Just friends? Agenda to convert? Or…?

I’ve recently been in an email exchange between a prominent Christian leader here in the States and a top Islamic and political leader from the Arab world. It’s been interesting to say the least…

The conversation has gone sort of like this:

Muslim Leader (ML):  So…do you want to just love me for who I am or do you want to convert me and just pretend to love me?

Christian Leaders (CL):  I do want to love you unconditionally. Just for who you are. And of course I’d like you to follow Jesus….

ML:  So, then you DO want to convert me!

CL:  No not “convert” you to the religion of Christianity, but I pray that you will find conversion through Christ  – as I pray for myself.

ML:  So are you willing to try to work for peace between our people simply for the sake of peace?

CL:  Of course. And working for peace will ultimately point people to the Prince of Peace.

ML:  So you do want to convert me!

And on and on it goes. It’s the story of my life.  Here’s the issue we all face – we want people to see the amazing wonders of who Jesus was and is.  We do want them to have life in Him in a way they may not be experiencing now. That’s just plain ole good news!

But everyone is SO sensitive to being “converted” to another religion. I know I don’t like it when my Muslim friends in the past have tried to convert me to Islam and even told me I was going to hell if I didn’t.  That doesn’t feel too good!

As you know, what I believe, is that Jesus did NOT come to start a new religion called Christianity for all to join.  He came to give his life so we could have life now and forever more. I do NOT want to convert people to Christianity – I actually think that’s a serious form of heresy!

But the nuance of that issue is lost on many.  Both Christians and Muslims don’t understand sometimes.  It can actually appear sneaky or even deceitful. As if I’m PRETENDING to not convert them to Christianity by simply inviting them to “follow Jesus” but all the time knowing that’s just a trick to get them “in.”

So…question – is is possible to truly love someone of another religion or belief system and NOT try to convert them, but still truly want the best for them?  What are your thoughts on this?  I could use help in articulating this better!

carl

Comments

  1. mattmccutchan says:

    For me, I think the crux of the question is in the phrase “try to convert them.” I don’t think we have the power or ability to “convert” anyone. I think we are blessed to be invited into God’s plan mentioned in John 6: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. ” I think if we have a love for God’s word, we have a love for both “our neighbor” and the Great Commission. The gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ for a fool like me/us should overwhelm me with joy to the point of overflowing.. not for the goal of conversion but because His love is so all-consuming.
    I ran into a friend a few minutes ago who went on and on about her new iphone. I wasn’t offended by her excitement, b/c I didn’t sense that she wanted me to upgrade, but was simply sharing her excitement. However, I can’t help but wonder if it’s not time to switch to an iphone.
    It’s a small difference, but I hope that’s how I display the love of Christ in my life.

  2. stewsutton says:

    Carl, you are gifted in this area of “non-conversion speak.” And as you have related in your numerous stories, the suspicion is there until both parties really come to know one another in person. In person, you can experience the full character of one another much more quickly. Over the “wire” (Internet, phone, even video chat) the effort stretches over a longer time distance. In the example you cite above, the dialog seems to reference two distinct objectives held by the ML and CL. The ML is suspect regarding “conversion” and so is untrusting and cautious in his engagement of the CL. The CL is genuine in his preference to have a conversation centered on Jesus but gives the ML enough to work with to solidify his suspicion. Saying “…but I pray that you will find conversion through Christ…” as you have discovered creates a distance in the dialog between these two people. That the word “conversion” was repeated back by the CL to the ML just reinforced his suspicion. It seems as simple as you have pointed out in your personal experience. Yes, lets talk about peace – should be the response from the CL to the ML. “And you know something amazing?”, continues the CL, “There is a man named Jesus who is very much concerned for peace. Maybe together we can look at what he has to say on this topic and use that as a starting point for our conversation.”

  3. nickd23 says:

    In regards to your question ‘is it possible to truly love someone of another religion or belief system and NOT try to convert them, but still truly want the best for them?’ – it depends on what your definition and their definition of ‘convert’ means (which are generally always different!). It is possible to show them love, via words and actions, as Jesus did, and there is always the possibility that they will never accept Jesus.
    But the ultimate question is are we able to sustain and continue to do that consistently and not give into the struggle within us which knows that they have not accepted Jesus, regardless of how He has revealed Himself to that person. As generally we tend to want them to understand that what is best for them will come from Jesus, which is generally based on our own experiences with Jesus, which we want others to experience those as well.
    Sometimes the only thing we can do is live genuinely from our heart by our actions, and share with others based on the passion and excitement we have, and leave the results up to God.
    So, I don’t know if that helps anything (even remotely), or just confuses even more!

  4. J.J.Morton says:

    Peace, as the Muslim defines it, is not the peace that Jesus brings.
    Of course you don’t want to convert him, but you do want the Holy Spirit to convert him.
    Why the hesitancy to speak biblically to him? Peace, as the Muslim understands it, is not our objective.
    If it is, we have the wrong Gospel.

  5. travist81 says:

    Carl,

    I’ve been mulling over this for awhile now. I too had a Muslim tell me I was going to hell, after I shared a verse from the Injil after class one day… didn’t feel so good! I suppose the feeling the Muslim woman had was that I was trying to convert her to a new religion. Several months later I had the opportunity to share the life of Jesus to roughly 10 Libyan women, who all listened to me respectfully and later told me I’m a “great man.” In addition, I had dinner with a young Iraqi man and convinced him that he should be reading the Bible, which he did in Arabic, but I don’t know if he is convinced he should follow Jesus.

    I’m sharing all of these stories to say this… we don’t know who will be receptive to the Gospel message and I don’t believe it’s our job to determine who will and who won’t, only God knows the hearts of men and women. However, Jesus did say “go and make disciples,” in order for this to happen we have to say something to people about Jesus no matter if they feel like we are trying to convert them or not. Believers are not responsible to convert people or cause someone to be born again, or save individuals… however you want to term it, but we are commanded to “scatter seeds.”

  6. mikesoderstrom says:

    SO, what does it mean to convert someone? I know plenty of people who love Jesus, but they don’t believe He’s exclusive. They have a problem with exclusivity because they don’t understand sin.

    Does “converting” someone mean they make the jump from loving Jesus but not viewing Him as exclusive, to accepting Him as the only Way because only He can take away our sins?
    My understanding of the Bible tells me true faith in Jesus is knowing that only Jesus can take away sin. Does that mean other lovers of Jesus must believe the same thing? Can they put their faith in Jesus without believing that everyone else must do the same thing to be saved?

    These are fuzzy areas that I don’t really know the answer to. Well, I feel like I know the answer in my head, but it’s something else to articulate to someone who loves Jesus and God, and feels like God accepts them, to tell them that what they believe isn’t quite enough.

    I know this doesn’t really answer the questions, but all these other questions are in the same orbit of the “conversion” question…in my mind.

  7. randdmiller says:

    As an evangelical, I’ve historically put a lot of effort into the idea of “Conversion.”

    I had memorized the saying “all the angels rejoice when there’s a soul saved….”

    Then – I looked up the verse —

    “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

    In this particular verse, Christ is more interested in repentence than conversion.

  8. Sean says:

    We have this same question with the Jewish people here in Israel as well with Muslims.

    The thing that Jewish people despise more than anything is a hidden agenda. They actually respect people who are forthright. When a christian who believes in the Great commission or messianic befriends someone and then asks them after years, “do you believe that I should follow Jesus.” If you say, “yes”, they feel betrayed.

    We should never befriend people for the sake of them following Jesus. However, when we genuinely make friends we should be honest with them that “love” for us means them receiving the life that comes from obeying Yeshua’s commands and receiving the power of His atonement.

    Being a follower of Jesus for us means obeying the Great Commission, making disciples of Jesus, BAPTIZING THEM, and teaching them to obey Jesus’s commands. Anyone who fails to do that is not obeying the King and His Commission. For most, baptizing them they see as conversion. Although we see it more as the initial stage for following Jesus. Either way, Jesus commanded us to do it. In the book of Acts, baptism was the first thing a follower of Jesus did. While our goal is that they have life out of a burden of love, baptism is neccessary part of receiving that life.

    Jesus wants to build His kingdom, and His message was that He is king. Thats why it is the “gospel of the kingdom.” Kings are to be obeyed. Thank God we are not subjects, but sons of this kingdom. However He is King Messiah (Messiah means King) and that is His message. As Messiah we must obey His commands and follow Him. We have bridges in the Quran that can Help Muslims follow Isa Al Massih. I have many Muslim friends who do not follow Jesus and we do alot for each other….. I love them and they love me. My friendship is not built only on the Great Commission, but on the love God put in my heart. However, my friends know and have heard my desire for them to have life by following Jesus. I tell them upfront. Never have it hidden. They respect that…know what to expect from me. I have other Muslims I have helped follow Isa Al Massih who were not friends, just Spirit-filled aquantences that had supernatural experiences involved (healings, words of knowledge, etc.). I now disciple them. I did not do friendship evangelism, but Spirit-led Luke 10 style evangelism. The goal in all of this is being led by the Spirit to obey the Great Commmission, and friendships are a good thing, whether they receive the Lord or not, but….we should always leave it on the table that we believe they need Jesus and Be honest with them.

  9. Sean says:

    Carl,

    I guess the question comes down to it for you.

    Do you believe Muslims should be baptized followers of Isa Al Massih?

  10. Lim says:

    Hi Carl,

    If our model is Isa Al Massih (Jesus Christ) the next question will be, did he love others so that he may convert them?

    From what I gather from the Injeel (Gospel). Isa did many miracles and good deeds yet many did not follow or submit to his message even so he still love them. So did he convert anybody? I don’t think he did. He did ask people to follow him but again and again he emphasis it was Allah – God that give them the insights and the push to follow Isa which means submitting to his message about the Kingdom of God. The word convert is a very loaded word this days. Yet in some sense we convert constantly, e.g. Converting PDF file to DOC. I am a Apple convert, so when someone say “You want to convert me” What does that mean to him or her? When Christians reply “I do not want to convert you but i want you to…..” What does that mean to him according to his understanding of the scriptures? Words have little bearings when it is not understood in its context, culture and response. So does it mean one need to be baptise in order to follow Isa truly? BTW what does Isa mean when he say “Can you drink the cup that I shall drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I shall be baptised?” Mark 10:38. So if someone thinks that baptism means other than water baptism is he still following Isa? What if some Christians who thinks baptism is a sacrament, a must for one to follow Isa totally while another think otherwise…another who think following Isa only, does not mean changing his or her religion, does not treat water baptism as a sacrament and a host of many other things that perhaps his Christian friend think he MUST DO to show that he has a loving relationship with Jesus but to him doing so would mean that he has intend to convert him. So seriously…what did Isa ask of his disciples? Go and do likewise.

  11. almess says:

    Hi Carl!
    I’ve really enjoyed reading Muslims, Christians, and Jesus, and Speaking of Jesus. I appreciate your message about letting Jesus speak for himself, letting him draw people to himself if we’ll just do the pointing, and do it with love. To answer the question you asked, no, I don’t believe as a Christian or follower of Jesus that you can love someone without desiring that they convert, or come to faith, or however you’d like to term it; how forwardly or directly you communicate that to your friend may be at issue. I guess if your friend and you have many lovely conversations about Christ, that’s great, and probably mutually beneficial…but as the Bible teaches that there is a moment of belief (where we receive the Holy Spirit), then how could you not ultimately desire your friend to come to that belief? As someone mentioned Jesus being concerned about repentance in Luke 15, I believe he was mainly concerned that people repent of their sin of unbelief…Something I’ve wondered, Carl, is about the Muslim friends you’ve mentioned who have become followers of Jesus: have they gone on to cease being followers of Muhammed? Is it possible to do both?