Sunday, March 30, 2008

World Evangelical Alliance Responds...

A very interesting response by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) to the request of 138 Muslims to begin a dialogue between Islam and Christianity. I appreciate the clear manner in which the WEA agrees to talking, but not on the basis of Islam's rejection of the Trinity.

Read the full text of WEA here.

I am glad that WEA came out with this statement. It is both positive as regards serious dialogue, and it is also absolutely clear about the Christian message, its importance for us, and the chasm between this faith and the faith of Islam.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New Era of Catholic Evangelism in Muslim Lands?

What a special event it was: Magdi Allam, a well-known Muslim from Italy, was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI this Easter. Allam's own comment was:

His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.

I cannot believe that Allam gives his own opinions here; he was not baptized by the Pope to immediately embarrass him with some strongly worded statement about a new vision of the Church that does not reflect the views of the Pope. I believe that we hear the words, at least the mind, of the Pope himself in Allam's words.

And that is amazing. For all Christians in the Muslim world, whether they are Roman-Catholic or not, this is a very encouraging new approach of the Pope. If I am not mistaken, our brother Benedict XVI wants to see Jesus lifted high, and vigorously evangelize Muslims!

For the complete testimony of Allam, see HERE.

On the other hand... this is what the media wrote later:

The convert from Islam who denounced what he called "inherent" violence in Islam a day after Pope Benedict XVI baptized him was not expressing the pope's views, a Vatican spokesman said Thursday.

Allam "has the right to express his own ideas, which remain his personal ideas, without obviously becoming in any way the official expression of the positions of the pope or the Holy See," said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman. He told Vatican Radio that "to welcome into the church a new believer obviously does not signify marrying all his ideas and views, particularly on political or social subjects."

Among those criticizing the Vatican for allowing Allam to convert in such a high-profile way was a Muslim scholar, Aref Ali Nayed, who participated in recent Vatican talks to improve Catholic-Muslim relations.

Nayed, who directs the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Amman, Jordan, denounced what he called "the Vatican's deliberate and provocative act." Nayed also expressed dismay that the baptism was held while "sincere Muslims and Catholics are working very hard to mend ruptures."

Earlier this month, Nayed participated in two days of talks at the Vatican to prepare for an audience in November between the pontiff and Muslim religious leaders and scholars. Lombardi said the Vatican holds Nayed in "very high esteem" and expressed satisfaction that he still was wants to pursue dialogue.

Allam has built his career as commentator and book author on attacking Islamic extremism and supporting Israel.On Tuesday, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano described his baptism as a papal "gesture" aimed at stressing religious freedom and harboring "no hostile intentions" toward Islam.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Colin Chapman explains why he signed....

The controversy over the Islamic initiative to dialogue ('A Common Word') and the response of a group of Christian theologians ('A Christian Reponse') continues unabated. For details of the debates, have a look at in its March 2008 issue.

The Rev Colin Chapman wrote an article that we'll publish on the StFrancisMagazine in June, defending why he signed the controversial 'A Christian Response'. Here some parts of that article to make you want more!

Rev Colin Chapman:
Let me begin by explaining why I felt positive about ACW when it first appeared and why I signed the Yale Response. I will then summarise the main arguments developed in several recent Christian statements which have been critical of both ACW itself and the Yale Letter (e.g. by Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund and Mark Durie, Finally I will explain why I disagree with these cautious and critical responses.

Reasons for a positive response

- The signatories represent many different kinds of Islam, and include leaders and scholars from many different countries. Never before has such a wide cross-section of Muslim leaders come together to issue an appeal of this kind.

- Since ACW is an invitation to Christians to engage in further dialogue, we either accept the invitation, decline it or ignore it. Declining or ignoring an invitation as serious as this sends a very unhelpful message to the Muslim world.

- It recognises the seriousness of the political issues dividing the world, suggesting that ‘our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.’ This is no exercise in detached, philosophical or theological dialogue.

- In emphasising ‘the primacy of total love and devotion to God’ and ‘all-embracing constant and active love of God’, it uses Jewish and Christian scripture to sum up ideas which are seen as fundamental also in Islam. It is extraordinary that Muslims are attempting to summarise some of their key beliefs not in traditional Islamic language but in language drawn from Jewish and Christian scriptures.

- It avoids polemical approaches by recognising the common ground as well as differences between the two faiths, and expresses the hope that ‘this common ground be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us …’

- It recognises the importance of human rights issues, saying that ‘justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part of love of the neighbour’.

- By suggesting that ‘the Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is … the common ground between Christianity and Islam’, it seems to recognise that Christians acknowledge the oneness of God and might be genuine monotheists.

- It also seems to recognise that Christian beliefs about Jesus may not amount to the cardinal sin of shirk (association, i.e. putting a created being on the level of the Creator). ‘Taking other lords beside God’ is interpreted to mean that ‘Muslims, Christians and Jews should be free to each follow what God has commanded them, and not have “to prostrate before kings and the like” …’

Reasons for cautious or critical responses

- The interpretation of several Qur’anic verses in ACW is significantly different from traditional interpretations. For example the key verse from which the title, A Common Word, is taken, (‘O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God …’ 3:64), in its original context is not an invitation to an open-ended dialogue, but rather a plea for Jews and Christians to accept an Islamic formula about the oneness of God.

- The letter is an example of taqiyya (usually translated ‘dissimulation’), the principle which, in the words of Patrick Sookhdeo, ‘allows Muslims to practise deception in certain circumstance. Mark Durie speaks of the Letter’s ‘indirectness’, implying that it is not entirely honest in its presentation and intentions.

- Far from being an invitation to genuine dialogue, it amounts to a missionary call, inviting Christians to accept an Islamic understanding of the oneness of God as the basis for dialogue. In the words of Mark Durie, ‘Christians are being asked to accept Islamic monotheism as the foundation for interfaith dialogue and peaceful relationships’. Similarly, Patrick Sookhdeo writes: ‘Although presented as interfaith dialogue, the letter can equally be viewed as a classical example of Islamic da‘wa (mission). It is a call to accept the Muslim concept of the unity of God (tawhid) and therefore to reject the incompatible Christian views of the Trinity and the deity of Christ… The message is that if Christians will accept Islam’s concept of the unity of God (thus denying the basic doctrines of the Trinity and deity of Christ), Muslims will accept the Christian values of love for God and neighbour as central to Islam. Thus a radical revolutionary change in Christianity is demanded in exchange for a superficial change of emphasis in Islamic perceptions.’

- There are so many things that are not mentioned in ACW. There is no reference, for example, to the militant verses in the Qur’an, no acknowledgement of God’s love for humankind as a whole, no recognition of human rights abuses against Christians in Islamic countries, and no apology for the crimes of Muslims against non-Muslims.

- Positive responses to ACW from Christians will have a harmful effect on Christians living in Islamic countries. Mark Durie believes that ‘the tone adopted in the Yale Response will come across as capitulation, and it will signal abandonment of the cause of their persecuted brother and sisters in Christ.’

For the full article, read in June 2008!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Some update on the situation in Jordan

Time to give you an update on the situation in Jordan, where many expatriate Christians have been told to leave the country. AFP today quoted former MP Odeh Kawwas, a Greek- Orthodox Christian. "Missionary groups have hidden agendas and are close to Christian Zionists," according to Kawwas.

"For years we have been urging the government to close such Christian shops that have nothing to do with Christianity and tolerance," said Kawwas, referring to missionaries who convert Muslims in violation of the law. "These groups don't belong to any church, but they try to hunt followers of other churches and trick some of our Muslim brothers to convert them," he added.

Fellow Christian Fahd Kheitan, an outspoken columnist at Al-Arab Al-Yawm newspaper, said the majority of Christians are "very suspicious and worried" because "the (missionaries) target the strong beliefs of traditional churches in Jordan and try to create religious links with the Zionist movement, which is extremely dangerous."

Kheitan asserts that Washington has put pressure on its allies in Amman to allow missionaries into the country, where he says these groups have used their relations with some officials to "build a base. But the kingdom has realised now that the situation threatens the internal front," Kheitan said.

Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem and Jordan said recently that some foreign missionaries "have undeclared political positions and we do not want the image of Christianity to be distorted."

In 2005 the Washington Post quoted Nabeeh Abbassi, president of the Jordan Baptist Convention, as saying:, "We're seeing more and more Muslim conversions, not less than 500 a year" in Jordan over the past decade. He told the newspaper that about 10,000 Evangelicals worship at 50 churches in Jordan.