Upgrade Your Tactics with Knowledge

There’s a simple question I ask Muslims when I want to get to the gospel in under 60 seconds. Although I’ll tell you the question in a moment, my goal is not to talk about Islam per se. Rather, through this example, I want to teach you a strategy and explain how I arrived at the question. That way you can use the same method to formulate your own effective questions when you talk with any person on any topic.

At Stand to Reason, we often talk about conversational tactics (e.g. the Columbo Tactic), techniques that help you engage people in spiritual discussions. The power of these tactics is manifest when you can persuasively yet graciously engage a person even when you don’t have a ton of information about their religious convictions or worldview.

But what if you had knowledge of the person’s religion or background? How might that impact your ability to engage that person in a productive way? Spoiler alert: Having knowledge can amplify your impact.

First, though, consider a typical conversation between a Christian and a Muslim. The Christian might begin by employing the Columbo Tactic, asking about what a Muslim believes and why they believe it. Don’t get me wrong; that’s a powerful approach. I teach believers to do that all the time. The questions might help you understand several important topics: Islamic beliefs, religious practices, and even some common ground with Christianity. That’s helpful, but I believe having prior knowledge about Islam can help you ask more powerful questions.

Let me give you an example of how learning about Islam helped me streamline my conversation. Consider the following four pieces of information about Islam:

  1. Two angels follow each person throughout their life. One angel tracks all of your good deeds, and the other tracks all of your bad deeds.
  2. Islam has a merit-based system of salvation. After each person is resurrected, they enter Heaven or are damned to Hell based on the amount and weight of their good and bad deeds.
  3. Muslims must believe in Jesus, but only as a revered prophet.
  4. The Quran identifies the gospel as a true revelation from Allah.

With those pieces of knowledge in mind, here’s the question I ask a Muslim if I want to get to the gospel in under 60 seconds: Are you 100% certain you’re going to heaven? Every Muslim answers the same: No. My follow-up question is, “Would you like to have 100% confidence?” If they say yes (they often do or are at least intrigued to see what I’ll say), then I offer to point them to what Jesus said in the Gospels about the kingdom of God. That means I’m able to present the gospel from the words of Jesus, and I get there in under 60 seconds.

Now that you know the question, here’s how the knowledge I learned about Islam helped me develop that question. First, notice I ask the Muslim if they’re 100% confident they’ll go to Heaven. I know they’re typically not 100% confident because they can’t know the tally the angels have kept of their good and bad deeds. They don’t know how the scales will tip. This part of the question is based on my knowledge of facts 1 and 2.

Second, notice I ask them to consider what Jesus said about entering the kingdom of God. They’re likely to be open to what Jesus said because their highest authority—the Quran—demands they believe in Jesus as a prophet. This is based on my knowledge of fact 3.

Finally, I point them to Jesus’ words in the Gospels. The Quran identifies the Injil (the gospel) as a revelation given to Jesus. Muslims, at least in principle, are open to reading Jesus’ words in the New Testament. This is based on my knowledge of fact 4.

Having some basic knowledge of Islam helped me formulate a question and strategy to bring the conversation to a place where I can share the gospel. I’m not saying you must be an expert in Islamic studies. Nor am I saying you need to take a semester course on Islam. I used basic information about the Muslim’s faith. The more you can learn about the religion, though, the more likely you’ll be able to leverage that knowledge to ask informed and powerful questions.

It’s important to clarify that I’m not suggesting that this should be the only question you ask or that your goal should be to always get to the gospel in under 60 seconds. People aren’t gospel fodder. They aren’t valuable or deserving to be befriended only because they can be witnessed to. Every person is valuable in and of themselves. Therefore, getting to know them, talking with them, and valuing them is important simply because they are fellow image-bearers, even if you don’t get to present the gospel.

You can use this approach, however, with any person, of any background, and on any topic. Just take some time to learn about their religion or worldview, and then find a way to harness that knowledge to ask even more effective questions.

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Alan Shlemon

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