Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Shenk’s Review of Three Books

David W. Shenk, Global Missions Consultant with Eastern Mennonite Missions, reviews three books in the January 2007 issue of IBMR (requires free login):

Muslims and the Gospel: Bridging the Gap. By Roland E. Miller. Minneapolis: Lutheran Univ. Press, 2005. Pp. 452. $35.

Unveiling God: Contextualizing Christology for Islamic Culture. By Martin Parsons. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 2005. Pp. 400. $29.99.

From the Straight Path to the Narrow Way: Journeys of Faith. Edited by David H. Greenlee. Waynesboro, Ga.: Authentic Media, 2006. Pp. 333. $19.99.

These three very dissimilar books have a common vision: bearing faithful witness to Jesus Christ among Muslims. They are an essential resource for those who want to understand the world of Muslims and all who are committed to faithfulness in bearing witness to Christ among Muslims.

Roland Miller ’s Muslims and the Gospel will occupy a central place on my reference shelf and is a “must read” for those committed to bearing witness among Muslims. The book is organized in three major parts: “The Context— Pivotal Muslim Views,” “Bridges for the Crossing,” and “The Task—Connecting Muslims and the Message.”

The opening chapter, “Key Principles for Understanding Islam,” moves beyond the familiar pillars of belief and duty to explore a dozen key themes that form the Muslim worldview. Two especially provocative themes Miller explores are “Success” and “Sense of Perfection.” Miller writes as a friend of Muslims with an empathetic insightfulness that Muslims will appreciate.

The author brings to bear a lifetime of experience, as well as a lively acquaintance with the foundational literature (Qur’an, Hadith, Shari‘a). He is conversant with centuries of theological debates among Muslims. Furthermore, he introduces a broad stream of Christian engagement with Muslims, from the earliest years (e.g., John of Damascus) to modern times (e.g., Henry and Mary Esther Otten). Here I would have appreciated reading more about persons whose roots have been Muslim and who are committed to bearing witness to salvation in Christ.

The final part is an exploration of practical steps for Christians committed to ministry among Muslims. Especially engaging is chapter 11, “The Profile of a Sharing Friend.” In fact, “friend” is the theme that gives this fine book cohesion, with relevance for all of us. Although Miller is a thorough scholar, this book is fully accessible. The personal anecdotes enliven the chapters.

Unveiling GodMartin Parsons’s Unveiling God complements Miller’s volume, for he attempts to develop a Christology that is contextual and understandable and that can be received within a Muslim worldview. He describes the Western church’s creedal Christology as a development within the Hellenistic world, whereas New Testament Christology was honed within a Jewish/Semitic worldview. He focuses on Second-Temple Judaism, which in his view has continuities with Islam. He therefore believes that New Testament contextual Second-Temple Christology provides indicators of how to do Christology within a Muslim context. He demonstrates that in both communities the concept of God was bounded and extrinsic and argues that a relevant Christology must fit within that parameter.

Parsons also develops insights into Islamic theological development. He is in touch with Muslim interpretations of the Qur’an as it relates to God and revelation. He demonstrates a rich acquaintance with the Hadith literature that has relevance to Christology. In fact, in my judgment, this is a seminal contribution of this book. He demonstrates that the Christological questions that Muslims bring to the table force Christians to repent of distorted Christology.

This book invites discussion! A key question for me is his neglect of addressing the incarnation, choosing rather to focus on what he calls the “God side” of Jesus. Does this approach take us in the direction of a Docetic Christology? Parsons relies considerably on epiphany to interpret Jesus. Does such a focus lend itself to a Gnostic understanding of Jesus? There is little reference to Jesus as Messiah, and Jesus as Son of Man is not addressed, although this latter name is the one Jesus most often used to describe himself. The purpose of this book is narrowly focused on making the case for the divinity of Christ and a Trinitarian theology rooted in the oneness of God. The incarnation is not addressed (p. 253).

If Parsons has tested emphasizing the God side of Jesus with Muslims, it would be instructive to know their response. He recognizes that the local church in mission within the Islamic context must develop its own contextual Christology. To what extent has he tested his efforts at contextual Christology with those local churches? What do Muslims themselves say of Jesus the Messiah after they have read the Gospels?

From the Straight Path to the Narrow Way, edited by David Greenlee, addresses such questions. This book explores what it is about Jesus the Messiah that attracts Muslims to faith, and what happens within their worldview when they meet Jesus. The book comprises essays from twenty-two contributors who were participants in a forum of fifty people from twenty countries, a number of whom had recently journeyed from the Straight Path to the Narrow Way. Several years of research preceded the conference.

The presentations of most contributors were an interpretation of their research. The chapters are salted with narrative. The book is in four main sections: “Missiological Overview,” “Understanding the Experience of Coming to Faith,” “Understanding Some Movements to Faith,” and “Concluding Reflections.”

A concluding statement by David Smith embraces three central themes: (1) Muslim converts have seen and experienced sacrificial love shown by Christians; (2) Muslim converts have read some portion of Scripture; and (3) Muslim converts have experienced a special manifestation of the power of Christ. All who are seriously committed to bearing witness among Muslims will want to read this book and be challenged and encouraged thereby.

A pertinent theme that was not explored in the book is reasons that Christians convert to Islam. Equally pertinent would have been consideration of the societies in which very few Muslims are choosing to enter the Narrow Way; little reference is made to such groups. That said, I commend this readable and insightful book; it is pertinent to the mission and calling of the church among Muslims.

-David W. Shenk

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