I grew up in an evangelical home. From an early age, I was taught to evangelize. I didn’t have many people to practice on, because I was socialized only with “likeminded” families in our church and homeschool community. When it came time for college, I chose a secular university in part because I wanted the chance to evangelize my peers. This evangelism did not go as planned.
After entering college, I found that what I had been taught about the unsaved—that they are miserable and lost in darkness—was not true. The students around me were passionate, grounded, happy. Oh certainly, there were the ordinary coming-of-age pains and struggles—and those going through specific struggles in their lives were sometimes saved through various college ministries—but I found no evidence of this overarching inner hopelessness I had been taught characterized the unsaved.
All of this came to mind when I saw the following on the Answers in Genesis website, an advertisement for an article on evangelizing Muslims:
The article is titled “Islam’s View of Sin and Salvation” and the promotional reads “Christians should love, not fear, Muslims. If you look under the surface, you’ll see just how hopeless their religion leaves them.” The juxtaposition of encouraging Christians to love Muslims with a blanket declaration of Muslim hopelessness is jarring, particularly to those not familiar with the evangelical approach to evangelism outlined above.
This approach to evangelism dabbles so fully in falsehood that it loses touch with reality. Certainly, there are individuals in any religion who are unfulfilled and struggle with feelings of hopelessness—and that includes Christianity—but many individuals of every faith find the beliefs and practices of their religion comforting and fulfilling. Sending someone out to evangelize by telling them that Muslims—or those of any other faith group—are de facto “hopeless” is irresponsible to the extreme.I am no longer an evangelical, nor do I consider myself a Christian. I left for many reasons, but one contributing factor was that the unsaved were not as I had been taught they were. They were not hopeless. They were not miserable. I had been taught that everyone had a Jesus-shaped “hole” in their hearts, but this did not appear to be the case. I found that jarring. I felt misled. Some fundamental underpinning of my faith was undone.
What happens when an evangelical raised on Answers in Genesis articles like the one promoted above meets a happy, fulfilled, hopeful Muslim? In addition to being ineffective at evangelizing their new acquaintance, they may find themselves questioning previously trusted religious leaders. If they were so wrong about this, after all, what else might they be wrong about? Evangelical young people raised on false ideas about those of other faiths aren’t simply destined to be ineffective evangelizers—their own faith is also left with an Achilles heel.
Of course, most evangelicals will never attempt to evangelize a Muslim. Articles like those in Answers in Genesis may leave them unprepared to do so, but this is less important. What is more important is that these articles leave them with stereotypes about Muslims, or Hindus, or the unsaved in general. One of the problems in our world today is that we spend more time making assumptions about those in the world around us than we do seeking to learn more about those in the world around us. We rely on stereotypes—and articles like this one feed those stereotypes.
Telling your readers to “love” Muslims in one breath and teaching them to view Islam as a religion of fundamental hopelessness in the next is not just unhelpful. It is also dangerous—especially when combined with foreign policy decisions.
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