Longing for Community: Church, Ummah, or Somewhere in Between?

by David Greenlee, editor

William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, forthcoming.

Reviewed by Warrick Farah, blogger at muslimministry.blogspot.com.

Easily the most contentious issues surrounding ministry to Muslims today are the Insider Movement and matters of socio-religious identity for Muslim Background Believers (MBBs).  Longing for Community is a collection of essays from the second “Coming to Faith Consultation” in 2010 that addresses these issues directly. The first consultation on MBB conversions in 2004 also resulted in a book: From the Straight Path to the Narrow Way: Journeys of Faith (2006). While the first book addresses the processes and factors involved in conversion, Longing for Community continues the discussion of conversion, but is more focused on identity.

Muslims considering embracing biblical faith and MBBs themselves often feel torn between the ill-defined, binary categories “Muslim” and “Christian”. In light of this struggle, the missiological research in this book reveals that identity is far more complex and dynamic than is portrayed by many evangelicals on both sides of the issue. Layers of identity abound for persons in every culture, and belonging to multiple traditions is a reality in today’s globalized world.  

Thus, both the Traditional and Insider approaches are inadequate because identity is multidimensional; the titles “Christian” and “Muslim” mean various things to different audiences; and new MBBs, especially in unreached contexts, inevitably need time and space for their identities to transition. Dissatisfaction with and rejection of creedal Islam precedes most MBB conversions, but many of these same MBBs remain in cultural Islam. By moving beyond sterile arguments and using real-life case studies, Longing for Community has the potential to significantly reduce the polarization of views concerning the Insider Movement.

Other interesting themes and topics include gender issues involved in discipling female MBBs; questioning of the continued usefulness of the “C Spectrum”; development of contextual liturgy; fruitful evangelism; Islamic worldview considerations; and the conversation between theology and sociology. Twenty-three chapters by twenty-one diverse authors are structured around three sections: (1) Understanding the Complexity of Conversion, (2) Culture, Community, and Coming to Faith in Christ, and (3) Lessons to Foster Fruit and Growth.

Any collection of essays, however, has some inherent limitations, such as lack of continuity and development of ideas. Some chapters in this book are stronger than others, and many of the case studies are too brief. Additionally, it would have been interesting if the theories of identity were applied to the emerging Church (ecclesiology) in the New Testament.

These criticisms aside, we owe David Greenlee a debt of gratitude for his continued efforts in respectfully challenging our various missiological theories of conversion. Longing for Community is an invaluable resource documenting the “grace of God” (Acts 11:23) among Muslims, which proves again that missiological research can be accessible, exciting, and edifying.

Check these titles:
Kraft, Kathryn. 2012. Searching for Heaven in a Real World: A Sociological Discussion of Conversion in the Arab World. Oxford: Regnum Books International.

Hefner, Robert W., ed. 1993. Conversion to Christianity: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives on a Great Transformation. Berkley, Calif.: University of California Press.



EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 372-374. Copyright  © 2013 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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