By D.J. Castilleja
KANSAS CITY—An expert in Muslim apologetics lectured to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) students on ways to more effectively approach Muslims about their beliefs during a course offered on campus June 7-11.
Jay Smith, an evangelical researcher, conducts his work from the Pfander Films ministry office in London where he has been for the last 18 years. He has taught groups about Muslim apologetics in a variety of countries including Brazil, South Africa, Russia, Korea, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Evangelizing the Islamic people has come to the forefront in recent years since the number of Muslims worldwide is increasing dramatically. Smith noted that in the 1970s and 1980s missionaries would rather avoid ministering in Islamic countries in favor of planting churches in Latin and South America.
“When I started working in the Muslim world in 1983, only two percent of all missionaries went to the Muslim world, which came to about 1,500 missionaries to try to evangelize 800 million Muslims,” he said. “Because of large catastrophes like 9/11, it brought it into the consciousness that Islam is not just a small religion.”
According to Smith, Islam will surpass Christianity as the world’s largest religion by 2020 if nothing is done to confront Muslims.
Smith said that since 9/11, the view of apologetics toward Muslims in America has changed.
“I have found here in the United States there have been huge changes in acceptance and the need to confront Islam,” he said. “A lot of it is because people in the U.S. hardly knew Muslims existed. They knew they were overseas. They knew they were a problem, but they didn’t know they were such an immediate threat and that they were so violent until 9/11.”
The speaker, who grew up as the child of missionaries, commented that confronting Islam is hard and quite different than addressing any other religion for two reasons. First, Muslims are very confident. They possess certainty in their god and in the Qur’an. Secondly, Islam reacts when it is confronted. Muslims will react with words and weapons. As for Christianity, Smith holds optimism that there is a history of God’s people standing up for their faith when confronted by threats.
To illustrate the point, Smith spoke about Bill Koehn and Martha Myers, two missionaries and former students of Midwestern, who were martyred in the Middle East Dec. 30, 2002.
“I find that when Christians are up against that kind of hostile environment, they don’t run from it. They get more engaged in it,” Smith said. “Before Bill Koehn and Martha Myers were killed, there were very few (workers) in that area. In February this year, I was responsible for training up workers in the Middle East and Northern Africa. By far the largest of the groups were from the area where Koehn and Myers were killed.”
Coincidentally, Smith’s apologetics class was taught in Midwestern’s Koehn & Myers Center for World Evangelism, which was named for the sacrifices of these dedicated servants.
A new component of the course this year was a practical element where students applied what they learned in class by visiting a local mosque to dialogue with Muslims concerning issues of faith.
One student who attended the class and visited the local mosque was Ron Coulson, a master’s student.
“There was a great openness and they were very genuine about wanting to talk to us with no hostility at all,” he said.
Other students appreciated the value of studying in class and then immediately applying what was learned in the field. Students who visited the mosque also stated that the Muslims they approached seemed well versed in their knowledge of theology and added how important it was for Christians to be familiar with the Word when they attempt to have a dialogue with them.
The overarching purpose of the course was to give students an overview of major questions in the field of Muslim apologetics and evangelism. Topics included: Islam in the West; Islam’s practices and beliefs; Qur’anic & Biblical critique; Muhammad and Jesus; and apologetics and polemics.
“The class was very informative and helped students see the difference between Christianity and Islam,” Coulson said. “It opens a huge awareness to what Muslims believe and why they believe it. If anything, it has opened my heart to want to engage Muslims, befriend them and spend more time studying to help them understand the Gospel to the point of belief.”
“It was a distinct honor to have Jay Smith teaching for us at Midwestern,” said R. Philip Roberts, MBTS president. “His knowledge about the subject of Islam is comprehensive, but his passion to share the Gospel and his expertise in reaching Muslims is infectious and unsurpassed.”