Last week I wrote about learning culture in order to illustrate the truth of God’s word. When it comes to the risky area of illustrating with, or building bridges with, Islam, we should affirm that some bridges do exist in Islamic theology, history, and culture that can help Muslims understand Christian concepts that Islam itself rejects. J. Nelson Jennings proposes that Christians should view other religions as being like a three-legged stool:
“the three legs represent sin, Satan, and searching… one must not view Islam as simply sinful and Satanic. Similarly, one must not view Islam simply as Muslims searching for (and perhaps adhering to) the truth. Islam, like all religious traditions, evidences morally sinful, deceptively Satanic, and genuinely searching (and true) aspects.”
I find this metaphor to be very well-balanced (pun intended). We need to acknowledge the reality that so many Muslims are sincere in their error, zealous for the law as it were, alongside the fact that Islam itself is a Satanic system of deception which empowers the sinful nature. This doesn’t open the door at all to Islam being a way of salvation, but still acknowledges that many Muslims are indeed searching for truth – no surprise given that Islam has inherited so much Judeo-Christian content, albeit by co-opting it for its own narrative.
It is with the aspect of Islam which is genuinely searching that bridges can prove to be helpful, rather than harmful. In building bridges, one seeks to illustrate the truthfulness of a doctrine by demonstrating that the hearer already adheres to an analogous or similar belief to that which they are currently rejecting. Put another way, building bridges is an attempt to seek those truth categories that already exist in a religion or a person’s mind and to link those categories with biblical content in order to show that biblical content’s truthfulness, goodness, and beauty. It is category renovation rather than category creation, an attempt at moving from shadow to substance.
Jennings, “The Deity of Christ for Missions, World Religions, and Pluralism,” p. 270.