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Ethical Evangelism: How You Witness to the ‘Enemy’ – Part 1

What motivates us, as Christians, to share our faith with others of a different faith? What hinders us from doing so?

What might enable us to not only be more confident in sharing our faith, but also allow for more likelihood of a positive response from those we share with, particularly within the context of a relationship with a Muslim?

Many of our Muslim friends in the United Kingdom are surprised how little Christians are willing to speak openly about their faith with them.

For many Muslims, who are also called to share their faith with others, it does not make sense that Christians would not wish to do the same.

Surely, they might think, if they are called to love our neighbor, as we are, then sharing the hope they have found in Christ is the epitome of a loving action? But is this really the case?

Taking that Islam is a hugely complex sociocultural, religious and spiritual phenomenon that is understood and practiced in countless numbers of ways, how do you view the overarching religion of Islam?

Your starting point here will affect your interaction with Muslims when it comes to the desired outcome of your witness.

Are you more inclined to start with an approach that focuses on the similarities between both Christian and Islamic thought and practice, or one that focuses on the differences?

It is clear from a fairly basic understanding of Islam that there are many similarities between our faiths.

Dudley Woodberry makes the important point that many missionaries “branded so-called Muslim forms of worship and religious vocabulary as wrong, without knowing that virtually all Quranic religious vocabulary, including the name ‘Allah,’ and virtually all the forms of worship, except those specifically related to Muhammad, were used by Jews and/or Christians before they were used by Muslims.”

There are, of course, some fundamental differences. However, our starting point is important.

Miroslav Volf in “Allah: A Christian Response” asks the question: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Now is not the time to delve in to this complex question, but again, how you answer this question will impact significantly your witness toward Muslims.

Many of us have a difficult relationship with evangelism, perhaps especially when this involves intentional discussion or argument about the Christian faith with someone of a different faith or nonfaith.

Andrew Smith, when discussing ethical witness in his new book, “Vibrant Christianity in Multifaith Britain,” makes the interesting point that, if our witness to people of different faiths is indeed to be a loving act, then those we are witnessing to need to experience this witness as a loving act.

It strikes me that the attempt to “love Muslims” while “hating Islam” is not really a healthy starting position.

However, perhaps it is even more than simply the words we use, or the tone in which they are spoken, that portrays a perceived lack of love from the perspective of the recipient.

In much of Western culture, the decision to change faith is one that may be taken, to a large degree, in isolation from a person’s wider community.

This is viewed, at least under international law for those aged 18 years or older, as an individual’s human right.

Western Christian faith has become a very private and personal affair. However, the reality for many contexts around the world, including for the majority of the global Muslim world, is that this presents significant challenges.

Islam is not viewed simply as an individual choice, something to be accepted or rejected by an individual without significant social and communal consequence and pain.

It is not easy for a Muslim to distinguish between the sociocultural, political, financial, religious and spiritual elements of their faith in the way much of Christian practice has become compartmentalized.

As a result, the way in which we witness to and disciple would-be followers of Christ who are Muslim takes on a whole new set of considerations.

Is it our intention to lead Muslims out of one flawed religious institution (that of Islam) simply into another flawed religious institution (that of Christianity)?

What might be the consequences for our witness, were we to lay aside much of what “our Christianity” has become, and focus instead on the person of Christ, within the context of relationships with Muslims, within their family and community?

My sense is that in many cases this would break down many of the fears within the Muslim community, as we would not be asking people to reject their families, traditions, culture or even much of their religious tradition, unless elements of these were at direct odds with the gospel.

And, anyway, when was the last time we expected a newfound believer in Christ in the U.K. to renounce their consumerism or their nationality?

So, how might we witness to Muslims in what might be described as an ethical way? I’ll offer five suggestions in a follow-up article tomorrow.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here. A version of this article first appeared in the Issue 2 2018 edition of Mission Catalyst, a publication of BMS World Mission. It is used with permission.

Arthur Brown

Arthur Brown is the BMS World Mission Regional Leader for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and former BMS youth and theological worker based in Lebanon, working with a Christian theological seminary regularly dialoguing with Islamic scholars.