Fred Farrokh’s review of *Two Stories of Everything*

Over at goodreads the Rev. Dr. Fred Farrokh has posted his review of Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity. Here it is:

How do people best learn? How, therefore, should we teach? Historically, Christians have emphasized communicating “propositional truths.” An example would be the famous tract, “The Four Spiritual Laws.” Now the pendulum has swung away from propositional truth teaching to “storytelling,” since much of the Global South communicates truth through stories, parables, humor, etc. Both paradigms can boast a biblical basis. Duane Miller encompasses and eclipses these paradigms by suggesting that the best way to understand and appreciate Islam and Christianity is through their respective “metanarratives.” I could not agree more.

Duane Miller has distilled hundreds of Bible, Qur’anic verses and Islamic hadith into coherent grand-narratives which feature similarities and differences. His experiences living in the United States, Europe and the Middle East provide abundant illustrations in an amazingly brief book. Dr. Miller gives the Church a “C” in fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission; he grades the Islamic “Umma” with a “D” for fulfilling its respective obligation of advancing the Islamic narrative. It is an even-handed treatment of the world’s two largest faiths and their communities. He handles many hot potato questions, such as “Is Islam a religion of peace? And, “what is the future of Christianity in the West?” Truly this book is an educational treasure.

Advertisements

Sin and Death in *Two Stories of Everything*

In Two Stories of Everything I take a more Eastern Orthodox approach to the Fall. I argue that the main enemy is death, that death entered the world through sin, that sin is a very real problem, but that redemption in Christ addresses more than just sin alone, and that sin is one symptom of death. A colleague and reader, George, asked about this. Here is his question and my answer (with some editing, of course):

Hi Duane,

So, to my first question about your book. I am certain I will have many questions, mostly about Islam, but my first question is actually about Christianity. In Chapter 4 you write that “Christianity proposes that the foundational problem is death.” This really caught my attention, because I have never actually seen it written that way before. You state that sin is a manifestation of death, and state that the problem of death is deeper than the problem of sin.

It is a very interesting way of looking at it. But to be completely honest, I really don’t agree with it. Now my purpose is not to start an argument. It is inevitable that friends will disagree on something. […] So I will be very interested to read why you believe that death is the foundational problem proposed in Christian theology.

Hi George,

Love the question. It is a very good one. Let me outline where I’m coming from with this. […] What I’m doing in emphasizing the problem of death is actually returning to an older, pre-Reformation vision. The emphasis on sin as the fundamental problem is largely a characteristic of the Reformation. And that makes sense in its historical context. The presenting issue for Luther was the sale of indulgences, and those were very specifically purposed to erase a very certain type of effect of very specific sins. So I don’t think I’m saying anything fundamentally at odds with the main gist of the Reformers, it’s just that they were focused in a very specific issue, and I’m focusing on a much larger stage–the entire metanarrative of Christianity.

I’m returning to an older, Eastern Orthodox approach to the problem. At Bible college you were given Bible verses that prioritized sin, and so you were taught that it is the fundamental problem.

However, note that in the Garden narrative there is no mention of the word sin though death is there. Also, note that at the eschaton the last enemy to be destroyed is not sin, but death. Note also that Paul is very concerned with certain principalities which keep the world in bondage. Those are Sin, Death and the Law. Paul hardly worries about Satan–he’s concerned with how Christ is victorious over these three principalities. Also, the great victory of Christ is Easter–Christ is victorious over death. In being victorious over death he can then grant us the forgiveness of sins, not the other way around.

Note also the central role of the word ‘life’ in John’s gospel. In him was the life…I am the way, the truth and the life…whosoever believes in him will have everlasting life…I am the resurrection and the life…and the list goes on. But your Bible college, I’m guessing, did not teach you soteriology from John, or Genesis, or Revelation. And when taught from the Pauline epistles the central concern of Paul with the principalities was rarely, if ever, mentioned. No worry, that is very common. Christians the world around focus on the texts that agree with them and don’t address the ones that leave them mystified.

In the book I use the phrase, more or less, ‘the entrance of death through sin,’ and that is most concise summary of how I view the issue. The fundamental problem is indeed death, but there is also a priority for sin in that the original distrust of God (i.e., the first sin) was the conduit for the corruption of the cosmos.

Another point: an ignorance of the problem of death can lead to a wan view of the redemptive nature of Christ’s work. Death means the child with cancer. Death means human trafficking. Death means the earthquake that kills thousands of people who have not committed any deliberate sin that would presumably warrant an earthquake.

Death does keep us separated from God. Death is the cancer infesting our souls and bodies. Death is the reason that we sometimes do not know right from wrong. Death is the reason that sometimes knowing right from wrong we choose that which is evil, destructive. Sin is giving in to death. Sin is saying no to life. But again, the fundamental problem is death. Killing the cancer–not just treating the most drastic symptom.

Peace and grace! I love these conversations. Hope you are well and send out Epiphany blessings to everyone there.

Duane

My response to Erin Bartram’s “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind”

Dr. Erin Bartram has written a beautiful indictment of American higher education. She has composed a post wherein she explains how she gave up trying to get that treasured tenure track position in American higher ed. She tells us of her sense of calling to be a professor, her joy in sitting on committees (commendable), and her sense of despondent letdown in never being hired to that coveted tenure track position she felt was her destiny.

It resonated with me.

I have never shared a response to someone else’s blog post here before, but here goes:

Erin,

I was deeply touched by your wonderful, melancholy post. I have a PhD in Divinity from Edinburgh, which I’m not sure is elite or not. The thing is that while doing the PhD (awarded in 2014) and through now I have been continuously employed but as a minister and missionary in the Anglican Church, which means I always had a steady if humble income (probably similar to yours as an associate professor).

But I, in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther, have always tried to keep one foot in the world of academia–teaching “The God Class” (think “Survey of the Christian Faith”) here, “Intro to Philosophy” and “Bible as Lit” there. Most recently my cutting edge research into the lived theology of converts from Islam to Christianity led to teaching–wait for it–“Research and Composition”.

Two years ago I was asked to consider moving to Spain to plant a church here and do some other stuff. With a wife and three young kids it was a big ask. Sharon and I prayed about it. I felt like I had to really investigate all options in higher ed before committing to such a move and so I did. I did the CVs and teaching statements (“I don’t  actually know what that is.” –Pinkie Pie, My Little Pony, sorry for not using Chicago….), I did the “make a video and send it to us…” I did the interviews via Skype or what have you. I did the hours of composing a detailed custom q&a document because I had made it to “the last round”–and that while in Mexico for a wedding of a friend from middle school. Some people encouraged me, saying that my area of research (ex-Muslims) was so avant garde, who could resist? Others said that my main area of research was politically incorrect, as it implied that maybe something was lacking in Islam. Anyway, like you, nothing. Enormous amounts of time. Enormous amounts of energy.

My story is different, though, because for me that served as confirmation that God (the same one my Catholic sisters form the 19th Century were concerned with) was calling us to Spain, where we have now been for half a year. But I did feel that hurt, especially at first. Some positions I didn’t care about. But a few of them just seemed…so good. Like such a right fit. Also, I have friends from Edinburgh who, like you, felt that calling–that vocation–to be a professor, but have not been able to secure those positions. So what you wrote touched me.

I don’t know the answers either, but I do know there is something deeply flawed in higher ed in the USA today. There is something evil in telling everyone they must go to college, for it makes the BA or BS little more than the high school degree of yesteryear. There is something foolish in the proliferation of administrative positions in the American university while the number of professors remains more or less stagnant. There is some transgression in practically forcing young people to accrue large amounts of debt so that they will not be able to move out, get married, and have kids if they so wish. In sum, I do not offer any advice, but I offer compassion–a ‘suffering with’–though not to the full extent that you have suffered. It is limited. But it is real.

And here, for your enjoyment, is that most excellent Pinkie Pie quote (this is what comes from having kids…)

Understanding Religious Conversion from Islam to Christianity

This is the first of four lectures I gave in Copenhagen, Denmark on November 14th of 2017. And with this, all four of the Copenhagen lectures are available at my YouTube channel.

 

 

Why tradition is central to education

My girls are doing arts and crafts here at the Southwest School of Art and I’m catching up on blogs.

Happened across this brilliant article arguing for more tradition and less relevance in education.

Here is one particularly excellent section:

The real objection to relevance is that it is an obstacle to self-discovery. Some sixty years ago I was introduced to classical music by teachers who did not waste time criticizing my adolescent taste and who made no concessions to my age or temperament. They knew only that they had received a legacy and with it a duty to pass it on. If they did not do so the legacy would die. They discovered in me a soul that could make this legacy its own. That was enough for them. They did not ask themselves whether the classical repertoire was relevant to the interests that I then happened to have, any more than mathematicians ask whether the theorems that they teach will help their students with their accounting problems. Their assumption was that, since the musical knowledge that they wished to impart was unquestionably valuable, it could only benefit me to receive it. But I could not understand the benefit prior to receiving it. To consult my desires in the matter would have been precisely to ignore the crucial fact, which was that, until introduced to classical music, I would not know whether it was to be a part of my life.

Enjoy!

The Virtue of Irrelevance