The second bridge is love and friendship: A missionary friend was comparing responses to a couple of petitions currently going around Christian circles. One had to do with correct translation of scripture on a website called, “Biblical missiology” and the other called “the radical love campaign.”  At last count, the call for correct theology had garnered over eleven thousand signatures, whereas the latter only four hundred and thirty-one, although it was hoped they would have one hundred thousand by March/12.  He said this is very said because it’s easy for us to criticize each other in standing up for the truth, but difficult to love Muslims.

Few of us seem willing and able to form friendships with Muslims or to get to know what Islam is all about.  In a survey conducted by Pew Forum in September of 2007, the analysis of a questionnaire brought forth an interesting statistic: Fifty-eight percent of Americans “know little to nothing about Islam’s practices. Interestingly enough, this number represents little change since September 11, 2001.

We fear people we do not know, and when it comes to Muslims, people who are most fearful are usually those who have never met a Muslim and instead rely on media, current events, or other sources for their understanding of Muslims.  Folks tend to demonize others they do not know, but when they have Muslim friends, sit with them, and talk with them, they realize Muslims are some of the nicest people in the world.

Pew found a major factor identified as affecting one’s attitude was whether or not they actually knew a Muslim.  While age, education, and knowledge of Islam were also identified as key factors in shaping one’s view of Muslims, those who knew a Muslim held the most favorable view of Muslim-Americans (seventy-four percent).  Hence, there is not so much a clash of civilization as there is a clash of stereotypes and a clash of ignorance.

One friend understands all too well that for the most part Muslim women can only be reached through the efforts of Christian women.  She estimates that Muslim women standing side-by-side would encircle the globe eleven times, whereas the line of Christian women trying to reach them would only stretch eighty-three miles.  Her point is that more Christian women need to come forward who will reach out to Muslim women, otherwise they will never be won for Christ. We tend to either stare when we see a veiled woman or look the other way and Muslim women say it bothers them that few Americans look them in the eye.  So this sister has started a campaign, called: “Say Hello.” She says God brought Muslims to the West so we need to smile, look friendly, and just say hello.

Please accept my apologies for not getting to this next edition in a timely manner.  I’ve been busy preparing and teaching a course on the spirit world, not to mention other pressing needs (Warren Larson).

In talking about bridges, I am using the term more broadly than just commonalities between Muslims and Christians.  These are principles for work among Muslims.  The first bridge is courage and perseverance:  One of my heroes is Samuel Zwemer, and for seven years, I directed an organization named after him.  Though he personally saw very few Muslims come to faith, he was probably the greatest missionary America ever sent to the Islamic world.  He went out to the heart of the Muslim world in 1888.  His zeal, gifts and perseverance launched a modern missionary movement to Muslims. Of him, the great historian, Kenneth LaTourette, said no one is more deserving of the title, “Apostle to Islam.”  He was an evangelist, a prolific author, a compelling public speaker, and a talented professor.  He went everywhere teaching and preaching to Muslims the need of a Savior; to Christians, the need to reach Muslims for Christ.

The thirteenth child in a family of fifteen, by the age of five, he could read English and Dutch and later learned German in school.  Driven by an intense and somewhat nervous personality, he maintained a flurry of activity all his life: witnessing to Muslims, speaking, writing in the cause of mission to Islam, recruiting workers, and raising money to support missions.  In the end he would travel to the bastions of Islam—India, the Middle East, China and the Balkans.  Linguistically, he was brilliant and mastered Arabic, but acknowledged it was a challenge, especially the pronunciation.  He said the guttural sound belong to the desert and undoubtedly was borrowed from the camel, groaning under the weight of his load.

When two young daughters died from dysentery in 1904, he and his wife wrote on their tombstone: “Worthy is the Lamb to receive riches.”  News from the Arab world shows there is much concern for the tiny nation of Bahrain, where a Shi’ite majority feels bludgeoned by a Sunni monarchy and ultra-conservative Muslims next door in Saudi Arabia. Surely God will use the labor of Samuel Zwemer in Bahrain for the furtherance of gospel among suffering Shi’ites.

In 1912, Zwemer and his family moved to Cairo to direct the Nile Mission Press in printing and distributing Christian literature in Arabic.  He felt Al-Azhar University was the intellectual and theological stronghold of Islam and nothing deterred him from spreading the good news, usually through distributing Bibles, and other Christian literature—some of which he himself had written in Arabic.  He said: “No agency can penetrate Islam so deeply, abide so persistently, witness so daringly, and influence as irresistibly as the printed page.”

It was his habit each year in Cairo to take trainees to Al-Azhar University to meet the president.  Once, while in the president’s office, he asked the president to look out the window: “Do you see the stars?”  The president replied that it was a bright day in Cairo.  With his arm around him, Zwemer said: “My friend, once the Son appears, all lesser lights disappear.”  What he meant, of course, is that with Jesus there is no need of Muhammad.

Although direct and even blunt at times, his friendliness usually enabled him to talk to Muslims without antagonizing them.  His desire to engage Muslims through the world of ideas enabled him to confront the intellectual strongholds of Islam.  And he wrote over fifty books in English to stir up and motivate Christians; in 1911 he founded the “Moslem World” and continued to edit it for the next thirty-six years.  The Quarterly was designed to give information on matters of Islamic lore at an academic level but also as a forum of Christian witness among Muslims.  As long as he was editor, the magazine was evangelical and missional, but today is neither.

Not wanting to just study Islam, he grappled with practical issues and referred to the work as the “glory of the impossible.” At a North American conference he chose the text: “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at thy word, I will let down the nets.”  He went on to say that the time would come when so many Muslims will come to Christ that the boats (churches) will not be able to hold them.  Moved, his audience asked what they could do, and Samuel Zwemer said, “Pray.” Thus was born the Fellowship of Faith for Muslims in Toronto.

For Zwemer, Islam was a “spiritual problem.” He loved Muslims and appreciated the insights of Muslim thinkers, like Al-Ghazali (the greatest Muslim theologian and philosopher, who died in AD 1111), but felt Islam was a system that denied the gospel.  The prevalence of amulets all over the Muslim world was a strong indication of Satan’s work.  He felt the task of reaching Muslims was not a phrase to be bandied about easily; rather it was a deep life-purpose, a work of faith, a labor of love, and a patience of hope.”  He determined never to play down the truths of the gospel–the mystery of the incarnation, the necessity of the atonement and the glory of the cross.

Yet, unlike Karl Pfander, he was not a polemicist, and did not debate Muslims publicly.  His goal was not to beat up on Islam.  He felt Muslims should be contacted on a personal, friendly basis, not confrontation and he believed points of contact do exist and that every Muslim heart has been prepared by the Holy Spirit.  Samuel Zwemer has been proven right: Recent research shows that most Muslims who embrace Jesus do so because of the love and friendship of a Christ follower.

Surprisingly, Samuel Zwemer said the Qur’an left room for dialog, that is, he felt the Qur’an could be used as a bridge.  He believed a loving but bold presentation of the surpassing grandeur and beauty of Jesus would never alienate the Muslim heart and said workers should always press home the question: “What do you think of Christ?”  When he died on April 2, 1952, a grieving colleague spoke for millions: “A missionary prince has fallen in our midst.”  He had persevered for the Glory of the Impossible and what we see today is a result of what Zwemer worked for.  God is making the impossible come true.

This is the first of several articles I will post on “the topic: “Barriers and Bridges in Befriending Muslims”–fortunately twice as many bridges as barriers! (Warren Larson)

On the morning of 9-11, I was teaching a course on Islam at Columbia International University, and during the break heard the tragic news.  A few faculty members gathered in a conference center where a small television had been set up, and we saw the towers fall.  Regular chapel was cancelled and a senior colleague was called upon to give some comfort and direction.  He said, “Our nation has been humbled and we have suffered attacks on the highest levels of our financial and government institutions.  The greatest symbols of our power and glory have toppled; we need to pray and trust God.”

 On May 2, one year ago, my article, “Do not Gloat over Osama bin Laden’s Death” was published in Christianity TodayQuoting the Scripture that says not to “gloat when your enemy falls” (Proverbs 24:7), I said that rather than playing bagpipes, dancing in the streets, and singing Amazing Grace near Ground Zero, we should be praying for Muslims.  Although we can be thankful bin Laden is no longer around to threaten us, we must demonstrate spiritual concern for the countless Muslims still alive, many of whom are open to hearing the good news.

To help the church see how needy Muslims are, I have a message entitled, “Five Muslims by the side of the road,” likening all of them to the man Jesus talked about who was left wounded and bleeding, while religious folks passed him by.  They include a destitute woman (more than ½ billion Muslim women constitute the largest block of unreached peoples), a folk Muslim–75% of Muslims in our world do daily battle with spirits where the world view involves charms, amulets, curses, blessings and the evil eye.  There is of course the ordinary one next door, but the last Muslim is a radical, and it is mostly because of him that the church is confused and struggling.

There are many barriers that keep Muslims away: theological (Muslims struggle with certain concepts, like the incarnation and Son of God issue), social (family and society work together to prevent anyone from leaving Islam), political (Muslims see Christians as allies of Israel in the plight of Palestinians), historical (unhappy Muslim-Christian conflicts in the past, like the Crusades, have not been forgotten) and economic (sixty percent of the world’s poor are Muslims).  We may not be able to do much about these obstacles, but there are barriers we can do something about, and I believe they are bigger than they were prior to September 11, 2001.

The first barrier is fear.  Not long ago an evangelical pastor I know had a young Muslim man in traditional dress visit his church on a Sunday morning. After taking notes through the sermon, the Muslim approached the pastor at the end of the service to argue. In response, the pastor tried to give biblical answers, but wasn’t prepared for it and felt threatened, mostly because the Muslim kept one hand in his pocket; it was assumed he had a weapon. Others in the church felt the same because of the intense dialog.  He left, saying “You’re all are a bunch of hypocrites and I’m not coming back!”  One deacon suggested bringing guns to church for protection.

After this unpleasant incident, the pastor called for a meeting of other pastors in his denomination to discuss how to respond to such situations, and the Zwemer Center was invited.  Our staff encouraged them to learn all they could about Islam through seminars/courses, seek out Muslim friendships, and most of all to begin praying for Muslims.  The pastors listened politely, but seemed unconvinced.  It was like a gigantic struggle between fear and faith and fear won out.

Such sentiments appear to be widespread, especially among evangelicals.  In a poll taken by the Pew Forum in September of 2004, twenty-nine percent of evangelicals held a “favorable” view of Islam while forty-six percent an “unfavorable” view.  Pew said:  “more than half of white evangelicals who attend church at least once a week have an unfavorable impression of Islam.”

Then, in 2007, Pew noted an increase in negative views by evangelicals toward Muslims and Islam, dropping five points between 2004 and 2007. This same survey said that while Catholic and mainline Protestant views toward Muslims/Islam became somewhat more positive, evangelical views declined: By 2007, twenty-four percent have favorable views in contrast to Catholics (48% favorable) and mainline Protestants (fifty-one percent favorable).

Sensing the trend, six years ago, I wrote an article in Christianity Today that addressed the negative post 9/11 literature on Islam in an article entitled, “Unveiling the Truth about Islam: Too Many Christians Miss the Mark.” This is part of what I said in the review of several books that came out soon after the horrendous event that rocked our nation:

“Unfortunately, too many of these evangelical polemics are historically inaccurate, theologically misinformed, and missiologically misguided. Apparently, a lot of us simply dislike Muslims (usually without knowing any). When we critique Islam, we need to be fair and accurate. Those of us who make Muslim-Christian comparisons must do so from a position of informed engagement, as those who have worked with Muslims. When we review historical tensions between the two faiths, we must apply rigorous historical analysis, when we write about Islam; we must remember that love is the greatest apologetic.”

One book reviewed gave readers the impression that “a real Muslim is by definition a violent one,” and the tendency is once again to define Islam by its most radical expression, rather than by seeking to have a balanced understanding that encompasses the wide variety of Muslims.

Another book with the title, from 9/11 to 666: The Convergence of Current Events, Biblical Prophecy and the Vision of Islam presumes that the antichrist will be a Muslim. Dates were even set for the Beast’s appearance and describe in dramatic detail what life will be like in the United States under the tyranny of Islam. Such presumptuous statements damage Muslim-Christian relations to the extent that people take them seriously.  I also said,

“We Christians must discuss irreconcilable differences with Muslims, but we should also recognize similarities, bridges, and common themes. There is a place for “unveiling” Islam, provided we do it with sensitivity, understanding, and careful research.”

No doubt Muslims do violent things in the name of Islam.  Radicalized Muslims, some of whom were born and bred in the West continue to carry out hateful acts.  It is true that radical Muslims are targeting Christians. Boko Haram, an extremist group in Nigeria, is burning down Christian churches and Coptic churches are going up in flames in Egypt.  The suffering of Christians in Southern Sudan and the case against an Iranian pastor are true.  The media, including some Christian media, focus on this, as they have sought to warn America about radical Islam; but the media have not always given a balanced picture of ordinary Muslims. While media sources cannot be blamed for informing people about radical religion, their focus on terrorism in Islam perpetuates the generalization that all Muslims are untrustworthy, unpatriotic and dangerous.  Some of the coverage is alarmist and many Christians seem paranoid.

There is also fear of Muslim growth.  In Canada, several years ago I saw a sign outside a mosque in Toronto that said: “Everyone welcome and no one told he is a sinner.”  The Ottawa Citizen (8/31/09) told how Muslims have increased.  Over a period of three decades in Canada’s capitol, they grew from 4,000 to 65,000 (one-hundred and twenty-eight percent increase) and this makes most Canadians nervous.  In Europe (fifteen million Muslims), it’s not only the growth, but lack of integration that is worrisome.  When said integration isn’t working, it means Muslims don’t fit. Two years ago, when I was teaching a course just outside Stuttgart, Chancellor Merkel said multiculturalism “has utterly failed.”  What she evidently meant was that millions of Muslims have not integrated well into society.  She’s right.  In France there are other divisive issues, like the veil, and Muslims do not feel at home there either.

Besides, there is fear of an Islamic takeover, of Shari’ah Law, and that Western governments are too soft on Islam.  A news letter received from workers in a major American city received just before Easter put it this way: “Around the world the agenda of Islam marches on—to bring the whole earth under submission to Allah.  Muslim leaders act like the victory is inevitable—and all the while, we in the West are meekly conceding to their many demands. Let us lay hold of the promise that, the one who died for us, rose for us, who daily empowers us, soon coming for us—he alone is the one through whom we are able to have overwhelming victory.”  Another newsletter from one who describes herself as “a student of Islam” and of the Bible, says: “… the Holy Spirit has showed me several times … that the Antichrist will be Islamic.”

Could it be that this is what many want to hear?  They want to hear how evil Islam is, how badly Muslim women are treated, and that Islam has a global agenda.  One group, “Operation save America,” held a procession outside a mosque in Charlotte, NC.  They railed against abortion and homosexuality, but included Muslims in their tirade: “Jesus hates Muslims.”  A Muslim inside the mosque said: “We also love Jesus and if he were here he wouldn’t say he hates us.” We want to preserve our values, our cultures, our “kingdoms” and let the Muslims go to hell.  Many of Islam’s fiercest critics have no interest in repentance and no desire to see Muslims rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light.  We need to be reminded that that God wants to save Muslims, not kill them: “He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

It is true that some Muslims talk about a “takeover” and think Islam will dominate the world.  Muslims are getting into schools and demand freedom for dress codes and dietary laws, when at the same time either denying or restricting worship of minorities where Islam has a majority.  Evangelicals therefore must be prepared to take on political Islam with political arguments.   An American friend was in the UK, dialoging with Islamic clerics, mostly in universities.  I quote what he wrote to me: “As the team of Muslims with whom I had worked with all week was traveling to the airport, they were holding forth with gusto on the need to establish Muslim rule and Shari’ah Law in England– that was the only hope for England as they were expounding. I weighed in with strong and forth right counter arguments. Eventually there were several minutes of silence, and then the chap who had been expounding the most vehemently in the need for Shari’ah in England observed, ‘If we are honest, we all know that we agree with Dr. S.  That is why we are flying to Canada tonight and not to Pakistan which is our home land. We love the freedoms of Canada and detest the restrictions of Pakistan. In fact in Pakistan I would be put in prison if I practiced there the freedoms that I so love in Canada.'”

Dr. S. went on to say that that our strongest defense against political Islam is to boldly bear witness we who are followers of Christ and committed to the freedoms God himself gives to us and that we are deeply committed to the separation of church and state because that is Biblical.  “If we cherish those freedoms,” he said, “we need to engage Islam in forthright dialogue and encounter on these issues.”

Former Columbia International University student, Jason Casper, has a blog called A Sense of Belonging: The Caspers Learn of Life in Egypt.  His most recent post says there is an intriguing conversation going on between the Muslim Brotherhood and evangelicals in Egypt.  One point of the discussion says: “All sons of the country have the same rights and responsibilities as the constitution states. Equality among all citizens constructs societal unity; efficiency is the only criterion to hold a public position; and equality of economic opportunities is the basis of justice.”

This text is transcribed from documents received from the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services, headed by Dr. Andrea Zaki, a chief participant in this meeting.

The text reads:

Based on a welcoming letter from Dr. Rev. Safwat al-Bayadi, President of the Protestant Community of Egypt and Dr. Rev. Andrea Zaki, Vice-President, sent to the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, which addressed some public opinion issues at this critical stage in Egyptian history after the January 25th Revolution and gained the attention of the Guidance Office of the Muslim Brotherhood, and based on the two parties’ communication, the General Guide called for a meeting to gather the leaders of the evangelical church and the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. The meeting took place on February 28, 2012, at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The General Guide has agreed to visit the headquarters of the evangelical church upon invitation.

The participants consented on the importance of the current historical moment Egypt is going through after the revolution, which requires everyone to take social and historical responsibility to advance the country. The participants emphasized that Egypt’s future depends on community cohesion and unity, and stressed on the basic values of the Egyptian society that represent its social and cultural identity and brings its citizens together.

The participants agreed on the following:

  • The sons of the country are all partners in one destiny and one future.
  • The joint struggle of all Egyptians of all segments of society, that was manifest in the January Revolution, represents the cornerstone of societal unity; the struggle reflects that full citizenship, based on equality, is the foundation of this society.
  • All sons of the country have the same rights and responsibilities as the constitution states. Equality among all citizens constructs societal unity; efficiency is the only criterion to hold a public position; and equality of economic opportunities is the basis of justice.
  • The Egyptian society is based on solidarity, interdependence and compassion among all people, which represents the bond that includes all citizens without discrimination. Therefore, education should promote the values of tolerance, solidarity and pluralism.
  • Respect for beliefs and sanctities is obligatory. Prevention of any contempt of others’ beliefs and the incitement of hatred is a compulsory social responsibility of loyal citizens.
  • Freedom of belief and religious practices as well as freedom to build or renovate religious houses – in light of the law and the right for citizens to resort to their own religious laws concerning their personal affairs along with other rights mentioned in the Islamic Sharia’ – are all considered part of the values of the Egyptian society and a base for its cultural authenticity.
  • The participation of all citizens in defending the country is the responsibility of all, and it is the crucible where all segments of society are melted and form national unity. This national unity is crucial to fighting all internal and external enemies of Egypt who want to drive a wedge between its societal segments.
  • The religious values are the motives of the renaissance. Therefore, everyone must mobilize these values to achieve a better future for Egypt.
  • Societal responsibility obliges all leaders, institutions and religious movements to fight against all types of strife, intolerance and discrimination, and consolidate the unity of society.
  • The Egyptian society’s identity represents the frame for all its people. All people have made contributions to this identity and deserve its legacy. Protection of societal values is considered the basis of cultural uniqueness and the responsibility of all citizens who contributed to building Egypt’s civilization together over time.

All participants of this meeting made emphasis on the importance of communication between the two parties to promote joint activities, especially among the youth, such as encouraging active participation, advocating for values and religious morals, and carrying the social responsibility of fighting the illness that affected the Egyptian society under the previous regime. This will guarantee everyone the right to participate in building a new Egypt that achieves the demands and dreams of the revolution.

Attendees from the Muslim Brotherhood:

  • Dr. Mohamed Badie (General Guide, Head of the Executive Office)
  • Mr. Mohamed Mahdy Akef (former General Guide)
  • Dr. Rashad Mohamed Bayoumy (Vice-General Guide)
  • Dr. Hosam Abo Bakr al-Seddik (Member of the Guidance Office)
  • Mr. Walid Shalaby (Media Counselor to the General Guide)

Attendees from The Evangelical Church in Egypt:

  • Dr. Rev. Safwat al-Bayadi (President of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Dr. Rev. Andrea Zaki (Vice-President of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Rev. George Shaker (Secretariat of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Rev. Soliman Sadek (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Fagala)
  • Dr. Rev. Makram Naguib (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Heliopolis)
  • Dr. Rev. Atef Mehanny (President of the Evangelical Seminary)
  • Dr. Helmy Samuel (Member of the Parliament)
  • Dr. Rafik Habib (Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services)
  • Rev. Refaat Fathy (Secretariat of the Evangelical Synod)
  • Dr. Rev. Sarwat Kades (Chairman of the Board of Dialogue of the Evangelical Synod)
  • Dr. Emad Ramzy (Secretariat of the Board of Directors of CEOSS)
  • Rev. Daoud Ebrahim (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Rev. Eid Salah (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Mr. Farouk al-Zabet (Head of the Congregation of the Evangelical Brethren Church)
  • Dr. Fready al-Bayadi (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Rev. Nady Labib (Head of Cairo Presbyterian Council)
  • Rev. Refaat Fekry (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Ard Sherif)

While teaching a course on Islam at Korntal (German branch of Columbia International University) last month, I went to Dachau, ten miles northwest of Munich.  It was the first of many Nazi POW camps, built in 1933, and a model for all other camps.   Fear and dread of Dachau was so great people prayed to escape its horrors: “Dear God, make me dumb that I may not to Dachau come.” On April 29, 1945, US soldiers freed 32,000 malnourished inmates (Slavs, political prisoners of many nationalities, criminals, gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, mentally ill and others).  Only God only knows how many perished through disease, malnutrition, execution and suicide.

Incriminating images show that Hitler took sadistic delight in torturing people.  One scene (left) is a huge memorial sculpture in memory of those who died on the high voltage fence surrounding the camp, either through suicide or in trying to escape.  I left Dachau with two sobering questions: Where was the church and could anything like that happen in our context?

Historically it was a harrowing time and conditions in Europe paved the way for the rise of a dictator. Germany was at an all-time low.  She had been forced to accept blame for Allied losses in WWI, and the 1919 Treaty of Versailles imposed reparations she could not possibly repay.  The Dutch Mark had fallen, unemployment skyrocketed, and the Great Depression gave Hitler the chance he wanted.  In 1933 with only thirty-seven percent of the vote he seized control.  Through deceit, back-room deals and demonic influence he swept democracy aside.  He controlled crime, built roads, improved the economy and restored national honor.  For such amazing success he was basically worshiped.  Even most Christians (Protestant and Catholic) adopted Nazi ideology, and buckled under governmental pressure.

Yet not everyone supported the Fuhrer and numerous attempts were made on his life.  Some saw through his religious veneer and became alarmed at his open hatred for the Jews, but few dared to oppose him.  One who eventually did speak up was the Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoeller, who had initially hailed the Nazis, but turned against them and helped found the Confessional Church.  For resisting he spent 1938-1945 in Dachau, the last seven years of the Nazi regime, but regretted not speaking up sooner:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The most powerful and radical opponent of Nazism, however, was Dietrich Bonheoffer.  Unlike most (including pastors), he foresaw the evil early on and railed against it: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.  God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.”   In 1939 he made the heart-wrenching decision to leave the safety of America and certain death in Germany.  For conspiring to assassinate Hitler and trying to save an entire nation from the monstrous evil of Nazism he was arrested in 1943, and executed at the Flossenburg POW camp, April 9, 1945.  It was twenty-three days before the Nazi surrender and only one week before Hitler committed suicide.  Bonheoffer demonstrated the high cost of discipleship and he did so with joy and indomitable courage.

America also faces threats and it is usually assumed these will come from the outside. For the last ten years the threat of Islam has dominated our thinking and apocalyptic literature has perpetuated this fear.  For instance, From 9/11 to 666: the Convergence of Current Events, Biblical Prophecy and the Vision of Islam purports to “… Prepare the church for the fulfillment of these awful prophecies.”  The author predicts the Antichrist will be a Muslim and dates are even set for the Beast’s appearance, describing in dramatic detail what life will soon be like in the United States under Islam’s tyranny.  The Anti-Christ is indeed coming but we must not make wild predictions as to his identity.   What we can say is that he will be given power over “all inhabitants of the earth” and widely worshiped to a far greater degree than Hitler could have imagined.  He will control all business and any who refuse to do his bidding will be killed (Daniel 8:24; Revelation 13:3, 8, 16-17).

Closer to home, Bonheoffer admired some things about American Christianity, but warned of secularism.  Who can deny the prophetic truth of his words seventy years ago?   The lesson from Dachau is that we acknowledge our own propensity for evil and tendency to follow the crowd.  Current voices extol the glories of America’s past and desire to embrace an even greater future.  We too must avoid unshackled nationalism and pride in our political, economic and military accomplishments.  Moral decline, half-hearted commitment and failure to live out the gospel threaten us the most.  The greatest danger is within.

Check these titles:

Benz, Wolfgang and Barbara Distel, Eds., 2002.  Dachau and the Nazi Terror 1933-1945, Vol. II Studies and Reports).  Dacha: Verlag Dachauer Hefte.

Bonheoffer, Dietrich, 1937. The cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Lutzer, Erwin W., 1995, Hitler’s Cross: The Revealing Story of how the Cross of Christ was used as a Symbol of the Nazi Agenda. Chicago: Moody Press.

Metaxas, Eric, 2010.  Bonheoffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich.  Nashville, Dallas, Mexico City: Thomas Nelson.

Shirer, William, 1959. The Rise and fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon and Schuster

Chrislam: How Missionaries are promoting an Islamized Gospel

Joshua Lingel, Jeff Morton & Bill Nikides, eds. i2 Ministries Publications, 344 pages, $25.

–Reviewed by Warren Larson, Former Director of the Zwemer Center, and Associate Professor of Muslim Studies, Columbia International University, South Carolina.

The best thing to be said about this book is that it addresses critical issues in mission to Muslims.  Insider movement (IM) proponents have received ample press in the past (Mission Frontiers and IJFM) and this text deems it high time to present another perspective.  It calls for careful exegesis (62-76) of passages like I Corinthians 9:19-22.  It insists Muhammad was not a prophet in any sense of the term and the Qur’an is not divinely-inspired.  It opposes removing familial language for God from Muslim-friendly translations (199-226), and though SIL and Wycliffe Bible Translators have issued new guidelines saying “Son of God” will be translated literally in most cases, sees the loophole large enough to justify many problematic “exceptions.”  Many readers will resonate with such concerns but question the content and tone of this text.

Chrislam: How Missionaries are Promoting an Islamized Gospel consists of twenty-five chapters and is written by numerous authors.  It contains a foreword, acknowledgements, preface, three appendices, bibliography, and an index.  Material is divided up into six sections that deal with various subjects, including hermeneutics, translation, missiology, testimonies/interviews of former Muslims, and resources of IM websites, an index and references from both the Bible and the Qur’an.

On the positive side, sections one and five have the most value: The first section quotes IM proponents extensively, however taken out of context, may give impressions never intended by the authors.  Section five gives Muslim converts (mostly Bengali) a voice in expressing strong opposition to IM; however other Bengalis could be called upon for the exact opposite view.  

On the negative side, the Preface (iii-iv) is especially troubling: It contains inaccuracies, misperceptions and unbiblical attitudes.  A statement in the second paragraph, “… [W]hat is at stake is not our personal relationships with brothers and sisters” suggests it does not matter what we say about fellow-believers, as long as we tell what we think is the truth.  A comment in the third paragraph makes a generalization about all IM ministries:  “… [N]o churches are planted …” Such sweeping statements set the tone for what is to follow.  This book is reactionary, primarily a work of extremes, including an alarmist and inflammatory title.  Nor is it put together well: One chapter (100-115) argues that Christians should treat Islam like an Old Testament ban, because after all, it is a pagan religion.  And Samuel Zwemer’s article (306-308) on secret believers is misplaced; a more fitting quote would have been: “We must become Moslems to the Moslem if we would gain them for Christ” (The Moslem Christ, 183). 

This book demonstrates that evangelical Christians have failed to settle an important question peacefully: To what extent can one remain culturally and religiously “Muslim” while seeking to follow Jesus?  The opinion of this reviewer is that differences of opinion on such a controversial topic can only be clarified through careful scholarship, mutual respect and face-to-face dialog.

Check these titles:

Cumming, Joseph, 2008. “Muslim Followers of Jesus?”  (Christianity Today, December).

Kateregga, Badru D. and David W. Shenk. 1999.  A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press. 

Khalil, Mohammad Hassan and Mucahit Bilici, 2007.  “Conversion Out of Islam: A Study of Conversion Narratives of Former Muslims” (The Muslim World, Volume 7).

 Zwemer, Samuel Marinus, 1912.  The Muslim Christ.  Published by the Message for Muslims Trust.

The author begins by stating that during the cold war communism was the enemy, but since the fall of the Soviet Union, many Americans think Islam is the enemy.  The purpose of this book is to help us all understand that Islam is not the enemy and neither are Muslims.  They can in fact become our friends.  We should pray for them, take every opportunity to pray in their presence, and seek to witness with love and understanding.  We should seek their friendship, not simply to unload the gospel, but to become genuine friends.  In such a context, opportunities for witness will come, since most are open to discussing matters of faith.   Having befriended, witnessed and prayed with many Muslims over the years, Medearis sets a good example for the rest of us.

In an effort to help others engage Muslims in meaningful relationships, Medearis suggests a gentle steering of conversations toward Jesus, rather than focusing on apologetics, or trying to defend Israel.  He argues convincingly that if this is our goal many Muslim-Christian tensions will fall by the way side.  In short, he wants to move Christians from fear to faith and says a good place to begin is to look for common ground, like God, angels, Holy Books, Prophets and the Day of Judgment.  There are sticky points, like the Son of God, but we should not start there.

Medearis suggests that by using the Qur’an we can help Muslims think more deeply about Jesus: “[T]he Qur’an is quite possibly the greatest inroad we have to reach the hearts of our Muslim friends” (p. 66).  He arranges the nearly one hundred verses about Jesus (all of them positive) under the topics of his birth, his character, his death and his exaltation (pp. 70-73).  He admits the Qur’an is problematic, confusing, conflicted and “… a few verses do condone killing” (p. 66).  It categorically denies Jesus is the Son of God, but he insists there is a “gold mine running through the Qur’an: His name is Jesus (Isa)” (p. 66).

Of particular value in this book are the many practical ways Christians can relate to Muslims, especially in the area of hospitality.  Christians, he says, should first of all plan to “have fun” (p. 152) because most Muslims love to party.  Such settings will afford conversations and he lists the top five questions often asked: “Do you believe Muhammad was a prophet?”  “Do you think the Qur’an is God’s inspired book?”  “Has the Bible been changed?” “How could God have a son?” And, “Was Jesus crucified?” He gives guidelines on how to respond to each question and ends up with a few do’s and don’ts in witness.  Whatever you do, says Medearis, do not attack Muhammad and try to visit a mosque.

The greatest strength of this book is perhaps the author’s ability to tell stories and some of them are humorous.  Every missionary can relate to how using the wrong word can completely change the meaning.  In attempting to sing a song to a group of Arab children in the desert, the Medearis family used the wrong word for “joy,” so rather than “I’ve got the joy, joy,” joy, down in my heart …” they sang, “I’ve got a mouse, mouse, mouse, down in my heart” (p. 29).

Other stories illustrate how much prayer means to Muslims.  He tells about meeting a leader of the Hezbollah, and when Medearis prayed for him, and his country, tears began to stream down the man’s face.  Over the course of time, he had further opportunities to meet and pray with him in the name of Jesus.  Another was a gifted Lebanese Arab, high up in government, who confessed that he had lost all hope for the country and for his ability to make a difference, but over time, during which they discussed the book of Luke and prayed for the nation, this man too was able to seriously consider the life of Jesus.

One particularly moving story (pp. 92-96) tells how he and a friend witnessed to a Saudi princess who in the beginning was not at all open to hearing about Jesus.  She was a highly-educated woman of the royal family with a degree in journalism and strong feelings against the West, especially the United States.  But as they addressed her hurts and frustrations, the princess broke down and they were able to share Christ’s love and the hope that only God can give.  Before it was over, and in the midst of many tears, the princess placed her faith in Christ.

However, this story illustrates what may be the most controversial aspect in the book, because apparently the princess is still very much a Muslim.  The question is: Can one be a follower of Jesus and yet remain a Muslim?   Medearis devotes an entire chapter (pp. 134-150) to show they can retain their identity, but in their heart of hearts be disciples of Jesus.  Some readers will respond that “Muslim” also carries with it religious connotations, such as allegiance to Muhammad, and that eventually allegiance must be given to Jesus–come what may.  This is one of the concerns in reference to some insider movements and the controversy swirling around contextualization.  In my view evangelicals can only resolve these issues through mutual respect and face-to-face dialog.

The only weakness is this book contains some inaccuracies.  For example, it says Muhammad and his first wife had seven children together, six of whom died young (p. 24).  It is true there were no surviving sons from the marriage, but the couple had four daughters who lived for years. The book calls the Hadith one of the revealed Holy Books (p. 42), but it is not in the same category as the four divinely-inspired books.  He says Jews and Christians will not be in hell for eternity (p. 44), whereas many modern Muslim scholars regard Christians and Jews as mushrik (those who add partners to God) who will be in hell eternally.  He says Islam is based largely on works, when the truth is it is based on both works and faith.  Muslims must embrace the five pillars of Islam plus the six articles of faith (p. 57).  He says if a Christian or Jewish woman marries a Muslim man she is a Muslim (p. 89).  These can easily be edited out in a future edition.

In conclusion, this book should be read for at least two reasons: First, it demonstrates that attitude is more important than knowing all there is to know about Islam, and building bridges with Muslims is the most fruitful approach.  Second, this work stimulates ongoing Christian thinking as to the extent to which Muslims can remain Muslim as they follow Jesus the Messiah.

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