Over my nearly 20 years in pastoral ministry, I fielded many questions about other religions. Generally, I preferred to point people to Jesus rather than discuss what others believe.
Yet the growth of Islam in North America combined with rise of radical Islam in many parts of the world has all of us asking questions about Islam.
As a consultant for Rose Publishing, I have the opportunity to speak about Christianity and Islam in radio interviews all over the country. I encounter some questions so frequently that it seems nearly all Christians wrestle with them.
Here’s how I respond.
First, we should understand the rapidly changing religious landscape in America, and to acknowledge the fear and anxiety that many of us feel.
Facts & Fears
Islam is a growing religion in North America. According to Pew Research Center, Muslims currently make up approximately 1 percent of the U.S. adult population, or about 3.3 million people, the majority of whom are immigrants. That population is expected to grow to some 8.1 million people by 2050, at which point Muslims will outnumber Jews in the U.S. About 1 in 5 Muslims in America converted from another religion, or none at all.
This makes it vital to know what we’re talking about when we talk about Islam. There’s a lot of misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims, and we need to understand Islam if we’re going to be part of a conversation about it. Otherwise we’re speaking out of ignorance.
Also, let’s acknowledge that we all have certain fears about Islam. Christianity and Islam have a history of violent clashes dating back to the 7th century. Today, we see the rise of radical Islam, the persecution of Christians around the world, and acts of religious terrorism at home.
We can acknowledge our uneasiness about Islam without giving in to fear or hatred.
Our mission is to reconcile the world to God through Jesus Christ. We are ambassadors of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). Along with working to end global religious conflict and combatting terrorism at home, we want to build bridges to Muslim neighbors and coworkers so we can introduce them to Jesus.
Now let’s look at some of the most common questions I hear about Christianity and Islam.
Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
Some Christians say yes because both religions (along with Judaism) acknowledge one God, creator of the heavens and the earth. However, Christians and Muslims have such different understandings of who God is that it’s difficult to say they are speaking of the same person.
Most Muslims would probably answer this question with a resounding no because they reject the idea of the Trinity. We believe that God is Father, Son, and Spirit, and Muslims are appalled at that.
Beyond that, the two religions have radically different understandings of God’s character and how we interact with him. Muslims emphasize God’s will and our need to submit to him. Christians believe God’s basic attribute is love, and that God wants a relationship with human beings.
That’s a huge difference, but a great starting point for dialogue.
Isn’t Islam a religion of violence?
Without doubt there has been a long history of violence with aggression on both sides at varying times. There is no excuse for the violence and persecution currently being done in the name of God, and we are praying and working to end it.
However, laying blame for that history or debating whether Christians or Muslims are more in the wrong does not help us reach the Muslim people who live and work alongside us. We can both agree that much of the violence in our history has had more to do with economics and political power than with true faith. So let’s talk about what we believe.
Why should we talk to people who believe it’s okay to “lie to the Infidel”?
I’ve done a lot of ministry in homeless shelters, among transients, and some in prisons. Believe me, you get lied to every day in those contexts. I expect it. I’m never surprised when people who don’t know Christ don’t live like Christ.
I’m willing to accept that in order to be in a place where I can share the good news about Jesus. Beyond that, we want to reach out to others whether they deserve it or not—just as Jesus did for us.
Do Muslims really want to take over America?
Islam is a missionary religion, meaning that Muslims, like Christians, are under a mandate to make converts to their faith. Also, Islam has a holistic worldview, meaning that there is no line between secular and sacred. The “separation of church and state” is a foreign concept in Muslim culture.
Many Christians also disavow the separation church and state, and many Muslims fear that “decadent” Western culture is on a “crusade” to destroy their way of life.
Our challenge as bridge builders is not to wage a culture war but to show that the cross is not a symbol of Western domination but a sign of God’s grace. Through it, God reconciled the world to himself. This is truly good news and a starting point for discussion.
Isn’t it a waste of time to learn about Islam when we should be talking about Jesus?
Missiologists understand the need for contextualization, which means communicating the gospel in understandable terms appropriate to the audience. We cannot communicate the gospel effectively to anyone if we know nothing about them or the basic terms they use to talk about faith.
We do that for children, for teenagers, and for “seekers.” Certainly we can do the same for people of other faiths.
The apostle Peter said, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
I like to say that conversation, not confrontation, will help us make disciples of Christ.
Why don’t more Muslims speak out against religious violence?
There could be a number of reasons for silence among moderate Muslims. Some may agree with the jihadists goals even if they don’t condone their means. Others may fear retribution from their violent coreligionists. Others may not want to be seen as lackeys of the West or disloyal to their culture of origin.
It would be encouraging to hear more Muslims, particularly leaders, renounce violence (as some have done). However, we shouldn’t allow their silence to stop us from being ambassadors for Christ.
You Need to Learn More
I urge you to get a copy of the booklet Islam & Christianity: Reaching Out to Muslims, Answering Misunderstandings by Rose Publishing. If you don’t have Muslim neighbors or coworkers yet, you will soon. It’s vital that we know both what we believe and how to communicate it to others.
The apostle Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Let’s be bridge builders, ambassadors, and reconcilers to the many Muslim people whom God has brought to our door.