Rev Neil Barber writes:
At St Giles’ Church in Derby we have a regular outreach event we call “Reasonable Faith”. We like tackling the questions unbelievers often ask and Christians may ask too, helping people grasp some of the best in Christian ‘apologetics’, that is reasons for the faith we have. When all our church activities went on-line during the pandemic, we made a quick decision to include these evenings as a part of our gatherings despite the challenges of making them accessible to visitors and enquirers.
We live in a parish where 38% of the population is from an Asian background. Our building is opposite one mosque and next-door-but-three to another one! So, I contacted Andy Bannister out of the blue, he didn’t know me from Adam, but I’d seen a lot of him on the internet and read some of his stuff on Islam. I asked if he’d be willing to give a 20 minute talk via Zoom one Sunday evening. We specifically wanted an event that our Muslim friends would want to come to, so we asked Andy to address the subject: Why does a Muslim need the Jesus of the Bible? How does the true Jesus relate to Islam?
Andy jumped at the chance and in no time at all there he was talking to 70 people including a good number of friends including two 2 Muslims. We’re very much learning how to hold out the word of life to them.
Andy was interviewed and then he gave his talk. We held our breath as we invited questions through the Zoom ‘chat’. We needn’t have worried. The questions came thick and fast – it was exciting! They were wide-ranging and uncompromising and Andy wasn’t phased by any of them. His expert insight and gracious manner was very evident and, to those whose hearts were open, he spoke clearly of the gospel of grace. Andy did a great job at engaging when it’s easy to be fearful and he gave our church a taste for what it might look like to love our Muslim neighbours while telling the truth. We’re hoping to have Andy back to help some more in future.
Andy Bannister recalls:
It was great to be invited by St Giles Church to participate in their ‘Reasonable Faith’ evening. My talk was about “Jesus in Islam and Christianity”. Most Christians are unaware that The Qur’an mentions Jesus over ninety times, and includes reports of his virgin birth, affirms his miracles and describes him using some highly elevated titles. The Islamic view of Jesus is problematic however – because his role doesn’t seem to fit his titles. He is variously described as ‘A Word from Allah’, ‘A Spirit from Allah’, and even “The Messiah”; but then doesn’t seem to be given a role which is accordance with these.
I argued that these titles were borrowed from the New Testament gospels, and the only way to really grasp the significance of them is to investigate what they mean there in their original setting.
Of course one of the biggest stumbling blocks to Muslims is that Christians worship Jesus. Jesus is worshipped throughout the New Testament, Christians pray to Him, they call on His name and believe He is the Son of God. All of this is of course, very difficult for Muslims to comprehend.
I argued that Jesus was either the most useless religious figure in history, who didn’t want to be worshipped but failed to communicate that to his followers or he really should be worshipped! So I looked at 5 pieces of evidence that show that Jesus really did make those exalted claims. Firstly the titles Jesus used for himself which include “Lord of the Sabbath” and “The Son of Man” from Daniel 7. Then he forgave people’s sins, told people to pray in his name and then placed his words alongside scripture. Old Testament prophets would say, ‘Thus says The Lord’; but Jesus said, ‘truly I say to you’! It’s no wonder then when Jesus was questioned about His identity by Caiaphas, the High Priest, Caiaphas tore his robes and cried, “Blasphemy!” at Jesus’ answers.
It’s clear that Jesus identified Himself with God and was telling the truth, or was a liar, or was a lunatic. C.S. Lewis’ famous ‘Trilemma’ comes into sharp focus when you read the words of Jesus.
The vicar, Neil Barber has invited us to go back to Derby and do some more work with them in the future. It’s really good to see a local church who (as unlocking from Covid-19 begins), have their eyes firmly on evangelism. The temptation for churches is to become introspective, and worry more about facilitating their own programmes than about reaching the lost. St Giles’ are setting us all a great example by being intentionally missional.