Over the last couple of weeks, Dr. Duane Miller has been teaching a class at Crown of Life Lutheran Church, San Antonio, TX, on Islam. He's introduced us not only to the religion's history and theology, but also drawn upon his Ph.D. work to relate some of the conversations he's had with men and women who converted from Islam to Christianity. I asked him to write an article about the difference between these two Faith's understanding of divine love. I thank him for his insights.
The first time I heard the Breeders was during an episode of Beavis and Butthead, that pinnacle of American civilization and culture. It was the video for their song Cannonball. I loved the austere, lo-fi, sparse production. I loved Kim Deal’s raspy but powerful voice. And, especially, the bass line implanted itself deep in my brain. While I don’t remember the insightful sociological analysis presented by Beavis and Butthead anymore, a love for the Breeders has stuck with me, and over the years as they have come out with new albums I have picked them up (or more recently, downloaded them). Cannonball is from their 1993 album, Last Splash. Their next full-length album was Title TK (2002), followed up by the 2008’s Mountain Battles.
The title track of Mountain Battles is about dealing with an aging parent’s decline in vitality and mental health. But the peppiest track on the album is the irresistible It’s the Love.
And as I thought about this blog post and years of researching converts from Islam to Christianity, the name of the song just wouldn’t leave my brain. Why? Because, in a nutshell, what is the principal draw of Christianity to Muslims? It’s the love. But let me tell you how I learned this.
So yes, I’ve read a lot of books by CMBs (Christians from a Muslim background). They don’t really write theological texts in the way that the traditional Western Church (ie, Roman Catholics and Protestants) thinks of theology. We think of systematic theology, which really is only one kind of theology. We think of Aquinas’ Summa and Calvin’s Institutes and more recently Barth’s Church Dogmatics. But there are other types of theology. Why would deny that there is much practical, pastoral theology in Luther’s table talks? Or in the mystical masterpieces of St John of the Cross, Ascent of Carmel and Dark Night of the Soul?
But in addition to reading the conversion narratives of these CMBs (find some of those reviews here), I decided to spend time with these ex-Muslim Christians. My hope was to see them living out their god knowledge (call it contextual theology). This was all in the context of working towards a PhD in Divinity (focus on World Christianity) at the University of Edinburgh—though needless to say I spent a lot of time in places other than Edinburgh to carry out said research.
As I traveled from Scotland to the Arab world to the USA meeting and interviewing CMBs, one of the main questions I would always ask was, why did you convert? This is significant because the penalty for apostasy in Islam is death. That’s not radical Islam, just traditional, orthodox shari’a, and all the converts I interviewed knew it.
I go into a great deal of detail in chapters two and three of my recent book Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians (also available for Kindle) about the other reasons for conversion. But one key theme that kept surfacing again and again was love: Jesus loved people, the Church showed me genuine love, and above all, God’s love in Christianity is unconditional.
But I knew I had to push back a little, since there are Muslims, especially in the Sufi tradition, who emphasize the love of Allah in the Qur’an. With one young Iranian lady I asked, “What would you say to a Muslim who says they can experience that same love of God in Islam?” Her answered was concise: “I would say they cannot.”
Once I was talking with an Arab convert and I cited this Qur’anic verse: “O ye who believe! if any from among you turn back from his Faith, soon will Allah produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him,- lowly with the believers, mighty against the rejecters, fighting in the way of Allah, and never afraid of the reproaches of such as find fault. That is the grace of Allah, which He will bestow on whom He pleaseth. And Allah encompasseth all, and He knoweth all things.” (5:54)
“Here,” I said to him, “is a verse about the love of God for his people!” He chuckled and explained, “Of course I know that verse. But it is a threat. Muhammad is telling his Muslims that if they don’t get up to fight Jihad, then Allah will get rid of them and find a people who will wage jihad.” Which is to say that in this verse, waging jihad, loving God, and being loved by God—all of these are inseparable from each other.
Compare this understanding of divine love to Paul’s comment that “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). According to the scores of ex-Muslim Christians I interviewed and whose texts I read, the two visions of the divine love are radically different and ultimately irreconcilable. I analyze the theological implications of this insight regarding ecclesiology, baptism, and soteriology in the final chapter of Living among the Breakage. (Read an excerpt here.)
But in the end, to quote The Breeders, It’s the love.
by Duane Alexander Miller, PhD
Duane Miller is lecturer and researcher in Muslim-Christian relations at The Christian Institute of Islamic Studies. He is author of Living among the Breakage and co-author of Arab Evangelicals in Israel. Married with three young children, he and his wife Sharon helped to found Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary in Nazareth, Israel. He holds a PhD in Divinity with a focus on World Christianity from the University of Edinburgh. Learn more at his blog, his academia page, or follow him on Twitter.