Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear

Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear, by Matthew Kaemingk. Eerdmans, 2018. 296 pp.

Matthew Kaemingk’s recent work poses a timely question: How should Christians in a highly secularized North American context think, speak, and act in relation to Muslim immigrants? In laboring to provide an answer, Kaemingk draws on the resources of Dutch Neo-Calvinist political theology and argues for what he calls “Christian pluralism.” Eschewing religious pluralism, and upholding the exclusivity of Christ, he offers a framework for thinking about how Christians ought to treat those of different religions, Islam in particular. His construct envisions Christians working together with peoples of all faiths for human flourishing, to the end that all might ultimately know the one true Lord and Savior.

The book is divided into four parts plus an epilogue, with each part containing at most three chapters. In Part 1, “Mecca and Amsterdam: A Case Study,” Kaemingk tells the story of Dutch multiculturalism—an early political solution to Islam and immigration, including an assessment of why it failed, and a rehearsal of alternative remedies that have been attempted. In doing so, he traces the shift from medieval, institutional views of religion to modern, individual perspectives since the Enlightenment. He notes how this shift resulted in the relegation of all religion to the private sphere, and the marginalization of Islam in the Netherlands.

In Part 2, “Christian Pluralism: A History,” Kaemingk looks back to the work of Dutch Neo-Calvinist theologian, pastor, and statesman, Abraham Kuyper. At the heart of Kuyper’s Christian pluralism is the notion of three forms of human freedom under the sovereign lordship of Jesus Christ: freedom to express the common good in society, freedom to voice ideas and values in public discourse, and freedom to be the imago Dei. Kaemingk concludes Part 2 by sketching the theological aspects of Christian pluralism articulated by Kuyper: Sphere Sovereignty, Christological Sovereignty, Common Grace, and Trinitarianism. In doing so, Kaemingk considers how these theological distinctives might help to address fear and anxiety brought on by Muslim immigration.

Part 3, “Christian Pluralism: A Future,” looks forward, through retrieval of Herman Bavinck, Klaas Schilder, and Hans Boersma. Bavinck shows we must not compartmentalize aspects of the Christ to suit certain situations, but rather fully acknowledge and follow Christ, in all of his manifold facets. Schilder underscores the irony of the cross, wherein the King, while sovereign and free, hangs naked and enslaved. Boersma supplies an image of Christ’s humility, transparency, and sacrifice. Taken together, these three figures offer a mosaic displaying the way in which the church might respond to Muslim immigrants. This part ends with a strategy for how weekly liturgy and missional action can teach, form, equip, and mobilize toward the end of hospitality with Muslims, while sensitive to the nuances of a sinful, secularized culture.

In Part 4, “Islam and Christian Pluralism in America,” Kaemingk discusses the pre- and post-9/11 reality of Islam and Christianity in North America, observing the tensions, failures, and successes patent in Christianity’s relation with Islam. Kaemingk concludes his book with the “Christian Pluralist Option.” Here, he details ten practices for Christians as they seek to navigate the waters of pluralism (including the choppy waves of Islam) while pursuing the safe harbor of Christian discipleship. This is followed by a short epilogue, describing a unique backdrop in which to practice Christian pluralism within the narrative of Holy Week.

As to praise, the book offers a solid mooring for engaging with Muslims in a biblical, Christ-centered way. The principles drawn from Dutch Neo-Calvinist political theology provide a salutary means of dealing with concerns associated with Muslim immigration in our current context. Second, though theological reflection is at the core of this book, the tone throughout is one of a call-to-action. Kaemingk seeks not the shore of mere ideological conviction; he insists that one’s grounding necessary leads to engagement. Third, his deconstruction of the liberal view of religious pluralism is informative. Anchored to Kuyper, Kaemingk masterfully sketches the problem of the liberal aim to coalesce all religions under one canopy, in effect forcing them into the shallows of secularism. Liberalism, he claims, finally demonstrates its ignorance of the nature and practice of religion. With our contemporary situation in view, this critique alone is worth the price of the book.

Fourth, Kaemingk invites us to enter in to the intricacies of religious and theological diversity, learning to interact with other religions, and do so in healthy ways that lead toward human flourishing. Admittedly, this is formidable task for the church in the West, where Christians tend to be dismissive of the unfamiliar. As James K. A. Smith suggests in the foreword to the book, the author “challenges the failure of the theological imagination to really grapple with difference. Dominant schools of thought are locked in a binary imagination that either underwrites hegemony or blithely diminishes difference in the name of a vague sense of inclusion.” Kaemingk gives Christians permission to first approach adherents of other religions as imago Dei, and serve them in the way of Christ, seeking their common good, rather than maintaining our distance.

One point of critique stands out. Throughout much of the second half of the book, Kaemingk works with concepts of “commonality” and “deep difference” between Christianity and Islam in their mutual and respective pursuits of the common good. Yet the proper relation between these two is unclear. For example, he proposes that Christian pluralists ought to discover aspects of commonality with Muslims in the pursuit of human flourishing, and to do so while not dismissing their disparity. Yet he seems to go in a different direction when looking at how the Free University of Amsterdam sought to downplay commonality in order to highlight differences among its students, since “Muslim students do not appreciate so-called neutral Dutch scholars explaining to them that their faith has a lot in common with other faiths,” viewing such explications as “imperialistic.”

This begs the question of where to place one’s emphasis: on commonality or difference. If commonality, how much is too much before it begins to agitate each religion under threat of coalescing? If difference, how far does it go before each religion disengages and goes its separate way in pursuit of the common good? Furthermore, wherein do our commonalities and differences lie? Christians may find, for example, the doctrines of common grace or the imago Dei useful in working along-side other religions toward human flourishing. But it is, of course, not assumed that Muslims would agree with those doctrines, or understand them in the same way. Even if there were common ground, the corresponding ethical application of principles between each religion could potentially look much different.

Kaemingk is optimistic, in light of all this, in his hope that we may discover “moments” of commonality between the faiths amidst the project of human flourishing, while at the same time rightly honest about the complexity of such a proposal, and the real differences between divergent faith convictions. Yet, while Kaemingk’s project is worthy of pursuit, there needs to be greater discussion as to what exactly is and is not meant by “commonality” and “difference,” and perhaps a more fulsome accounting of the divergent doctrinal and ethical tenets of Christianity and Islam.

On the whole, Kaemingk brings to the table a laudable work in the area of theology, religion, and politics as he addresses the issue of Muslim immigration. Evangelical scholarship in this arena is currently scarce, as other cultural issues like gender and sexuality have attracted no shortage of attention. Thus, Kaemingk’s book offers us a novelty in its own right—one focused on a difficult and neglected topic with strong Christ-centered conviction, along with healthy nuance and honesty. The content here is worthy of time and thought for any Christian, to the end of spurring them on toward better loving of their Muslim neighbors.

Photo by Keith Zhu

About Derek Hiebert

Derek Hiebert is a Western alumnus, Director for the Western Seminary Seattle Teaching Site, husband to an amazing wife, and father of three daughters. He and his family live in Parkland, WA, and minister bi-vocationally with Soma Church.

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