explains which hermeneutic is the correct one. “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Galatians 3:17-18).
So, if we want to know whether we should read the Bible through the lens of law or grace, demand or provision, threat or promise — if we want to know how to read the Bible in an apostolic rather than a rabbinic way — we can follow the plot-line of the Bible itself and see which comes first. And in fact, promise comes first, in God’s word to Abram in Genesis 12. Then the law is “added” — significant word, in Galatians 3:19 — the law is added as a sidebar later, in Exodus 20. The hermeneutical category “promise” establishes the larger, wraparound framework for everything else added in along the way.
The deepest message of the Bible is the promises of God to undeserving law-breakers through his grace in Christ. This is not an arbitrary overlay forced onto the biblical text. The Bible presents itself to us this way. The laws and commands and examples and warnings are all there, fulfilled in Christ and revered by us. But they do not provide the hermeneutic with which we make sense of the whole. We can and should understand them as qualified by God’s gracious promise, for all who will bank their hopes on him.
This article was written by Ray Ortlund and can be found here.
The late Christopher Hitchens was fond of saying that “religion poisons everything,” and, in a sense, this may be true. The God-given religious impulse can be twisted into a destructive force.
But Hitchens didn’t mean that religion—an inherently good thing—can be twisted into a monstrous evil, but that religion, by its very nature, is a monstrous evil. And unlike some critics of faith, Hitchens was consistent, training his rhetorical fire even on Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus could heal a blind person he happened to meet, then why not heal blindness? What was so wonderful about his casting out devils, so that the devils would enter a herd of pigs instead? That seemed sinister, more like black magic.
Jesus, Hitchens seemed to be saying, was nothing special, perhaps a mere conjurer, certainly not the God-Man who came to deliver us from our sins. Christian faith, Hitchens maintained, has opened a Pandora’s Box of ill on the world.
Challenges from the New Atheists, such as the late Christopher Hitchens, can seem daunting. Far too many of us are intimidated by their in-your-face approach. We fret that they’ll bowl us over or present an unanswerable objection. We think they’ll make us—or worse, our faith—look foolish.
I’ll be the first to stand up for the need for intellectual rigor and biblical faithfulness to answer the objections of skeptics. Jesus told us to love God with our minds, and Peter prepared us to give a credible answer for the hope within us. The particular approach we take, however, will look different depending upon our particular personality and calling.
As the Word teaches us, the Spirit distributes different gifts in the church. Some Christians may be called and equipped to defend the faith publicly. Others, however, demonstrate that faith through a variety of ministries aimed at those in physical need.
A church where I previously served on staff has a marvelous commitment to global missions. But the senior pastor often said that he suspected that the church’s most significant ministry, from God’s perspective, might well be its service to those with developmental disabilities and their over-stressed parents. It’s hard to disagree.
Ministries aimed at life change—especially mercy ministries—put flesh and blood on the arguments of able Christian apologists. They fulfill Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Something about Christ’s body visibly manifesting divine life leads onlookers to lift their eyes above the horizon in search of its source.
What an opportunity, and what a profound need. At this moment when, for instance, Harvard Divinity professor Karen King casts aspersions upon Jesus’ deity with her Mrs. Messiah papyrus and scoffers sing their Ode to Skepticism, Jesus continues to advance his kingdom. And how humbling to think that we followers of Christ, in our feeble attempts to love God and serve others, are in fact the means by which divine love touches the world.
This post was written by Chris Castaldo who serves as director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He is the author of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic and a main contributor to Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Anglicanism. He blogs at www.chriscastaldo.com. The original article can be found here.
Heritage is a place with a lot of “going”. At any given moment there is likely to be someone going somewhere to tell others about Christ. This may be across the street or often around the world. So how should we be praying? I want to give an outline of a God-centered approach to praying for those “goings”.
1) Pray for God to DO what only He can… Let this be our starting point. “God, we are asking You to work in hearts in ways we will never be able.” Let’s ask God to go before us. We believe He will. And what’s more, He has told us to ask.
2) Pray for God to give OPPORTUNITIES… We are asking for God to be working in hearts and now we are asking Him to lead us to these people. “Lord, lead us to those You are working on and give us eyes to see Your hand at work.”
3) Pray for God to give us BOLDNESS and CLARITY… It can be scary sharing in a place opposed to the Gospel. It can be scary sharing in the Bible Belt. Let us plead with God for courage and boldness to speak up and share the truth of what He has done. With this message we need to be clear. A confusing message is rarely helpful. Let us be praying for clear presentations of the Gospel. “Oh lord we ask you to give those going courage and clarity. Let them recognize the opportunities given them and boldly proclaim this wonderful message in ways that can be understood by all who hear.”
And finally, after those things have been lifted up, we pray for those going.
4) Pray God will be GLORIFIED by those going… Notice the focus is not on their safety, their health, or their comfort. The emphasis is on God’s glory. By all means pray for all of those things, but our top priority is God being glorified. “Father, we pray you will work in the lives of those going that they may bring You the most glory. Because we love them we ask for You to keep them safe. Because they are dear to us we ask You to bring them back in one piece. Because we care we ask You to keep them from sickness and help them through all difficulties. And because You are worth everything we pray for Your Name to be glorified above all. Help us to entrust them to You.”
It is my sincere belief this is how we can and should be praying for those going to share with their neighbors or even the nations. Are you faithfully praying? Are you faithfully going?
The most recent edition of Matthias Media’s enews newsletter had a great little list of tips for teaching young children about God. It was written by Stephanie Carmichael. Carmichael has written several books for young kids and two of them, Grumpy Day and The Birthday Party are available to read online. Here are her tips:
Teach at a special time: Try to set aside a special time to read about God. Prepare for this time. If you are going to read the Bible, think about what you will read and how to simplify and explain it.
Questions and answers: Listen to your children’s questions, and give quality time to answering them. But also ask them questions about what you’ve been trying to teach to check they have understood.
Teach through your life: You are a living example (or visual aid) of someone who loves God. Set a faithful example of dependence on God and let them see you reading the Bible for yourself.
Be prayerful: Like adults, children need God’s help to grow in Christ and they can learn to pray. So pray for them and pray simple prayers with them (e.g. “sorry God that we…”, “thank you God for…”, “God, please help…”).
Be simple: Young children are not abstract thinkers so be literal and concrete. Use real examples where possible (eg. God made this flower). Use simple vocabulary that they can understand. Avoid jargon.
Be specific: Move from the specific (God loves Ben) to the general (God loves everyone). Use lots of familiar examples so that they can understand.
Repeat and repeat again: You might get tired of saying it, but remember young children thrive on repetition.
Be thankful: Approach God with thankfulness. Model to your children how we can thank God in various situations and what we can thank God for.
Be visual: Young children learn through their eyes as well as their ears. Use pictures, visual aids, picture books etc.
New York City pastor Tim Keller says Christians should be able to present rational arguments for their faith, noting that the “just believe” statement isn’t going to cut it, especially today.
In a two-part blog post, the latest of which was published Tuesday, Keller stated, “Believing has both a head and a heart aspect, so while some non-Christians will need more help with one than the other, we can’t ignore either one.”
The Redeemer Presbyterian Church pastor was making the case for apologetics, or what apologist William Lane Craig defines as the branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith.
What apologetics aims to do is answer the “why” question, said Keller, who has seen many skeptics brought into a Christian community but still left asking “why should I believe you and not an atheist or a Muslim?”
Keller emphasized that rather than just presenting a case for Christianity, a “gospel-shaped apologetic” must “challenge the non-believer’s worldview and show where it, and they, have a real problem.”
“I try to show that it takes faith to doubt Christianity, because any worldview (including secularism or skepticism) is based on assumptions,” he wrote.
Responding to those who say they can only believe in something if it can be rationally or empirically proven, he stated, “[T]here are all sorts of things you can’t prove rationally or empirically. You can’t prove to me that you’re not really a butterfly dreaming you’re a person. (Haven’t you seen The Matrix?) You can’t prove most of the things you believe, so at least recognize that you have faith.”
When confronted with an objection to Christianity, such as the “how could a good God allow such suffering” question, Keller offered this response: “Really? There could be all sorts of good reasons why God allowed something to happen that caused suffering, despite our inability to think of them. If you’ve got an infinite God big enough to be mad at for the suffering in the world, then you also have an infinite God big enough to have reasons for it that you can’t think of.”
Citing the late theologian and apologist C.S. Lewis, the New York pastor argued that one can only judge suffering as wrong “if you’re using a standard higher than this world, a supernatural standard.”
“If there’s no God, you have no reason to be upset at the suffering in this world. That’s just the way it is. It takes faith to get mad at this world.”
The goal in these arguments, Keller emphasized, is to show people that it takes faith to doubt Christianity.
Rather than starting with telling people what to believe, show them their real problem, he said. “We are showing secular people that they have less warrant for their faith assumptions than we do for ours. We need to show that it takes faith even to doubt.”
What needs to happen at some point is a presentation of the Christian story “in a way that addresses the things that people most want for their own lives.”
Show how Christianity can give them what they are trying to find outside of Christianity, he summed.
“There is a way of telling the gospel that makes people say, ‘I don’t believe it’s true, but I wish it were,'” said Keller. “You have to get to the beauty of it, and then go back to the reasons for it.”
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/tim-keller-on-how-to-provide-a-rational-justification-for-the-christian-faith-78877/#rlGEqTSMkem6mKgi.99
What does the single mom that’s trying to figure out what to cook for dinner, the college student lacing up his running shoes, and the elderly couple walking their dog all have in common? They’re likely your neighbors.
Right now, there are people of many shapes and sizes with an array of beliefs and backgrounds from a variety of races and regions that live – to be quite honest – uncomfortably close to you.
Think about it: that guy in his boxers playing X-Box across the hall in your dormitory, and the divorcee who’s trying to restart her life next door to your life, both showed up in your life completely unannounced. They just rolled right smack dab into the middle of your world and no one even consulted you. Such is life, asG.K. Chesterton humorously observed, “We make our friends, and we make our enemies, but God makes our next door neighbor.”
What this means, of course, is that something quite profound is at work all around you. God has hand picked and delivered to your doorstep a mysteriously peculiar but perfectly suited group of neighbors. Every person that God brings into your life is full of meaning, so full in fact that God summarized the entire law with one word concerning neighbors, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).
Seeing the significance of loving neighbors, an obvious question arises, “How are we to love our neighbors?” The most basic and beautiful answer to this question comes in the gospel. In order for us to love our neighbor we must first know Jesus as neighbor.
Jesus became our neighbor in the incarnation when the eternal Son of God became flesh and took up residence among us (John 1:14). Then, he showed us the extent of neighborly love by coming not to be served but to serve, demonstrating His love on the cross, removing the guilt of our miserable neighborliness and renewing us in love (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:8). At this moment, he is in heaven preparing a place especially for us, that when he returns, we might forever be neighbors with Him (John 14:2-3).
To live out the ultimate neighbor love of Jesus in the here and now, let’s briefly look at a five practical steps for building loving relationships with neighbors.
1. Meet Your Neighbors
If we ever hope to love our neighbor in a way that even remotely resembles the love of Christ, we must overcome our tendency to remain anonymous. So whether we’re reintroducing ourselves to what’s-his-name next door, or establishing a relationship with the brand new employee in the corner cubicle, a personal introduction with pleasantries is the first step in opening up lines of relationship. Loving your neighbor starts with meeting your neighbor.
2. Refocus Attention on Your Neighbors
The very thought of meeting neighbors causes nervousness for many of us. Sometimes this nervousness is triggered by focusing on how we appear rather than the person appearing before us. To refocus, take a deep breath and ask the Lord for courage. Remind yourself that this person shares with you in the image of God, in being a sinner, and in desperately desiring love and care. This little exercise will often clear your heart of anxiety and refocus attention on your neighbor.
3. Make Notes about Your Neighbors
If you are often forgetful of names or important personal details like family relations, occupation, etc. let me encourage you to commit that information to writing soon after the encounter. One of the most helpful practices I’ve found in neighboring is simply making notes about the people I meet and revisiting those notes often to refresh my memory.
4. Plan to Follow Up with Your Neighbors
Make every effort to beat down a path through the hedge. Lengthy silence will send a relationship into limbo; so seek to keep short accounts with neighbors by targeting regular times for reconnection and deepening of the relationship. Informal hospitality is quite possibly the best path forward. Be open to spontaneity. Keep it simple. Sometimes lemonade on the front porch or a plate of cookies is better than a four-course meal on fine china.
5. Step into Service of Your Neighbors
Listen and look for ways to care for ordinary needs in your neighbors life. If they’re out of town, volunteer to mow the grass or check the mail while they’re gone. If they’re having car trouble, offer to drive them to work or make a grocery store run. Offer your time, talents, treasure, and yes, even your tools. Take advantage of the opportunities before you, and then purpose to walk through the open door.
These five instructions are not exhaustive by any stretch—just a few simple ways to get down the neighbor-loving road. More important than what you do, however, is the purpose for which you do it. Each of the five points above, or any additional steps you may take are not just good things to do but occasions to participate in and share the love of Christ. In being good neighbors, we are positioned to touch others with the truth and power of the neighbor-loving gospel.
What step will you take this week to build a closer relationship with your neighbors?
This post was originally published and can be read in it’s entirety here. Nate Shurden is pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, TN. He blogs and can be followed on Twitter @NateShurden.
If we don’t lead people in the “sinner’s prayer” in evangelism, then how can we lead them to Christ?
The Birmingham, Ala., pastor understands that many (like Billy Graham) have used and continue to use the prayer in their evangelistic efforts and that many have come to Christ that way. But for him personally, Platt chooses not to ask people to repeat after him in a sinner’s prayer partly because it comes across as “unhealthily formulaic.”
“I talk with people all the time who are looking for a ‘box to check off’ in order to be right with God and safe for eternity. But there is no box. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone,” he said Monday in a blog post.
So to answer the question, Platt, who leads The Church at Brook Hills, offered to summarize what he teaches at his church’s Institute for Disciple-Making every spring.
First, he explained, “share the gospel clearly … and call people to count the cost of following Christ.”
The person on the receiving end of the Good News must have a biblical understanding of the Gospel, Platt stressed. That is, that God looked upon “hopelessly sinful men and women,” and sent His son to bear His wrath against sin on the cross and to show His power over sin in the resurrection so that everyone who repents and believes in Him will be reconciled to God forever.
Once that is established, “Tell them following Jesus will cost them their life…and tell them Jesus is worth it!”
Platt, 33, emphasizes the latter part because he has witnessed the “sinner’s prayer” being abused among Christians, where people are assured of their salvation simply because they prayed the prayer. But in many cases, the prayer was said without having counted the cost of following Christ.
Next, the believer can ask the person if he or she has any questions and then ask if the person would like to repent and believe.
Then when giving the invitation to call on the Lord and be saved, “you don’t necessarily need to tell them the exact words to say at that point,” Platt noted.
A specific “sinner’s prayer,” is not found in the Bible, he maintained.
“If they see God for who He is, their sin for what it is, themselves for who they are, and Christ for who He is and what He has done, then by the grace of God through the Spirit of God they are more than able to call out in repentance and faith…so let them do so.”
The believer should also be willing to let the person be alone with God, in some cases.
Finally, once that person repents and believes in Christ, the one who shared the Gospel should continue to lead that new believer.
“Remember, our goal is not to count decisions; our goal is to make disciples,” he emphasized.
In the end, Platt remains cautious of the “sinner’s prayer” as it can be recited without a full understanding of the Gospel and of the life they’re committing themselves to.
He highlighted, “Assurance of salvation is not found in a prayer we prayed or a decision we made however many years ago as much as it is found in trusting in the sacrifice of Christ for us, experiencing the Spirit of Christ in us, obeying the commands of Christ to us, and expressing the love of Christ to others.
“Ultimately, however, I don’t want people to look to me or even to a ‘prayer they prayed’ for assurance of salvation. I want them to look to Christ for this. Assurance of salvation is always based on His work, not ours.”
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/platt-how-to-lead-someone-to-christ-without-the-sinners-prayer-77592/#aDlzhyHkxttV364V.99
“How do you pray?”
Ahmed and I had been sitting at a little teashop talking about various things when he asked this question. Like many other Muslims, he was curious about how Christians pray. I began to explain how our hearts need to be purified in order for us to approach God in prayer. He agreed and wanted to know more. “What do you say when you pray?” he asked. I told him that we can speak to God as a loving father. I then went on to show him the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6.
“Is that from the Bible?” he asked. “Yes it is,” I answered. He responded, “That’s beautiful! Can I get one?” From the beginning, it was obvious that God was working in Ahmed’s life to draw him to Jesus. It was a blessing to introduce him to Jesus the savior—whom he had only known as Jesus the prophet.
As we talk about Insider Movements and how we should or shouldn’t be sharing Christ with Muslims, two dangers can emerge. First, people can become a leery of Muslim evangelism out of fear of doing so incorrectly. We should have no fear in sharing the gospel with Muslims. It is the gospel that we are sharing, after all. It is powerful to save!
Second, we must remember that Muslim evangelism should not be merely talked about and debated on blogs or in academic circles. It is something that should be done wherever we find Muslims. In that endeavor let me offer some words of counsel to all who seek to make Christ supreme among Muslims.
Ground yourself in the fact that God is sovereign in salvation.
Muslims come to faith by a supernatural work of God, by which the Holy Spirit opens their hearts (Acts 16:14) and grants them the gift of repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). We believe that a Muslim coming to faith is not intrinsically connected to our form of contextualization, but rests solely on God’s divine intervention (Dan. 4:35; Ps. 115:3; John 6:64-65) and our humble obedience to proclaim the gospel (Acts 1:8; Matt. 9:38, 28:19-20). God is not concerned with glorifying a method; he is concerned with glorifying his Son. Strategies are useful and necessary, but none of them offers the “key” to Muslim evangelism.
Be diligent in working to understand the local culture and determine the best way to present the gospel.
God’s sovereignty is not meant to make us lazy, careless, or vague in our evangelism. It gives us hope, because our finite attempts to share the gospel are backed by an infinitely powerful Savior who has “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Wanting to present the gospel clearly and knowing that God’s grace is irresistible are not mutually exclusive.
When it comes to understanding the local culture, we should seek to do two things:
- Know Islam. We need to ask ourselves, What are Muslims longing for? What keeps Muslims from attaining this? Don’t be afraid to read the Qur’an or other religious sources. These things will give you great insight into Muslims hearts and minds.
- Use their language. When I say “language” I’m referring to two things. First, speak their actual language. If you want to see a church planted among Arabic-speaking Muslims, learn Arabic. If you’re working among Pakistanis, learn Urdu. If among Bengalis, learn Bengali. Second, speak the language (figuratively) that communicates to them. My wife and I lived and worked among Arabic speakers. We learned early on that we could not get people to listen by presenting a beautiful apologetic syllogism proving Jesus is God. We had to use stories, parables, and passages from their religious books.
Center your gospel presentation on Jesus and the Bible.
The degree to which Muslim-background believers seek to retain their previous religion correlates with how we present the gospel to them. In other words, if we use the Qur’an extensively in our evangelism, we risk encouraging a sentimental attachment to it. Muslim-background believers may see the Qur’an as the means by which they understood the gospel and therefore have a harder time letting it go. If we present the gospel as fulfilling their previous religion, we open ourselves up to future problems.
I am not against the proper use of the Qur’an in evangelism. I am concerned with how much we use it. We should not give it center place in our gospel presentation. Jesus is the only way to the Father. Muslims must believe Jesus is their savior, and this belief can only come from the Scriptures. The story of redemption cannot be told from the Qur’an.
Don’t force your ideas on them.
Muslim evangelism can be messy; discipleship can be even worse. Each convert I worked with was different. I made it a point to preach the gospel and let it linger, giving them the time and freedom to think through the implications and determine how they should be applied in that particular culture. We should not attempt to impose our ideas or forms on Muslim-background believers. This means we shouldn’t impose either Western or Islamic expressions of Christianity on them. This is where much of the tension comes from.
We all have an idea of what we hope to see, and how we do Muslim ministry will be determined by our desired outcome. Insider Movement advocates envision implanting the gospel in a Muslim culture with the hopes that it will grow like yeast and lead to transformation from the inside out. In order to do this, they believe, the message must take on Islamic form. Anything less will be viewed as foreign and suspect. Others argue that Muslims need to be called out of Islam and gathered into a separate body with a clear Christ-centered identity. Anything less, they claim, would be viewed as syncretistic.
I would argue that both are correct. The gospel will take on a form of the culture that it is speaking to; if it doesn’t, it will not be understood. But the gospel will also speak with a prophetic voice within the culture that calls for transformation. It goes in and calls out. Our goal is to preach the gospel of Christ from the Scriptures and let the Spirit transform lives and communities.
In the end, expressions of the church or faith communities among Muslims may challenge all our views at some point. However, if these expressions are orthodox in their beliefs, Christ-centered in their view of the gospel, and not deceptive in their practices, we have cause for rejoicing. May God give us wisdom, grace, patience, and boldness as we seek to share the gospel with Muslims.
This article originally appeared on the TGC Blog on May 15, 2012. It was written by J. T. Smith. You can read the post in it’s entirety here.