Firstly, a big, ‘thank you!’ Over the past three months my sabbatical was spent mainly at home, only with an absence of interruptions, of phone calls and e-mails, was this possible. So thank you for giving me that time of study and reflection.
When I last wrote one of these letters it was about belonging, I wrote how, ‘our modern culture does not always encourage belonging.’ I encouraged you to, ‘actively commit to this local church and enter into a new relationship of love.’ I concluded by expressing my hope that your commitment would, ‘be rekindled in your belonging over the next few months. Over the last few months I have rekindled my own sense of belonging. One aspect of my sabbatical has been attending different churches each Sunday, some here in Reading, some in other parts of the UK and some abroad. It was a variety of churches but I always felt I belonged, it is one Church, whatever the title or style of doing things. What a privilege to belong to the Church of God!
What though about that sabbatical? I explained in the April newsletter how my hope was, “to read and reflect on the question, ‘What should be the Christian response to Islam?’” I was greatly helped by a Study Centre in Oxford and I found for me two crucial issues were, ‘What is Islam?’ and ‘Where did Islam come from?’ There is not the space here to give the answers I found to those questions but I have, I think, space to share my answer to the original question about our response.
As Christians we have been the recipients of God’s undeserved love; ‘Grace’ and in response we should love others whether they deserve it or not, a gracious way of living. When God came to us in Christ we also received ‘Truth.’ So, our response has to be speaking out the Truth, we should say that here is truth, as it says in John’s Gospel the true, ‘way.’ As we read each Christmas, for the Word, ‘dwelt among us, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).
A response then to Islam as to all else in the world, is grace and truth; not one or the other, one can seek to be gracious without saying what one believes or alternatively state what one believes in a harsh and unloving way. Not an either/or response of grace or truth but grace and truth, as I read in one book how they, ‘validate each other and we separate them at our peril’ and how, ‘truth can be robustly presented with the restraint of grace.’ A response I would see as supported by the words of the apostle Paul, ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15).
Those quotes come from a book with the title Between Naivety and Hostility, which gives a setting for responding by grace and truth. Some are very completely naïve about Islam and of many other things in our world; others are hostile seeing only dangers and not people whom God loves. To quote the book again, on the one hand, ‘to avoid the extreme of painting a sanitized picture of Islam and suggesting that there’s absolutely nothing about Muslims and Islam that we need to worry about’ and on the other hand, to not, ‘feel fearful of Islam and hostile towards Muslims.’ To quote also the words of Jesus, ‘be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16).
We need to avoid both naivety and hostility, to live between them by a response of grace and truth. The only way to do that is from the cross of Christ, keeping it central to our thought and action, for by it we know both who God is and what he has done for us and others.
Yours in Christ,