The Certainty Trap

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					                                 St Francis Magazine Nr. 4 Vol. III (March 2008)

                                 The Certainty Trap
                                Bill Musk about his own book

Nobody needs convincing that religion figures              Islamists and their fellow religionists. Did God
significantly in some of the major controversies           order jihâd or not? If he did, did God intend for
currently embroiling our world in violence. On             that jihâd to be a sort of spiritual battle against
the surface it might appear that confident people          the world, the flesh and the devil, or did God
of faith know exactly what they are convinced              rather intend it to be a physical battle against
about, to the extent that they are prepared to             his enemies? How did Prophet Muhammad
struggle for the domination of their particular            respond to the command to wage war on God’s
view over all others. A look under the surface,            behalf? Did he spiritualise the command or
however, suggests hints of internal insecurity             literally obey the command? To Islamists it is
within each faith – I am here thinking especially          obvious what the plain answers to such ques-
of Islam and Christianity, though the claim                tions amount to.
might well be applied to other faiths at the be-           Within Western Christianity, especially, part of
ginning of the twenty-first century.                       the worldview of rightwing or fundamental-
I am convinced that there is a current struggle            istic evangelicals allows a view of Muslims as
going on for the soul of Islam which is mirrored           particularly standing in the way of all that God
by an equivalent struggle for the soul of Chris-           intends for the world today. In the USA espe-
tianity. Those twin struggles are at their heart           cially, twenty-first century evangelicals have
focused around convictions about the certainty             boldly proposed a facing up to some of the
to be derived from written, holy texts.                    breakdown and moral bankruptcy within their
Within Islam, such struggle has been provoked              society as a whole. The (laudable) concern of
by the insistent and powerful voices and deeds             such a “moral majority” for their own nation is
of Islamists within recent decades. Those Isla-            nurtured within a theology that has much to say
mist voices have insisted that theirs is a more            about God’s action in the wider world. Christian
faithful obedience to the Qur’ân. The owners of            fundamentalists, representatives of whom have
such voices see themselves as taking the divine            tended to gain disproportionate access to policy
word literally, unlike the majority of their or-           makers at national level, propose an end-time
thodox, fellow-Muslims. In consequence, they               scenario that pits the people of God against the
announce themselves as truly muslim, authen-               enemies of God in a desperate battle eventuating
tically submitted to God. The matter of jihâd              in Armageddon. The enemies of God, quickly
constitutes a potent nub of the friction between           re-identified since the fall of communist USSR
                                                           in 1991 as including particular Muslim regimes

                         St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision
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                                 St Francis Magazine Nr. 4 Vol. III (March 2008)

or movements, constitute an “axis of evil” that            proaches to the interpretation of holy text. That
needs defeating.                                           challenge requires a review of how the relevant
If Muslims generally believe that literally obey-          holy texts came to be – is the history all squeaky
ing God’s word is the duty of Muslims – and                clean, or are there some murky, less transparent
they do – how do they deal with those who                  parts to the stories? How have religious texts
claim that theirs is a more faithful obedience or          historically been received or responded to, both
submission than their own? The Islamists seem              within Islam and Christianity? What kind of dy-
to have grabbed the moral and theological high             namics bear upon the interface between divine
ground. They are the ones martyring themselves             author, human transmitter(s), recipients and
in a fight against a rampant, Western, “Christian”         interpreters of holy Scripture?
oppressor and seeking, in doing so, to fight in            Within Islam, this is a delicate issue, for the his-
the way of God. They are the ones trumpet-                 toric bent of Islam is towards fundamentalism,
ing that their interpretation of Qur’ân is more            towards literalism. The Qur’ân is seen as “sent
in line with the heritage derived from Prophet             down”, entire and complete via the (willing but
Muhammad’s own example.                                    unengaged) Prophet Muhammad so that what
If Christians, especially evangelical Christians,          Muslims now have in their hands as “recitation”
believe that the Bible is the word of God – and            (qur’ân) is what God has recited from eternity.
they do – how do they deal with those who                  It is God’s text vouchsafed to humankind. There
claim that theirs is a more faithful obedience to          are many examples, however, both historically
that Word than their own? The fundamentalistic             and contemporaneously, of Muslims who have
evangelicals are the ones with a clear, biblical           come up with vigorous and dynamic reflections
view on what is going on within their own na-              on how the Qur’ân might be differently con-
tion and within the world as a whole. Theirs is            ceived of, received and interpreted. Sadly, today,
a black and white, all or nothing message: “This           most of such creative and serious alternative
is God’s will! These are God’s enemies! It’s in            expressions can only find safe voice from within
the Bible!” How do you argue with that with-               the protection of residence in the West. In The
out looking suspiciously unfaithful to Scripture           Certainty Trap we sample some of the offerings
or unprepared to stand up for what God would               from an Iranian, a Pakistani, some Egyptians, an
want?                                                      Algerian and a South African.

The Certainty Trap tries to carve some space for           Within Christianity, especially at the evangelical
both Muslims and Christians – orthodox believ-             end of the spectrum, this is a delicate issue as
ers of each faith – to stand up and be counted.            well. Anything that looks like an undermining
In both religions, the fundamentalists need to be          of the adamancy of “infallibility” or “inerrancy”
challenged on their hermeneutics, on their ap-             brings suspicion on the proponent of a more

                         St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision
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                                 St Francis Magazine Nr. 4 Vol. III (March 2008)

open hermeneutic. Often, also, any sugges-                 of cultures and thought processes that were
tion that fulfilment of prophecy concerning the            strongly informed by such prejudices as mascu-
restoration of Zion does not necessarily equate            line pride, racism, tribalism, elitism and so on.
with the ups and downs of the current Zion-                The normal “modern” way of reading Scripture
ist State of Israel looks to many evangelicals as          is to relegate it to “that was good for those folk
smacking of unfaithfulness. In The Certainty Trap          then” but today to ignore it for its quaint or
we look at some ways of handling Scripture that            not-so-quaint anti-feminism and homophobia
take text, context, exegetical intent and inter-           or its endorsement of ethnic cleansing. I make
pretative intent seriously. I hope that excursions         some suggestions in the context of church life in
into those areas come across as both faithful and          the West and relationships across the faiths as to
provocative.                                               how the uncertainty trap might be challenged or
The purpose, then, of The Certainty Trap is to             forsworn.
proffer some seed-thoughts that might engender             Where does certainty, or sureness, or reliability
a more open space in which to deduce a faithful            lie for people of faith especially where such faith
treatment of holy texts that does not inevitably           is predicated upon a holy text? In a manner that
or a priori capture them to a literalist or funda-         hopefully goes beyond the neo-orthodoxy of
mentalist hermeneutic – either within Islam or             Barth, I make some suggestions concerning our
within Christianity.                                       engagement with holy texts and especially, in my
That proffering has, inevitably, required some             own case, with the Bible. I am convinced that
consideration of an opposite trap or entrapment            orthodox believers, both Muslim and Chris-
– especially in the case of Western Christianity,          tian, need to do some urgent public thinking
including evangelicalism.                                  and declaring on this important matter before
                                                           the whole world simply gives up on religion in
I have referred to this “opposite” issue as the            a “plague on both your houses” desperation.
“uncertainty trap”. Our modern Western world               Christians might like to consider: how could Je-
finds itself allergic to any claim to universal            sus live most faithfully by God’s word, say some
truth, any declaration of overarching mean-                of the most harsh things ever mouthed about
ing, any submission to a meta-text. In this                hell and judgment, and yet live consistently in
Western milieu, I am calling for some certainty,           servant mode, self-humbling mode, obedient-
some sureness, at least in the Christian story. I          unto-death mode, laying aside stereotypes
do believe that the Bible is more than simply              and swords? How might we, in our time, find
manuscript. How are modern-day, Western                    ourselves both convinced and “not yet totally
sceptics (Christians and all!) to be convinced of          certain” believers?
the authenticity of Scripture? Their conviction
is that Scripture is time-bound and expressive             Bill Musk

                         St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision
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                                    St Francis Magazine Nr. 4 Vol. III (March 2008)

How to obtain a copy of tHe                                   enDorSeMentS
certainty trap.
                                                              “Bill Musk is an extremely insightful author
Within the United Kingdom: directly from                      of several well-received books on Islam. The
Bill Musk. The cost per copy is £11.00 plus                   Certainty Trap is his most provocative book.
£1.50 p&p: total £12.50. For quantities greater               Musk protests simplistic interpretations of dif-
than one, postage costs will be calculated on an              ficult Koranic and Biblical passages. He issues
individual order basis. Cheques payable to Bill               an impassioned plea for Muslims and Christians
Musk: please send with orders for single copy                 to humbly examine their scriptures in a manner
to:                                                           that would lead to a faith that eschews violence
  Rev Canon Dr Bill Musk                                      and embraces a quest for peaceful co-existence.
  49 Trinity Rise                                             For a mind-expanding experience, I can do no
  Tulse Hill
                                                              better than recommend Musk’s latest produc-
  London SW2 2QP
Make sure you write your name, street address,                Phil Parshall, SIM: Missionary-At-Large
town and postcode clearly on any order.
If you need to contact Bill Musk re. details of an            “This book can be trusted because it was con-
order for more than one copy, the email address               ceived in the writer’s own tears, nurtured by his
is                                         research and is delivered in his usual perceptive
Within the U.S.A.: please order from William                  style. Bill Musk identifies us all as both wit-
Carey Library at                     nesses and perpetrators of the religious ‘certainty
                                                              trap’ and he retrieves us to a more humble faith
  William Carey Library
  1605 E. Elizabeth St.                                       in the sovereign Lord of history.”
  Pasadena CA 91104                                           Steve Bell, Interserve: National Director desig-
  U.S.A.                                                      nate England & Wales
  tel. 626.720.8210
Elsewhere in the world: order either from Wil-                “In his latest book, Bill Musk has offered the
liam Carey Library or Bill Musk. If you order                 struggles and insights of his own personal jour-
via Bill Musk, the postage and packing costs will             ney as an evangelical Christian and a scholar
rise according to where you live. Potential costs             reading the Bible to those who read the Quran
can be advised by email when you order from                   as sacred text. From his experience and scholar-
Bill Musk.                                                    ship he provides to Christians and Muslims who
For bulk copies: best to contact William Carey                seek the voice of God in scripture, an effective
Library at                           response to those who claim a literalist reading

                            St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision
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                                  St Francis Magazine Nr. 4 Vol. III (March 2008)

to be the only faithful account. He is concerned            and for others it will be a difficult but desirable
to challenge those whose approaches are unable              challenge. I warmly commend this as a work of
to give a responsible account of the actual nature          courage, faithfulness and integrity.”
of the texts. This is a work undertaken in humil-           Canon Guy Wilkinson, Church of England Inter
ity and in respect for both Christian and Islamic           Faith Relations Adviser
scripture; for many it will be a breath of fresh air

                          St Francis Magazine is published by Interserve and Arab Vision
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