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A Feature Review of
Christian. Muslim. Friend.: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship
Paperback: Herald Press, 2014.
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Reviewed by John W. Morehead.
How should Christians engage Muslims? In America Christian-Muslim relations are strained at best. A recent LifeWay survey revealed that a large percentage of Christian pastors view Muslims and Islam negatively. It is likely that these attitudes are found among rank and file church members as well. In the midst of this situation in our post-9/11 world, David Shenk provides suggestions based upon his extensive experience as a Mennonite missionary and peacemaker on how Christians might profitably interact with the Muslims they encounter.
This is the fourth volume in the Christians Meeting Muslims series that Shenk has put together. The first is A Muslim and Christian in Dialogue that he coauthored with Badru D. Kateregga. The second is Journeys of the Muslim Nation and the Christian Church: Exploring the Mission of Two Communities. The third is Teatime in Mogadishu: My Journey as a Peace Ambassador in the World of Islam. These previous books have focused on dialogue, witness, and peacemaking. With Christian. Muslim. Friend. Shenk turns his attention to friendship in the Christian-Muslim encounter. He says, “I write this book with the conviction that every Muslim should have a Christian friend and every Christian should have a Muslim friend” (19).
In the Introduction Shenk mentions the thread that binds the thesis of the volume together: “The commitment to being a people of peace in our pluralist world is an integrating theme throughout this book” (20). A little later he asks, “What does it mean for me to be a faithful ambassador of Christ and his peace in our tumultuous world?” (21). Building upon the central thesis, the chapters that follow help the reader flesh out the answer to this question. This includes twelve chapters that comprise the paths for relationships between Christians and Muslims. The topics include “Live with Integrity,” “Keep Identity Clear,” “Cultivate Respect,” “Develop Trust,” “Dialogue about the Different Centers,” “Practice Hospitality,” “Answer the Questions,” “Confront the Distortions,” “Consider the Choice: The Hijrah [Muhammed’s migration from Mecca to Medina], The Cross,” “Seek Peace and Pursue It,” “Partner with the Person of Peace,” and “Commend Christ.” Each chapter concludes with study questions, and Shenk discusses the subject matter of each chapter by way of his personal experiences in Muslim countries. The book also includes five appendices.
Each chapter is very helpful and touches on significant areas of Christian-Muslim encounter. The following were especially significant for this reviewer as they most embodied the spirit and intention of the book.
In Chapter 3, “Cultivate Respect,” Shenk shares an important insight he gleaned from his experiences. In one instance he says that his Muslim conversation partners said that they listened to him because he loved and respected them, and “avoided any attacks on the Qur’an or Muhammed” (55). This does not mean Christians cannot disagree with Muslims. Shenk acknowledges this and says not only that we can, but “if we are faithful to our different spiritual foundations, we will disagree” (56). But we can share our disagreements and concerns “in ways that build up peaceful relations and do not tear down” (59). Rather than pursuing ways that will be seen as attacking the Prophet and sacred text of Islam, Shenk provides a helpful alternative that opens up opportunities for Christians to be heard.
In Chapter 8, “Confront the Distortions,” the author discusses how Christians and Muslims can respond to the misunderstandings each often has of the others’ religion. This is not only a matter of Muslims misunderstanding Christianity and the gospel. Christians often have a distorted understanding of Islam. One of the examples Shenk discusses is a misunderstanding of the Qur’an. Christians often assume a sola scriptura approach that they take to their own religion: Cite the text in an English translation and you have arrived at a proper interpretation for application. But this is inaccurate. Shenk says, “[m]y caution is that we do not presume a reading of the Qur’an means we have understood it” (122). Islam is a religion with a long history of legal interpretation that includes Qur’anic interpretation, and Shenk reminds Christians that we cannot “have come to understand the Qur’an unless we have submitted to the rugged disciplines of study and consensus that Muslims believe are necessary to understand the Qur’an’s message” (122). The takeaway from this important chapter is that, “Muslims and Christians should be careful to portray each other in ways that are truthful, kind, and trust building. We need to portray the beliefs and practices of Islam and the gospel in truthful ways” (116).
Christian. Muslim. Friend. Is an important and timely volume that should be a part of the library of every pastor, chaplain, and average Christian interested in practices that can be put into place relationships are built with Muslim neighbors in America and around the world.
John W. Morehead is the Custodian of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and the Director of the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies. He is the editor of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue (Lion, 2009), and works in multifaith engagement in the areas of Islam, Mormonism, and Paganism.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com