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.
In his book, “A Wind in the House of Islam,” David Garrison seeks to understand and describe the people movements to Christ that are increasingly taking place throughout the Muslim world (6). According to Garrison, eighty-four percent of all the movements to Christ – defined as at least one thousand new believers or one hundred new churches within two decades (230) – have taken place in the 21st century (226). Though Garrison admits that these movements represent a very small, “statistically almost insignificant” fraction of the Muslim world, he sees this recent development as a potential “hinge moment in history” (232) that may lead to the “Day of Salvation for Muslims” (252). In response to this new move of God in the Muslim world, Garrison aims to ascertain how God is bringing Muslims to faith in Christ (24). He hopes his study will equip the church to better participate in what God is doing, encourage Muslim converts, and inspire Christians to become more engaged in Muslim outreach (41). In this paper, I will review this important study by briefly summarizing its contents and then seeking to assess its strengths and weaknesses in accomplishing Garrison’s aims.
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.
Many years ago, a young college student in Pakistan confided to me that he was intrigued by stories of Jesus in the Qur’an. He said his mother prayed seven times a day and read the Qur’an to him. What impressed him most were the miracles of Jesus–healing the sick, cleansing the lepers and raising the dead. “Who is this Jesus?” he asked. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to study Scripture together.