Yesterday, I posted a review of Breaking the Islam Code: Understanding the Soul Questions of Every Muslim, a new book by J.D. Greear. J.D. is pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina and blogs regularly at JDGreear.com. Today, I’m happy to have J.D. stop by the blog and talk about ministry to Muslims.
Trevin Wax: In your experience, what’s the biggest psychological hurdle that Christians have when it comes to sharing their faith with a Muslim?
J.D. Greear: The biggest psychological hurdle is feeling like they have nothing in common with a Muslim. We think Muslims are a fundamentally different kind of person. But they are made in the image of God just like we are, so they have many of the same questions, ideas, and thoughts.
Secondly, they’re very religious people and, because of that, they have a lot of questions about God. Islam has uniquely prepared them to ask questions about God to which Islam does not give a good answer. Islam, in many ways, paves the way for a Gospel explanation.
So understanding Islam, and understanding the true things that it’s taught about God and the untrue things that it’s taught about God, gives you a great place to show that the Gospel gives a superior answer to these questions.
Trevin Wax: In your book, you write about the time you spent in a predominantly Muslim country. Looking back over your ministry to Muslims, what are some things you’d do differently were you to start over again?
J.D. Greear: I didn’t realize this until I had worked with Muslims for nearly two years, but a “win” in sharing Christ with a Muslim should not be just getting them to pray “the sinner’s prayer.” A “win” is getting them to study the Bible with you.
People with worldviews that are as entrenched as they are with Muslims will not likely be brought to Christ with one conversation. Rather, it is seeing the glory of God revealed in the marvelous plan of redemption in the Bible that can open their hearts to see the glory of Christ.
So have as your goal getting a Muslim to study the Bible with you. Study the stories of the prophets, walk through the Old Testament and show him or her how everything points to Christ. Do it in the form of a dialogue. I think it’s less effective to take the role of teacher, and more appropriate to take the role of “let’s read these together and both learn from the Holy Books.”
J.D. Greear: What I did right was really nothing profound, just simply to love people and to pray for them and to be involved in their lives. The more that you listen to people and the more that you get to know them, the more they begin to bare their souls and it becomes much easier to speak the Gospel clearly to them.
Trevin Wax: What kinds of misunderstandings and misconceptions get in the way of starting and maintaining these kinds of relationships?
J.D. Greear: The thing to remember is that these misconceptions and misunderstandings go both ways. There are general misconceptions that Christians have about Muslims, namely that they’re terrorists and that they think about God totally differently.
Some of the misconceptions that Muslims have about Christians that are good to know is that Muslims believe that Christians are morally loose and do not show proper respect for God. In part, that is because they watch TV and see people who wear crosses around their necks like on MTV and they think this is what Christians are like. So entering in with that kind of knowledge and knowing how to overcome those misconceptions is helpful.
Another misconception to overcome is what Muslims believe that Christians believe about the Trinity. They think that our idea of the Trinity is that God the Father and God the Mother had God the Son. We need to explain that we would disagree with that very strongly, and that we hold very firmly, as tightly as they do, to the oneness of God.
Probably the greatest area of misconception and misunderstanding is just simply realizing that Muslims think about salvation differently than we think about it, which means that we need to frame the questions of salvation differently so we can show them that the Gospel provides better answers than Islam does. What this book tries to do is to show the reader that Westerners approach salvation from one front and Muslims approach it from a different one. The Gospel answers both equally, but knowing the separate approaches is helpful.
Trevin Wax: It’s helpful to lay these misconceptions on the table and to talk honestly about our differences. You make the case that Muslims do worship the same God as Christians, although with obvious errors in understanding. Can you elaborate on how you came to this conclusion and how you would maintain major distinctions between Muslim and Christian understandings of God?
J.D. Greear: This is a tough question that has a considerable amount of complexity to it. But at the end of the day, I think the question of whether or not you use the Arabic name for God – Allah – is more of a practical question than a theological one.
Theologically speaking, there is of course only one God. But as I note throughout the book, we see several places where Jesus or the Apostles confronted someone who believed wrong things about God, yet Jesus and the apostles engaged them with the common ground of, “let’s talk about that God you think you know and He is really like.”
For example, in John 4, when Jesus deals with a Samaritan woman who was considerably off on several points about God, Jesus told her that the problem was she did not understand the God that she claimed to worship. Many of the Jews to whom the Apostles spoke did not believe in the Trinity and found it blasphemous. Does that mean that the Jews worship a different God? A better, and more Biblical approach (in my view) is to take the God that they claim to understand and show them what His true revelation is like.
Practically speaking, however, you have to determine whether or not it is more helpful or more harmful to use the Islamic name for God. It is harmful when use of the Islamic name for God cause people to assign the false characteristics to God. But that doesn’t have to happen just because you use the name. For example, Our English word, “God,” comes from German Gott, the name of a false deity. But no one would say that today we confuse the two and assign the qualities of Gott to God.
With Muslims, I would say that more often than not it is more helpful to use the Arabic name for God. They understand that to be the God of Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. That’s a good place to start. Then you can say, “This God you worship, here is what He is really like, according to the revelation.” That said, I would leave this question mostly to the discretion of the person who is on the field in a given situation.
Trevin Wax: Thanks, J.D. for taking the time to talk about these important matters. May the Lord bless our efforts to reach people with the gospel!