Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Should Christians Convert Muslims?

In the Time Article of June 2003, Should Christians Convert Muslims, journalist David Van Biema raises questions about foreign Christian American missionaries attempting to convert Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan during a time of war. After the terrorist attacks on September 11th in 2001, the Bush administration responded by sending troops to Afghanistan and later Iraq. Following this, Christian American missionaries saw the potential for a way to share the gospel without increased government interference. Van Biema illustrates that the perception of the average Muslim experiencing war and receiving evangelism from Americans might be an attempt at colonialism and triumphalism. Additionally, Western culture brings with it libertinism and immorality, so it is difficult to see why would a Muslim would want to convert to Christianity when all he or she sees in America is immorality and public sin. For the Muslim, the state and mosque work together. There is no separation like there is with church and state in America. Therefore, it is understandable that Muslims would be resistant to Christians with a message of repentance. Since there are sensitive issues facing Muslim countries, Christian would do well to study the issues so that they can be as sharp as snakes but innocent as doves. Van Biema raises the questions concerning this situation and gives the impression that he has some disdain for conservative Evangelical missionaries. But he is not a Christian. Van Biema has made this clear in a past article in Time Magazine where he stated that Gnosticism and orthodoxy are two Christian options (December, 2003). For the Christian, the question is not “whether or not” we should do mission. It is a matter of “how.”

What is not mentioned in the article is that perhaps now is the perfect time to go about sharing the gospel in these two Muslim countries. Christian missionaries have faced immense persecution and still do today in Muslim countries. They have had to go about sharing their faith undercover for fear of death. Now that there is less governmental interference in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is an opportunity for Christians to share the gospel.

In sharing the gospel, though, there are some red flags for Muslims that Christians need to be aware of. Considering that George Bush is a professing Christian and made the mistake of prematurely calling the war in Iraq a holy war in September of 2001, one would expect Muslims in Iraq to have resistance to American missionaries. The questions a Muslim might have are: Do you think your American Christian culture is superior to mine? Why do you want me to convert to your Western Christian culture when it is filled with pornography, co-habitation prior to marriage, feminism, and lack of respect for parents? When Christian missionaries do have the opportunity to share their faith, it is imperative that they make some disclaimers. They must make it clear that Americans need the same gospel of Jesus Christ as Muslims. The American culture is actually hostile to the gospel, and Christian leaders in America are no longer respected nor have a voice in the political realm. The sins of American culture must be disassociated with message of the gospel. The missionaries’ goal is not to create Western culture, but to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a different culture. The Christian missionary must be careful not bring up political issues since they will be hindrances to the gospel. Martin Luther’s understanding of the two kingdoms are quite useful here to the Christian missionary. The kingdom of the left is the political realm. The kingdom of the right is the realm of the church. Sometimes, American Evangelicals have combined the two and have sought to make America the Christian nation that it supposedly once was. Evangelicals must realize that the New Covenant is not a theocracy. They must rid themselves of this notion if they want to be effective missionaries in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Van Biema’s article fails to raise another question. How much different would missions in Muslim lands be if there were never a 9/11 or a war in Iraq? As one who is Lebanese and aware of Middle Eastern culture, I agree that there is more tension in Iraq as a result of the war and the competition between the West and Islam. However, there would still be the same resistance towards American missionaries if 9/11 or if the war in Iraq never happened. Christianity would still be associated with American culture, and libertinism would still be associated with Christianity. There would still be tensions between Islam and the West, and the Crusades of the 11th century cannot be overturned. I concede that tensions have increased now, but many of the same questions would face American missionaries. I also contend that now is an opportune time to take advantages of the paths God has allowed to be present to proclaim the gospel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is true that many Americans do not want to be associated with conservative Evangelicals. However, this should not cause Evangelicals or other conservative Christians to not preach the gospel. Missionaries must rise to the challenge of preaching the gospel in America and in foreign countries no matter who is in opposition to them. And they must combine faithfulness and bold witness even unto death. As described in the article, martyrdom is a painful thing for mission teams and for families, but it is necessary. Martyrdom is not always a bad thing. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). All of the Apostles except John and many of the early Christians from Ignatius to Cyprian were martyred. The church father Tertullian stated that, “The blood of Christians is the seed of the church” (Apologeticum, 1). The more they are persecuted the more they grow.

Van Biema states that liberal Christian organizations, Charles Kimball, and Robert Seiple are all discontented with aggressive Evangelical tactics. Conservative Evangelicals are not as shrewd as snakes if they operate with a colonialist mentality. However, Charless Kimball does not share the same worldview as conservative Evangelicals or conservative Lutherans. He denies the Trinity and states that it is confined to the book of John. Kimball also states that God has revealed salvation outside of faith in Jesus Christ, and if understood properly, Mohammed can be considered a prophet of God. Seiple comes to the issue with another slant, desiring democracy and freedom of religion to be installed in Iraq. For Seiple, such preaching of the gospel by American missionaries may hinder the installation of democracy. Christian missionaries must be careful not to give into voices that have another agenda not shaped by the revelation found in the Holy Scriptures. At the same time, they should be sensitive to tensions, so that they can be effective witnesses.

In conclusion, the mission of God should continue in Muslim countries even now providing that missionaries give a clear witness to the gospel and to the distinction between the two kingdoms. Such bold witnessing should continue even in the face of national tension. Peter and John boldly proclaimed to the priests of Jerusalem, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The resurrection of the dead was offensive to the Sadducees, and the incarnation was offensive to Jews, but the Apostles preached the gospel even in the midst of tension. This bold witnessing flies in the face of those missionaries who are creating Jesus Mosques while claiming that confessing Mohammed as prophet is contextualizing the mission. To be sure, Christian missionaries must provide humanitarian aid to the people. But this must be combined with bold witnessing of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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