BADHOEVEDORP, Netherlands — It seems unlikely that a topic with apparently little common ground could serve as a starting point for Christian-Muslim dialogue: the relationship between humanity and divinity. On November 30, 2018, Tyndale Theological Seminary in Badhoevedorp hosted the event: “A dialogue comparing the divine and the human in Islam and Christianity.”
Tyndale professor and Eastern Mennonite Missions worker Dr. Philip A. Gottschalk invited four speakers to share on the topic: EMM worker Jonathan Bornman, Dr. Yaser Ellethy, Dr. Khalid Hajji, and Dr. Bert de Ruiter. Gottschalk gave a concluding presentation prior to a panel discussion.
Attendees were predominately seminary students and faculty but included some members from the community. Gottschalk hosted this event as part of a course he teaches: “Ethics of War, Peace, and Peacemaking.” The intent of this event was to help his students learn from “a healthy interaction between Muslim and Christian scholars.”
"The hope is that my students,” said Gottschalk, “will have a different view of Muslims than they might get in their home countries.” In some countries, Islamic teachers (mullas) are not very tolerant.
Exploring a unique aspect of Christian theology, Bornman — a Christian-Muslim relations consultant — highlighted the concept of “Imago Dei” — the belief that humanity is created in the image of God.
He asked the question, “What if it’s really true that we were created to create, and that it is in creating where we are most ‘like God?’”
He continued to indicate, “A Christian understanding of the divine and the human is that: Christ, in us, empowers us to turn away from sin and self to pursue our role, our work in the Kingdom of
God, which is a ministry of reconciliation.”
Specifically, Bornman stated, “One way that image of God is revealed is through our creative ability to work at healing, restoration, reconciliation, justice … in other words, to use that creative power to solve real-world problems.”
Illustrating this creative problem-solving, Bornman shared the story of MJ Sharp and his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sharp, who was murdered in 2017, creatively sought to bring peace in a challenging setting. Bornman quoted a statement made by Sharp’s mother, Michele Sharp, in a March 2018 article featured in “The Mennonite”:
“MJ sat down with one of Congo’s most notorious killers. For 20 years, people used violence to counter violence, and it took this young man and his colleagues to listen to their stories. After building a trust relationship, the peacebuilders offered alternative ways to meet the rebels’ objectives non-violently. In this way, the cycle of violence stopped.”
Bornman’s primary purpose in sharing Sharp’s story was to emphasize how the creativity of God within humanity can be used to do good in the world.
He also shared a confession: “Sadly, I must confess that both historically and currently the worldwide church has also, in many cases, failed. I confess that in certain places, Christians have taken up arms against their Muslim neighbors … Forgive us for we have sinned.”
Several students were raised as Muslims but later converted to Christianity. One student was surprised at how openly the presenters could dialogue about theological differences in a respectful manner. Bornman believes that modeling this kind of interaction is one of the true values of this kind of event.
In regards to a panel discussion, Gottschalk indicated, “Students, who were from countries where there is tension and even violence, asked pointed questions about Muslim-Christian relations. They were given sensitive, realistic answers.”
EMM’s Christian-Muslim Relations Team, of which Bornman is a member, seeks to encourage church leaders to interact with Muslim clerical leaders “because their relationships may influence their congregations towards healthy relations between Christian and Muslim neighbors,” said Bornman.
The team’s mission is: “to equip Christians around the world for life-giving relationships with Muslims through dialogue, witness, peacemaking, and hospitality. In a world where complex conflicts sometimes divide Muslims and Christians and where mutual suspicion can build walls, this team speaks boldly and trains persistently to build bridges of loving and respectful connection between Christians and Muslims, while faithfully confessing Christ.”
In addition to his work with EMM, Bornman is a Ph.D. candidate at Middlesex University London. His dissertation is focused on the nonviolent practices of a Senegalese Sufi order called the Muridiyya. He served as a Bible teacher in Senegal from 1999 to 2009 but is currently doing research among the Murid community in Harlem, New York City.
Tyndale is an international, English-language seminary. The school has had students from more than 80 different countries.