I’ve been involved in a lengthy discussion concerning the interfaith dialogue between Dr. James White and Dr. Yasir Qadhi that took place in Memphis, TN a few weeks ago. Part of it took place in a church and the other part took part in the Memphis Islamic Center. It was designed to simply discuss both similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam, nothing more. That discussion took place, respectfully and without debate. There was no “I’m right and you’re wrong” talk.
There are a lot of folks who have taken issue with Dr. White for various reasons, and have severely criticized him (even calling him a ‘useful idiot’ for Islam, including professing Christians). Some (Christians included) have said that to just dialogue without refuting “lies about Christ” is a grave sin. A discussion is a discussion. When a discussion is about Christianity and any other religion, what we consider ‘lies’ will be spoken by people who sincerely believe them to be truth.Perhaps they reacted so strongly because they didn’t take a step back and examine the reasons for the dialogue, which was the express intention of the meetings. Perhaps they misinterpreted both men saying they shared a ‘kindred’ spirit. It in no way meant that they considered themselves ‘brothers’ in faith; ‘come together’, like Rick Warren (Crislam) or the Beatles.
A recent comment in the online discussion of which I have taken part said that the gospel presented by Dr. White was incomplete because it didn’t include a ‘call’ to repent.
What follows began as a reply to that comment but ended up too long for Facebook. I decided to listen to the discussion in the Islamic Center again (Mostly Muslim audience), taking copious notes, since that was where a specific ‘call’ was expected by some. What was presented concerning Christianity to the Muslim audience?
Well, here’s the comment that turned into a blog post.
Again, it wasn’t designed as an ‘evangelistic’ meeting. It was what it was, a conversation about what two religions are about, their differences and similarities, and that conversation took place. If a ‘call’ to repent and believe was not present, or a ‘call’ to recite the shahada, was it necessary? I imagine most of would rejoice if Dr. White had given the ‘call’ and REALLY screamed if Dr. Qadhi had done the same. In the Islamic Center, Dr. Qadhi’s introduction of Dr. White sounded very much like Dr. White’s introduction of Dr. Qadhi in the church. Dr. Qadhi was gracious, respectful, and even also talked about having a ‘kindred’ spirit, while also, saying that their respective religions would never
The format was one of Dr. Qadhi asking questions important to the Muslim community and Dr. White simply answered them.
The first question was about the Trinity, because many, if not most, Muslims don’t understand it. Dr. White talked about ‘monotheism’ – there is only one God (a shared belief). The difference is that Islam teaches that Mohammad in THE prophet and we speak of Christ as the very Son of God. Dr. White then explained the concept of the Trinity.
Second was “What does it mean that Jesus died for our sins?” Dr. White presented the concept of ‘substitutionary atonement’, beginning with the requirements of God’s law. The law is significant in both Christianity and Islam.
Next up was about a Quranic saying that “no soul will bear the sin of another”. This goes to the concept of ‘original sin’. Dr. White explained it under the umbrella of ‘federal headship’, in itself hard to understand for some Christians. He talked about the high view of the law shared by both Christians and Muslims, and that the gospel of mercy and grace ‘transcends’, but does not do away with the law. DW explained that Jesus voluntarily laid down his life as a matter decided in heaven before Jesus came to earth. After all, God demands absolute perfection, and Christ was perfectly sinless. (Substitutionary atonement again). Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law, and satisfied the justice of God. JW did talk about what Spurgeon called a ‘downgrade’ in the church over 100 years ago and exists today (a bit later on in the discussion). He did not insult/diminish Christianity; Christianity has done that to itself.
The next, and second to last question from Dr. Qadhi to Dr. White:
“Can you explain to us outsiders the primary difference between Protestants and Catholics, number 1, and number 2, particularly between your strand of Christianity, that is Reformed Baptist, and other Protestant strands?”
Dr White talked about ‘interesting parallels’, such as scripture alone v. scripture AND tradition. He spoke of the two main principals of the reformation (material, justification by faith alone, and formal, scripture alone as the rule of faith and practice for the church).
Concerning ‘Reformed’ over against other strands of Protestantism, he said the ‘real big divide’ concerns liberals and conservative Christians concerning God’s revelation to men and the authority of scripture. Dr. White said (correctly) that churches abandoning the authority and inerrancy of scripture are collapsing. Many churches have become mere social clubs. The other divide concerns God’s sovereignty in the salvation of men (monergism v. synergism). The Reformed Baptist has a strong belief in God’s complete sovereignty in salvation in saving his elect (monergism). Non-reformed Baptists will tell us God did his best and we have to help him with our free will decisions (synergism).
Dr. White explained those concepts to the Muslim audience in terms they could understand, and talked of the necessity of a profession of faith, which a requirement in Islam (the Shahada, the First Pillar).
The final question to DW:
“Why are you so interested in studying Islam, and why me (DR. Qadhi)?”
DW replied to part 2 first. Saying he thought Dr. Qadhi a very good resource for learning about the Muslim faith (a good teacher), and how he initially never considered a deep study of Islam. Then while studying for his bachelor’s degree at Grand Canyon University he was asked if he would take part in a debate with Shabir Ali, a Muslim. Dr. White started listening to other debates with Shabir Ali. When he heard many of the issues in debate God birthed in him a love for the Muslim people. He felt that if he learned about Islam and accurately represented their religion, the doors would remain open to being to present Christianity to them, IN their mosques. You can strongly and honestly disagree with them to their faces, and not get the door slammed in your face, if they know you care for and respect them.
That was the dialogue. On to the Q & A session (after a short book discussion and exchange). These were presented in their order of importance to the Muslim audience. I am including only the questions themselves, not Dr. White’s responses. I thought they were very reasonable questions and Dr. White did a good job of addressing each one.
“How does a Christian like you (Dr. white) deal with the question of homosexuality (it’s forbidden) with the LGBT community?”
“Everything we have learned about Jesus talks about his compassion, his belief in helping those who are less fortunate, yet most of our co-workers, who are good church going Christians, identify as ‘right wing’ and seem to oppose the teachings of Jesus. How do we Muslims reconcile this?”
“Why do so many non-Muslims seem to have issues when Muslim women wear the hijab (head covering) when every single picture of Mary shows her wearing similar clothing?
“Since God is absolutely just, how do Christians understand or that God allowed thousands of to pass without those people knowing explicitly about the Trinity and or the essential concepts about the Trinity?”
“With the announcement of the wall being signed as an executive order by Trump today and the banning of immigrants and refugees, how do you and your congregation view all f this and will you work toward eliminating the marginalization of minority communities, one of which is our (Muslim) community
‘”It seems that the Bible is an ever evolving and changing text. How do Christians ensure that authenticity of the text is there, the equivalent of ‘isnod(?)’ or chain of narrators, in the Christian tradition?”
The discussion ended with a short talk about bowties and Dr. White trying to tie on Dr. Qadhi.
That’s about it. Two men had a respectful and polite dialogue about their respective religions. A Muslim audience got to hear about Christianity and also heard a clear presentation of the gospel. A Christian audience got hear about Islam. Why are some Christians going all bonkers over it?
The only thing I want to add are a question and a statement of personal belief.
Have you ever had an instance of personal evangelism over time that began with a simple discussion about Christianity after getting to know someone over time and eventually did lead to a specific ‘call’ to repentance? I am not defending or judging, just asking another (bothersome to some) question. If we share the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, will He not guide us along the way and let us know when it might be time to ask for a response?
Concerning the need for a specific call for repentance for the gospel itself to be complete, I disagree (but won’t argue about it) It’s what I believe. Salvation happens when God opens a heart to hear the gospel (see Act 16) and the gospel is presented to that God opened heart. The gospel can be presented from a pulpit, in a Bible study, or in a discussion between two atheists talking about religion in earshot of an ‘open heart’. It can be read from the Bible, in a Christian tract, or written on a napkin at McDonalds. There might be a specific call to respond in repentance of sin, but we all know about our sin already and the need to repent can be planted in that open heart by God himself. That is the sovereign God I serve.
And that’s all I really want to say about all of this. Be blessed!