Why Evangelicals disagree about Islam

What is it about Evangelicals that causes us to disagree so disagreeably? When our stand for biblical “orthodoxy” causes us to adopt attitudes that are more pharasaical than Christly, what’s going on and what’s the answer?

By very nature, Evangelicalism is ‘fissiparous’ (i.e. prone to fissures or splits), which is why there are 33,830 denominations worldwide [1]. Divergence over “Islam” and “Muslims” is a case in point. We struggle to hold in tension the complex relationship between Islam as a religio-political tradition, and a Muslim who was born into that tradition. It’s easier to default to simpler views such as: “Islam is a threat we must react to” or “Muslims are a missional opportunity we must respond to.” Both have truth in them, which needs to be held in tension.

‘We have created a god in our own image when even He dislikes the same people we do.’ [2] 

‘Political Islam’ does pose issues, the most extreme of which is the Islamist agenda to obliterate the Judeo-Christian heritage and return the planet to the dark ages. This mediaeval ideology is running out of steam as ‘everyday Muslims’ change their minds or vote with their feet as refugees. It’s simplistic and unfair to lump Islam and all Muslims together. For the vast majority, it’s not their fault. They are more embarrassed than complicit.

Some Christians have said to me aggressive and strident things about Muslims which are worthy of the fiery “sons of thunder” to whom Jesus said: ‘You don’t know what spirit you are of’ (Luke 9:55). Perhaps such Christians should consider going into politics because the Apostle Paul urges us to work through government, which is ordained of God to tackle political issues – not the church (Rom.13:1-7) and that we should: ‘Let your speech be always full of grace, seasoned with salt so you know how to answer everyone’ (Cols.4:6).

The problem starts when we tend to read our worldview into the Bible (eisegesis), rather than extract our worldview from the Bible (exegesis). We tend to see the world, not as it is, but as we are (i.e. our culture, class and historic context) [2].The net result is that we feel we have not been faithful to the gospel unless we have said it in full to a Muslim, in the same way it came to us. This traps us into a ‘verbal articulation’ of the ‘four spiritual laws’, which is less culturally effective. Jesus modelled the way for us when he related to Samaritan immigrants via ‘whole-life engagement’ that included “works” (i.e. of service); “wonders” (i.e. prayer and supernatural intervention); and then “words” (i.e. an explanation of our lifestyle and actions and a reason for hope in us – 1 Peter 3:15). Jesus consistently modelled ‘relational witness’, which is the correct context for verbal proclamation. If it’s our theological ‘tribe’ that holds us back from embracing this, the issue is not how faithful we are to our tribe, but how faithful our tribe is to the Bible.

‘He is not an Evangelical who believes what the Bible teaches; but he is truly an Evangelical who believes whatever else the Bible may be found to teach.’ [2]

The Bible was not written in Geneva (i.e. for the Conservatives or Reformed), nor was it written in Azusa Street USA (i.e. for the Pentecostals & Charismatic). It was written in the Middle East – for the world. The Bible is more culturally aligned to the Muslim worldview than it is to our Western worldview, which shapes Western theological scholarship.  

Let’s stop thinking in a binary way. Let’s stop being ‘biblically selective’. Let’s stop ‘rehearsing the darkness’ and turn on the ‘light’. This is done by “being” good news and so earning the right to “tell” it. Let’s face the facts without fuelling the fear of Islam and Muslims [3].

Sources:

  1. Christianity Today
  2. John Stott
  3. The Mahabba Network

The views expressed in this blog post are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GC network.

Photo by ‏🌸🙌 فی عین الله on Unsplash

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Steve Bell

Steve Bell

Leadership Team at Mahabba Network
A mission leader, analyst, trainer and author, Steve is a recognised communicator with 40 years’ experience in 100 countries. He taught Muslim children in a British inner-city school and then adults in the Middle East. He studied Islamics at Nottingham University, All Nations Christian College, Evangelical Seminary Cairo and Southern Cross College Sydney and has directed Carey College, Action Partners (formerly SUM) and currently is National Director for Interserve. Steve is author of 'Friendship First, Gospel for Muslims and Gospel for Muslims' and co-edited 'Between Naivety & Hostility'. Steve has been a regular speaker for Spring Harvest, Keswick Convention, New Wine and the conferences of FIEC and AOG. He also networks with Mosque and church community leaders on constructive interface and sharing; mission leaders on ‘Islam and Christian witness’ and advises parliamentarians on the issue of ‘social cohesion’. His passion in life is to facilitate ‘ordinary’ Christians discussing good news with 'ordinary' Muslims. He has championed the ‘grace and truth’ (Jn.1:14,17) response to Muslim people for over 20 years. Steve is married to Julia, a senior teacher and, when not enjoying long walks, serious music and cruising, they are “owned” at home by a mentally deranged Siamese cat called Izzy.
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Posted in Evangelism, Mission, Theology.

2 Comments

  1. Steve Bell, both in his writing and his life, is deeply prophetic. He is overwhelmingly right in his advice to fellow evangelical to emphasise BEING good news. Like Jim Harris (comments, above) I too am on a learning curve. Now 92 I have only for the past 6 years lived in an all white area after 57 years in Muslim majority patches Pakistan, The Kashmir Valley, Birmingham Sparkbrook). Thus I can affirm Steve’s final paragraph esp our seeing the world through the lens of our culture, class and historic context. Is it not self evident that our western culture is now the great hindrance for Muslims, most of whom, to quote Steve again, are ‘more embarrassed than complicit’ about political Islam. The question should also, in this context, be as to why Christians are more embarrassed than complicit in the political Christianity that isses in much of the world’s pain. Do we think in terms of Christianity or of the Gospel? Recently re-visiting Birmingham to ask directions twice, I each time found the local Asian, probably 3rd generation Mirpuri, guide outstandingly helpful. I think they were both just so pleased to see a white face that looked friendly.
    I was reminded of a correction I received from BishopMichael Nazir Ali (no soft touch!) 30 years ago when I spoke of ‘friendship evangelism’. ‘No, John’, he corrected me: friendship AND evangelism; they are two different things!’ God is the great evangelist. today for the many suffering Muslims, refugees and otherwise. They await friendship and hospitality. Their questions come; we from the West don’t have to tell them.
    For Steve as for others, leading prophetically in British Christianity today, is not comfortable: It may also lead us away from our comfort zones of insulated evangelical and 19th-20th century missionary paradigms.

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