Rev Canon Phil Rawlings welcoming people to the conference
The theme of this conference was decided upon some two years ago, in the early days of setting out the goals and activities of the MCSCI. Since then we have seen the sudden onset of ‘ISIS/Daesh’ into the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria, deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, and the migration of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East into Europe. The responses to these events range from more Western bombing of Syria and Iraq and fear of all Muslims as potential terrorists to a welcome reception of refugees and protection of mosques from attack. The topic for our discussion could not have been more timely.
We discussed the wording of the title for the conference at great length. The MCSCI’s focus is on equipping and encouraging Christians to engage with Muslims. In this we wish to serve the Church. As such, we could well have spoken of ‘Christian responses’ in order to encompass those of all theological and confessional standing. But, we purposely chose to speak of Evangelical responses. The reasons are two-fold: one, we are Evangelicals engaged in this endeavour; two, in much of the rhetoric of today Evangelicals are often among those most caught up in the rhetoric of fear of the ‘Other’.
Discussion Panel of various speakers. (l-r): Rev. Canon Phil Rawlings, Dr Martin Accad, Dr Randy Cloud, Dan Miller & Rev Gordon Hickson
The term ‘Islamic revival’ encompasses a great range of issues, and was intentionally ambiguous. It includes the awakenings of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011; the coming to power of Islamist movements in places like Tunisia and Turkey; and the ‘fundamentalist’ military movements creating sectarian conflict in so many places far beyond the Arab world. It also encompasses a renewal in the sense of Muslim identity among young people in Europe. These find expression in greatly diverse ways, and violence is only one of the ways. What we are observing is a crisis in Islam, as it grapples with change within its own societies, and the challenges of how to live as a minority in non-Muslim societies; as well as with coping with the challenges of modernity and globalisation.
In the face of such an array of issues within Islam, there can be no single response by the Church, or by Christians. This conference had two objects: one was to try to grasp what is going on in the Muslim world; and for this we had invited speakers to inform us of what we cannot learn from public media. The second was to consider the range of ways Christians may express the love of Jesus to Muslims; and for this we invited people to tell us what is happening in the Church in various parts of the world.
The following is a summary of the presentations by the key-note speakers. Their full presentations can be found in audio on the website; text versions will become available as soon as possible, along with the presentations given in the seminars.
Dr Phil Lewis
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Dr Martin Accad giving his speech to the conference
One, the long-term implications of the refugee crisis. The active involvement of Christians with refugees will be needed for a long time beyond the initial enthusiasm of hospitality.
Two, the long-term implications of the annihilation of Christians in the Middle East. Daesh, in particular but not only, actively seeks to blot out Christianity. This comes as a direct response to Western intervention, often explicitly described as in defence of the Christians still there.
Three, the long-term implications of the place of youth in the conflicts, and their radicalisation. The Church needs to work for integration in our communities, offering an alternative and positive narrative to that of the Daesh recruiters.
Dr Salim Munayer
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- How do we deal with evil and violence?
- How do we deal with the breakdown of nation-states and the chaos this creates?
- What is the role of the Church towards the political powers who are responsible for the protection of their people, but do not do so?
- Will the Church accept her role in the work of creation redemption as priests to the moral worldviews both of the West and of Islam?
Dr Michael Lodahl
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Firstly, regarding our uses of Scripture (both Christian and Muslim), we need to engage with them as a function of the faith community, and not as isolated individual interpretations.
Secondly, Lodahl considered the widely reported phenomenon of dreams as the means by which Muslims come to Christ in comparison to Wesley’s frequent comments on similar phenomena under his preaching ministry. Lodahl suggests that these phenomena cannot work alone, but must be complemented by the actions of followers of Christ to make the connection with Christ ‘flesh’ and complete.
Thirdly, Lodahl spoke of the witness of the Church to be found in the quality of our living together, as servant communities more than in doctrine or debate. That is the quality that brings people to say ‘See how they love each other.’
Dr Greg Livingstone
The conference turned in the closing sessions to the voices of practitioners. [insert page=’world-wide-picture-believers-muslim-background’ display=’excerpt-only’] Britain may well be the hardest place for Muslims to become believers, but we need to remember that in places where we hear of large numbers coming to Christ there has often been generations of witness that saw no such result. Time and faithfulness would seem to be the key. He suggested we pray that the Lord would send a Cornelius (Acts 10) or a Lydia (Acts 16) to our areas of service—trusting God to prepare the heart of the person of his calling. Finally, Livingstone also spoke of the role of the Church as a living and loving community of faith (a theme common to all speakers); in our divisions and carelessness we miss the opportunity for witness that is given us.
Rev. Gordon Hickson
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What are the most important Evangelical responses to Islamic revival? There were two themes heard from virtually every speaker:
- The church must live its witness in every day life;
- Reach out with love to the Muslims around you, and pray in love for the Muslims in the midst of life and death crisis.