Amid tensions in Middle East, Christians confronted with how to respond to Muslims

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News

 

Israel’s war against Hamas has had a profound impact on America. In the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel, the U.S. has seen a shocking rise in antisemitism and an explosion of protests against the war.

American bases in the Middle East have been targeted by Iranian proxies with nearly 200 attacks, including one last month that claimed the lives of three U.S. service members, prompting retaliatory strikes by the U.S.

Evangelical Christians and faith leaders have expressed overwhelming support for Israel, largely viewing the conflict as a spiritual battle between Judaism and Islam. But as the war stretches toward its fifth month, Christians are increasingly confronted with how to respond to Muslims.

ISLAM ON PACE TO REPLACE CHRISTIANITY AS WORLD’S DOMINANT RELIGION WITHIN DECADE

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary said in its 2024 Status of Global Christianity report that Islam is growing at a 1.68% rate while Christianity is trailing behind at a 1.08% clip.

By the middle of 2024, Christians will account for 2.6 billion of the world’s population, compared to 2.029 billion Muslims. However, the gap is closing between the world’s top two religions, primarily due to population growth and geography.

Pew Research projected in a 2017 report that, between 2030 and 2035, Muslim births will surpass Christian births for the first time in history. Christian births accounted for 33% of the world’s total births between 2010 and 2015 while total Muslim births were at 31%. The report noted, however, that Christian birth rates grew “more modestly” than Muslim rates due to attrition.

“[I]n recent years, Christians have had a disproportionately large share of the world’s deaths (37%) – in large part because of the relatively advanced age of Christian populations in some places,” the report reads.

Location is also a contributing factor to this trend, according to Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religion research. Cooperman told NPR in a 2015 interview that “The main reason Muslims are growing not only in number but in share worldwide is because of where they live.” He explained that Muslim populations “are concentrated in some of the fastest-growing parts of the world.”

While this information may be troubling to some believers, a collection of theology experts and faith leaders suggest that Christians should view it as an opportunity.

‘A HOPELESS FAITH’

Stephen Davey, the president of Shepherds Theological Seminary, recently shared his perspective on the spread of Islam.

“As Islam continues to grow across the world—and especially in America—our opportunities to befriend, love and share the gospel with Muslims are growing as well,” he wrote.

Davey explained that Islam is a “hopeless faith,” because “their god offers them no assurance of salvation or forgiveness of sin.” 

“Even Muhammad, the founding prophet of this faith, said ‘Although I am an apostle of Allah, I do not know what Allah will do to me,’” Davey wrote.

He pointed out that the word “Islam” itself means “‘surrender,’ and the Islamic faith is characterized by “total surrender to their god.” 

According to Davey, the teachings of Islam impact “every aspect” of the lives of Muslims, from what they eat and wear to their political beliefs and worldview.

Zane Pratt, Vice President of Global Training at The Gospel Coalition, explained that, according to the Quran, people are “born spiritually neutral, perfectly capable of obeying God’s requirements completely, and…remain this way even after they’ve personally sinned.” Pratt, who spent 20 years as a missionary in a Muslim-majority region in Central Asia, said that, because of this belief, Muslims think that “[t]he need of humanity…is not salvation but instruction; hence Islam has prophets, but no savior.”

Pratt said that, in his experience, most Muslims reject extremist views, including violence toward non-Muslims. He also said that Muslims “can be some of the friendliest, most hospitable people on earth” and that Christians should not be “afraid” to form relationships with them.

‘DESPERATE FOR APPROVAL FROM GOD’

A recent article published by The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA)  referenced a missionary couple from North Carolina, Brian and Kimberly, who, like Pratt, spent several years in Central Asia ministering to Muslims.

“When people think of Muslims, … a lot of times the very first thing that comes to mind is fear,” Kimberly said, adding that there are essentially two kinds of fear: “what they might do to me … and the fear of offending.” She explained that these fears often cause Christians to keep their distance from Muslims.

Kimberly, however, challenged believers to look at Muslims from a perspective that may differ from what they have been taught or seen in the news.

“When you hear about suicide bombers blowing themselves up, it’s not always because they hate all these other people. Many times, it’s because they are desperate for approval from God,” she said.

‘I DREAM THAT JESUS INVITES ME TO HIS WAY’

Kimberly’s husband, Brian, said that he initially resisted God’s call to minister to Muslims until he felt the Lord compel him to read the book of Jonah.

“When Jonah was called to preach to Ninevah, an enemy of Israel, he didn’t want to go. He’d rather his enemies be destroyed,” Brian said. “And yet, God had compassion on the Ninevites and made sure they heard His message of forgiveness and life.”

The article also included a sample of comments Muslims had posted in a comments section on the BGEA website.

In one, the writer states: “I’m from Afghanistan and I am Muslim. During the last two years I dream that Jesus invites me to His way and tells me to ‘Take my hand day by day.’ I am interested in Jesus.”

Another wrote: “I am a person from an area of radical Muslims, and I am not satisfied [with] my faith because here are enemies and they are killing people daily.  So I am searching [for] a true and loving God.”

‘MUSLIMS ARE OUR MISSION FIELD’

There is also a hunger for the Gospel in the Middle East. FISM recently reported about a Bible-smuggling network in Iran. Bibles are copied using a “secret printing press” and disseminated by couriers willing to risk their lives to share the Gospel with other Iranians.

One courier, who goes by the name of “Joe,” explained that years of oppression and persecution have left many of his people open to learning about the Gospel. “They’re rebelling, and within that rebellion, they meet Christ Jesus. They feel freedom and the love of God,” he said.

“Simco,” another courier, recalled one special delivery in which an Iranian man who received a Bible was overcome with joy. 

“When he took the Bible from me, he said that ‘this is the most important book on Earth,’” Simco said.

Kimberly stressed that Christians must understand that “Muslims need Jesus.” 

“Muslims are not our enemy,” she said. “Muslims are our mission field.”

 

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