The use of the Qur’an in evangelism is a controversial and divisive issue among Christian workers. All agree our goal is to communicate with people, not just preach at them. Many involved in Muslim outreach, including converts from Islam, advocate using the Qur’an as a bridge for leading Muslims from their Islamic mindset into an understanding of the gospel. Yet, others are equally opposed. To discern a right approach we need to explore the six methods suggested for using the Qur’an. We also need to grasp the theological, methodological, interpersonal and spiritual issues involved; and the dynamics of conversion from Islam to Christianity. This framework will guide personal convictions.
This approach treats the Qur'an as complimentary revelation from God. However, to acknowledge the Qur’an as authentic revelation is a theological compromise in Christian witness. This method underlies many church-sponsored attempts at dialogue with Muslims. It aims not at conversion, but rather finding common ground to foster mutual appreciation. It fails in ignoring the exclusiveness of God's revelation in the Bible; and of salvation through Christ alone. Moreover, since Muslims recognise this theological compromise, it only reinforces their position. Muslims unashamedly hold the Qur’an to be the final revelation to mankind that supersedes all other. Dogmatic Muslims will perceive Christians lack a firm basis for their faith, while sympathetic Muslims will come no closer to the truth.
This option attempts to discern hidden Christian meanings in the Qur’an, to persuade Muslims that the Qur'an supports Christian doctrine more than it does Islamic interpretation. Key examples include two titles applied to Jesus in the Qur’an, ‘Word of God’ and ‘Spirit from God.’ The attempt is made to inject Christian truth into these phrases, by teaching the biblical meaning of these concepts. However this methodology commits a classic error of isogesis- forcing meaning into a text outside its proper interpretive context. It annoys us when Muslims twist prophecies of Christ or the Holy Spirit into prophecies of Muhammad (Deut. 18:18, John 14-16 ‘Paraclete’) or put an Islamic interpretation on the words of Jesus in the Gospels (‘Your Lord and My Lord’). This is ‘theological mugging'. It is true these verses may represent biblical vestiges with which Muhammad had contact and incorporated into the text. But this differs from how Muslims interpret these titles for Jesus. We must acknowledge the Qur’an’s interpretative context if we want Muslims to recognise proper rules for biblical interpretation. This method also has interpersonal problems. It will result in accusations of using the Qur’an deceitfully to pull a Muslim away from Islam, and promote suspicion.
This method applies the many positive statements in the Qur'an concerning God, Jesus, the Bible, and other topics of mutual interest, to foster openness to a biblical perspective; while downplaying negative qur'anic references to Christian doctrine. Examples would be exploring qur’anic doctrines on prophethood, sin, salvation, God, Jesus, God’s word and God’s mercy. Points of agreement are affirmed and disagreement stated kindly and non-aggressively, putting the biblical view attractively. Colin Chapman calls this ‘to recognise all the common ground we can find between the two faiths, working within that area where the two overlap.’ (Cross & Crescent, p. 318). This gentle confrontation will lead a Muslim from the truth he knows into the new world of the Bible. This method is theologically and methodologically sound. It echoes Paul’s approach in Athens (Acts 17:16-31) and has potential with intellectuals, personal friends, and seekers curious about the Bible. It also communicates grace and kindness, fostering personal trust ( 2 Tim 2:23-26). Dangers arise if the distinction is not drawn explicitly between common, and exclusive, Christian ground. It may be tempting to stay in the comfortable discussion area of common ground. Muslims may assume you regard the Qur’an as true revelation. Again, one meets the accusation of using the Qur’an deceitfully to seduce Muslims away from Islam.
This approach explores inconsistencies between the Qur’an and orthodox Islam; thereby sowing doubt in Islam and opening Muslim minds to the Bible. It is epitomised by Stephen Masood, and by the ‘Call of Hope’ materials. It focusses on the Qur’an’s testimony to the prior scriptures and on the positive statements in the Qur’an about Jesus. The Qur’an itself doesn’t testify to the corruption of the Bible, but rather warns against people misrepresenting biblical texts. The greatness of Jesus' attributes described in the Qur’an are set against the Islamic view that he was just a human prophet. Jesus’ sinlessness and uniqueness, in comparison with other Qur’anic prophets (including Muhammad) are highlighted. This method is also sound. It follows Paul’s exhortation to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). Dangers exist in Muslims assuming you regard the Qur’an as revelation, or in charges of deceit, using the Qur’an to pull Muslims away from Islam. But these are countered by stating hat the Qur’an is your starting point for discussion, since its authority is accepted by Muslims.
This use of the Qur’an compares and contrasts biblical Christianity with Islam, to clarify the significant differences between them. It is a negative rather than a positive tool in witness. It clearly states Muslim beliefs to throw the Bible’s teaching into sharp relief. This method is sound and is not open to charges of deception. It establishes the essential issues of biblical authority over the Qur’an and the need to stay above reproach. Fairness and accuracy must prevail in presenting both biblical and qur’anic positions.
Some advocate not using the Qur’an at all because it is a demonic book. Since the Qur’an was authored by Satan, dealing with it opens one up to demonic influence and hinders evangelism. The theological danger of this view is that it diminishes the protective role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Moreover, this methodology unnecessarily restricts the evangelistic task to pure gospel proclamation. As well as preaching the gospel, New Testament evangelists dealt with objections to the gospel, taking every thought captive for Christ. Importantly, many converts from Islam began their journey with reading about Christ in the Qur’an before ever meeting Christians. This alone should keep us from dismissing the use of the Qur’an in evangelism. Nonetheless, some people may be prone to detrimental influence when reading the Qur'an, and for them it may be wiser to avoid. Some converts from Islam can use their prior knowledge of the Qur’an and Muslim experience as wonderful tools in communicating the gospel. For others, trips back into their Islamic past are disturbing and don’t increase their effectiveness.
Underlying these approaches are several issues. Theologically, it is crucial we do not grant the Qur’an authority as true revelation from God. In addition, it is sinful for a Christian to employ deceit, verbal trickery or manipulation in sharing the gospel. Accordingly, options 1 and 2 should have no place in our witness. Options 3-5 may all be justified from Scripture. All three, however, require an accurate study of the Qur’an and Christian and Islamic theology. They require discernment in applying and communicating that knowledge, and a patient spirit not easily provoked to anger. The last option, not using the Qur’an because it is a demonic book, is a special case. Theologically, this view is deficient for the reasons outlined above, but for some individuals, not using the Qur’an may be a wise choice. In all, we must make room for different approaches. We are given different gifts and the task is great. We must not knock one another's methods, but must humbly seek God for the way he wants to use us, in his task of sharing the gospel.
Finally, we must empathise with Muslims' difficulty in even considering a Christian view of the Qur’an. The Qur’an dominates their worldview and dismisses those who reject it as being wicked. Emotions run high and Muslim reverence for the Qur’an is rarely amenable to Western logic. Moreover, an attitude has been fostered among British Muslim men that it is good to scorn anything Christian. Machismo and bravado prevail over sound argument. Muslim men will act differently when alone, but group dynamics call for a strong front against Christians, even if it descends to provocation and insult. We must not yield to this and descend into frustrated quarrelling. Christian love and patience are paramount. Otherwise we will lose the opportunity to be heard and reinforce negative impressions of Christianity. We are evangelising to win people, not arguments and our goal is to present the truth with gentleness and grace.
Using the Qur'an in evangelism contextualises the gospel to a Muslim mindset. It is a valid approach, if used discerningly. Let us defend and proclaim the gospel, challenging Muslim misconceptions with integrity and long-suffering. This will and does prove to Muslims that the gospel is worth believing.
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