Interesting Issues Re: Muslim-Christian Dialogue

Recent efforts between Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in dialogue based on what they view as common religious ground has sparked an interesting and important conversation within the Christian community. It concerns—you guessed it—the proper approach to Muslim-Christian dialogue. Let me see if I can set the stage for those unfamiliar with what’s taking place.

In October of 2007, a number of Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals, representing “every denomination and school of thought in Islam,” released a document called A Common Word Between Us and You. Addressed to “all the leaders of all the world’s churches, and indeed to all Christians everywhere,” A Common Word asserts “the most fundamental common ground between Islam and Christianity, and the best basis for future dialogue and understanding, is the love of God and the love of neighbor.” The introductory page of the Common Word website (from which the above quotes are also taken) continues:

Never before have Muslims delivered this kind of definitive consensus statement on Christianity. Rather than engage in polemic, the signatories have adopted the traditional and mainstream Islamic position of respecting the Christian scripture and calling Christians to be more, not less, faithful to it.

It is hoped that this document will provide a common constitution for the many worthy organizations and individuals who are carrying out interfaith dialogue all over the world. Often these groups are unaware of each other, and duplicate each other’s efforts. Not only can A Common Word Between Us give them a starting point for cooperation and worldwide co-ordination, but it does so on the most solid theological ground possible: the teachings of the Qu’ran and the Prophet, and the commandments described by Jesus Christ in the Bible. Thus despite their differences, Islam and Christianity not only share the same Divine Origin and the same Abrahamic heritage, but the same two greatest commandments.

In return, scholars from the Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture drafted a warmly positive response, which was subsequently endorsed by over 300 Christian leaders, including respected conservative scholars (e.g., John Stott and Christopher J. H. Wright—both of whom have authored books available in The Crossing’s Bookstore) and well known evangelical pastors (e.g., Bill Hybels and Rick Warren). The authors intend for their response to be accompanied by subsequent conferences and workshops designed to promote further engagement.

The Yale response, which was published in the New York Times, has not gone without criticism, however. Last month, John Piper has offered his thoughts on what he believes to be the document’s shortcomings. Commendably, Piper has also provided opportunities for two of those who endorsed the Yale response to reply, Rick Love and Greg Livingstone (for the latter link, scroll down the page a bit to “Livingstone on ‘A Common Word’”).

Taken together, this (apparently gracious) back-and-forth raises a host of interesting issues regarding what it means to communicate with those ascribing to other faiths in a manner that is both winsome, yet biblically faithful. I think you’ll find the both the original documents and subsequent dialogue worthy of careful thought.

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