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Thinking Theologically About Islam

Islam is in the news. Again. Actually, I don’t think it ever left.

From jihad abroad to terrorism at home to questions surrounding refugees and immigration, there is no shortage of stories about Islam. Depending on who you listen to, you may think that most Muslims are out to kill you or that Muslims are among the most oppressed and ostracized people on the planet. Like almost every other controversial subject in our day, sizing up Islam has become a proxy for where one stands in the culture wars. Either America’s problem is that her leaders are weak, PC, and too afraid to tell the truth about Islam, or the problem is that vast swaths of flyover country are intolerant, prejudiced, and trigger-happy.

So where do we go from here?

Well, as Christians, it’s never a bad idea to go to the Bible. We won’t answer every policy question, but at least we can put a few important truths in place as we try to think Christianly about Islam.

Let’s briefly look at a pair of truths—one positive and one negative—under three different headings.

Identity

Muslims are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect. We mustn’t think of Muslims as mere foreigners or strangers, let alone as some sort of sub-human people who can be safely treated with contempt. They are fellow image bearers (Gen. 1:26-27), and we should love them as we would like to be loved (Matt. 22:39).

This does not mean that Muslims are our brothers and sisters. This familial terminology is strictly reserved in the New Testament for those who belong to the body of Christ (1 John 3:1-3, 9-10, 14-16; 5:1-5). Only with God as our Father and Jesus Christ as our reigning and redeeming older brother can we be adopted into the family of God (Heb. 2:11). Muslims may be friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even biological family members. But only those who are born again by the Spirit can rightly be called our spiritual brothers and sisters (John 1:12-13).

Faith

Muslims and Christians share important religious commonalities. Abraham is an important figure in both Christianity and in Islam. Both religions are staunchly monotheistic. Both recognize that Jesus was (at least) a miraculous prophet. Both believe in the abiding significance of inspired holy books.

This does not mean that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. The differences between Christianity and Islam are wide and deep. We disagree about the Bible, the Koran, the place of Mohammed, the person and work of Jesus Christ, what happened on the cross, what happens when you die, and how you get to heaven, to name only a few major differences. Christians worship a Triune God, one God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19-20). In the Christian understanding, God is only truly known and truly worshiped when he is known and worshiped as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:18; 14:6-7; 9-11). The Christian God is the invisible God we behold as visible in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6; Col. 1:15). On this side of the incarnation, all other conceptions of God are not merely incomplete, but idolatrous (John 8:39-59).

Welcome

Christians should look for opportunities to show love and compassion to our Muslim neighbors. I have gotten to know a number of Muslims in East Lansing over the years. They have all been friendly and easy to talk to. Some have lived here longer than I have. Others were just entering the country for work or study. I am thankful for ministries at our church—and in other churches—that seek to make Muslims and other newcomers feel welcomed, cared for, and at home (Rom. 12:9-18).

This does not mean the church has the responsibility to provide for all Muslims everywhere. Christians should do good to all people as they have opportunity, especially to the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). The church’s priority is the church, and the mission of the church is to make disciples and plant healthy churches (Acts 14:21-23; Rom. 15:19). In an effort to stir up one another to love and good deeds, we must not indict fellow Christians who have different opportunities and different callings. Being marked by Christlike compassion is not the same thing as providing social services for all needy people. To be open to helping anyone is not the same as an obligation to help everyone.

Obviously, my list of important truths is short. There is much more that could be said. But agreeing on at least these three (or six, I suppose) things would help Christians not only start off on the same foot, but perhaps help us avoid running off in the wrong direction.

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