Rick Love's book, "Grace and Truth: Toward Christ-like Relationships with Muslims," focuses on nine biblical principles for seeking Christ-like relationships with Muslims. They are:
Some matters of disagreement between Christians and Muslims are very deep, but this is not justification for rudeness, Bryson says.
- Be faithful to God's truth – the whole truth.
- Be Jesus-centered in our interaction.
- Be truthful and gracious in our words and witness.
- Be wise in our words and witness.
- Be respectful and bold in our witness.
- Be prudent in our "Google-ized" world.
- Be persistent in our call for religious freedom.
- Be peaceable and uncompromising in our dialogue.
- Be loving toward all.
The book explains the biblical basis of each of these nine principles and offers some concrete examples of what encountering Muslims this way could look like.
"We seek to be accurate when we speak about Muslims and their faith. Overstatement, exaggeration and words taken out of context are commonplace in the media and politics. But this should not be the case among followers of Jesus," Love said, "for he calls us to be careful about the words we speak (Matthew 12:36). God commands us not to bear false witness against our neighbor (Exodus 20:16) and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matthew 7:12)."
Love goes on to cite Ephesians 4:29, reminding us, "the Bible calls us to both truthful accuracy and fullness of grace. As those who have received grace, we are to convey grace."
Emphasizing that the Bible calls us to give witness to the Gospel in a way that is not only bold but also respectful, Love offers the example of Paul in Athens. "The idolatry of the Athenians," Love wrote, "incensed Paul's monotheistic heart."
Love recognizes that Christian engagement across religious lines, when it is allowed to get past just being "nice," can be jarring and even upsetting.
Yet he shows from biblical examples that it is possible – and necessary – to respond to very deep differences in a manner that is "respectful, gracious and bridge-building."
Some matters of disagreement between Christians and Muslims are very deep, but this is not justification for rudeness. Instead, Love embraces dealing with such differences in "the spirit of the Prince of Peace."
There are a few downsides to the way Love has structured this book. They are bothersome, but in the large scheme of things they are minor. The most inconvenient is the confusing format.
The book has an "Exposition" offering the nine biblical principles mentioned above, followed by an "Affirmation" with 10 principles that are nearly but not quite identical and are numbered differently than the first nine.
One can hope a future edition of this booklet will stick to one set of principles.
At the same time, irksome format aside, the good news is that rather than skirting around topics such as evangelization and conversion, generally severely taboo in "interfaith" gatherings, Love recognizes that these are integral components of Christianity – and Islam too, for that matter.
He recognizes that faith itself is central and thus stands firm for religious freedom.
"We affirm the right of religious freedom for every person and community. We defend the right of Muslims to express their faith respectfully among Christians and of Christians to express their faith respectfully among Muslims," he wrote.
"Moreover, we affirm the right of Muslims and Christians alike to change religious beliefs, practices and/or affiliations according to their conscience. Thus, we stand against all forms of religious persecution toward Muslims, Christians or anyone else," Love said. "God desires all people to make faith choices based on personal conscience and conviction rather than any form of coercion or violence (2 Corinthians 4:2)."
The study guide at the end of the book is particularly helpful. It is divided into 10 short sections with questions about specific passages.
The print version has space to jot down notes while the Kindle version toggles easily back and forth between the passage under discussion and the study guide's questions about the passage.
I recommend "Grace and Truth" for small-group or church-wide Bible studies – not only for evangelicals but also for Catholic and Orthodox Christians, too.
This book is short, only 70 pages. The central text is a mere 18 pages, followed by an overview of principles, a group study guide with questions about particular passages and a bibliography.
It is just right for a quick read on a Saturday afternoon or as a gift for that Christian you know with an affinity for less-than-love-filled rants about Muslims.
In our world of diverse and mobile populations, we need meaningful encounters across the full spectrum of religious belief. This includes those of us with allergies to interfaith dialogue.
Jennifer S. Bryson is director of the Islam and Civil Society Project at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J. A version of this article first appeared in Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute as well as on Rick Love's blog. It is used with permission.
Editor's note: This is part two of Bryson's reflection on interfaith engagement and Rick Love's book, "Grace and Truth," which is available here. Part one is available here.