Let’s face it…life is complicated! The more advanced our society becomes, the more complicated every single thing has become. Oh, yes, there are many who will tell us how these gadgets and systems are making life easier. Perhaps there is some validity to that, but about the time one has spent two hours on the phone to customer support which really took three calls just to get a person on the line, all ideas of simplicity have been thrown out the window! Maybe, just maybe, it is time to simplify?
One idea that is rather complex is how to share the Gospel with this growing blend of cultures and people groups. The immigrants and refugees are here, so you may not need to head to the middle east to interact with Muslims, and you may not need to have a passport to witness to Hindus or Buddhists. Pastors may realize the simplicity of the Gospel and that showing love is all that is needed. Yet, why is it so complicated? What if the wrong approach is taken? What if there is a misunderstanding? What about all those classes from seminary that were supposedly preparation for cross cultural experiences?
It helps to start with some of the vocabulary that surrounds this complex idea. One word that relates to missionary efforts is called contextualization. If this concept was never studied in seminary or Bible classes, it might be helpful to know what this means. This word means that one adapts the form of the message to the target audience so as to make it more acceptable. Oh, stop there, you say? No Christian, pastor or layperson, wants to be accused of adapting the Gospel message! However, what if this does not have to mean that one compromises the truth but is still able to better reach others for Christ?
Sometimes it takes advice from the experts who have worked with these groups for a long time in order to carve out a path to more efficient sharing of the Gospel without compromising the truth. Ken Temple, who serves on staff at Propempo International, has been working with Muslims for decades. He has written an entire article on contextualization and some of its pitfalls, but he has also included ways to contextualize without compromise. The entire article can be found here:
However, in an effort to simplify, here are 13 of Ken’s 14 springboards for talking points with Muslims:
- Christians and Muslims believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. The two vary on their beliefs after this commonality, but simplify…focus on the common talking point!
- Jesus is called the Messiah in the Bible and the Quran. Granted, there are differences in what this means, but it is certainly a way to agree in a conversation.
- Both the Bible and Quran include the truth that Jesus was sinless.
- Jesus is the son of Mary—we agree!
- Jesus did miracles—more agreement!
- Jesus is referred to as the Word. (This springboard gets complicated quickly, but to simplify, there IS a common talking point.)
- Both the Bible and Quran refer to Jesus as spirit.
- The Quran affirms the Old Testament and New Testament, as do Christians.
- There are some verses in the Quran with which Christians can agree.
- Muslims have a belief that the Bible has not been corrupted based on some verses in the Quran. Of course, evangelical Christians believe in the infallibility of the Word of God in its entirety.
- Both Muslims and Christians have a concept of the substitutionary sacrifice for sin.
- Where the Quran affirms that Jesus’ disciples were full of integrity, the Christian can most certainly agree.
- The Quran states that the words of God can’t be changed, and this offers a springboard for Christians to explain why they would agree.
If your head spins in just thinking about how to talk with Muslims, simplifying the similarities helps to serve as a reminder that there may be a debate, but there is also common ground. Complicated concepts require deeper study, and the article listed above goes into much detail, including references for the verses from the Quran. The truth is that pastors should be encouraged! It is time to simplify and move into action in order to build relationships and start the conversations that need to happen. Being paralyzed with fear will never help in catalyzing movement toward the goal. Simplify and succeed!
Kirsten McClain serves as Assistant to the Executive Director for Propempo International. She has been serving churches and mission agencies for the last 20 years. She has a heart to see the church realize her potential in missions and is driven to be a mobilizer to this end. She lives in Georgia with her husband and three children, and she is ready to direct pastors to the various resources that Propempo uses to come alongside churches so that they can do missions well.