Three Tips As You Share Christ With Your Muslim Friend

When engaging Muslims with the gospel, your message cannot be simply a defense of Christianity and an attack on Islamic beliefs. You have to get beyond Muslims’ minds into their souls. You not only have to understand what they believe but why they believe it. You have to understand what is important to them, what disappointments they find in Islam, and what questions they are still asking about God.

This will mean three things for you as you attempt to share Christ with the Muslim:

1. You can most effectively share Christ with Muslims when you are genuinely friends with them.

Life on life is as important with the Muslim as mind on mind. Because the decision to trust in Christ is a soul decision, not just a mind one, it will most likely not be arrived at in the heat of debate. We have to show, in a way Muslims can see and understand, that Jesus is better than anything else they hold on to for security, and that he is the treasure worth selling the “field” of their lives to obtain (Matthew 13:44). Like Christ, we must “incarnate” ourselves in the lives of Muslims and show them his love and joy in the context of friendship. Christ did not shout at us from heaven, leave gospel tracts on our porches, or broadcast his message in from heaven via radio. He came to live among us. He served us. He lived out the love and joy of God in front of our eyes. We “looked upon” him, and our “hands handled” him (1 John 1:1–2).

2. You must learn to listen to Muslims.

Listening is how you will discover what is going on in their hearts, what is important to them, and where God is already at work in them. God has already planted questions in their heart. Once you learn what you’re listening for, you’ll see they are asking them over and over and over.

As you listen, you will learn how to craft the gospel message in a way they can understand it. We must be people of “double listening.” We must listen to God’s unchanging message on the one hand and the hearts of our Muslim friends on the other. Only then will we be able to craft the gospel message in a way that Muslims can understand it.

This is partially what made the apostle Paul so effective. As he explains in Galatians 2:7, Peter preached a “gospel for the uncircumcised” (the Jew) and Paul preached a “gospel for the uncircumcised” (the non-Jew). This does not mean that there were two different gospels—Paul and Peter are clear that there is only one way for all people to be saved! Rather, it means that the one gospel can be expressed in different ways that will connect better with the people who are hearing it.

Listening is also how you will establish trust. As M. Scott Peck famously said in The Road Less Traveled, “To listen to someone is to love them.” Listening, and understanding, is the core of friendship.

You and I often think of our role as Christians as explaining a message. But it is listening that makes our explaining effective! Listening establishes trust, and listening helps us make our message understandable.

3. You must look to the Holy Spirit to do in the heart of your Muslim friends what you cannot do.

Only the Holy Spirit can make blind eyes see; only he can make the gospel make sense to a Muslim—or anyone, for that matter. It is not some new insight you have or new angle I give you on sharing the gospel that will magically unlock your Muslim friend’s heart. The human heart, until God opens it, is hardened against him, darkened in its understanding, and does not even know to ask the right questions about God. Without God’s initiative, the gospel seems like foolishness to everyone! It takes the illumination of God’s Spirit and his regenerative work inside our hearts before we will ever believe.

God himself has to plant the right questions within us and make us open to the answers. This is not the result of a new technique, but of a miracle that God does in us. The only thing you can do is faithfully explain the message, pray, and trust in God to awaken the heart.


This is a modified excerpt from my book, Breaking The Islam Code.

St. Patrick and the Great Commission

St. Patrick IconWhen most Americans think of St. Patrick’s Day, they probably either think of the legend of Patrick driving out all the snakes from Ireland or they think about all the drinking and partying that takes place on this day. This is likely just as true for Christians as for non-Christians. As a church historian and an American of partly Irish descent, I think this is a shame. When believers think about Patrick of Ireland (389–461), they should think about gospel advance. Early Celtic Christianity was a Great Commission movement.

The story of Patrick’s life is the stuff of legends, except most of it is almost certainly true. He was born in a Christian family in the Roman province of Britain, captured by Irish pirates as a teenager, and sold into slavery in Ireland. He worked as a pig farmer for six years, living a mostly isolated existence among the swine. Patrick was converted as he meditated on Scripture verses he had learned as a child. He became convinced God was leading him to flee his captivity, so he escaped to France and became a monk. He was eventually reunited with his parents in Britain.

If this were where Patrick’s story ended, it would be remarkable enough. However, he received a vision of an Irishman asking Patrick to return to the land of his former captivity to proclaim Christ. Patrick referred to this as his “Macedonian call,” referencing Paul’s vision in Acts 16:9. After a time of preparation in a British monastery, Patrick returned to Ireland in 432. Though already an older man according to the customs of his era, Patrick spent the next three decades making disciples on the Emerald Isle.

Fifth-century Ireland was dominated by druidism, a pagan religion that affirmed a strange combination of mysticism, a belief in magic, and an emphasis on intellectual pursuit. In countering druidism, Patrick’s approach to evangelism included many facets. First, he sought to prove God was greater than the druid deities by performing miracles that authenticated the gospel message. (Many modern Christians are nervous when they hear about miracles, but many of the most famous missionaries in the early church were also miracle-workers.) The druids responded by persecuting Patrick fiercely; he claims that he was nearly killed on twelve different occasions.

Patrick also attempted to build bridges with leading figures in Irish culture. He shared the gospel with an Irish chieftain, and though the chieftain did not convert, Patrick persuaded him to grant religious toleration for Christians. This brought an end to most of the persecution against Patrick and his converts. When Patrick entered a new region, he would attempt to convert local leaders to the faith in hopes that the prestige of their position would convince commoners to convert as well.

Every historian and missionary knows that this sort of strategy has often opened the door to nominal conversions and semi-pagan church members. This is exactly what was happening in much of continental Europe during this same period, as entire Germanic tribes were converting to Catholicism due to conquest or out of a sense of loyalty to their newly Christian leaders. But the final facet of Patrick’s evangelism strategy went a long way toward softening the threat of nominal conversions: Patrick emphasized rigorous discipleship of all converts.

Patrick’s converts were required to learn the Scriptures and were instructed in Christian doctrine and morality. They were taught to share their faith with unbelievers, often as part of teams that formed the nuclei of new church plants. They were expected to embrace a pious lifestyle or be disciplined by the church. In fact, Patrick pioneered a new practice to encourage believers to mortify their sins and pursue godliness: private confession to a priest. The medieval Roman Catholic Church later adopted this practice in the thirteenth century. Patrick’s methods proved successful; over a thirty-year period Patrick and his protégés evangelized most of Ireland, planted 200 churches and baptized 100,000 new converts.

Patrick was a monk, so it should not be surprising that he established monasteries all over Ireland. One of the disciplines practiced by the monks in Irish monasteries was to copy the writings of classical antiquity. Because the Germanic “barbarians” never conquered Ireland during this medieval era, the Irish collections of ancient Greek and Christian writings played a crucial role in the preservation of Western culture. This fascinating story is told by Thomas Cahill in his bestselling book How the Irish Saved Civilization (Doubleday, 1995).

Like their famous founder, the Irish monasteries also focused upon spreading the gospel. In fact, Irish monasteries were mission-training centers that equipped monks to evangelize, plant churches, and establish new monasteries. Numerous missionary monks were commissioned to spread the gospel to other lands, most famously Columba (521–597), who established a monastery on the island of Iona and evangelized Scotland. Because of Columba’s influence, early Scottish Christianity shared a common Great Commission DNA with Irish Christianity.

Patrick and the Celtic Christian movement he launched have much to teach modern evangelicals. Their emphasis was on making disciples rather than merely winning converts. Celtic Christians emphasized personal holiness and equipped every believer to share his or her faith. They valued the importance of Christ-centered education and ministry training. Much like contemporary missional evangelicals, Celtic priests understood their culture to be a mission field and churches (and monasteries) to be centers of missional activity. Patrick and his followers were Great Commission Christians.

As North America and the rest of the West becomes increasingly post-Christian and even anti-Christian, early Celtic Christianity serves as a key historical role model for us as we seek to proclaim Christ in our own context. On this St. Patrick’s Day, do not think first of four-leaf clovers, parades celebrating Irish-American heritage, or pinching your friends who are not wearing green. Think of a slave-turned-missionary who longed to make disciples of all people—including those who had once enslaved him.

If you want to read more about Patrick’s approach to evangelism, check out George Hunter’s Celtic Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West Again (Abingdon, 1990). Also, be sure to check out the forthcoming popular biography of Patrick by my friend Michael Haykin, titled Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact (Christian Focus, 2014).

(Image credit)

Windows on the World: Praying the Great Commission

Windows on the WorldI was a college student when I first became burdened for global missions. I certainly would have said I cared about missions before then. After all, who doesn’t want to see lost people come to faith in Christ, especially in nations with minimal Christian witness? But as a Southern Baptist teenager, missions was little more than supporting the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and hearing occasional reports from the two missionary families who had ties to our local church when they were home on furlough.

Like many folks of my generation (I’m in my mid-30s), my personal interest in missions was ignited when I read John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad as a junior in college. Piper introduced me to other authors who had written on missions. One book I became familiar with was Patrick Johnstone’s Operation World (check out the website), which became a helpful guide for me as I learned about and prayed for unreached people groups in various nations. (The latest edition of Operation World, published in 2010, is edited by Jason Mandryk.)

I’m so very grateful for the ways that God has continued to keep global missions before me in the years since I first read Piper’s book. God has graciously allowed me to serve as a professor at a seminary that is passionate about the Great Commission and to serve as one of the pastors of a church that is committed to God’s global vision for the nations. He has also blessed me with a wonderful wife and four precious children. Leah and I want very much to raise our children to be global citizens and, one day, Lord willing, global Christians. This means we are training them now to care about what God is doing among the nations.

My children (we call them the “Finnlings”) already understand that Daddy sometimes goes to other countries to tell people about Jesus. They know that many of our friends live in other countries and work as full-time missionaries and that it is important that we pray for them. They know that our church is missions-minded and that I work in the building at Southeastern Seminary with the giant globe and all the pictures of people in other countries who do not love Jesus. The Finnlings know about Lottie Moon and they understand that we give money to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering every December. They also know a little bit about Operation Christmas Child (and similar ministries) and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

In recent months, we have discovered a great tool for teaching our children about the nations in Windows on the World: When We Pray, God Works. Windows on the World, written by Daphne Spraggett and Jill Johnstone, is a more kid-friendly version of Operation World. When we have our family worship time after breakfast in the mornings, we read the Scriptures, sing some songs and pray together. Nearly every day we pray for a new people group based upon a chapter in Windows on the World. Our kids are not only praying for the lost, but they are also learning about different cultures. They are beginning to understand that there are false religions that enslave people and that many people live in abject poverty or are oppressed in various ways. They are also learning that some people hate Jesus and persecute those who love and serve him.

We are grateful for Windows on the World and are hopeful that it will help cultivate a burden for global missions in our children from a very young age. We want our children to understand that to become a follower of Jesus Christ does not end with their personal salvation, but it is also about joining God in his mission to save the lost, serve those in need and promote shalom in a fallen and fractured world. We want them to own God’s missional heart as their own and allow the Great Commission and the Great Commandment to shape every part of their lives.

If you are a parent (or wannabe parent) who has similar desires for your children, I highly recommend Windows on the World as a great resource for helping to form our children into the young men and women that God would have them to be. In fact, even for those of you who are single or those who are older and whose children have long moved on, I would recommend you pick up both Windows on the World and Operation World as you cultivate your own heart for global missions.