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Bridging the gap between the Bible and the Qur'an



When I entered university fifty years ago, "Comparative Religion" was an elective option for students who were interested.  In the twenty-first century we call it "Interfaith Studies," and it has become a requirement, at least for seminarians.  In addition, it has become an urgent necessity now for both practicing clergy and lay people in the quest for world peace and a deeper understanding of one's own faith in a new context.  This new preface for the paperback and future hardcover editions attempts to answer questions raised in seminary classes, congregational book clubs, study groups, media reviews and by thoughtful individuals at book launches and other events.  It addresses theological, sociological and political matters dealt with perhaps less rigorously in the first edition.

Q. (Rabbi at book launch) "Brian, I am intrigued by the way you deal with the Messiah: Jews saying 'He is coming,' Christians saying 'here He is,' and Muslims 'yes, that was Him and He is coming again.'  But it is almost too clever by half, and begs an equally succinct distinction between the different views of what the Messiah means in the three religions." 
A. To Jews the Messiah is God's anointed representative who will come to vindicate the righteous, lead them to victory and bless them in this life. To Christians the Messiah is God in the midst of people, feeling their pain and sharing their shame, redeeming and liberating those who put their complete trust in God.  To Muslims the Messiah came from God, without earthly paternity, to model the pure life, and He will come again to usher in the Judgment, in which evildoers will be punished and the good rewarded.   If not also “too clever by half,” this answer is probably too simplistic, since all these aspects somewhat overlap in the three religions. Moreover, while Christians claim priority of emphasis in Messianic thought, the concept has communal-covenantal dimensions in the Jewish community and eschatological aspects among Muslims upon which I am not qualified to speak.
Q. Muslim mawlana just before live TV discussion) "Dr. Brown, I confess I am surprised that so many Muslims are reading Noah's Other Son, given Salman Rushdie's contribution to the foreword.  Did you know you could get away with that?”
A. In spite of media reports, I was still ignorant, not of the Muslim antipathy toward "Sir Salman," as he is now, but of the reasons for it.  While his points about the Qur'an need to be faced courageously and confidently, some of the things he says about Islam are distressing to Muslims in a way that makes this, in their view, like having a child pornographer contribute to a religious book about children.  It pains them, but Muslims have been gracious regarding my insensitivity on this point, for the sake of the dialogue we all need.
Q. (Catholic writer) "You write of prophetic warnings in our time related to global warming, health care, and violence, in the context of the Scriptures, but you don't mention the rapacious consumerism that lies at the roots of environmental degradation and war.   I have heard you make reference to Al Gore and Michael Moore as identifiable prophetic warners.  What about Ralph Nader as one of our current prophetic warners?"
A. Nader is an icon like Gore and Moore. These are sometimes like “voices crying in the wilderness,” but materialism and consumerism should also be addressed.  I hope readers will think of other warners from their own context, reflecting the examples in the Qur'an and the Bible.  These are issues that Jews, Christians, Muslims and others can all work on together.
Q. (US evangelical website chat) "If the Cosmic Christ line is true, is it not axiomatic that Christianity is false?"
A. In Christian theology, the Cosmic Christ is completely incarnate in Jesus, as described in the gospels, but the Christ / Messiah is also experienced elsewhere, as by Abraham in the example Jesus gives in Chapter 8 of John's Gospel. This might well include Gandhi and the Dalai Lama.
Q. (American seminary professor) "Which Qur'an translation is most helpful right now?"
A. "There are others, but The Sublime Qur'an by Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar is particularly engaging. One would need to learn Arabic or to use several versions for professional work.  Just as the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library provided valuable information for biblical scholars in the last century, the "discovery" of the Qur'an in the present century (buried and hidden under prejudice), promises biblical scholars a treasure trove of ancient Eastern lore and extra-biblical information. 
Q. (Canadian minister)  "I know nothing of the Emerging Missional churches you write about.  Are there any names I can reference to find out who is involved in this movement?"
A. These are mostly former evangelicals moving over into a more classic orthodoxy and the cultural mainstream, if not a new Protestant religious mainstream.  Let me mention people like Jim Wallis, who promotes the EM peace agenda in his left-leaning Sojourners magazine, and Brian McLaren, who describes a postmodern, post-liberal EM agenda in congregational life through books like A Generous Orthodoxy.  You might also look up Richard Cizik with respect to environmental concerns, and Diana Butler Bass, in Christianity for the Rest of Us. 
Q. (Self-described cynic)  “We also hear about moderate Muslims.  Where do we find them?”
A. Start with Fethullah Gulen, who started a worldwide liberal movement from Turkey. As a Muslim leader, he attracts secularists to social justice, invites all religions to interfaith dialogue and eve
Q.  (American woman)  "I am beginning to see more in the Muslim dress codes than restrictions on women.  Can you help me along?"
A.  "The most famous Christian woman wears a hijab.  Who?  Do you get any Christmas cards? Mary is always pictured in a hijab.  Mother Theresa also wore a remnant of this style and when I was a child, every Christian woman covered her head in church.  Muslim women are often offended at scanty, tight fitting clothing worn by Western women and the reason for wearing it.    There are questions to be raised, with respect, in both cultures."
Q.  (Evangelical radio host) "What about our responsibility to evangelize Muslims?"
A. Christians need to think less about converting others and more about witnessing to what Jesus means to them by living truly Christian lives.  The result may not be many conversions, but the goal in these times might be to help Muslims and others grow in love for Jesus when they see Him more clearly in the lives of Christians, in contrast to what they think they see at present.  
Q. (Australian reader) "You seem to excoriate fundamentalists of practically all stripes, but you do seem to almost favor Pentecostals.  What's up with this?"
A. True renewal movements can rejuvenate the whole church. The young church at Rome emerged as the leader of the early Orthodox Church.  The Protestant Reformation once produced new energy in European Christianity, both in its own churches and through the Catholic Counter-Reformation.  The Methodist revival rejuvenated the Anglican Church and swept the American frontier.  Pentecostalism today may be just as significant as these examples in maturing young churches around the world and among both charismatic Catholics and churches of the newly emerging Protestant mainstream.  A Pentecostal preacher like Jim Forbes now completing twenty years at America’s leading liberal church (Riverside in New York) is merely the most obvious example of the way the Emerging Missional movement is facilitating this important new reality.
Q. (Graduating seminarian)  “In Chapter 16 you insist that worship must come first in religion, ahead of serving God in the world.  I just began work with a peace and justice organization called KAIROS, and we might question that.  We might even say worship can only happen in the context of community. Are relationships not a pre-requisite to worship?”
A. I don’t say worship per se precedes social action, but an encounter with God does and must.  Without the burning bush there would be no crossing of the Red Sea; without Mount Sinai, there would be no guidance for people in the “wilderness.” People need to experience God before they form committees or go into action. This can even happen through hearing the stories of such encounters.  Until now, this has been a story- telling family, not an opinion-giving family.  The author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, goes to church regularly in the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), and she knows the family story personally.  However, many churches in the twentieth century sometimes seemed more comfortable with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe than with the stories of Jesus. The point is that a connection with God precedes social action. 
Q. (Another graduate) “In Russia, I grew up in an atheist culture.  Almost all the people in Russia are now believers again, though many are not sure what they believe. I keep hearing about new books by atheists in America. In your opinion, is it atheism or religion that is growing?”
A. Sam Harris writes The End of Faith? – He should buy a newspaper and see what is the big story of the twenty first century!  Richard Dawkins and The God Delusion? – What about the secular delusion?  Secularism had much to offer, but was clearly insufficient for the whole person.  Christopher Hitchens says God is Not Great? – but he offers not a single new idea in his litany of accusations against God and the church, and he does not begin to measure up to classic atheists like Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche or Jean-Paul Sartre.  The books you mention are all ironically by elderly American white males from the last century, sharing in a panic that religion is rising again in ways they cannot relate to.  They have been adequately rebutted by John Haught of Georgetown University (God and the New Atheism: a Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris and Hitchins), and by Francis Collins, Director of the National Human genome Research Institute (The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief).  The cover story of Time Magazine on November 13, 2007 featured a debate between Dawkins and Collins, in which Dawkins conceded at the end, “If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than any theologian of any religion ever proposed.”  Exactly!  However, unless we tell our family story, and offer encounters with our God, people will have to make up their own beliefs.  Few new religions in Russia or elsewhere have staying power.  The Abrahamic religions may have staying power, even while needing renewal in every generation, but atheism is just not on, except as an esoteric exercise.
Q. (US Methodist denominational official)  "You write about a collapse of Christian extremism in the right-wing of American politics.  Is that really true?"
A. The Christian right has not disappeared, but its political power has collapsed because millions of right-wingers have simply moderated.  What I predicted in Noah's Other Son has been reflected in the 2008 presidential race, in which the mainline religious moderate majority reasserted itself, with some new allies.  The Republican Party could not bring itself to nominate even a genial right-wing Christian like Mike Huckabee.  It was forced to choose between a moderate Mormon like Mitt Romney and a more liberal John McCain, 'an Episcopalian worshipping at a Baptist Church,' who had even been considered for Vice President on John Kerry's Democratic ticket in 2004. 
  Even more instructive is the return to moderate mature mainstream religion in the Democratic Party, a reawakening documented first by Jim Wallis in Sojourners, followed by cover stories in Time Magazine and Newsweek.  Hillary Rodham Clinton was born and bred United Methodist, regular in worship and in sync with the social gospel.  Barack Obama is articulate in theology and regular in worship the United Church of Christ, a liberal denomination known for its work among the marginalized black, poor, and gay communities, with strong positions on the equality of women and opposition to war, all addressed in Obama’s platform. The theologically articulate April 13, 2008 Faith and Compassion debate between Clinton and Obama on CNN from Messiah College in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was unprecedented in US presidential politics, though the candidate of the Republican Party chose not even to participate. 
    I am not addressing Jews and Muslims for the moment, but among Christians it is the same all over the world.  The political leadership in Russia, the Ukraine and the former eastern bloc is all church-going once again, and mainstream in its own context.  Outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair switched from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism at the same time that the new Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, switched from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism, with no political motive on either part, just faith dynamics.  The new Prime Minister of Britain and the new Chancellor of Germany, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkle, are children of Protestant mainline clergy, Presbyterian and "United Church" respectively.  Africa and China are exciting but too complex to address succinctly. Christians had their fling with fundamentalism earlier in the twentieth century than Jews and Muslims. They are now leading the way out of it.
Q. (US Presbyterian interviewer)  "How can North American churches respond to this new spiritual maturity among the people?  The people seem to be ahead of their church leaders.”
A. During the twentieth century, the mainline churches of North American developed a "head office" mindset, on the model employed by both capitalist business and socialist states.  Energy, money and talent all flowed to the central authority in a centripetal vortex.  (Catholics always had this model; Jews and Muslims never did.)  In contrast, life in the twenty first century is centrifugal, with power moving to the outer rim of the circle.  Energy is now in the hands of the franchisees, the local branches, or the congregations, as a grassroots ethos takes over, thanks to internet technology and other factors.  This shift from a head office mentality to a grassroots ethos is disconcerting to some mainline church officials, but both Protestants and Catholics could learn from Jewish and Muslim models.  For example, McDonald’s Restaurants may be the most successful franchise chain in business history, but the Presbyterian churches in the USA still have more franchises than McDonalds (12,000 to 11,600).  If the national leaders trust local people to make the decisions, Presbyterians now have an opportunity to reposition themselves successfully in the marketplace, as McDonald’s does from time to time.
Q. (Jewish psychiatrist)  "I get that Muslims are forcing religion back into public consciousness, and that Christians are shifting gears, but where do you see this religious trend among Jews?"
A. That's easy.  Israel was founded as a secular state, but sixty years later the religious community has the upper hand.  Israeli secularists in the older generation are beside themselves, asking ‘How did this happen?’  Religious extremism was part of this, a development running parallel to Islamic and Christian fundamentalism in the very same years.   Christians are now working their way out of the initial fundamentalist stage of this religious upsurge, not by returning to secularism but through the recovery of a moderate and mature mainstream, and  moderate Muslims are striving to do the same, making this development their jihad.  Jews in North America and Europe are actually working this through too, at the congregational level.  
Q. (Muslim housewife) "The Toronto Star dropped its religion page from the Saturday paper. Don't you think it's a shame that religion is pushed out of sight in our world?"
A. Thank you for proof reading my book, but I am afraid we disagree on that point. Let's spread this Thursday paper on your coffee table. Look! Two religious stories on the front page: Shiite militias attack Sunni pilgrims, and the desecration of a synagogue in Montreal.  Inside we count … nine more articles today that would have once gone to Saturday's church page: Anglicans split over gay ordination and gay marriage, ethical issues of cloning, health benefits of meditation, women leaders in Turkey's mosques, the spiritual dimensions of prison art, the wearing of hijabs on the sports field, the moral issue of investments in Israel during the occupation, a review of a choir production of Handel's Elijah and ethical responses to global warming.  There may be no reports of congregational picnics, but religion has moved from the back page on Saturday to the front-page everyday.
Q. (West Indian Muslim judge)  What about the clash of civilizations?  
A. What we have in the world today is neither a clash of civilizations nor even a clash of religions.  We have today what I call a clash of cultures.  I am referring to Western extroverted culture and Eastern introverted culture, the latter including both the Middle East and the Orient. The West is assertive and the East is reserved.  The West is brash and the East is self-effacing.  The West lets it all hang out and the East is modest.  Western art fills every inch of the canvass while Oriental art leaves the space bare except for the required defining lines.  The West wants to evangelize while the East wants to meditate. Islam is now pulled in both directions, but wholeness will only come when the balance is achieved, beginning within what I have called "Abraham's dysfunctional family.  This is the task before us.  
Q. (West Indian Muslim judge)  What about the clash of civilizations?  
A. What we have in the world today is neither a clash of civilizations nor even a clash of religions.  We have today what I call a clash of cultures.  I am referring to Western extroverted culture and Eastern introverted culture, the latter including both the Middle East and the Orient. The West is assertive and the East is reserved.  The West is brash and the East is self-effacing.  The West lets it all hang out and the East is modest.  Western art fills every inch of the canvass while Oriental art leaves the space bare except for the required defining lines.  The West wants to evangelize while the East wants to meditate. Islam is now pulled in both directions, but wholeness will only come when the balance is achieved, beginning within what I have called "Abraham's dysfunctional family.  This is the task before us.
Q. (Muslim Student) “The interest in your book among Muslims has centered on Scriptural criticism and analysis as part of the bridge between the Bible and the Qur’an. Do you believe most Christians and Jews actually understand the critical approach?”  
A. Yes, I believe it has had an impact, but still needs to be understood better in detail in order for the Bible to be properly appreciated.  I will not say as much about this important topic here because the contribution of the Qur’an to our understanding is the subject of the sequel to Noah’s Other Son, with a publication date of May, 2009, under the title of Forensic Scriptures, a phrase employed now by Muslim scholars with insight for us all.

Addendum to Second, Third and Subsequent Printings
Please permit me to offer my gratitude in a few acknowledgements, further to those at the end of the text.  Rabbi Daniel Benner and the staff of Auburn Theological Seminary hosted the U.S. book launch for Noah's Other Son at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.  Eugene Melino, instructor in Adult Bible Studies at The Riverside Church, brought his class, made the launch a gala affair, and launched congregational programming using Noah's Other Son.  Interfaith author, Lucinda Mosher, took me from the launch on a tour of national church offices headquartered in New York where we introduced Noah to denominational movers and shakers.

Daniel Benson and United Church Resource Distribution hosted a Canadian launch party at the General Council Offices that was nothing short of fantastic. Raheel Raza, the first Muslim woman to lead Friday prayers in Canada, has introduced Noah's Other Son in a variety of venues.  James Christie, Dean of Theology at the University of Winnipeg was the first to put Noah's Other Son on a Canadian university curriculum. Principal Joy Abdul-Mohan was our first promoter in the developing world at St. Andrew's Theological College in Trinidad, where I now lecture for part of the year, and where I completed Forensic Scriptures as a spin-off sequel to Noah's Other Son.

The Library Journal reviewed Noah's other Son within days of its release, insuring a widespread library circulation in the USA.  Dennis DeWilde, author of The Performance Connection, produced a review on that helped keep Noah's Other Son as #1 best-seller in its category for much of its first year. I am especially grateful to include a review by Professor Kurt Anders Richardson in the Toronto Journal of Theology, which established the book's academic credentials, and one in Touchstone magazine did much the same for Noah’s Other Son’s reception in theological circles. The favorable review in Presbyterians Today reached a broad spectrum of the American public through syndication via the Presbyterian News Service. 

The remarkably positive response to Noah's Other Son in the substantial and long established Muslim community in the West Indies was facilitated by dialogue involving Mawlana Siddiq Nasir on the Islamic Broadcasting Network TV with Professor Brinsley Samaroo, and interviews on Heritage Radio, with Senator Noble Khan, Dr. Waffie Muhammad and Prof. Naser Mustafa.  




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© Brian Arthur Brown, 2016