Don Richardson is one of the most read authors on Christian missions alive today. Peace Child, a book about his missions work with the Sawi people in Irian Jaya, sold about half a million copies in 27 languages, was a Reader's Digest book of the month selection, and became a film that's available in 26 different languages. He is also the author of Eternity in Their Hearts. All of Richardson's books focus on what he calls his "redemptive analogy" thesis: the idea that each culture has some story, ritual, or tradition that can be used to illustrate and apply the Christian gospel message.
But in his latest book, Secrets of the Koran (excerpt), Richardson argues that Islam is very unlike the Sawi culture. One can't bring Muslims to Christianity by using Muslim concepts, he argues.
If I understand your redemptive analogy thesis, your general approach to other religions is to find common touch points and build bridges to them, as opposed to seeing walls everywhere.
Right. When [my wife] Caroline and I lived among the Sawi and learned their language, we found that they honored treachery as a virtue. This came to light when I told them the story of Judas betraying Jesus to death after three years of friendship. They acclaimed Judas as the hero of the story. It seemed as if it would not be easy for such a people to understand God's redemption in Jesus.
But lo and behold, their way of making peace required a father in one of two warring villages to make an incredible sacrifice. He had to be willing to give one of his own children as a peace child to his enemies.
Caroline and I saw this happen, and we saw the peace that resulted from a man's wonderful sacrifice of his own son. That enabled me to proclaim Jesus as the greatest peace child given by the greatest father.
In Lords of the Earth, the Yali tribe had places of refuge. That was their special redemptive analogy. In other words, there's something that serves as a cultural compass to point men and women toward Jesus, something that is in their own background, part of their own culture.
But now you seem to say that not all cultures offer that bridge.
I approached the Qur'an after 9/11, and I began to study it intensively to see if the redemptive analogy approach could work for Christians to approach Muslims winsomely. But I found that everything that a Christian would use of redemptive analogy to lead a person to God was already redefined in the Qur'an by Muhammad in a way that made the redemptive analogy approach not work.
What do you mean by redefined?
Well, for example, if you're going to lead someone to understand Jesus as the Messiah, the one who by his reconciling death provided an atonement for mankind, [you have a problem because] the Qur'an says Jesus didn't die. He was just a prophet. There was no atonement.
[If] you're going to talk about heaven [using] five passages of the Qur'an, Muhammad redefined heaven as what you might call an enormous bordello in the sky.
Heaven is redefined. The work of Jesus on earth is redefined. Even the very nature of God is recast by Muhammad. So whatever you would use a redemptive analogy to lead someone to has already been changed by Muhammad. Hence you have to take a different approach.
But there are Muslims who are yearning for bridge building because they're moderate. And what you're saying it going to be very, very jarring to them.
Jarring, shocking, unless they have really read the Qur'an for themselves. And many Muslims have not.
Now, in the Qur'an there are war verses. And, you know, Kenneth Woodward in the recent Newsweek article said, "Oh, but there are very few." Well, I decided to count them and find out just exactly how many there are. There are 6,200 verses, approximately, in the Qur'an, Dick, and I counted 109 war verses. That means one out of 55 verses in the Qur'an was written to incite Muslims to violence against various kinds of non-Muslims. That's not a few, that's a lot.
There are those who might say the same thing about the Old Testament.
Well, Dick, I'm glad you [said that]. In the late bronze age, in the time of Moses, Joshua, and right up until King David, human societies apparently had not developed to the point that you could separate a spiritual, religious leadership on one hand from a secular, political leadership on the other. It was merged together.
They were theocracies.
Yes. But here's where a transition came. And the New Testament has been, I think, falsely blamed. 1 Chronicles 22:7-9 shows a change of God's policy. I believe the change was ordained by God because human societies had developed to a point where the change could be instituted and be understood by people.
When King David said, "I want to build the temple," God said, "No. You will not build my house. You have much blood on your hands. You have fought many wars in my sight. Your son Solomon is a man of peace. He will build my house."
One of the-one of the implications of what you're saying is that Judaism and Christianity have found ways of an elasticity in their-in their tradition to move into modernity.
You're saying there's very little that you can build on in Islam that moves you to modernity. You pretty much have to betray the text to sustain an intellectual argument for modernity for moderate Muslims.
Yes. Let me give you an example. There is a moderate Muslim in Los Angeles, he's a professor of law at UCLA: Khaled Abou El Fadl. And he has a website in which he's trying to persuade radical Muslims to be moderate. There was a Los Angeles Times article about him, and I read it with great interest. He does not use quotes from the Qur'an to try to persuade radical Muslims to moderation. All he uses is, and I quote, "obscure text from the hadith." So trying to use text from the hadith—obscure ones at that—to stop the radicalism of many Muslims is like trying to slow down a hurricane by asking moths to beat their wings against the wind.
So you argue that if Muhammad returned today, he would support Osama bin Laden over moderates because he wanted the entire planet to place itself under submission to Allah.
Yes, absolutely. Now, everyone is right when they say that radical Muslims are a minority. But radical Muslims have hundreds of websites, and they are working vigorously and zealously to convert moderate Muslims to radicalism.
So why are there no opportunities for using redemptive analogy with Muslims?
Well, it happened because Muhammad had limited knowledge of the Old Testament and even less of the New Testament. But he was pretending that he had complete knowledge. So he kept getting the stories wrong. In the Qur'an, Muhammad tells the story of Moses' confrontation with Pharaoh, the Exodus story, 27 times in 89 chapters. There's not one mention of the Passover. He told the story of Gideon's 300, only it wasn't Gideon, it was King Saul.
Now, it was not until about 200 years after his death that Muslim leaders learned Latin. Some of them learned Greek. They could read the Vulgate Latin Bible or the Greek New Testament, and they began to see that there was a Passover in the Exodus story and our prophet didn't mention it. So they had to either admit that he was mistaken, he didn't really know what he was talking about, or the option was to blame the Jews for having tampered with the Scriptures, so that God had to use Muhammad to restore the Old Testament to its original form.
Again, a moderate Muslim will take offense at a lot of what you've said.
I would say to that moderate Muslim, Have you really examined the Qur'an? Have you really read up on the life of Muhammad? What do you use as a standard for judging whether someone is sent from God? And shouldn't it be a very high standard of morality? Instead of just listening to what the clerics tell you, think for yourself and make your own decision.
I have a son who's worked among Muslims in Indonesia in a college town and, you know, the most common question that young Muslim college students asked him and asked my daughter-in-law was, what does it feel like to be able to choose your own religion?
And so, Muslim friend, you have the ability to make a choice. If you examine the life of Muhammad carefully and decide it doesn't measure up to your standard of what God is like, you don't have to be a Muslim. You can leave Islam.
I would say that the problem is with the information that you've delivered is that, unfortunately, in the hands of many Christians it is used in a very hostile way -toward Muslims. And you're very sensitive to try to establish a context of love and compassion.
Yes. We should wage truth, instead of just being nice to Muslims and hoping that just niceness by itself will be a testimony of Jesus Christ (which it can be to some measure, but most Muslims are galvanized against that). It's much better for a new wave of confronting them with facts. And in order to do that, a Christian has got to know what he's talking about. I've tried to provide the facts that a Christian can use to try to make a Muslim think independently.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Richardson explained his "Wage Truth" campaign in further detail to Charisma News Service.
Another interview with Richardson, from October 29, 2001, is available from K-LOVE's "Closer Look" (audio)
Previous Christianity Today articles on Islam and evangelism to Muslims include:
Evangelism Antagonism | Sharing the Good News is not a hate crime. A Christianity Today Editorial (Jan. 29, 2003)
Comments on Islam Endanger Missionaries, Letter Says | Baptists in Muslim nations plead for restraint in public statements by American Christians (Jan. 17, 2003)
Muslim Phobic No More | Verbal attacks on Islam sabotage evangelism. A Christianity Today editorial (Dec. 16, 2002)
Doors into Islam | September 11 has only intensified the dangers and rewards of Muslim evangelism. (Aug. 19, 2002)
Outpaced by Islam? | The Muslim challenge is growing faster than our Christian outreach. (Feb. 4, 2002)
Letter from a Muslim Seeker | Christians aren't the only ones asking 'Why?' after September's tragedy. (Dec. 5, 2001)
Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus? | The answer to this question reveals the heart of our faith. (Feb. 1, 2002)
Does God Hear Muslim's Prayers? | We must remember that God does not deal with theologies; he deals with persons. (Feb. 1, 2002)
Is Islam a Religion of Peace? | The controversy reveals a struggle for the soul of Islam. (Dec. 28, 2000)
A Many Splintered Thing | Though Muslims shared allegiance to Muhammad and to the Qur'an, Islam faced division as soon as the prophet died. (Dec. 28, 2000)
CT coverage of controversial comments on Islam include:
Jesus Freak | Franklin Graham remains unashamed of the Name, despite public criticism. No generic prayers for him. (Dec. 2, 2002)
Riots, Condemnation, Fatwa, and Apology Follow Falwell's CBS Comments | President of the All India Christian Council: "I prayed that the broadcast would not reach India." (Oct. 17, 2002)
Give Franklin Graham Some Slack—and Some Credit | The evangelist shouldn't be defined by his opposition to Islam. (August 23, 2002)
Southern Baptists Boot Gay Protesters | Messengers at St. Louis convention pick Prestonwood's Jack Graham as new leader. (June 13, 2002)
In 2000, Christianity Today focused on Muslim-Christian relations in a series by Wendy Murray Zoba. Articles included:
Islam, U.S.A. | Are Christians prepared for Muslims in the mainstream?
Islamic Fundamentals | Christians have a responsibility to understand our Muslim neighbors and their beliefs.
How Muslims See Christianity | Many Muslims don't understand Christianity—especially the idea of salvation by grace through faith.
Engaging Our Muslim Neighbors | The Church faces a challenge not just to understand Muslims, but to befriend them.
Answering Islam has a page of essays and articles on "The Christian Witness to the Muslim." Other Christian sites discussing Muslim beliefs about Jesus and Christianity are available at The Muslim-Christian Debate, Campus Crusade for Christ, and FarsiNet.
Visit DickStaub.com for audio and video of his radio program (4-7 p.m. PST), media reviews, and news on "where belief meets real life."
Recent Dick Staub Interviews include:
Did Martin Luther Get Galileo In Trouble? | David Lindberg talks about the early relationship between science and faith and his own journey on the subject (Feb. 4, 2003)
Dan Bahat on Jerusalem Archaeology | One of Israel's leading archaeologists talks about the importance of the Temple Mount and key historical finds in the Holy Land. (Jan. 27, 2003)
Eddie Gibbs Reconsiders Gen X Churches | The author of Church Next and Fuller's professor of church growth says his views on church leadership have grown. (Jan. 21, 2003)
Peter Jenkins Finds Jesus While Walking America | The author of A Walk Across America talks about why angels smiled down at him at a revival in Mobile, Alabama. (Jan. 7, 2003)
R.C. Sproul's Testimony | The theologian and author of Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow talks about how he met Jesus and why playing the violin is like reading the Bible. (Dec. 31, 2002)
Calvin Miller on a Southern Baptist's View of Advent | The author of The Christ of Christmas celebrates the season around the one great miracle (Dec. 17, 2002)
Phillip Johnson | Asking the right questions is at the heart of the evolution debate. (Dec. 3, 2002)
Connie Neal | The author of The Gospel According to Harry Potter talks about leading a friend to Christ through the wizard hero. (Nov. 19, 2002)
Chris Rice | The author of Grace Matters talks about his friendship with racial reconciliation leader Spencer Perkins, his former coauthor and best friend. (Nov. 12, 2002)
John Polkinghorne | The 2002 Templeton Prize winner sees the Bible as "the laboratory notebook" of the Holy Spirit. (Nov. 5, 2002)
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