Current events have turned the world upside down and it would be easy for Christians to turn inward and insular. However, I see the present moment as an opportunity to serve one another and to begin loving our neighbors well. We can use this time of isolation to learn more about them.
Consider, to be specific, our Muslim neighbors. In order to communicate the gospel well we need to understand their perspective on a number of matters. One step toward better understanding includes becoming familiar with Islamic theology.
I have personally encountered several distinct ways that Islamic theology complicates communication of the gospel. I have also found that it’s helpful to understand Islamic theology specifically from the perspective of a confessional Christian hoping to help other Christians love their Muslim neighbors well. With that in mind, here are some aspects of how knowing about the worldview, language, and theology of Islam encourages meaningful gospel communication—which is of course the deepest form of neighborly love.
Knowing Your Neighbor
First, take time to learn some of the basics about your Muslim neighbor’s faith. This allows you to ask informed questions that provoke deep conversations. As you familiarize yourself with what your Muslim neighbor holds most dear, you will convey your care for them. However, understanding Islamic theology is not the same as knowing the person. Therefore, as you demonstrate that you have taken time to look at the world from their perspective, you will begin to exhibit for them a willingness to engage in meaningful conversations rather than intellectual sparring matches.
Demonstrating love for your Muslim conversation partner is not the only reason it is vital to study Islam. Your understanding of Islamic theology and the traditional accounts of historical development will shape your knowledge of the fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity. Understandably, many Christians are tempted to view the death and resurrection of Jesus as their primary point of contention. It is certainly the most significant difference between the stories of each faith, but they diverge long before the incarnation.
Similarities and Differences
On the surface, Islam and Christianity show many apparently shared concepts and characters. Ideas such as sin and forgiveness are found alongside characters like Abraham and Jesus, which can often tempt a person towards a naïve assumption that these are points of common ground. Yet, upon further inspection, one finds only superficial similarity. Assuming a shared foundation can actually complicate true gospel communication.
For you Muslim friends, many words that are essential to the gospel—sin, salvation, atonement, and Jesus—come loaded with different meanings. Your desire should be to develop sensitivity to the way shared words often convey divergent concepts. If you don’t know how your audience is hearing what you are saying, you don’t know what you are actually communicating. Thus, by developing a sensitivity to where Islam parts ways with Christianity, a Christian can develop reflexes for defining and explaining how these apparently shared concepts and characters feature in the Bible.
A Closing Prayer
My prayer is that you will be moved to a deeper love and compassion for your Muslim friends and neighbors—especially in these hard and uncertain days. In addition, I pray that your love would motivate you to listen to your neighbors more carefully, asking incisive and clarifying questions, and leaning into more fruitful gospel-centered conversations.
In the end, it is not our argument that will win people to Christ, but the power of the Holy Spirit. We must steward the message entrusted to us by laboring to present the gospel clearly and without confusion. I pray that the Lord will bring the fruit of such preparation to bear in the lives of you and your Muslim friends.
This post is adapted from Know Thy Neighbor To Love They Neighbor by Matthew Bennett, a blog posted for The Upstream Collective. If you are interested in hearing more from Dr. Bennett download this PODCAST about his recent book. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
“40 Questions About Islam is the best one-stop introduction to Islam Written by an evangelical Christian. In it, Matthew Bennett provides concise and reliable answers to the most important questions people have about Islam and Muslims, encouraging Christians all the while to relate lovingly, respectfully, and evangelistically to their Muslim neighbors. Recommended highly and without reservation.”
Bruce Riley Ashford, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary