I attended a missions training recently and noted what I feel is a dangerous “slide” occurring as a response to multiculturalism in the West. Evangelical Missions gurus are promoting an idea which affects new converts from Islam to Christianity. The thought is that those former Muslims should continue to practice what they call “Cultural Islam,” in order to remain safe and functional in their society. We give them bibles that look like the Quran and are written in Arabic. We use Muslim terminology in those Bibles and encourage these new converts to continue attending the Mosque and following other Muslim rituals, etc.
On the surface, I have no problem with this. Jesus told his followers to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16).” So, trying to “blend-in” wherever possible so as to make an impact for the kingdom makes sense. The REAL problem I have with this strategy is the tactics attached to it.
For example, in order to make this more palatable, some missions agencies are pushing the idea that, “Islam isn’t really THAT different from Christianity anyway.” In essence they are suggesting that the only real distinction is that Muslims don’t believe that Jesus was God or that he actually died on the cross. Other than that, these experts suggest that Islam is a peaceful, woman-honoring, positive religious force in our world. Obviously Jesus’ divinity and sacrifice are pretty BIG issues, but putting that aside for a minute, is it true that these are the only differences between historical Christianity and Islam?
In order to make this philosophy “stick,” we must look to anecdotal evidence of moderate or tolerant Islamic systems in our modern world. And, frankly, there are several examples of Islam co-existing with western culture in the U.S., Europe, Russia, etc. If we only look at these Muslims and their approach we could conclude that Islam truly is peaceful, tolerant, etc.
But what do the source documents tell us?
When examining any religious faith or philosophy, source and historical documents matter. Also, we have to admit that these teachings may differ from practices and/or certainly they may differ from the intended presentation of this faith to the outside world. It looks something like this:
SOURCE & HISTORICAL WRITINGS===) PRACTICES OF FOLLOWERS==) PRESENTATION TO THE WORLD
Whether intentional or not, what’s presented to the world often differs from the actual teachings of any faith or philosophy. Frankly, what’s actually practiced or obeyed by followers will differ also. Still, the original source documents and writings must always be understood to uncover the TRUE identity of that faith system. In times of crisis, these will ALWAYS become the basis of response for those believers—good or bad—right or wrong—effective or not….
So the real question here is whether or not the writings of Mohammed and the historical records of early Muslim faith truly prove that Islam is a peaceful, tolerant, co-existing faith. Do they provide a platform which would support loving those who differ and standing strong on basic human rights, freedom, etc.?
Categorically, the answer to these questions is, NO!
Mohammed was a warlord. His faith was spread by the sword. His teachings include over 100 references to killing or maiming people who disagree and history shows that groups like ISIS, the Taliban, and others are 100% in allignment with the philosophical foundation of their faith when they behead those who refuse to convert, stone women for not covering themselves completely in public, etc. (see www.thereligionofpeace.com).
Conversely, when we examine the teaching of Christ and the Apostles and then consider the first two centuries of Christian history, we see something quite different. We see them preferring to be martyrs in lieu of killing Jews, Atheists, or polytheists in their culture. They taught love and respect. They even went so far as to promote the spiritual equality of women in a culture where that saw women as substandard (See Gal. 3:28).
So, while we may find dozens of examples of Christians who are NOT tolerant, peaceful, or kind; we see the source documents and historical precedence for their faith does not support this behavior. On the other hand, when we examine the source of Islamic belief, we see that violence, intolerance, and abuse ARE supported—even encouraged. Tolerant, peaceful Muslims are practicing and presenting something quite different from historic Islam.
So what are the ramifications of this?
In my humble opinion, if we continue to ignore the historical and theological source of Islam, we will be at risk for several things:
1. A violent upheaval. History shows that when times are tough, people radicalize by returning to their roots. With Islam, this means violence and Christians and Jews are prime targets. If we are unaware of the foundation of Islam, we and those we lead to faith, are vulnerable.
2. A slide toward universalism. It’s easier to embrace an ecumenical universalism once you’ve accepted the idea that “all religions are pretty-much the same.” Comparing the Bible to other sacred texts proves that they are not the same…not even close! So, why take steps in that direction?
3. A diminished evangelistic impact. If I tell a Muslim that there’s virtually no difference between his faith and mine, but if he converts he might lose his job, his family, and all of his friends—why WOULD he convert? It would be foolish! Furthermore, doesn’t my assertion contradict his experience? He KNOWS our faiths aren’t the same because our culture gives freedom to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.; while his decidedly does not! If it did, he wouldn’t have to fear converting! My credibility as a witness has just been destroyed by my “cultural-Islam” argument.
So what’s the answer?
I think we should simple speak the truth…in love (Eph 4:15). We can teach former Muslims to be wise and “fly under the radar,” so-to-speak, without misrepresenting the distinctions between their faith and Christianity. Is there risk? Yes. But is there great reward through faith in Jesus?
Yes! Yes! Absolutely Yes!!
To that end,