John is a good book. Advise your brother to think of the figures of speech in that book in terms of the testimony of believers in faith experience with the Lord, rather than in terms of philosophy and theology. It seems to me that terms in John are traditionally used by Western Christians in ways different from the original intention. John writes this interpretive gospel to the Jews, with the intention of showing how belief in Moses requires belief in Jesus.
If he focuses on the relationship of Jesus and God in Son-Father terms in the traditional manner, he will likely mislead the Muslim to react against this implication that God had sexual relations with a human woman. This is a standard Muslim stereotype of "Son of God" and this is defintely not what Christians mean by this term. Use of this term will reinforce the Muslim stereotype of the Trinity as God, Mary and Jesus.
This of course will confuse the issue, and miscommunicate. Keep in mind that what you communicate should sound like good news. And your goal is to communciate faith, not teach theology. It is also helpful to remember that Jesus' favorite title for himself was Son of Man, a figure of power and strength, a title associated with the messiah-deliverer.
This problem with the term "Son of God" will come up at some point. The Christian should emphasize the strong theme in John that the term Son indicates total obedience with no independent action (reinforced in Hebrews 2, which says Jesus earned the right to BECOME the savior and high priest because of his obedience, and similarly Philippians' portrait of Jesus as giving up all in obedience to the Father, becoming human and thereby becoming appointed as Lord of all because of his obedience). This is what is meant by the phrase: "I and the father are one."
John goes to great lengths in chapters 6-10 to show that Jesus' authority is totally dependent not autonomous, and from Ch. 5 on, it is indicated that Jesus as the Son, the highest ambassador a powerful Eastern personage can send as a representative, says ONLY what he is told by the father, does only what his father does, and fulfills totally the commission and expresses the message he is sent with, but in no way goes outside that commission or acts independently. This seems to be what Jesus means when he says on the cross, "It is finished" (recorded ONLY in John).
If he can faithfully interpret this central theme of John, he will likely convince his Muslim friend that the Muslim stereotypes distort the claim Christians make when they use the Biblical title of Son of God. Tell him to be sure to emphasize John's stress that the Son of Man is the same as the Son of God. The term Son of Man was Jesus' favorite term for himself in Matthew, and refers to the apocalyptic figure in Daniel, which Jesus takes for his title in the role of Messiah, a revered figure in Islam.
It will also be powerful if your brother can refer often to his own experience of faith with the Lord more than any theological arguments. Faith is much stronger than theology, but American Christians like to refer to their theological phrases, perhaps because it is comfortable. But personal testimony is much more direct and powerful, and avoids the Muslim desire to argue philosophy.
Focus on faith, not philosophy, which we so commonly get drawn into by our American cultural biases. In the focus of the New Testament knowledge is not the basis of faith. Faith is the basis of knowledge.
Interpreting the Gospel of John in terms of personal faith relationship with God should provide a good presentation of the good news.
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
First published in Afri-Com, a cross-cultural comunicatoin journal, June 1998
Published on the Trillennium Centre 03 December 2000
Posted on the Jenkins Millennium Culture Centre 30 May 2002
Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2002 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.