Recently, I read Mark Mittelberg's "expert contribution" from Nabeel Qureshi's best selling book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. It reinforces Qureshi's assessment that generally speaking, Eastern Islamic cultures assess truth through lines of authority as opposed to individual reasoning. I think this is a very important point to consider when discussing one's faith with someone coming from this background.
You can also find the contribution on the RZIM website.
Mark Mittelberg is bestselling author and primary creator of the course Becoming a Contagious Christian, which has trained 1.5 million people worldwide and has been translated into more than twenty languages. He served as evangelism director with the Willow Creek Association for more than a decade.
“It is important for you to know that Allah is the one and only God, and that Muhammad, peace be upon him, was his true prophet. God is not divided, and He does not have a son. And Jesus, peace be upon him, was not the Son of God. He was a true prophet, like Muhammad, and we are to honor him, but we must never worship him. We worship Allah and Allah alone.” These bold words, spoken by the imam—a man dressed in white who stood in front of our group and was clearly in charge of the mosque that day—were communicated in a manner that delivered more than just theological content. They were conveyed with an authority that made clear that the message was something we were expected to accept, rather than test. It was not that the imam wasn’t willing to entertain a few questions. Rather, he apparently saw this as a chance to challenge the thinking of an entire group of Christians at one time. So after a short period of teaching, he opened the floor to whatever issues we wanted to raise. But even then, he responded with an emphatic tone, one that relayed his belief that he had the truth and we were there to learn it.
This assuredness was borne out when I finally raised my own question. I asked the imam why he and other Muslims denied that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died on the cross, and that He rose from the dead three days later. As politely as I knew how, I explained that I, and the others from my church who were visiting the mosque that day, believed these things on the basis of the testimonies of Jesus’ own disciples. They were the ones who walked and talked with Him for three years and who heard Him make repeated claims to be the Son of God. They saw Him die on the cross and met, talked with, and even ate with Him after His resurrection. And they were the ones who made sure it was all written down in the New Testament gospels. “What I’m curious about,” I said, concluding my question, “is whether you have any historical or logical reasons why we should accept your Muslim point of view over and against what we understand to be the actual historical record?”
The imam looked at me intently and then declared resolutely, “I choose to believe the prophet!” With that, our time for questions was over. East meets West, indeed! I walked away that day with a fresh awareness that we do not all approach questions about truth in the same way. In fact, years later, I wrote about what I believe is a characteristically Eastern versus a characteristically Western approach to gaining knowledge.3
In the East, and for Islam in particular, what is accepted as true is generally what the authorities tell you—and you are expected to embrace what they teach. That is why I call this approach the Authoritarian Faith Path. In fact, the original meaning of the Arabic word Islam “submission.” It seems fair to say that the prevailing tenor of the Muslim faith is one of submitting to—not questioning—what the religion teaches.
This squares with my friend Nabeel Qureshi’s assessment in this part 2 of his book “People from Eastern Islamic cultures generally assess truth through lines of authority, not individual reasoning. Of course, individuals do engage in critical reasoning in the East, but on average it is relatively less valued and far less prevalent than in the West. Leaders have done the critical reasoning, and leaders know best.” As Nabeel indicates, this contrasts sharply with the more typical approach in the West, which I refer to as the Evidential Faith Path. This approach decides what should be accepted as true based not on the word of authorities but rather on logic and experience, including experiences recorded in trustworthy historical records like the ones I cited in my interactions with the imam. Of course, both sides can have their pitfalls. Westerners in the evidential mindset often need to be reminded to be lovers of truth (2 Thess. 2:10) who are willing to rigorously apply reason and the study of evidence, and then follow them wherever they lead. Too often, people in Western culture fall into an approach that limits possible causes to naturalistic ones, and they won’t even consider supernatural causes. This prejudices the outcome and, in fact, makes scientific and historical inquiry atheistic by definition. But if we can help people reopen their minds to the full gamut of possible explanations, then I’m confident that logic and evidence (along with the inner workings of the Holy Spirit) will lead them back not only to a belief in God but also to the Christian faith.