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.
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.
I am happy to announce that my new book, Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity has been published and is now available for purchase. This book represents the culmination and summary of years of experience teaching at churches and institutions of higher education on Islam and Christianity. It is written for an educated audience who is not, however, a specialist in religion or theology. Think business person, Sunday school teacher, pastor who has been out of seminary for years…
Scholars and preachers have been approaching Islam and Christianity for centuries as two religions. But what if we set that approach aside and try something new? What if we look at the stories that Islam and Christianity tell? In this book we do exactly that: we go back to the beginning of the stories—Creation—and work our way forward to humanity, Israel, the founders (Jesus and Muhammad), why they founded their communities (the Church and the Umma), what those communities are doing in the world today, and then look down the road to the end of the two stories of everything with their different accounts of the final judgment.
Approaching Islam and Christianity as two stories of everything, or metanarratives, produces fresh new insights relevant to any person – whether Christian, Muslim, or of no religion—concerned with the question of how Islam, Christianity, and modernity interact and sometimes clash with each other.
The book contains a glossary and discussion questions for each chapter, making it ideal for Sunday school classes, study groups, lower level college courses, or discussion groups. The book, published by Credo House Publishers, is available in print and for Kindle.
If you’re interested in a review copy please contact me.
What do people say when they are asked about their motives for converting from Islam to Christianity? In this lecture I draw on existing research plus my own field experience among Christians from a Muslim background to provide an answer. This is the third of the four Copenhagen lectures. (See also Lecture 1, Lecture 2, and Lecture 4)