Sunday, April 4, 2010

When should we focus on the cross?

I am reading Carl Medearis’s book Muslims, Christians, and Jesus (2008).  Overall I think it is a nice introductory book on Islam that demonstrates a reasonable and godly approach to sharing Christ with Muslims.  Carl is witty and easy to read.  But one thing I have noticed is that he doesn’t mention the cross a lot in the book.  For example, in “A Story of Faith” he talks about how he and a friend led a Saudi princess into the Kingdom without explicitly talking about the death of Jesus (Chapter 4).  Carl explains (Chapter 5):

Now you may be wondering if I think it’s important for my Muslim friends to know and understand the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Of course it’s vital, but we often forget that Jesus died at the end of his earthly life, not the beginning.  We do present “Christ crucified” but not necessarily on day one.  Let the story be one with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I often like to say to my friends in the Muslim world, “Let’s talk about Jesus.  Let’s discuss his life, his teachings, his ways.  When we get to that hard part about whether de dies or not, well, we’ll deal with that then.”  In the right time.  In the right way.

Carl references 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  Commenting on this verse in The Cross and Christian Ministry (2004), D.A. Carson says (pgs. 37-38):

Focus on Christ crucified.  That is what Paul did: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  This does not mean that this was a new departure for Paul, still less that Paul was devoted to blissful ignorance of anything and everything other than the cross.  No, what he means is that all he does and teaches is tied to the cross.  He cannot talk long about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or anything else, without finally tying it to the cross.  Paul is gospel-centered; he is cross-centered.

That is more than a creedal commitment; it sets out Paul’s priorities, his lifestyle, and in this context, his style of ministry.  If he really holds that God has supremely disclosed himself in the cross and that to follow the crucified and risen Savior means dying daily, then it is preposterous to adopt a style of ministry and that is triumphalistic, designed to impress, calculated to win applause.

Because Muslims adamantly deny the crucifixion of Jesus, do you think Carl is correct in his approach with Muslims, or do you think his approach is at odds with 1 Cor. 2:2?  In our desire to keep the glorious Messiah continually visible before Muslims, how and when should we focus on the cross?


Abdul Asad عبد الأسد said...

I try to take the approach that every person is an individual, which means I focus on different things first with different people. With some of my Muslim friends, I might begin with the person of Christ for a while, then gradually move to his work (like Carl seems to advocate). While with others, it is unavoidable and we jump right into the work of Christ on the cross (although usually at their initiative). Basically, I try to get a feel for whatever it is that is keeping this person from considering the claims of Scripture. For some of my Muslim friends, it is the supposed corruption of the Bible, for others, it is seeing Christian hypocrisy, for others, it is brainwashing from an imam, and for a few, it is adamant disbelief in the cross. But in general, I find that many of my Muslim friends don't have a problem with the idea that Jesus died, it's actually some other hang up that they have which is keeping them from seriously considering following the Messiah as Lord and Savior. So I guess my answer to your question (which is a good and crucial one, by the way!), is that I take it on a case by case basis. But I would never feel comfortable NOT discussing the cross at some point - since that is literally the crux of our faith. If we don't explain the cross - or at least help them consider the implications of it from a perspective of substitutionary atonement - then we have failed to be faithful to Scripture. But I don't think it has to happen from day one with everyone.

Tim Herald said...

I would agree with Abdul Asad that each person is in a different place and must be met there. And would add that we may even need to go further back than Jesus and set the stage... he did not come into a void, but to a people with a lot of history with God. Sharing some of the Old Testament stories can be very helpful in preparing someone to hear the Story of Jesus.

I would also say that there are things other than the Cross that are essential to the Gospel (e.g. the Incarnation), but we do not always start with the Incarnation or even get to it quickly.

We often think of getting to the Cross as soon as possible, but it seems moving someone one step closer to the Kingdom might be more productive than trying to go all the way on the first date. There is both a cognitive and an affective component in someone coming to faith - "believing" and "belonging." Our focus is often on the believing part, but it seems Jesus called people to walk with him (relationship/belonging), then step-by-step he proclaimed the Good News to them and when he said the hard stuff, a line was drawn and some left. The timeline was different for different folks. And we should attempt to discern how fast and how far we should go by listening to the Spirit, but if we never make it to the Cross with anyone, we might want to consider checking our spiritual ears for waxy buildup ;^)

I say all of that thinking back... some of the best conversations I have had about Jesus have made it to the Cross on the first conversation. Some might call those divine appointments. Other conversations just made it to one of the Old Testament prophets and what we could learn from his life and obedience to God. I believe those conversations are just as divinely appointed as the ones where God allowed me to go all the way on the first date ;^) But then I think of times when in my heart I know I should have gone farther AND all the times when I know I pushed and it was not from God and I should have backed off - equally self appointed and not divinely appointed.

"With many such parable he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it." - Mark 4:33

Enough early morning rambling for me. Happy Resurrection Day!!!

Paul Lion said...
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AT said...

First let me say that I'm in agreement with all of the comments so far.
Now of course the 1 Cor 1 tells us that the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, and 1 Cor. 15 does a pretty nice job of laying out what is vital to Paul's gospel, so I would say that regardless of how someone responds in the moment when sharing the cross should not deter one from future boldness - for it's the power of God and our best apologetic does not do the saving. In my sphere of influence which is different than your, I start by showing why the cross matters, namely because of sin. Since all of have sinned I always know the conversation will go somewhere, hopefully to the cross, but if the person doesn't see it(pride) it's more law to the proud, grace to the humble. I'm very open to hear what others think of any of this and could use to learn how to contextualize this approach and complement it with the apologetics. Ultimately what we all need is a sin-forgiver, and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness...Jesus' blood.

Kirsten said...

One way to bridge to Muslims is here: ; the group out of Snellville. This was my first training on how to approach them.