"But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven." --Jesus
I think this command of Jesus--the heart and soul of his Kingdom vision--is felt more acutely in Christian/Muslim relations than anywhere else. So I'm grateful for my friends Josh Graves and Sean Palmer. Josh for writing the book and Sean for providing us this review.
The September 11th hijackings and attacks, orchestrated and performed by Al-Qaeda, introduced many western Christians to the battle between certain elements within Islam and the rest of the world, particularly the Great Satan, America.
In part, the response of the West has been to return bloodshed for bloodshed. Regardless of the merits of the on-going military conflicts in Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and other contested territories, the fact that eyes are being exchanged for eyes cannot be ignored by the church. At the same time, too many of the voices calling for increased violence or tensions or exclusion toward Muslims, both in the U.S. and around the world, are Christian.
Into the discussion of relations between Christians and Muslims enters Dr. Joshua Graves (a friend) and his newest book, How Not To Kill a Muslim: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in America. In short, Josh gives Christians a framework in which to engage, not only the idea that there are Muslims in the world and we have deal with their presence as a reality, but that there are Muslims in the world and the way of Christ mandates we see and love them as neighbors.
At the heart of How Not to Kill is a fundamental assumption: The Christian community has lost her story. The story, Josh argues, begins with the obvious and simple fact the Ismael and Isaac, central figures in the story of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are brothers. What's more, and this is the central textual argument, is that Jesus' parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10) is the primary model for enemy/Other-love and requires Christians to view their Muslim neighbors with grace, love, and compassion.
The story we've lost, Josh argues is the story of the Bible.
Arguing for a different kind of interaction with Muslim and Islam is where Josh does his best work. His prescription: Knowledge of God and knowing of neighbor.
While I don't want to step on his punchline, suffice it to say that what is being called forth is a life rooted in the story of God more than a life rooted in headlines and/or misinformation. The headlines of the day, Graves asserts, create and nurture fear, rather than engagement. What's more, it's a story either ignorant of or ignoring the Biblical narrative and the nature of God revealed in the ministry of Jesus. Add to that the fact that most American's knowledge of Islam could fit onto a Post-It Note and we have a recipe for exclusion rather than embrace. Perhaps the best part of How Not To Kill is Graves' final chapter, 'Islam For Dummies,' where he simply lays out the meaning and history of many of the terms popularly used but largely misused about Islam.
What is striking about this engagement is that the book itself is the result of intentional engagement of Christians with Islam and Muslims in Nashville where Graves lives and minsters. This fact alone saves the book from the theoretical wasteland so easily accepted in the church and academic theology. What's more, many conversations about Muslim and Christian relations get side-tracked by discussion of ISIS, Syria, the Iran deal and other particulars you and your neighbor can't do anything about. Here, Graves hold our feet to the fire regarding persons living in and shaping our local communities; people we can actual have coffee, lunch, and prayers with. How Not To Kill gently reveals our own lack of love, grace, and humility or our stubborn, self-serving refusal to engage with others at all.
Yet as I read the book, I was haunted by a sense that there were a few things Josh would like to have done differently.
While Josh begins a needed conversation between Muslims and Christians -- and in particular educates Christians about Islam -- that education seems preliminary. Throughout the text, I kept coming back to two questions. The first was, "Is Josh fairly representing conservative Christians?" My sense is that many, if not most, of my conservative friends would read How Not To Kill, might say, "That's not really what I think..." or "That's not fair...."
I'm not arguing that the book in uncharitable, but rather incomplete in this regard. Since the genesis of the text began with actual people with real questions, it would have been nice to have some thoughtful, coherent arguments exposing how more conservative readers have worked through these issues and why what seems like hate or disrespect to some may be their attempt to "not kill a Muslim." Even if some feel that the elimination or marginalization of Islam is best for the world, why they believe that's the case. In short, I don't think Josh (again, my friend) makes their case well for them (though I'm sure they're making it in their own forums).
The second area I felt the book was incomplete was that it leaves the reader (at least this one), saying, "Yeah, but what about ______." I say this as a positive. As I turned through the pages, I wanted to hear more. More about Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac; more about Jesus and the images of God (a chapter that was absolutely beautiful and may be the inspiration of my first tattoo); more about American immigration law and interpreting Jesus' teaching in view of His actions rather than a separate theological compartment.
I would have loved for Josh to tackle the issue concerning the ascendancy of Christian Zionism and how it is affecting American Christian's relationship with Muslims and why, for some, and American agreement with Iraq -- or any predominantly Muslim country -- necessarily jeopardizes Israel. Where most books I read are too long; this one is too short.
And, that, perhaps, is the most glowing review I can give. When the book was over, I didn't want it to be over. I wanted to know more, in Josh's words, "see more." And that's the reason, I think you should rush out to get your own copy. Then read it. Read it again. And order a few copies for your friends.
You can order one or more copies here and here.
You can find more of Sean’s writing at his blog, The Palmer Perspective as well as Wineskins.com and Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed.
You can also follow Sean on Twitter.