Thinking Out Loud

May 4, 2020

Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray Team Up to Look at Jesus

Review: Seeing Jesus from The East: A Fresh Look at History’s Most Influential Person by Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray (Zondervan, 2020)

One of the challenges when multiple authors combine to cover a particular topic — especially when the individual chapters were not written collaboratively — is that that there is often nothing which unifies the book as a whole. When I started reading Seeing Jesus From the East, I resigned myself to reading it as a collection of nine essays.

Two things have convinced me that this project was so much more.

First, the unifying factor is the man not named on the cover, Nabeel Qureshi. It was his dream to write this book with Ravi Zacharias, but after his untimely death, that was not realized. With Nabeel’s wife’s blessing on Abdu Murray’s involvement, that original intention, in many respects, holds the book together in terms of having two men, each born into very different religious traditions — one being Muslim — examine the life of Christ.

The second unifying factor is that these men are indeed colleagues. Murray is the Senior Vice President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and has spoken at many RZIM events. The book is not disjointed in any respect; rather, they refer to each others’ chapters, something you don’t see in an essay collection. (For the record, Ravi wrote five chapters and Abdu wrote four.)

The Jesus story — not to mention the story arc of the Bible as a whole — is deeply rooted in the East. As Murray points out, it’s a story flavored more with “curry and cumin” than the “ketchup and mayo” version propagated by the Christian church in the West. Elsewhere he refers to the “olive skinned” Jesus.

And although we sometimes present the gospel as a story of guilt and innocence it unfolds in a place where the key markers are honor and shame.

The style of the two authors is notably compatible. I’ve never heard Ravi Zacharias speak that he doesn’t quote the writing of a piece of classic poetry or a famous hymn. But Abdu Murray also provides these similar points of connection for the reader. Both draw on personal anecdotes and interactions with the widest variety of people at in-person events. The flow between chapters washes away all my concerns that the book might appear as though various puzzle pieces were simply forced together.

Seeing Jesus from the East doesn’t cover every moment in the 3+ years Christ’s life. It’s possible your favorite parable or miracle isn’t included. What you do explore is pivotal scenes from the wedding at Cana to the wilderness temptations to the transfiguration. Although I have a lifelong familiarity with these narratives, I found it provoked fresh discussions with my wife after I had finished reading.

So who is the target reader for this book?

Statistically speaking, this will probably sell more copies to Christians, especially those with exposure to RZIM. But it really works both ways. Regardless of faith family of origin (be it Muslim, atheist, or anything else) if someone is already at the point of considering Christianity, this would be an excellent window into that process from two authors who can fully empathize.

This is not apologetics in the traditional forms (evidential, moral, logical, philosophical) but a more winsome apologetic based on the authors’ personal stories and the stories of the many whom they have encountered. If your sphere of influence includes those coming from an Eastern worldview, this one is a must.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for a much-appreciated opportunity to read an advance copy which is now well-marked and underlined. The book released April 28th in North America and will release on June 14th in the UK.



February 17, 2011

Musings on Muslims

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.

January 8, 2011

Should Churches Rent Space to Other Faith Groups?

Martin left a comment at the end of Wednesday’s Link List this week that I promised myself I would spin off into a separate discussion, so that any of you who wished could join the thread. First, here’s what I wrote; it’s the first of the two links that matter, but for those of you who read this from Canada and will get the context, I’ve left the second link in as well:

  • While some “Christian” pastors — one anyway — want to burn the Qu’ran, Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee has “a more welcoming approach.” ” Steve Stone and his congregants put out a sign welcoming incoming neighbors at the Memphis Islamic Center. The church then allowed these Muslim neighbors to use their sanctuary as a makeshift mosque throughout Ramadan while the Islamic Center was under construction.”  Read more at Christianity Today.
  • As strange as that story may be, it’s also the basis for a Canadian situation comedy now in its 5th season.  The new season of Little Mosque on the Prairie kicked off on Monday night with an episode that makes the Imam look a lot more appealing — i.e. “nicer” — than the Anglican minister who is renting the Islamic congregation its space.   Watch past episodes at CBC-TV.

A day later, this was Martin’s comment:

Brilliant…a pastor turns a Christian church into a place that allows a 1400 year old cult to practice their blasphemous faith. What would Jesus do? Would that same church lovingly open its arms to a Wiccan ritual service in their basement? Think not!

It doesn’t matter how many practice this cult or how accepted it is (by forced ‘tolerance’ imposed by daftly ignorant political proponents), the Muslim faith is anti-semetic, anti-christian and encourages shari’a law that oppresses its women.

Why not open your church to the needy, the unfortunate, the mother and child with no place to stay…a few cots and a shower stall. But open doors to a cult that believes Christianity’s Christ was too good to die for our sins? … That believes that it’s okay to ‘Slay them (Christians, Jews) where you find them’ (or tax the living crap out of them if they don’t convert)… That believes the only way to know the Q’uran’s truth is to learn Arabic – ancient Arabic?

Yeah, sure…c’mon in…it’s stupid in here.

Waiter, I’ll take my reality-cheque now.

The first thing I need to do here obviously is insert a disclaimer.  The views expressed in the comment above and those that follow are those of the writers. There are variances among followers of the Islamic faith just as there are variances among the practices of various Christian denominations. I’m not looking for comments here as to the essence of Muslim doctrine and ethics.

I am simply looking for further responses to Martin’s comment.

The CT article seemed to put a positive spin on this — certainly justified in light of the other option I mention in the link list — but the CT comments are not as kind:

  • Muslims believe Jesus was just a prophet and that he married and moved to Asia where he died. He was not resurrected, he definitely is not the Son of God. So, when they enter a sanctuary and worship there it means to other Muslims that they have conquered for Islam the territory they have moved into and which is owed to Muslims by God. Burning a Koran or a Bible doesn’t match burning to death non Muslims in their worship space and their homes in Muslim minds… (Anna)
  • Evangelize them, debates them, pray for them, love them, and demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit, but please do not allow them to worship in your Sanctuary or use any of your grounds. I suggest to those who think this is okay to research how Islamic Law implements property rights… (former Muslim student)
  • …That besides however, I must say that lending them facilities, buildings or whatever else have you that were built by the sometimes hard earned money and resources of Christians now gone. It’s an absolute NO NO! It will create confusion among new and young believers and among our children. I believe 1st Cor. 10:21; Eph. 5:6,7; 1st Pet. 4:4; 2nd Jn. 1:10,11 correctly applies here among others… (Salero)
  • I’ve been involved with reaching out to Muslims the last 20 years. Offering a church facility to be used for the purposes of a Mosque is not a good idea. There is an entire spiritual element that is present and proclaimed that is unbiblical. Just read Galatians 1:6-9 to begin to pick up on the spiritual implications. It is far better to be Biblical than try to demonstrate some form of religious correctness… (Mark)
  • …I see no reason why a church should not use its building as a means to help a group of Muslims, especially if part of their purpose is to demonstrate Christ’s love with a view to possible evangelism.  [and then, just 20 minutes later] …We certainly don’t wish to further the cause of a false religion, and allowing them to worship in our facility may do just that. On the other hand, a building is just a building, and those who compare it to a temple or a sacred site seem to be confusing Old and New Testament places of worship… (Galen)
  • While I could understand the good neighborliness of offering space for non-worship activities, I think the author has missed the point of view of many strict Muslims. Once worship of Allah has taken place in a venue, it has been “sanctified” by that, and reverting to Christian worship (which Muslims see as heretical, since Christians are seen by them as among those who have “gone astray”) would be problematic for Muslims… (Phyllis)
  • 2 Corinthians 6:16 states “… what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” Yes, personally we are to show love to all, no matter what their beliefs. But to facilitate the false worship of Islam in a Christian church is totally different and has nothing to do with Christian love… (John)
  • Christ drove the money changers from the temple for misusing that sacred space. An Islamic worship service is a similar misuse of a sacred space. Our attempts to be Christ-like should be rooted in scripture and truth, not vague impressions about what we think Christ would do.  (D.S.)
  • So, Pastor Stone, you’re saying that in your mind Jesus would find it acceptable for the Golden Calf that the Israelites were worshiping to be bought into your church and worshiped again? I agree with the struggle to figure out how to best love the Muslims of the world. But sanctioning false worship and idolatry is not the way to go about it. In our rush to love we go to extremes. It does not have to be Stone’s method or the Burn the Koran method. We should find the balance in between where we can love but still hold fast to Truth.  (Michael)

Looks like Martin held the majority view.  These are just a few of the comments left at CT and it may well be you choose to add yours using the link at the very top of this post.

And what about other faith groups?  Are there some groups whose presence you would consider acceptable?

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