This is the most googled and read post of mine around the world. It happens almost daily. Its July, its hot, so I'll re-post some hot topics, starting with this one from February 2011:
As promised, over the next few weeks I will pick up the quick question and answer format on this blog from two Sunday sermons ago: "What does the Bible say about...?" Like the Sunday morning format, I will pick one of the submitted questions and try to answer briefly (so please give me the freedom to not write an exhaustive footnoted essay on each topic, but to answer as if on the fly in front of the congregation).
The question I will begin with was texted to us this way:What does the Bible tell us about how to view and treat other religions such as Islam?
The most relevant thing I learn from the Old Testament about the treatment of other religions is this - don't dabble in them yourself. The truth about God, revealed through Israel, the prophets, and ultimately Jesus is so precious, so valuable, so life-giving the way it is, be careful to not syncretize/combine it with aspects of other religions, and thus lose the distinctness of your faith. This is what is behind much of the semingly weird (and even offensive) details of the Old Testament - God calling out and cultivating a people who are distinctly following him. The ultimate purpose was so that in their good, faith-filled lives they would spread the good news of God (Yahweh) even before the sending of the Messiah. The nation of Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament, did a much better job of staying distinctive from other religions than they did of blessing other peoples with the knowledge of God's character. The church of Jesus Christ today is called to fulfill this calling to both distinctiveness from other religions, and to being a blessing to all people.
The most pointed way of treating other religions (like Islam) that I learn from the New Testament is in Acts 17:16-34. The apostle Paul visits Athens, Greece and speaks about his faith to their leading religious philosophers. It was a religiously pluralistic city, more like our post-modern culture today than mono-religious Jerusalem was in Paul's day. So how did Paul treat their relgion in this encounter? A few points:
1. Paul knew a lot about their various religions represented in Athens. He quotes Greek religious texts three times in the brief speech we have recorded for us. Application: DON'T MAKE IGNORANT CLAIMS OR CHARGES AGAINST OTHER RELIGIONS. If a follower of Jesus wants to engage with people of other faiths, take Paul's cue - learn about them and show them you have a nuanced understanding. Otherwise, we probably shouldn't say much about their religion, and hold our comments to positive affirmations of our own faith. After 9/11, I spent the entire following Saturday re-reading the Koran, for example. That's another story.
2. With each of his quotes from their religion, Paul used them in a positive manner that affirmed part of their belief. He found a common starting point in the human desire to worship, and affirmed that. He even affirmed two aspects of their belief. Application: IT IS BIBLICAL TO FIND COMMON GROUND WITH PEOPLE OF OTHER FAITHS - including Islam! Be biblical, not polemical. Much of what passes for 'Christian' criticism and fear of Islam is really, in my opinion, cultural bigotry justified by a shallow reference to religion. When you are person to person, or person to group (like Paul), be Biblical and find common ground, find somethign to affirm (if you can't find anything to affirm in the other's religion, they are either a Satanist, or you are ungenerous in spirit and should just stay quiet).
3. Then Paul spoke forthrightly, unapologetically and positively about Jesus and the Christian worldview. Included in his proclamation were clear statements about the primary theological shortcoming or error of their religion (idol worship). Application: Most of our words toward people of another religion, when the conversation is about religion, should be a positive focuse on who Jesus is for us. Secondly, its healthy to highlight the true differences that exist between religions. It helps no one, and is intellectually dishones (though popular)t, to pretend there are no differences. Note the differences, then speak positively again about Jesus and invite people to explore further.
GREAT QUESTION! I hope my answers were at least a bit helpful.