"The challenge for us Bible-believing, orthodox Christians is to be able to articulate the Christian faith lovingly, thoughtfully, most certainly truthfully and fearlessly," said Youssef, whose Leading the Way radio program is aired 3,800 times each week in 190 countries in 21 languages.
God is working powerfully in the Muslim world, said Youssef, who also is the founding pastor of the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, reporting that a Muslim leader in Yemen is among those who became a Christian through the radio outreach.
Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. described Youssef as "uniquely equipped to speak to the issues of primary concern" to the seminary's new Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam, which opened earlier this year. Youssef serves as one of the center's fellows.
Youssef also participated in a panel discussion with Mohler and J. Scott Bridger, director of the Jenkins Center, during his Sept. 2 visit to the Louisville, Ky., campus.
Christians can only understand Islam by understanding the history of Christian heresies, Youssef said in the inaugural Jenkins Lecture.
Youssef reviewed three heresies from church history, each dealing with the doctrine of the Trinity and the nature of Christ: Arianism, the belief that only God the Father is eternal, therefore Jesus is not fully God; Nestorianism, the belief that only Jesus' human nature was crucified, thus making his atonement void; and Ebionism, which denies Jesus' divinity.
The importance of understanding Christian heresies, Youssef noted, is to know how they influenced Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
Youssef set forth a brief history of Islam and Muhammad, Islam today, "particularly in the form of Islamists," as "one of the two most dangerous threats to the Christian church. The other, of course, is secular humanism."
Summarizing three important life stages of Muhammad, Youssef explained each stage as a progression toward current Islamic beliefs.
Muhammad's first life stage, Youssef said, was when his wife's cousin, who lived as a monk, discipled him to become a priest in an Ebionite church and taught him about monotheism. But when the monk died, "it left Muhammad bereft, bewildered and depressed," Youssef said.
The second stage of Muhammad's life is when he believed he was equal to Jesus and Moses. He believed he was preaching the same message as Moses and Jesus, calling people to turn to the one true god, Allah, Youssef recounted.
The third stage Youssef reviewed was the stage that influenced what people see of Islam on television today. After a Jewish tribe realized they made a mistake in accepting Muhammad as a religious leader, they rejected him. Muhammad killed all the men of the tribe and sold the women and children into slavery. Following this, Youssef said, Muhammad no longer considered himself equal to Jesus and Moses, but superior to both.
Youssef warned of a lie infiltrating the church about Islam: "If you speak the truth about Islamic ideology or about the rise of Islam, it means that you are unloving toward Muslims. This deception, from the pit of hell, is rampant in America. While in reality, the more you understand the darkness of that ideology, the more we truly love the individual Muslims, the more true we are to the very Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Christians must proclaim the Gospel to Muslims faithfully, fearlessly and in a gracious way, Youssef said, while remembering that Christ has already won the battle.
"Remember this: that whatever we do, we must never, ever compromise the fact that there is no name under heaven given to men by which they must be saved other than the name of Jesus," Youssef said,
Students will not be prepared for ministry challenges if they do not leave seminary with "a workable, apologetic, missiological, theological understanding of Islam," Mohler said in the panel discussion hosted by the Jenkins Center.
Bridger, who also holds the faculty position as Bill and Connie Jenkins assistant professor of world religions and Islamic studies, moderated the panel featuring Mohler and Youssef, covering such topics as the rise in world awareness of Islam, Islamism compared to moderate Islam and insider movements within Islam.
Highlights of the discussion include:
-- Bridger began the discussion by addressing the blindness of the modern world to Islam from the 1960s onward. Mohler contrasted the threat of communism during the Cold War to Islam today. Youssef agreed, saying that "everyone was preoccupied by the evil empire and the Cold War" but Islam has been and will be a continual challenge to the church.
Mohler noted the strengths of Islam, stating that "Islam is in virtually every way sociologically better suited for our world than Christianity. ... The New Testament tells us this world is not our home. Islam very much wants to make this world its home. It is sociologically advantaged in terms of its understanding of territory, its understanding of conquest, its understanding of how community is to be developed."
-- Bridger defined Islamism as "an ideology that views religion and state as one and strives to implement a system -- sharia -- that unites religion and state." While there are moderate voices in the Mideast, Bridger said this definition indeed can serve as a litmus test.
Mohler said it is an "absolute impossibility" within the Muslim world to separate conversations about theology and politics. "There is no analogy in the Quran to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's," he said, citing Jesus' teaching in the New Testament.
Youssef agreed, noting that in England, 80 percent of Muslims are in favor of implementing sharia law, and that the remaining 20 percent, though defined as moderates, are really "Muslims in name only."
-- Youssef spoke of the increasing openness among Muslims in the Mideast to identify with and explore both atheism and Christianity. People are realizing that the Gospel "is distinct and different." Those coming from Islam "know the darkness of Islam" and now they know the "love of Christ," he said.
Dreams are a common occurrence within the Muslim world, Youssef said, and they should be acknowledged as God's work. He cautioned, however, that dreams should never be allowed to replace a biblical presentation of the Gospel for saving faith.
-- Regarding the concept of insider movements in Islam -- the idea that one can be a follower of Christ while "remaining within their society and their socio-religious framework" -- Mohler said the human desire for acceptance is understandable, but insider movements are contrary to the New Testament. To remain inside Islam is "not just implicitly but explicitly" to deny the doctrines of the Trinity, Jesus and original sin, he said.
-- Youssef acknowledged contradictions within the Quran, yet stated that, from an apologetics standpoint, one should never bring that up since Muslims will defend the Quran "till the death." The best apologetics, he said, "is the truth of the Gospel." He emphasized the importance of personal friendship and how Muslim converts continually say, "I didn't realize that I could know God personally." Mohler highlighted the hospitality of many Muslims and encouraged Christians to be equally hospitable.
"The only thing we have in common between Christianity and Islam is basically one sentence: 'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,'" Youssef said. "From that moment on, we're going in two different directions."
RuthAnne Irvin & Hayley Schoeppler write for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Audio and video from the Michael Youssef's lecture and the Jenkins Center panel discussion are available at sbts.edu/resources.
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