Chuck Huckaby on *Two Stories of Everything*

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Rev. Chuck Huckaby on Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity recently. The two-part post has his review and then an interview. This is from the interview:

CH: You write: “After living in the Middle East for most of a decade, I must say that I find the public religion of Muslims (and Eastern Orthodox Christians) compelling and refreshing. Yes, sometimes it can be confrontational, but the introspective Christianity of the West with its quietism and compartmentalization strikes me as defeatist, bland, and feeble-hearted.” This relates to one of the key elements of secularism, the internalization of belief. You expanded on this in the book, but I wonder if you have seen this done in a Western context?
DM: The word introspective is from Latin and means looking inwards. The response to this is public religion, meaning an expression of religious commitment lived out in the midst of the people. I have seen baby steps towards this in America—it is easier in Europe. A church opened its grounds to local families for a movie night and it was well-attended, for instance. But that was still on the church grounds. I remember doing theology at the pub in Edinburgh with a local church. The deacon, who was quite liberal I’ll say, and I went to buy pints at the bar and this old Scotsman just saw his collar and started telling him about God. The point is he wore his collar in public, and that allowed a space for witness.
I’m in Spain and I wear my clericals several times a week because our cathedral is a very busy place. One day an old Spanish lady stopped me in the street and said, “I’m glad to see a priest wearing a collar! They used to do that all the time!” So obviously she thought I was a Roman Catholic priest, not an Anglican deacon, but it doesn’t really matter. We need to find ways of bringing the presence and reality of our religious commitment into the public world. No, we don’t need to be confrontational and abrasive—though we should realize that God may indeed call us to that sometimes. And here is me as the evangelical preacher who wants a practical application for everything: be deliberate about saying grace with your family when you eat out. Hold hands, bow your heads, make the sign of the Cross. Not to impress people. But to witness to Christ. To witness that his Church is still alive and well and it’s there at Applebee’s or Taco Cabana.

Read it all at his blog Disciple Making in the Historic Church.

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Paul Martindale reviews *Living among the Breakage*

I’m happy to share with you Paul Martindale’s very positive review of Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians (Pickwick, 2016). Martindale teaches missions at Gordon-Conwell and the review was originally published in Evangelical Missions Quarterly. Here is a section:

There is tremendous value in reading through this work as it shows how the life within developing communities intersects with new identity formation, the process of inculturating the gospel in a new context, new power structures within the Church, conversion, and the development of new ‘liberation’ and wisdom theologies. 

Drawing from specific case study interviews and a wealth of excellent missiological sources, Miller has helped to expand the field of ex-Muslim studies in constructive directions. Serious students of religious conversion and contextualization in former Muslim communities and church-planting in Islamic contexts will want to read and carefully consider this work. 

Read it all at the EMQ website.

Chuck Huckaby reviews *Two Stories of Everything*

From MissiolinksTwo Stories of Everything by Duane Alexander Miller – Review and Interview

In Duane Alexander Miller‘s Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity the Anglican Missiologist takes a novel approach to comparing Islam and Christianity.

He rejects the approach of the “comparative religions” school because this Enlightenment discipline believed the topic of “religion” could be neatly compartmentalized and analyzed as an almost incident subset of “real life” as defined by secular humanists.  So instead of analyzing Islam and Christianity in some topical fashion, he approaches the issue by narrating how the respective faith systems understand the origin of all things (creation), anthropology, Israel, Jesus, Muhammad, life in their respective communities, their respective missions, and their understanding of the end or eschatology. By the end of the book, the reader should understand that both Islam and Christianity, far from being easily compartmentalized abstractions, are, instead comprehensive – though differing – ways of life.

Miller’s analysis is fast paced and extremely accessible for non-specialists. A glossary and a good array of footnotes adds to the value of the text.  As a Christian in the historic tradition but acquainted with the breadth of world Christianity, he is able to portray the Christian story in a way that is fair to Christians whether they be “high church” or “low”. As one who has lived a significant portion of his life in Muslim majority areas such as Nazareth and who can read the Qu’ran in Arabic, he offers an even handed view of Islam as one who knows and appreciates Muslim people.

Christians wanting to understand Islam as it relates (or doesn’t) to their own faith will find this a very helpful guide. The work is not to be confused as another missive from the “can’t we all just get along crowd” because Miller does not indulge in political correctness. Nor can he be charged with “Islamophobia” because his conclusions are based on his specialist study and familiarity with his subject.

Suitable for Sunday Schools, Small Groups, individual reading or introductory class work, this book makes for a thought provoking introduction to the topic. It especially challenges Christians in the West and those who confuse the “West” with Christianity itself. Likewise those who have an interest in the contemporary Christian Mission will be challenged when the “professor” gives the church a barely passing grade on this subject.

Of particular interest is the way that Islam’s growth highlights the weakness of the West … our self destructive attitudes towards family, procreation, our naive views on virtue and vice, and the danger of the Church’s privatized faith. Indeed, Miller’s work operates as a running critique of the secular establishment and narrative itself. The complete ignorance and impotence of the thinking of the West’s political class on the topic of Muslim-Christian relations soon becomes apparent as well.

Review of Ralph 124c 41+

Ralph 124C 41+Ralph 124C 41+ by Hugo (foreword by Fletcher Pratt) Gernsback
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What was the first science fiction novel? Many would say Frankenstein: The 1818 Text. But a lot of readers today think of sci-fi as being related to envisioning a future with new, exotic technologies. And if that is indeed essential to sci-fi then this book is in fact the first ever sci-fi novel. Beginning in 1911 the book started being published as a series of short stories but the author eventually brought them all together in this one book. It does have fantastic technologies–personal space travel, agricultural wonders, floating cities, and even the conquering of death.

What really caught my attention was how some technologies suggested were so distant, while other things sounded passe. The flying cars are still a long way off. But a flying taxi still had a driver, something that is not outdated yet, but will probably be in a decade.

Ultimately the book is a romance. The clear templates for masculinity and femininity are not chauvinistic or sexist (I think–but I’m a guy) and this older vision of human relationality will appeal to more conservative readers while leaving younger readers mystified. The book still reflects the naive modern confidence in human reason born of the so-called ‘Enlightenment’. Two world wars have disabused us of the falsity that science solves all our problems or that education somehow makes people good–though these myths are at the heart of that other sci-fi fairytale world, Star Trek.

Anyone interested in the history of sci-fi should read this book. It is a great book for when you cannot focus on detailed plot twists or read for lengthy periods of time. (This is my nice way of saying take with you when you take your kid to the dentist or are waiting in line at the post office.)

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Comments on ‘A Clockwork Orange’

A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Spoiler Alert] Dark, haunting, disturbing. I enjoyed reading the full, original version–the one published in the UK. That is not where the book ends off in the American version or the movie for that matter.

This is not exactly an end-of-the-world book, but it does show you England in a state of decline under a decadent, socialist (?) government. The violence towards humans and the license afforded the entitled and, to be frank, useless Alex (and his droogs) will ring a bell with some of youth culture today. In this Burgess was able to glimpse the shape of future things to come.

At the end of the book Alex starts to think about the permanent things in life–family, work, marriage, children. In this, I think, he was wrong. The shape of our modern post-WW2 ‘liberal’ world order is one of the disenchantment–teaching people not to love anything at all, with the assumption that people will not fight. After all, people only fight about things they care about. And if people don’t care about anything–their homeland, their people, their heritage, their god, their future–then we will have that twisted vision of peace which assumes that peace is nothing more than an absence of violence. The revival of populism (Trump) and nationalism (Brexit) reveal the disintegration of this program for disenchantment.

But Alex (and Burgess) was living in a world wherein marriage and family still had a sort of enchantment to them–a sense that they were among the permanent things. But we, in the West, have destroyed that enchantment. The only thing truly wicked anyone can do anymore is tell someone else that what they are doing is wicked. We have traded meaning for power. But a rootless power carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. Ergo, the West: a civilization without a future and unable to consider its past, and is actively breeding itself out of existence. Call it unnatural desolation, if you will.

If anything, our present is darker than the world of Alex because redemption and maturation were options for Alex. Not so for the droogs of today, who are more mediocre in their pernicious acts just as they are beyond redemption in our disenchanted saecula.

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Review of ‘A Canticle for Liebowitz’

A Canticle for LiebowitzA Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am continuing with my trek through all the end-of-the-world type books I can find. And this is one of the most famous.

There is not a single main character throughout the whole book. Rather, it follows the history of a Roman Catholic monastic order (think monks living together for worship and scholarship). The order was founded by an engineer turned monk after a great nuclear cataclysm that killed most of humanity. Learning and books had become despised and dangerous, so Saint Leibowitz founded his community to gather and safeguard the few books that had not been destroyed after the cataclysm. His hope was that once humanity had recovered from its state of barbarity the preserved books would then be of use again.

One might compare it to Asimov’s Foundation, except that here the community is explicitly religious and it is formed after civilization has been eradicated. It is a pleasure to see how, with many twists and turns, the vision of St Leibowitz comes to fruition–sort of.

Strengths: there is a lot of philosophy and ethical reasoning in the book. I like philosophy. I like religion. I find both topics interesting, so I enjoyed the fact that the author focused on these topics more deeply than other books in the sub-genre, like The Dog Stars or Earth Abides.

Note to readers: If you know anything about Roman Catholicism before the second Vatican Council (1962-5) it will help. The form of Roman Catholicism envisioned by Walter M. Miller Jr. was very clearly the continuation of the Church before the major changes introduced at Vatican II.

As noted, the overarching narrative continues for centuries in the book. I found it satisfying and surprising. My main complaint is that I didn’t realize we’d be jumping centuries down the road every now and then. But once I got used to it, it was fine. Some of the secondary characters felt a little flat to me.

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New book alert: Identity Crisis

The folks of the Lausanne Movement recently have let us know about what appears to be a valuable, new book: Identity Crisis: Religious Registration in the Middle East (Gilead Books, 2016) by Jonathan Andrews (likely a pseudonym, I’m guessing).

The books addresses an important issue I noted on multiple occasions in Living among the Breakage, especially in my chapter on liberation theology in the texts of ex-Muslim Christians (Chapter 5).

I have not yet read the book, but I did read the Lausanne synopsis which looks promising. Here is a section from that synopsis:

It is often claimed that Islam is a religion of peace. What is meant by ‘peace’? Armed conflict can be stopped by one party surrendering unconditionally to the other. This brings ‘peace’ in the sense of an end to conflict, although the victors are able to impose whatever conditions they choose on the vanquished. It does not guarantee peace in the sense of stable, harmonious, and respectful community relations.

In Egypt, inter-communal strife is often followed by a ‘reconciliation meeting’. In situations involving Christians and Muslims, what typically happens is that Muslims seek draconian terms that marginalise and disadvantage the Christians, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the situation. In such cases, criminal behaviour is overlooked, even exonerated. Religious registration is at the root of such practices, creating a context in which those who think of themselves as the majority feel that they are entitled to exploit others. The system undermines the rule of law.

This is indeed accurate and happens not only in Egypt but also in Israel-Palestine, and probably elsewhere too. The difficulty is that the system of organizing Muslims under Muslim rule into dhimmis is as old as Islam itself.

Anyway, I’m always happy to hear about new research about the challenges facing ex-Muslim Christians and the issue of religious registration is one of the main ones.

Read the whole Lausanne synopsis HERE.