We must learn how to relate cross-culturally in ways that reflect the beauty and grace of Christ’s gospel because we encounter people from other cultures, nations and faith traditions every day.
I shared three suggestions on how to do so in the first part:
First, engage with real people face to face. Second, questions that arise from a holistic respect of human experience. Third, establish reciprocity and mutuality in the relationship.
Here are three additional suggestions:
Fourth, let’s spontaneously speak of and act out of our faith in Christ.
Many of us learned to “present the gospel” through the Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosion or “the bridge” illustration. Those things have their place, but when working across cultural and religious divides, best to forget them.
Forget them because it makes the person of another faith or worldview feel targeted.
She feels that way because she is, in fact, targeted and because she’s been warned about those Christians who will try to brainwash her.
It reduces people to a religious commodity, saying, in effect “I want you to affiliate with my religion” – hardly the life-giving message of Jesus.
It also assumes that the person in front of me is a blank slate or a shapeless lump of clay with no preconceived ideas of God and no spiritual experience to draw from.
All I need to do is provide the information and, presto-change-o, this person will believe like me.
This tragic misunderstanding of human nature and the depth of religious conviction in the formation of values will likely have disastrous ramifications.
Forget the canned presentations because following Jesus embraces every aspect of life from family interactions to work relations to leisure. We need to learn this way of speaking of our faith.
Muslims do a similar thing when they invoke God in their entries and leave-takings. They seek his blessing for travel and illness. They speak his name when recalling a deceased relative.
If our lives are God-soaked and grace-filled, we will not struggle for opportunities to express our praise and extol his grace and beauty.
Generally, I find Muslims appreciate people of faith when they speak honestly and humbly of their relationship to God and demonstrate their faith through prayer.
Muslims hold Jesus in very high esteem and will usually react positively to quotations of his teachings or relating his miraculous works. They also know of Moses, David and many other biblical prophets.
Our faith should provide a rich deposit of conversation topics provided we haven’t neglected the first three guidelines mentioned above.
For a strong evangelical statement on the necessity and complexity of Christian engagement with Muslims, see the Accra Statement created by the Lausanne Movement.
Fifth, let’s not drop out.
Most of us like quick results. Relationships can become transactions. We start a friendship because someone told us we should.
This is a big mistake. If we’re in it to get something, our friends will know and find something better to do.
I like the “journey” metaphor. I think of my own walk with Christ as a journey.
I have known many Christ-followers who once considered themselves staunch Muslims. Inevitably, their journey had many twists and turns as they soaked in the Scriptures and encountered multiple disciples of Jesus along their path.
We are only one link in a long chain of relationships that God will use in our friend’s life.
Part of this is not starting a relationship at a pace we can’t maintain. Relationships take time and develop organically, like a plant, not mechanistically.
If a once-a-month game of squash is what you can manage, do that. If your capacity is a quick conversation with the supermarket stock boy, then go for that.
The Arabs say, “Stretch your feet only as far as your covers.” Don’t take on more than you can sustain.
Sixth, and finally, let’s seize the day.
The 21st century offers us unique opportunities for following Jesus among the world’s peoples. Let’s jettison fear and put ourselves on the playing field.
If every Christ-follower in North or South America, Europe, Australia, Africa and the Middle East determined he or she would befriend one person from another faith, culture or worldview, we would literally change the world.
Now there’s a novel idea – disciples of Jesus changing the world.
Mike Kuhn is a professor at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. He has lived in Middle Eastern countries for 25 years and previously served as pastor of a church in the United States. A longer version of this article first appeared on the Institute of Middle East Studies blog and is used with permission.
Editor’s note: This is the second article in a two-part series. Part one is available here.