Teaching Islam and Learning to Love My Neighbor

By Craig Farmer

Like most Americans old enough to remember, I have a clear memory of what I was doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was standing in the front of Hyder Auditorium administering a humanities exam to some 200 Milligan College sophomores when an ashen-faced colleague entered from the side door and whispered into my ear that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Little did I know this event would eventually reshape the kind of work I would do as a professor at Milligan.

In the months and years that followed 9/11, students at Milligan were preoccupied with the same sorts of questions that troubled many Americans. Who are these Muslims and why do they hate us? When and where will the war(s) begin?

One thing was for sure: Islam was suddenly on everyone’s radar. Which is not to say most of my students had any real understanding of Islam. And yet it became obvious to me (and others) that many students sincerely desired to better understand how Muslims viewed themselves, God, and the world.

Read the Sidebar: “Learn More About Islam”

Students began to ask why there were no classes on Islam at the college. Understandably, they were frustrated about the lack of instruction on a subject that would clearly be a significant force in the world they were inheriting.

And so it was that I agreed to teach an introductory course on Islam. I admitted then that I did not have the expertise to teach a semester-long course on the history and theology of Islam. I was trained to teach the history of Christianity, not Islam. But the need was great and the challenge was intriguing, so I took the plunge. Since the fall of 2003, I have taught the course four times, and it has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my nearly 20 years teaching at the college level.

 

Building Relationships

One reason the course has been so rewarding is it forced me to build relationships with my Muslim neighbors in the local community. Now, I know I should have been reaching out to Muslims long before my panic over teaching the course set in. I know, and knew, what Jesus taught about loving our neighbors. But I don’t think I would have been so determined to get to know my Muslim neighbors if I hadn’t so desperately needed their help in teaching this course.

After several phone calls and e-mails, I was able to meet several leaders of the local mosque; they took me out for coffee and conversation. I think they were impressed that Christians were interested in learning about Islam, and they graciously agreed to help any way they could.

And what help they have given! Each semester I have invited Muslims from our local community to speak to my students about being Muslim in America. Most of my students are sincere, devout Christians and they are deeply interested in people of faith. For many of them, it was the first time they could directly ask Muslim people what they thought about Jesus, what they thought about prayer, why Muslim women wore the hijab (head scarf), and why many Muslims around the world seem so angry with the West.

I have been proud of how respectful and genuinely interested my students are in learning about their Muslim neighbors. And in our debriefing sessions, I’ve been gratified to see my students were disarmed by how charming, polite, and . . . well, normal their Muslims neighbors seemed.

Another component of the course that makes some of my students nervous (initially, it made me nervous too) was our field trip to the mosque for Friday prayers (jum’ah). We have heard calls to prayer (adhan), observed Muslims praying and performing the ritual prostrations, and heard sermons summoning believers to righteous purity.

My students have been impressed with the apparent heartfelt devotion of Muslims at prayer. They have also been impressed with how hospitable their Muslim neighbors are in welcoming Christians into their house of worship. After our visits to the mosque, my students have usually been eager to share and discuss their impressions about the experience, making for some fascinating classroom discussions.

Mostly, I think, my students gradually learn they do not need to fear their Muslim neighbors. The next time my students see media images of angry, fist-clenched, rifle-toting Muslims, I would hope at the very least that those images are complemented by the gentle, hospitable faces of the Muslims they have met in our community.

 

Understanding Jesus

To study Islam as a Christian opens the door to becoming a more faithful disciple of Christ. It helps us better understand and better love people many in the world would have us fear, dismiss, or even hate. It does not mean we suggest there are no differences between how Christians and Muslims understand God. There are major differences, and these should not be dismissed as unimportant. But often, even these major differences presuppose points of contact, shared ground between Muslims and Christians.

Take, for example, our understanding of Jesus. For Christians there is nothing more important than our understanding of who Jesus is, what he taught, and what he accomplished on the cross. And here, there are significant differences between Muslims and Christians.

But most of my students are surprised at how much material about Jesus is included in the Koran. They are surprised the Koran teaches the virgin birth of Jesus and relates stories about his power to work miracles (including some stories Christians would regard as apocryphal). Students are surprised the Koran gives Jesus lofty titles such as Messiah (al-Masih), Word of God (kalimat Allah), and Spirit of God (Ruhullah). They are surprised to learn most Muslims believe (based on a Koranic text) that Jesus will return to earth soon before the resurrection of the dead and the Day of Judgment.

But the differences in how we view Jesus cannot be minimized. Muslims do not believe Jesus is the Son of God, they do not believe Jesus died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sin, and they do not believe he defeated the powers of darkness by rising from the dead. For Muslims, Jesus is a distinguished prophet of God; indeed, one of the five greatest prophets, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad. But he is not, as he is for Christians, the second member of the Triune God, eternally begotten of the Father.

Does this mean we cannot talk to our Muslim neighbors about Jesus? Absolutely not! In fact, I have discovered it is extraordinarily easy to talk about Jesus with Muslims. Since they love and revere him as a prophet, a bridge of understanding is already in place that can lead to a deeper understanding of Jesus as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15).

The Muslim understanding of Jesus as a prophet is an inadequate understanding of Jesus, but it at least gives Jesus a special place of honor. After the man born blind was healed by Jesus, the Pharisees asked him, “What have you to say about him?” His reply, “He is a prophet” (John 9:17), was inadequate, as he was soon to learn. Yet Jesus engaged him in conversation and lovingly drew him to a fuller and truer understanding.

May we pray for God’s grace to love and not fear our Muslim neighbors, to understand and not caricature them, and to build bridges of friendship and mutual respect.

 

Craig S. Farmer is professor of history and humanities at Milligan College in Tennessee.

You Might Also Like

18 Comments

  1. September 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Really? You think it’s a good idea to present Islam in such a positive light to Christian college students?

    Can you imagine (by simply rewording Professor Farmer’s own words) the prophet Elisha or the prophet Elijah – both professors in the Israeli “School of Prophets” – writing something along these lines…

    “I was able to meet several leaders of the local temple of Ba’al; they took me out for coffee and conversation. I think they were impressed that Israeli followers of Yahweh were interested in learning about Ba’al worship, and they graciously agreed to help any way they could.

    And what help they have given! Each semester I have invited worshipers of Ba’al from our local community to speak to my students about being a worshiper of Ba’al in Israel. Most of my students are sincere, devout followers of Yahweh and they are deeply interested in people of faith. For many of them, it was the first time they could directly ask Ba’al worshipers what they thought about Yahweh, what they thought about prayer, why Ba’al worshipers cut themselves during prayer, and why many Ba’al worshipers around the world seem so angry with Judah & the complete rejection of Ba’al in that country.

    I have been proud of how respectful and genuinely interested my students are in learning about their Ba’al worshiping neighbors. And in our debriefing sessions, I’ve been gratified to see my students were disarmed by how charming, polite, and . . . well, normal their Ba’al worshiping neighbors seemed.”

    I don’t think so!

    Let’s use a little more Biblical-sense, folks, & actually present our Christian college students with a clear-cut critique of Islam for what it really is – an anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-Biblical, anti-Yahweh, false faith.

  2. Greg Nettle
    September 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I really appreciate this article Craig. There is so much misunderstanding and anger directed toward Muslims in this world. I agree with you that without relationships we will NEVER be able to help our Muslim friends come into a life-transforming relationship with the Son of God. Thanks for building a bridge!

  3. September 15, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Thomas,

    The problem with your analogy is that no such “class” would have been needed, because Ba’al worship was so prevalent that there would be no need for a Jewish student to take a class to understand what the Ba’al worshipers believed.

    The approach Craig is describing is the same one advocated by St. Francis of Assisi:

    O Divine Master, grant that we may not seek to much
    to be consoled as to console;
    to be understood as to understand;
    to be loved as to love.

    Since this is a college setting, this is even more important. If we wish to reach those people who are currently in the Islamic faith, it is incumbent on us that we should understand what they currently believe before we try to express a faith that contradicts their own. If our goal is to reach these people, we must first understand where they are.

    Paul, upon entering Athens, didn’t attack the idolatry of the people there, but he used their own religiosity (and the altar to the unknown god) to reach them.

    When the people of Ephesus tried to bring Paul to trial, the city official pointed out (in Paul’s favor) that he had never spoken out against Diana/Artemis. In fact, the advice that Paul later gives to Timothy (who was in Ephesus) is very culturally sensitive to reaching those people who were worshipers of Diana/Artemis.

  4. September 19, 2011 at 8:10 am

    First, while many folks do respect the ascetic teachings of Francis, the 12th Century Roman Catholic friar, his words are not inspired & therefore not authoritative. I think we ought to stick with God’s indisputable Word in our discussions of this topic.

    Second, being culturally sensitive doesn’t require welcoming the teachers of false faith into our training institutions. Remember what John had to say when writing to our predecessors about the “anti-Christs” of their day – those who denied Jesus as the Son of God (a significant Islamic tenant).

    “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you [i.e., teach you anti-Christian doctrine]. But as his anointing teaches you about everything—and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you—abide in him.” 1 John 2:26-27 (ESV, parenthetical comments added)

    “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” 2 John 9-11 (ESV)

    We Christians already have the Holy Spirit-inspired truth. We need not “receive” Muslims into our Christian colleges (our “houses” of instruction, if you will), allowing them to teach our impressionable young students the anti-Christian tenants of their false faith & thereby becoming willing participates in the promotion of their heresy. In fact, I would say that it is a primary responsibility of our Christian college professors – as it is of any elder – to teach, in a matter-of-fact manner, the falsity of Islam (or any other false faith), as is so well stated by Paul in his instructions to Titus.

    “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke [ἐλέγχειν “to prove wrong”] those who contradict it.” Titus 1:9 (ESV, parenthetical information added)

    Following this same verb form we come to another passage from Paul with some additional instructions pertinent to our discussion.

    “Let no one deceive you with empty words [an apt description of Islam], for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them [as in, for example, sharing teaching time with them in the Christian classroom]; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them [“prove them wrong”].” Ephesians 5:6-11 (ESV, parenthetical comments added)

    I stand firm upon my original thesis that Professor Farmer’s classroom procedure was as unimaginable as Elijah welcoming Ba’alists into the “School of the Prophets.” It should not have occurred. I have no doubt that both he, & the administrative officials of Milligan who approved of his concept, had the best intentions in mind. However, upon Scriptural reflection, it would have been the better choice to simply & clearly teach his students how Islam has, from its very inception, been anti-Christian.

  5. September 19, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Thomas,

    Actually, part of my point in quoting St. Francis was to see if you would prove yourself to be as anti-Christian education as i suspected, and you did not disappoint. Certainly his words are not inspired Scripture, but they are based upon a number of Scriptural principles (which I could have quoted, but did not, on purpose). Quibbling with my quoting him demonstrates a Christian snobbery that is antithetical to what we have been called to be.

    If you go back and reread Craig’s article, you will notice that nowhere did he say that his students were taught to follow Islam. They were given an in-depth course in it, so that they could best understand their Muslim neighbors, so that they would the be best able to respect them and witness to them. I believe that God told Moses, and Jesus reiterated, that Christians are to love their neighbors, especially those considered to be “enemies” (as the Samaritans were to any good first century Jew).

    If you try to witness to someone with whom you only have a passing knowledge of their belief, you will end up treating their belief (and them) as a caricature of reality and be little more than a “clanging cymbal” in your witness.

    What Craig is doing is trying to make sure that his students are accurately taught what followers of Islam believe. This is best conveyed by a believer of Islam, since they are less likely to present it in a negative bias and since they are likely to try and present it in a “palatable” way that a Muslim friend would respond. As Professor Farmer notes in his article, above, he is careful to point out and teach the distinctive differences between Islam and Christianity, which is what we would expect from a Christian college professor.

    We, as Christians, often have a choice between making a point (and proving we’re “right”) and making a difference in our world. The students in this class at Milligan (in full disclosure, my alma mater) are best served – and Christ is best served – if they know how to love and serve and witness (through word and action) to the Muslim community, rather than learn that “Islam has, from its very inception, been anti-Christian” – pointless knowledge that gains nothing but trying to “make a point” to a world that needs us to make a difference.

    Your comparison is still nothing more than apples-to-oranges. Jewish students had no need to better understand Ba’al, as worship of him was the predominant culture of the land. American culture has little more than a cartoon understanding of Islam and its followers, and both they and we end up suffering for the resulting misunderstandings. Two of the false gods of America all students are familiar with are hero worship and materialism. As such, we have no need to bring the priests of these gods into our classrooms, because our students already understand them. This would be an apples-to-apples comparison with your Ba”al example.

    However, Christians in America do not have a good understanding of what Islam does and doesn’t teach/believe. If we are to respond to Islam effectively, as Paul responded to Artemis worship in Ephesus, it is best we understand what they believe and witness for Christ in our actions and our teaching of Christ – rather than in direct attacks on a false god that only serve to alienate us from its followers.

    [P.S. My apologies for the snarkiness at the beginning of this comment, but I was also trying to demonstrate what I mean by “making a point” – proving a point that you are correct, even if it does nothing to advance a discussion or relationship. I did quote St. Francis on purpose, because his words are supported by the second greatest commandment and too many Restoration Movement Christians I know rather arrogantly and forcefully respond to quotations from Catholic saints, when there is no need to do so.]

  6. September 19, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    The Biblical point remains unchanged.

    “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything—and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you—abide in him.” 1 John 2:26-27 (ESV)

    “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” 2 John 9-11 (ESV)

    Despite post-modern appeals to the contrary, there is no Scriptural reason to permit false teacher to teach (or “present,” or “convey”) their false faith in a Christian college classroom or in any other assembly of the saints. In fact, it is a violation of the spirit behind the passages quoted above. We simply must not permit spiritual “weeds” to have any opportunity to be planted, germinate & take root in the hearts of our younger believers.

    Imagine! By the logic of the argument presented by Chris, our Christian college students should be subjected to a whole parade of imams, shamans, J.W. elders, Mormon missionaries, R.C.C. priests, wiccan priestesses, Buddist practitioners, atheists, evolutionists…the potential list of visiting speakers is nearly endless! Such a full schedule would leave little time for them to actually study the Word of God; which, of course, is the only real antidote for the spiritual poison expressed by all these various false faiths.

    Yes, Paul certainly understood the basic Greco-Roman culture of his time; he even quoted a snippet or two from a Cretan philosopher on a couple of occasions. However, beyond any of that “culturally relevant” “rubbish” (if I might borrow Paul’s own word from Philippians 3:8), he knew with precision & taught with clarity the Word of God & the Gospel of the Atonement. Our professors & preachers need to be doing the same for their students in the colleges & for their hearers in the assemblies.

    Once we are fully acquainted with the Truth, any lie is patently obvious.

    I close with a final reminder from the Word on our responsibility to teach & uphold this very Word of God, generation after generation; sometimes even “naming names” when folks get off the proper Scriptural path.

    “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

    “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

    “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

    “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

    “But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

    “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”” 2 Timothy 2:1-19 (ESV)

  7. September 20, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Despite post-modern appeals to the contrary, there is no Scriptural reason to permit false teacher to teach (or “present,” or “convey”) their false faith in a Christian college classroom or in any other assembly of the saints. In fact, it is a violation of the spirit behind the passages quoted above.

    Despite ad homenim/straw man references to post-modernism, I would just suggest that Dr. Farmer is utilizing the same method used by Jesus, Paul and the Apostles – which required listening first and positively expressing the Gospel, which makes plain where truth lies (and does not lie) without alienating the listener.

    If the purpose of the listening to a Muslim was to take in their teachings as Spiritual truth, you might have a point, but that is obviously not the case. The purpose of our Christian colleges is to holistically prepare young men and women to enter whatever mission field they are called to. As Jesus, his disciples and contemporaries demonstrated, this is most effectively done outside an aseptic classroom setting.

    The rabbinic method employed by Jesus was highly experiential and combined the learning of Scripture with practical application, theoretical application, and literal application.

    For example – When Jesus took his disciples (most likely teenagers, BtW) to Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16 & Mark 8), he took them to a place that no religious Jew ever went. Caesarea Philippi was a thoroughly Hellenistic city, built around a couple of open-air temples next to a large rock feature called The Rock of the Gods with a cave in it from which flowed a stream (called “The Gates of Hades”). These open-air temples were filled with people engaged in sexual activities of all sorts, including copulation with goats (as one of the temples was a shrine to the god Pan). Jesus took his disciples there – 16 miles walking, one way – for an object lesson:

    I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

    Not only was Jesus exposing his disciples to the excessive depravity of the world, he was telling them to go build his church there. And when his disciples went to the Hellenistic cities of Asia Minor, they were exposed to this, and worse.

    We simply must not permit spiritual “weeds” to have any opportunity to be planted, germinate & take root in the hearts of our younger believers.

    Perhaps you have no faith in the Holy Spirit, but I trust it to guide these men and women, and especially their instructors at our Bible Colleges. In this case, the Professor has made it clear that he does not allow what the students are told by the Muslim guests to stand unchallenged (most likely after the guest has left) and undiscussed.

    If simple exposure to the teachings of another religion, under the supervision of an ordained teacher, is such a danger and travesty to our future leaders, perhaps they should never leave the college campuses, lest the poor little lambs be torn apart by the first wandering puppy that approaches them!

    However, if the purpose of the Christian College is to equip these men and women to be salt and light and to make disciples from all nations, then it is only responsible to equip them to respond to actual people with different beliefs in a way that will show respect for them, as image-bearers of God, and love for them in trying to demonstrate and teach them the truth. This cannot be effectively done with a cartoonish “Islam is totally wrong and let me tell you why” approach.

    Imagine! By the logic of the argument presented by Chris, our Christian college students should be subjected to a whole parade of imams, shamans, J.W. elders, Mormon missionaries, R.C.C. priests, wiccan priestesses, Buddist practitioners, atheists, evolutionists…the potential list of visiting speakers is nearly endless!

    I see this is going to be a day of logical fallacies for you, moving on to argumentum extremum. But let’s stop here briefly since you decided to go there.

    Through a quirk of fate, I happen to know (via book knowledge) far more about the Mormon faith (along with its origins and practices and secret rites) than 99% of Mormons and 99.9% of Christians. Even so, I knew exactly zero Mormons, growing up in a small farming town in Indiana. My book knowledge helped me marginally when I first met Mormons during my engineering studies and subsequent employment. Even so, I was completely ineffective at witnessing to them because all of my knowledge was just that – book knowledge. Without any practical experience and knowledge about practicing Mormons, my approach and beliefs about what they effectively believed were completely wrong. I learned the hard way that mental preparation without real world experience left me ill-equipped to be their neighbor and to treat them as I would have them treat me.

    From your list, my HS church camp (a Restoration Movement camp), led by a pastor who is now a college professor at Johnson, brought in an agnostic, a homosexual and a white supremacist to talk to us, be questioned by us, and to spend part of the day with us outside of the “lecture hall”. We followed up with discussions after the guests left, and the dean made sure we understood what was truth and what was not, but we also learned that these people were not simply an agnostic a homosexual and a white supremacist. They were people – individuals with feelings, thoughts and identities – who were made in the image of God, even though they had chosen not to acknowledge Him, and they had belief systems that were not simply aseptic theory, but which governed their lives. They were living examples of the mission field we were called to witness to and to love, as followers of Christ.

    (Now, it’s funny that you list the RCC in the list, but we’ll leave that for another day, since it probably doesn’t belong there, though for different reasons. And I’m assuming that, by “evolutionists” you mean “atheistic evolutionists”, since theistic evolution is not condemned within the Restoration Movement.)

    Now, let’s deal with the out of context Scriptural “support” you’ve quoted:

    1) Ephesians 5:6-11 (from your previous comment). I find it incredibly humorous that you bristle at a quotation from St. Francis of Assisi because “his words are not inspired & therefore not authoritative”, and yet you parenthetically insert your own words into a Scriptural passage in obviously uninspired and inauthoritative ways a few paragraphs later. Even so, let’s dissect it:

    “Let no one deceive you with empty words [an apt description of Islam], for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

    The professor is with the students during any discussions w/ Muslims, and has follow-up discussions with the students to make sure that they both understand what the guest believed and how that is different from Scripture. Thus, the professor is taking care not to let his students be deceived. Now, as to whether Islam is “empty words” is another topic of discussion, since the issue Paul was dealing with in his letter to Ephesus was not with unbelievers trying to deceive believers, but with believers trying to add to the gospel and deceive other believers. So your context is off, but even if it was not, the classroom setting is working to make sure the students aren’t “deceived”.

    Therefore do not associate with them [as in, for example, sharing teaching time with them in the Christian classroom];
    Your interpretation is pretty much useless here. “Association” in Paul’s letters is to consider them part of your ekklesia, your church community.

    In Acts 19, we read that Paul “took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.” for two years. I hate to inform you of this, but the Hall of Tyrannus (also called the “hall of philosophers”) was where all of the pagan priests came to debate their religion and to try to make converts of others. I have been there to the modern day ruins, and the Christian scholars on-site describe it as the place where people came to proselytize and to convince others that their gods were superior.

    And Paul subjected his disciples (who would have been the age of high school/college students) to this for two years!!! Didn’t he know that it was just too dangerous to allow their delicate ears to hear such dangerous, unfiltered, anti-Christian philosophy??? What on earth was Paul thinking?

    Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them [“prove them wrong”].”

    I won’t delve into the Greek here, other than to note that it is the deeds/works of darkness that are to be proven wrong. This is a statement about orthopraxy, not orthodoxy.

    2) I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove w/ quoting 1 John and 2 John. In his letters to the unnamed church, the “false teachers” being addressed are part of a schism in the church and are considering themselves to also be Christians. This is not dealing with how we approach individuals from other religions. Trying to cite the Johannine epistles in your criticism of Milligan is like trying to use a hammer to cut down a tree. Wrong tool for the application at hand.

    3) 2 Timothy 2:1-19. I guess, I would quote this same passage as an argument on behalf of Professor Farmer as to why he ought to ignore the criticisms and irreverent babble from the likes of folks who have conniptions at the thought of him teaching his students how to witness to followers of Islam, rather than just teaching them “how Islam has, from its very inception, been anti-Christian” and moving on.

    [PS For future reference, I suspect most commenters here have Bibles, so extended Biblical references need not be copy/pasted in full, as it also makes sorting out what you’re trying to communicate more difficult – especially when the passages you’re quoting do not necessarily support the point you’re trying to make, as is the case with the passages above.]

  8. Joe
    September 20, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I think we ought to stick with God’s indisputable Word in our discussions of this topic.

    So you’ll just be posting Bible verses without any of your thoughts then?

  9. Al Forthman
    September 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Brothers,
    Many excellent points have been made, but in a hurtful way. If my objective is to prove you wrong, I will speak/post one way. If my goal is to help you to consider another perspective, I will speak/post a very different way. Please let us respect each other.

  10. September 20, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    I think I shall post this final time & then move on. Not because I think the discussion has reached an appropriate termination point, but because I think it is suffering greatly from the lack of non-verbal communication elements which tend to keep such discussions from getting too “edgy.”

  11. Myron Williams
    September 21, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Thank you for these thoughtful words about the Muslim people. I recommend reading Allah by Miroslav Volf, about learning to live in peace between Christians and Muslims because of common beliefs. This book offers the places where Christians and Muslims agree, and disagree, with the focus on common agreement as the foundation for living and working together to improve our communities.

    Your wisdom in the ways you engage the Muslim community are what we are also learning in our work with people who are Muslim. Listening well allows us to speak well.

  12. September 21, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Al – Thank you.

    Thomas – my apologies for going over the top. Systematically, this is part of a topic I am very passionate about – the streak of legalism within our RM churches and the generational rifts we are creating in them. The RM is one of the few denomination-like churches not in decline in the US, but we are displaying some significant myopic characteristics that may damage the church in the long run.

    Growing up in the RM church in the 70’s and early 80’s, we were very much about doctrinal distinctives – to the point that the large church I attended (and some discussions I remember at the NACC) could be described as “we’re pretty sure we’re Christians, but the other Protestant churches might not be and it’s quite likely the Catholics are all going to hell.” As a movement, we later held parachurch organizations, like Promise Keepers, at arms length, and even 8 years ago I know of a church missions board that decided to withold $100 in gas money from a missions team going to a Native American reservation because the camp they were going to work with was supported by the Episcopal church (and it was the ONLY church on the reservation, so it’s not like there was a conscious choice to be made).

    The generation that was my current age, and that of my parents, back in the 80’s is now the generation paying a lot of the bills in churches. It’s been that way for a long time, just because of the seasons of life that best allow it. Unfortunately, I see that generation and a number of members of my own generation placing legalistic burdens upon the church and its colleges, to the detriment of the kingdom. And it needs to stop if we are to reach the coming generations.

    Through myself, friends and family, I am intimately familiar with our RM colleges in the eastern US. I am also intimately familiar with a RM campus ministry at a secular college (Purdue) that is large enough to be considered a megachurch. And I have to honestly say that the kids coming out of the Purdue Campus House are far better prepared for the mission fields they are going to than the students I meet coming out of our Christian colleges, with a good chunk of the blame coming down to the “bubble” we’ve insisted on creating around these colleges.

    At Purdue, there would never be a need to have a Muslim come talk to a class of future Christian leaders because the kids there rub elbows with Muslims every day. The Muslim Student Center is right across the alley from a men’s house owned by PCCH. The kids from the dorms most likely have a number of Muslim students on their floors. A rather large group of Muslim students gather for prayer on the mall of the campus each day.

    At Milligan, or Johnson, or Lincoln, or CCU or Ozark, though, we’ve created a nice hermetic “bubble” in which we protect our kids from the world around it, and at at least one of the aforementioned schools, we punish our kids if they become involved in parachurch ministries in the surrounding communities. Those of us old enough (or industrious enough) to make large endowments to these schools like to attach strings to those gifts to “keep the world out of them”.

    One of these two environments graduates Christian kids who are ready to make an impact in their world the moment they walk of campus. The other tends to create students who can be described as “book smart, but street stupid”, and their expectations upon entering the world are unrealistic.

    Yes, this is a generalization, and I’m absolutely sure there are exceptions, but this is an observed trend.

    Jesus and Paul, as rabbis, took their disciples to lots of places, heard a lot of things and saw lots of things that would make us blanch today. They understood that the best way to learn is hands-on with real live subjects. If I go to a doctor, I want to see a doctor that not only has the book knowledge about the medical field, but one who has cut up cadavers to see how the body works, and who have spent significant time (even under supervision) with people in the same condition as me. I should expect no less from the pastors being graduated from our Christian colleges.

    So – when I see that one of our colleges (Milligan) is trying to be much more practical and applicable in teaching its students – in a way that fits exactly with the rabbinic model used by Jesus and Paul – I want to applaud them until the buffaloes come home to Johnson City. And I want to defend them to the hilt when they are criticized via a legalistic standard that is not healthy or biblical.

    My wife and I like to joke that we are trying to get onto the road to recovery as recovering fundamentalists. It is not an easy journey, but it is one I am convinced we have to make – as individuals and as a church movement – if we are to advance the Kingdom of God in our lifetimes.

    I will apologize for going over-the-top in my rhetoric, but not for my passion in seeing that our kids are best prepared to become the church leaders of my children and my children’s children.

  13. Avis Clark
    September 27, 2011 at 11:43 am

    This comment came in through the mail.

    I am writing to protest this article. I see no ‘shared ground’ between Islam and Christianity. Islam may claim that Jesus is a prophet, but if so, why don’t they believe him. As for his students being welcomed into their house of worship; have they come into a Christian house of worship? They do not believe our Jesus is the Son of God. The Koran is based on a lie and Christians are not to listen to their claims. Galatians 2:8,9; II John 10. I’m not saying that we should not be kind to others; but teaching Islam at a Christian college???

    Avis Clark, Vancouver, Washington

  14. Jim
    September 27, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    The apostle Paul called out false religons, prophets, etc., as “doctrines of demons.” How could he be so reluctant to embrace the diversity around him? Oh well, as resident of one of the most Islamified cities in North America, I stand with Paul, and will probably face arrest for hate crimes one days for my blunt denouncement of Mohammedism from my pulpit!

  15. Jim
    September 27, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Milligan is such a different world than mine – where I am a daily practitioner among Muslims who outnumber Christians of all tribes.

  16. September 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    The apostle Paul called out false religons, prophets, etc., as “doctrines of demons.” How could he be so reluctant to embrace the diversity around him? […] I stand with Paul, and will probably face arrest for hate crimes one days for my blunt denouncement of Mohammedism from my pulpit!

    Let’s take an actual look at Paul:

    From Acts 19 (Paul’s second stay in Ephesus):

    “While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. […] Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. […] He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years […] Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. […] The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, […] You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess.”

    In two years and three months of teaching in the city of Ephesus, by the testimony of the pagan clerk (mayor) of the town, Paul and his disciples did not blaspheme the patron goddess of the city during that time. Apparently “blunt denouncement” of the proliferate Artemis worship surrounding Paul and his disciples wasn’t part of Paul’s agenda in Ephesus.

    Or when he arrived in Athens (Acts 17):

    Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

    “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. […]”

    When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.

    Again, this time in a Greek city, Paul passed up an opportunity to denounce the gods of the city, but rather used the religious practices of the people (who had an altar “to an unknown god”, just to make sure they hadn’t left any gods out) to speak to them positively about the Gospel, with no need for denouncement of the false gods of the city.

    The apostle Paul called out false religons, prophets, etc., as “doctrines of demons.” How could he be so reluctant to embrace the diversity around him?

    Not exactly. Let’s look at what Paul actually said.

    Here is what Paul wrote to Timothy (who is in the city of Ephesus, which we looked at above):

    The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

    First off, this is dealing with people who are trying to add requirements of orthopraxy to the church – they are forbidding things that God declared “good” and placing rules on things to which God is indifferent. The “deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” are obviously – from the context – not “false religions, prophets, etc.”

    Secondly, since this letter of Paul’s is first and foremost a practical letter to Timothy, we can safely assume that “later times” is most likely referring to the AD 60’s – 90’s and not the “end times” that modern dispensationalists have tagged to this particular section of Scripture. As such, if we look at the actual events during this time period in Ephesus, we know that the church was continually being needled by the Jews in Ephesus (who taught that converts had to become Jews and follow Jewish ceremonial and dietary laws), whose practice of trying to Judaize Christians was a problem throughout Asia Minor.

    This, however, has absolutely no bearing whatsoever with the subject of Professor Farmer’s article.

    He makes it plainly clear that his purpose in bringing Muslims to his class (“History and Theology of Islam”) is not to convert them to Islam, or make them find the practice of Islam acceptable for Christians. Rather it is to understand – from a believer in Islam – the “History and Theology of Islam”. Why do Milligan students need to have this knowledge? To know how to live at peace with Muslims, and to know how to effectively minister to them.

    Professor Farmer is following the actual words of Paul.

    To the Romans (who lived in an incredibly pagan city), Paul wrote:

    Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

    Unless I’m mistaken, “everyone” includes Muslims, and “living at peace” would include living and teaching the Gospel and would not include “blunt denouncement of Mohammedism” (a label which is, itself, an example of failing to “live at peace with everyone.”) One need not denounce something to disagree with it. What is wrong with preaching the Gospel, alone, and living as it teaches – and letting the Holy Spirit convict whom it will?

    To the Hebrew Christians, Paul wrote:

    Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

    This is a statement of how we are to live (at peace) and act (with holiness). If we do not live at peace and act with holiness, no one will see the Kingdom of God, because it will not be present with us.

    Professor Farmer should be commended for his teaching style and methods, and for his desire for his students to understand how to “live at peace” with people (who are made in the image of God, do not forget) who are wrong in their theological beliefs.

  17. Al Forthman
    September 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Chris,
    I deeply appreciate the tone of respect with which you confronted Jim’s statements. It encouraged me!

    Jim,
    I do appreciate your heart on this issue – you are in the vanguard of an America where Christendom, to say nothing of Christianity, is in a distinct minority.

    Here’s the core question this article has raised – “What do we need to do with/about our unbelieving neighbors?”. We all know the answer to that one – live out the Gospel in front of them and use every opportunity to share Christ with them.

    The second question is, “How do we best prepare/encourage our congregations to do this?” That is a question on which good men may differ. Certainly a part of that is to give them apologetic insights.

    I believe that this was the goal of Dr. Farmer’s course – not to teach his students Islam for Islam’s sake, but to prepare his students to confront Muslims AS THEY REALLY ARE with a Christ who can speak to their deepest needs. We can certainly debate his methods, but I believe his intent was sound.

  18. Craig S. Farmer
    February 6, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    I am sorry that my words seem to have offended some of my fellow brothers in Christ. My intent was certainly not to be hurtful, but to show some examples of how we might demonstrate the love of Christ to our Muslim neighbors. I do believe that having Muslim friends has helped me to become a more faithful Christian.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for Free!

Subscribe to gain free access to all of our digital content,
including our new digital magazine,
and we'll let you know when new digital issues are ready to view!