Toward Respectful Understanding & Witness among Muslims: Essays in Honor of J. Dudley Woodberry

by Evelyne A. Reisacher, editor

William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 325 pages, 2012, $20.99.

Reviewed by Benjamin Lee Hegeman, missionary scholar in residence, SIM; educator, Houghton College and in Benin.

Imagine being invited to some charming maritime cottage in Maine for a prolonged weekend of missiological fellowship with Dudley Woodberry, his former students, and cherished colleagues. What might you expect? What toasts might the guests make about Woodberry’s contribution to Islamic missiology? Editor Evelyne Reisacher might well toast: here is to a heart which listens graciously, a mind which studies diligently, and a witness shared respectfully. The Festschrift makes her case.

Allow me to select the authors who engaged me most. Martin Accad’s kerygmatic approach fascinated me in that he sought to model it, in part, on the peaceful diplomacy of Patriarch Timothy who also made generous concessions to Muhammad, the Qur’an, and Muslims. Accad’s honesty that this was contrary to St. John of Damascus and Father Zakaria Boutros impressed me. 

Jonathan Culver’s brief tour de force concerning the scriptural promises to Ishmael at first delighted me and then astonished me: he leaves out all the distressing promises on Ishmael other than casually declassifying them as mere metaphors of a “Bedouin lifestyle” (Really? Ishmael is God’s “Marlboro Man” on a donkey?) 

David Johnstone’s article drew me into an “in-house Shari’a debate” between radical and moderate voices. Johnstone’s fascination with Iranian Rumi scholar Abdolkarim Soroush made me dig deeper. I discovered that Soroush’s distinctions on Islam sound strikingly similar to premises advocated by leading Insider Movement (IM) writers. Soroush distinguishes between (1) religion and our understanding of religion; (2) essential and accidental aspects of religion; (3) minimalist and maximalist interpretation of Islam; (4) religious belief and religious faith; and (5) religion as an ideology/identity and religion as truth. Are Soroush, Johnstone, and IM advocates all drawing from similar sources, or from each other? I wonder. 

Joseph Cumming’s essay on Ashari who (along with al-Ghazali and Hanbal) banished the far too open-minded Mutazilites, invited me to search for “common ground” or “bridgeable differences” between Ashari’s doctrine of Allah’s “attributes and essence” and early Trinitarian formulations of hypostasis and ousia. I loved his effort but was left unconvinced.

Rick Brown’s contribution ranked as the strongest challenge against those who recoil at using the name “Allah” for YHWH, arguing that “Allah” originated with pre-Islamic Syrian Jews and Christians. Be ready for a strongly worded rebuttal. 

Are you a former student or colleague of Woodberry? Then you already have this end-of-career celebratory Festschrift—or feel guilty that you don’t. The rest of us will value this work as a sampler and a testimony of how Woodberry’s community is respectfully exploring the dynamics of Insider Movements. Not all of his former students have joined him in promoting the Insider Movements. I regret that they were not featured in this work. Yet it is a remarkable missiological audit of Woodberry and Fuller’s excellent contribution. Indeed, here lies the reason for reading this work: Woodberry is arguably America’s foremost “dean” of Islamic missiology, and his greatest impact comes through his students. Give yourself a free weekend to read them and enjoy the “Woodberrian feast!”

Other Books Received 
Adams, Daniel J. 2012. Korean Theology in Historical Perspective. Delhi: ISPCK.

Christofferson, Ethan J. 2012 Negotiating Identity: Exploring Tensions between Being Hakka and Being Christian in Northwestern Taiwan. Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick Publications.

Daniels, Gene. 2012. Meditations for the Missions Heart: Forty Days to Renew Your Mission Vision. np. 

Moon, Jay, Pamela A., and Emily G. 2012. Ordinary Missionary: A Narrative Approach to Introducing World Missions. Eugene, Ore.: Resource Publications.

Morton, Jeff. 2012. Insider Movements: Biblically Incredible or Incredibly Brilliant? Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock Publishers. 

Nehrbass, Kenneth. 2012. Christianity and Animism in Melanesia: Four Approaches to Gospel and Culture. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Pierce, Alexander. 2012. Facing Islam/Engaging Muslims: Constructive Dialogue in an Age of Conflict. Enumclaw, Ore.: WinePress Publishing.

EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 253-255 Copyright  © 2013 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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