Will Evangelical Attitudes Toward Muslims Continue to Harden?
The purpose of this post is not to beat up on evangelicals but to help us stay focused on the mission of God. We may never understand what motivates Muslim militants, but what we do know is that Islam is reeling. Humanly speaking, the future is bleak for the Middle East and much of the Muslim world. One hundred years ago, Samuel Zwemer advised against stereotyping Muslims and urged Christians to “awaken sympathy, love and prayer on behalf of the Islamic world until its bonds are burst, its wounds healed, its sorrows removed, and its desires satisfied in Jesus Christ.” “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
During the 5th Crusade St. Francis undertook what most considered a senseless and foolhardy mission: convert the most powerful Muslim in the world. So radical was the Sultan he had promised a Byzantine gold piece for anyone who brought the head of a Christian. He was “treacherous, brainless and false hearted,” but where others saw the face of evil, Francis saw a man without the Savior and compassion welled up inside of him.
As Francis and his trusted friend Illumimato walked onto the battlefield, they were caught, beaten and brought to the Sultan who was happy because he thought they wanted to become Muslims. “On the contrary,” said Francis, “We have a message that you should surrender your soul to God.” Thus he proclaimed the Triune God and Jesus Christ the Savior of all. The Sultan did not convert for it was he who retook Jerusalem. By God’s grace St. Francis was not killed but that possibility did not deter him.
In these perilous times, when radical Islam is carrying out horrific acts of violence, Christians must reach out to Muslims with courage and compassion. We must understand their concerns and engage with them in witness. Most Muslims wake up with no church, no Bible, and no one to tell them about the Way, the Truth and the Life. Five times a day from countless minarets in their midst, they hear God is great, but who will tell them God is love?
Peaceful Martyr: The Life and Mission of Francis of Assisi
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.
Number one is God’s timing. Remember the passage in Acts 18 where Paul is in Corinth and is discouraged. The Lord said, “Don’t be afraid; don’t be silent.” Literally He says, “Quit being afraid, Paul. I have many people in this city.” Well, he didn’t have many church members there at the time. So, it seems what the Lord was saying is, “Paul, I got here before you. Thanks for finally showing up, brother. And I have been at work here in social, political, cultural, economic and familial things.
Where Muslims are coming to faith, you typically find some sort of contextualized strategies. Obviously, contextualization gets widely debated in Christian mission circles. Translation is contextualization. So the question is not contextualization but how much is appropriate and effective. We need to remove unnecessary barriers in communicating the gospel.
Where Muslims are being won in large numbers, people have discovered ways to encourage national converts to stay in contact with their kin. In Muslim cultures the priority is family and community, and many places the gospel is taking root in a communal context.
Another element is signs and wonders. Obviously, it is imperative to get the word of God into the hands of people–exposure to God’s word is a crucial part of the process, as well as ongoing prayer. But God is working through visions and dreams and miracles to break down barriers and open their hearts to the word.
We tend to ignore Islamic values and witness from the perspective of a Western mindset. We tend to be direct when great value is placed on ambiguity and relationship. We often ignore the whole of issue of honor which stands at the hardened core of Islamic societies. The last thing you want to do is get into a win/lose situation. Where the gospel is taking root, Christian witnesses have learned to talk and share with respect instead of confronting and offending that which is most cherished in his or her life.