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Part 2: The Role of History in Pastoral Care for Christians from a Muslim Background

Part 2 of 2: Continuing from last weeks blog, you can find Part 1 here.

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Familiarity with history also allows for the recognition of self-worth and value for one’s local Christian community. It was striking to see how CMBs in North Africa were energized by hearing that their local bishop martyr, Cyprian, had made such a lasting and profound impact on Christian theology and ecclesiology. Cyprian was neither Arab nor Berber, as were my students; he was Roman through and through. But they knew Carthage; many had been there (it is a neighborhood in Tunis, today).

You might look at this and think, that’s very nice, but you are a church historian and I am not! But I respond that we all need to do some background research and work to better minister to the people around us. It is somewhat like designing a syllabus the first time you will teach a class. It is a lot of work up front. But once it is designed you can continue to use and reuse it with modifications if they are needed. Once you do your own research into the history of Persian Christianity, for instance, you will have some basic resources and background, you will have found some articles, movies or books to share with the converts under your care. Furthermore, it is not unlikely that as colleagues and converts learn of your own background for helping a certain type of Christian that you will have those believers referred to you by others.

A key purpose here is the construal of a concept of the convert’s culture as being in some way, to some degree, a Christian one. “Culture gives us what we so desperately need in human life: a set of meanings. Once we know the meaning and significance of things, we are able to develop that comfortable sense of belonging, or the feeling of ‘being at home’ in one small section of the world, a sense of identity and security” (emphasis is mine).[1]

Are there any groups that have absolutely no Christian heritage—either ethnically or geographically? Possibly. Are there examples of ethnic groups in a region who have negative feelings about the historical Christian communities that had lived there? Probably. Regarding the latter group, however, I would scrutinize as to whether this is because the person is in fact misinformed about the historical Christian presence. It is very common in Islamic historiography to interpret everything in terms of the triumph of Islam or, when the Muslims lose, the heroic victimhood of noble Muslims suffering under the insidious heel of Zionists or Crusaders or what have you. So if your convert tells you they have studied that history and they were using Muslim sources, they were probably exposed to pious hagiography, not actual history.

A brief word of caution: this historical investigation should not devolve into a desire to simply imitate this or that historical community. It is intended to go along side other forms of learning and formation like the study of Scripture and ethics. The CMB who forms a respectful, thankful but critical relation with this heritage will be better positioned to construe and communicate his/her Christian identity in a winsome and informed manner.

A concluding, personal note: As an Anglican, and convert to Anglicanism, I can sympathize with this. The story of the English Reformation is a sordid and bloody one. I can look back and appreciate the waffling of Cranmer and the desire for independence of Henry without making any of them into unblemished heroes or unqualified villains.

[1] Gerald Arbuckle, Earthing the Gospel (1990), p. 27.

 
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Rev. Dr. Duane Alexander Miller lives in Madrid with Sharon and their three children where they teach and minister at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer. He is associate faculty at the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Madrid (UEBE). You can contact Duane here.