Bare Before the Gospel
It is something I see every few weeks, but despite the frequency, it gives me pause every time. Out of a gathering of university students skeptical of the gospel, a young Muslim approaches the microphone. His goal is to vindicate himself and his religion by exposing the blasphemy of Christianity. The certainty in his voice eclipsed only by the zeal in his heart, he will challenge me with a question and a tone that belie all assurances of sincerity. He is not trying to find an answer. He is trying to tear me down.
But what gives me pause is never the blatant attack, nor is it ever the question asked. Quite the opposite. It is in that moment, when he attempts to sound the death knell for the gospel, that I see myself. Not many years ago, I was that young man.
Having been reared in an intimate, devout Muslim home, I proclaimed the message of Islam throughout my college years and boldly challenged the Christian faith at every turn. I was armed with arguments to assail the reliability of the Bible, the gospel message, Jesus’s death on the cross, and his divine status. The more I challenged Christians, the more assured I was that there were no answers.
But that all changed when another young man, David, responded to my challenges. Although David was not equipped with all the answers, he was willing to study these matters with me. And since we were friends, there was no need to respond to everything immediately. Over the next three years, as our friendship grew, my objections gradually diminished. Though I did not agree with his arguments at first, I slowly began to see his perspective. In fact, David went much further than simply responding. He provided a compelling case for Christianity.
He defended the Scriptures, explaining the evidence for Jesus’s death and resurrection, and pointed me to resources where I was able to see for myself that Jesus really did claim to be God. In the course of his responses to my challenges, he befriended me. His love for God and his sincerity made him a man I felt I could trust. Over time, I realized that the case for the gospel was indeed strong: Jesus of Nazareth did claim to be God, and he did prove it by rising from the dead, a death that paid for the sins of mankind.
Life Forever Changed
During our discussions, I began to notice that my points were only valid if I presupposed the truth of Islam. When I attempted to be objective in my thoughts, I realized that the defenses I provided left much to be desired. I knew I had to take a step back and simplify the main points to weigh them. I did my best to isolate the core tenets of each faith so that I could assess the essentials matters. I concluded as follows:
In order for Christianity to be plausible, three positions need to be well-defended: the death of Jesus on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, and his claim to be God. If the argument for any of these points is weak, the whole case fails.
In order for Islam to be plausible, one of two positions needs to be well-defended: either the prophethood of Muhammad or the inspiration of the Qur’an. Both do not need to be defended, since successfully defending one would vindicate the other.
After focusing on these five essential issues, the verdict was clear. No matter which way I lined up the arguments for Islam and Christianity, Christianity always came out on top.
It was some time before I stood bare before the gospel, faced with the choice of whether I would accept the one true God. And it was months later that God rescued me.
Years after I became a Christian, I considered the events surrounding my conversion and wondered why I had not responded to Christ earlier. The answer came quickly: there was so much I had to give up to become a Christian. Of course, I never said “I’m not accepting the gospel because of what it will cost me.” Rather, the cost colored the way I received and processed the gospel.
Because of my own path, I know well that simply addressing thoughts is not enough to present the gospel; I must respond to a questioner’s heart. When a Muslim questioner comes to the microphone, I have the bizarre privilege of seeing my younger self trying to attack me. And I am reminded again that as I experienced the love of my friend who won my trust while sharing the truth with me, so must I address both the heart and the mind. I have to address not only the intellectual component of my challenger’s questions but also evince the truth that he is, in fact, already broken, and there is only One who can restore him. The irony is that I am answering his question for a single purpose: while he is asking it to tear me down, I am answering it to build him up.
One charge I often hear is that the Bible is not trustworthy. This is usually presented as follows: “You cannot trust the Bible! It’s been changed and corrupted over time.” My response is simple: “Can you show me where?” My Muslim friends have never had a response.
I then explain the process of biblical transmission, noting that it was impossible for the Bible to have been “corrupted” because copies were spread all over Christendom, and no one was ever in the position to collect them all and edit them in an undetectable way. It’s impossible. Any corruption could be identified by comparing earlier and contemporary manuscripts. In fact, this is exactly what some Biblical scholars do all the time. They are called “text critics,” and we would be hard pressed to find a text critic who believes that the message of the Bible has actually been irretrievably altered.
By so presenting the gospel, the obstacles of misunderstanding can be cleared away. The questioner can hear the message for what it truly is, not for what it’s not, and his heart and mind can be compelled to face his Creator. It is then that he will be as I was before my life was forever changed: standing bare before the gospel, faced with the choice of whether he will accept the one true God.
Nabeel Qureshi is a speaker with RZIM and bestselling author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.