[Kuhn, Mike. Fresh Vision for the Muslim World. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009.]
Mike Kuhn is uniquely qualified to write on this subject as he has many years of experience in living closely with Muslims in both the Middle East and North Africa. He holds master’s degrees in both Arabic and theology. Kuhn is well positioned to speak on the subject because he understands well Muslim culture after twenty-two years serving overseas he also knows American culture as he was born in America and recently pastored in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kuhn currently serves as a professor at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon.
This book is important because Kuhn brings wisdom grounded in the Bible and infused with the gospel and love for Jesus and people who need to know Him. This book is important because it is true to its title, it gives fresh vision for the Muslim world. The reader will put the book down with a better understanding not only of Islam but also of the people that follow its teachings. The reader will be moved to compassion, stirred to action, and guided by practical direction.
Kuhn says that his premise is that we as Christian must incarnate ourselves (16). We must be with people. We must laugh at their jokes, wait in their traffic jams, weep at their funerals, and cry for joy at their weddings (2). We must also understand them and part of understanding them is understanding their history and past Christian interaction with them (thus, ch. 2-4). “We need some sense of the complex history of the Muslim world and the involvement of the ‘Christian’ West in it” (58). That is a necessary first step in good communication and incarnation (59).
Kuhn proceeds then to talk about the theological differences between Christianity and Islam. For instance, “the essence of the Christian faith—God became human being in Christ—is diametrically opposed to Islamic faith” (69). There is also a vast difference in the view of what constitutes humanities problem and thus our view of salvation is different. Islam teaches that “individuals are neither dead in sin nor in need of redemption; rather, they are weak, forgetful, and in need of guidance” (78). The heart of the difference between Islam and Christianity is how man is put right with their Creator (81).
In chapters seven through nine, Kuhn reminds us that Jesus’ concern was not with “the geopolitical state of Israel during his earthly ministry. His concern is with his kingdom—the kingdom of heaven” (120). The place of the state of Israel is a subject filled with tension for many Muslims and Christians alike but it is also a very important and practical subject. So, we must seek God and His Scripture for wisdom, we must understand Jesus’ words (130, 171). Kuhn points out that the need of the entire world is to see “the manifestation of the kingdom of Jesus in his people” (158, italics mine), not in an earthly nation. As we have seen, we are to love our neighbors and part of loving someone is understanding them, their history, their perspective, their past hurts.
Chapter ten talks about jihad and explains that not all Muslims understand jihad in the same way, some have a spiritualized understanding of jihad (e.g. 199). So, it is important to understand that Muslims, like Christians, are not all the same. In fact, “the primary concerns of most Muslims are similar to ours—raising their children, providing for their children’s education, saving for that new car or outfit… We must exercise care not to be monofocal in our understanding of Islam” (187). Chapter eleven challenges us to faithfully speak for Jesus and live for His Kingdom and not our own. In part 5, chapters twelve through thirteen, we see steps to incarnation and what it means to live missionally (see esp. 225).
I appreciate Kuhn’s humble honesty. Kuhn says that in his early years of encountering Muslims it worked on him like sandpaper. Kuhn realized “the reality and depth of the Islamic faith and worldview” (64). He came to understand John 6:44 more fully (64). Muslims will not come to Christ through “persuasive philosophical arguments, or governmental prestige and influence. It is the gospel that must go out in human form through people” (85).
I believe Kuhn could have had more Scriptural argumentation at places but I realize his book was not meant to be exhaustive. However, I agree with most of what he wrote and believe it is truthful. That is, I believe Kuhn made a cogent case in what he said. I also appreciate that he gave a recap of each chapter, it helped give the book clarity.
Stylistically, I appreciate that Kuhn covered many different topics yet did not lose the focus of the book. For example, he introduced incarnation at the beginning (8) and then weaved it through the rest of the book (see e.g. 13, 16, 75, 85. 242). What is needed Kuhn pointed out, though sadly rare, “is an extended hand, a caring smile, someone who is willing to go the extra mile to help someone in need” (259) (cf. Matt. 5:13-16; Jn. 13:35; 1 Cor. 10:33).
I appreciate Kuhn’s reminder that “The kingdom of Jesus as opposed to empire is not concerned in the least about the political boundaries of a country. It is a reality that overlays the political boundaries” (256). We must remember that the Roman Empire came and went, but Jesus’ Kingdom is eternal (254) (cf. Jn. 18:36). Kuhn’s challenge is timely, he says, “if Western Christians are able to bid farewell to our fortress mentality, we will find that our countries have already become exceedingly accessible and potentially fruitful mission fields” (244). Kuhn further points out that if American Christians are overly aligned with their governments’ policies then their missional impact will likely be impacted (241). Instead, as Christians, Jesus should be our King and His policies should hold ultimate sway. The real hope of the Muslim world, and the Western world for that matter, is not democracy, it the diffusion of the good news of Jesus the Christ and the establishment of His reign (218).
I conclude with a pungent quote from Kuhn:
As Muslims grow increasingly suspicious and fed up with the violent response of Islamists, they are beginning to look for alternatives. Some are finding their alternative in secularism. Others are turning to materialistic pleasure. Will we as Christ-followers have anything to offer them? (214-15)