by Paul-Gordon Chandler
This book is based on the life and ministry of Syrian novelist Mazhar Mallouhi, a self-proclaimed “Sufi Muslim follower of Christ.”
Cowley Publications, 4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706, 2007, 200 pages, $16.95.
—Reviewed by Warren Larson, director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies, Columbia International University, Columbia, South Carolina.
Paul-Gordon Chandler, an American Episcopal priest serving in the Middle East, devoted four years to writing Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road. It is based on the life and ministry of Syrian novelist Mazhar Mallouhi, a self-proclaimed “Sufi Muslim follower of Christ.”
Several strengths in this book are worth mentioning. First, Mallouhi’s attitude and sensitivity toward Muslims is amazing. He loves them for who they are, not for what can be gained when they convert to Christ. Mission to Muslims, he says, is not “bringing them to Christianity” (because of the negative baggage that term carries), but “bringing Jesus to where they are.” As guests in their midst, he rightly enjoins hospitality (“sharing their bread”), engagement, and building on commonalities. We are reminded that nothing is gained by demonizing Islam and denigrating Muhammad. Christians should be known for their love, not their hostility, and Mallouhi provides an appropriate illustration of the role of suffering in witness. Only after forgiving a sheikh’s personal insults did Mallouhi gain a hearing for the gospel.
Second, glimpses into Middle Eastern culture shed light on our understanding of scripture. For example, Chandler’s point about Jesus stooping to write on the ground so as not to shame the woman taken in adultery is insightful. Third, all of us need to listen to Chandler’s critiques. In regard to Western evangelicalism, Chandler once observed a bikini-clad, Christian girl driving a car with a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus is Lord.” Chandler also wonders if some Middle Eastern churches are too reserved, and not reaching out to Muslims with love and understanding.
Some readers, however, may find a lack of clarity on certain doctrinal issues troubling. In the last chapter Mallouhi says, “I have met many Muslims [in comparison to Christians]…who…are a million miles closer to God, loving God and devoted to God with complete sincerity” (p. 193). If so, who needs Jesus? And, when asked if God would send anyone to hell, Mallouhi’s response is: “It is very hard for me to picture God, whom I love, and whom I know loves humanity, his creation, sending anyone to eternal hell. God is just” (p. 198).
Nevertheless, despite a few concerns, Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road is worth reading. Missionaries have much to learn from this “insider” who follows a path of deep personal respect for his hearers and labors to communicate the good news in ways they can understood and even appreciate. Chandler is also to be commended for presenting such a clear example of humility, rather than hubris, to those who bring Jesus to where Muslims are.
Copyright © 2008 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.