My name is Mark Anderson, and I write as a Christian. With graduate degrees in both Christian religion (Westminster Theological Seminary) and Islamic studies (McGill University), I’ve spent years studying these sister faiths. My aim here is to help Muslims understand the Christian faith better. My other website www.understandingislam.today aims to help Christians understand Muslim beliefs and practice. I see my websites as the two lanes of a bridge of mutual understanding.
Muslims and Christians have had difficult relations from the first and many of our problems have been complicated, if not caused, by misunderstanding. Demographers predict that 60% of the world’s population will be Muslim or Christian by 2050, just over thirty years away. This means the future will partly depend on how well Christians and Muslims understand each other.
Distortion leaves us relating not to what other people truly are, but rather to our false image of them. One lens makes us struggle to see any good in them, while another leaves us either disappointed by reality when we encounter it–as we eventually do–or struggling to maintain our distortion. In both cases, a distorted view of Christians (or Muslims) diverts energy that we could otherwise put into relating well to them.
The same is true of religion. If all I know of another religion distorts or caricatures it, I will be ill-equipped to come to terms with its reality and may find contempt for its adherents more natural than respect. Since religious faith or the lack of it goes to the heart of who we are, contempt for a person’s faith commitment will be seen in my attitude to them.
This puts a premium on understanding each other’s faith. Yet most Muslims don’t understand Christianity any better than Christians understand Islam. Unfortunately, misinformation is self-propagating and understanding–seeing past the myriad of distortions to the one reality–is often difficult to achieve. True understanding demands that we speak clearly, listen well and work hard at seeing things from each other’s perspective. This effort pays off in more ways than one. The truer my view of another religion, for example, the more truly I will appreciate my own faith too.
Christianity has multiple definitions. I use the word here primarily in a normative sense, to refer to how Christians are called to live their faith, as well as what beliefs should shape their thinking and values. Rightly understood, being a Christian means embracing an entire way of life, not adding a religious layer to a secular lifestyle. Rather, we allow God to transform not just our beliefs and ideas, but also all of our attitudes, desires, goals and actions, to be like those of Jesus. And that involves a moment-by-moment struggle with a world intent on pulling us away from Christ.
Like Islam, Christianity has a vision for the whole world. Like Islam, it invites the whole world to submit to its law, which we believe spells freedom. But Christianity differs profoundly from Islam in the nature of its law (Mt 22:36-40). Its vision is also radically different in that it includes no mandate to rule a geo-political entity in its founder’s name. Instead, Christians are called to infuse whatever culture they live in–including its politics–with Christ’s light.
Islam clearly offers a different vision, law and invitation from those of Christianity. My aim here is to present Christian faith as clearly, cogently and honestly as possible–not to push my religion on anyone. I sincerely hope Muslims will also explain their faith in this way to Christians. This is where our journey toward mutual understanding and its many fruits begins.
My larger hope is that my websites will help Muslims and Christians move beyond mutual understanding and respect, to relating to each other as friends and working together for the common good. We’ll need to do all that to ensure lasting peace in our world. But everything starts with understanding.