It is of great encouragement to me that an idea that is both in many ways rather unremarkable, and yet sadly seems quite revolutionary, is gaining traction in many different places. This is simply the plan that we should befriend, serve, listen to, and generally too good to people from other faiths and none, whilst all the time making clear we still believe what we do. In a way it is simply a restating of old principles like “freedom of religion” and “free speech.” I suppose the slightly radical element to this is the idea of getting into the market place of ideas rather than hiding in our own ghettos, and actually befriending people who we may have historically been afraid of (sometimes for good reason!) I suppose that no group epitomises this more than Muslims. I blogged not so long ago about a recent conversation I had with a Muslim taxi driver. The following extract from a post over on Joel Rainey’s blog entitled “What Turkish Muslims taught me….” is a great example of a respectful yet frank engagement:
” . . .once the leader of the Turkish organization discovered that this representative was an evangelical Christian, he expressed hesitation, because, as he put it, “I always thought evangelical Christians hated Muslims.”
Seeking to put this false rumor to rest, I reached out to the members of this community, and got a warm embrace in response . . .Eventually, this new relationship resulted in their invitation for us to join them in their home country last week . . .Let me say that again. Muslims openly invited more than a half dozen Baptist preachers to the middle east, and even covered a significant portion of the cost of the trip!
During our time abroad with our new friends, I have never experienced such hospitality . . . It is unfortunate that nearly everything about this part of the world that is broadcast on American news media focuses on extremist elements. To be sure, those elements are very present . . . but the so-called “Muslim world” is full of good people who are trying to make a positive difference . . .
All of this probably sounds very strange coming from the mouth of an evangelical Christian, and to be sure, my convictions have not changed. I still believe the Bible is the Word of God. I still believe Jesus is God, that He was crucified as a substitute for sinners, that he rose bodily from the dead, and that nothing short of repentance and total faith in His death and resurrection will save. But these convictions don’t hold me back from the relationship I now have with my Muslim friends. On the contrary, they propel me more deeply into relationship with these precious people . . .
This new relationship is a new platform for the very kind of “public square” evangelism in which Paul participated. You could spend years as a “traditional” missionary in a Muslim country and never achieve the level of access we achieved in a single week! From the beginning, we have been up front with our Muslim friends regarding what we believe, and told them our greatest desire is for them to come to know Jesus as we know Him. But we have also stressed that our continued friendship is not contingent on whether they become Christian. After all, “forced conversion,” is not conversion. It is conquest, and both Christians and Muslims have already given each other too much of that in our history together.
At the same time, I can’t help but think that if Paul were alive today, this is precisely the platform he would leverage in order to spread the Gospel. On several occasions, our group had this opportunity, and we seized it with the blessing of our hosts, most of whom were and are curious about Jesus. In general, Muslims have great respect for Jesus. They just don’t know much about him, and recognize that Christians spend much more time focusing on Him. So when they encounter Christians, they are often anxious to hear a story about him . . .
Let’s face it. Most Americans, even Christians, are afraid of Muslims. We are conditioned by our media, and even most of our political leadership to keep our distance. So what could possibly be more counter-cultural than our willingness to to walk together with these precious people, and do it publicly?
If the Gospel is truly “the power of God unto salvation,” then what on earth are we afraid of? . . . Our new friends are anxious to talk about faith, and there is much that we hold in common! But in the midst of discussing those commonalities, I have, and will continue to challenge them concerning the basis for forgiveness, and a sure hope of eternal life. And I’ll do it because they are my friends.” READ THE REST