By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
September 14, 2006
With the passing of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Christians are reminded of the importance of understanding Islam.
Despite the contemporary significance, history is where it all begins, according to Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, an executive editor of Christianity Today and author of more than 20 books, including “Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?”.
George said Christianity, Islam and Judaism are historical religions, with each relying on a book — versions of the Bible for Christians and Jews and the Quran for Muslims — and they are missionary religions.
He stressed the importance of churches training members to stand firm in doctrinal beliefs in order to be effective witnesses to Muslims.
“We need to come back to the fundamental basics of the faith,” George said. “We know a little about confessions and almost nothing about catechisms, but yet the very first things ever published by the (Baptist) Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) were about catechisms. We need to go back to these historical documents and reconnect.”
George said he is a strong believer in Discipleship Training but it needs to be more organized. “We do doctrine studies but these are declining and we need to reconnect with heritage,” he said. “I would encourage pastors to teach doctrinal sermons.”
One reason George sees Discipleship Training as a needed program in churches is the growth of Muslim Student Association groups on college campuses. These groups’ primary focus is to evangelize Christian students, and he thinks doctrinal teachings from pastors and churches need to start at a young age to prepare Christians for this type of interaction.
George said Christians need to know that only 15 percent of Muslims live in the Middle East. Islam is the fastest-growing religion not just in the world but also in the United States, where an estimated 6 million, or one out of every six people, are Muslim, he said.
Christians can respond to Islam with knowledge of their faith, as well as living as Jesus Christ lived, and George said open dialogue is the best approach.
“Become a friend with a Muslim,” he said. “Stress and recognize the common humanity as Jesus did. Their children get sick and they are interested in the same things.”
George also believes Christians should work on community projects with Muslims to build relationships and be positive, constructive Christian witnesses. Most of all, he said, Christians need to pray.
“Pray God will open hearts of Muslims for missionaries serving in places where their lives are in jeopardy. Pray God will use us in this country and be uncompromised.”
George said the biggest misconception for Christians to understand about Muslims is their teachings on Jesus Christ.
He said they cannot believe that the Word was made flesh and this main difference is recognized in the phrase written in Arabic on Muslims’ third most holy site, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It states, “God has no son.” The Quran also teaches that Jesus Christ wasn’t crucified and instead someone else, possibly Judas, took His place on the cross.
“They admit there was a crucifixion on Good Friday and meant for Jesus Christ, but God lifted Him into heaven, and He didn’t have to face humiliation and shame,” George said.
He said the Dome of the Rock faces the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which stands on the site where Jesus’ crucifixion is believed to have occurred.
“One building says, ‘God has no son;’ one says, ‘He died,’” George said. “Everything that needs to be said is here.”
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