What to do with Islam

There has been plenty in the news this week about fallout around the world from the Muslim reaction to an internet video regarded as blasphemous.  It extended to a somewhat violent protest in Sydney last weekend.

My gut reaction to these protests is, “what on earth are you upset about?”  I’m a Christian.  If I got upset every time someone, somewhere on the internet said something critical of Jesus or Christianity…well, when would I find the time to eat? To sleep?

That gut reaction is not based on my faith, it is based on my Western mindset.  As someone who has grown up in a modern, Western culture I have absorbed our individualistic way of thinking and our commitment to freedom of speech.  Yesterday there was an article in The Age explaining how the Muslim mindset works in these matters, and how it differs from a Western one.  (Rough summary: Muslims feel a strong sense of solidarity with one another; when one is oppressed by a Western power, ie the USA, all other Muslims are upset about it.)

So as I Christian what response do I have?  Some churches have embraced “interfaith dialogue” in an effort to increase the understanding between different faiths.  Pope John Paul II put quite some effort into such meetings in the 1980’s but his successor has not been as interested.

As an evangelical, that’s not my approach.  If I spent 10 years with Muslims, talking and learning from them, what I would come away with is that they fundamentally believe different stuff to me.  My faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, in his claims to be the only way to God make me convinced that, “there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved” to quote the apostle Peter.  So there can be dialogue without limit, but at the end of it, I believe that Jesus is the only way to God, and that therefore Islamic beliefs about Muhammad are wrong.

Granted that reality interfaith dialogue might be well-intentioned,  it is ultimately of no use.  You are highly unlikely to win converts meeting with other religious leaders.  It is a distraction from the task that Jesus has given us – making disciples.

Therefore Christians should be reaching out to Muslims with the message that Jesus is the only way.  However Muslim people’s are generally not very receptive to the Christian message.  There certainly are individual Muslims who have found faith in Christ, but on the whole they are not open.  At this point Christians have a choice to make.  They can prioritize reaching those who are responsive, or they can just toil away with people who are unresponsive.

The Church Growth Movement led by scholars (mostly former missionaries) such as Donald McGavran and C Peter Wagner argued in the 60’s and 70’s that God wants his lost sheep found.  Because of this if we are to properly steward the resources of time and money that God has given us then, they argue, we have to harvest where it is most fruitful.  To do otherwise is not co-operating with the Holy Spirit, who is clearly more active in some parts of the world than in others.

It’s a provocative argument, and many Christians find it counter-intuitive.  I think that if God is clearly directing you to minister in a particular place then that’s where you must go.  But otherwise it is right to be strategic in being as fruitful as possible.

Meanwhile, back in Sydney, if Muslims are protesting about something silly, someone silly said on the internet then those protests are a matter for the civil authorities to deal with.  They can handle them as best they can.  I’m busy making disciples.  I am reaching out to anyone open to hearing the good news of Christ, regardless of what they currently believe.

John

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