Monday, July 14, 2008

Using the Qur’an in Evangelism with Muslims

Can Christians use the Qur’an when sharing the gospel with Muslims? And, more importantly, should we use the Qur’an as part of our evangelistic approach?

Scripturally, the closest parallel to this kind of approach is found in Acts 17:22-31. Paul, at the Areopagus, is asked to explain the gospel that he had been preaching in Athens. As part of his explanation, he begins by commending the Athenians for being “religious,” and refers to the various idols and temples around the city. He then refers specifically to an altar dedicated “To an unknown god,” explaining that he would reveal the unknown God to them. During his presentation, Paul also refers to, and quotes from, a Greek poet.

This passage gives solid Biblical precedent for a limited use of non-Christian religious sources as a means of drawing parallels to the gospel and explaining it in light of familiar illustrations. However, many Christians are apprehensive about using the Qur’an in a similar way. Their concern is often expressed in terms of theological or philosophical problems with this kind of approach. However, it seems to me that the root source of the apprehension is uncertainty about how a Christian should approach the Qur’an and perhaps an unhealthy fear of the Qur’an itself.

To overcome this uncertainty, it may be helpful to have a concrete methodology for how to use the Qur’an in evangelism, and a criteria for evaluating whether a particular use of the Qur’an is appropriate. The following taxonomy offers a way to approach this subject. There are essentially three different ways that a Christian might use the Qur’an in evangelism. The first two can be incorporated into a biblical model of evangelism, while the third goes too far to be commended in this way.

1. Using the Qur’an to explore a Muslim’s own beliefs.

For example, as a way of responding to the accusation that the Bible has been changed, it is helpful to point out that Qur’an itself does not make this claim. In fact, the Qur’an affirms the truth of the “previous scriptures”. In explaining this point, we can look at the following verses with Muslims:

o Sura 10:64 says that God’s word doesn’t change.
o Sura 10:94 instructs Muslims to ask Christians about the Bible.
o Sura 4:136 commands Muslims and Christians to believe the Bible.

In this approach we are not commending the Qur’an or using it’s content to teach the gospel, we are simply exploring the plain meaning of it as it is interpreted by Muslims. In the example I have given, the effect is to show that although I don’t believe that the Qur’an is the Word of God, even if I did, it wouldn’t make sense to say that the Bible has been changed. It’s important to make the distinction here that we are not asking a Muslim to believe the Bible on the basis of the Qur’an’s authority, rather we are showing that the claim of Biblical corruption doesn’t make sense, even within a Muslim framework. We are simply pointing out something that the Qur’an doesn’t teach, without appealing to its authority.

There are many other examples of this kind of approach that invite a Muslim to consider with us what the Qur’an actually teaches. A willingness to explore the Qur’an honestly is a powerful demonstration of our own confidence in the gospel. If a person we hope to reach has an interest in sharing something from the Qur’an, our sincerity in reading with them can inspire the same kind of vulnerability that we want from them in considering the gospel. This is Paul’s own example.

2. Using the Qur’an to draw a parallel or to illustrate an aspect of the gospel.

For example, just as Paul affirmed the religiosity of the Athenians, we can affirm a Muslim’s commitment to Jesus. Reading the Qur’an, one can see that Muslims have a great deal of respect for Jesus. The Qur’an affirms his virgin birth, that he was the Messiah, that he performed many miracles, that he is the Word of God, and that he will participate in the Final Judgment. Reading some of these verses with a Muslim can be a helpful bridge to talking about the gospel. However, the message of Jesus in the Bible is significantly different from the message of Jesus in the Qur’an, so we need a criteria to decide between them. If we want to learn about Jesus, who lived in the first century, why would we go to the Qur’an, which wasn’t available until the 7th century?

Another example of this approach is using the Qur’anic story of Abraham. In Sura 37, the Qur’an teaches that Abraham was going to sacrifice his son, but God intervened, saving his life by providing a ram as a “ransom” (fidye) to die in his place. This is very similar to what the Bible teaches about Jesus. Our sins condemned us to an eternity in Hell, but God intervened, saving our lives by providing Jesus as a ransom to die in our place.

This approach also doesn’t assume the truth of the Qur’an. We are simply using familiar stories to explain an aspect of the gospel which is otherwise unfamiliar to Muslims. This has a strong parallel with Paul’s own use of the Athenian poets. We can explain that we don’t believe the Qur’an to be the word of God, and still use this familiar story as a point of reference to illustrate the Christian concept of redemption.

3. Using a Christian reinterpretation of the Qur’an

For example, some Christians attempt to use verses from the Qur’an to prove the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, or to show that Jesus was actually raised from the dead. In fact, some approaches to the Muslim evangelism attempt to use only verses from the Qur’an to lead a Muslim to faith in Christ.

This approach is vulnerable to the common objections to a Christian use of the Qur’an in evangelism. By appealing to the authority of the Qur’an in order to lead a person to faith in Jesus as depicted in the gospels, this approach may be deceptive. And by reinterpreting verses of the Qur’an in light of the Bible, this approach may also be offensive, since it presumes to understand the “real meaning” of the Qur’an, robbing Muslims of 1500 years of interpretive tradition.

Three Questions:

As an criteria for determining whether a particular use of the Qur’an is appropriate, three questions may be helpful.

· Will it move my audience closer to an understanding of an aspect of the gospel?
· Does it appeal to the authority of the Qur’an?
· Does it distort or reinterpret the meaning of the Qur’an?

If using the Qur’an in a given situation isn’t likely to contribute to an understanding of the gospel; for example, if we haven’t thought through how to use the passage as a bridge to the gospel, then it would be difficult to justify using the Qur’an for its own sake. Appealing to the authority of the Qur’an in order to lead someone to the gospel, and distorting the meaning of the Qur’an to prove a Christian doctrine both have insurmountable ethical and theological problems, and so, should be avoided. However, this criteria still leaves a broad spectrum of biblically appropriate uses of the Qur’an in evangelism with Muslims. It would be worth our effort to investigate this area and emulate Paul’s own evangelistic approach.

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