What might two articles (one on interfaith relationships and one on evangelicals and feminists) in two different Reformed venues have to do with each other? Perhaps more than meets the eye.
The first article, titled Peer to Peer Group Studies Interfaith Issues in Middle East, appeared in The Banner. The second article, titled Allies vs. Cobelligerents: Don’t Mix Them Up!, was written by Jon Dykstra and appeared in Reformed Perspective.
Before we examine the two articles, perhaps a few definitions are in order.
- “peer to peer” —in the language of computers, “peer to peer” refers to a decentralized communications model in which each party has the same capabilities and either party can initiate a communication session. Each of the participants have equal power, and can share equally in resources.
- “interfaith issues”—although not formally defined by the article, it appears that it follows along the lines of inter-faith dialogue, which is dialogue between parties of two or more faith expressions. In the case of this article, it is between Christians of a Reformed persuasion and Muslims who are discussing some issues of the day.
- “allies” — A person or organization that cooperates with or helps another in a particular activity. (Oxford Living Dictionary)
- “cobelligerent” —a country fighting with another power against a common enemy (Miriam Webster Dictionary)
The two articles in summary
- “Peer to Peer Group…” In this article, Chris Meehan reports on a trip taken to the Middle East (and to an undisclosed country) by a number of Christian Reformed and Reformed Church of America representatives. Their mission was to engage Muslims and to build “interfaith understanding” and dialogue from a “Reformed perspective” with an end-goal of influencing congregations in North America to do the same.
- “Allies vs cobelligerent…” In this article, Jon Dykstra compares and contrasts the agenda of evangelicals and that of radical feminists. He warns against the assumption that just because two groups have similar interests and appear to be advocating for a similar cause, it does not mean that they are doing so for the same reasons, nor expecting the same outcome.
Possible implications of the second article on the first:
The title of the ‘peer to peer’ article suggests that two parties of equal standing are sharing resources. They could be called allies, as per the definition above. But are they actually allies? Are they peers? And in what sense? The answers depend on whose perspective is being appealed to. How so?
When the Apostle Paul challenged people in the Corinthian church not to be “unequally yoked to unbelievers” (2 Cor 6:14) he is appealing first and foremost to marriage situations, but also in principle in the relationships between Christians and non-Christians. At the Areopagus (Acts 17) the Apostle Paul avoided any suggestion that he was simply comparing and contrasting his biblical Christian worldview with that of the pagan philosophers, and leaving it at that.
Rather, he employed a technique of building communication bridges between himself and his audience, especially with his knowledge of their ‘objects of worship’ and at the same time ‘taking ever thought captive’ and ‘tearing down strongholds’ that set themselves up against the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is anything but “peer to peer” dialogue. It is an intentional showdown of two radically different worldviews, not unlike the showdown between Moses representing YHWH, and Pharaoh who said he was the incarnation of the gods.
Jon Dykstra, in his article, shows that because radical non-Christian feminists have entirely different motivations and end-goals than Christians, one must not confuse being their allies, with possibly being a cobelligerent. In the case of a cobelligerent, two countries that might have completely different outlooks on life, unite to fight a common enemy. One can think of an alliance between Israel and Egypt to fight terrorism in the Sinai. Although the two are anything but friends, they have identified a common threat, and so are working together.
So what of interfaith understanding/dialogue? What are the potential useful areas, and what are its potential dangers? I asked two former Muslims for their input.
Potentially useful areas:
- To act as cobelligerent, for instance to challenge a democratic government to cease trying to force the populace to adopt its progressive agenda in areas where Muslims and Christians are both concerned.
- To have meetings where informed Christians can winsomely present their faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, and where they can also challenge Muslims with hard questions, while they welcome hard questions from Muslims.
- To see “the religious Other” as someone made in the image of God, and to find ways and means to build communication bridges, especially when an accurate knowledge of the ‘objects of their worship’ have been thoroughly examined through a Biblical-Christian worldview.
- To fail to realize that Islamic dawah (a missionary call to become Muslims) takes the shape of many forms. One former Muslim observed that his intention as a Muslim was always to structure every encounter with Christians to move them away from what he called “the Bible line” towards the “Qur’an line” and never to give one inch of movement towards Christianity. He mentioned that the document, the Common Word with its appeals to love, respect and peace, did exactly that, and that many uninformed evangelicals simply signed something of which they were unaware of .
- To fail to understand that although Islam and Christianity share many common terms, they have radically different meanings. Thus in a dialogue it is very easy to assume that when a Muslim speaks of “world peace” they are speaking of the same thing as a Christian. In actual fact they are speaking of ‘dar al-Islam” or the idea that all of the world will be in peace---Islamically speaking---when it submits to Sharia law.
- To fail to acknowledge that many “interfaith dialogues” are based on a faulty assumption that as two parties speak together, they will come to some kind of a consensus and meeting of the minds, and perhaps come up with new understandings. This is actually the Hegelian dialectic at work, where two ideas come together and synthesize a new one. Rather, the Bible presents itself as the one way, the one truth, and the one life. It examines other religions and looks at them as truth suppressors in unrighteousness (Romans 1: 18), as being “darkness” (Ephesians 5:8) and walking in futile or ultimately useless ways (Ephesians 4:17). One will not arrive at a Biblical view of other religions via dialogue. Rather one will come to understand the basic presuppositions of non-Christians. This is a good starting point for a discussion, but only as fellow humans who are ‘peer to peer’ in God’s image, and not ‘peer to peer’ philosophically.
- One of my friends, who is a former Muslim from the area visited by the group, stated that no few such interfaith encounters are simply there for the photo-op, and that for all of the nice words said, Christians often avoid raising the offense of the Gospel.
- To begin to confuse cobelligerent and allies. There are Christians who attempt to make Islam its ally, when it should be seeing it as a cobelligerent for very specific issues. The way they make Islam their ally is to avoid any of the hard issues raised by Islamic doctrine, and to read Christian virtues into Islam.
I close with a few words from my friends who are former Muslims
“If we had unashamed Christians who were willing and able to use interfaith dialog to help Muslims understand the Gospel, then more good could come out of it. As it stands now, the dialog typically only helps Islam and weakens the faith of Christians.”
“…most Christians that participate in such events already decided to not stand up for the faith and hold Muslims accountable to their false claims.
…All is done with a smile to show they are not attacking. Such events, especially in the west has been very successful for the Muslims to show naive Christian westerners that Islam is truly peaceful and people like you and me don’t have the Love of Jesus in us. Interfaith Dialogue with Muslims has one outcome from my prospective, Islam has been legitimized as a viable option to Christianity.”
…Christians should welcome their [Muslims’]criticisms or questions because we have all the answers, they have nothing to stand on.
Finally, to answer the question of the title:
“Are Christians and Muslims allies, cobelligerent, both or neither?”
It all depends, and the answers will depend if one is essentially a humanist, or if one has the mind of Christ.