Christians and Muslims; A Way Forward

June 12, 2011

in Some Things to Think About

Jesus shines his light on the  most difficult issues we face in the early 21st century. Let me illustrate this by discussing a possible way forward toward peaceful collaboration between Christians and Muslims, to solve many of the economic and social issues our world faces. The issues between Islam and Christianity are extremely complex and I will not discuss them in depth.  Rather, I want to illustrate how one might discern the mind of Jesus regarding the entire global relationship, both cooperation and conflict, that exists between us today.

The mind of Jesus is especially plain in the Bible about the relationship between Christians and Muslims. In Chapter 4 of John’s Gospel, Jesus has an extended conversation with a Samaritan woman. She states the situation between Jews and Samaritan’s very succinctly at the outset, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans).” [John 4:9] Jesus’ mind is completely clear in his response. He simple ignores such conventional distinctions, and proceeds to engage in a deep spiritual conversation with this stranger. He offers her ‘living water’ and invites her into the Father’s household, “Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’” [John 4:21-23] Then he reveals who he is to her, the Messiah, which he reveals to very few others in his public ministry. At that point, his disciples joined Jesus and the woman and were surprised to see him talking with a woman (let alone a Samaritan!) Jesus uses the opportunity to teach them, about the harvest: “I tell you open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” obviously speaking about the woman and her friends that were coming out to see the person she told them about, Jesus. [John 4:35] [1]

In this story, and in many other ways throughout his ministry, Jesus showed his followers that man’s distinctions and prejudices are not his. The parable of the Good Samaritan showed that goodness trumps religious membership.  He emphasized that following him means associating with whatever wounded person needs to be healed. “[The Pharisees asked] ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. But go and learn what this means [from Hosea 6:6] ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” [Matthew 9:11-13]

To illustrate how a local church might begin to apply the mind of Jesus toward issues between Christians and Muslims in the current global situation (and toward all religions for that matter); I will quote from Hans Küng’s magnum opus Islam.

  • “In an age of ecumenical awareness – more than ever after the attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001, in Madrid on 11 March 2004 and in London on 7 July 2005 – I want to argue for the overall responsibility of all for all. . . Such inter-religious responsibility means we must all be interested in the well-being of Islam.” [2]
  • “No religion – neither Judaism nor Christianity nor Islam (nor the religions of Indian and Chinese origin) – can be satisfied with the status quo in this time of upheaval . . . Like Judaism and Christianity, in this transitional phase of world history Islam is involved in a fundamental conflict of tradition and innovation.” [3]
  • “Will the Islamic peoples, who are caught up in a tremendous crisis of existence at the height of modernity as a result of their confrontation with western imperialism and colonialism and with European science and economics, technology and democracy, succeed in accepting the challenge of a new era and work creatively toward a new post-modern form of Islam? In this globalized world, all the great religions are in transition from the crisis of modernity into a ‘postmodernity’ of some kind (or under whatever name) and are thus exposed to the same kind of structural problems.” [4]

I think the lessons to be learned by a local church from this brief discussion are this. First, we can have hope that even the greatest global conflicts can be transformed, when the mind of Jesus changes our narrow way of thinking about our neighbor and strangers. Second, because we Christians are going through the same emergence from a ‘cocoon’ as our Islamic neighbors, we can empathize with each other, and perhaps even heal each other. And finally, in our own small corner of the world, we can heal some of the wounds that underlie this global conflict, by following Jesus’ Principles as we seek out the Muslim ‘strangers’ and learn from them about our own path toward transformation. The local progress we jointly create with our Muslim neighbors can ripple throughout the world and help transform it too.


[1] I am not trying to make the case that Christians must ‘convert’ Muslims. To the contrary, I believe that this story shows Jesus’ invitation as well as acceptance and respect of the Samaritan woman personal journey to the Father. He offers her living water (the Spirit) unconditionally, while also telling her that he is the Messiah. This is obviously an issue that some churches may wish to debate, to discover the mind of Jesus in this situation. I am simply inviting local churches to remain open to the possibility that Jesus’ mind looks beyond our certainties.

[2] Hans Küng, Islam, Past, Present and Future, Oneworld, Oxford, 2007, p. 24

[3] Küng, Ibid, p. 22

[4] Küng, Ibid, p. 22

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