Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Strong on Friendship, Weak on Gospel: Wheaton's Intro to Evangelizing Muslims

As the number of Muslims increases in America, Christians are realizing that we should reach them with friendship rather than avoid them in fear.  Wheaton College has just released Journey to Jesus, a 6-session DVD curriculum about building Christ-centered relationships with Muslims.  Tyndale, the publisher, was kind enough to send me a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review.  See below for details on how one of you can get my copy for free!

First I'll tell you about the curriculum, then I'll give you my analysis of its strengths and weaknesses.

The curriculum is contained in two DVDs.  (It seems that everything would have fit on one DVD, so I'm not sure why they split it onto two.)  The six sessions are comprised of a dramatic video (short movie), a teaching video (like watching PowerPoint with a person's voice), and printable (PDF) teacher guides, student handouts, and bonus explanatory materials.  Sessions one and two center around a young American Christian mother who befriends a shy young Egyptian Muslim mother who has just moved into her neighborhood.  Sessions three and four introduce us to an American Christian man who converses with an intelligent but nominal Muslim East Indian coworker.  The final two sessions depict a young Christian engaging a young, very argumentative (American?) Muslim as part of a college assignment to learn about each other's worldview.

What I like about this curriculum:
  • It shatters the stereotype of Muslims as terrorists and fundamentalists.
  • It shows the great variety there is among followers of Islam.
  • It depicts Christians displaying genuine hospitality and friendship.  
  • The 'movie' segments are very fun, and the cinematography is top class.
  • The teaching segments contain a lot of information, conveyed clearly, accurately, and succinctly.
  • I think the average viewer will come away from this curriculum eager to meet, befriend, and share Jesus with Muslims.
How this curriculum could have been better:
  • Using the movie segments to depict Christians who knew how to answer Muslim questions.  The movies seem mainly to feature Muslims who know more about their faith than their Christian counterparts.  At the end of session two we have some sense that the Egyptian woman may be growing slightly more receptive to the gospel, but at the end of sessions four and six, the other two Muslim men seem to have scored more points than their Christian friends.  Probably Wheaton intended this so that Christians won't feel bad if they get stumped by a question, or wait until they have a ThD before attempting to share the gospel with a Muslim.  But the videos would have been better if they had not only depicted how to acknowledge our ignorance with humility, but also how to declare the truth with accuracy and confidence.  Notice in this transcript from the movie how "Larry" misses a huge opportunity to explain the gospel when "Azim" argues that forgiveness is attained through good deeds :
Azim: The Christian idea of forgiveness, it seems far too easy to commit a wrong, ask for forgiveness, and make the same mistake again.
Larry: Everybody fails, nobody’s perfect. Which means we all need forgiveness.
Azim: I agree, but which is better: to ask for forgiveness or do something tangible to make up for our wrongs?
Larry: We can’t always make up for our wrongs.  This means that sometimes--
Azim: We do good deeds to outweigh the bad ones, thus the world becomes a better place.
Larry: I believe in good deeds too.
Azim: Oh, so we believe the same thing?
Larry: Well the Christian perspective is that good deeds is the humanly thing [sic] that we can do to bring the kingdom, as Jesus said, here to earth.  See in the New Testament it says that faith without deeds is dead.
  • If any Muslims were to watch these DVDs, they might be offended by two things.  The Muslim man in sessions three drinks alcohol ("Allah is very gracious", he says).  Islam completely bans alcohol (not just drunkenness, as in Christianity), and drinking it is almost on the same level as eating pork for Muslims.  Some Muslims do drink, but I'm not sure any try to justify it so casually!  And there are some immodestly clothed young American college women in the background of session 5 and 6.  (Unfortunately, that is what American colleges are like nowadays.  But the producers of the video didn't have to make us see them.)
  • The video teaching segments are scripts read aloud, using PowerPoint style slides.  It might have kept viewer attention better if these teachings had been recordings of a real person teaching a live audience.
  • Because the curriculum was produced by a college, all of the actors are relatively young, and the movies are designed to appeal to people in their 20s and 30s.  It would have been nice if one segment had depicted older Americans reaching out to older Muslims.
In short: this curriculum is a good tool for introducing young Christians to the joy of sharing Jesus with Muslims.  But you will need to supplement the curriculum with outside information that explains the content of the gospel clearly and comprehensively.  (Thabiti Anyabwile's The Gospel for Muslims is a good option.)  Friendship evangelism is only good if evangelism actually takes place.

I will give my copy for free (including postage within the US) to whomever of you can use it most.  Send me an email [danielbartsch q com] to request it and tell me how you hope to use it.  I'll select next Wednesday from the emails that I receive.

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