That Time Nabeel Qureshi Critiqued My Art and Spurred Me To Boldly Share My Faith

Ryan Lee

October, 2017

“How come I look like Mr. T?” Nabeel quizzed a packed house at the Organic Outreach Conference in 2014. He was referring to the pixelated character meant to bear his likeness that emblazoned the widescreen projection screen behind him. I smiled and took it in stride. I then turned to my friend, one of the only other people who knew I had created that Mr. T lookalike, and said, “Well, there weren’t too many pictures I could find for reference!”

I didn’t know much about Nabeel when I was commissioned to create pixel-art representations of all the main stage speakers at the Organic Outreach Conference, intended to fit the video game-inspired “Level Up” theme. I knew he was a former Muslim, and that he had spoken at the conference each year since 2012. His soon-to-be best-selling autobiography had barely hit the shelves just a few months before I started the work. A Google search for “Nabeel Qureshi” was still probably more likely to yield results featuring a famous Pakistani movie star of the same name. Still, a decent high-res reference photo turned up, so I was able to begin the process of creating a recognizable image of this man in a box 20 pixels wide and 31 pixels tall. 

As I searched for more references, I discovered a talk he gave on the historicity of the New Testament documents. As I watched him give a thoroughly convincing case for the truth of Christianity, I was hooked. His argumentation was so clear and sound, yet he showed genuine compassion for any skeptical questioners. I remember a young Pakistani man grilling him on the Trinity, but he still took time to ask where he was from and speak a few kind Urdu words to him, all with a smile on his face. 

A few months later I relished the opportunity to see this brilliant young apologist in person at the conference. I hurried to the Parkside room early – before he was even there, because I had heard that his breakout sessions were usually standing room only, a phrase you don’t often associate with a lecture on the reliability of the first-century gospel accounts but, here we were, glued to every word and trying to scribble down notes the best we could.

I then turned to my friend, one of the only people who knew I had created that Mr. T lookalike, and said, “Well, there weren’t too many pictures I could find for reference!”

While I don’t recall the finer points of his lecture, I still consider it one of the most influential moments of my Christian walk. Something he said–perhaps in passing, perhaps in response to a question–set me on a path of boldly sharing my faith with others.

If you compare any other worldview to Christianity, Christianity will always come out on top.

Always? Really?

Yes, always.

I think that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me at that moment. I thought I didn’t have to be afraid, ashamed, or even feel weird about my faith–I could go into any conversation knowing that I can have certainty in God and of the truth of Christianity. There is no reason I need to feel like the brainless rube who lives on blind faith. That is a false caricature propagated by the world that many of us have bought into. Our faith is not one without reason nor a belief without evidence. We can be in a room with a Buddhist, a Muslim, and an Atheist and we, the Christians, are the ones that have the most evidence for our faith.

Up to that point I had already been casually reading up on apologetics, but that moment spurred me to further immerse myself. I began reading the works of many of the same people Nabeel had called friends and mentors. People like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Mike Licona, Greg Koukl, and J. Warner Wallace, and of course Nabeel’s own works. I began watching videos of Gary Habermas, Frank Turek, and Nabeel’s friend David Wood. I also discovered the wealth of scholarly work that began almost immediately after Jesus miraculously rose from the grave. With nearly 2000 years of work on the topic, I am now convinced that whatever objection you may encounter from a skeptic about the truth of Christianity, not only is there an answer for it, but there’s a good chance multiple people have written a doctoral dissertation on it. The weight of the evidence is absolutely incredible. There really was a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who really claimed to be God, then backed up that claim by rising from the dead. Yes, it really happened.

Nabeel also knew that apologetics can be a double-edged sword. While it succeeds at “demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,” it can just as easily inflict harm upon you as you wield it. Too easily we can use it to win arguments but lose souls. Recklessly swinging the sword of apologetics without being undergirded by love and compassion for the lost is a recipe for disaster. 

But it was obvious that Nabeel knew that, even unto his dying breath. As he said in his final video recorded just a week before his death: “As you consider my ministry, I hope it leaves a message of love, of peace, of truth, of caring for one another…Our God is a God of love.”

Shortly after I opened the Twitter app on my phone late afternoon on Saturday 16, 2017, I wept. Incidentally, many of those authors I had read were offering up their condolences as they too struggled with the heartbreak of losing a loved one. 

Although I never actually met Nabeel personally, his words spoken at that Organic Outreach Conference still resonate with me today. But even more so is his life of love, affection, and genuine compassion for those who are lost without Jesus. 

Like so many of the saints that have gone before him, Nabeel genuinely lived a life of unbridled love, bursting forth with compassion and driven by an unwavering commitment to truth. May his faithful life be an example and an encouragement to all of God’s people to do the same. And in the final words of the apostle Peter, may we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

Ryan Lee is a member of Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California where the Organic Outreach Conference is hosted annually.

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