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.
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.
Rick Love’s life and legacy resonate deeply with the Zwemer Center of Muslim-Christian Relations at Columbia International University. As Ed Smither, Dean of Intercultural Studies at CIU, put it: “Rick loved Muslims and they loved him.” Yet, beyond his work with Muslims, Rick was known for conflict resolution among families, in the workplace, and in cross-cultural relationships all over the world. Below is mostly personal reflection but also how colleagues and friends remember him.
Why is that no one seems to mind if Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, Jews or nominal Christians use a Chapel in Duke or Washington D.C., but when Muslims want to do so, the gloves come off? Based on a survey by LifeWay Research, nearly half of pastors surveyed agreed that ISIS represents the true nature of Islam. Here are five things about Islamophobia in Church.
Taking theological cues from the news: Americans are inundated with hate-filled media, demonizing all Muslims because of the actions of a few. Many conservative “Christian” websites and blogs have jumped on this bandwagon, playing on the fears and emotions of the Church.
Syncretism between nationalism and faith: Politically-motivated organizations have become increasingly hateful toward Muslims and are well-funded in their efforts. Too many Christians have been captivated by a misguided call for patriotism that asks them to oppose Islam as part of their faith. It should concern us when a pastor who says, “convert them or kill them” is invited to be the keynote speaker at a political leadership conference.
We have forgotten who the enemy is: We must remember that Islam is not the enemy. Scripture is clear: our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the evil one (Eph.6). He is cunning and will use anything he can to keep people from knowing Jesus. Are Muslims more depraved than others? Groups like ISIS are evil, but why does that surprise us? This type of behavior isn’t new and it didn’t begin with Islam.
Stay out of our churches: Some years ago, a denomination’s city headquarters called the Zwemer Center to ask if we would conduct a seminar titled “What to do if a Muslim comes into your Church.” We suggested a few tips for reaching out to Muslims but discovered they had something else in mind. They wanted ideas on how to gently remove Muslims from the building–if they showed up.
Stay out of our chapels: There are some who believe that if a Muslim prays somewhere it means they have conquered it. Not true. Which American citizens should not have access to freedom of religion?
Islam isn’t the problem, we are. One big problem is the President’s statement, “no religion condones killing of innocents.” It implies that true believers (whatever religion) never condone killing although every religion, at one time or the other has done so … it is the nature of humanity.” We should not say Islam is inherently peaceful or violent. Islam is much more complex than that.