Monday, November 8, 2010

Buy This Book! Between Allah & Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims

I know, it's a touchy subject. Islam has a pretty nasty reputation here in the West, thanks to the political realities of our times. These political realities, however, shouldn't stop us from seeking out peace, and finding ways to dialogue with Muslims, and to better understand their beliefs and culture. How else will we ever succeed in evangelizing them?

Between Allah & Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims by Peter Kreeft (IVP Books, 2010) is a series of fictionalized conversations between a Muslim, a Secular Humanist, a fundamentalist Christian and a Catholic priest (and a few other minor "characters"), designed to discuss the broader philosophies and thinking behind the Muslim belief system. Within the conversations, Kreeft is able to discuss how these belief systems clash with the West, and where we all go wrong in our assumptions about each other.

If you happen to be looking for political commentary, look elsewhere. Between Allah and Jesus is about theology and spirituality, and how these are meant to be lived in practice. He does discuss politics, but only in a very narrow, controlled context of where religion and religious beliefs have a direct effect on politics. The point Kreeft is making here is a pretty gutsy one--every side is right in some ways, but very wrong in others.  For example, in his introduction Kreeft makes the following point:

There are two Islams in the world today. (1) There is the Islam of the Qur'an, which is one of the great religions of the world. It is a religion of peace (not of pacifism nor of aggression) and of divine justice (not of divine tyranny nor of divine intimacy). (2) There is also the Islam of the terrorists, who are murderers and assassins, especially murderers of their fellow Muslims.  Shiites and Sunnis hate each other for their "heresies" more intensely than either hates the West. (The London bombings deliberately targeted Muslim neighborhoods.)

 ...It is very tempting, if you see either if these two things, to ignore the other one. (Kindle Edition, Loc 118-120, 125)

Kreeft deals with these two points very effectively in the narrative as well by building some flaws and prejudices into each of the western characters, and giving his Muslim character, 'Isa, a chance to discuss them. He admittedly idealized 'Isa in both his knowledge and his practice of Islam, which is a smart approach, particularly because Kreeft in no way idealizes Islam. He presents Islam honestly, including those areas where it is fundamentally incorrect according to the truth of Jesus Christ.  At the same time he's taking on Islam's theological inadequacies, he also takes on Christians, who have become weak and ineffective in the material traps of Western culture.

One of Kreeft's strengths across his body of work is his ability to boil down what could be difficult theological ideas and lengthy psychological assessments into very accessible text. This work is no different. By using the context of conversation he was able to deliver complex information concisely without sounding too elementary, while at the same time delivered the harder truths without sounding too combative. He did use a few forced colloquialisms, and some of the conversations seemed a little unnatural, but as Kreeft explains in his introduction, this is not a novel, but a means of information delivery.

As to what exactly it is that we have to learn from Muslim spirituality, well, you'll have to read the book to find that one out for yourself.  I will tell you this much: it made me really think about just how well I practice my own Catholic faith, and what kind of reflection of my Catholic faith I am on the rest of the world.

You can purchase this book here.

I wrote this review of Between Allah and Jesus for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for Oplatki and Advent Calendars. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

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