Christians and Muslims (by Josh Graves)

Christians and Muslims (by Josh Graves) March 11, 2015

In about one month, I am releasing a book with Cascade (Wipf and Stock) Books entitled How Not to Kill a Muslim. You can pre-order the book HERE. The book’s title actually wasn’t my idea. My original idea was something a little more pedestrian . . . like Tearing Down the Walls or Learning to See our Muslim Neighbors. But, my editor was correct, I needed the title to say exactly what the book was saying. Start at the end, and work your way back . . . I think that’s a NT concept.

I started writing this book a few years ago as I was ending my doctoral work at Columbia Theological Seminary. Since beginning this book, so much has happened in the U.S. (Boston Marathon Bombing, Paris Charlie Hebdo attacks , ISIS in Syria, etc.) to deepen the divide between Christians and Muslims.

Here’s what I’m essentially saying in this book . . . (you can read an overview I did for Jesus Creed HERE)

1. Paradigmatic text. Certain texts count more than others. I believe this because Jesus taught this to be true. The title of Scot’s blog (Jesus Creed) is based upon the idea that Jesus’ central teaching was the Shema (Love God) plus Lev. 19:18ff (Love neighbor). We work from the center. Some texts count more than others. I argue that, if all you had to guide the conversation regarding Muslims and Christians in the U.S. was the unique Luke 10 parable, it would be enough to guide the entire conversation.

2. Imago Dei. Evangelical Christianity is just now catching up to the ancient truth that every person alive . . . every breathing, walking, talking human is an extension of God’s presence. That is, every person bears the mark of God on their body and in their soul. So, I can call a Muslim my neighbor because they are first and foremost a child of God. We don’t have to believe that same narratives regarding the Qur’an and Jesus in order to acknowledge the Genesis claim that God has smuggled his likeness into 7 billion people strong on Planet Earth.

3. The church lacks chutzpah. Fear is big business in secular and religious America. Fear paralyzes the church from thriving in God’s world. Instead of the church existing for the life of the world, the church cowers in the face of complex and dangerous social questions. Post-Sept. 11, 2001, I can think of very few issues that are more pressing than the manner in which Christians come to know and understand Muslims living in the U.S.

4. Hospitality is chief virtue and practice in a postmodern world. Table is more effective than talk. Between the Eucharist and solidarity with those who suffer, Christianity is poised for this unique moment we find ourselves in precisely because the early church (inspired by Jesus) thrived in hostile and tense environments in which hospitality provided a stark contrast

5. Our children will judge our version of Jesus on this matter. I was born in 1979. This means I straddle the fence between Generation X and the Millennial Generation. We love to ask our grandparents and parents about race, Jim Crow, segregation, and the horrors of lynching and discrimination. Here’s the deal. My three sons are going to ask me about Islam and the treatment of Muslims in the U.S. by Christians the exact same way in which I have asked those who’ve gone before me about white supremacy and privilege. I’m not saying they are the exact same issue, I am suggesting that the coming generations will not waiver from nailing us on our commitment to the Jesus Way (Sermon on the Mount, etc.). And they should.

Here’s what I’m not saying  in this book (not that this will lessen the e-mail’s and courageous anonymous letters I receive).

1. I am not suggesting that church = the state. I believe the U.S. government should everything within her power to limit radicalIslamist terrorists like ISIS. Because that is what governments are designed to do. I also think the church should focus on being the church. That means we are more passionate about praying for our enemies than celebrating their death. That means committing to sending missionaries to the Middle East to dig wells, teach children, empower women, and bring hope in ways that are good news for people who don’t believe Christianity is good news.

2. I’m not naive and I don’t believe this is easy. I’ve been at this kind of work now for a decade and it’s hard work. It can be demoralizing and depressing. It can feel pointless, lonely, and never-ending. But my calling is to focus on the main thing–the love of God poured out into the world through Jesus–and let God worry about the outcomes, results, and conclusion.

3. I’m also not saying, in this book, that all religions are the same. Fundamentalist Christianity tends to lean towards fear, isolation and suspicion on all things “inter-faith.” Mainline liberal Christianity, however, has trended in the opposite direction the last half-century. Liberal Christianity has tended to teach that all the world’s religions are simply many paths up the same mountain, ending up at the same destination. I’m suggesting that neither Fundamentalism (isolation) or Liberal Christianity (appeasement) are true of the early church nor does either approach actually work. I’m suggesting–as others have also done so–a Third Way. Namely, incarnation. Word to flesh. Relationships. Dialog. Shared tables. Understanding. Habitat Houses built in the spirit of mutuality.

Someone recently relayed to me that in certain circles of my life people were referring to me as a “Muslim lover.”

In a strange way, I could not have said it better myself. I’m a Jesus person, what other choice do I have?
Josh Graves is the teaching minister for the Otter Creek Church in Nashville. In addition to How Not to Kill a Muslim, he is author of The Feast and Heaven on Earth (with Chris Seidman). He holds a doctorate degree from Columbia Theological Seminary.

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