Thursday, May 26, 2011

Christian-Muslim Dialogue

Last evening I took 15 Redeemer Ministry School students to the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. Our host was Eide Alawan, whose work focuses on interfaith understanding and dialogue. I like Eide very much. He is so gracious - he spent two hours with us. The Islamic Center is a beautiful facility. I think it represents the beating heart of Islam in North America.

In our Ministry School I have been teaching on Islam. Eide helped our students fill out their understanding last night.

Does Christianity have similarities with Islam? Of course. Muslims believe, e.g., that Jesus is the Messiah, and that the Messiah is going to return. Do we Jesus-followers have differences with Islam? Of course. Here's one thing: Muslims do not believe Jesus died on a cross to atone for our sins. So, on that point, we feel the Quran is in error. And, regarding the above similarity, of course we'll be differing on the meaning of "Messiah." We agree, therefore, on a word.

With that admission we have a Big Problem. To a Muslim the Quran is not to be questioned. It is the final revelation, which abrogates all previous God-given revelation that stands in conflict with it. As a Jesus-follower the heart of my faith is: Christ crucified. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:2: "For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified." Rip that out and I have no Christianity. That's what Islam does for me.

To call this a "difference" between Jesus-following and Islam is misleading because it is grossly understated. Islamic teaching on this rips the Christ out of everything I believe. It takes away my center, my hope, my joy, my worship, and my Savior. And for me to call the Quran in error strikes at the heart of Islam, which is, essentially, about their book. How do we dialogue about that? We must, in authentic Christian-Muslim dialogue, admit how great the differences are and how vast the gap between us is.

I not only like my friend Eide Alawan but love him. I respect him. I pray for him. If he asked me to come stand with him against the "Terry Joneses" of the world I would do it. And at the most fundamental, foundational level, I believe his faith is wrong. Paul, remember, talked to the Corinthians about the "one foundation" he laid in them, which is Jesus Christ and him crucified. Take this foundation away and all we have left, in Christianity, is a Kafkaesque castle.

As the two hours came to an end I asked Eide one more question. "What is your favorite restaurant in the area?" He said, "Al Ameer," on the corner of Ford Road and Inkster. We went there after leaving the Islamic Center. Was it good? I had the best chicken schwarma I've ever had, which is saying a lot since Dearborn is the mecca of Mediterranean food in this hemisphere. Open this up and behold...