Muslim – Christian dialogue: taboo or necessity?

k[Admin note: Libby has been a reader here for a while, and commented a couple times. Since our other articles are not ready yet, I decided to publish Libby’s first article. If we can process Ben’s article about right/wrong and good/bad, we should be able to see Libby’s points more clearly.] I don’t have to mention the news we get on TV nowadays related to the Middle East and what is happening there under the name of Islam – and it makes us helpless and sad to see. We don’t even have the energy to talk a lot about this, cause we are unaware of all the brutal mechanisms behind harming people and producing more and more refugees every day. Who is responsible for that directly? and which states in the world could possibly profit from it secretly? What does all that have to do with the “real Islam”?

But there is also a side of Islam that we can not easily go and pass by – or even ignore. What about my Muslim neighbor, my acquaintance who practices his religion and remains a peaceful man or woman? Do I dare to befriend him/her, or even talk about faith? Am I ready to confess and testify God’s love before that person? Am I willing to know some principles of Islam in order to be able to respond in a more detailed way? Am I willing to trust God instead of just trying to get away from contact with Muslims?

Being from Germany, I am confronted with a society that houses many Muslim immigrants, as well as experiencing that the Christians in my surroundings are very often not interested in the subject of Muslim-Christian dialogue. Many Christians have doubts about it because they see it as either superficial (because it just enhances where we are “same”) or dangerous (because it can produce quarrels).

In fact, Youtube is full of examples that show us how a dialogue like that should not be held. There are so many bad and unhelpful examples. Still, there is something that i found different and very interesting. Since 2005, the “University of Wollongong, Campus Dubai” holds Muslim-Christian dialogue sessions, incited by students and carried out by two speakers – one representing the Muslim, the other representing the Christian view.

The 2013 dialogue between Rev. Tabibti Anayabwile and Imam Dr. Shabir Ally was particularly interesting. The topic of that session was:

How can we find forgiveness from a Holy God?

1.) both speakers respect each other (in this case, are good friends) and respect God
2.) they strictly keep to the subject in all they say about the Bible and the Qur’an
3.) the topic is relevant for every human that seeks God
4.) they agree to disagree at the end – and dismiss the session by telling the audience to research more on the topic and being / becoming responsible believers

Here is the trailer on Youtube:

If this makes you feel interested, just type “Dubai dialogue 2013 Christian” into Google and you will get the full session in Videos, each video has a duration of about 10-15 mins

I would be happy for some feedback on this topic!


  1. Thank you Libby for sharing this! I am very interested in Muslim/Christian discussions. There is so much to learn and apply to the ubf/ex-ubf situation.

    I wrote an article a while ago that didn’t get much discussion, but it is something I really believe in strongly: A Roadmap for Peace.

    If anyone thinks God is not interested in blessing Muslims, read about the Hagar story in the bible, especially Genesis 21:8-21.

  2. Joe Schafer

    Great article.

    This brings to mind the recent events at Duke University in North Carolina. Muslim students wanted to use the university bell tower to sound a call to prayer. At first the University agreed, but many Christians began to protest. Pastors (including ubf leaders in Chicago) denounced the idea, seeing it as godless relativism, faithless compromise, etc. Duke officials gave in to the Christian pressure; they changed their minds and said no. I honestly do not understand this. Why shouldn’t Muslims be encouraged to pray, even if their understanding of God is different from ours? Doesn’t God promise to reveal himself to those who call out to him and seek him from wherever they are?

    • “Why shouldn’t Muslims be encouraged to pray, even if their understanding of God is different from ours? Doesn’t God promise to reveal himself to those who call out to him and seek him from wherever they are?” – See more at:

      Joe, if I could offer some pushback I would firstly say that your paraphrase of Deut 4:29 is taken out of context; God was speaking to Israel at that time, not Gentiles worshiping according to their respective religions. Isaiah speaks of God accepting Gentiles, but the NT makes it clear that God calls us Gentiles to belong to him through spiritual knowledge based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. This distinction is very important, in my mind, as I will explain below.

      Secondly, I would ask that if, as Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ is the clearest revelation of truth and sole source of salvation from God and that the holy text of Islam, the Quran, denies this then don’t we have a responsibility to earnestly pray for, explain the gospel in clear, explicit terms and last but surely not least, live out the gospel among Muslims?

      By all means, I am not saying that their prayer should be restricted, but is it enough to say that if they simply seek God through their religion, then they will find him? For that matter, should we be content to say that if Buddhists and Hindus truly seek God through their respective religions, then they may indeed find him? Perhaps they can and we shouldn’t limit the power of God, but are we called to play some part in this?

      What I see Paul doing in Acts 17 is 1) affirming some of the tenets of Stoicism and Epicureanism but 2) ultimately turning the Athenians to an accurate knowledge of God based upon Scripture. That God, for a time, bore with our ignorance of who he is, but upon the advent of Christ, he commands us to turn from said ignorance and accept his truth for the salvation of our souls.

  3. Thanks, Libby. I look forward to many more articles from you.

    Speaking for myself as a Christian, I realize that my predominant sentiment has sadly and primarily been one of exclusion toward those who are not Christian (or even who are not Christian like ME). Probably even as recently as just a few years ago, I would have been among the objectors, just like the Christians and pastors at Duke. This is such a sad, unloving, ungracious and unhappy, if not un-Christian way to live.

    Jesus is all embracing, but we who claim to follow him are often far far more interested in judging and excluding others who are not like us.

  4. Something I have found fascinating is that the sacred texts of the Jews, Christians and Muslims all speak of love have respect for the salvation of each other.

    In the Koran, we read this: “Those who believe, those who are Jews, and the Christians and Sabaeans, all who believe in Allah and the Last Day and act rightly, will have their reward with their Lord. They will feel no fear and will know no sorrow. (Surat al-Baqara, 62) source

    In the bible, we read this: “all Israel will be saved… As far as the gospel is concerned, they [Israel] are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” see Romans 11:25-32

    And we also read in the Torah about the many promises of a Messiah.

  5. And Genesis 21:17-21 speaks of God’s blessing to Hagar and Ishmael: “God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.”

    The discord between Muslims, Jews and Christians is not because of their sacred texts, not because of Mohamed or Moses or Jesus, but because of the extremism of their followers.

  6. forestsfailyou

    I had a Muslim roommate in college. He would frequently challenge me. For about two years this went on until one day he gave up Islam. The three things that allowed him to do this was our talk about Islam, Occum’s Razor and the Ad Hoc nature of the defense of the Koran, his disagreement with the Islamic view of love, and the scientific inconsistencies in the Koran. I was delighted by this, but then instead of being Christian he became Atheist. Since then he has became a “godless” person. I hate to use the phrase, but when you go from treating people in a civil manner to shop lifting, trying to make women a “conquest”, drugs, and Nihilism I cannot find any other term. I still talk to him frequently though. I love him all the same.

    What is interesting is that Muslim’s hold nearly an identical view of Jesus. They believe he is the “spirit of God” and the “word of God”. Furthermore they believe Jesus to be sinless (but they view all prophets in this manner). They believe he was virgin born. The only thing they do not believe is that Jesus was God, because they argue- God would not lower himself to such a state to die. Consequently the God of Islam is not a humble God, yet the word itself “Islam” means submission which is at it’s core the same concept as humility. Muslims believe that submission to God’s word guarantee blessing. Conversations with Muslims can find a lot of ground, but they tend to get stuck over who Jesus is and what he means. Even so as Brian mentioned, under Islam Jews and Christians are both saved because they are ahl al-kitab (people of the book). Their obedience to the commands of Allah (God) gives them rewards in paradise in accordance with their good deeds. It’s straight forward legalism.

  7. Dear ubfiriends, thanks so much for your great comments, i feel honored to get that for my first article ;)
    If by chance anyone of you wants to see the whole thing, on vimeo or their proper website, you will see that there is another crucial difference between christianity and islam: it is their view of the nature of sin. In islam, it is more or less something that can be wiped away by Allah being friendly and gracious enough, where as in christianity it requires an offering

  8. Thanks for this post, Libby. This is probably not going to be a popular comment but here goes. I do not think that fruitful, ecumenical dialogue between Muslims and Christians is possible. I say this as someone who has befriended Muslims and who has had serious debates as well as friendly, heart-felt dialogues with them. On a daily basis, I work and converse with Muslims and have found them to be some of the most morally upright, hard-working and intelligent people I have ever come across.

    That being said, I wish to think that I have no prejudices toward Muslims, however there is a clear, unbridgeable divide between what Christians and Muslims believe based on what is written in their respective holy texts and what has been said by their preeminent prophets (Jesus and Muhammad). Off the top of my head I can think of five areas that we will never agree on and which are central to both our religions. In contrast to Christians, Muslims do not believe that

    1. God is a trinity of persons
    2. Jesus is the Son of God
    3. Historically, Jesus was crucified on a cross (much less for the forgiveness of sins)
    4. Jesus is God’s last spokesman and clearest revalatory agent, but that rather Muhammad is
    5. The Bible has been successfully preserved throughout history; that in fact it contains many errors and falsehoods particularly about the person and work of Jesus

    Points 1-3 have been solidified and passed down in nearly every major creed of the early church. Point 4 is made explicit in Scripture (Heb 1:2). As for point 5, we can confidently say that the Scriptures we have today are extremely close to what the early church had. Furthermore, Islam’s stance against the preservation of Scripture is a direct attack upon the central truths that Christians believe.

    As for the crucifixion event, the Quran says in 4:157,

    And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.

    All this being said, I do not believe that the majority of Muslims have an agenda to destroy Christianity. But it is undeniable that the two religions are nearly diametrically opposed. There are some basic truths about God contained in Islam, but as a whole it denies Christianity’s fundamental truths to the point of being altogether something totally different as well as something that cannot point someone toward salvation.

    Lastly, I would say if any dialogue needs to be had, it should be that of revealing to Christians that fundamentally, Muslims are not our enemies; they are people who want to live peaceful and productive lives just as we do. And additionally, just like everyone else, they need to hear and receive the explicit gospel as stated in Scripture.

    • forestsfailyou

      When we look at a world view we want to evaluate it based on logical consistency, empirical evidence, and an existentialist aspect (it doesn’t ultimately imply that it doesn’t exist). Islam fails the first 2. The thing we know for certain based on all contemporary accounts at the time of Jesus and after is that he lived, was crucified and was buried. The second mark is logical consistency. The Koran is said to be the literal inspired word of God. It because apparent quickly that most Muslim explanations are ad hoc in nature. For example, the Koran gives incorrect biological locations for where children are made and so on. The Koran also says that the word of God is incorruptible, then calls the gospel the word of God, then says that Paul corrupted it. Another thing of note was that the grammar in the Koran had so many inconsistencies they had to change the whole language of Arabic to make the Koran not falsify itself.

    • Forests, a while back, I came in contact with a couple of apologists who specialized in interacting with Muslims. One of them has studied the Arabic version of the Quran extensively and writes articles in defense of Christianity. He came up with something called the Islamic Dilemma. Essentially, he shows that the Quran actually affirms the Torah and Gospel accounts and that furthermore, Allah has prevented them from becoming corrupted. But this doesn’t square with the oft-stated mantra from Muslims today that the Bible has definitely been corrupted. The apologist reasons that either 1) Allah was not powerful enough to preserve the Torah and Gospel accounts or 2) the Quran contains false information about the veracity and preservation of these texts. In addition he writes,

      “We must also point out that the idea of the Bible being corrupt was first promoted by Ibn Khazem (d. 1064 A.D.) as a means of avoiding the obvious contradictions between the Bible and the Quran. Believing that the Quran could not possibly have been corrupted, he then assumed that it was the Bible that underwent textual modifications.”link

      It’s a long read, but good food for thought on the historicity of the subject and what the Quran actually says about the Bible. Btw, there is solid evidence that there are different versions of the Quran, which is in direct opposition to what Mulsims believe about there being one, divinely inspired and inerrant text.

  9. David, I am confused by your statement “This is probably not going to be a popular comment but here goes. I do not think that fruitful, ecumenical dialogue between Muslims and Christians is possible.” – See more at: I don’t think anyone here is advocating an ecumenical dialogue with Muslims. Wouldn’t it rather be called interfaith dialogue? That said, I think that many of the “rules” of fruitful dialogue still hold in this context. I wrote about them in my article about dialogue a few years ago. If you enter into any dialogue without a willingness to come down the staircase of religious distinction and knowledge and meet as equal human beings before God, you may violate a spirit of love. I’m in over my head here but I wanted to try to say something. In this regard, I think that Brian is onto something in his latest comment on forests recent post.

    • Sharon, thanks for asking this question. I am referring to ecumenism in the very broadest sense (i.e. worldwide or general in extent, influence, or application), not in the way that Christians usually refer to it, i.e. interaction/dialogue between different forms or denominations of Christianity.

      I used the term ecumenism rather than interfaith because the feeling that I get from what is called interfaith dialogue is this idea that all religions are essentially reaching out to the same God. Furthermore each faith persuasion lays hold of some particular or unique truth about God. So the conclusion is that we can each learn something different about God from each others’ respective religions.

      I suppose one could make a case for interfaith dialogue, particularly in how the Jews syncretized with Hellenistic thought and thus were able to adopt some philosophical frameworks which in turn helped Christians to craft and utilize some powerful logical arguments in their apologetic of Christianity. Also, the Septuagint came out of syncretism and thus provided the early Gentile church with an understandable bible text. But also, some errant things came through this syncretization such as gnosticism and some misconceptions about God from Epicureanism and Stoicism.

      In our present day, I believe that we can learn something from Jews. Personally, I am deeply interested in how the Jews understood the OT text before the advent of Christ. I’ve learned from Peter Enns that the NT writers were deeply influenced by the evolving theological outlook of their Jewish contemporaries.

      When it comes to Islam however, as I explained in my post below, I’m just not sure if we could glean anything profitable from their text or practices, especially in regard to understanding salvation or the person of God. I find it very hard to believe that we are worshiping the same God.

      Now when it comes to talking to individual Muslims or people from other faiths, I indeed learn many things from their lives. In this sense, because God has provided common grace to everyone we each, on a basic human level, can teach one another from our respective walks of life. This takes humility from both sides. Like I said, I’ve had wonderful and eye-opening dialogues with my Muslim friends. But when it comes to understanding salvation, I do not think that Islam clears anything up for me and if anything it clouds the picture even more.

  10. Newbigin’s views on dialogue, and his views on predestination and our privilege as Christians are most helpful to me. Everything becomes more clear when I see my election not as a position of privilege but rather responsibility toward the other. But I really need to go back and refresh my reading of him before I get into this too deeply. I highly recommend reading his books. They were born out of years of living in an interfaith mission field.

    • Joe Schafer

      Sharon’s article from 2012 summarizes it pretty well:

    • Sharon, I remember reading this some time ago and enjoyed just now re-reading it. I agree with a great deal of it, e.g. that in light of the gospel working within us, the fruit ought to be a spirit of humility and vulnerability toward those we are engaging, not taking for granted that apart from the unmerited grace of God through Christ, we are under the same sentence of judgment as others. Also, the cross speaks simultaneously of God’s act of solidarity with the whole of sinful mankind and his love and justice to exculpate us of our sinful acts. Therefore, we should have an attitude of deep reverence and charity toward those whom God wishes to reach out to through us. I deeply appreciate being reminded of these things as well as gaining a more profound sense of their meaning. And of course, I still have much to learn about these crucial aspects of the Christian faith.

      If I may, I wanted to know if you could clarify some of the remarks you made in your conclusion. You said,

      “If I want to have an evangelistic meeting with a person of another faith, I need to come down from my staircase to the very bottom, to the base of the cross, where the two of us may stand on equal footing. There must be a self-emptying. ‘Christians do not meet their partners in dialogue as those who possess the truth and holiness of God but as those who bear witness to a truth and holiness that are God’s judgment on them and who are ready to hear the judgment spoken through the lips and life of their partner of another faith’

      I don’t quite understand where Newbigin says that God’s judgment may be spoken through the lips and life of the partner of another faith. One possible way that I can grasp this is that in my dialogues with others from different faiths, when I truly begin to listen to them and hear their concerns and as they detail their worldviews, I begin to realize how I was at one point judgmental and unloving toward these people, that I did not truly take to heart Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 9:19-22. That for, innumerable unreasonable reasons, I did not see them as potential co-heirs of the same grace that I have received.

      But I’m not sure if this is what you meant given the context with which you placed the quote in. It almost sounds as if your’re saying that when we meet as equals (which implies that the person of the other faith, apart from an understanding of the crucifixion event, can genuinely empty themselves of their presuppositions), we both have some spiritual truth with which we can teach each other. If I’m only laying claim to “a” truth, which implies that truths from other faiths are valid, then why should I even bother to believe in Christianity and if necessary, even die for it? Perhaps I don’t fully understand the quote and your words, so please correct me if I am misunderstanding these in any way.

    • A little addition to this comment, you know, through my interaction with those of other faiths, I’m often convicted by their level of friendliness/honesty/integrity/generosity, etc. over that of mine. So I see that when we are genuinely honest about ourselves, God can and will use others to show us the error of our ways.

  11. Joe Schafer

    I understand that interfaith dialogue makes some Christians uneasy, and for good reason. Too often, it has been presented as a zero-sum game where, in order to make progress, each side has to give up some of its beliefs in order to achieve doctrinal agreement. That’s not how I see it. I believe it is possible for a committed Christian to have real interfaith dialogue with Jews, Muslims, JWs, Mormons, anyone. In fact, my understanding of the gospel strongly encourages it.

    Despite all the doctrinal differences, people of different faiths still have vast areas of common ground on which to stand. That common ground is not common belief systems but their common humanity. I believe (this comes from Vatican II, but I don’t have the exact quote) that the gospel finds whatever is authentically human in every culture, affirms it, and perfects it. Jesus affirmed our humanity by becoming one of us. If Jesus encountered someone of another faith, would he have put up a wall saying “You believe this, I believe that, never the twain shall meet”? I don’t think so. Jesus approached people not because they believed as he did but because they were all human beings created in his image, and because he was incarnated into theirs. I’m quite certain that Jesus would have had a great deal to talk about with anyone of any faith, and would have even learned a great deal from them, without any compromise of truth. If our sole concern is defending truth as we see it and winning people over to our side, then there is an insurmountable barrier and dialogue won’t happen. But God’s love for humanity present in Jesus breaks down barriers and opens up worlds of possibility for fruitful dialogue.

    Suppose that a given doctrine is correct. Suppose I believe that doctrine, and another person rejects it. Where can we go from there without compromising my belief? For starters, I can begin to consider why I believe as I do, and why he believes as he does. It is quite possible (in fact, this happens a lot) that his reasons for rejecting that doctrine are, within his life-experience, more virtuous than my reasons for accepting it. If so, then I have a great deal to learn and profit from the dialogue.

    • “Suppose that a given doctrine is correct. Suppose I believe that doctrine, and another person rejects it. Where can we go from there without compromising my belief? For starters, I can begin to consider why I believe as I do, and why he believes as he does.” – See more at:

      Joe, this is one of the benefits of interfaith dialogue. In my early years as a Christian I made it a point to also read other religious texts and talk to others of different faith persuasions. This challenged me (and still does) to a great extent to understand the practical implications of my faith as well as the logical cogency of the worldview that it presents, not to mention the internal consistency of my own sacred text. I would like to think that I am an open-minded person, but the more I study my faith and the faith of others, I begin to see especially in regard to Islam and Christianity how they are saying two opposite things about extremely important issues. We are talking about who God is and what salvation entails. These are things that I do not want to get wrong and which the church are founded upon. I would not want to relinquish my understanding of these things for the sake of dialoguing with others. If anything, I would take a page from both Jesus and Paul and point them toward a clear revelation of who God is and how to be adopted into his family.

      Rather than affirm the Samaritan woman’s worldview, Jesus says to her –

      21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

      Rather than affirm the Athenians worldview, Pauls says to them –

      29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

      Also when the Lyconians attempted to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, Paul says –

      14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.

    • Joe, I am not sure that interfaith dialogue between Muslims, JW’s and Mormons would be beneficial. I say this because if you look at each one of those religions, they were specifically designed with the task of correcting what is found in Christian Scripture.

      I don’t have the time to pull quotes from each one, but I already spoke about how the Quran corrects our misconception that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. The founder of the JW’s edited the bible to take out the references or allusions to Christ’s deity because according to him, Christ is actually a created being (the human form of the archangel Michael). Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, said that the angel Gabriel personally spoke to him and told him that the church had gone apostate and that the book of Mormon was given to correct the church (so according them, we are all apostates). And also, according to Mormonism Jesus is the brother of Lucifer or the devil.

      Any genuine interfaith dialogue has to address these questions. If they do engage you in a genuine manner, it should not be to trade pleasantries about each others’ views of God, but rather they should be strongly appealing to you to turn from your errant view of God and your errant text for the salvation of your soul.

    • Joe Schafer

      A useful thought experiment:

      Imagine I am a Christian living in a majority Muslim country. Everywhere people are saying that Christians have gotten it wrong. In the public square, imams continually dismiss Christian beliefs as wrongheaded, foolish, ignorant, and in rebellion against God’s final revelation in the Koran. Although I am not persecuted in any legal sense, and I am (in theory) able to worship my God, I often feel dehumanized and oppressed, and I feel that my sincerely held faith is mocked. Do I wish those imans would stop talking that way? You bet. Do I wish that they would stop pretending they really know so much about me, that they really understand my faith, and that they would walk a long distance in my shoes before they assume a position of judgment? You bet.

      Now suppose an openminded Muslim leader reaches out to me. He invites me into his office to inquire about what I believe and why. He listens carefully to me and admits that what people commonly assume about Christians might be wrong. He isn’t going to give up his own beliefs on the spot (because he realizes he still doesn’t understand Christianity very well) but he treats me with great respect, opening his mind and his heart to me in ways that no Muslim ever has before. Other imams tell him that he’s wasting his time, that interfaith dialogue with Christians isn’t possible, yet he stands firm and continues to talk to me in a serious way. Would I be happy about this? You bet. Would I wish that every other Muslim leader did this? You bet.

      Jesus said, “Do unto others…”

      Leaving the thought-experiment and coming back to reality.

      Do I wish that Muslims would open their minds and hearts to Christians and Christianity, consider our truth-claims with the utmost seriousness, entertaining the possibility that some of it might be true? Of course I do.

      But am I truly willing to do the same for them?

      All I am saying is this. Disciples of Jesus are supposed to treat others as we would like to be treated. This is the basis for interfaith dialogue.

    • Joe, as it turns out, for several years now, I have been engaged in these kinds of dialogues. I interact with Muslims who have immigrated to America where the majority of Christian Americans have no interest in learning about their origins, either from a cultural or religious point of view. With this understanding, I have made it a point to dialogue with them on a personal and religious level and invite them into events centering around my faith tradition and I’ve also attended their events at their request. We’ve also had discussions about marriage, kids, life direction and also respectful discussions centering around both the Bible and the Quran.

      Recently, we had a lively discussion about the Charlie Hebdo situation and I asked my friends if and why they were offended by the illustrations in the magazine. Some of my Muslim friends are liberal and some conservative, so I got a wide range of responses and in turn I shared my own feelings about instances where others denigrated my faith tradition. We each expressed our gratitude to one other in that we were able to freely share about our respective faiths and own personal deeply held ideologies. What I realized from these dialogues is that we’re at a place with one another where we feel safe enough to talk about hot-button issues like these as well as the nuances of our personal beliefs. So far, so good.

      The other day, one of my colleagues shared a youtube sermon which was given by a popular Muslim scholar. The scholar spoke eloquently and passionately about things such as the love of God, the prevenient or common grace of God, that he is our provider and so forth and that he accepts us all as his children. My colleague was kind enough to translate this from Arabic into English in real time for my benefit. He felt that I was open-minded enough to appreciate it and that furthermore I would benefit from it because we essentially worship the same God.

      I was taken aback and deeply appreciated this. After I had taken some time to process this, I realized the importance of interfaith dialogue. That it helps us to connect on a human level and deeply appreciate one another as those made in the image of God. At the same time, I realized that if the Bible points to Christ, who is the embodiment of truth and God’s clearest revelation, then if I truly love my Muslim or JW neighbor, then I will not stop at interfaith dialogue but that I will earnestly pray for them to know Christ and that I will, at some point, explicitly present the gospel to them. This is what makes sense to me and this is what I see all of the NT witnesses doing.

      We should certainly treat others how we want to be treated; if my salvation is at stake then I hope that someone would be loving enough to not only befriend me but to also tell me the truth about who God is.

    • So perhaps, I spoke too strongly when I said that interfaith dialogue is not a fruitful endeavor. If I could modify my statement I would say that interfaith dialogue alone is not enough. From a Christian point of view, if the gospel and love of God is at work in us, then we should engage in such dialogue in order to genuinely understand the other; it is perhaps a way of explicitly living out the gospel.

      Throughout Christian history, this has served as a vital stepping stone to eventually presenting the gospel in explicit but culturally contextual terms. My strong opinion is that we cannot decouple interfaith dialogue from the understanding that Jesus has entrusted Christians with truth claims about the nature of God and salvation. I know that this runs counter to our modern notion that all lay claim to some version of the truth and that each version should be respected and learned from. But given what I know about the Bible and the three specific faith traditions we mentioned, I am not sure that I can gain anything profitable from them and that further they would lead me away from an accurate view of God.

  12. Joe Schafer

    A great book on dialogue is You’re Not As Crazy As I Think by Randall Rauser. When people hold positions that disagree with ours, we often assume that they are ignorant, stupid, willfully blind and morally deficient. But in many cases they hold those positions for reasons that are good and righteous. A free chapter from that book is available here.

    Here’s a quote from the book.

    Even if people have the impression that evangelicals are willing to sacrifice truth for the sake of their beliefs, surely the deeper question is to ask whether this is in fact true. In this book I will argue that it is indeed often true, certainly more so than evangelicals are typically willing to admit. Time and again we have revealed ourselves to be more interested in defending and perpetuating our beliefs on a given issue than in discerning where the truth really lies. Often we have preferred to secure our present beliefs against challenge rather than to embrace the open risk of real dialogue. Even if we would never come out and say that we choose anything, even God, over truth (after all, what would that even mean?), our actions often suggest otherwise. As a result, actions that may have been intended to secure the faith from attack instead undermine our witness to others gathered at the table, leaving them to conclude that we are not that serious about truth after all but are simply pushing an “agenda.”

  13. Ubfriends community, sorry for posting long responses in successive fashion in this thread. If I’m saying a lot it’s because I’ve been intensely grappling with this very issue for some time.

    Joe, you posted the quote,

    “Time and again we have revealed ourselves to be more interested in defending and perpetuating our beliefs on a given issue than in discerning where the truth really lies. Often we have preferred to secure our present beliefs against challenge rather than to embrace the open risk of real dialogue.”

    I would like to think that this is not the case with me. In my younger, knee-jerk reaction years this might have been true but not after I’ve studied my faith and the faith of others for some time. I believe the claims of Christianity above that of other religions because it has a text with a cohesive and cogent theme, it is grounded in historical truth and it presents a profound picture of God that is not elucidated in any other faith tradition.

    All of the things within Christianity that present an awe-inspiring picture of God (e.g. the incarnation, that a holy God would come down and dwell with his enemies and even die for them, the trinitarian view of God, that people are communal beings who crave love because God is a community of loving persons) is directly undercut by Islam, Mormonism and JW. I have thought about this long and hard and as close-minded as it sounds, my conclusion is that these faith views are simply wrong and in some cases detrimental.

    But I also see another side of what you are getting at. That is, we should ask the questions, why do Muslims believe that Jesus is not the Son of God and why was he only made to appear as though he had been crucified? Why do Mormons believe that we can only garner salvation by marrying as many wives as possible and why the church has gone apostate? Why do JW’s believe that Jesus Christ is not divine?

    Out of respect for each other as human beings, we should not ascribe some nefarious purpose behind why these religions deny the central tenets of the Christian religion. Rather, we should ask if there is something intrinsic to the cultural makeup of these groups that cause them to bristle at the claims of Christianity. We should dialogue with not only their respective leaders but also the individual adherents of these religions to see why they believe what they believe.

    And let me end with asking you, Joe, what have you learned from other faith traditions about 1) God and 2) why the adherents of the those traditions believe what they believe?

  14. “I have thought about this long and hard and as close-minded as it sounds, my conclusion is that these faith views are simply wrong and in some cases detrimental.” – See more at:

    David, this is beside the point. I don’t think it is closed minded to be convinced of the core doctrines of the Christian faith. I think that when Newbigin suggests that we put our own Christianity at risk, he means that we put our certainty about our own witness, or our practice, and our own understanding of the faith at risk. I think it means a willingness to go beyond the proclamation of doctrinal truth to a demonstration of true humility and love toward others by not needing to win doctrinal arguments, or set the bar too high for others from other religions who do not yet see the truth of the gospel. I think we may be talking at cross purposes here. I know that you already try hard to do this.

    • Sharon, firstly I want to apologize to you and Joe for being a bit abrasive and jumping to conclusions about what you all have been trying to communicate. I think that you explained the point well above. And yes I do attempt to do this, but I feel as though I am in between two different worlds; in one world, I want to contend vigorously for the truth of the gospel with solid conviction and in the other I attempt to humbly and empathetically interact with others in order to understand who they are and how the gospel applies to them. It’s almost paradoxical. I’m not so much concerned with winning doctrinal arguments, but I suppose I am more afraid of losing the core truth of the gospel as well as preventing others from grasping it in trying to balance between these two mindsets. I’m not sure what the solution is in bridging the two, but these conversations have given me a lot of food for thought. I appreciate you taking the time to listen and respond to my comments.

  15. No need to apologize, David. You really have me thinking on some topics that I haven’t yet fully understood. It’s not easy at all to be in the paradoxical fragmented state you describe and we all frequently find ourselves in. I recently started reading a book called Loving to Know by Esther Meeks on epistomology. She develops what she calls covenantal epistomology – basically the same school of thought as Newbigin, Polanyi and others. In it she describes this fragmented state that we find ourselves in these days as being note sensitive, but melody poor. By this she means that we have a lot of propositional knowledge but often miss the fullness of knowledge, the melody. I really can’t say much about this accept that I believe that much of our Christian witness suffers in this way. We may be able to say a lot about Christianity and Jesus, but miss the reality of his presence, the fullness of his truth in our dialogue with others. I really like this book so far and highly recommend it!

    • “note sensitive, but melody poor”

      That’s really a great analogy. I/we/the lot of Christians have yet to really piece everything together and live it out in a fluid and instinctive manner. I’ve been thinking more about Christ and interfaith dialogue. Often, I think of a Christian in a functional way; Christians are to empty themselves of self in order to become these conduits through which Christ’s life and gospel message can flow freely. But I think that this is only part of the picture; for one, this seems to promote uni-directional interaction with others rather than mutual. Perhaps we are to empty ourselves of selfish motives so that we can become truly human and live in the melody of our knowledge of God much like Christ did. I’m thinking that this is how the persons of the trinity seamlessly flow through and around one another in this give and take relationship based on love. So perhaps when we engage others, whether they are believers or not, we are attempting to enter into a relationship where we and the other are striving to grow in our humanity. Still need to think about this more. Thanks for the book recommendation, I’d love to read it when I get some time.

  16. David, you have a great mind and a way with words.
    It’s a pleasure to read your thoughts here on Ubfriends. Would love to hear what you think of this book if/when you get the chance!

    • Thank you for the kind words, Sharon. Likewise, I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for your thoughts and articulation of a form of Christianity which strives to unravel the deep and meaningful implications of the bible text. I’ll put that book on my reading list. Thanks again.

  17. Joe Schafer

    Here’s an article on interfaith dialogue that I found helpful.

    Good quote:

    “The Christian tradition has been doing interfaith work, knowingly or unknowingly, since the beginning of the church catholic.”

    • This is good. To be honest, I cringe a bit when I think about my initial comment about interfaith dialogue being a fruitless endeavor. I didn’t mean to make such a blanket statement and I’m not sure why I said it that way. I think I meant that a stalemate inherently occurs when in the context of strictly conversing about doctrine, because never the two sides shall meet. Or worse yet, I have seen many discussions where the theology on one side is so watered down, so as to accommodate or not offend the opposing side, that I feel as though the entire engagement is utterly disingenuous and therefore useless. Nevertheless, as the article highlights, there is necessarily a place for interfaith interaction which occurs, many times, over and above interfaith dialogue. This is a very crucial distinction to make. We should love and share humanity with others both in deed and word. But where words somehow fail and are imperfect perhaps it is enough to communicate to others through loving action. In some cases, this is a much more powerful apologetic than what verbally spoken doctrine or even gospel statements can communicate.

      I recently saw the movie Selma. It has me thinking quite a bit about how interfaith dialogue influenced Dr. King in his advocacy for civil rights. I’m going to write a review on it and post it here soon.

      On another note, I watched all eight videos of the dialogue (which was actually a light-hearted debate) between Shabir Ally and Thabiti Anyabwile and though they disagreed strongly on doctrine, especially the nature of sin and salvation, they were still (as far as I could see) able to regard each other as dear friends in a public setting. I’m used to seeing and expecting vehement, knock-down drag out debates between Muslims and Christians because the two systems are so opposed to one another, one contradicting the other. But the aforementioned dialogue shows that there is a place for serious theological discussion against the backdrop of genuine friendship.

    • Joe Schafer

      Great comment; I look forward to your review of Selma.

      Last week was the 100th birthday of Thomas Merton. Later in life, Merton engaged in extensive interfaith dialogue with Zen Buddhists, learning from their religious practices while remaining firmly grounded in his Christian faith.

    • I’m reading Richard Rohr who quotes Merton often. In commemoration of Merton’s 100th birthday, Lumen Christi at U of C had a special lecture by a Merton scholar from Notre Dame a few weeks ago, which I attended, where he does speak of Merton’s respect for Buddhism and other eastern faiths. Check it out if you like:

  18. Joe Schafer

    perhaps you have seen this article by Robert Barron:

    “The second reason that some younger Catholics are wary of Merton is his interest, in the last roughly ten years of his life, in Eastern religions, especially Buddhism. They see this as an indication of a religious relativism or a vague syncretism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Merton was indeed fascinated by the Eastern religions and felt that Christians could benefit from a greater understanding of their theory and practice, but he never for a moment felt that all the religions were the same or that Christians should move to some space “beyond” Christianity.”

    • Here’s a counter-perspective that answers the question: “Can I trust Thomas Merton?” The answer is the opposite of your article, where this article divides Merton’s life and books into two parts–The Early Period (trustworthy) and The Slip into the East (read with caution):

    • forestsfailyou

      Once upon a time ago I attended at a Buddhist temple. It offers nothing in comparison to Christ. There is very little to be learned from it. I had to undo most of what I learned there.

  19. “There is very little to be learned from (Buddhism).” – See more at:

    I think that we can learn from anyone, everyone, even other religions. My two favorite quotes from the Dalai Lama, the most prominent Buddhist today, are:

    “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

    “Learn the rules well, so you can break them properly.”

    Sadly, sometimes Christians tend to be rather uncharitable, even toward fellow Christians, sometimes even within the same church!

    Also, Christians tend to be rather legalistic and moralistic, tribal and exclusionary, which denies the gospel of God’s mercy and grace extended freely toward everyone without discrimination, even to the liberal and the immoral.

    Perhaps Christians have much to learn from Buddhists. btw, or for the record, I’m still very much Christian!

  20. Joe Schafer

    Ben wrote:

    “…this article divides Merton’s life and books into two parts–The Early Period (trustworthy) and The Slip into the East (read with caution): – See more at:

    I think it is wise to read everything with caution. Including (especially) the Bible.

    Forests wrote:

    “Once upon a time ago I attended at a Buddhist temple. It offers nothing in comparison to Christ. There is very little to be learned from it. I had to undo most of what I learned there. – See more at:

    I sympathize with Forests. Perhaps at some point in the future, I might be interested in learning from eastern religions. But at the moment I’m busy trying to understand my own religion, the gospel of the New Testament and the foundations of Christianity. And my experiences with ubf have really turned me off to eastern religion — especially the Confucianity (hardcore Korean Confucianism covered with a thin veneer of Christianity) that passes for Bible teaching in ubf.

    • “I think it is wise to read everything with caution. Including (especially) the Bible.” – See more at:

      That’s a good sentiment to hold. I appreciate what much of Rohr has to say about spirituality, however I do have a bit of wariness about some of his theology, especially regarding his admiration for some of the Eastern religious principles that he learned from Merton. Nevertheless, the Bible can be used to lead astray as well (not that Rohr and Merton are guilty of this), especially in terms of how some use it to shut down thought processes and discussions on important, modern topics. The truth is, is that our knowledge is extremely limited, therefore we should all view each other with a bit of caution as well as charity, if that makes any sense.

  21. “I appreciate what much of Rohr has to say about spirituality, however I do have a bit of wariness about some of his theology, especially regarding his admiration for some of the Eastern religious principles that he learned from Merton.” – See more at:

    Yesterday, I read the critique of a conservative Catholic website answering the question, “Can I trust Richard Rohr.” Reading their response is virtually exactly like reading how some Reformed pastors and theologians have skewered Rob Bell and condemned him for being a universalist and a heretic. As much as Protestants and Catholics might hold differences toward each other, they are virtually the same in their attitudes and accusations toward Bell and Rohr.

    Sorry that I just find peculiar things like this rather funny, even though this is a very serious matter.

  22. The comments here make me think of the fickleness of human love/conversation/friendship. We only like to talk to those who are like us. For example, my sister and her best friend had a fight. My sister didn’t agree with what her friend was doing with her life and disagreed with her. So her best friend decided not to talk to her anymore. I see an analogy between this and dialogue between Muslims and Christians. Because we cannot agree on everything we decide not to talk to each other/love each other/ be friends with each other. We cannot accept those who are different from us. It’s as if we have this inferiority complex that if someone thinks differently from us, it challenges the validity of our belief. It does, but you have to know what you believe. What you believe should not be based on whether others around you believe it or not. It’s interesting how Christians have so few non-Christian friends and vice-versa. Why do we always have to only surround ourselves with those who are like us/reflections/projections of ourselves?