"What choice do I have? I love everybody. I don't think I get to pick who I love." That's how Josh Graves, a pastor in Nashville, Tennessee, responds when people call him "the Muslim lover."
His story is fascinating. Dr. Graves is author of How Not to Kill a Muslim: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America. When I saw this evangelical pastor's story in the news, I wanted to know more. So I read his book, and now I hope you will as well. (Chapter 9 is especially practical for fostering dialogue with Muslims.)
Graves grew up in Detroit, which is home to one of the largest Arab populations outside the Middle East. He wants all Muslims to know Christ as their Lord. But he is convinced that the best way to lead them to Jesus is to know them. "It's very hard for people to care about people they don't know," he observes.
He has a point: sixty-two percent of Americans say they seldom or never had a conversation with a Muslim in the last year. So Graves and his church are sponsoring a series of small gatherings he hopes will counter Islamophobia and build relational bridges for his city and beyond.
I found his story after discovering a theological insight I've never considered before. In Romans 5:10, Paul states: "If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." According to the apostle, all who are not God's people are God's "enemies." His Greek word, echthros, describes someone who hates you and is hostile to you in every way. It is used in the New Testament for Satan himself (Matthew 13:25).
We often think of Muslims as enemies of the true God and his people. However, Paul was such an "enemy" as well. So were his readers (note the plural in his statement). So was I. So were you.
The true enemy is not Islam, but Satan. He has deceived 1.6 billion Muslims into seeking salvation apart from the only Savior. He has done the same to every Hindu, Buddhist, and Jew. He has done a similar thing to non-religious people, convincing them that there is no salvation to seek. (For more, see my website essay, "Is Facebook Our Newest Religion?")
As a result, the right way to relate to lost people is not to condemn them but to pray for them. Oswald Chambers notes, "Discernment is God's call to intercession, never to fault finding." Once we intercede, we can intervene. We can build relational bridges over which the gospel will cross. We can give others what God so graciously gave to us. If you were dying of cancer and a doctor found a cure that saved you, wouldn't you share the news with every cancer patient you know?
According to Josh Graves, "The real question is this: Why are we afraid to be the humans God made us to be? Because engaging our Muslim neighbor is not just about Muslims; it is about Christians becoming the people God desires us to be."
How would Jesus relate to Muslims? If he is our Lord, shouldn't we do the same?
Publication date: May 11, 2016
For more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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