I found it interesting that the following items arrived within a few hours of each other.
First, a friend sent me this link to veteran Christian composer, musician and author John Fischer’s blog Catch, just after the link list was already out. He’s a great writer, who I encourage you to read regularly, but knowing the click-ratio, I’m taking the liberty of posting this so it will get read:
This morning I had the opportunity of hearing Dave Robinson speak at a Women of Vision Orange County Partnership Breakfast. Dave is the Senior Advisor for Operations for World Vision International. He has also lived most of his life as a Christian amongst Muslim people, and this is what I have to say about that: Why don’t we let this man inform our thinking and our activity towards Muslim people in this country and around the world instead of listening to a man who has lived in suburban America all his life and whose only claim to understanding Muslims is the fact that he is a popular radio talk show host? Why were 75 people listening to what the qualified man said and hundreds of thousands listening to the other? Why is fear more popular than reason?
Among a number of stories Mr. Anderson imparted was this one. In the wake of initial U.S. successes in Iraq, a moderate Muslim man said to Dave, “America is great.” To which he responded, “No. God is great,” which is actually a very common Muslim phrase of worship not unlike our Christian, “Praise the Lord.”
“Are you Muslim?” asked the man excitedly when he heard that.
After some thought, Dave replied, “I am a student of Jesus Christ.”
Notice he didn’t say, “I am a Christian,” which would have put him at odds with the Muslim man. Actually, Muslims are students of Jesus Christ too.
“Initiate open ended conversations that will eventually lead to Jesus,” Anderson said over and over. “Seek common ground even though the core of the message is missing.”
How often do we do that?
Last September, we had as global crisis on our hands because a pastor in Florida wanted to burn a copy of the Koran in retaliation for the memory of 9/11/2001. Anderson said that had he succeeded, it would have ended World Vision’s presence in any and all Muslim countries of the world.
Seek common ground. Initiate open-ended conversations that will eventually lead to Jesus. Not a bad way to operate with everyone. Cast aside fear and get smart.
John Fischer (italics added)
Then, I received this report from my son about the Campus Church meeting they had on Sunday night at his university:
…Campus Church and the Muslim Student Association are having a joint event called “The Life of Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him)” where representatives from Islam and Christianity are going to present their views of who Jesus Christ was and what he did on Earth 2000 years ago.
In preparation, Campus Church invited a Muslim cleric to come to a Christian worship service to speak about Islam.
After a time of singing, the imam …. was introduced. He spoke for 20 minutes and took questions for 20 minutes. [He] claimed to be an expert on Christianity among Muslims, but he said Mary (Jesus’ mother) was a member of the Trinity, and he thought Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians. He told us that the Bible is useless because it’s become corrupted by Hindu stories and theology. He said that the words of Allah are meant to be obeyed and not studied, and that Bible studies amount to “pooling our ignorance.”
He left in a hurry after taking questions, during which he told us that Hell is a second test-life that, given indefinite time, we’re guaranteed to eventually pass and reach paradise. Paradise consists of lots of good food and rivers of alcohol-free wine. (He didn’t say anything about 72 virgins.)
After [he] left, we held a debrief. …[A] Campus Church member polled the audience and found that there was a mix of anger, resentment and compassion, because [the guest speaker] was disrespectful, but he sounded like he really did want to serve God, although he was seriously mislead as to how this should be done.
After this, [the guest] came back in and was re-introduced, but this time we learned his real name … he’s a Christian minister who goes around teaching Christians how to minister to Muslims. He has spent years ministering to Muslims and Hindus and studying their arguments against Christianity (including their misconceptions about us).
…To communicate Christ to the Muslims in attendance, we need to be loving and compassionate towards them. We also have been told to be quick on the Scripture quotes and know our stuff, but not to be argumentative. The temptation to argue out of pride, just because we like to be right, is hostile to this event. [He] said that for every hour we spend studying the Qu’ran, we should spent four hours in God’s Word (which basically means nobody should try to read it through by Wednesday.)
BTW, here’s how the event went:
Tonight was the Muslim/Christian discussion about Jesus. [The speaker from Sunday night] was our representative. The representative for Islam …was introduced with an impressive resume of titles. There was no violence, interruptions or raised voices…
…The details of Muslim judgment day make it difficult for them to understand the sacrifice of Jesus. They believe that everyone has an angel dedicated to recording all their actions, words and intentions. They don’t know until after judgment day whether or not they’re good enough to get into heaven.
The Muslims I spoke to were very respectful, and they were particularly respectful in that they anticipated us being equally respectful.
I don’t think their notions of holiness, justice and sin fit together.
And so the dialog continues.
Right now North American Evangelical churches see the “current issue” as the “gay issue.” But we need to somehow get past this and move the “Muslim issue” — our knowledge and understanding of their faith and how they perceive us and how they regard Jesus — off the back burner and more front and center in our church life.
The topic for this blog post is inter-faith dialog. Please keep comments limited to that subject.