Southern Seminary panel discusses the ‘darkness of Islam’ and its ‘challenge to the church’
Students will not be prepared for ministry challenges if they do not leave seminary with “a workable, apologetic, missiological, theological understanding of Islam,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a panel discussion hosted by the school’s Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam, Sept. 2.
J. Scott Bridger, director of the Jenkins Center, moderated the panel featuring Mohler and Michael A. Youssef, Jenkins Center fellow and founder of Leading the Way, a worldwide evangelical radio broadcast ministry. Youssef is also the founding pastor of the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Georgia.
“The only thing we have in common between Christianity and Islam is basically one sentence: ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,’” Youssef told students and faculty. “From that moment on, we’re going in two different directions.”
Following the inaugural Jenkins Lecture delivered by Youssef, the panel covered the rise in modern awareness of Islam, Islamism compared to moderate Islam, insider movements within Islam, and apologetics against Islam.
Bridger, Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of World Religions and Islamic Studies, began the discussion by addressing the blindness of the modern world to Islam from the 1960s onward. Mohler contrasted the threat of communism during the Cold War to Islam today. Youssef agreed, saying “everyone was preoccupied by the evil empire and the Cold War” but Islam has been and will be a continual challenge to the church.
Mohler noted the advantages of Islam, stating that “Islam is in virtually every way sociologically better suited for our world than Christianity. ... The New Testament tells us this world is not our home. Islam very much wants to make this world its home. It is sociologically advantaged in terms of its understanding of territory, its understanding of conquest, its understanding of how community is to be developed.”
Mohler and Youssef examined the motivation behind Islam and traced the progression of Islam in the Middle East over recent years. Youssef spoke about the “genuine desire” among many during the Arab Spring for “types of freedoms” that are understood by the western world.
Bridger defined Islamism as “an ideology that views religion and state as one and strives to implement a system — sharia — that unites religion and state.” He noted that while there are moderate voices in the Middle East, this definition can serve as a litmus test.
Mohler observed the “absolute impossibility” within the Muslim world to separate conversations about theology and politics. “There is no analogy in the Quran to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” he said, citing Jesus’ teaching.
Youssef agreed, noting that in England, 80 percent of Muslims are in favor of implementing sharia law, and that the remaining 20 percent, though defined as moderates, are really “Muslims in name only.”
Youssef spoke about the increasing openness among Middle Eastern Muslims to identify with and explore both atheism and Christianity. People are realizing that the gospel “is distinct and different.” Those coming from Islam “know the darkness of Islam” and now they know the “love of Christ,” he said.
Bridger asked the panelists about the problems inherent with the concept of insider movements, the idea that one can be a follower of Christ while “remaining within their society and their socio-religious framework.” Mohler bluntly said, “Everything.” While the human desire for acceptance is understandable, the insider movement is contrary to the New Testament. To remain inside Islam is, “not just implicitly but explicitly,” to deny the doctrines of the Trinity, Jesus and original sin, he said.
The panel briefly discussed issues that arise within translation, in particular, the way God is translated “Allah.” Youssef acknowledged translational difficulty, yet stated that in his ministry, he does use this common translation.
All three contributors spoke about apologetics within Islam. Youssef said that dreams are a common occurrence within the Muslim world and should be acknowledged as God’s work. However, the occurrence of dreams should never be allowed to replace a biblical presentation of the gospel for saving faith.
Youssef also acknowledged contradictions within the Quran, yet stated that, apologetically, one should never bring that up since Muslims will defend the Quran “till the death.” He concluded that “the only apologetics is the truth of the gospel.”
Youssef emphasized the importance of personal friendship and pointed to how Muslim converts continually say, “I didn’t realize that I could know God personally.” Mohler highlighted the hospitality of many Muslims and encouraged Christians to be equally hospitable.
Following a brief question and answer time, Youssef, in closing, emphasized that “you cannot do the gospel in isolation” and encouraged the audience to have a heart for missions and “count the cost.”