Christian Engagement with Muslims in the United States

Resources for the urban pastor and community leader published by Emmanuel Gospel Center, Boston Emmanuel Research Review reprint Issue No. 87 — March 2013

Resources for the urban pastor and community leader published by Emmanuel Gospel Center, Boston

Emmanuel Research Review reprint
Issue No. 87 — March 2013

Introduced by Brian Corcoran, Managing Editor, Emmanuel Research Review

Rev. Dr. Gregg Detwiler, Director of Intercultural Ministries at the Emmanuel Gospel Center, serves as host of a video conversation on the topic of Christian Engagement with Muslims in the U.S., which he hopes “will encourage many to reach out to our Muslim neighbors.” The conversation took place on February 22, 2013, and the panel was comprised of:

  • Dave Kimball, Minister-at-Large for Christian–Muslim Relations at EGC;
  • Nathan Elmore, Program Coordinator & Consultant for Christian-Muslim Relations, Peace Catalyst International; and
  • Paul Biswas, Pastor, International Community Church – Boston.

In the first half of the conversation, panelists address “Positive Christian Interactions with Muslims, which include questions regarding motivation, personal experience, peace-making, and transparency. In the second half, panelists address “Objections and Challenges to Christian Engagement with Muslims, where they touch on militant Islam, “normative” Islam, “Chrislamism,” interfaith dialogue, and how a local church congregation might respond to a nearby mosque.

We have provided a link and brief description of each of the ten videos, which were produced by Brandt Gillespie of PrayTV and Covenant for New England in a studio located at Congregación León de Judá in Boston. At the end of this issue, we have included a short list of resources suggested by the Intercultural Ministries team of EGC.

Positive Christian Interactions with Muslims

Part One: What is your motivation for working toward positive Christian Muslim relations?

Dr. Gregg Detwiler, Director of Intercultural Ministries at EGC, introduces the subject of Christian-Muslim relations. He introduces his guests: Dave Kimball, Minister-at-Large for Christian-Muslim Relations at Emmanuel Gospel Center; Nathan Elmore, Program Coordinator & Consultant for Christian-Muslim Relations, Peace Catalyst International; and Paul Biswas, Pastor, International Community Church – Boston.

Gregg asks his guests what their motivation is for working toward positive Christian-Muslim relations.

Part Two: What are some positive ways you are personally relating to Muslims?

Gregg asks for some positive ways the panelists are personally relating with Muslims and the Muslim community. Nathan describes a “holy texts study” and other initiatives in his role as a minister at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dave talks about his love for Arab culture and his lifestyle of relating to Muslims on a daily basis.

Part Three: What are some other examples of positive Christian engagement with Muslims?

Paul describes ways he is personally relating to Muslims by building friendships, practicing hospitality, and hosting interfaith dialogues. Gregg tells the story of how a Muslim friend named Majdi cared for him when he was sick and challenges Christians to get to know Muslims on a deeper level. Dave shares a dream he has about seeing Christians and Muslims serving together, and Nathan describes some of the recent initiatives of Peace Catalyst International, including “Communities of Reconciliation” and the Evangelicals for Peace Conference held in Washington, D.C. (See http://www.peace-catalyst.net.)

Part Four: Do peacemaking Christians compromise the truth of the Gospel?

In this segment, Gregg presses his guests on the issue of Christian peacemaking by asking if this approach waters down a commitment to the truth of the Gospel. Nathan points out that the Great Commission and the Great Commandment cannot be separated but must go hand-in-hand. Nathan also suggests that not only must we be committed to the message of Jesus but also the “motives and manners” of Jesus. Dave admonishes us to be forthright in sharing the Gospel as part of our authentic Christian witness. Gregg points out the biblical mandate is to live out the doctrine of the incarnation in the way we relate to Muslims before we seek to have a theological conversation about the incarnation.

Part Five: Christian Transparency: What would you say to a Muslim who might be watching this video?

The panelists emphasize the importance of being transparent about our identity as followers of Jesus. Paul speaks of being upfront about who we are (followers of Jesus) and what we want to do (to bear witness to him). Dave speaks about how there are individuals on both sides that may seek to broadly demonize the other side, and we are seeking to counter this. The segment ends by asking each of the panel members to share a word with any Muslim friends who might be watching the video.

Objections & Challenges to Christian Engagement with Muslims

Part One: What about militant Islam?

Gregg frames the subject of challenges to Christian engagement with Muslims in the U.S. by referring to a continuum of response from hostility to naivety. Panel members respond to question: What about militant Islam? Nathan reminds us that militant religiosity is not the sole property of Islam, nor is it as universal among Muslims as some Christians seek to paint it. Dave warns us about the dangers of stereotyping others and the importance of not being paralyzed by fear and hostility. Paul shares his perspective about militant Islam from a South Asian perspective.

Part Two: What is normative Islam?

Gregg asks his guests to respond to the question: What is normative Islam? Dave responds to the question with a question: What is normative Christianity? Paul points out that just as many Christians misunderstand Islam, many Muslims misunderstand Christianity. Nathan reminds us that Muslims themselves should answer the question of normative Islam rather than Christians.

Part Three: Are you in danger of becoming a “Chrislamist”?

Gregg explores with panel members the possibility of compromising Christian truth in the process of promoting interfaith relationships with Muslims. Various subjects are explored, such as “the Common Word” initiative and the threat of being labeled as “Chrislamists.” Gregg concludes by pointing to Jesus as our model when he came “full of grace and truth.”

Part Four: What is the value and limitations of interfaith dialogue?

Gregg explores with panel members the question: What is the value and limitation of interfaith dialogue? Paul underscores how dialogue is the only way to overcome misunderstandings on both sides. Nathan describes how dialogue can be a form of hospitality and lead to authentic friendship. Dave emphasizes the need for discipline and commitment in the dialogue process and that interfaith dialogue (also known as “meetings for better understanding”) can open doors and create space for God to work.

Part Five: What steps could be taken by a church that is in close proximity to a mosque?

Finally, the panel explores the question of how a local church might respond to a mosque that is in close proximity. Dave counsels that a good starting point is for a church to get some good training. Nathan discusses the posture of the church by admonishing with the truism: “One cannot fear what one has chosen to love.” Gregg tells a story of dropping by a local mosque to meet the Imam and some surprising lessons learned in the process. Paul advises that churches should not view a mosque as a threat but as an opportunity for Christian witness.

Resources

The following resources have been suggested by the Intercultural Ministries department of EGC.

Bell, Stephen & Colin Chapman editors. Between Naivety and Hostility: Uncovering the best Christian responses to Islam in Britain. Crownhill, Milton Keyes: Authentic Media, 2011.

Goddard, Hugh. Christians and Muslims: From Double Standards to Mutual Understanding. London: Routledge Curzon, 2003.

McDowell, Bruce A., and Anees Zaka. Muslims and Christians at the Table: Promoting Biblical Understanding among North American Muslims. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 1999.

Metzger, Paul Louis. Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths. Nashville: T. Nelson, 2012.

Nichols, Laurie Fortunak., and Gary R. Corwin. Envisioning Effective Ministry: Evangelism in a Muslim Context. Wheaton, IL.: Evangelism and Missions Information Service, 2010.

Peace Catalyst International www.peace-catalyst.net

Tennent, Timothy C. Christianity at the Religious Roundtable: Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Volf, Miroslav. Allah: A Christian Response. New York: HarperOne, 2011.