During my time in Denmark I delivered this talk at St Nathaniel’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Copenhagen. More details can be found here.
This is the fourth of four Copenhagen lectures, all of which are now available at YouTube.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark and her Mission to Muslims
(Haga click aqui para leer el ensayo en español.)
It started months ago when Søren Dalsgaard, who is a coordinator of the Christian Refugee Network in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, e-mailed me. He had been looking for an expert on ministry to and among Muslims and ex-Muslims and he found me. My doctoral research had been on that topic and the thesis had been published as Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians (Pickwick 2016). I had also done some interviews on the topic for some Danish publications and a number of local Christians had read those.
He explained that numerous pastors who lived in multi-ethnic neighborhoods or close to asylum centers were being approached by individuals or families from places like Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Sometimes these people would just start attending church. Other times they were looking for baptism. Still other times they related that they had converted in some other country but wanted to join the local church. Would I be interested in coming to Denmark to provide some seminars for local leaders and deliver some more academic lectures at a local university?
This led to me spending a week in Denmark. We started with a seminar in Copenhagen, traveled by train to Århus where I did another seminary and even learned to correctly pronounce Århus. The next day I was at the second largest university in the country. At the invitation of Prof. Peter Lodberg I spoke on sociology of religious conversion from Islam to Christianity to around 100 students, many of whom are studying for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark.
The church is the national church. Some 75% of all Danes belong to it, though of course many of those people rarely attend it. It is episcopal, meaning it has bishops. But I learned that it is not synodal, meaning the bishops don’t meet in synod to govern the church (which is indeed the form of government of the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain here in Madrid). Also, both the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark belong to the Porvoo Communion, meaning the two churches recognize the ordination and sacraments of each other.
It is easy to find bad news about Islam in Denmark. Just today my news feed told me about the Turkish government funding new mosques there. The clergy I spoke with there were quite open when talking about the rise in violence that has come with Islamic immigration. Yet they were also excited to do what they could to help people move from Islam to Christianity. One pastor spoke of 20 baptisms at the local parish. Another spoke of his desire years ago to be a missionary in Turkey but explained how it had not worked out, but then he realized that Denmark had a large Turkish population and that he could spread the gospel among Turks in his home country. A young man training for ministry at the university wrote me an e-mail after the lecture expressing his excitement to help the church move into challenging new places of ministry like this in order to connect not only to Muslims but also to the post-Christian secular population of Danes.
The seminars consisted of four talks each, with plenty of time for Q&A, lunch, and the singing of a hymn or two. The first three lectures were about background—what is conversion? What are some of the global movements from Islam to Christ? And third, what attracts people from Islam to Christ? The fourth talk was my favorite one—it focused on practical pastoral steps that ministers can take to help converts from Islam form a firm, new identity in Jesus Christ. Evenings often consisted of dinner meetings with key local figures.
[Update: all four lectures can be heard on YouTube now.]
I did get a little sight seeing in too. We were done by Thursday night, and my plane didn’t depart from Copenhagen until 3:20 in the afternoon. So I took the day to wander around Copenhagen and even managed to stumble on the Little Mermaid as well as other interesting historical sites.
Denmark is wrestling with many difficult questions. What is integration? What does it mean to be Danish? What are the ramifications of the break down of rule of law connected to people who immigrate? (I’m talking about people whose asylum claims are denied—many simply move on to another country or stay in Denmark with no negative repercussions.) Can a country where every successive generation is smaller then the previous one—thanks to low birth rates—really have a future? How can you protect the human rights of a person who has pledged himself to destroying the human rights of others?
In spite of being keenly aware of how precarious their situation is they are taking action on many fronts. One of those was to find an expert on converts from Islam and bring him to provide ideas and guidance for their clergy and leaders. This denotes to me a certain hope and confidence in God. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But it is better than the alternatives—denying the real dangers that come with a growing Muslim population or giving into anger and despair. All in all this is a church that is taking the initiative in a prudent and hopeful manner. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark is surely on the right track.
I enjoyed being interviewed for this podcast, which is hosted over at Episcopal Cafe. Check it out and share it with others.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Review of A Wind in the House of Islam by David Garrison (WIGtake Resources, 2014)
David Garrison is considered to be one of the most competent researchers among evangelical Christians interested in the global dynamics of world Christianity. In this book he investigates the significant number of new movements of people from Islam to Christ. He does this by dividing the house of Islam (and that is a technical term, Dar al Islam) into nine ‘rooms’, each corresponding to a defined region in the Muslim world, like the Arab room, the Persian room, and so on. Most of this book consists of these nine chapters wherein Garrison provides anecdotes and trends he identifies in those ‘rooms’. He also often tries to include the story of how this or that movement was initiated.
This book is concerned with movements, not individual converts, and this is precisely what makes it so valuable and important. There are plenty of books about why individual Muslims convert to Christ, and there are works that treat specific facets of this or that movement to Christ, but this is the first book to summarize on a global level what some movements in the nine rooms of the house of Islam look like.
Garrison is a serious researcher and knows the ins and outs of research in the social sciences. That having been said, readers who are looking for a detailed study with place names will often be disappointed. There is no way to get around these limitations though when it comes to research among apostates in the Muslim world. That something novel is happening among Muslims is incontrovertible, namely that more than ever before in history are converting to Christ. Garrison writes that his historical investigation led him to the following figures: Through the 18th Century there were no movements, in the 19th Century there were two, in the 20th Century there were eleven, and so far in the 21st Century he has identified 69 movements.
Many of his findings confirm findings from previous research: Muslims are attracted to the love of Christ as portrayed in the Bible and by Christians; security and persecution are real problems; Internet and satellite TV have played a huge role; Bible translation has been important, and so on. Garrison summarizes these and other findings in the last section of the book, while also noting that Islam itself has played a role in driving Muslims away from itself in a number of ways: Muhammad’s questionable treatment of women and non-Muslims, disappointment with the Qur’an, inter-Muslim violence, etc.
I can point to two weaknesses in this book, only one of them major. The first one is related to sources. Considering this is the first major book on this topic, the inclusion of more sources is desirable. This book really is written in a popular, and not scholarly level. That is not meant as an insult, but it limits its value for scholars. Perhaps the best way to address this would be to issue a lengthier academic book based on the same research.
Garrison’s references to medieval history represent the main failure of this book. He is clearly not aware of recent research elucidating what the medieval inquisitions were (and were not) and also the Crusades., which could have been written in 1900. When he speaks of the ‘atrocities’ of the Crusaders one might get the impression that these soldiers were exceptionally brutal or merciless. Wrong. For truly outstanding brutality one must look at the Muslim ruler and leader Baybars. And regarding the inquisitions, they took place before civil courts convened and were charged with gathering evidence, the same as our contemporary inquests. Contemporaries were sometimes critical of the inquisitors for not being more zealous in using torture, and a large majority of inquisitions were resolved with no punishment for the person under investigation. And finally, inquisitions were undertaken to investigate Christian heresy, and so Muslims and Jews could not be investigated by an inquisition, that is unless they claimed they had converted to Christianity, but in fact kept teaching aspects of Islam/Judaism contrary to the Christian faith.
One unresolved question was in relation to his rooms in the house of Islam: South America has a small but well-established Muslim population in the country of Guyana. At 7% Muslim, it is the most Islamic country in the Americas. Is there no movement there? Or should this (small) room be added?
Aside from this grievous mistreatment of medieval history, the book has much to commend it. In relation to the so-called insider movements Garrison handles the issue carefully and responsibly, sticking to description and not offering one particular case as exemplary or ideal. Garrison also manages to appreciate the limited context of previous generations of missionaries and indigenous Christians. It is all to easy to criticize the early missionaries in, say, the Ottoman Empire for not evangelizing Muslims, and sometimes those criticisms are fair, but as Garrison understands sometimes there was no possibility for this sort of witness. The same applies to indigenous Christians who century after century resisted the lure of escaping dhimmitude and the jizya (poll tax) by conversion to Islam. One can hope that this book will also be the final nail in the coffin of the C-scale, a tool which so over-simplifies complex concepts like ‘culture’ and ‘form’ to make it less than useful.
Garrison concludes his book with some practical ways that his readers can, if they wish to do so, be part of these various movements from Islam to Christ, though he is rightly clear in explaining that even with all these movements we are talking about fewer than .5% of Muslims world-wide converting to Christ. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter make it ideal for a reading group or prayer group, perhaps used with the recent edition of Operation World.
(This review was originally published in St Francis Magazine, July 2014.)
And this time in French. Did you really think I only did English and Arabic?
Hope for the English translation of this (the original) to come out some time later this year. Here is one of the interview questions:
4) Une des classes que j’enseigne ici à Nazareth concerne l’Histoire de l’Église ancienne. L’Afrique du Nord a compté quelques églises très importantes comme Carthage et Hippone ainsi que de grands saints comme saint Augustin, Perpétue, Félicité et Cyprien. Pourtant, le christianisme indigène a été presque totalement absent de la région depuis des siècles. Est-ce que l’histoire des premiers chrétiens de la région représente quelque chose d’important pour les nouveaux Chrétiens d’aujourd’hui? Ou est-ce juste un fait historique intéressant, mais sans grande importance aujourd’hui?
La découverte des saints africains, surtout le plus grand d’entre eux, à savoir Augustin de Thagaste, est toujours revigorante, presque euphorique : « Si mes ancêtres lointains ont été chrétiens, il n’y a donc pas de complexe à l’être », s’est dit plus d’un néophyte. Certains déclarent après leur baptême : « je suis revenu à la religion de mes pères ! » Mais plus généralement tout le christianisme antique permet de se poser la question de la liberté de choix. Si mon ancêtre lointain a choisi librement l’islam, qu’on me permette de faire ce choix moi-même ; mais si cette religion lui a été imposée « bessif » (par l’épée), alors je ne commets aucune trahison, à l’égard de ma tribu, si je la quitte.
Read the rest of my interview with Mohammed-Christophe Bilek at Notre Dame de Kabylie.
I had the privilege of being interviewed by Al Kresta for his show Kresta in the Afternoon on Ave Maria Radio on one of my main topics of research, namely religious conversion from Islam to Christianity.
The interview begins around the 21st minute.
An article of mine was recently published in St Francis Magazine, Vol 10:1, April 2014. The title of the article is “Religious Freedom in Israel-Palestine: may Muslims become Christians, and do Christians have the freedom to welcome such converts?”
Here is the abstract:
This research represents a continuation and elaboration on Miller’s research for the Christianity and Freedom project, presented in Rome in December of 2013. This article seeks to understand the challenges and context of Christians who are also ex-Muslims in the Holy Land. Attention is paid to the difference between the contexts in the West Bank and Israel, and how the established Christian Churches sometimes safeguard their own precarious sense of security by turning away Muslims who seek to know more about the Christian faith and converts from Islam.