Every once in a while an Internet rabbit trail leads to something exceptionally interesting. Yesterday I stumbled across the video above. I began to watch as Josh (now “Yusha”) Evans related his testimony of conversion from Christianity to Islam. It turns out Josh is from, of all places, Greenville, South Carolina—and he lived right down the street from where I live now. As a teen he briefly intended to go to Bob Jones University where his best friend went.
He gets a few things about BJU mixed up: women aren’t required to cover themselves up to their wrists and ankles, and we have no “textual criticism” major. And when he credits a BJU professor for “wrecking my faith in Christianity,” what the professor supposedly said doesn’t quite sound like what a BJU textual criticism teacher would say.
I feel compassion for Josh, because he apparently got poor answers to serious questions as a teenage seeker. And what really caught my attention were his comments about one of those questions.
Josh tells how his BJU-student friend asked him, “Have you ever read the Bible?”
“Of course,” Josh said. “We read it in church all the time.”
“No,” said his friend. “Have you ever really read it?”
Josh had not, so he began to read it straight through. The following is, I hope, a faithful paraphrase/quotation of what he said (starting around 13:00):
I was shocked by some of the stories of some of these people I kept hearing about in Sunday School. If you read about Noah in the Bible, there’s a story about him saving humanity from the flood, but there’s another aspect of the story of Noah that you won’t hear preached anywhere: he was an alcoholic. How could he build the ark if he was an alcoholic?
Then I came across the story of Lot. There’s a very twisted story about Lot and his daughters that says his daughters committed incest with him. This is one of the Bible’s portrayals of the prophets of God!
Then there’s one story about David in the Bible that shocked me to my core, the story of David, Bathsheba, and Uriah. It says that David saw this woman named Bathsheba and she was a very beautiful woman. David was not able to resist his temptation to be with this woman, so he committed adultery with her. I couldn’t believe that this perpetrator would be in the Bible!
Every pastor or evangelist whom I asked about this problem gave me the same answer: “Don’t let a little bit of knowledge wreck your faith.”
I wasn’t smart enough to even ask that question when I was a teenager, to be honest (Josh and I are the exact same age). I had a good answer presented to me before the question even came up independently.
Around the one-hour mark in this talk, Josh describes how he read the Qur’an for the first time and found in it the moral exemplars he’d been looking for. He says that, by contrast with Christianity (and specifically the Trinity), Islam was “logical, rational, and reasonable”
I ran across this video while reading up on, of all things, Max Lucado’s The Story—which appears to be some kind of redemptive-historical approach to Scripture (though I can’t find a solid review of it: can anyone help?). What struck me is that Josh presents us with yet another reason why the redemptive-historical approach is so important. We simply cannot teach the Bible as a collection of morality tales. It always pains me when someone rejects Christianity based on a easily corrected misreading of the Bible. I’ll let Bryan Chapell take it from here:
“Be like” messages focus the attention of listeners on the accomplishments of a particular biblical character. After identifying the exemplary characteristics of the character, the preacher exhorts listeners to be like that person in some commendable aspect of his or her personality or practice. In what is often called biographical preaching, pastors urge congregants to be like Moses, Gideon, David, Daniel, or Peter in the face of a trial, temptation, or challenge. Such exemplars, of course, can be used beneficially for instructing God’s people in proper conduct and character. Biblical writers clearly intend for certain biblical characters to represent specific characteristics of godliness. A difficulty with much biographical preaching, however, is that it typically fails to honor the care that the Bible also takes to tarnish almost every patriarch or saint within its pages. Without blushing, the Bible honestly presents the human frailties of its most significant characters so that we will not expect to find, within fallen humanity, any whose model behavior merits divine acceptance. For instance, while many sermons exhort listeners to emulate David’s courage, wisdom, and love for God, such messages hardly present a full (or honest) picture of the shepherd king’s life without mention of his adultery, murder, and faithlessness. Were we to ask David whom believers should emulate, can we imagine that his answer would be, “Me”? If even the biblical characters themselves would not exhort us to model our lives after theirs, then we cannot remain faithful to Scripture and simply command a congregation to be like them. Neither do we help others by encouraging them to be like Jesus if we do not simultaneously remind them that his standards are always beyond them, apart from his enabling grace.
Josh ends with a ringing call for evangelism to the collection of expatriate Muslims sitting in front of him in an Orange County, California, Islamic society. He uses the classic tropes (and even the vocabulary) of evangelicalism, something I’ve never heard done. Here’s another quote/paraphrase:
People are walking around ignorant of God, like people with a terminal disease they don’t even know about—a disease for which we have the cure. Many have died while I’m talking. We’ve got to take the truth to them. We must not keep our light under a bushel [!]. I’ve made DVDs about Islam to send to every person in America, and I get about two shahadas (conversions) a month—recently someone from Irvine, Texas accepted Islam.
But precisely because Josh Evans was looking for morally exemplary characters to model himself after—and because he refuses to see the infinite difference between Jesus’ divine-human example and anyone else’s—his message is not one of hope. Josh’s message, I take it, is that I will be judged by my success or failure in being like the good guys. Ours is a message in which Jesus, the only good guy, paid a debt I could never pay in order to give me blessedness with him forever.