The Mind of Terror: a book review

Tass Saaada was a terrorist. He was a sniper for Yasir Arafat’s  Fattah organization. Since those days he converted to Christianity, and founded a non-profit, Hope for Ismael, that works to bring reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, and now spends a bunch of the year ministering to children in the Middle East. He wrote Mind of Terror (with Dean Merrill) to describe what motivates terrorists, and how we ought to respond to it.

978-1-4964-1394-9Part one describes the terrorist mindset, and the root causes of terrorism This includes an examination of honor and shame in Mid-Eastern cultures and reasons why they hate the west. Saada says that among the reasons people become a terrorist include  the violent loss of loved ones,  the firm belief that another person’s faith is corrupt, disgust at Western society’s decadence, a desire for the return of your homeland, discrimination and maltreatment, and the US backing of modern Israel state. The reasons for terror are a mix of ideological commitments and personal experiences.

Part two surveys an evaluates the various responses Westerners make to terrorism in our world: worry, fighting back, naive political solutions, or just chalking it up to end times prophecy.  Against these Saada points us, in part three, to the Jesus way. He explores God’s plan for Isaac AND Ishmael, explores the mind of peace, and discusses how we can neutralize terrorism and share the love of Jesus with our Muslim neighbors. The closing chapters profile Christians who are working among Muslims.There are some really helpful things here about questioning our personal assumptions and being gracious to our Muslim neighbors.

Increasingly, our lives are lived between acts of terror: New York, Boston, Paris, Orlando, Nice. So much of the rhetoric discusses how we can combat the terrorists: stamp out ISIS,  destroy their networks, mete out revenge. Saada brings the perspective and insight of  one who has been involved with terrorism in the past. He understands the root causes and the futility of some  of our responses. Yet he has been transformed by the grace of God through Jesus Christ and desires the same for those in his heritage. This book is neither a fear mongering book or Pollyanna. Terror is real and it destroys lives. But the solution to it is not politics, or war or benign neglect. It is the robust love of Jesus. This is a good book if you would like to understand more of the roots of terrorism and what a Christian response looks like. I give it four star.

Note: I received this book from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review.

Dangerous Love: a book review

Ray Norman is scholar-in-residence at Messiah College and the director of Fatih Leadership, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at World Vision International and the former national director for World Vision’s program in Isalmic Republic of Mauritania. While he was in Mauritania, in the wake of 9-11, he and his daughter Hannah were shot. Hannah’s situation was critical. Both received medical attention and were evacuated. Both lived. Miraculous, Norman and his family returned to Mauritania. Dangerous Love tells their story of personal risk, the Normans’ commitment to justice and mission, and the radical power of forgiveness.

225_350_book-1780-coverThis book was written more than ten years after the principle crisis it describes. Ray Norman continued his work in Mauritania until he felt God’s call elsewhere. He and Hanna’s story had a major impact on the people of Mauritania, especially those who observed the grace with which they faced near tragedy, and their commitment to caring for the poor and marginalized after being tested by bullets. Because of this instance, Norman got to share his faith with government officials, and commendations from the chief Imam for Norman’s (and World Vision’s) love for the poor of their nation. Hannah and Ray also visited their would-be-murderer in prison and advocated on his behalf. Later he was released from prison and testified to the difference the Norman’s made in his life.

This isn’t all rosy. In a postscript we hear of Hannah visiting Mauritaia ten years later on a college mission trip, which causes a breakdown and panic attack. She  and her family were courageous but that didn’t mean everything was easy.This is a good book if you are interested in mission and stories of how to reach the Muslim world with the love of Christ. I give it four stars.

Note: I received this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

Jihad Jesus: a book review

In a post 9-11 world, jihad is a scary concept for many of us in the West. We look at ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas and violence done in Allah’s name and we are. . .nervous. Each of these organizations represent militant, extreme versions of Islam, but isn’t jihad a central tenant of Islam? Certainly we can point to some pretty terrible moments of Muslim history; however we have some terrible moments of our own: the crusades, inquisition, the holocaust (the Nazis weren’t Christian, but Christians are still implicated) and more. Muslims are as perturbed by Christian violence as we are by theirs. In The Jihad of Jesus: The Sacred Nonviolent Struggle for Justice, Dave Andrews examines the mutual history of Holy War in Christianity and Islam, naming evil where he finds it and illuminating the Christian and Muslim jihad for peace

9781498217743Andrews is a Christian, Anarchist, Australian committed to following Jesus consistently in the way of peace and is active in Christian community development among Aboriginals and refugees in Brisbane. He wrote The Jihad of Jesus in conversation with Muslims. While so much jihad talk moves towards fear-mongering (“they are out to get us”) or damage control (“jihad doesn’t mean ‘holy war’ it means  something like ‘sacred struggle'”), Andrews’s dialog with Islam is characterized by both humility and truth.  He isn’t afraid to call certain acts evil, but he has the grace to turn the same critical eye on his own tradition, identifying where Christians have also gotten it wrong.

Andrews begins with a section entitled “The Jihad of Dajjall.”(Dajjall  means ‘deceiver’ and is kind of like a Muslim Antichrist). Chapter one explores Christian’s use of ‘holy war’ and violence against others through out history and in our current context. Chapter two does the same for Islam. The third chapter critically engages these ‘so-called holy wars’ showing how in both Christianity and Islam have a history of doing evil things in the name of God. He closes this section critiquing ‘closed set’ religion and arguing for ‘open-set’ religion. Andrews contends that most of the conflicts between Christians and Muslims has happened on the boundaries:

It is through defending these boundaries of belief and behavior that religious people define their religious identity. Hence Christians and Muslims have tended to fight to not only to define but also defend these boundaries of belief and behavior to the death, because not only their religious identity, but also their eternal destiny, depends on it. . . .Is [defending the boundaries] violent? Not necessarily. But normally. For three reasons. One: Christians and Muslims tend to defend their boundaries to the death. Two: the best form of defense has always been attack. And, three: there are plenty of competing groups fighting for the right to define and defend their boundaries of belief and behavior for themselves. (72)

A ‘open set’ approach, by contrast, focuses on the center: Isa (Jesus) and the  Bismallah (the Arabic equivalent to the Shema) Rather than defining and defending religion:

The essence of open set religion is all about becoming more open to God and encouraging everyone to become more open to God. Conversion for Christians and Muslims within a closed set perspective may mean confessing the creed or the kalimah. Conversion for Christians and Muslims seen from an open set perspective means constantly turning and moving towards the compassionate spirit of God, exemplified in Isa and the Bismillah, whether we use that language or not, judging our lives, for ourselves, in the light of God’s love, and beginning to trust His love, to sustain us, on the journey of the greater jihad of personal growth and the lesser jihad of social change that He is calling us to be involved with. (75)

So openness doesn’t apply a ‘looseness’ in the concept of God, but an intense focus and openness to the God that sits at the center of our own tradition. Here Andrews is making a nod towards E. Stanley Jones approach to interfaith evangelism, ““Get the center right, and the circumference takes care of itself.”(76).

In part two, “The Jihad of Jesus” reframes jihad as non-violent struggle, shows how Jesus’ life and teaching is our model, and recollects non-violent struggles from the history of Christianity and Islam. Chapter four  begins with a look of how terrorist organizations train otherwise good people to commit heinous acts before looking at how to retool the nature of jihad.  Chapter five focuses on Jesus’ as our supreme example. Chapter six has other exemplars (both Christian and Muslim) and what we can learn from their non-violent jihads.

This book recovers the term Jihad and reloads it with peace, justice and spiritual vitality. Andrews exemplifies not only how Christians may behave better to our Muslim neighbors, but suggests ways that we can also be sharpened and learn from them. As a Christian reader, I appreciated how a life centered on Christ, responding in openness to Jesus, pushes  me towards the struggle for non-violence. I think this is absolutely correct. It is Christendom with its empire building that makes war and violence a viable option.

I like where Andrews takes the open/closed set distinction, but I suppose I may still be somewhat closed-set.  Jesus (and the early church) make some pretty exclusive claims about salvation being through Him alone (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). There is common ground  but there will be tension at the boundaries, though the focus should remain at the center of our faith traditions.  I certainly don’t want to ‘build a wall’ at the border to ‘keep Muslims out.’ Dialogue is mutually edifying.

So don’t let the provocative title scare you.  This a book that will encourage Christians to be more like Christ in our work for Justice. Muslim readers shouldn’t be afraid either. Andrews isn’t secretly trying to convert you, and he doesn’t malign Islam (which is rare for Christian authors!). I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from the publisher via, SpeakEasy in exchange or my honest review.

Get on Board: a book review

If you were to stand on the platform at Grand Central Station, ready to board a train, it would be reasonable to ask, “Where will this train take me?” Hopefully we would know the answer before we board and end up somewhere we didn’t intend. Abdu Murray’s Grand Central Question has in mind a similar range of questions as he probes three major worldviews and their critical concerns.  He examines the assumptions of secular humanism, pantheism (or new age eclecticism?) and Islam and he sees a ‘Grand Central Question’ at the center of each of these worldviews.  Murray himself is a convert to Christianity from Islam. He brings to the apologetic task, a lawyer’s mind, astute at weighing and analyzing the evidence.

So what are the ‘Grand Central Questions’ for each of these worldviews? In part I of his book, Murray describes how secular humanists question what ‘provides us with intrinsic value or objective purpose?’ For the secular humanity each person is the sole arbitrator for issues of morality and purpose (though many would also look to the common good). Murray examines the claims of secular humanists, both those of the New Atheists and kinder, gentler secular humanists. He affirms their belief in humankind’s intrinsic value, but sees the real answer to secular humanist questions resides in Jesus who’s incarnation and death on a Roman cross demonstrate how precious humanity is in God’s eyes (112). He also argues that God provides the basis for objective morality.

The Grand Central Question which Eastern Spiritualities attempt to answer is the problem of pain and suffering. This is true of the panethestic religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, but it is also true of the new spiritualities of Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. But the answer to suffering provided by each of these are some version of the great escape. To become one with everything means to be released from the wheel of suffering and to be united with the Divine universe. In the Christian tradition, God did act decisively to bring humanity into union with Himself, but Creator remains seperate from creation. We are invited into a dynamic relationship with God and like, Jesus enter into the suffering of our world.

Finally Murray examines Islam. As this is the faith system that Murray was raised in, it is not surprising that this is the most detailed section of his book. Murray claims the Grand Central Question of  Islam is ‘how are we to come to grips with God’s greatness in a way that satisfies our mind’s God-given  rational capacity and our soul’s realization that what is worthy of worship is that which is beyond us? (170)’ For Muslims the greatest of Allah is codified in reciting the Takbir: Allahu Akbar (God is Greater).  Murray examines the philosophical claims that Muslims have against Christianity (i.e. a corrupt scripture, Trinitarian theology equals idolatry, Jesus only ‘appeared to die,’ etc). In each case he shows how each of the claims of Islam undermine God’s greatness. He argues that if God great (as Muslims and Christian’s both believe) than he could certainly preserve his own gospel, his greatness is manifest in Trinity, and His Great Mercy is shown in Christ’s incarnation.

Murray is thoughtful and fair in his engagement with other worldviews, even as he argues tenaciously for Christian belief. My favorite part of the book was the prologue. Here, Murray recounts a story of a conversation he had with a Muslim in a hospitable room. They walked through many of the standard objections to Christian belief (from a Muslim perspective). Then Murray asked his interlocutor a personal question, “What would happen to you if you did become a Christian? What would your kids think or do?” (15). The man told Murray he’d be disowned (16). That act of naming the cost for truth, changed the tenor of their discussion up to that point. Murray encourages us to likewise ask questions of people from other worldviews, and to listen for (and ask) about the peculiar cost that they would have to pay to become a Christian. He also encourages us to ask why we should pay the cost for Truth (24-7)

Thus the prologue orients you to Murray’s apologetic approach. He has attempted in these pages to listen well to what these competing worldviews are saying but finds God’s own story of redemption most compelling. He demonstrates how Jesus is the answer to the Grand Central Question. I appreciate how christocentric his Apologetic is! So many apologists answer secular humanism by demonstrating the rationality of theism. Murray does this, but he points to the Christian story–Christ’s incarnation and death as the proof in the pudding. Likewise he points New-Agers and Muslims to Jesus. This is great approach!

I liked this book and recommend it for Christians and non-Christians alike. I am sure that secular humanists, pantheists and Muslims will not always find Murray’s reasoning compelling, but it will ignite an interesting discussion about what the real answer to the ‘grand central question’ is. I give this book four stars: ★★★★


Jehovah Jihad (or not): a book review

Alone With A JihadistL A Biblical Response to Holy War by Aaron D. Taylor

Aaron D. Taylor is a missionary and founder of the Great Commission Society. He has traveled the world sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He had heard through a film crew of an outspoken Irish convert to Islam who lived in London named Khalid. After delivering a sermon at a Pentecostal church in Brazil several months later, a man approached him saying that if he would go to London in the next year God would give him a great victory. Taylor took it as confirmation that he should go talk to Khalid and see if he could win him over to the Christian faith.

A documentary film maker put Taylor in a room with Khalid for seven hours (you can watch the film Holy Wars here) but things didn’t exactly go the way Taylor planned. Khalid was a man firmly convinced that Islam had a more comprehensive view of the world than Christianity. Khalid had a more holistic approach to his faith than your typical Western Christian and he challenged Taylor to think about how he would implement the Bible in his life or if he was in control of the government. Taylor doesn’t capitulate to Khalid’s worldview, but his challenge haunts him and causes him to think about what the implications for politics are for a follower of Jesus.

All this happens in chapter one of Alone With A Jihadist. Taylor’s debate with Khalid causes him to ask hard questions of his faith.  Khalid critiqued western society as corrupt and evil and it forces Taylor to take a long hard look at his politics, what he believes and how he should live.  Taylor concludes that following Jesus and working for the Kingdom of God necessarily implies a critique on the ways of the world, on nationalism, the promise of democracy, American military action, and the unquestioning support of the modern Israeli state from the religious far-right. He claims that following Jesus calls into questions all these things and calls us to embody the Spirit of Christ (who went to Calvary) for love of the world and not create war and strife.

Taylor shares a pacifist position similar to what you would find in the historic peace churches (such as the Mennonites). However he grew up in the Pentecostal tradition and has seen the ways that its leaders (evangelists and high-profile pastors) have sometimes been co-opted by the state and have supported means, initiatives and projects which seem to contradict the words and actions of Jesus. And so this book challenges those on the Right to think through the implications of their beliefs and politics in light of the gospel but also shows his conservative evangelical friends that he hasn’t just swung to the left, but is trying to follow Jesus.

Which is more Christ-like? The TV evangelist who cheered in 2006 as Israeli warplanes were dropping bombs on buses and bridges in Lebanon, calling the action a ‘miracle from God”–or the liberal Jew picking olives with a Palestinian farmer? Even more nagging is this question. What does it say about the state of the church in America when an American Christian has to write an entire book to defend his orthodox credentials for picking option two? (156)

Taylor manages to remain respectful  and evenhanded in his presentation of his position. For example, many evangelicals and Pentecostals are Zionists  applying the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 to the modern Israeli state. Taylor is able to show some of the problems with this position as he discusses the injustice that has befallen the Palestinian people from the Israeli military and Jewish settlers; however he doesn’t say that the Israelis are all bad or that the Palestinians are all good. He simply shines a light on the side of the tension hat is not often explored by Pentecostal evangelicals and asks us to admit that the truth is much more complicated than we often allow. He also explores the way Jesus went out of his way to love and affirm the Canaanite woman ( a Palestinian) and was critical of the Jewish nationalism of his day (the Pharisees and Sadducees were the Jewish nationalists of their day).

Ethically there are two basic ways that Christians have sought to navigate political issues. Idealists commit to biblical principles and the values that reflect the coming Kingdom of God. If Christians are to partner with God in ushering in the Kingdom of God, than we should start acting like Jesus reigns and respond to issues as though the Kingdom was already here. On the other side, Christian Realists acknowledge that the Kingdom is coming, but we are not there yet. So we sometimes need to compromise and accommodate to have greatest impact on a world that is mired in sin.  Taylor stands with the idealists in his desire to live a life committed to the way of Jesus and accept the implications for his political life. The realists may ask the pragmatic question, ” does it work?   I really appreciate the perspective that Taylor brings and find I agree with many of his critiques (I have my own pacifist, idealist leaning); however I am not sure that he adequately answers  the second part of Khalid’s question, “How would you implement the Bible as a way of life or in government? (9)” Taylor gives you good reasons for deep personal convictions (many of which I share) but does not show how the Bible can implemented in government (along with the historic peace-churches, he questions if you can).

I liked this book and am amazed at how a conservative Christian was transformed by his encounter with a radical Islamist.  God uses Khalid to make Taylor more firm in his pacifist convictions. If you haven’t really thought through the ways in which your Christian faith should inform your foreign policy as a Christian, then this book may be a good place to start.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.