I love this article by John Piper. His comments about Jesus can point us to the way ahead in a world that is in grave danger of dramatically increased violence and of a great reduction in human hope about the future.
Whenever more news comes out about a new and more violent reaction by some Muslims against the West, I worry some will use the news to justify a violent response of our own. We say, “they are closed. They leave no room for dialogue. They hate us. It’s either kill or be killed,” etc.
When we look inside Western values for something to help us face the Islamic challenge and assure a better future than constant war, we get stuck. The geopolitical option soon looks like the only way out of the mess we are in. But the geopolitical option has serious trade offs (war, loss of freedoms, the risk of increasing alienation between the West and Islam, etc.).
Attempting to preserve the Western value of toleration, some suggest dialogue will help. A first reading of Daniel Pipes’ most recent article “How the cartoon protests harm Muslims” seems, at first, to recommend this option.
He begins by outlining how Muslims and the West are increasingly “disengaging” in many of the areas important to maintaining geopolitical relations: commerce, investments, intergovernmental relations, tourism, immigration, foreign aid, education, etc.
There is a serious “wall of separation” separating Muslims from Christians. While I don’t always agree with Daniel Pipes , I agree with his premise that the path the world is taking will lead to greater disengagement. The Islamic world will increasingly disengage (with some hostility) from the West and the West will disengage (also with hostility) from the Islamic World.
He would probably agree that disengagement between Islam and the West can be harmful for the future of humankind.
Nonetheless, we have to ask ourselves some questions:
- What good will dialogue do?
- Why should we expect that exposing more Muslims to Western ways will cause those Muslims to appreciate Western ways. This is a big leap especially when intellectual foundations radical Islam were laid by Muslim clerics and others who have lived in the West and been exposed to “the best the West has to offer.” Why would we expect the same sort of contact to produce different results in the future?
- Do we really think that increased contact between Westerners and Muslims will change Westerners and make them more open to Islam?
I question whether Pipes is offering dialogue at all when he writes: “For everyone’s sake, it is important that Muslims begin more successfully to negotiate their path to modernity, not to isolation.” This is not dialogue. It is a one-way conversation. In this conversation, the West offers the solution and Muslims are “free to take it or leave it”.
Would it ever be possible to get all the parties to agree to rules of dialogue like those offered by Daniel Dennett (clearly from a western perspective)? What reasons would any of them have to do it his way?
If you think about it, it is next to impossible for the secular West to offer true dialogue. It isn’t open to changing itself. The West would just not be the West any longer, if it bowed to Islamic demands.
In spite of the failures of dialogue, I do think Christians should actively and intentionally break down the barriers keeping Muslims and Christians from knowing each other. Why? Do I think it will work? Won’t increased violence between Muslims and Christians be taken as proof that breaking down barriers didn’t work? Will this, like all the failures in the relationship of Islam and the West over the last 1300 years, be just another reason to lead the West to defend its interests by using political, economic and military power?
Christians should seek out Muslims and accept their friendship. I believe God Himself wants to take an active part in such friendships. He is actively making himself known when people meet and get to know each other. He is actively at work when people follow in the steps of Jesus.
Piper’s article tells us why Jesus changes the rules of the game. There is danger in John Piper’s article, though. Christians can use John Piper’s arguement to say “Jesus is better than Mohammed, so you should be a Christian.” It does not follow that Christians are thus better than Muslims. Muslim resistance to Christian arrogance is not persecution. Under the circumstances, Christians should be careful not to blame Muslim for “resisting” the gospel. The true problem is not resistance, but lack of contact. The vast majority of Muslims have never met a Christian. It would require time, intentionality and effort for them to meet and understand the rare Christian who is willing to bear insults for their sake like their Master did.
If Christians read Piper’s article and choose to live as Jesus did, leaving their comfort and privilege to go and to live out their discipleship in Muslim communities, God will make Himself known to all of us. Both Christians and Muslims will get to know Him better. This should motivate Christians. We will know God better only when we are willing to follow Him and bear insults in Jesus’ name, even to the point of wasting our lives through the kind death that can follow the insults.