Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Unveiling the Truth About Islam?

Not long ago I made a post that was critical of comments made by Al Mohler and other evangelicals on their representation of Islam. The current online edition of Christianity Today magazine features an interesting article that compliments some of my earlier comments.

The article is written by Warren Larson, director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at Columbia International University, Columbia, South Carolina. It states that, unsurprisingly, "evangelical attitudes toward Islam have hardened since the attacks [of 9/11], positing that Islam is an essentially violent religion." It is easy to understand the reasons behind the negative perceptions of Islam by American evangelicals, not only in light of 9/11, but also with the steadily rising death toll of American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. But we must remember that Christians are members of two nations, with citizenship in America and the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we have a responsibility to accurately understand and fairly represent other religions, including those American evangelicals find distasteful.

Larson notes that evangelicals have produced a plethora of books on Islam but he states that, "unfortunately, too many of these evangelical polemics are historically inaccurate, theologically misinformed, and missiologically misguided. Apparently, a lot of us simply dislike Muslims (usually without knowing any)." Larson provides a suggested remedy to this situation:
When we critique Islam, we need to be fair and accurate. Those of us who make Muslim-Christian comparisons must do so from a position of informed engagement, as those who have worked with Muslims. When we review historical tensions between the two faiths, we must apply rigorous historical analysis. When we write about Islam, we must remember that love is the greatest apologetic.
Larson's article provides examples of what he labels as some of the worst evangelical treatments of Islam, as well as examples of those that do a better job. Larson is not only concernd with "unveiling" or "exposing" Islamic history and teachings in contrast with Christianity, but also with missional sensitivity and love. Evangelicals writing books and educating fellow evangelicals might take note of not only Larson's call for fairness in research and representation, but also his approach incorporating missional sensitivity. This is crucial in that ultimately the Muslim world will move beyond terrorism not through bombs and diplomacy, but through the grace of Christ:
...we Christians must discuss irreconcilable differences with Muslims, but we should also recognize similarities, bridges, and common themes. There is a place for "unveiling" Islam, provided we do it with sensitivity, understanding, and careful research.

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