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Thursday, November 17, 2016

"Joyful Witness in the Muslim World" (Evelyne A. Reisacher)

TITLE: Joyful Witness in the Muslim World: Sharing the Gospel in Everyday Encounters (Mission in Global Community)
AUTHOR: Evelyne A. Reisacher
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (188 pages).

We live in an increasingly dangerous world. Since 9/11, Islamophobia has reared its ugly head. The recent US elections have on its campaign highlighted the problem of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism happening in the world. We are not living in a safer place at all. From shooting in schools to bombings in public places, there is a lot of reasons to be afraid. This has increased tensions between people of all walks of life and of various religions, in particular between Muslims and the rest of the world. Some secularists blame all religions. Many Non-Muslims tend to shun the Muslim community. Inter-religious harmony seem so rare. Some Christians even see Islam with lots of suspicion. How then can we get along? If the gospel is for all people, surely that includes Muslims too.

Evelyne Reisacher is Associate Professor of Islamic studies and cultural relations in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. Having spent a decade working with a Paris-based Christian organization that facilitates relationships with North African immigrants, she is convinced that witnessing to Muslims is not only possible but can be a joyful endeavor. This is because gospel joy is anchored on the Triune Godhead. Joy emanates from God and resonates with transformed believers. Such joy is for sharing and it amplifies vibrant communities. If that is so, should it not also impact outreach to Muslims?

Reisacher begins with a personal take about Christian-Muslim attachments. She acknowledges the discomfort and hostilities experienced by people from both sides. She shares about her frequent ordinary encounters with Muslims that see people as people instead of Muslim people or Christian people or religious people. She notices how children of all backgrounds easily make friends with different races and religious faiths. She recommends that we learn to see Muslims first as people before anything else. This is like Nouwen who said that "True joy is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile and mortak. It is the joy of belonging to the human race." Healthy attachments begin not with fear but in joy. Regulate emotions both the positives and negatives. Start with mutual respect and let joy propels the relationship forward. For the author, joy is the hallmark of engagement with Muslims. She goes further to bring us six different ways in which we can relate joyfully to the Muslim community.

First, social media has not only taken the world by storm but has also presented new opportunities for Christians and Muslims to interact online. Whether it is online chatrooms, website discussions or Facebook platforms, the open space automatically brings people together. This has a global reach where information can be freely available to anyone with an Internet connection. The author wonders why Christians do not connect more frequently with Muslims through this manner. Knowing that this is probably unfamiliar territory with many, Reisacher puts forth several ideas on how to interact in a constructive way. Ignorance is often an unfortunate barrier and the Internet provides a way in which we can overcome this.

Another way is through art which evokes multisensory effects and creates conversational spaces. Both Islam and Christianity have common interests in music, performing arts, paintings, sculptures, photographs, icons, and architecture. A historical overview can show up common grounds for discussion. There are pros and cons of using artistic witness which Reisacher carefully lists. For example, using art is a relatively less threatening approach because art in itself presents multiple interpretations and meanings. We can share from a Christian perspective and hear the Muslim interpretation without the need to win any debate. Art in itself is comfortable with mystery and wonder. However, Christians who do not know much about the history of the art piece may feel inadequate.

The third aspect is environmental, or learning to care for the earth. In witnessing to Muslims, it is important to begin with common concerns. One does not need to be religious in order to love the environment. All human beings are called to share in taking care of the environment. One can start the conversation about how the Bible and the Quran talk about earth care. The fourth aspect is to take care of the needy. This is something that Muslims are also well-known for. From alleviating poverty to hospitality, compassion for one's own and global concerns, the world of need is larger than our petty differences. Fifth, there is the urban life that we all share in. As cities become more secular and the religions are increasingly being sidelined, people of faith will have the common challenge of being relevant to the secular and largely atheistic world. City living affects the way we believe. We discover that Muslims in cities are more diverse. They too face the challenges of urban living that we can all identify with. Reisacher leaves "theological conversations" to the last part. This is about direct evangelistic conversations and also most challenging of all. Readers learn about listening and maintaining dialogue. There is also a short discussion on basic theological differences between the two faiths.

The six aspects are ways to get our creative juices flowing so as to kick-start any attempt to speak joy into anything. Throughout the book, this attitude of joy needs to accompany the interaction. Even though one may not eventually win any verbal spars, hopefully they will be won over through our earnestness and winsome joy in our hearts. It is one thing to talk about religion. It is yet another to do so with passion and compassion. We must firstly know what we believe before attempting to talk with Muslims. Very often, Muslims have been better trained in apologetics than most people. That is why witnessing alone is not enough. We need the joy of the Lord that will become our strength. If we learn the various tips Reisacher has supplied in this book, we can easily apply them not only to Muslims but to others outside of Islam.

Thank you Reisacher for giving us this resource. I have read many books about apologetics but this is the first book that underlines the need for joyful witness in every outreach attempt. Even if we may not convince the person with words or actions, surely the power of joy can convict them. May the joy of the Lord be deeply embedded in our hearts that we can share this joy widely to all.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic and Graf-Martin Communications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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