An interview with Abu Daoud about “Sharing Jesus with Muslims in America”

Almost five years ago I interviewed Abu Daoud, the legendary Anglican missionary and scholar on Islam.  (You can see Part 1 and Part 2 of that interview.)  Well, praise be to Allah, he’s emerged from the shadows with a book entitled Sharing Jesus with Muslims in America.  This interview was conducted at an undisclosed location.

  1. What was your primary motivation in writing Sharing Jesus with Muslims in America?

I was speaking with a colleague in South Asia some time ago and we were both disheartened about our experiences when speaking in American churches. We felt like the churches of the USA needed a solid, easy-to-read, practical book on sharing the Gospel with local Muslims. So he, a Baptist missionary, and I, an Anglican, worked together on this.

For security reasons I could not use my birth name on the book, and he decided not to be listed as an author at all. Between the two of us you have over three decades of cross-cultural ministry experience though. I decided to use the name Abu Daoud since I’ve been using that name with my blog and other publications (also here) for a long time.

  1. There is a great deal of material on Islam aimed at a Christian audience. Is it useful in helping people share their faith with Muslims? Why or why not?

You are right that there is a huge amount of material out there. Unfortunately, most of it falls into one of two errors. The first is to overemphasize the commonalities between Islam and Christianity, and suggest that an authentic conversion to a whole new way of life is not needed. The second is to tell you all the nasty stuff about Islam (and trust me, I know that stuff). But knowing everything wrong with Islam doesn’t really prepare you to actually do something positive about Islam—which is to share the Gospel with them.

  1. What sets your book apart from others?

This book has a hopeful voice. The book is a quick and easy read, and we’ve received very positive feedback so far. Christians in the USA are often not sure what to make of our quickly growing Muslim population. And guess what, it ain’t gonna stop growing! We give a gospel-centered, confident approach that will help individual Christians share Jesus in the context of personal friendship. We also have a whole chapter on what churches can do to reach out to local Muslim populations.

  1. What kind of education or training do Christians need to help them share their faith with Muslims?

Let me be clear, you don’t need to know anything at all beyond your own Christian faith. That having been said, it really is good to have some basic knowledge about Islamic cultures, societies, and the Qur’anic worldview, and how Muslims in general are trained to respond to Christianity. There’s no magic formula of course, but for such a brief book you get a lot of down-to-earth, practical pointers.

  1. How do you recommend Christians approach the Qur’an? Can it be used to help share the gospel with Muslims?

This is a good question. Personally, I am clear with my Muslims friends that I don’t believe in the Qur’an, but if we can use the Qur’an to begin a conversation about Scripture, then why not?

  1. Islam is frequently characterised as a monolith, and yet the Islamic world is diverse. How do you recommend that Christians and their churches deal with that?

This book has a full chapter on how churches that can engage with the local Muslim populations in their cities, and my first recommendation is do your research. Where are they from? There is a big difference between a Pakistani Ahmadi community and an Egyptian Sunni community and an Iranian Shi’a community, of course. Read up on the history of the people, their form of Islam, check out the world news websites about their home country. All of these things will help you to build credibility with them and communicate better.

  1. How should Christians accommodate the cultures Muslims come out of to aid them in sharing the gospel?

Ultimately we’re working towards evangelizing and sanctifying entire cultures. What does it look like for Yemeni culture to know Christ? What does it look like for Libyan culture to be baptized and sanctified? The challenge is that these cultures are so inextricably intertwined with Islam that it is hard to know where Islam ends and a given culture begins. All of this to say, it is a lengthy, hard work, and we should not expect to be able to answer the question in the lifespan of a single generation of believers. Use Scripture, draw on your own denominational tradition, and be patient as new believers stumble along by the grace of God figuring out how to construct a new convert identity in Christ and his Church.

  1. What is the single most important thing that Christians need to do when interacting with Muslims with the object of effectively sharing their faith?

I’m torn between two things: First, model it. Second, ask questions.

  1. If a Muslim does come to Christ, what should the church do to help them in their new life?

The church needs to provide them with a new family. That is hard to hear, but once they embrace Christ it is likely that their whole family and community will reject them. They are all alone in the world. They will need a new family and to build up a new identity.

  1. What are you doing now? How has that changed since the last interview?

I have been thinking a lot about the word impact lately. So I’m investing a lot of my time and energy right now in teaching local churches in the West and the Muslim world too about how to engage in this ministry. This book comes from that desire for impact. I’m also helping to train workers and mobilizing people for long term mission. Also a number of writing projects.

St. Andrew’s Day: Calling Us O’er the Tumult…

Today is St. Andrew’s Day, usually the first major saint’s day in Advent.  He’s also not only the patron saint of Scotland; he was also the saint after which my prep school was named.  (It’s having problems of its own these days, but that’s another post…)

In any case, at chapel time we always sang the same hymn: “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult,” and a suitably Anglican organ rendition is below:

The words are as follows (the YouTube video page includes them in Gaelic):

Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea,
day by day his clear voice soundeth,
saying, “Christian, follow me;”

As, of old, Saint Andrew heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for his dear sake.

Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store;
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, “Christian, love me more.”

In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”

Jesus calls us! By thy mercies,
Saviour, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.

St. Andrew and the other apostles left it all to follow their Lord, even unto death.  Unfortunately, the Episcopal Church I grew up in–hymns like this notwithstanding–tended to “pull punches” on the commitment level they thought proper of their parishioners.  It either was in bad taste to go “all out” for Jesus Christ or the message got lost in social liberalism, a problem which will be inscribed on the church’s tombstone.

My exhortation–especially to my Anglican and Roman Catholic friends who visit here–is that the life-transforming nature of the encounter with Jesus Christ never get lost either in our worldliness or in our “churchianity.”

In Case of Flag Burning…

Four facts to consider:

  1. President-elect Trump wants to revoke citizenship for those who burn the flag.
  2. Many have promised to leave the U.S. if he becomes President (which he will, Deo volente.)
  3. Renunciation of U.S. citizenship is at a high level.
  4. Paperwork for same renunciation is slow.  Our State Department can work out a nuclear arms deal with Iran, but I know of one Iranian (with an American child) who took over a year to get her visa to come back to the U.S..  As my brother would say, like watching the grass grow

So this is my idea for those who want to skip the country and speed things up:

  1. Make sure you have dual citizenship (maybe more) somewhere you like, and make sure your affairs are in good shape.
  2. Burn flag in public place.
  3. Get arrested.
  4. Do not waive your right to a speedy trial.
  5. Get convicted, ask for revocation of citizenship in sentencing.
  6. Get citizenship revoked.
  7. Go to the place where you like.

In bureaucratic America, every cloud has a silver lining.  But my guess is that the State Department and the IRS would oppose such a thing, because it would risk their collection of all of those “exit fees” they have waiting those who leave.

They Called Me a “Faux News” Site Too

It’s all the rage these days, in the wake of Trump’s victory, to attack (generally conservative) “faux news” sites, even to the point of getting them blocked or banned altogether.

This rage (like every other rage) isn’t a new as people think: I was accused of this back in 2008, when I posted this piece on Barack Obama and pledging the flag.  A civics teacher from Southern California took me to task about this and rounded off his primal scream with this:

I found your site thanks to some of my students looking for credible information opposing Obama for a debate that they were preparing for class. I was able to show them the difference between an opinion site and a scholarly site due to this fact. Thanks for being out there. Have a nice day.

In my reposte to his comment I noted that I never claimed this site to be anything other than an opinion site.  (I would commend you to look at that reposte, and see how everything has turned out.)   Turning to David “Spengler” Goldman’s piece that launched mine, Asia Times Online is certainly a news site (especially when the late Allen Quicke was editor) but Spengler’s long-running “column” (to use an old print term) was an opinion column, albeit one of the best in the business, IMHO.

Both the civics teacher and the current “faux news” hounds are working from the same playbook: there are sites where “truth” is always found and those which are simply putting out opinion masquerading as news.  (The civics teacher adds the “scholarly” to that, but my PhD studies have taught me to look at the literature with a critical eye.)  It’s convenient that the former agree with their idea, and that’s where the problem is.  It’s Pilate’s question redux: what is truth?

To start with, it’s the American ideal that there is an “objective” press.  But it’s just that: an ideal.  Journalism’s drive to get at the facts has certainly gone down in recent years (Sharyl Attkisson is a notable exception) but across the pond people are more realistic.  The French, for example, have always known that different newspapers and magazines have different points of view and the audiences to go with them; in the UK, it’s not as fragmented but it’s there all the same.  What’s broken in this country is the basic consensus about what we’re all about, and a press that “everybody” can agree is fair has gone out the window with that.  (The Wikileaks revelations about the collusion between the press and Hillary Clinton’s campaign is another nail in the coffin to the concept of an objective press.)

Beyond that, I think it strange that a post-modern culture–and its acolytes–that proclaims there is no objective truth suddenly gets worked up about “faux news.”  You can’t have it both ways: if there is no objective truth, you can’t really say some news is true and some is false.  But that’s never been the object of the left; their idea has been to masquerade a new absolutism as relativism, and that stinks.

The civic teacher also thought me unAmerican and anti-American.  It used to be that, when a leftist told you that, you could take it as a compliment.  But that’s another one of those things that has changed.  Or has it? Today liberals love patriotism as long as they are running the show and hate the country when they don’t, but that’s another example of playing both sides of the street in American politics.

Avoiding Evil Just Isn’t a Top Priority Any More

In The Worse Plotting Against the Better, XLVIII, Philo Judaeus observes the following:

On which account it seems to me that all men who are not utterly uneducated would choose to be mutilated and to become blind, and not to see what is not fitting to be seen, to become deaf and not to hear pernicious discourses, and to have their tongues cut out if that were the only way to prevent their speaking things, which ought not to be spoken. At all events, they say that some wise men, when they have been tortured on the wheel to make them betray secrets which are not worthy to be divulged, have bitten out their tongues, and so have inflicted on their torturers a more grievous torture than they were suffering, as they could not learn from them what they desired ; and it is better to be made an eunuch than to be hurried into wickedness by the fury of the illicit passions : for all these things, as they overwhelm the soul in pernicious calamities, are deservedly followed by extreme punishments.

Our Lord made some similar statements, albeit in a less philosophical vein:

If your hand or your foot is a snare to you, cut it off, and throw it away. It would be better for you to enter the Life maimed or lame, than to have both hands, or both feet, and be thrown into the aeonian fire. If your eye is a snare to you, take it out, and throw it away. It would be better for you to enter the Life with only one eye, than to have both eyes and be thrown into the fiery Pit. (Matthew 18:8, 9, TCNT)

Some men, it is true, have from birth been disabled for marriage, while others have been disabled by their fellow men, and others again have disabled themselves for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let him accept it who can. (Matthew 19:12, TCNT)

Commenting on the first passage in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, John McKenzie observes:

The fact that the saying is couched in a rather intense hyperbole does not entitle interpreters to reduce it to a vague form of spiritual detachment.

It’s an interesting parallel between the teaching of Jesus and the philosophising of Philo.  In Philo’s case, the philosophical world was very strong on reason (the higher powers) controlling the passions of the soul; it puts living a pure life in a different context.  It’s easy to contrast this with the teachings of Our Lord, but it’s noteworthy how similar a conclusion they both come to, at least in this case.

Unfortunately, in our emotionalistic age, the idea of the “higher powers” ruling is considered a sign of weakness at best.  Following our passions is the order of the day, and little wonder we have the tumultuous world we live in.

Everybody Wants Their Empire Back

And we mean everybody:

Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in next month’s re-run presidential elections, wants Hungary to join a new alliance consisting of former members of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The far-right politician believes Central European countries with similar cultures, including Austria, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic, should form a new bloc within the European Union.

Erdoğan and the Turks have been making noises about their own ambitions for some time now.  We noted that long before it became fashionable in the West to discuss such things.  Now the Austrians, with possible help from the Hungarians, are getting into the act.  The Russians probably would like to do the same.

The end of World War I saw the emergence of many ethnic states and some whose logic is hard to figure out (Yugoslavia and Iraq top that list.)  People thought that empires like Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire were a thing of the past.  European nationalism, however, has been poison in the Balkans and the Middle East ever since.  Maybe everywhere else, too: the EU is, in a sense, trying to go back to a super-national state.

Self determination is a great idea until you find out that “self” hasn’t quite figured out how to do it.

Three Sheets to the Wind: Seminary Academics and Orthodoxy

Way back in 2003, Christianity Today ran an article that began like this:

Elaine Pagels, the famous historian of early Christianity, once told a revealing story about the social world behind the scenes of high-powered biblical scholarship. As a young up-and-coming professor at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, she was invited to a closed-door, after-hours smoker. The men there (Pagels was the only woman) were all prominent Bible scholars. Many of them didn’t even believe in God, and those who still called themselves Christian were anything but orthodox.

The liquor flowed freely, and as these men got in their cups, they began to sing old gospel songs. To her astonishment, they knew all the tunes and words by heart. Then it dawned on her—these atheist and liberal Bible scholars must have grown up in evangelical churches.

I wonder what our own left-leaning seminary academics do in their closed-door “smokers.”  One thing for sure, though: like Elaine Pagels, as someone who grew up outside of Evangelicalism (both ecclesiastically and socio-economically,) I’m always amazed at the staying power this culture has, even on those who are bailing on its orthodoxy.

God as Mathematician? Why Not?

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku lays it out:

“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence,” Kaku said, as quoted by the Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies. “To me it is clear that we exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance.”…“The final solution resolution could be that God is a mathematician,” says Kaku.

That idea–which may come as a shock to many Christians–is the basis for My Lord and My God, which has been on this site for most of its existence and which uses mathematics to solve problems that theologians have messed around with for centuries.  The whole business of transfinite numbers was inspired in part from Georg Cantor’s interest in mediaeval thought.

Mathematics is the mother science; without it science is but a toy.  The connection between it and God is one that needs more exploration than it gets–for both scientists and theologians.

Show Us the Money, Donald Trump

Glenn Harlan Reynolds laments the way campuses (or campi, really) have reacted to the lachrymose response to Trump’s victory:

The response to the shock has been to turn campuses into kindergarten. The University of Michigan Law School announced a ”post-election self-care” event with “food and play,” including “coloring sheets, play dough [sic], positive card-making, Legos and bubbles with your fellow law students.” (Embarrassed by the attention, UM Law scrubbed the announcement from its website, perhaps concerned that people would wonder if its graduates would require Legos and bubbles in the event of stressful litigation.)

I don’t know what they did in Knoxville, but this is the message we got in Chattanooga (both of us teach at the University of Tennessee):

The Office of the Dean of Students recognizes that individuals on all sides may be trying to process and understand this election season. A lot of anticipation has been building up for many of us over the past few months. Many of us may be experiencing a range of emotions, both positive and negative, leaving us feeling drained. While we do not have the answers or possibly even the right words, we want each member of our community to take time to acknowledge what they may be feeling and remember the importance of self-care. For each person this may look different–some need to unplug from media, engage in physical activity, eat a balanced meal, or surround themselves with a community of support.

This was followed by a long list of campus activities, most of which were already on the schedule.

I teach civil engineering.  Engineers in general and civil engineers in particular are in an interesting place because, when the government spends money on infrastructure, civil engineers benefit.  So our relationship with the state is a little different.  OTOH, that effort makes society more productive and raises living standards.

One of my students was expressing a little disquiet about the results of the election.  My response: if Trump comes through with his promises to improve infrastructure, we in the civil engineering community will be busy and paid.  That thought lightened the discussion considerably.

Trump has told us that, in his world travels, he has discovered that many countries have infrastructure (airports, rail, roads, etc.) that make us look like a third world country.  Unfortunately we live in a place that is so full of itself that pointing that out is, by itself, a non-starter.  Beyond that, infrastructure improvements have been trapped in a bipartisan political limbo for many years; Obama’s stimulus never addressed this issue.

Trump promises to “make America great again.”  You can’t make the country great only by improving infrastructure, but the country won’t be great without it.  We’ve been burned before on this issue; show us the money and commitment, Donald Trump, and things will move a long way forward.

You Like #Calexit? So Do We

Now that the tables have turned, the people who want secession have also:

Since Donald Trump’s electoral victory was first announced, #Calexit has been trending on Twitter, with distraught Californians looking to form their own state.

Liberal Californians who are serious about this should take comfort: you’ve got many conservative friends east of you who would be more than glad to help you make this happen.

The last time some of us tried to do this, it ended badly.  There’s no reason this has to happen again.  It’s time for a really meaningful bipartisan effort, and if #Calexit is it, let’s get going.

Sometimes making “a more perfect Union” involves knowing who to keep in and who to let out.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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