Thursday, June 28, 2007

Testify about what exactly?
Bethel Seminary and Reaching out to Muslims

I receive a quarterly magazine from Bethel Seminary called “Heart & Mind” because I had, at one time, shown interest in attending that institution. I normally don’t pay any attention to it because it is just one more piece of bulk/junk mail to keep me thinking about enrolling there. However, when I brought the latest issue in from my mail box, the cover story “Loving Thy Muslim Neighbor” caught my eye. I will admit that I began reading this article skeptical about what it might say regarding the gospel, but at the same time I really did want to understand a perspective of Bethel Seminary (perhaps not ”the” perspective, but a good enough one to be put in the magazine for their seminary) on presenting the gospel to Muslims.

Much of the article, entitled “With Jesus on the Muslim Road”, was written in a bullet-point style outlining a particular process for bringing the gospel to Muslims. The author, a man named Doug, exhorts Christians, or “Christ-people” as he states, to love them, to go to them, to learn from and try to understand them, to befriend them, to introduce Jesus to them, and finally to lay down our lives for them. I think that these steps sound like a very good way to evangelize lost people of any demographic group, including Muslims.

My concern with this article is not with the broad stroked ideas listed above, but it is with how Doug briefly articulated how we should share Jesus Christ. He wrote, “To share Jesus with Muslims, we do not have to know Islamics or be experts in the Qur'an.” I totally agree with him on this point. It may be helpful to understand their religion and traditions, but it is not absolutely necessary. However, my disagreement could not be stronger with what Doug wrote next.

“We do not have to defend Jesus, or have all the answers to every question that may arise. We can go with Jesus, in love, sharing honestly, ready to learn, and bearing witness to all of who He is and what He has done for us. Testimony, we have found, is the strongest witness. Muslims will argue with the "facts" that you present (like whether or not the Bible is trustworthy, Jesus is the Son of God, or that He died on the cross, for example), but we have found that they do not argue with personal experience of the living Christ. On the contrary, they can be deeply touched and drawn to such testimony.”1

“We do not have to defend Jesus.” The initial statement of this quote is utterly shocking to me. We don’t need to defend or articulate who Jesus is? This scandalous statement is only made more outrageous when Doug articulates that some of the facts that Muslims would argue with are “the Bible is trustworthy, Jesus is the Son of God, or that He died on the cross.” Furthermore when he says that testimony is “the strongest witness”, what in the world are you testifying about? It’s obviously not that Jesus is God, that the Bible is the trustworthy Word of God, or that Jesus is the perfect substitute who satisfied the wrath of God on behalf of those who repent and place their complete trust in Him. If we are not testifying about those things, what on earth do we have to testify about? Anything else that we would communicate or show to Muslims (or any other unsaved person) would basically be good works, and how is that different than what a nice Mormon or a good Buddhist would do? It cannot be that much different if we do not defend Jesus in our testimony.

Also, what is the deal with the elevation of personal testimony? This must be an interpretation from Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by testifying about Jesus, but not being too particular about His deity, His word, or His sacrifice.” (Romans 10:17 NHV)2 Of course that’s not what the Bible says! The Bible says clearly that it is in the Word of God, the Scriptures, where the power for the message is.
13 for ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’ 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!’ 16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?’ 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:13-17)

This is so tragic that for whatever reason that some people would be so bold and brazen as to elevate their own personal experience above that of the Scriptures, even at the cost of defending Christ. Remember, personal experience, as well as what our heart tells us, is very fallible, and it cannot be trusted by itself. The Bible tells us that our hearts are “deceitful and sick” (Jeremiah 17:19) or “wicked” (NKJV), and therefore we cannot trust it. Why is Doug promoting a non-divisive (i.e. articulated Christ and the gospel) evangelistic method? I think he answerd that when he wrote,
“I believe that we are called in Jesus to have a positive approach to the Muslim people – sharing Jesus and the Bible and seeking to win them to Christ. We are not called to argue with them, to prove them wrong, or to defeat them. Putting people on the defensive causes them to see us as their enemy, makes them wary of us, and closes their hearts toward us. One can win an argument but lose his opponent, succeeding only in building barriers and pushing people farther away from Jesus. I believe we are called to build bridges, and motivated by love, do everything possible to bring Muslims closer to Christ. Are we up to the challenge?”3

First of all, his initial statement that we need to share “Jesus and the Bible seeking to win them to Christ” is impossible to accomplish if we don’t articulate who and what those things mean. Jesus wasn’t just a prophet like the Muslims believe, and likewise the Bible is not corrupt. But the bigger concern that I had here was with the notion that we can win an idea, lose the person, and push them “farther away from Jesus.” I have heard this phrase used before, but I honestly don’t know what it means? How does one determine the relative closeness to or farness from Christ? How much farther away is an unbeliever from Christ one moment before they die compared to the eternity that follows? While living, there was still the opportunity to be saved, but the reality of the position of that unbeliever’s spirit and heart toward Christ is no different. While living the unbeliever is dead in sin and separated from Christ, and then after death that same person is still separated from Christ, but that reality is fully actualized in all of its terribleness.

How close was Judas to the Savior? He never really believed in Jesus, at least no more than any other unsaved person does? Was he closer to Christ during His ministry than he was when he betrayed Jesus and killed himself? Being friendly to Jesus or to nice Christians and being “close” to salvation seem to be very different ideas. We can’t know who is close to being saved, or even if they will be. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

Doug ends his article by using the parable of the lost son, where the lost son returns home to his father, and that we likewise need to, “open our arms to embrace them with a love that sacrifices, draws near, and overcomes all obstacles.”4 The problem is that in the parable, the son knew who his father was, he didn’t just know someone who knew his father, and this other person just happened to be nice to him but he didn’t correct the son when he slandered his own father. Christ can and will save people in spite of themselves, and He will save them in spite of those of us who desire to see them saved, but who do not see (not in any practical applicational way) Scripture as authoritative or Christ Himself as being worthy to defend against slander.

1 Doug, “With Jesus on the Muslim Road”, Heart & Mind Volume 20 Number 3 (Summer 2007) 16.

2 This is my own invention, the New Heretical Version (NHV).

3 Doug, “With Jesus on the Muslim Road”, Heart & Mind Volume 20 Number 3 (Summer 2007) 16.

4 Ibid.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Great post, Eric. Demonstrating the love of Christ without testifying to the Christ of that love is not love.

or put another way,

The good news without the news is not good.

Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson