Dialogue with Muslims

by Robert Brow    (web site - www.brow.on.ca)

(Part of a discussion on the CETA (Canadian Evangelical Theological Association) discussion list, Feb 9, 1999)

Thank you very much, Alan Guenther, for a needed reminder about the complex variety of streams that go to make up the river of modern Islam. I agree totally with all you say, but I still think that an explanation that begins with a Unitarian view of God has logical implications and outworkings that are quite different from that of a Trinitarian model. I don't think that any Muslim, except perhaps a Sufi, could begin as we do by explaining that God has made us in his image, loves us regardless, and wants us to share in his oneness for ever. Humans of all races and all creeds have a dignity in Trinitarian theology and the love of God which is very hard to fit into a pure form of Islam.

We have to admit that misguided ignorant Christians engaged in the Crusades, and later wars to convert the heathen, but by then the influence of Islamic civilization on Christendom was immense including the very idea of jihad as holy war. Although I find the concept of radical pacifism hard to fit into a model of Creative Love Theism, I think the idea of converting other nations by war is even more incongruous.

I realize that in the modern study of comparative religion explanatory models are anathema, and interminable descriptions of the evolution of rites and events and behaviour is required. But I don't think there is any evidence that Islam in the century after Muhammad grew by that kind of study. Nor did description without explanation motivate church growth by the Nestorians, Ulfilas, the Celtic monks, or the vast modern missionary movement. In each case a new Trinitarian model was offered, and explained by clarifying its implications.

Did Communism try to take over the world for seventy years merely to help the poor, or did Marx, Engels, Lenin & Co. offer a new explanation? Did the Nazis merely need a bit of lebensraum, or were they indoctrinated by a new model? Did Pope John XXIII transform the modern Roman Catholic Church without a new model? Those are historical questions, but history without understanding the models people live by seems to me myopic.

And comparative religion without grasping the logic of original Buddhism, or Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, 2500 years of Jainism, Vedanta in India, or the difference between Unitarian and Trinitarian explanations, misses what the missions of each of these models are about.

That is why working at a dialogue to clarify models is so important. I would also want to argue that liberal arts programmes in our universities that cannot teach students how to engage in such dialogue will be relegated to antiquarian interest. I seem to have said all this once or twice (would you believe a hundred times?) before, and I repent in dust and ashes . . . but like Job refuse to admit I did wrong.

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