Faith in Jesus or fear of Islam?

Published 12:24 pm Saturday, December 19, 2015

Some weeks when I sit down to work on this column, I know exactly what I am going to write and it is simply a matter of getting the words onto the page. Other weeks, I take time to read through the headlines from the week’s news to see what concerns are foremost in our minds. This week fell into the second category, and as I read several stories bubbled to the top with a common theme: fear of Islam.

The first story came from the evangelical Christian college Wheaton. Wheaton has suspended a Political Science professor for declaring that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. She was not denying that Jesus is God or claiming that we understand God in the same way, but instead was making a basic profession that many monotheistic faiths (religions that believe there is only one God) have made over the years: since there is only one God, anyone who is worshipping God is worshipping that one God — even if they have some major errors in who they think that God is!

The next article which caught my attention was a little closer to home. That article told the story of Augusta County schools closing down this week due to the uproar over a calligraphy lesson which invited students to copy the Muslim profession of faith, the shahada, in Arabic. Concerns seemed to be based on the idea that this exercise was an attempt to convert students to Islam.

Either of these stories by themselves is notable, but seeing them alongside one another spoke to me about the deep (and deepening!) fear that we have of Muslims and Islam in this country.

People of faith have a long tradition, going through Paul who told the pagan Greeks he was going to explain more fully the “unknown God” they worship (and then talked about Jesus! See Acts 17), all the way back to Abraham who recognized that the God worshiped by Melchizedek was the same God he followed even though they used different names (Genesis 14) that there are fragments of truth in how every religion follows God, but the fullness of truth comes in Jesus.

For most of our history, the church has declared that there is only one God (who became human in Jesus Christ), so if you don’t recognize Jesus as God you are missing a pretty large part of who God is, but you can’t worship any other God because there is no other God! We have always been confident in our God — the only God — to be able to receive or reject whatever worship God saw fit.

Likewise, we have a history of trusting the truth of the Gospel to be able to stand up for itself. The concern that our children might (accidentally?) convert to Islam by copying symbols that are meaningless to them underscores a fear that our faith isn’t really that strong after all. While I would not be thrilled with my children copying a Muslim profession of faith, I would not be afraid they were going to convert. I trust the truth of the Gospel and the power of the Spirit of God at work in them. My children (and yours) are growing up in a world where they will be exposed to Islam and every other faith under the sun. I am confident that the power of God incarnate in Jesus Christ will allow them to learn about those faiths, respect them and possibly even learn from them while relying on the truth of the Gospel to point them to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

If the Christian Gospel is true, why are we so afraid?

I love the story of the Magi at Christmas because it reminds me of the power of God to reach out to those who are outside of the traditional circles of faith. The Magi were astrologers who looked to the sky to understand how God was at work on earth. They were almost certainly not Jewish since astrology was forbidden in the Old Testament, and yet God made a way for them to come to Jesus and showed them, in a way they could understand, that Jesus is the King. I doubt they ever had a proper understanding of God, yet there is no doubt that they truly worshipped. I am challenged by God’s willingness to send them back home without stopping at the temple to at least pick up a copy of the Old Testament (which they didn’t know because they had to ask about Old Testament prophecy). How could God be OK with these worshippers?

At the end of the day, I don’t know. I don’t know exactly whose worship God receives. Does God prefer the prayers of a humble Muslim or a self-centered Christian? Is God’s primary concern that we use the name Jesus in our worship or that we worship through lives that look like Jesus’? I am going to seek out humble, Jesus-centered worship and a Jesus-centered life because I know that “all of the above” is the best answer, but I am not afraid to say there is some truth in Islam because I know Jesus Christ — the one who came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) is the one I serve!

If you are a Christian, I hope you are confident in your faith — confident enough that you don’t fear Islam. I hope that, as you celebrate Christmas this year, you will remember the Magi who were outsiders who were seeking truth and God showed them Jesus.

I hope you believe in our God enough to trust that God can point anyone who is truly seeking to find the one true God!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or