Dr. Dobson: In 1 Peter 3:15, we're instructed to be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus, and we call that apologetics. From a Christian point of view, that's the art of explaining to others what we believe and why we believe it. Jesus described the great commission to us this way. He told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel. That's apologetics. If we're going to accomplish that mission, we need to learn how to speak with those who have no knowledge at all or no understanding of the Christian faith. Since sooner or later, we're going to come in contact with someone from a different religious background or a person who has no faith at all, or they may even come from a different country.
Dr. Dobson: Peter told us to be ready, to be prepared, to help that person understand who Christ is and what it means to have a relationship with him. I said all that to explain that today's guest is going to help us do just that. Now, his name is Abdu Murray and he's a Christian apologist and senior vice president at the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Ravi was one of Christianity's most articulate apologists of his day. As you probably know, he went on to be with the Lord recently, and I really did love this man, like a brother.
Dr. Dobson: Now, getting back to Abdu, his latest book was co-written with Ravi shortly before he died and it's called Seeing Jesus From The East. Why that title has meaning is because Abdul's family immigrated to the United States from Lebanon and he grew up Muslim. We're going to hear about how that introduction to Jesus Christ came about.
Dr. Dobson: The interviewer is my great friend and colleague, Dr. Tim Clinton. They're going to break down this key ideological difference between Eastern and Western religions. Abdu also shares his own journey from Islam to Christianity. This is an interesting discussion that I think you're going to enjoy. Here now is Dr. Tim Clinton on this edition of Family Talk.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Hi everyone. Dr. Tim Clinton, executive director of the James Dobson Family Institute. Thank you for joining us today on Family Talk. I'm currently at the National Religious Broadcasters convention here in Nashville, Tennessee. Joining me now is Abdu Murray. He's senior vice president of Ravi Zacharias Ministries. You know, for nearly 50 years, this organization has fervently defended biblical values and truths. They've trained up apologists to understand why we can trust in Jesus. Abdu us here to discuss a new book that he co-authored with Ravi, Seeing Jesus From The East. Quite an entertaining, interesting read to me, and I look forward to talking with Abdu about it. Abdu, welcome to Family Talk.
Abdu Murray: It's good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Tell us about how you grew up. I know you're law trained out of University of Michigan, but a little bit about your background.
Abdu Murray: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I'm from Lebanese stock. My father came over to the United States in the late 60s and married my mom and I was born into a Muslim family. There's two different sects within Islam. There's the Sunni, which is the majority. Then there's the Shia, which are the minority. I was a Shia Muslim. I grew up in the Detroit area, a very large Muslim population there, very heavy concentration of Muslims, but then we moved out to the suburbs and in the area I grew up in, it was not very diverse at the time. I mean, there were a few sort of olive skin families in the neighborhood, some Indians as well, but not very many. It was like a lot of just, you know, good, mid-American white folks. I always joked that we were sort of the dollop of olive oil in the pot of rice, but that led me to be able to speak about my faith in Islam to low hanging fruit, which was the Christians or people who are nominally Christian at best.
Abdu Murray: That's how I was growing up. I was proud of being a Muslim. I had a good American upbringing, even though we're Arabs and all this and the son of immigrants, but we had a good American upbringing as well. So I'm really a child of two cultures. Deeply Arabic, deeply Middle Eastern, but also proudly American. Western and Eastern blood sort of flows through my veins and definitely through my psyche.
Dr. Tim Clinton: As you bring this together and you spend your life now developing an apologetic for our Christian faith, which is fascinating, to see the journey you've been on, take us back to how you met Christ and what a challenge that was for you because that's not easily done here.
Abdu Murray: No, it's not, and it's true I think for every one of every stripe, whether they're coming from an atheist or agnostic background, Jewish background, Hindu, Buddhist, whatever it is, Muslim ... for me, it was, I was proud of being a Muslim. I liked being a Muslim. The long and the short of it really is that I was engaging with people in conversations from a young age about matters of faith. I was a red-blooded, American teenager, Middle Eastern, but also red-blooded American teenager, so I liked talking about sports and movies and girls and all that stuff. But eventually, the luster of that wore off and I wanted to speak about things that mattered eternally. Spiritual matters mattered to me quite a bit, even at a young age. So I would engage people when I was in middle school, high school, you name it, on matters of faith. I would often ask Christians, why are you a Christian?
Abdu Murray: By the way, it wasn't just Christians I talked to. I was a sort of an equal opportunity face knocker outer over, but it was Christians who were low hanging fruit because it was fashionable back then to say you are a Christian even if you didn't really mean it. Now it's not, but back then it was. So I would engage with people and conversations and I asked them why they are Christian. Most of the time, they would give me the answer, "I don't know, we go to a Lutheran church on Easter and Christmas so I guess that makes me a Lutheran?" They would actually answer that with that little lilt that goes up? As if they didn't know the answer themselves. It's like, is that a question or an answer? I'm not sure you even know why you're a Christian.
Abdu Murray: Once they basically said tradition was the reason, I would give them 15 reasons why they shouldn't be a Christian and why they should be a Muslim. I was pretty good at this actually. But there were these people, and back then I found them terribly annoying, who actually knew what they were talking about. They actually knew what it meant to be a Christian and why they were a Christian. So they lobbed some objections of their own my way or actually answered my objections as well.
Abdu Murray: So that began essentially a nine-year journey into the underpinnings of the Christian faith, and not to pause for a moment because the thing that really got me was these two guys came to my apartment when I was at University of Michigan in my undergraduate days there. They were going door to door talking about Jesus. If you know anything about Ann Arbor, Michigan, that's not common and it's not welcome. But they came to my door and I was like, I was an evangelist for Islam so I'm like, "This is amazing, you guys deliver. This is great, come on in."
Abdu Murray: I made these two guys very uncomfortable for days and days, because they would come every Thursday. I wanted to find a contradiction in the Bible that would finally knock the faith out of these two guys. So I'm reading the Bible and I come across Luke 3:7 and following. John the Baptist says to those who were coming to him, "Who told you to flee from the wrath to come?" Of course, referring to God's judgment. Then he says something remarkable. He says, "Do not even begin to think to yourself you have Abraham as your father," as if their heritage would save them, "for I tell you, God can raise up children of Abraham from the stones."
Abdu Murray: It suddenly occurs to me. I was asking Christians, "Why are you a Christian?" They would say tradition, and I'd say not good enough. And I was right. John the Baptist was agreeing with me. He says, "Your tradition will not save you. Truth is what saves you." That's when it hit me, struck me right between the eyes.
Dr. Tim Clinton: No kidding.
Abdu Murray: That I was a believing something. I had shored up my beliefs with evidence, but I really wanted to believe it because of tradition. So I was being a hypocrite. So it was the Bible. It wasn't some clever argument. It was the words of scripture that got we rethinking, "Am I being intellectually honest or not?" That's what began the nine-year journey into the intellectual, philosophical, scientific, and ultimately the existential or the private reasons for why the Christian faith is credible.
Abdu Murray: Took nine years, and I say it this way. It's not because the answers were hard to find. They weren't hard to find, but they were hard to accept. Chiefly because my identity was wrapped up in being a Muslim and I didn't want to lose it. I wasn't ready to step off that cliff, as it were, and die to myself and then have someone else rise up. But eventually, it did happen.
Dr. Tim Clinton: You're listening to Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk. I'm Dr. Tim Clinton, host today on the broadcast. I'm interviewing and talking with Abdu Murray. He is with Ravi Zacharias Ministries, he's senior vice president there, and a fascinating conversation about what's happening through the lens of seeing Christ as we look at the Middle East, the religions of the middle East and more. You know that? And with you in particular, talking about Islam.
Dr. Tim Clinton: It's interesting, a lot of Americans, Christians, American Christians, I'll say the Western Christians for a moment, when they think of Islam, the imagery is Facebook. They see these Christians lined up in orange, on their knees and they're going to get beheaded. They, I don't know, there's a fear, there's an anger, there's emotion all over the place. The idea of engaging conversation, it's like, "Wait, they're radical," or something like that.
Abdu Murray: Right.
Dr. Tim Clinton: There's some wisdom when you're able to peel it back, we're going to go there and just a moment, but when you peel it back and understand why they're so locked into why they believe what they believe for a moment, as you were sharing.
Abdu Murray: Yeah.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Can you help us? Because I think opening our eyes begins to help us look differently, pray differently, maybe even engaged differently.
Abdu Murray: Absolutely. Those images make us paint with broad strokes and you think that most Muslims are like that when the reality is-
Dr. Tim Clinton: Abdu, I'm telling you ...
Abdu Murray: Yeah.
Dr. Tim Clinton: People we talk to, that's all they see. That's what's in their mind. It's been ingrained. It's been emotionally ingrained in their mind.
Abdu Murray: Yeah, and I can see why, but what's interesting is that I know lots and lots of Muslims, I don't know one radical. I suppose if they were radical, they wouldn't tell me, but I don't know any. I don't know any.
Dr. Tim Clinton: See, it's important for us to hear that for a second, because most people would say, "Ah, I don't know if I believe that."
Abdu Murray: Yeah. Well, I happen to have tons of experience on this and I can say that there aren't any. I mean, they have political views, geopolitical views. Politics is a big part of Islam, it's a big part of Islamic thinking, but you'd be hard pressed to find one. Now, unfortunately there are people who find them and they find them when they're on the other end of the barrel, as it were. That's unfortunate, but that's realistic. We can't be naive. But we also can't be given to fear and suspicion all the time.
Abdu Murray: Most Muslims, especially in this country, are trying to live the American dream. They just want to find the woman of their dreams, have kids with that woman, have those kids have kids, and then die grandparents. That sounds vaguely familiar. Doesn't it? That's the majority. Now, I think the reason why, and you hit it on the head with this, is the ingrained loyalty to the religious system. Doesn't necessarily have to do with a radical ideology or a political sphere. It's because if you were to look in the East ... Sam Solomon put it this way. If you were to draw a diagram and the diagram had a square and you put a dot in the middle of that square, in the West, the dot in the middle of the square is religious identity. It's not a very big part of our lives, and the square is us. So the square is the person and the dot, the little tiny part, is religious identity. In the East, it's exactly the opposite. It is the square that surrounds the dot.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Is religious identity.
Abdu Murray: Is religious and communal identity. The dot is you are immersed, you're swimming in it, you're saturated by a religious loyalty, which means a loyalty to family, because it's a communal honor-shame culture.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Stay with that for a moment. That family honor-shame piece. I thought it fascinating. As I was going through your book, Seeing Jesus From The East, I start seeing differently. It was fascinating to me.
Abdu Murray: Yeah. Well, it's interesting because you can sit across the table like you and I are right now, and you can sit across the table with a Muslim who you know personally, and you've never seen them pray of the five daily prayers, you've never seen them really fast or they cheat when they fast during Ramadan, they've never gone on the Hajj, they've never done any of the Muslim pillars. So if there was no ... if it was a crime to be a Muslim, they couldn't be convicted because there's no evidence, except for the confession. Yet why is it that if you sat across the table from such a person, they would get into a verbal wrestling match with you over whether or not Christianity or Islam is true. They don't practice it, so you're wondering why do you so adamantly defend a faith you don't actually practice? The reason is, is because it's not a matter of practice, it's a matter of identity. If they don't defend it, it would be a tremendous shame. If they lose that argumentative contest with you, that is a tremendous shame. I see that not as a new phenomenon. That's exactly what Jesus dealt with when he walked the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem and all the parts of Judea.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Let's go a little deeper in this person versus belief then. How does that play into this equation for them?
Abdu Murray: Yeah, that's a great question because for the Easterner, there almost is no distinction. Who you are as a person is saturated by your belief, and your loyalty to that belief is based on the fact that you have to be loyal to your community. So if you were to change your belief system, what you're telling your mom and your dad and your uncles and your brothers and your sisters and whoever else might be, your second cousins once removed on your mom's side, that's how extended the family system is. You're telling them all, "I don't care about you anymore," because it is a communal system.
Abdu Murray: In an honor-shame culture, the enforcement of morality is just as strong as it is in the West, but in the West, morality's enforced internally. So if I do something wrong, I have an internal conscience that pricks me and says, "Maybe you should confess or make amends." In the East, they had that strong sense of conscience, but it isn't pricked until someone else points it out. Now the shame is visited upon you and now you have to make up for what you've done.
Abdu Murray: So here's the fundamental difference. In the West, if you violate a rule, you have done something bad. In the East, if you violate a rule, you have become someone bad, which means you need a new identity, which is exactly what Jesus offers.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Let's go back to you.
Abdu Murray: Yeah.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Your experience, your encounter with Christ. Take us down that road. Again, what was it really like for you as you stepped in this direction and what did it cost you? I want to talk about how or what we should do personally, why this conversation becomes important to all of us.
Abdu Murray: Yeah. Well, that last question is I'm going to get right there because that's so good. For me, the journey was, as I began to see the intellectual robustness of the Christian faith, how it was answering not only my historical questions, it was answering my philosophical questions and my theological questions. You know, you hear this phrase, "Allahu Akbar," and every time a Muslim says it, immediately something bad happens. But most Muslims say this phrase, "Allahu Akbar," they say it all the time. The peaceful Muslims, who are the majority, say this all the time. It literally means God is greater. They say it when they get blessings, they say it when they get bad news, because God is greater than their circumstances or God greatly blesses them.
Abdu Murray: So God's greatness is the central goal for all Muslims. So I rejected Christianity because I thought I'd insulted God's greatness. How could a great God be three? How could God the Father need help from God the Son and God the Spirit? How could God trap himself in a body that sweats, bleeds, needs to eat, and eventually dies at the hands of the very sinners he creates. This is how I was thinking.
Abdu Murray: Along the way, though, I began to see what Al Gore would call inconvenient truth, is that the Christian faith was answering my search. I wanted to believe Allahu Akbar, god is the greatest possible being, but the Christian faith was the one that was answering it, not my former faith. Because if God is the greatest possible being, and he is, then he would express the greatest possible ethic, which is love. He would express the greatest possible ethic in the greatest possible way. And the greatest possible way to express love is self-sacrifice.
Abdu Murray: No other system of belief gives you a God who not only loves, but loves in the greatest way, self-sacrificially, except the God who is no longer on the cross and who was no longer in that tomb. That's the God that I was looking for my whole life. When I found him Romans 5:8, I read it and I'm like, "This is the God I've been looking for," and that's when I became a Christian.
Abdu Murray: What it cost me was my identity, primarily. I can't go into too much detail about my family because it's their story as well. It was rough, obviously. They were very serious about our religion and we're very close. The good news is we're still close. We're still a close family. It was rough for a while, of course it was, very rough.
Abdu Murray: But I know people who ... quick story about this, a young guy I know ... not so young anymore, it's been 20 years since I came to faith, but he was in Iraq and he became a Christian in Iraq. His brothers found out and they were coming to kill him so his mother got him out of the country. As she went to the airport with him, she kept his face in her hands. She kissed him on both sides of the cheeks, and then she says, "I love you." Then she spit in his face and says, "But you're dead to me," and he never saw her again.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Wow.
Abdu Murray: The reason why I think this conversation we're having right now is so important is because I think the intellectual barriers to the gospel are real, but they pale in comparison to the emotional barriers to the gospel. Whether you're a Muslim or a Hindu or Buddhist or an atheist, and I can rattle off for you right now, five quotes from top atheistic thinkers who want to tell you the reasons are intellectual, but in their honest moments tell you, their real reasons for rejecting are emotional. All of us have barriers to belief and almost none of them are intellectual. Almost all of them are emotional. We use the intellectual to smokescreen. That's what I did for nine years. I can tell you this from firsthand experience.
Abdu Murray: We need to know this and understand this, and what should we do as Christians, which is the question you really ended up with, I think there's three things. Real briefly, first ask questions of the people you're talking to. Ask them a quick question. What would happen if you became a Christian? Let them fill in the blank. Let them talk about the consequences. Then I ask them this, "Isn't that a powerful incentive to not be open-minded? All the things you could lose? Those would be great reasons to not become a Christian." Then second is to listen to the answers, and then third is to commit to sticking by them because when they lose things, community, family, identity, jobs, whatever it is, I want to know from the Christians, where will you be when I lose all this? Hopefully the answer is, "Right beside you."
Dr. Tim Clinton: It reminds me of that quote by Jim Elliott. "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose." This conversation helps begin to challenge our own intellect about how we need to approach one another, how we need to be a little more tender and mindful of who we're engaging and what ultimately holds us. You know that?
Abdu Murray: Yeah.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Abdu, for you, when you now think of the gospel, when you think of the person of Jesus Christ, you can't separate Christ from the gospel because you can't detach.
Abdu Murray: Right.
Dr. Tim Clinton: He is the good news.
Abdu Murray: Yeah.
Dr. Tim Clinton: You know that?
Abdu Murray: Indeed.
Dr. Tim Clinton: And as you look at other phase and as you look back and you're holding tenaciously to that, and now intellectually, now developing a strong apologetic for it and teaching people to understand a reason for the faith or the hope that lies deep within them.
Abdu Murray: Yes.
Dr. Tim Clinton: What is it that you alternately want people to understand and hold on to that allows them to endear others to Christ.
Abdu Murray: Absolutely.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Because why else do we exist? It's Christ in you, the hope of glory. You know that?
Abdu Murray: Amen.
Dr. Tim Clinton: And when people see you, when they engage you, who are they seeing? Who are they engaging?
Abdu Murray: Right.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Every day.
Abdu Murray: Yeah.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Including people who are very different than we are in terms of religious faith.
Abdu Murray: Yeah. Well, I think if we were to take an example from what Jesus did, Jesus operated in a hostile religious and a hostile political environment. Does that sound familiar? He did it lovingly. Every single time he was challenged, he didn't compromise the message, yet for some reason, he took those who tried to play the honor game with him and where they would gain honor and he would lose on, but he flipped it around on them. What was fascinating with Jesus was he didn't just flip the honor game so that they would lose honor, he honored the crowds that were with him. He sanctified the dignity of every human person, even those who didn't agree with him. In fact, let me say this, especially those who didn't agree with him.
Abdu Murray: So the thing that I would take away from this is that Jesus is multilingual. He speaks Eastern because you understand the communal nature and in a Western culture, that's quickly becoming an honor-shame culture.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Family, parable stories, everything, right?
Abdu Murray: Absolutely and just go on social media and you'll find out how much of an honor-shame culture we're becoming. We don't debate issues, we shame people out of their ideas anymore.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Man, we do.
Abdu Murray: So we need to take up the lessons from this ancient Middle Easterner and find out just how applicable he is to us today. So he transcends not only cultures, but also time, in centuries. What I would say is this, is that you hit the nail on the head when you quoted 1 Peter 3:15. It's becoming an increasingly cloudy and increasingly hopeless world. But Peter says, "In the midst of persecution, is to set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being prepared to find a reason, that apologia, that defense for the hope you have to anyone who asks." So we were to live hopeful lives, such that people will say, "What's with you?" They will ask about the hope. Don't just give them reasons for your faith, give them reasons for your hope. Then look at them and say, "I value you."
Abdu Murray: The apostle Paul says not to answer questions, in Colossians 4. He says, be ready to answer people. Because questions don't get answers, but people do, and they use their questions to get them.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Abdu, we celebrate Christ in you and the amazing gift that God has given to you. May God continue to lead and direct you and the ministry.
Abdu Murray: Thank you so much.
Dr. Tim Clinton: Thanks for joining us.
Abdu Murray: My pleasure.
Roger Marsh: Well, this has been a fascinating edition of Dr. James Dobson Family Talk. Our prayer is that this conversation you just heard has challenged you to be ready to give an answer for your faith in Christ. By the way, you can learn more about Abdu Murray, his newest book, and his work in the field of apologetics by going to today's broadcast page at drjamesdobson.org. That's drjamesdobson.org, and then tap onto the Broadcast tab.
Roger Marsh: Thanks for tuning into this program and also for your faithful support of our ministry. Be sure to tune in again tomorrow to hear Dr. Dobson's classic interview with Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. They'll discuss the tough subject of singleness and offer encouragement for those in that season of life. That's all coming up on the next edition of Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk. Hope you'll join us then.
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