Historically, Christians have been working in countries with an acutely sensitive political situation, where putting a foot wrong has meant being kicked out. We need to remember when sharing the gospel here in England, that the rules have changed. We must ‘untie our hands’ and avoid three unwritten rules, which we often accept without thinking.
Three rules to avoid
We often confuse being ‘nice’ with being ‘good’ or ‘spiritual’; it seems ‘Christian’. Moreover, we usually prefer getting on with people to quarrelling! However, when Christians react mildly to allegations such as ‘You Christians have changed the Bible’ or ‘Jesus was never crucified’, Muslims often see this as indicating that Christians don’t really care about the truth. No, these are serious allegations which take away the very heart of the gospel. We must show our feelings without being rude or aggressive; in doing so we can stand up boldly for the truth.
Denying Jesus’ crucifixion contradicts historical fact and decries all that Jesus has won for us. Saying that we have changed the gospel is an accusation of forgery. We should ask Muslims for evidence indicating the parts of the Bible that have been corrupted. If unable to do so they must withdraw their remarks. This accusation is only made because the Bible and the Qur’an are incompatible. If the Bible is true, Islam's basis is destroyed.
A Muslim friend once challenged me by saying, ‘Of course you Christians have changed the Bible’. Forgetting my carefully rehearsed reply and pulling out my New Testament, I burst out, ‘How dare you say that? Show me one place where it has been changed!’ He could not and eventually apologised profusely. I don’t suggest that we should always be confrontational or heated but the point is that my strong feelings affected my friend far more than arguments.
'Just preach the Gospel - don’t attack their religion'
This sounds good but is not scriptural. Any god that is not the ‘God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ is an idol. The prophets denounced idolatry as hateful to God and explained that comfort and redemption were conditional on heartfelt repentance. Jesus said that ‘No-one comes to the Father but by me’ (Jn. 14:6). This leaves no room for the God of Islam, whose character is fundamentally different to the God of the Bible.
The bedrock of Islamic belief is that Muhammad was the true Prophet and the Qur’an is God's Word. This is beyond question; protected by a kind of doctrinal embargo. A friend once told me, ‘The greatest sin I could ever commit is to doubt for one moment that Muhammad is the true Prophet of God and the seal of the prophets’. Muslims must be invited to bring this before their critical faculties - and so to think the unthinkable.
Unfortunately, we do not apply our brains to evangelism as often as to our studies. If we are to ask Muslims to read the Bible then we need to study the Qur’an seriously so that we can open it with Muslim friends and say, ‘Take a look at this; what do you think?’ This will be unsettling and thus may provoke a violent reaction, however gentle we are.
In wanting to draw close to people and avoid conflict, we can make the chasm between Islam and Christianity seem narrower than it actually is. I believe we actually need to emphasise the absolute contrast. Most Muslims have hazy and inaccurate ideas about Christianity and we should ask them what they think we believe; many assume we just want them to ‘change their religion’. In fact, Christianity is not really a religion at all. It is about what God has done for us; and is incredibly exciting and liberating. Let your Muslim friends see it is vastly different to anything they have ever dreamed of. Often, a good deal of rubble has to be cleared before any bridges can be built. Once some kind of understanding has developed there is a basis for a more honest relationship.
So, having rejected these three unwritten rules, what should we do instead?
Two approaches to follow
We must encourage Muslims to ask questions they have never asked before: What is God like? What does he think of you? The searching heart needs answers and only restless souls touched by the Holy Spirit will be troubled by such questions. Hearts satisfied with religion are not ready for the good news. Once someone exposes themselves to such matters, we can introduce them to the Bible, the character of God and the person of Jesus. This must be done before we can share the gospel as it is meaningless in the context of the God of Islam.
At all times our witness must be completely honest. There is no such thing as a ‘good witness’ - only an honest witness.
Relate to the person
Islam gives Muslims a powerful identity and solidarity. However, this familiar external character can hide someone who is approachable on their own, when mutual trust has developed. Young people who passionately burned copies of Salman Rushdie’s book on the streets often shed this bravado in the quiet of the surgery. There they showed themselves to be ordinary teenagers with all the preoccupations of their peers.
We must never relate to the Muslim persona but to the soft centre; the person they are rather than the one they are trying to be. It takes patience, skill and time but this is where we can build bridges based on love, kindness and ordinary friendship. The walls of Islam give way to love and affection allowing a natural opening for the gospel. It will not happen the other way round.