Beyond Mere Christianity
The deepest and bitterest curse
of ancient China, supposedly, was ‘May you live in interesting times.’
Those of us who
have lived as Christians in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries
have, for reasons that may mystify us, found ourselves living in very
interesting times indeed. In recent years, uneasiness about Islam has been
increasingly impossible to ignore in the United States, Europe, and Australia.
one hears a great deal today about a ‘war,’ ‘conflict,’ or ‘clash’ between
Islam and Christianity. The topic is so prominent in the media that many people
assume that there is something irreconcilable between these two approaches to
God. It is not surprising, then, that so many Christians of good will have
concluded that Islam and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible.
Yet, if, by ‘Christianity’, we mean ‘that which Jesus Christ meant to
convey to his hearers’, I believe that these people of good will may well be
mistaken when they tell us that Islam is incompatible with Christianity.
What’s more, I believe we can now make the case that
the historically oldest Gospel verses reflecting the reported sayings of Jesus
are entirely compatible with Islam.
This is a book for Christians, and about
Islam. These days, anyone who writes such a book should expect to face a skeptical audience, and that is just as
well. Skepticism about important matters is healthy.
What’s more, the author of a book like
this one should probably expect only thoughtful
Christians to accompany him to the end of the page, or, God willing,
beyond. Only thoughtful people are willing to examine their own religious assumptions closely.
skeptical Christian, then, is the audience for this book. That you have read
even this far suggests that you are a thoughtful Christian. So please complete
the equation and be as skeptical as you possibly can as you make your way
through these pages.
What, specifically, is there to be
We can start
with the title. The book is called Beyond
Mere Christianity for two reasons. First, in response to C.S. Lewis’
influential 1952 work, Mere Christianity,
which stands as a masterpiece of Christian apologetics and perpetuates, I
believe, a long-standing betrayal of the ministry of Jesus.
reason, perhaps less obvious, is that a case can be made, based on current,
responsible Gospel scholarship, that Jesus was calling his people to the
Salvation that lies beyond the worship of the merely created, and that relies
instead on the direct worship of the Creator. I believe emphatically that this
variety of direct worship is Islam, and that the authentic words of Jesus
emphatically invite us to move beyond what is conventionally understood as
Christianity for this Salvation, and enter with no delay the
‘house’ of Islam (to borrow a metaphor from Lewis). Which room we choose to
occupy once we’re inside, of course, is up to us.
If you’re a
Christian, and you find that you are skeptical about these points, then we’re
ready to move on.
The word ‘Islam’ means, simultaneously,
‘submission’ and ‘peace’. This faith demands in no uncertain terms that its
adherents reject anything and everything that conflicts with obedience to God.
It does not mandate blind obedience to any human authority.
I believe that someone who scrupulously follows this religion’s command
of submission to God Alone is in fact adhering completely to the authentic
teachings of Jesus, at least to the degree that they are reflected in the
surviving Gospels. I also believe this religion is precisely the same one he
preached and practiced.
expressing this view has led me into any number of interesting life experiences,
many of which involved heated discussions with Christians who believed a) that
I had no right to describe myself any longer as a follower of Jesus, and b)
that Islam and Christianity have far more separating them than they have in
common. This book challenges thoughtful Christians to consider the discussions
that follow before coming to a final conclusion on a) and b), above.
you are a Christian, the idea that Jesus practiced the same faith that today’s
news broadcasts hold responsible for so many of the world’s problems probably
seems far-fetched to you.
certainly seemed far-fetched to me when I first encountered it. Yet many
contemporary Christians have reached life-changing personal conclusions about
the Gospel message and its relation to Islam. A prominent American sheikh,
Yusuf Estes, is an obvious example, and there are many others.
television news magazines usually don’t share the stories of these converts to
Islam with the world at large, and their motivations sometimes seem mysterious
to non-Muslims who encounter them. From personal experience, though, I strongly
suspect that most of these people found themselves, at the end of the day,
deeply concerned about the consequences of calling Jesus ‘Lord’ without obeying
his instructions—found themselves far more concerned about that
command, in fact, than about any media coverage of geopolitical issues.
So we changed our lives.
People like us do indeed exist in North
America, Europe, and Australia. There are more of us than you may imagine. This
book is here to give you a clear answer to the question we hear over and over
Why would a Christian believer choose to embrace
this faith, over all the other
possible faith choices? Why pursue
the one system of worship that most of today’s commentators agree is ‘at odds
with Christianity’? Why leave the
familiar congregations of friends, relatives, and members of the clergy —
congregations whose concern and support sustained us for so long, and who would
rejoice if we were only to renounce Islam and return to the way of life of
which they approve?
The pages that
follow, aim to answer these questions.
Two flawed understandings of Islam can present a
major challenge for anyone trying to come to terms with it. First and foremost
is the notion that it is an anti-Christian faith. It is not. Christians often
express profound surprise at Islam’s extraordinary reverence for Jesus, and for
the special status that Christians enjoy under traditional Islamic law.
misconception is the common notion that Islam is rooted in violence. Outsiders
studying the actual teachings of the faith are usually caught unawares by its
ceaseless promotion of mercy and forgiveness over violence and revenge.
Even if political upheavals,
irresponsible media coverage, and the lunacy of religious extremists have sometimes
combined to obscure these two core truths of Islam—as
a cloud may seem, for a time, to blot out the sun—they
remain core truths nevertheless. I hope my
work here does these truths justice, but if it does not, the responsibility
lies not with Islam, but with me.
I was born in Los
Angeles, California, in 1961.
My parents did not practice Christianity,
but other relatives and friends did, and the
teachings of Jesus Christ emerged early in my life
as the ‘true north’ of my spiritual journey.
I was drawn to the Gospels at a young age–eleven–
and I read
I still have the red King James Bible I bought
as a child; my own handwritten note on the
front page proclaims June 26,
1974, as the date
I accepted Jesus as my personal savior.