In new center dedication, Mohler describes urgency for a Christian understanding of Islam
Islam is the “great rival system of belief” to Christianity, according to R. Albert Mohler Jr. And with 1.6 billion adherents, Muslims make up nearly a quarter of the world’s population. In response, the leadership of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary opened and dedicated a new academic center for the study of Islam, Feb. 13.
“I am very, very excited about the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam,” said Mohler, who is president of Southern Seminary, during a chapel service immediately preceding the dedication. He said that faithfulness to the Great Commission requires ministers to study this rival religion, and “not merely to understand Islam as others might seek to understand it, but to achieve a Christian understanding of Islam.”
The dedication of the new center coincided with the seminary’s annual Great Commission Week. The four-day event included panel discussions with veteran missionaries and church planters, outreach “excursions” in the Louisville community and evangelistic training sessions.
According to Mohler, the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam, named for donors Connie and Bill Jenkins, will lead Southern Seminary — and the broader evangelical academy — in studying and engaging Islam through the lens of the Christian gospel. And while he affirmed the value and even necessity of studying Islam through secular and Islamic scholarship, the primary concern of the center is engagement, including evangelism and apologetics.
Randy Stinson, senior vice president for academic administration and provost, explained that a group of fellows who are “experts in the area of Islam” will lead the Jenkins Center through research, seminars and writing.
“Not only will they be able to help believers understand various global events from a Christian perspective, they will be producing articles, books and other resources for the church,” Stinson said. “They will also host conferences, roundtable discussions and summits with Islamic scholars from around the world.
“I am personally grateful for the generosity of the Jenkins family and believe that this center will be significantly instrumental in the effective training of future generations of gospel ministers,” he said.
The center opens with four fellows, two of whom cannot be announced for security reasons related to their work. The other two, J.D. Greear and Michael Youssef, are scholars who live and minister in the United States.
Greear, who is lead pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., studied Islamic theology during his doctoral work at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and served as a missionary among Muslims prior to pastoring in the United States. In anticipation of the center’s launch, he expressed the urgency of the center’s mission and his excitement about helping lead in the effort.
“In many ways, Islam represents the ‘great frontier’ for the Christian church,” he said. “How exciting to see God bringing together such a high caliber team of gospel-saturated, faith-filled believers at Southern Seminary to believe God together for the salvation of Muslims. I am excited about the discussions and the future together. Might our generation be the one that sees this vast network of unreached peoples turned for the gospel?”
The Egyptian-born Youssef is an author, founding rector of the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Ga., and founder and president of Leading The Way, a worldwide media ministry. Originally, the seminary planned for Youssef to present the inaugural Jenkins Center lecture in conjunction with the center’s launch. However, inclement weather prohibited his traveling to Louisville. Youssef will give the inaugural lecture at a later date.
In place of Youssef, Mohler gave an address during chapel, “Monotheism Is Not Enough.” Speaking from James 2:19, he pushed back against the idea of three “Abrahamic religions” — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — arguing that authentic Abrahamic faith leads to Jesus Christ.
“We often hear … the idea that there are three Abrahamic faiths. I can only imagine what Abraham would say to that,” Mohler said, referencing an exchange in the John 8:58, where those who claim to be the sons of Abraham fail to believe in Jesus. In response, Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
Mohler explained that while Abraham was certainly a monotheist, he “learned to look forward and trust God for his unilateral provision for salvation,” he said. “Monotheism is not enough.”
Mohler described “two great rival systems of belief,” arguing that Islam represents the “main rival” to Christianity around the world.
“In the west, that main system of belief is modern secularism — which is a complete worldview system. But almost everywhere else in the world, Islam is the main rival in terms of the belief systems that take a hold of humanity,” he said.
Mohler outlined challenges Islam presents the church, starting with demographics. He pointed out that the vast majority of unreached people live in Islamic nations or in regions where Muslims are the majority, explaining that increasingly the task of Christian missions requires engaging Islam.
Islam also presents challenges related to theology and apologetics, according to Mohler. He stressed again that Christian discussions of Muslim theology must seek to understand Islam in light of the gospel.
Finally, Mohler said that Christians face a challenge of love regarding Islam. Loving Muslims, he said, means understanding and engaging Muslims in both “honest and accurate” and “loving and respectful” ways.
“Jesus ordered us to go into all the world and to find all the world as our neighbor — a neighbor we are to love,” he said. “And if we do love, we will seek to understand what they believe and we seek to confront them with the gospel.”
Closing, Mohler emphasized the importance of Southern Seminary’s new initiatives in developing this Christian understanding of Islam, calling it a “non-negotiable” for future ministers.
The Jenkins family attended the Jenkins Center dedication chapel service and the ribbon-cutting ceremony. During a reception immediately following, members of the seminary community expressed thanks to the family. The Jenkins are members of Paoli Christian Church in Paoli, Ind., where Bill Jenkins, co-founder and manager of Mainstream Investments and Advisors in New Albany, Ind., is an elder and Connie Jenkins, a graduate of the Women’s Ministry Institute at Southern Seminary, is involved in the women’s ministry. They have four grown sons: Aaron, Stephen, Chad and Neil.
The Jenkins Center website — jenkins.sbts.edu — provides information about and resources for the engagement of Islam.