Book Review: Christian. Muslim. Friend. by David Shenk
In the book, Shenk lays out twelve paths or principles, each presented in a chapter, for engaging Muslims. Reflecting much on his five-decade journey of loving and commending Christ to Muslims, Shenk’s book conveys much of this wisdom to Christ followers desiring to engage Muslims in the 21st century. In this brief review, I would like to highlight four themes that particularly struck me and seem instructive for the church today…
President Trump’s first foreign trip includes Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican, an itinerary no other President has endeavored. Trump addressed the leaders of about 50 Muslim nations while in Saudi Arabia. While in the Holy Land, he met with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Now trump is in Vatican City meeting with Pope Francis. Clearly Trump is hoping to facilitate what would be the biggest deal of his life—a peace deal. While Trump’s desire to facilitate peace talks are certainly admirable, I cannot help but wonder how successful he can be if forgiveness is not at the forefront of the discussion. Trump mentioned the need for concessions but there was no mention of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a powerful force for both those who extend it and receive it.
Every language has its word for “God” which is used in translation of Scripture and within any particular culture and language. Allah is the Arabic word for the English “God” just as “Dios” is in Spanish. It is the word that has been used for centuries by Jews and Christians in the Middle East and actually pre-dates the founding of Islam in the seventh century. Bibles translated in predominantly Muslim countries into local languages such as Indonesian, Malay and Bengali use Allah as the biblical reference to the sovereign creator God.
To not use “Allah” for God would require the use of a foreign word that would not be understood in the local language. Ironically, the word “Allah” comes from the same root word of “Elohim” of the Old Testament, while our English word “God” has no etymological relationship to the biblical YHWH or Jehovah. In fact, it comes from the German “Gott” and was derived from the name of a pagan viking deity!
Use of Allah in Muslim literature refers to the God who created the world. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and Ishmael), and other prophets known in the Old Testament. To introduce another identity than the monotheistic sovereign creator deity of the Bible and known as Allah by Muslims would create a formidable barrier to communicating biblical truth.
The concern is understandable that if “Allah” is used in Christian witness that the theological distortions of Muslim understanding will be carried over, resulting in syncretism or heretical concepts of God shaped by ones Islamic background. Certainly, this requires adequate teaching and discipling just as it does in our own culture. And we should be confident that when one comes in genuine repentance and faith to Jesus Christ that God is able to reveal Himself in spirit and truth to a new believer.
Is there more than one God? No, there is only one God, and He can be known only through Jesus Christ. We must not confuse cultural and linguistic bridges of communication in seeking to transcend diverse worldviews.
Rick Love’s life and legacy resonate deeply with the Zwemer Center of Muslim-Christian Relations at Columbia International University. As Ed Smither, Dean of Intercultural Studies at CIU, put it: “Rick loved Muslims and they loved him.” Yet, beyond his work with Muslims, Rick was known for conflict resolution among families, in the workplace, and in cross-cultural relationships all over the world. Below is mostly personal reflection but also how colleagues and friends remember him.