Vulcans or Romulans?
Traditional Christian apologetics has significant deficiencies in reaching out to Muslims. Apologetic models often assume Muslims are Vulcans; thus, all we have to do is reach their minds and change their beliefs. We often ignore every other aspect of their being thus reducing them to simply thinking beings. Muslims are neither Vulcans nor Romulans. They are people with minds, hearts, and complex lives. What if we moved beyond apologetics and related to a Muslim as a whole person to another whole person trusting the Holy Spirit to take charge of the journey? Are we not more complicated than the well-formed arguments in our heads?
Journey With Muslims
I love the travel narratives in the Gospels that describe Jesus and his interactions with others as he moves from Galilee to Jerusalem and across Samaria. On 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, talked, and had everyday 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 ordinary people with hearts and minds like our own? Jesus did it, so wouldn’t it be a good idea for us to consider trying it ourselves?
Show Muslims The Way
I love how Jesus embodied the “ought,” instead of just telling his disciples what they “ought” to do. He showed us how we ought to love, feel, think, and interact with others. He showed us how to face adversity, take risks, and 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. 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 and make them curious about why you are the way you are. Allow them to see why you pray as you do and why you love the way you do. Then you have the invitation to share, tell stories, share some more, listen, listen some more, and watch for the miraculous work of the Spirit.
The Kingdom of God is Really at Hand
Too often we focus on the Kingdom as yet-to-come far more than the Kingdom of God 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 being at hand before we interacted with Muslims? What if we helped them reach out to the Kingdom of God that surrounds them but eludes them? What if our interactions with Muslim friends intentionally engaged the entire Muslim—heart, soul, mind, and strength? Wouldn’t this force us to move beyond apologetics that reduces people to their thoughts?
Why Debate When You Can Tell A Story?
I am told that approximately 60% of what Jesus said in the Gospels is in the form of parables and stories. He could have developed arguments by setting forth claims supported by exclusive and exhaustive relevant and rational. evidence, but he chose not to. Why? Because stories capture the attention of people in ways an argument can’t. Why is this the case? Because we are not Vulcans. Muslims are not Vulcans either. So, tell stories more than you make arguments. 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. They are worthy of retelling.
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 kinds of faults? Well, deficiencies in the mind of Muslims, the character of Muhammad, the stories of the Qur’an, the way Muslims live, etc. Many Christians will criticize Muslims—what they believe, and what they love, and then we wonder why Muslims are not excited about these interactions. This is a no-brainer! What if we pointed out what we like and admire about Muslims and linked that to the character of Jesus—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.
Are Muslim Hearts Different?
Again, Muslims are not Vulcans; they have hearts just like us. 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 they yearn for is always God. Before you take up apologetics and develop a well-formed argument, try listening for the yearning in a Muslim’s heart. Then you may be better able 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 where 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 joy. Jesus says the opposite. He was speaking to poor and despised people, who the world said couldn’t be blessed or happy. Yet, Jesus declared them to be the Kingdom winners. In the world today Muslims are often poor and despised by many. What if we helped them see that Jesus understands and loves them? What if we shared how His desire for them is to experience a deep joy that the world could never grasp? What if we loved despised people as Jesus did? Can we show Muslims that we love Jesus and don’t buy into the bankrupt values of the world? What if we concretely cared about Muslims genuinely wanting them to be blessed by God? What would our interactions with Muslims look like if we took such an approach?
Turn Off The News, Forget Group Hugs & Go to Starbucks!
The media often presents Muslims in two unhelpful extremes. First, Muslims are depicted as evil terrorists following a religion that breeds violence. Alternatively, Islam is presented as a religion of peace and poverty alone perpetuates radicals who hijacked the religion. Some say that colonialism created the us-them dynamic that can be easily overcome if we just do a big group hug. If you go exclusively with either of these popular narratives, you oversimplify things and miss the truth which is a little more complicated. Is there another way to approach this topic? Try this on for size: What if we interacted with the unique individual in front of us instead of falling prey to overgeneralizations? What if we were to sit down and listen to a Muslim about what he/she believes and cares about instead of assuming we already know because we recently watched a documentary on ISIS? When we do this in a natural and normal setting like Starbucks or our living room, we might reconsider those gross media generalizations about Muslims and Islam. Better yet, what if we saw a Muslim as a human first rather than a byproduct of their religion? Can we see a Muslim as a person who is not so different from ourselves? Can we interact as two human beings whose hearts both yearn for connection with God and others? Can we begin a travel narrative with the goal of God glorified by transformed lives?
See The Whole Person
Apologetics tends to focus on arguments in the hope of moving a Muslim from inadequate belief to adequate belief. The assumption is 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, if ever, 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 it.
See Matthew Stone’s book Reaching the Hearts and Minds of Muslims.
Listen to an interview with Matthew Stone on our Podcast Truth about Muslims.