From Haifa, Israel, to Louisville, Kentucky, Scott Bridger devotes his life to the people of the Middle East. He lives, breathes, and teaches Islamic studies, and after living in the Middle East for 12 years, he now instructs Southern Seminary students about a Christian understanding of Islam.
Bridger’s devotion to studying Islam and its people began during his years as a college student. After his conversion at 18, he felt a distinct call from the Lord to minister among unreached people groups, specifically in the Middle East.
When he was a child, Bridger’s parents divorced and his mom soon remarried. When his mom and new stepdad professed faith in Christ several years later, Bridger’s home life changed as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in his parents’ hearts. He noticed the change, but not until he turned 18 did he realize that he needed Christ’s saving work in his own heart, which led him to submit his life to Christ. Two years later, Bridger heard a speaker lecture about the lostness of people in the Middle East.
“The Spirit really impressed me that this is what I need to give my life to,” he said. The Lord confirmed his calling through a short-term trip to Romania. During the trip he met Romanian believers “who did not have much, yet treasured Jesus,” and this impacted him to begin his study of Islam. Today, he teaches students about Islam to better understand and love the people of the Middle East.
When he started college at the University of Tennessee, he studied Hebrew, which fostered a love for Jewish people and all peoples of the Middle East. During his studies, he had many opportunities to develop relationships with several people from the Middle East, which taught him about the culture, the language, expectations, and more. After he finished the last 10 hours of his undergraduate degree in Israel, he moved and began his master’s degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
“My calling was to pioneer work among the unreached,” he said. “I didn’t sense a call to pastoral ministry or preaching at all, but it was clearly just to work among those unreached people groups.” He has accomplished this goal through his work in the Middle East. He and his wife, who met on Christmas Eve in Jerusalem, later worked as translators, tour guides, and teachers in the Middle East. Three of Bridger’s five children were born in the Middle East, and his family’s heart remains there even as they live in Louisville. While in Israel, Bridger taught theology at a small Bible College in Nazareth. In addition to teaching, he also spent time as a student in Haifa, his favorite city in Israel and the place his family called home for almost eight years.
One of the best ways Bridger and his family grew to love people in the Middle East, and the best way to dispel stereotypes about that part of the world, he said, is to get to know people.
“The gospel, and what God is doing in the gospel, necessitates that we engage people and be very direct, very intentional about getting to know other people in other cultures,” he said. “If the gospel truly is for every tribe and tongue and nation — which it is — that necessitates us as ambassadors of the gospel in breaking down stereotypes and getting to know people.
“The importance of learning about Muslims and Islam is connected to our obligations in the gospel,” he said. “Of the world’s unreached peoples, 1.6 billion adhere to some form of Islam. This reality necessitates that those preparing for gospel ministry develop a nuanced understanding of Islam, a love for Muslim peoples, and responses to Islam that are faithful to the gospel and meaningful to Muslims,” he said.
According to Bridger, this is not only important for those who plan to minister overseas, but for all believers, which is one of the reasons he teaches at Southern Seminary. He serves as director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam and the Bill and Connie Jenkins
Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies. The Jenkins Center, dedicated in February 2014, is one way the seminary is educating its students about Islam and how to understand the Middle East in light of the gospel.
“For those interested in obtaining the highest level of biblical and theological education coupled with advanced training in Arabic and Islamic studies, Southern Seminary is the place to come.”