A Case Study in Evangelizing to Muslims
Phil Parshall presents a story of an Indonesian who contextualized effectively to Muslims.
Phil Parshall presents a story of an Indonesian who contextualized effectively to Muslims.
Every language has its word for “God” which is used in translation of Scripture and within any particular culture and language. Allah is the Arabic word for the English “God” just as “Dios” is in Spanish. It is the word that has been used for centuries by Jews and Christians in the Middle East and actually pre-dates the founding of Islam in the seventh century. Bibles translated in predominantly Muslim countries into local languages such as Indonesian, Malay and Bengali use Allah as the biblical reference to the sovereign creator God.
To not use “Allah” for God would require the use of a foreign word that would not be understood in the local language. Ironically, the word “Allah” comes from the same root word of “Elohim” of the Old Testament, while our English word “God” has no etymological relationship to the biblical YHWH or Jehovah. In fact, it comes from the German “Gott” and was derived from the name of a pagan viking deity!
Use of Allah in Muslim literature refers to the God who created the world. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and Ishmael), and other prophets known in the Old Testament. To introduce another identity than the monotheistic sovereign creator deity of the Bible and known as Allah by Muslims would create a formidable barrier to communicating biblical truth.
The concern is understandable that if “Allah” is used in Christian witness that the theological distortions of Muslim understanding will be carried over, resulting in syncretism or heretical concepts of God shaped by ones Islamic background. Certainly, this requires adequate teaching and discipling just as it does in our own culture. And we should be confident that when one comes in genuine repentance and faith to Jesus Christ that God is able to reveal Himself in spirit and truth to a new believer.
Is there more than one God? No, there is only one God, and He can be known only through Jesus Christ. We must not confuse cultural and linguistic bridges of communication in seeking to transcend diverse worldviews.
After many years, I am finally sharing some of my story of why I think it took me so long to leave Islam and become a Christian. I am sure that I focus on some things and fail to see some of my own personal failures, pride and otherwise, that contributed to the timing of my conversion. I pray that you give me a break and read it as a Christian who was, is, and most likely will always be a mess—getting some points and missing larger more fundamental points.
So, what took me so long to declare myself a Christian after years of being a Muslim? Of course, there were my own intrinsic weaknesses and faults, but I would be hiding the truth from you if I didn’t acknowledge that one major factor in keeping me away from living the truth was Christians. I lived in the buckle of the Bible belt and was surrounded by congenital Christians—people who read their Bible, faithfully attend church, could craft an elegantly worded prayer, and knew by heart the words of more than ten hymns. It was these same Christians who baffled me because they told me that God was love; that Jesus called them to love all people, including their enemies; and yet I just didn’t seem to see the love.
What I experienced in my life on the buckle was hateful words directed toward gays, liberals, Muslims, Catholics, and the list just seem to grow more and more. I also experienced being on that list and was the recipient on more than one occasion of those hateful words. It just didn’t add up. What did add up was that I knew that I didn’t want to have anything to do with those Christians. The problem was that they were unavoidable. In life on the belt buckle, they surrounded me in Walmart, the Dairy Queen, college classes, sitting around me in the DMV, the doctor’s office, just about everywhere. As soon as they heard that I was a Muslim, out came the Bibles that were used as a weapon against me, my beliefs, and the ones I loved. When that tactic didn’t work, I was either labelled as deceived by Satan or just ignored, cut out of their lives. The latter was the most common occurrence.
The wild reality was that inwardly I loved Jesus and had come to believe that He was not only the Lord and Savior, but He was my Lord and Savior. I just couldn’t stand being around Christians. I will never forget one interaction with a Christian who told me what I believed as a Muslim and when I responded that I didn’t believe that, he said that I was practicing taqiyyah (a form of planned lie). Unfortunately, I got angry and told him that if he wanted to know what taqiyyah really was he might look at Christian missionaries who lie about why they travel to Muslim populated countries and live there. Instead of saying that they were professionals hired to convert Muslims, they said things like they were helping build the infrastructure. While it wasn’t a total lie, it was what my Roman Catholic friends called, lying by omission. That scene didn’t go very well. It was not one my proudest moments, but hey.
At the mention of the name Francis of Assisi, images of a peaceful, eccentric, medieval monk who loved to talk to animals may come to mind. But he was also a Christ-loving, innovative missionary to Muslims during the Crusades. Here’s how that matters for missions today.
The first Christian century was a brutal one for a growing minority who dared profess their faith as followers of Jesus Christ. Believers encountered a double whammy of injustice and persecution from leaders of the prevailing religious structure who despised those who would dare advocate divergence from their traditional Jewish law and the Roman authority who would tolerate no supreme allegiance except to Caesar.
In chapter four of Acts, Peter and John had been arrested, threatened and ordered not to preach or teach in the name of Jesus, a restriction imposed on many believers across the Muslim world today. The response of the church to this situation is a model for how the global church should respond–they prayed! When they heard it, they lifted their voices to God and said, “Sovereign Lord who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything
in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against His anointed.
’”We are asking the same question today. “Why do the nations rage?” Why do those in authority in Muslim nations set themselves against Christ and those who follow Him?” Why does ISIS indiscriminately behead Christians in Libya, al Shabaab slaughter Christian students in Kenya and Boko Haram massacre Christian villagers in Nigeria?
1. They recognized the consequences of a sinful world. Since Cain’s murder of his brother Abel in a jealous rage history confirms we live in a fallen world. The merciful character of God has provided a redemptive alternative, but His moral nature does not allow coercive manipulation of choices by those who inflict injustice and are committed to the destruction of those who do not conform to power structures and imposed ideologies.
2. They reflected confidence in a sovereign God. The New Testament church in Jerusalem affirmed their belief in a God who made the heavens and earth and everything in them, including those who were wrecking havoc and threatening their peace and security. They continued their prayer in Acts 4:27-28 to remind God:
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy
servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along
with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand
and your plan had predestined to take place.”
The greatest tragedy to occur in the world was not the massacres carried out by angry Muslims or a terrorist attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. The most heinous injustice occurred when the sinless Son of God was betrayed and crucified by an conspiracy of Jews and Gentiles and the unlikely alliance of political adversaries, Herod and Pontius Pilate. But this did not take God by surprise. The church acknowledged that God not only knew this would happen, He planned for it to fulfill His purpose of bringing redemption to a lost world.
3. Therefore, they renewed their commitment to a saving word. They did not ask God to remove the threats and harassment they were experiencing, so they could live in peace and prosperity. They did not pray that God would destroy their adversaries and create an environment in which they could propagate the gospel without danger or retribution. They concluded their petition in Acts 4:29:
“And now Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.”
Confident that Jesus was the answer, they prayed for boldness to proclaim the good news of hope and salvation, even in the face of personal risk and danger. The church today needs to follow the example of earlier believers and understand biblical realities of being hated and persecuted for the sake of Christ. Yet, rather than responding with paranoia and fear of ISIS lone wolf enemies among us and the spread of global terrorism, we should engage the threat with the most powerful weapon supplied by our divine leader–to love our enemies and a bold, positive witness of a living Savior.