Friday, April 15, 2011

Rediscovering Isa

One of the ongoing debates in ministry circles is "Contextualization." That is, how do we present Jesus in terms of the world that people already know?

In the case of Islam, Muslims already have a view of Jesus of Nazareth. They believe that "Isa" was a great prophet of God, born of the virgin Mary, coming again in the last day. Muslims do not believe that he is the Son of God, fully God and fully man, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They deny the crucifixion and the resurrection. The Jesus of Islam is, in fact, much like the image of Jesus as "a good teacher" that we see so often even in the West. This is not a Jesus who is Savior.

How should we help Muslims to find Jesus the Savior? The question might also be restated as how do we help Muslims to move from their Quranic view of Jesus to a Biblical view?

One possibility is to discredit the Islamic view of Jesus. While this is not terribly difficult to achieve, it puts one in "attack mode" and raises a barrier between us and the person with whom we are hoping to share Jesus. Another disadvantage is that it does not establish a link to the Bible. Christianity does not enjoy good favor in the Muslim world, and destroying the Quranic concept of Jesus does not necessarily lead to interest in the Biblical one. There are many, many Muslims who practice marginal religious faith, and would have little incentive to pursue a Jesus with no connection to their culture.

Another possibility is to build upon the concept of Jesus as presented in the Quran. This is a much friendlier approach, but opens the possibility of syncretism. When a group of people mixes new religious ideas into their already existing religion, they are said to practice syncretism. One particularly devastating example of this is the Mayan Catholic religious practice in areas of Guatemala. The Mayans have continued their ancient religious practices, coated with a veneer of Catholicism. I've personally seen a Mayan altar on the steps of a Catholic Church, and the Mayan Shaman walking through the Church building doing his ritual incense burning.

If we consider the end goal to be a belief in the Biblical Jesus as Savior, then it is possible to lay out a path that avoids these pitfalls. Rather than add the Jesus of the Bible to the Jesus of the Quran, we must seek to help the Muslim rediscover Isa.

The other day I was meeting with a Muslim friend and I asked him to help me read aloud a passage about Jesus from the Quran. It was the story of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, with many elements common to the story as told in the Bible.

When we had finished, I asked "Isa was a prophet, right?"

"Yes," my friend replied, "Isa was among the greatest of prophets."

"Prophets say things don't they?" I asked. "That's why they are prophets."

"Yes," he agreed, "prophets speak a message from God."

"So," I asked, "What did Isa say?" Now, for those readers unfamiliar with the Quran, it contains many stories about Jesus but almost nothing that he said.

My friend thought for a few moments and said "I remember something about his brothers trapping him in a well."

"I think that's Joseph," I offered.

"Oh, yes, Joseph," my friend realized. "Well, I really don't know anything that Jesus said."

"But he said things, right?" I asked again.

"Oh yes," he agreed.

"So, where would you look to find out what he said?" I finally asked. My friend had no idea where to look.

So, I told him about the Injeel, the Gospel, which contained many sayings of Jesus. The next week we read through the story of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke together. He wanted to read the story. I offered to quit and come back next week about halfway through the story and he asked me to stay and finish it. When we finished he commented about what a great story it was. We will read more.

The key is to move from the Quranic Isa to the Biblical Isa. Adding them together is syncretism, and heresy. As the Jesus of the Bible is discovered, the concepts presented about him in the Quran (those that are unBiblical) must be left behind.

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