David W. Virtue DD sat down with Middle East scholar and author Dr. Duane Miller to talk about the state of the Anglican Church in the Middle East, ISIS, conversion and the future of Christianity in the area.
VIRTUE: What is the state of Anglicanism in the Middle East?
MILLER: The name of the Anglican province there is the Episcopal (or Anglican) Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. It is divided into the diocese of Jerusalem (which includes all Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon); the diocese of Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa; the Diocese of Iran; and the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf States (which is largely for expats).
Each of these dioceses is facing enormous challenges. The Diocese of Jerusalem has now, in addition to the Arab-Israeli conflict, to deal with a civil war in Syria and huge numbers of refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. In Egypt there is presently a contest to see who actually owns the real estate of the Anglican church, though I understand that the Horn of Africa region is experiencing rapid growth. The Diocese of Iran exists legally, but the government of the Islamic Republic is very effective in circumscribing their freedom. Christianity is rapidly growing in Iran as we see thousands of Shi’a Muslims converting to Christianity, but government surveillance of the Anglicans there make it difficult for them to be part of that movement. As to Cyprus and the Gulf States, it is not a diocese I know much about presently. I do know that a large and vibrant Anglican church was opened in Qatar, and it is home to multitudes of non-Anglican congregations as well. A question for the Cyprus and the Gulf States is, do they ever wan to become an indigenous church, which would mean receiving Muslim converts?
VIRTUE: Are Anglicans reaching out to Muslims with the Gospel?
MILLER: Yes. The main efforts to reach out to Muslims with the Gospels are among evangelicals and Pentecostals, but some Anglicans are doing this work too. I would point you, for example, to the ministry of Anglican Frontier Missions. There is also a dynamic ministry in Dallas that engages refugees and it is headed up by an Anglican. Personally, since returning from overseas in late 2013 I have spoken at dozens of churches, many of them Anglican, about Islam and the nature of Christian witness to and among Muslims. Most people are very happy to get a good lecture and leave it at that. But at the end of most classes or lectures, I always note a couple of people who feel called to actually go out into the Muslim community and try to make contacts there.
Recently, as part of my own work, I have had the privilege of cooperating with Anglicans in Turkey. They are a very small presence, but good things are happening there.
VIRTUE: Is the West finally winning the war against ISIS?
MILLER: It depends on what you mean by winning. If you mean that they are losing land, then I would say that Iraq, supported by the West and Iran, is winning the war. But over the long term, I’m not very optimistic. The loss of territory for the Islamic State will result in enormous flows of migrants into Europe. Inevitably, a substantial number of those refugees will want to Islamize the countries that receive them as refugees. And among those, a certain number will utilize strategic violence in order to try and effectuate what they understand to be a divine mission. So if by winning you mean eradicating the religious convictions that animate movements like the IS, my answer is resounding no.
VIRTUE: Will Christianity be wiped out in the Middle East? (It has gone from seven per cent to 1.5 per cent)
MILLER: I don’t think it will be wiped out—not totally. Many of the ancient churches will cease to exist in their homelands. But there is a substantial growth among converts from Islam. That is the future face of Christianity in the Middle East. A small, struggling, persecuted church that is largely evangelical or charismatic in its piety, struggling to form a brand new Christian identity—one that has never existed before in substantial numbers—that of the ex-Muslim Christian.
VIRTUE: Can you tell us if the number of Christian converts from Islam is growing and by how much?
MILLER: By definition converts from Islam are a sensitive population. This is true whether we’re talking about the Middle East or the USA or the UK. Because of that, numbers are very hard to come by. That having been said, Patrick Johnstone and I co-authored and published ‘Believers in Christ from a Muslim-background: A Global Census’ in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research in Religion in 2014 (academia.edu).
In summary, though, I would say two things: 1) More Muslims are converting to Christ today than ever before in history. And 2) there is no reason for triumphalism here, as on a global level we are still just talking about a drop in the bucket.
VIRTUE: Why did you decide to research Christian converts from Islam for your new book, Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians?
MILLER: My wife and I were living in the Middle East studying Arabic and I got to meet a few inquirers and secret believers. I thought they were fascinating and I decided to do some research about Christian converts from Islam. I found a deluge of material by American missiologists describing what they believed it <I>should</I> look like when a Muslim came to Christ. There were all sorts of arguments about Islam as a culture v. Islam as a religion, and what was healthy contextualization v. what was syncretism, and so on.
The debate was quite heated at times, and to some extent still is. But I thought, well, these believers exist already. How about I go and talk with them, see how they preach and pray and write and evangelize, and then I summarize and analyze what I find?
So that’s what I did. For years I was running around—the Middle East, Edinburgh where my university was, the USA, other parts of the UK—doing research, meeting these believers, seeing their lived faith. It is theology, it’s their knowledge of who God is in Christ, but it’s not systematic, like Aquinas or Barth. It’s lived theology. It’s practical theology. But it’s very real and communicating what I heard and saw and read is the purpose of <I>Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians.</I>
VIRTUE: What role can Western Christians play in talking to Muslims?
MILLER: A lot of people in the traditional, Protestant churches emphasize the important of inter-religious dialogue. People usually think of official meetings of senior clergy. But really, what is most needed for those who want to achieve mutual understanding and a genuine sharing of the heart is the formation of personal relationships. A first step is to make it a point that you invite a Muslim over to your home, even just for coffee or tea. You wouldn’t believe how many Muslims in America have never even been inside a Christian’s home.
Dr Duane Alexander Miller is researcher and lecturer in Muslim-Christian relations of The Christian Institute of Islamic Studies. He holds a PhD in Divinity (focus on World Christianity) from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. His doctoral research was on the contextual theologies proposed by Christian converts from Islam–what do they claim to know about God, and what attracted them to the Christian faith? He is co-author of Arab Evangelicals in Israel (Pickwick, 2016) and his doctoral thesis was recently published. It is titled Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians (Pickwick 2016). The books is available through Amazon or the publisher’s web site.