Ecumenical & Interfaith, Muslim Ministry
Five Christian Approaches to Islam: Another Look at Martin Accad's Proposal.
March 11, 2015
Updated March 13, 2018
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Accad says: "... Your view of Islam will affect your attitude to Muslims. Your attitude will, in turn influence your approach to Christian-Muslim interaction, and that approach will affect the ultimate outcome of your presence as a witness among Muslims."
The Lebanese scholar Martin Accad among others have surveyed Christian approaches to Islam since the visit of the delegation from Najran to Muhammad in about 631 AD. As we review this history, we can see that it is largely informed by the spirit of the times and it helps us to understand current approaches. Let us briefly examine Accad's attempt towards a "balanced approach" and look at what he calls his SEKAP scheme.[i] We will use Accad's titles and offer a brief overview of each position. We will look at the strengths and weaknesses of his overall approach as well as his overall recommendations.
1. Syncretistic (S) — "All roads lead to Mecca." One can see this where people combine Christian and Muslim ideas in things like the Insider Movement and where all differences are relativized. An example might be seen in the recent book by David Garrison called A Wind in the House of Islam. There he talks about a Sufi named Jafar who had so-called Christian worshipping groups who say, "Jesus/Isa is my Pir" The problem with this approach is that a "Pir" can range from a spiritual leader, to a manufacturer of occultic amulets, to a Sufi spiritual guru, to one who is the leader of a Sufi Muslim school. How he can say that Jesus is one, is sheer syncretism. This attitude often informs those who advocate inter-religion, and sometimes creeps into inter-religious dialogue.
2. Existential (E) — this position works at "fostering societies of diversity” and talks a lot about how Christians and Muslims need each other to solve humanitarian or sociological problems. The areas of philosophical issues are put on the back burner to achieve this objective and the words "transformation" and "peace" dominate. A case in point might be for Christians and Muslims to cooperate in asking an increasingly secularized government to uphold moral codes in education. The Roman Catholic Church stressed this position very strongly in its 1965 "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions." More often than not this approach informs current Muslim-Christian dialogue.
3. Kerygmatic (K) — "The Gospel as God proclaimed it." [the name of this approach comes from the word 'kerygma' or the Gospel as proclaimed ]. Accad suggests that it avoids "polemical aggressiveness, apologetic defensiveness, existential adaptiveness, or syncretistic elusiveness" (p. 38). Consequently he says it has "no militant enforcers, no fanatic defenders, no smart adapters, and no crafty revisers." By definition 'kergyma' suggests that it is the power of the Word of God and the Gospel authoritatively spoken that does the convincing.
4. Apologetic (A) — "Engage Muslims only for evangelism — drawing from the wealth of history" This posture attempts to demonstrate the validity of Christianity and as Accad says, "to refute the validity of Islam." At times this approach has been labeled "hit and run evangelism" as the Muslim person is considered only a statistic to be gained. On the positive side, however, may consider deeply the contents of Islamic texts and the overall Islamic worldview as it presents Christianity as reasonable and compelling alternative.
5.Polemical (P) — "Seek and destroy Islam" This was common, as the scholar Samuel Schlorff points out in the middle 1800s when colonialism was strong, and the idea was that every other religion needed to be uprooted and the world Christianized. An 8th century example was John of Damascus, and a contemporary example is Father Zacharia Botros with his exposés of Islam. Frequent words associated here are "deception"; "heresy"; "Satanic." There are nuanced views of this position as well, that have a way of respecting Muslims as humans, yet exposing Islam's agenda on its own terms and differentiating between respecting fellow humans as made in the image of God and exposing the anti-Christ spirit of Islam. Accad has his personal doubts, however, about this nuanced approach, because he says what is good in theory often doesn't work out in practice.
Q. Does Accad recommend only the kerygmatic approach?
My emphasis on a middle way, the kerygmatic approach, does not negate the legitimacy of using other types of interaction found on the D1–D5 [=S to P] spectrum. In my experience, different settings and audiences may require different styles and approaches. I personally would in most cases avoid D1 [=S] and D5, [=P]save in some exceptional circumstances where the depth of a friendship may allow and call for the tackling of a hot and problematic issue at a D5 [=P] level. In general, I would favor a combination of D2 [=E] and D3 [=K] in a public setting, where the tackling of social issues (D2) is crucial and more likely to be fruitful. In private settings, I would favor a combination of D3 [=K] and D4, [=A] the apologetic approach often serving to clarify certain deep-rooted misunderstandings that Muslims have about Christ and the Bible. Whereas tackling such issues in public is often futile, it can be quite appropriate in conversation with a nondefensive Muslim friend who is genuinely seeking to understand. Finally I find myself leaning toward D2 [=E] in conversation with Muslim religious leaders, and more toward D4 [=A] in with less prominent Muslims (Accad, pp. 32-37)
Q. What is useful about Accad's approach?
He is able to be critical of approaches which people have baptized as the "most Biblical" including his own approach. He sees the weaknesses of the sociological approach which has begun to dominate mission theory. He knows how to use different approaches in different situations, and is able to differentiate between different Muslims and does not see them as a monolithic block. We might call this a polyvalent approach. As well he provides a questionnaire in his article called "Test of Attitude Towards Islam and Muslims" [TAIM] which tells the person which tendency they might have.
Here is a sample:
In interacting with Muslims, the best methods are:
a) The use of the Qur'an, the Bible, and other elements of both traditions as the
foundation for discussing theological, doctrinal, social, and cultural issues.
b) The affirmation of common ground and avoidance of divisive issues.
c) To dialogue on social, economic, and political issues.
d) To accentuate religious differences and use polemics to discredit Islam, or
not to relate to Muslims at all.
c) Public debates that make heavy use of apologetic arguments.
Q. What is less than useful about Accad's approach?
As much as Accad subscribes to the power of the Word of God spoken, he does not seem to connect the fact that this Word also has the power to destroy anything set up against the rule of Christ. Case in point was Elijah with the Baal prophets. This did not lead to singing Kumbuya with them. Another time was Paul exposing the religious longings of the Athenians as leading to idolatry. He called people to repentance. It seems that Accad might think that this would happen automatically. The questionnaire, as well, would seem to put those categories that he is not too comfortable within a negative light, thus skewing the results.
1. Accad's article is placed in a book which focuses on "respectful understanding and witness." One wonders at what cost a person engages in this posture. For instance, if the objective is to avoid all offense, to remove any actual proclamation of the exclusiveness and Lordship of Christ while showing respect, is this actually a fundamental disrespect for the King of Kings, under the rubric of congenial relations with humans?
2. Accad talks about an atmosphere of "mutual respect, love and humility." Before whom does he show ultimate respect, love and humility? Is this just in front of the other religionist he is talking too, or is he fanatical for the glory of God, and does "zeal for God's house" consume him? Jesus did not necessarily show mutual respect, love, and humility of the soft-soled shoe, tender voice variety as he challenged the mercenary temple sellers — religious as they were. Did Paul first of all think about mutual respect — even though he knew his place — as he put the profligate Felix against the wall with talk of righteousness, self-control and judgment (Acts 24:25) and thus put his own freedom from jail in jeopardy?
3. Accad says: "Your view of Islam will affect your attitude to Muslims. Your attitude will, in turn influence your approach to Christian-Muslim interaction, and that approach will affect the ultimate outcome of your presence as a witness among Muslims."[Italics by Accad]. As much as there is some superficial truth here — i.e., of valuing humans in God's image — I think that his starting point is wrong and logically so are the consequential steps. This is sheer humanism and resultantly cuts the power of his kerygmatic approach down to size.
At Athens, the Apostle Paul's exalted view of the worthiness of worship of Jesus as the Sovereign Majesty and his exalted view of the glory of YHWH, was his starting point. This affected his attitude towards other forms of worship. This informed his attitude towards the Athenians, and formed the basis for his approach. He spoke as a bold ambassador for His Majesty and the outcome was not his problem ... "some believed ... some sneered ... some asked for more" (Acts 17:32-34).
One must ask if the tenor of Accad's article refuses to see that Islam is a product of human imagination, and consequently, he refuses to see that Allah is actually a deity created in the mind of the founder of Islam — which by Paul's definition, is idolatry.
4. Concerning the Qur'an Accad says: "…Numerous verses in the Qur’an seem to indicate that Muhammad's message was his genuine attempt to provide what he believed to be the essential elements of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures to his Arab people in a language that they could understand, namely Arabic" (p. 40). Unfortunately, Accad seems to be using some of the slippery stuff that those prone to syncretism like to use. Sure Muhammad might have been sincere and nice to use Arabic. His message, subverted, rather than supplied the essential elements of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Abraham was his model ancestor, Jesus functioned as his John the Baptist, and Mary was employed to mirror his miraculous reception of the word of Allah and her rejection and vindication were his as well. The essential element of the Suffering Servant who must be fully God and fully man is altogether repressed in the Qur'an.
Accad's position logically leads him to this advice regarding the use of the Qur'an:
"A Christ follower using that approach will happily make use of the Qur'an and other elements of the Islamic tradition as appropriate and acceptable bridges of communication" (p. 43).
This raises an important issue. Paul at the Areopagus certainly did employ the Greek poets Aratus and Epimenides. But to what purpose? Accad would likely say to build bridges of respect. Paul actually used them strategically to explode their bridges to the gods of their own imagination. Yes, he used language they understood, but the end goal is what is important here. In Paul's case it was the authoritative proclamation of Christ resurrected to the be Judge of humanity, and so all of the Athenian idolatry was put into question. This is the Kerygma.
Accad has provided an analytical tool along with a polyvalent approach, but his social science orientation has dulled the power of the very Kerygma he advocates. Pity that his TAIM questionnaire and his desire to be all things to all Muslims, serves to "tame" the lion of the power of the Gospel.
Question for reflection:
1. What is the foundation for your approach to Muslims and/or Islam?
[i] Martin Accad, “Christian Attitudes toward Islam and Muslims: A Kerygmatic Approach,” pp. 29-47 in John Dudley Woodberry and Evelyne A. Reisacher. Toward Respectful Understanding and Witness Among Muslims: Essays in Honor of J. Dudley Woodberry. (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2011)
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thankyou for your clear thinking and writing on this.
"Your view of Islam will affect your attitude to Muslims. Your attitude will, in turn influence your approach to Christian-Muslim interaction, and that approach will affect the ultimate outcome of your presence as a witness among Muslims."
Let's address this to the two main factions:
Your view of Sunni Muslim will affect your attitude to Shia Muslim. Your attitude will, in turn influence your approach to Sunni-Shia interaction and that approach will affect the ultimate outcome of your presence as witness among ourselves.
Would the template of interaction between Catholics and Protestants be something that could work in the Muslim world?
They need to find a solution to the violence among themselves.
I purposely put the quote from Accad at the beginning of the article as an introduction to his thinking.
As you read through the article, I show that I actually completely disagree with this line of thinking.
A large problem with the view of other religions is that more often than not it is anthropocentric, or having humans as the starting point.
Might I refer you to a recent book entitled "For Their Rock is Not as Our Rock" by Daniel Strange.
He shows that any and all religions are at once a quest for God due to a God-shaped vacuum, and at the same time a rejection of God due to the fall causing humans to want to be the sovereign masters of their destiny.
Thank you for engaging.
Blessings in Christ
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