The book I didn't think I needed
There have been periods of my life when I was devoted to sharing the gospel with specific groups of people. In those circumstances I received training, read books, found mentors—I was focused on knowing these people and knowing ways to help them understand the Bible. Lately, due to changes in vocation and circumstances, I’ve been broader in my outlook—viewing every interaction I have, from the stranger on the street to my neighbour, as an opportunity to glorify Christ. I think this reflects the lives of most Christians: we don’t target specific types of people, but we do make an effort to develop relationships with those around us.
While both approaches have their merits and issues, there is no question that I was better at equipping myself to aid others when focused. I know accountants, Hindus, international students, but I don’t feel like I need to read a book to witness to them. I’m not even able to become an expert on every world view under the sun. Besides, it won’t make that much difference, right?
That opinion of mine has been a bit shaken by reading and editing Where to Start with Islam. I didn’t feel like I needed to learn more to continue witnessing to the Muslims that I know; I approached the topic with an airy-fairy “this will be interesting but probably not relevant to me” attitude. And yes, it was indeed interesting (Muslims have more than one way to get into heaven! Muslim men are allowed to marry Christian women! Muhammad got ‘revelations’ letting him specifically have sex with whoever he liked!), but it’s even more interesting how what I learned later changed what I did and said when interacting with followers of Allah.
I can’t do justice to all the important reasons here (read the book!), but in Where to Start with Islam Samuel Green convinced me of the value of highlighting that much of the Bible consists of prophecies made by people Muslims say they revere but whose words they never read. This becomes a much easier way to suggest that a Muslim look at some of the Bible with you; if they believe that it is right to honour the prophet David, why not study his message?
I personally have used this approach to put into context the Bible passages at our church’s English conversation classes. Over the years, while only a few Muslim students have outright refused to participate in the part where we read and answer comprehension questions about a Bible passage, certainly none of them have been very engaged. But the last time we read Psalms I was able to turn to the Muslim woman next to me and say “You know of David? The Qur’an talks about him, right? These are his words! Let’s read them together!” I was able to pique her interest in a way I’d never been able before. She murmured “true, true” to some verses, where before she would have been silent. Her prejudice against God’s word had softened.
It’s also been invaluable to me to better understand the picture of Christians that the Qur’an paints for Muslims. Why are some Muslims able to cite passages where the Qur’an is positive towards Christians, and why can other Muslims point to where they are instructed by the Qur’an to destroy us? I knew the basic facts of Islam, but I had no idea how what was happening to Muhammad at various points of his life influenced the theology he taught. I also didn’t know that Muslims are actively taught out of context Bible passages and questions to ask Christians to confuse them. Knowing the ways that my Muslim friends had been ‘inoculated’ against the message of Jesus helped both to take the sting out of some of their rejection and to find new ways to navigate around those misconceptions.
Probably few people reading this have devoted their lives to reaching Muslims with the gospel, but if you live in almost any city in the world, you have a reason to read Where to Start with Islam. It will provide you with the crucial context surrounding their attitudes toward God’s people and his word. It’s not about being able to debate and argue and be combative; it’s about knowing the beautiful truth of the gospel well and then the best ways to gently help Muslims lift the veil of lies they are under so that they can gaze upon God’s mercy.