Muslims and the Gospel: Bridging the Gap
Shelley, Michael, Interpretation
Muslims and the Gospel: Bridging the Gap by Roland E. Miller Lutheran University Press, Minneapolis, 2006.452 pp. $35.00. ISBN 1-932688-07-2.
AS ROLAND MILLER APPROACHES the subject of bridging the gap between Muslims and the gospel, he brings long and rich experience as a missionary and scholar, and years of personal friendship and personal interaction with Muslims. He served for twenty-three years as a church worker in Kerala, India; seventeen years as a university professor and dean in Regina, Canada; and six years at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, where he set up an Islamic Studies Program.
Miller divides his book into three parts. In Part One, "The Context," he describes Muslim views on significant matters that affect the communication and reception of the gospel, recognizing that "[w]henever and wherever the seed of the gospel is sown, it falls on occupied soil" (p. 19). He outlines key Islamic principles that inform the thought and attitudes of Muslims, including the centrality of God in their lives, and their views concerning revelation, Muhammad, law, community, salvation history, and Islam as a confessional and comprehensive religion. This is followed by chapters devoted to Muslim views about sin, salvation, Jesus, Christians, and Christianity. There is, Miller contends, a visible and real gap between Christians and Muslims. Throughout these chapters, he demonstrates a deep understanding of Islam and Muslims. He sympathizes with the Muslim desire that Islam be correctly understood and regularly indicates where there is diversity in Muslim thinking. Altogether, this section forms a good introduction to Islam for readers who come to it with particular Christian concerns and questions in mind.
In Part Two, "Bridges for the Crossing," Miller describes ways in which Christians can cross the gap between Christians and Muslims with the gospel, making their way into the Muslim thought world and the Muslim heart. Deep friendship is the key. Indeed, it is "the essential paradigm for Christian sharing with Muslims today" (p. 157). Grounded in the example of God's love for humanity, seen in the person of Jesus the Messiah, this deep friendship "is nothing other than self-giving love applied to real life relationships" (p. 165).
Miller's discussion about deep friendship as the key for bridging the gap may raise a concern on the part of some readers, Christian and Muslim. Is he simply instrumentalizing friendship? That is, does he commend interfaith friendship so that Christians can bear witness to the gospel? I do not think that is his intent. He sees interfaith friendship as a gift from God and a worthwhile end in itself, although it can provide a context for the sharing of important beliefs. However, anyone reading the book needs to be alert to the possibility of misinterpreting him on this point, and thus violating Paul's admonition in his letter to the Romans, "Let love be genuine" (12:9).
In the second part of the book, Miller also examines significant Christian figures of the past with a view to what can be learned from their engagements with Muslims. For the most part, they are persons one usually encounters in discussions of the history of Christian-Muslim relations. These include John of Damascus, Theodore Abu Qurra, Francis of Assisi, Ramon Lull, Henry Martyn, Charles de Foucald, Samuel Zwemer, Constance Padwick, and Lewis Bevan Jones. Others could have been chosen. Of those selected, not all would be considered models of deep friendship. Several had little direct contact with Muslims (Peter the Venerable, Nicholas of Cusa, and Martin Luther), and some were downright polemical in their approach (The Apology of al-Kindi). Yet helpful lessons can be learned from each. For Miller, it is important neither to disdain the past nor to glamorize it.
Part Three, "Connecting Muslims and the Message," addresses the practical task. Here Miller discusses the profile of a sharing friend. …