Vulcans or Romulans?
Traditional Christian apologetics has major deficiencies as a way to reach out to Muslims. Apologetic models often assume Muslims are Vulcans and thus all we have to do is reach their mind and change their beliefs, ignoring every other aspect of their being. Muslims are neither Vulcans nor Romulans. They are people with minds and hearts. What if we moved beyond apologetics and related to Muslims, whole person to whole person trusting the Holy Spirit to take charge of the journey? Here are eight alternatives to traditional apologetics.
Take a hike.
I love the travel narratives in the Gospels that describe Jesus and his interactions with others as he moves from Galilee to Jerusalem across Samaria. In this journey he passed through a place populated by a people group who were the enemy of the Jews. Jesus didn’t formally preach or teach during this phase as much as he hung out and talked, had normal and natural conversations with people, including people who were not yet believers. So, what if we Christians saw ourselves as living the travel narratives, walking through places that may be traditionally enemy territory, but rather than embrace a Vulcan or Romulan view of the Muslims, we hung out and talked to them like normal people with hearts and minds. Jesus did it, so wouldn’t it be a good idea for us to consider trying to do what he did?
Don't just tell the way, show them.
I love how Jesus embodied the “ought,” i.e., the “ought” of how we should love, feel, think, interact with others of all kinds, face adversity, take risks, trust the Father… Actually, he showed the “ought” far more than argued for it. Remember your middle school English teacher who said, “show, don’t tell.” Why? What is the wisdom in this? The answer is found in the reason God became incarnate; because showing us The Way is much more powerful than telling us about The Way. The same works with Muslims—show them. Live with Muslims, be their friends, show them what Christians are like, allow them to become curious about why you are the way you are, why you pray like you do, why you love the way you do, and then you share, tell stories, share some more, listen, listen, listen, and watch for miracles.
The Kingdom of God is really at hand.
Too often we focus on the Kingdom as yet-to-come far more than Kingdom of God as at-hand. We make the Kingdom seem out of reach more than it really is. What if we acted upon what Jesus said and really thought of the Kingdom of God as at hand, then interacted with Muslims out of that reality. What if we helped them reach out to the Kingdom of God that surrounds but eludes them, and we did this in a way that touched the entire Muslim—heart, soul, mind, and strength. Wouldn’t this force us to move beyond apologetics?
Did you hear about the time...
I am told that approximately 60% of what Jesus said in the Gospels is in the form of parables, stories. He could have developed arguments by setting forth claims supported by exclusive and exhaustive relevant evidence, but he chose not to. Why? Stories capture the person in ways an argument can’t. Why? Because we are not Vulcans. Muslims are not Vulcans either. Tell stories and if you aren’t comfortable telling your story, either snap out of it or tell the stories of Jesus. The latter are excellent stories, so even if you do tell your story, don’t neglect the stories Jesus told.
Stop telling "yo mama" jokes.
I have found that some Christians in their interactions with Muslims or, at least in their talk about Muslims tend to take the “via negativa”—the negative way, and point out faults. What kind of faults? Well, deficiencies in the mind of Muslims, the character of Muhammad, the stories of the Qur’an, the way Muslims live, etc. So we criticize them, what they believe, and what they love, and then we wonder why they are not excited about those interactions. This is a no brainer. What if we pointed out what we like and admire about them and linked that to the character of Jesus and what we are passionate about. So, forget the “your mama wears army boots and so did Muhammad” approach and learn how to play well with others.
Muslim hearts aren't different.
Again, Muslims are not Vulcans; they have hearts. The heart is the same no matter where you go. According to the psalmist we all have hearts and flesh that cry out and yearn for the living God (Psalm 84). However, we Christians, especially Christians who are serious about reaching out to Muslims, tend to divide Muslims into “religious Muslims” and “secular Muslims” and assume that the religious ones believe and do all the wrong things and the secular Muslims don’t care at all about believing or doing spiritual things. God says that all people have a heart and a being that yearns for connection with God. The person can be confused about the object of her/his yearning, but the real object is always God. Before you take up apologetics and develop a well-formed argument, try listening for the yearning in a Muslim’s heart and how to help them move in the direction of the true object of their heart’s yearning.
You're happy when you can't possibly be happy.
I love the Beatitudes and how Jesus in very short statements turns the world’s values 180 degrees. The world says that if you are poor in spirit, you have low self-esteem and can’t possibly be happy. The world says that if you are mourning, you can’t possibly be blessed. The world says that if others think negatively about you and move against you, there is no possible way for you to experience happiness. Jesus says the opposite. He was speaking to a poor and despised people, who the world said couldn’t be blessed or happy. Jesus, however, declared them to be the Kingdom winners. In the world today the Muslims are the poor and despised. What if we helped them see that Jesus understands, loves them, and wants them to know that they can be happy in a way the world could never grasp. What if we loved those despised people as Jesus loves them, showed them we love Jesus and don’t buy the world’s values? What if we concretely cared about them and wanted them to be happy and blessed?
Turn off the news, forget group hugs and go to Starbucks.
The media say that Muslims are evil terrorists, Islam is a training ground for violence, Muhammad is the model for being hateful, and the Qur’an is a war manual OR alternatively that Islam is a religion of peace, poverty alone breeds terrorists, colonialism created the us-them dynamic that generated violence but this can be easily overcome if we do a group hug. If you go exclusively with either narrative, you avoid the truth. Try this idea on for size: What if we interacted with the unique Muslim in front of us, listened to him/her about what he/she believes and cares about, we do this in a natural and normal setting like Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts or one of our living rooms, and we forget those gross media generalizations about Muslims and Islam? What if we and the Muslim were just one human with one human working out a relationship where two hearts yearning for God join in creating a travel narrative that ends in God being glorified and two lives transformed?
Apologetics tends to focus on arguments in the hope of moving a Muslim from inadequate belief to adequate belief on the assumption that changing some beliefs will yield a complete, or at least a highly significant, fundamental change in the entire being of the Muslim. There is something wrong with this logic: we focus on part of a Muslim, the mind, hoping to change an aspect of the mind, namely, some beliefs, and then we assume that the entire Muslim will change, including the non-mental, such as emotions, behaviors, attitudes, interpersonal relationships, etc. This rarely works. What if we invited Muslims to do things with us and then instead of just preaching or arguing to change beliefs, we showed what it is like to be a Christian, which, of course, also involves talking about what we believe and why we believe and the benefits of both?