Missionaries to Muslims often report resistance to the gospel message – not because Muslims reject Jesus as a great prophet, but because the Qur’an denies the doctrines of original sin and the atonement.
The idea of natural-born sinners runs counter to the Islamic belief that man is basically good but ignorant of Allah’s will. This may be overcome by repeating the shahada – “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” – and by embracing the five pillars of Islam.
In addition, Muslims deny Jesus’ substitutionary death because they cannot believe Allah would allow his second greatest prophet to suffer shame on a Roman cross.
In other words, many Muslims reject the gospel because it does not align with their cultural perspective that stresses shame and honor rather than guilt and innocence.
So, how can Christians, who embrace the doctrines of original sin and the substitutionary death of Jesus, present the gospel cross-culturally? Is it even possible?
The Qur’an is Islam’s most holy book. While Muslims believe Allah has revealed many written works, including the Old and New Testaments, these revelations ended with the Qur’an, which supersedes all others.
For all practical purposes, Muslims accept only the Qur’an as the Word of God. They believe Jews and Christians have corrupted Allah’s earlier revelations in the Bible, although they honor the writings of Moses, who was given the Tawrat (Torah); David, the Zabur (his Psalms); and Jesus, the Injil (Gospel).
Where the Qur’an and the Bible disagree with one another, Muslims embrace the Qur’an as true and reject the Bible as tainted.
But what happens when the Qur’an contradicts the Qur’an, as it sometimes does?
A brief look at history and the doctrine of “abrogation” sheds light on the Muslim view of divine revelation.
Rev. 14:6 – Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, having the eternal gospel to announce to the inhabitants of the earth — to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He spoke with a loud voice: “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (HCSB)
In Revelation 14, John sees three angels and records their unique messages. The first angel flies high overhead and proclaims the “eternal gospel” to the earth’s inhabitants. The second angel announces the fall of Babylon the Great. The third angel warns that those who worship and beast and receive his mark on their foreheads or hands will be severely punished. Finally, John hears a voice from heaven promising comfort to those who “die in the Lord from now on.”
This passage raises many challenging questions:
- What is the “eternal gospel?”
- Who or what is “Babylon the Great?”
- What does it mean to “drink the wine of God’s wrath?”
- Do verses 10-11 speak of temporal punishment on earth, or of everlasting torment in hell?
- What does the third angel mean when he says, “This demands the perseverance of the saints?”
- And who are the “dead who die in the Lord from now on?”
Let’s take a closer look.
So, how do Christian missionaries teach Muslims about Jesus when Islam denies His deity and death on the cross? And how do new converts from Islam to Christianity worship Jesus without inviting severe persecution?
One answer is Chrislam, the bringing together of Christianity and Islam. Proponents of Chrislam say that because the Qur’an mentions Jesus and affirms certain biblical teachings about Him, Christianity and Islam share at least some common ground.
They further argue that if Christians avoid the offensive term “Son of God” when referring to Jesus, and emphasize His role as prophet rather than divine Savior, Muslims are more open to the gospel. Once they come to faith in Christ, Muslims may continue to worship at a mosque, pray Muslim prayers, and even partake in a pilgrimage to Mecca.
This column appeared July 17 in The Pathway of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
The story is told of a Christian missionary who traveled deep into the heart of a distant land where the gospel message had never penetrated. The missionary labored for years learning the language and adapting to the culture.
At long last, he was able to clearly communicate the story of Jesus. Many of the once animistic people eagerly became Christians.
But not their chief. He listened intently and weighed the missionary’s every word. Finally, he asked, “Would I go to this place called hell if I never heard about Jesus?”
“Well, no,” the missionary replied.
“Then why,” said the chief, “did you come?”
The story illustrates an issue that has perplexed us for centuries. If faith comes by hearing, as the apostle Paul makes clear (Rom. 10:17), then what about those who have never heard of Jesus?
Are they going to hell? Getting a second chance in the afterlife? Will everyone be saved in the end, anyway? Or is this an unanswerable question – perhaps even a foolish one akin to asking whether God could create a stone too heavy for Him to lift?
No doubt, some people ask the question in an effort to justify their unbelief. And for them, the simple response is: “Well, you’ve heard of Jesus. What will you do with Him?”
Still, the question is a haunting one. And the Scriptures seem to lack a single, clear proof text that satisfies those who like their answers in sound bites or 140-character tweets. Take heart, though. There are a number of biblical truths to ponder as we share our faith with others and trust the Holy Spirit to draw them to Christ.
Consider these 10 simple truths:
- Jesus Christ is the only Savior. Jesus declares this when He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Peter affirms it in Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.”
- God loves all people and desires their salvation (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
- God is just and will judge all people justly (Job. 34:10-12; Ps. 9:8; 98:9; Jer. 11:20; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:5-11).
- All people are aware of God’s existence (Rom. 1:18-23). They have failed to act responsibly on what God already has revealed to them, whether through the light of creation (Romans 1), the light of conscience (Romans 2), or the light of Christ (Romans 3).
- All people are sinners and know it. God has written His law in their hearts and all people are aware that they have violated the law of God (Rom. 2:1-16). No one will be able to stand before God in judgment and claim that he or she never willfully did wrong.
- Men and women are not sentenced to hell based upon whether they heard of Jesus Christ. Rather, they are justly and fittingly condemned based upon the fact that they are sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23).
- It appears that if people respond to the light they do have, God will send them the brighter light of the gospel. Consider the Ethiopian eunuch, for example, in Acts 8:26ff, and Cornelius in Acts 10:25ff.
- Evidently, God will judge people based on their response to the light He has given them as expressed in their deeds (Rom. 2:6-11), words (Matt. 12:36-37) and thoughts (Heb. 4:12). This does not mean good works save people, or that salvation is found in other religions; rather it means that people’s response to God in faith, or lack thereof, is evident in their thoughts, words and actions.
- It appears there will be stricter judgment for those who have rejected the gospel than for those who have never heard (John 3:36; 12:48). Jesus also told the Jewish leaders – who had greater degrees of knowledge of the Scriptures – they would receive “greater damnation,” and He pronounced many “woes” on them (Matthew 23).
- Christian evangelism is essential for at least three reasons: 1) God commands us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20); 2) the preaching of the gospel is the means by which people hear and are saved (Rom. 10:13-17); and 3) all people may share in the blessings of eternal life, not only beyond the grave, but now (John 10:10).