Christianity and Islam together comprise the world’s two largest faiths, each monotheistic and centered upon the importance of proselytization – and in many parts of the world, they are on a collision course.
“The prospects for religious war in the next decade are extremely high unless groups like Boko Haram and ISIS are uprooted,” warned Baylor University History Professor Philip Jenkins.
Jenkins, an Episcopalian, was one of seven speakers presenting at the annual Mere Anglicanism Conference January 28-30 at the Charleston Music Hall in Charleston, South Carolina. Mere Anglicanism is the kind of rare event that attracts a cross-section of participants from both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America, as well as overseas Anglicans and the local Diocese of South Carolina.
This year’s conference, themed “The Cross and the Crescent: The Gospel and the Challenge of Islam” featured academics, bishops and evangelists examining the Christian response to the fast-growing global faith.
Presenters spoke in hour-long segments, concluding with a panel discussion on the final day. The nearby Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul hosted two worship services with sermons by Anglican Frontier Missions Executive Director and former missionary to Turkey Rev. Christopher Royer.
Dr. William Lane Craig of Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California, opened the conference speaking about the concept of God in Islam and Christianity. Noting that the question “do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” had recently been in the news, Craig instead sought to examine what each faith understood about who God is. The God of Islam, Craig determined, was deficient in the Christian view because he lacked the ability to love those who did not love him in return. Effectively, a God who loves sinners and a God incapable of loving sinners – indeed, even declared their enemy in verses of the Qur’an – were at their core sharply different.
Speakers encouraged participants to be relational in their interactions with Muslims, seeing them not as adversaries in an argument, but as people who might consider Christ by witnessing genuine love in the church.
“We have our own opportunities but we stay in our own clubs,” observed Lebanese-born pastor Fouad Masri about how few Muslims in the U.S. are invited into Christian homes. “Our job is to share — God makes people Christians, not us.”
The Crescent Project founder emphasized four points for Christians when interacting with Muslims. First, to be unconditionally loving, showing compassion, respect, and that Christians came to Christ because we saw this love. Secondly, Masri recommended friendliness rather than argument.
“You can win an argument but lose the person,” Masri noted, suggesting that Christians not criticize Muslim beliefs, Mohammed or the Qur’an in these conversations. Thirdly, Masri advocated “bridging” – that sharing the Gospel is not reserved for “the experts” but that Christians can share their faith effectively using Biblical bridges. Lastly, Masri reminded Christians to be biblical: “Life without words is a mystery; words without life is hypocrisy.”
Dr. Ken Boa, President of Atlanta-based Reflections Ministries, offered an overview of Islam, emphasizing the concept of abrogation, in which early, peaceful teachings are superseded by later, more militant teachings.
Boa outlined three broad groups of Muslims: those who are nominal with minimal knowledge or interest in religious faith, moderate Muslims who have greater religious knowledge but live more-or-less modern lives, and committed Muslims, with a significant knowledge of and participation in Muslim religious life.
Speaking on Christian witness in the Islamic world, Egyptian Archbishop Mouneer Anis shared the experience of his own church living alongside Muslims.
“Christian presence and engagement with Muslims is an important instrument,” Anis reported, lamenting migration of Christians from the Middle East, whose populations provide the only opportunity in many cases for Muslims to hear of and interact with the Gospel.
“Authentic and genuine love is the most powerful message that can build bridges and pave the way for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of people around us,” Anis declared. “Is your love conditional or genuine?”
Anis, a medical doctor, shared a series of testimonies from Muslim-background believers. One was from a school girl who befriended a Christian classmate and was curious about her faith. Soon after, she dreamed of wearing a stained dress: Jesus, with blood from his pierced hands, washed the stain clean. The image was powerful in the context of a culture in which shame and honor figure prominently – and led to her choosing to follow Christ.
Citing the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians Chapter 3:6, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow,” Anis described Christian relationships with Muslims as links in a chain.
“We witness and he transforms lives, but all in His own time,” Anis shared, also adding that “there is a cost to pay when we love and engage” – for both the Christian and the Muslim.
“It is also important to understand that involving the local church, the community of believers, is crucial for the life of seekers and new believers,” Anis disclosed. Muslim-background believers could lose everything, including family, so the Christian Church needs to be able to step in to be their new family.
Pakistani-born Church of England Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali shared his belief that Christians, while not required to convert anyone, should “bring Muslims to a decision point” and that the “possibility of assurance” was appealing to those from a Muslim background.
The retired Bishop of Rochester noted that the earliest Muslims provided a high degree of autonomy for ethnic and religious communities that they lived alongside. The rise of Islamism in the 1950s and the concept of a restored Caliphate in Sunni Muslim belief had increased persecution, displacing an earlier pan-Arab nationalism that was largely socialist and secular.
In a history-rich presentation, Jenkins noted that the Crusades, contrary to common belief, were largely successful in most of the areas they were fought: Spain, Portugal and Eastern Europe, with Palestine the lone exception. The Crusades, Jenkins explained, should be viewed in the context of a series of regional wars – not always understood at the time as religious conflicts. Texts from Islamic cultures at the time usually referred to “war with the Franks” (a catch-all for Western Europeans) rather than war with Christians, who were already indigenous to the Middle East and living alongside Muslims and Jews in large numbers.
Dr. Nabeel Qureshi shared about his experience as an observant U.S.-born Muslim who came to know Christ. Author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Qureshi’s testimony drew upon his own his own friendships with Christians and his desire for righteousness and truth. The speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries recalled his own years-long investigation into the truth claims of Christianity and Islam, eventually determining that the Bible was trustworthy. A key point for Qureshi came when he realized God’s love for him, ultimately changing the way that he saw the world around him.
“Pray that God wins Muslims,” Masri exhorted the conference participants.