Christianity and Islam: Encounters of Change, Conversion, Contextualization
Christianity and Islam are missionary religions. Both the Bible and the Qur’an present mandates to their followers to be missionaries for their religions. History has demonstrated that Muslims have become Christians and that Christians have become Muslims. Christianity is tolerant of Christians joining Islam, if not pleased that a Christian would become a Muslim. Islam is not accepting nor tolerant of Muslims becoming Christians. As Christians and Muslims live beside each other, work together, send their children to the same schools, and engage in more social discourse, they will need to dialogue about change and conversion.
Each religion needs to consider what contextualization will mean for its religious expressions across cultural boundaries. Muslims who choose Christianity may desire to bring certain cultural attributes with them. They may want to continue their dietary customs, their postures in prayer, their month of fasting, and a certain vocabulary. Christians who convert to Islam may call their Friday class at the mosque “Sunday School” or move some of their Friday gatherings at the mosque to Sunday. Their ideas and feelings about Jesus may carry over into their Islamic understandings.
At first the commonalities between the two seem great: both are historical, monotheistic and ethical religions with similar religious stories of creation, prophets, angels, sacred books and a worldview of a heaven, a hell, and a judgment. Their religious lifestyles are similar, especially in the areas of the call for dedication and commitment to follow the divine will of God, a prayer life, a life of giving, and a missionary vision.
Upon closer examination, however, their dissimilarities soon surface. Islam criticizes and condemns Christianity’s teaching about the divinity and crucifixion of Jesus as blasphemy. Thus, Islam denies the very foundation on which the Christian faith stands. It also considers the Christian teaching of the Trinity as the worst of errors about the nature and character of God.
On the other hand, Christianity for the most part has considered Islam as a Christian heresy. It does not consider Muhammad a prophet and often castigates the Qur’an’s teachings on polygamy, the role of women, rules and regulations about inheritance, and punishments for crimes, and on its theocratic world vision.
As geography shrinks, as transportation and communication draw people closer together to speak and listen to one another, and as peoples of diversity increasingly mingle in the vocational, educational, and recreational areas of life, encounters between Muslims and Christians will continue. What the relationships will be and how they will be expressed will be the grist of future generations.
George W. Braswell, Jr. (D.D., D.Min., Ph.D.) and his wife, Joan, served in Iran as the first appointed missionaries of the SBC from 1967-74. He had an appointment to teach world religions on the Faculty of Islamic Theology of the University of Teheran, a graduate school of 600 students studying for master and doctoral degrees. Braswell was the only Christian on a faculty of 35 mullahs and aspiring ayatollahs. He retired from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as Distinguished Professor of Missions and World Religions in 2004 after serving from 1974-2004. Presently he is Senior Professor of World Religions and Founding Director of the World Religions and Global Cultures Center of Campbell University Divinity School. He has taken several thousand students and church members into world religion communities for conversations with their leadership. He holds degrees from Wake Forest University, Yale University Divinity School, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Braswells have four children and three grandchildren.
For additional helpful resources on Islam, see Dr. Braswell’s books with B&H Publishing.
Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics, and Power
What You Need To Know About Islam and Muslims
Islam and America: 31 Most Asked Questions