The Same God 10

Miroslav Volf, Professor at Yale, on the dedication page of his new book — Allah: A Christian Response, says this:

To my father, a Pentecostal minister who admired Muslims, and taught me as a boy that they worship the same God as we do.

Volf’s quest is to build a theological basis for peaceful co-existence and peaceful cooperation among Muslims and Christians, and his quest is to contend that the God of the Christians and the God of the Muslims is the “same” God. What he means by “same” is not “identical” but “sufficient similarity.”

What about evangelism? mission? proselytism? How can we evangelize Muslims? Anyone have some wisdom from experience?

He begins by examining minarets in non-Muslim majority countries, which makes Christians nervous, and church steeples in majority Muslim countries, which makes Muslims nervous. They symbolize colonialism and dominance and persuasion and the presence of that which threatens. What can we do?

It begins by dispelling prejudice. Volf is at his best in discussing prejudice, as he is one of the world’s best scholars in this subject. Prejudices are born of ignorance, self-absorption, resentment and fear. His proposal is his famous one: we need “double vision.” The ability to see ourselves from the angle of others. But Volf develops this into seven people present in a conversation between Christians and Muslims. I and present, you are present, my view of myself and your view of yourself, my view of you and your view of me, and the One, True God.

This leads him to construct how Muslims — not all but many — see Western Christians:

They see it as war by another means. The fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 unleashed the end of the crusades, decolonization after WWII, support of secularizing leaders in Muslim countries, proppping up Israel, and globalization … all these are war by another means. Christian mission is therefore war.

Of course, the whole story can be reversed on how Christians perceive Muslims. I was talking to a man the other day, a businessman I bumped into when I was reading Volf’s book, and he said it, “They’re out to kill us.”

Volf proposes a Common Code of Conduct in missions:

1. Witness to others only if you are willing to be witnessed to by them.
2. Witness in a way you would want them to witness to you.
3. Coercion is always wrong.
4. Bribery and seduction are wrong.
5. Don’t compare our best with their worst. [This is what I tried to do with the man I met; he would have none of it. All Muslims were terrorists to him.]

His final section advocates collaboration in common projects to help the poor.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • james petticrew

    I think at a practical level from my experience point 1 “Witness to others only if you are willing to be witnessed to by them.” is the most problematic.

    Here in Edinburgh the main Mosque seems “moderate” and doesn’t have a reputation for supporting extremism. Last year I visited the evangelistic display they have running about Islam. I got talking to the young women converts about how they had come to embrace Islam. I spoke about the freedom we have in the UK to choose our faith and asked if young women and men would have the same right to do what they had done in Islamic countries and choose to become Christians. What had been a very relaxed conversation turned and some of the Asian men were summoned. They said that it was right for Christians to be able to convert to Islam but not the other way round as that would be apostasy. We didn’t have a heated argument, I was very polite but their reaction made me worried about the future relations between Islam and Christianity. It seems to me that even these moderate Muslims were unwilling to give people of their faith or country men the same religious freedoms and rights they expect and indeed rightly demand in western countries. They certainly wanted to witness but they were firm in rejecting the idea that they or anyone in their community should be witnessed to.

    I would be interested if others have had a more positive experience?

  • http://homekettle.wordpress.com David N.

    I think #5 is a great point, and unfortunately we break it even between differing groups of Christians. It is very easy for progressives to point out the worst examples of fundamentalism as being indicative of all conservatives, and vice versa. Until we can stop doing that, dialogue will continue to be very difficult.

  • DLO

    Islam is a totalitarian political, legal, cultural, moral, religious system and, unfortunately, a zero-sum proposition. There can be no peaceful coexistence and any society that tries to live with Islam will eventually find themselves at the point of a sword. Certainly we can politely dialogue with Muslims who want to talk, but in my view, our chief concern must be to bear witness to the love and truth in Jesus Christ by the way we live. The only way to “win” a Muslim to Christ is in the context of relationship.

  • http://chosenrebel.wordpress.com Marty Schoenleber

    The issue that James Petticrew raises in number 1 above is real. I have had great “success” in witnessing to Muslims using Bill Fay’s five questions. Especially helpful is the fifth question because I know, in every instance, what he is going to say. the five questions:

    1. Do you have any kind of spiritual belief system? [Then I shut up and genuinely listen to him explain Islam to me as best he can. I offer no apologetic, no rebuke, no push back of any kind. I listen and learn.]

    2. Where does Jesus fit in your spiritual belief system?

    3. Do you believe in a heaven or hell? [At this point usually a redundant question becasue he has already told me his answer.]

    4. If you were to die right now, where would you go according to your spiritual belief system?

    5. If what you believe were not true, would you want to know?

    All I have done is ask five questions. I have been a learner. I haven’t said that i have any answers or alternatives. I have simply been learning from my muslim friend. But i know how he will answer this fifth question. He is going to tell me “No, I wouldn’t want to know.” I know this because it has happened every time.

    At this point, I say something like this:

    “Mammoud, I know why you said no and frankly, I wish more people that i ask these questions of would say “No” for the reason that you just did. You just counted the cost. You know first of all that to entertain that Islam might be false is to enter into something that Islam forbids you even to ask. You know that if you were to turn from Islam you could potentially lose your culture, your way of understanding prayer, your family, your job, your friends and in some instances, even your life.”

    “But Mammoud, that is one of the differences between you as a Muslim and me as a Christian. The one I follow as Lord, said that he was the way the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). I want to follow the truth wherever it leads me and I have confidence that the truth will always lead me to God.”

    My objective is not to convert my Muslim friend but to create in him, perhaps for the first time in his life, some real dissonance. I want him to walk away thinking, “Do I really want to build my life on what may be false?”

  • Jim

    I lived overseas in North Africa for two years. I also spent time in Islamic areas of Israel and Spain. I did have plenty of experiences witnessing.
    The four things that seemed to work best was 1) story-telling; 2) constant prayer with/for my friends there 3) continual deconstruction and reconstruction of ideas and 4) preaching to them about Jesus and about God through the Qu’ran to connect ideas (this can be very effective but is extremely difficult.

    1) I found story-telling really resonates with culture there. To go into some of the old cities at certain times was to find groups gathered around various story-tellers. Some stories that I would use would come straight out of Scripture while others would be completely made up to communicate a bigger point (modern day parables). For example, I would tell the story of a king and his wife who cheated on him to reveal the severity of sin. Another story is during a holiday known as Eid, each Muslim is asked to sacrifice a lamb. The king will make a sacrifice in the morning for all the poor who cannot afford lambs. I used this to communicate that in God’s eyes, we are all poor and cannot sacrifice properly for ourselves which is why Jesus came to this world. I found contextualizing stories to be a great communicator of Scripture and Truth.

    2) Constant prayer with friends, regular worship and being a living apologetic speaks volumes. I had no problem asking someone to pray with me if they were having problems. One friend who continually was seen in the town drunk asked me for help. I prayed with him a few times but for him every morning. He disappeared for about a month but when I saw him again, he completely quit drinking. He didn’t understand why but he lost his appetite for alcohol. I simply said because I believe that God is hearing your heart and our prayers and that Jesus wants to work in you.

    3) This is such an important aspect of ANYONE’S belief system. Constant questions should always build up our beliefs. I would constantly ask questions to deconstruct what their view of Christianity was (colonialism, war-mongering, polytheist, etc). I would do the same to deconstruct Islam after studying it (what was it’s view on Christianity, was it violent, who was Mohammed, how did the Qu’ran come into being). Through these questions, I was able to then rebuild Christianity through a Biblical perspective.

    4) Last, this is associated with the deconstruction of the Qu’ran, I would bring out Christ from the Qu’ran and Hadith in attempts to bridge gaps. In the Qu’ran there are parts that talk about the “People of the Book.” While many Muslims believe that the books were corrupted, the Qu’ran itself makes no such claim. In the Qu’ran there is a verse that speaks about Jesus breathing life into a dead animal, that He heals, that He performs miracles. In Arabic, these verbs are NEVER attributed to man but only to God. There is a verse in the Hadith that speaks about how Satan touches every infant when he/she is born (the idea of original sin) except for Jesus the Son of Mary. This again shows that all have sin in their life with excpetion to Christ.

    I am sorry this was such a long post. I think the key in any witness is continual prayer and continual dependence and reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide. It’s also important to remember that when witnessing we can never measure success or failure because we don’t know how God is moving. Something said may come back 15 years down the road!

  • Percival

    The times when I have seen my witness to be effective usually included these factors:
    1) God had already been working on the person
    2) Prayer was involved
    3) A groundwork of common values and terminology was laid down (eg. We are people of the book who believe there is one God. We believe in morality, the prophets, the heavenly books, angels, and a day of judgement, etc.)
    4) A story was told that was meaningful – usually involving issues like shame/honor or pollution/purity or estrangement/reconciliation
    5) A community dynamic was involved – they noticed Christian community or Christian family
    6) Assumptions were questioned without stirring up arguments

  • http://www.amberpeace.com Amber-Lee

    Jim, I think storytelling is fantastic! One of the things many people don’t understand in witnessing is that you can’t use Christian Scripture to prove Christian Scripture. Storytelling brings our faith to life, just as our lifestyle is suppose to do.

  • Miroslav

    This is all very helpful. But I have not seen any arguments against my proposal that we should take the Golden Rule as the norm about how to go about engaging in evangelism. Nor have I seen any alternative application of the Golden Rule to evangelism. Jesus said that we should apply the rule “in everything.” Do you agree? If not, why not? And if you do, do you agree about the implications. If not, why? And what alternative implications of the Golden Rule for how we evangelize do you propose?

  • rjs

    Personally I can’t give any arguments against the proposal because it seems self-evidence from the gospel. The Golden rule should apply to witnessing as to everything else. Which of course does mean witness – but in a fashion that values the other as human.


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