Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mere Anglicanism 2016: a Report (II)

In the first part of this report on the 2016 Mere Anglicanism conference in Charleston, South Carolina last week, I covered the four lectures that related to Islam as an ideology and as an historical movement. In this second part, I will recap the three remaining talks, which focused on experiences and techniques for engaging Muslims at an individual level.

There were two perspectives from Christians whose duties bring them into daily contact with Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere. The first, by the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, who trained first in Egypt as a doctor and hospital administrator before being ordained as a priest in 1999 and then consecrated as a bishop a year later, stressed that Christians and Moslems co-existed in Egypt for fourteen centuries before relations began to change in the 1970s. That is when Islamists, Salafis and jihadists started to agitate for a restoration of the caliphate, which required the subjugation of other faiths. Christianity and Islam differ fundamentally in that Christians accept Jesus' substitutionary atonement for their sins; Muslims believe that no such substitution is possible in Allah's eyes. Each person on his own must strive to have his good works and pilgrimages to Mecca hopefully outweigh  his failings, in order to receive forgiveness from Allah and admission into Paradise.

In recent years, the growth of Christianity in Egypt has far outpaced the growth of Islam. In Dr. Anis' experience, the things that bring Muslims to inquire about Christianity are (1) visions and dreams they have of Jesus; (2) the lifestyle of Christians who evince their love and respect for others; (3) the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount; and (4) healing in answer to prayers. In welcoming such inquiries, Christians should avoid certain unwise assumptions:
  • thinking that we, and not the Holy Spirit, can transform lives
  • thinking that people can be won to Christ through deceit
  • thinking that local churches lack the vision to reach out to their community
  • witnessing to Muslims by taking advantage of their weakness at a crucial point
  • witnessing to Muslims without an understanding of their culture
  • being "un-Christ-like" by attacking their beliefs, and
  • acting from other wrong and unbiblical motives

In summary, said Dr. Anis, Christians who witness to Muslims must depend entirely on the Holy Spirit, and should be authentic, humble and generous in all their dealings. Muslims who convert frequently must pay a heavy price in loss of family relationships and everything they had held dear; the Christian community must be prepared to do all that it can to mitigate those losses. He closed his talk with a short film that showed the various kinds of Christian outreach his own diocese is sponsoring, with an emphasis on providing the best possible loving care to Egyptians from all walks of life in Christian-run hospitals, and offering testimonies from those whose lives had changed in consequence. God's love, shown to Muslims and others through freely given medical and other care, brings results on God's timetable. "Our job is to witness to Christ's love, to pay the price when asked, and to involve the local community of believers."

Another perspective on witnessing to Muslims was offered by Fouad Masri, a Lebanese-born, third-generation pastor who trained in the United States, and then in 1993 founded the Crescent Project, based in Indianapolis, through which he has taught more than 21,000 Christians how to share their faith sensitively and caringly with Muslims. He stressed that Muslims generally do not know what Christians believe, that they never read the Bible for themselves, and have repeatedly been told that it is unreliable (its text is, e.g., hopelessly corrupt in comparison with the Qu'ran that was dictated directly from Allah).

"Because you have been at this conference," he predicted, "God will put a Muslim in your path. Be an ambassador for your faith: represent it truly, humbly, and without apology or evasion. Be friendly -- don't criticize Muslim beliefs; build bridges, biblical bridges, from your faith to theirs, with which you can reach them. Invite them to your home, and share what you have. Remember that God, not us, makes people Christians; we are God's humble servants, and our involvement is His involvement with the world." There are many more resources, and much more detail, at the Crescent Project Website, as well as videos at this related site, and individual apps and study materials here. Together, they embody a wealth of personal experience and wisdom that no conference participant should ignore.

The seventh speaker, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, gave his talk between Mouneer Anis and Fouad Masri, who each provided the bookends to frame his highly compelling and moving personal testimony. Born in America of Pakistani parents, Dr. Qureshi was raised as a devout Muslim, albeit in one of its more  recent (and peaceful) offshoots, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. He was well-educated, and highly motivated by his parents, with whom he was extremely close. They had him reciting regular daily prayers before he could even understand what they meant. Nabeel looked to his father as the authority on all things Islamic, and trusted his views implicitly.

Change came when Nabeel went away from home to attend college, and met several new influences. One of them, a devout and well-educated Christian named David Wood, was on the debating team with him; they became roommates and the closest of friends. Each would challenge the other about his faith, and no waffling, evasion or exaggeration of facts was allowed. Nabeel found that his second-hand information about the Christian Bible was inadequate, and that its text was far more reliable than he had been led to believe. To his great chagrin, the same inadequacies appeared with respect to his knowledge about the real origins of Islam, the questionable authorship of the Qu'ran, and the true character of its prophet -- who even sanctioned giving captured wives as "sex slaves" to his soldiers, just as ISIS is doing today.

Over the course of his four years at college, in which he was a pre-med student earning top grades, Nabeel's conversations and explorations of Islam and Christianity with David Wood occupied thousands of hours. Through another friend, they had several lengthy sessions talking to Dr. Gary Habermas, an authority on the evidence for Christ's resurrection (which Muslims are taught did not happen, because Jesus -- who was wholly human -- either survived crucifixion, or the Romans nailed up someone else in his place).

The evidence for Christianity proved so compelling in the face of the more dubious backing for Islam that Nabeel was eventually brought to a crisis in his second year of medical school. He was so torn between his love of truth and his love and respect for the family who had raised him that he begged God to provide him with a clear sign one way or the other -- knowing in his heart of hearts that he most likely would be disowned by his parents if he renounced Islam and converted to Christianity. God answered his prayers, Nabeel converted, and he remains estranged from his family today -- as he gave up his medical career to tour with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, preaching and spreading the gospel to all who will listen. For those wanting to experience his conversion in all its gripping ups-and-downs, I highly recommend the book he has written: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

The conference closed with a panel of all the speakers (except for Dr. Boa), who fielded questions culled from previous submissions by the audience. The Rev. Christopher Royer, the Executive Director of Anglican Frontier Missions (and who had delivered two excellent sermons at the conference services, based on his front-line experiences in Turkey), moderated the panel.

It began with a short summation of the conference as seen through the eyes of Bishop Nazir-Ali. He noted that the subject of the conference was Muslims, whom we all are called to love. Thus, we have to engage with Islam -- while Islamism (Islam's politicization) is the obstacle to our engagement. Using the insights of Archbishop Anis and Pastor Masri, Bishop Nazir-Ali stressed that such engagement requires (1) the presence of the Christian community among Muslims (especially those seeking exodus); (2) a duty of hospitality; (3) building bridges which both may use to connect (e.g., faith-based hospitals); (4) dialogue using (5) a common language, which leads to (6) witness, which accepts (7) that everything is ultimately in God's hands. Christians have a duty, he said, not so much to convert Muslims, as to "bring them to a point of decision," where they could welcome "the possibility of assurance."

The first question to the panel asked whether the teachings of militant Islam are entitled to protection under the First Amendment. Professor Jenkins drew the distinction between ideas and beliefs, which are absolutely protected, and exhortation to violence, which is not.  Dr. Anis responded to a question about the influence of imams, and stated that it was dependent on the militancy of the individual. He reminded the audience that the Shiite sect is awaiting the reappearance of the twelfth imam, who "disappeared" in the tenth century, as part of their eschatology.

Nabeel Qureshi fielded a question about allowing in Muslim refugees from Syria, and drew the same line that Dr. Ken Boa had drawn: as Christians, we individually are called upon to welcome all our fellow humans in distress, but our safety rests in the hands of our government, which bears the responsibility to screen those coming here in order to keep out terrorists. Dr. Craig had a short answer to a question about how history textbooks should present the story of Islam: "Accurately", he responded. Bishop Nazir-Ali took a question about the long-term prospects for female equality in Islam. He observed that as long as Sharia held sway, its in-built inequality of treatment toward women would continue. Muslims, he added, have only three choices about the sources from which they derive Sharia: ignore them, become apostate, or else radicalize and apply the texts as written. In response to a question of how the West should deal with increasingly repressive regimes in the Middle East, Dr. Nazir-Ali pointed out that lasting democracy needs a full supporting infrastructure, which is just not present there.

The conference came to a close after Dr. Craig responded to a question about how Christians can square the brutal extinctions ordered by the God of the Old Testament with the "God Is Love" message of the New Testament. He gave the standard rationale for differentiating in time and space: God had announced that he would give the land of Canaan to the Israelites, but only after the latter had been in captivity for 400 years, and the Canaanites in that period had reached the culmination of their evils in God's sight. The Israelis were not engaging in genocide, he said, but were carrying out God's judgment declared against the Canaanites, who refused to leave the land voluntarily, and so were killed. Muslim jihad, he said, was not similar in any way, because it was a vehicle for extending the spread of Islam through violence.

This response brought a strong reaction from Professor Jenkins, who protested that "these commands of the Old Testament God have killed millions upon millions!" -- referring to later conquerors and tyrants who justified their genocide by citing them as precedent. Dr. Craig defended his position, and noted that Scripture is often abused for personal (and dynastic) ends, but that does not make Scripture at fault. After a kind of agreement between them to disagree, the conference closed with prayers and a blessing.


  1. This is terribly interesting and compelling. It is necessary to move the dial back and forth a few times before the microscope or telescope comes into focus. You accounts are very much appreciated.

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