by Martin Parsons
Martin Parsons sets himself a profound and weighty task—that of spelling out a different way of conveying to Muslims the reality of who Jesus is.
William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth Street, Pasadena, CA 91104, 2005, 356 pages, $29.99.
—Reviewed by Robert C. Douglas, professor of intercultural studies, Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, Illinois.
Martin Parsons sets himself a profound and weighty task—that of spelling out a different way of conveying to Muslims the reality of who Jesus is. This task, central to the whole Christian mission, has over the years resulted in more heat than light with few Muslims being persuaded by traditional Christian arguments regarding Jesus’ person and work. Parsons is committed to contextualizing Christology for Islamic culture using thought patterns keeping with the Muslim approach to understanding God. In the process of developing his emic approach, Parsons reviews the efforts of several notables who have previously entered the fray, including Martyn, Zwemer, Gairdner, Cragg and Parshall.
Arguing that meeting Muslims in their thought world requires describing Christ more “from above” than “from below,” the author seeks to build on Jewish concepts of God, particularly those associated with the second temple. He finds Jewish monotheism of that time very similar to Islamic monotheism. This provides hints as to how Christ can be explained in more understandable ways to the Muslim mind.
Within the book’s three hundred plus pages, besides exploring Christologies used in Islamic contexts, Parsons delves into the monotheism of first century Judaism, discusses what he sees as contextualized Christology within the New Testament and touches upon Islamic concepts of monotheism. He concludes with his own effort at a specific Christology contextualized to Islamic culture.
The examination of first century Judaism’s view of God highlights what Parsons believes is the understanding of God in terms of a bounded extrinsic view. Parsons believes this is necessary for more effective communication with Muslims. Questions of whether God could be seen by mortals (theophany) and whether God manifests himself in a local, on-earth form (epiphany) are analyzed. These concepts were readily utilized by Jesus in his revelation of himself. Parsons argues that the early Church maintained basic Jewish monotheistic concepts in its beginning (reflected in the Gospels). The author sees in these things hints of how to better relate Christ to Muslims though admitting there is need for some adjustment in the concepts. He also gives detailed attention to monotheism in the Islamic context, noting ways of utilizing it as a vehicle for framing a meaningful Christology.
His proposed Christology “from above” starts with the unique identity of God using biblical theophanies. He also stresses various ways of affirming Jesus’ nature through worship, including offering an extensive confessional recitation.
The book contains a useful glossary of Islamic terms, an extensive, well-organized bibliography, an outstanding index of primary sources and a subject index. This is a work that should become a standard in courses dealing with contextualized theology and its implications for evangelism.
Other Books Received
Jonsson, David J. 2005. The Clash of Ideologies: The Making of the Christian and Islamic Worlds. Longwood, Fla.: Xulon Press.
Keidel, Paul. 2005. Career-Defining Crises in Mission: Navigating the Major Decisions of Cross-Cultural Service. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
Powell Hawkins, Diane. 2006. Ordinary People in God’s Hands: A Tribute to God by TEAM Zimbabwe Missionaries. Longwood, Fla.: Xulon Press.
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