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Semper Informanda: Prolegomenon
Book Review of The Crescent Through the Eyes of the Cross by Mr. Michael Farrell
As you should know by now, our One School One Book selection this year is The Crescent Through the Eyes of the Cross: Insights from an Arab Christian. The author, Nabeel Jabbour, is something of a cosmopolitan figure. He was born in Syria and grew up in Lebanon. He lived in Egypt for 15 years and now lives in that hotbed of Islamic activity...Colorado Springs.
He works with Navigators and is firmly committed to loving Muslims and sharing the Gospel with them. This book is a reflection of that love. Dr. Jabbour might disagree with my assessment of his book, but I think that one of its central themes is to get Christians more concerned about winning Muslims for Christ and less concerned with helping the West win some sort of a cultural war with Islam. He writes, “Our primary loyalty is to the expansion of the gospel among the nations, and our primary citizenship is in the kingdom of God rather than in Christendom...The survival of Christendom seems a top priority for us, but is the survival of Christendom a top priority for God?”
One way that he tries to get us thinking more about the gospel and less about Christendom is with a literary device that I honestly find a little bit distracting. Much of the book is in the form of an email conversation he has with a Muslim family from Egypt. These are not actual email conversations he has had with real Muslims, but rather represent a composite picture of many Muslims he has interacted with over the years. His main character is a moderate Egyptian Muslim named Ahmad and he includes emails from Ahmad’s father and sister. He allows this fictional/non-fictional family to present their understanding of Christianity, America, and Christendom and contrast that with their own Islamic worldview.
I want to give you a taste of what this part of the book is like by quoting to you a portion of one of Ahmad’s emails. While in America he is turned off to Christianity because he sees a lot of Christian support for the state of Israel and very little Christian concern for the plight of Palestinians. He looks into a little bit more and is still confused by the affinity Christians have with Jews and the lack of affinity with Muslims. So he writes,
“Jews today do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Their high priest, two thousand years ago, declared Him a blasphemer, and I think you Christians believe that the Jews, along with the Romans, killed Jesus. On the other hand, we Muslims highly respect Him. We believe Jesus was born of a virgin, healed the blind and those with leprosy, raised the dead, is now with God in heaven, and will come back on the Day of Judgment as the Sign of the Hour. Why do you feel theologically closer to the Jews than to the Muslims? I am not saying culturally; I am saying theologically. Of course you feel much closer culturally to the Jews than to us, the Muslims, because many Jews have a European background and many are citizens of the U.S. Again, my question is this: Why do you feel theologically closer to the Jews than to Muslims.”
I won’t tell you how Jabbour addresses this question because I want you to read the book. I will say that you will probably find his answers intriguing even if you may not agree with him.
Another issue Jabbour addresses is how much Western Christians should expect Muslim converts to change when they convert to Christianity. What parts of Islamic culture are incompatible with Christianity and must be abandoned and what parts can a Muslim retain and remain a faithful follower of Jesus. He does this with another literary device that I personally like a lot better than his email format. He presents two versions of a couple of conversion stories. In one version, the convert acts in a way that Jabbour considers inconsistent with Biblical principles and in the other version the convert acts in accordance with the those principles. Jabbour does not address here what I think are some of the real and important dichotomies between Islam and Christianity and in my own opinion assumes that Muslims can retain too much of their Islamic identity. It is an important question, however, and one that Christians should take seriously as we seek the expansion of God’s church in Muslim majority nations.
So what is my final verdict on Jabbour’s book? I’m not sure I have one yet. Honestly there is a lot that I don’t know about Islam. I think Jabbour asks a lot of the right questions and provides some intriguing answers with his different scenarios. I’m not quite as convinced of all of the principles he tries to draw from Scripture…I think some of the examples he cites are descriptive of what happened rather than normative of what should happen. However, I did find myself challenged by his book and in agreement with a lot of what he says. His main challenge to me was for me to love Muslims and pray that God would lead them to repentance and new life in Jesus Christ.
Mr. Michael Farrell
Orlando Semper Informanda | Volume 7 Issue 10