Muslim-Christian Dialogue and the Preaching of the Gospel In our view, Muslim-Christian dialogue is possible on two levels: The political level
The cultural level
On the political level, the dialogue is the task of politicians. This, naturally, is with respect to talking about their ordering of society and our ordering of society, their feelings and our feelings
On the cultural level, the dialogue is the task of academics, who discuss the embodiment of religion in the course of everyday life, especially in literature and the arts.
Dialogue on these two levels occurs in various ways whenever there is interaction between people.
As for religious dialogue about dogma between Christians and Muslims, in our view it does not go beyond mutual understanding and self-explanation.
First of all, because Christianity—to speak of what we know—is not of an ideological nature, that is it is not a set of intellectual propositions that can be studied and discussed. Rather, it is first of all it is consciousness and spirit and life.
Second of all, because Christianity deals with the mystery of the Kingdom of God and eternal life (Mark 4:11).
Thirdly, because there are no words about the mystery of the Kingdom of God except through the grace of God and through the wisdom of God (1Cor. 2:7).
Christianity, then, has a theanthropic nature. It is not only human and should not be treated as being simply human. The academy cannot absorb it, even if it has an academic side insofar as it has a human element. Those who preach the Gospel from among us do not trade in words and are not theoreticians. They are apostles in whom abides the Spirit of God. For this reason the word of God streams strongly from their tongues—they speak as one with authority—and they do the works of God. It is through this kind of apostleship and not through trafficking in artificial words (2 Peter 3:2) that the Church has spread in the world throughout history.
As for the insistence on academic, dogmatic dialogue between Christians and Muslims, it betrays a bias towards one or both of the following: it is motivated either by political factors that necessitate the submission of faith to political ideas through religious invention or sectarian agreement, or intellectual factors that necessitate treating faith as a human, civilizational phenomenon. At any rate, both deny the Kingdom of God as a mystery and necessitate a secularized Christianity that is, its submission to worldly concerns. This is to destroy it and to attack Christ.
The book “The Heavenly Books that Make us Wonder” which was published in June 2004 by the Center for Christian-Muslims Studies of the University of Balamand and was distributed by the al-Nur Orthodox Co-op, as it appears, is an attempt of this sort.
The book is the fruit of the effort of a number of Muslim and Christian researchers over the years. It was originally published in French.
When we read in the book, we see suggestions and conclusions like the following:
- “The Christian has no right to require the Muslim to adopt the Christian faith with regard to the divinity of Christ, just as the Muslim has no right to require the Christian to affirm that the Quran is the loftiest manifestation of the Word of God and that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets.” (p. 12)
- “…thus various religious confessions began to understand that it is more appropriate for them to not claim to possess the truth in an absolute and exclusive way and to live together their common, distinct faith…” (p. 29)
- “… the Muslim affirms the truth of the faith and effort and sincerity of the Christians, just as the Christian confirms the truth of the faith and effort and sincerity of the Christians” (p. 159)
- “… the words of Jesus… are human words defined by time and place and are not fitting to express completely the words of God and the mystery of His person insofar as the Word of God is incarnate…” (p. 151)
- “… in short, our Christian and Muslim traditions are in agreement in saying that the Prophey Isa [Jesus] failed in worldly terms…” (p. 199)
- “The Bible is inspiration given to Jews and to Christians, and it allows the inspiration present in the Quran because it is for all humanity together” (p. 206)
When we read in this book such things as these we can only feel sorrow for what is said and what we consider to be offensive and insulting to the wisdom of God in His Church. It is not a part of its consciousness.
For us, Muslims also need salvation through Jesus because “there is no salvation except through Him” (Acts 4:12) and insofar as it is said that “we have seen and bear witness that the Father sent the Son to save the world” (1 John 4:14) and “no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6) and “no one who denies the Son has the Father” (1 John2:23). So it is also necessary to preach the Gospel to Muslims according to the commandment of the Teacher “go out to all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved and he who does not believe will be judged” (Mark 16:15-16).The love of Jesus is for the salvation of all and so salvation has a name and it is Jesus. Preaching the Gospel is a natural result of the life in Christ. Why has preaching stopped, in general, among us? It is because we are no longer transparent enough to the work of God. If our legs walked in zeal and devotion in His ways and our breasts dwelt in His love, then His grace would pour forth from us to all people as waters of salvation. In the life of the Newmartyr Theophanes of Peloponnese, when the Ottomans hanged him on the Cross he cried out, “I am thirsty!” One of them responded, “Become like us and we will give you to drink.” Then he responded, “I am thirsty for your salvation. As for me, Christ will grant me eternal waters.” This is exactly what one feels in his depths when the Spirit of God dwells within him! But coldness and lethargy has taken root among us and eagerness for our own salvation is even lacking among us and we are no longer jealous for the salvation of those who do not know. This ceasing to preach the Gospel in our midst is a mark of great decline and submission to the powers of this world and embarrassment about the truth of eternal life!
Every dialogue that comes when we are like this is only an intellectual effort and it will be of no use on the level of reality. The appearance of revival masks a deep spiritual coldness.
The truth is that we have stopped being concerned with the salvation of others and have little by little departed for our own concerns. Now, we are in the process of establishing a confession of God’s salvation for them but following their path!!! This is how our love for them manifests itself… by washing our hands of them!
After that, how will God save them and us? We do not know! God, as he is active, knows! We only know that God made us heralds of the word of salvation for them and we remain so and are required to be so!
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan—Douma
12 June, 2005