Dr. Michael Youssef, pastor of the Atlanta megachurch Church of the Apostles and president of Leading The Way, spoke at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SBTS) chapel service Tuesday morning on how Christians should understand and approach Islam. In addition to Dr. Youssef’s evangelistic outreach to Muslims, he is also a Fellow at SBTS’s Jenkins Center for Christian Understanding of Islam.
Dr. Youssef said that he desire for Christian outreach to the Muslim community went all the way back to his school days, when he clandestinely visited and studied a group called “Jihad,” which would later become al-Qaeda. “The examining community at Emory University asked ‘Why are you doing this, this is cutting edge stuff. Are you going into academia?’ I said, ‘No, I have a better job. I’m going into the Gospel of Jesus Christ!’”
The purpose of the lecture was to get across what Dr. Youssef thought were two important points, the first of was how important it was to address heresy. The history of Islam, he said, was intimately linked to the history of Christian heresies. In particular, Mohammad was influenced by the Jewish-influence Ebionite heresy, which he thought represented orthodox Christianity. After the death of his Ebionite cousin, who taught him the New and Old Testament, Mohammad was left on his own to discern the truth about God until his teachings became a new religion entirely.
More importantly, Dr. Youssef’s second point was to highlight the risk posed by radical Islam. “Islam today, particularly in the form of Islamists, is one the two most dangerous threats to the Christian church,” he said. “The second one is of course secular humanism.”
Most of surahs of the Quran came from the later stage of Mohammad’s life, when he was involved in a protracted military campaign with the polytheists on the Arabian Peninsula. Before that, Dr. Youssef claimed that he was something of an Ebionite priest-in-training, and saw himself as preaching the same message as Moses and Jesus. But it was during the military campaign, and after the betrayal and slaughter of the Jewish tribe of Qurayza, that many of the verses employed by today’s Islamic militants were crafted.
To what extent Mohammad’s teachings about violence are applicable today is a source of debate between moderate and radical Muslims. “Since all of the revelations about killing enemies supposedly came from the archangel [Gabriel]… in order to establish monotheism in Arabia, today this very debate which you see in the news is causing a huge debate among Muslim scholars,” Dr. Youssef said. Some moderate Muslims even converted to Christianity, and were forced to go into hiding.
Modernist Muslims insist that the more violent “revelations” that Mohammad had during his military campaigns were personal and limited to that time, while the extremists believe they apply in “all times, all places, until Islam becomes dominant globally.” Until the recent overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Dr. Youssef had always assumed that it was the extremists who had the upper hand by intimidating their rivals into silence. But the Egyptian revolution showed that some modernist Muslims are hitting back at their Islamist peers.
“Are we out the woods now? I don’t think so,” Dr. Youssef said. “…This is a globally well-funded movement, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, unless God intervenes.”
Nonetheless, he gave testimony of how God was doing incredible things in the Middle East. Leading the Way helped 24/7 satellite station dedicated only to preaching the Gospel and evangelizing Muslims in Europe. Dr. Youssef’s son Joseph said they should get a satellite for the Middle East, but he said it would impossible. But within months, NileSat and ArabSat, two satellites owned by the Egyptians and the Saudis, contacted him in hopes of having their message on their satellites. Today, the reach 160 million homes in the Middle East.
Dr. Youssef ended the lecture by attacking a “fallacy” that he said was bought into by many mainline churches, but has even been embraced by evangelicals in recent years: “If you speak the truth about Islamic ideology or the truth about the rise of Islam, it means you are unloving towards Muslims.” The term Islamophobia, he claimed, was actually created the Muslim Brotherhood organization in the United States to shame Christians into silence. “The more you understand the darkness of that ideology, the more we truly love the individual Muslims, and the more true we are to the very Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
He denounced those who would “Christianize” Islam to make it more lovable. Dr. Youssef in particular called out an unnamed “Lutheran bishop” (most likely ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton) for remarks she made at the recent convention of the Islamic Society of North America. “‘Just as you say Judeo-Christian,” Dr. Youssef quoted her as saying, “‘why can’t you say Chrislam?'”
But more importantly, he denounced those who would water down or ignore certain Christian teachings to make the Gospel more attractive to Muslim, in what is called the “insider movement.” Dr. Youssef said that the insider movement had support even within evangelical organizations and schools that can generally be relied upon. “The insider movement is truly one of the most dangerous movements in Christianity today,” he preached loudly, “…it is truly a heresy.
“The challenge for us Bible-believing orthodox Christians is to articulate the Christian faith lovingly, thoughtfully, truthfully, and fearlessly. Remember this, that whatever we do, we must never ever compromise the fact that there is no name under Heaven given to man by which they must be saved other than Jesus.”