"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." ~ 1 Peter 3:15-16

Review: The Crescent Through the Eyes of the Cross

When my copy of “The Crescent Through the Eyes of the Cross” by Nabeel Jabbour arrived at the door, I was really impressed with the speed of delivery from the date when I first requested for a review copy. To add to the state of blissfulness, I was immediately flabbergasted by the fact that what I was holding in my hand was an autographed copy! No it’s not about the person, though after reading the book I have much respect for the author. Think about it, it’s not a surprise to send a slightly imperfect copy as a review copy, but who ever thought of sending an autographed copy for free? It was with this elated feeling that I dived into the content, knowing that it would be a good read.

True enough, there were many precious gems and jewels hidden in this book, of which I will highlight a couple of them in this review. At some early point in the book, I came across a quotation of Rabi’a al-Adawiyya which challenged my perception of other faith as religious and non-relational. Directly from the book, Rabi’a al-Adawiyya was an eighth-century mystic woman in Iraq. As a child, she was a slave. Over the years, she demonstrated a deep love for God to the degree that her owner set her free. Because of her fame as a woman of God, many Muslim women came to her and asked her to mentor them. With time, she started something like a convent for Muslim women. Here is one of her famous prayers which Nabeel paraphrased into our terminology:

"Lord, why do I love you?
Do I love you out of fear of going to hell?
If this is my motive then send me to hell.
Or do I love you out of a motive of wanting to go paradise?
If this is my motive, then deprive me of paradise.
O God, please purify my motives.
Help me to love you for your own sake.
Because you are worthy of all my love and all my worship."

Granted that Rabi’a may not know about Christ, but in times when materialism and the prosperity gospel are rampant, how many believers can be honestly sincere in praying this prayer? This came as a shock that people of other faith, in particular one Muslim’s worldview, can be equally relational in their dealing with the Supreme Being as taught in their faith. There is certainly much common ground we can establish when talking about a non-religious and relational faith in Christ Jesus, with the help and discernment of the Holy Spirit. And it is also a strong reminder that stereotyping is undesirable and there is no one size which can fit all whenever we make general statements out of practicability.

At any rate, what I think is worth the price of the whole book are the chapters on the four main different paradigms towards the Gospel that exist in the Scripture, namely:

(1) Guilt / Righteousness Paradigm
(2) Shame / Honor Paradigm
(3) Defilement / Clean Paradigm
(4) Fear / Power Paradigm

While we may revere in our western heritage in perceiving the Gospel from a legal context of guilt and forgiveness only, Nabeel said that we end up having blind spots and miss out on the rich tapestry of the Scriptures. I concur with him and would add that to a great extent, the Reformed tradition advanced the guilt/righteousness paradigm, while the Pentecostal/Charismatic perfected the fear/power paradigm. Though we do talk about being cleansed from sins, it also seemed that it is more of an objective cleansing from sins and within the bounds of textbooks on systematic theology. Have we forgotten that Christ came also to make the filthy feel clean, and to lift the lowly heads up? Ultimately all the different facets or paradigms of the one Gospel are required.

To illustrate, Nabeel gave a very insightful example of a young woman being a victim of a rape, who experience physical pain, shame, humiliation, guilt over the brief moment of sexual pleasure she had experienced, and, above all, a sense of being filthy. During the counseling session, the counselor succeeded in assuring the victim that she need not feel guilty about her brief moment of sexual pleasure and was encouraged by a job well done. The counselor assumed that guilt was the major felt need and therefore once guilt was dealt with, the problem was solved. Yet, the biggest need of the victim was to know how to deal with her feeling of being filthy. In other words, her deepest problem was not guilt but shame and defilement. In similar way, the western legal perspective of the Gospel may not always connect with others who are from a different cultural exposure.

Towards the end of the book, another thing that left its trail deeply in me is regarding witnessing and especially in cross-cultural context. Often we hear of people talking about earning our rights to speak before we preach the Gospel, and this may mean exercising deeds of kindness to occupying certain desirable positions of influence. But most of the time when we did earn our rightful rights, we left our humility at home and self righteous and arrogance are what others perceive of us when we do speak. Perhaps then, we merely earn our rights to be humble. Since we cannot lower down ourselves or lay down our rights, unless we first possess them, it does make senses that we only earn our rights to humility. Naturally if we take perspective from agape love, rights earned or not, would not be an issue.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Kingdom of God less Churchanity, Christ less Christendom and cross-cultural witnessing in general and in particular to the Muslims. The examples cited are immensely practical and insightful in a real life context, not to mention the insights into Middle-East situation in relation to waging war for the souls and minds of the majority of Muslims who are pulled between moderate Islam and Islamic fundamentalism and fanaticism. But after reading, it does leave one to ponder over Nabeel’s view on ecclesiology proper, which I hope to see him write about someday in the future. Also, if you are currently reading the book, do remember to ask the author for the addendum after finishing.

This review is part of NavPress Blogger Review Program, of which I have received a free review copy.