Middle East Resources

Muslims and Christians in Dialogue

Reviewed by Bassam M. Madany

A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue (published by Herald Press in Scottsdale, PA) is a unique book. It offers the reader a dialogue, in written form, that took place between an East African Muslim, Badru D. Kateregga and an American Christian missionary, David W. Shenk. Both have taught at Kenyatta University, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Each participant discussed certain basic doctrines and practices of their respective faiths in twelve brief chapters. Professor Kateregga dealt with such topics as: There is no God but Allah, The Creation, Adam and Hauwa, Satan and Evil, The Books of God, The Prophets of Allah, The Seal of the Prophets, The Umma, Divine Guidance and Peace, Worship, Right Conduct, and the Mission of the Umma.

Professor Shenk organized his expositions of the Christian tradition under the following titles: The Lord God Is One, The Creation, Adam and Eve, Sin and Evil, The Word of God, The Prophets in History, Jesus the Messiah, Salvation, The Church, Worship and Fellowship, Right Conduct, and The Mission of the Church.

At the outset, Kateregga takes a strong exception to the Biblical teaching about the radical nature of the Fall and the necessity of redemption. Such a stand would explain the Muslim rejection of the Incarnation and the mission of the divine-human person of Jesus, the Messiah. One wishes that Shenk were clearer in his responses to his Muslim counterpart. For example, I have read and reread his words on the topic of The Seal of the Prophets, and failed to grasp their true meaning:

“Thus when a Christian looks at the Prophet Muhammad, he needs to evaluate Muhammad in light of the total Biblical witness culminating in Jesus the Messiah. To the extent that the Prophet Muhammad accepts the total biblical witness and the central significance of Jesus the Messiah, and to the extent that the life and teachings of Muhammad give witness to the revelation of suffering, redemptive love which we perceive in Jesus the Messiah, Christians should appreciate and affirm the Prophet Muhammad. P. 76

While we cannot but applaud the irenical spirit that pervaded the entire dialogue, ultimately not much is accomplished on the Christian side in any dialogue with a representative of a world religion, when the uniquely redemptive character of the Biblical revelation is not properly emphasized. The human predicament is not, as the Islamic teachings claim, a lack of supernatural knowledge, but fundamentally the need for a divine intervention. But Muhammad and his interpreters, both ancient and modern, insist that man simply needs a revelation from God. Man does not need redemption from the power and pollution of sin. In other words, Islam proclaims the need for revelation, while Christianity insists on both revelation and redemption.

Throughout the dialogue, one senses that Professor Kateregga is totally and passionately committed to the teachings of Sunni Islam. Unfortunately, Professor Shenk does not manifest the same attitude toward the Christian faith he represents. In the response to the Muslim claims, a Christian must insist that Jesus Christ was not simply a prophet who gave mankind another law, but the unique savior and emancipator of mankind. The salvation He accomplished required His vicarious death on the cross and His mighty resurrection from the dead. The high Christology of John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1, must form an integral part of our witness to the followers of other religions.

Since the events of September 11, 2001, there is a tremendous need among Christians in the West to understand not only the basic tenets of Islam, but also the proper Christian response. After all, North American Christians should not think that they are the first to encounter this complex faith that is much more than a religion, in the accepted sense of the word. Islam is around 1400 years old, and most of its conquests took place in the Christian lands of the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. In the past, Eastern Christians gave a clear testimony of their faith and total allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. Later on, Western missionaries who went to Muslim lands translated the Bible into the languages of Muslims and fearlessly proclaimed salvation in the unique savior and redeemer, the Biblical Messiah.

Nowadays, in our globalized world, we find millions of Muslims living among us in the West. Dialogue with them is necessary. But unless the Christian’s participation in dialogue becomes a passionate desire that the other side experiences a saving knowledge of the Messiah, the encounter ends up in nothing more than a conversation where the Muslim side unashamedly represents the classical beliefs and pretensions of Islam, while the Christian response, under the pressure of political correctness, may end up as a shameful repudiation of the historic Christian faith.