Contend Earnestly: A Deadly Misunderstanding :::UPDATED:::

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Deadly Misunderstanding :::UPDATED:::

**After posting my review, Mark Siljander was kind of enough to write me an email and tell me that some others have had some of the same "issues" as I did with the book. Because of this, Mr. Siljander, in the 2nd edition of the book is going to make some changes. He also was kind enough to tell me that this book was written to both the Christian and Mulsim. Because of this, some things can seem more "soft" for the Christian, when not intending to be. I appreciate the humility that is shown by Siljander, one that is not found that often in authors today. We have had a good exchange between each other, and one that I pray will continue. I also hope to be able to get together with him if he makes it up here to Seattle, to hear more of the amazing work that Jesus is doing through him. Again, I highly recommend the book.

A Deadly Misunderstanding by Mark D. Siljander, is challenging and pushes your comforts past where you would like. The full title for the book is, A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman's Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide. Not only is this a title of a book, but the title of Mr. Siljander's life. Siljander is one that will surprise you. He is a white, Republican, conservative, Evangelical, from Michigan. He breaks the stereotype fully, when you read his quest. But, he is honest where the quest started, which is one where he used to hate Islam so much, and spoke out against them so profusely, that Yasser Arafat had a hit put out on him. He really started out where the majority of Evangelical Christians find themselves today. I found the opening to the book one that I can personally relate with:

Many years later, after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when Christian leaders began denouncing Islam and the Qur'an from pulpits and radio stations across America, their litany of vitriol and hysteria was both frightening and yet oddly familiar.

Back in 1984, what I didn't realize was that I was also a hostage, held captive by my own ignorance and fear-much like the fear that has held so much of the world hostage since the events of 9/11. And while I could not have remotely suspected it at the time, that same letter of protest would trigger a series of encounters that would eventually shake me loose from the beliefs that held me there. (p.11)

The book is about the quest of a congressman (mostly as his time as a former congressman) who wasn't content at being ignorant. Siljander took this urge seriously as he spanned the globe meeting up with major leaders in the Islamic world to sit and speak to them about the divide between Muslims and Christians. Not only this, but he would be someone I would call (I doubt he would call himself this) a self trained genius. He so much wanted to truly befriend those from other nations that he learned Spanish, Hebrew, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, French, Italian, Portuguese, and then to specifically speak to those in the Arab and Muslim world, learned Arabic and Aramaic. He learned the former two to aid his quest to study the Qur'an and language that Christ most likely spoke in, Aramaic, to be able to seek out why these two Monotheistic faiths have been at each other's throats for so many years.

In this book, Siljander gives forth not only his life's quest of bridging this divide one relationship at a time, but also through showing some of his findings (exegetically) that break down some major walls between the two faiths. I will say that those he has spoken to in the Muslim world are quite impressive. These stories are amazing to read about, and truthfully should challenge all of us to consider our motives for relationships. Siljander over and over again, quite honestly, shatters any concepts one would have of a conservative Evangelical Republican congressman.

The reader is challenged, both Muslim and Christian (but mostly Christian) on their understanding of the Bible, Qur'an and how they interact, which is more than most think. Reading this book, had me going back and forth. At one point, I would smile and almost yell, "amen!", then I would find myself cringing because I felt a misstep was happening within Siljander's exegesis. And although Siljander does his best to convey this when stating,

What follows in these pages is not some new form of ecumenism or syncretism where Christians, Muslims, or anyone else is expected to give up cherished and long-held beliefs or creeds.

The problem is that I felt as though, at points, Siljander seemed to just that. The reason is because the centrality of the Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as God's atoning death for us and His glory. This seemed to be very light in the book and within his interactions with the Muslim world. He even, at one point, tries to bring these two faiths together on this point, but I believe he gives up too much in the understanding of orthodoxy within Christendom to make this work. So, at points, I feel as though Siljander sounds very syncretic, even though he starts trying to say he is not doing this. But, I will also say this. The written word can be misleading and very difficult to convey at times, especially on such touchy subjects as this. So, before I would say anything completely negative about Siljander and his path towards reconciliation, I would desire to sit down and ask him questions about these issues and what he has found as he has spoken to those of the Muslim faith.

So, with that in mind, would I recommend this book? Yes. Like any book about faith and dialogue, you must be discerning. Siljander doesn't even say "his way" is how everyone should handle themselves. But, he tells the story of how his journey and where his journey has taken him, both in his study and relationships. This, I highly commend him for sharing. This book will stretch anyone who reads it. There is so much "good" in this book and so much that the reader will realize about their own journey towards truth (if they are honestly trying to learn), that it is well worth the read. If you like where you are currently in your understanding of the world and are enjoying what is portrayed in American media, don't read this book. But, if you want to see what is actually happening elsewhere, what Muslims actually believe, what the Bible actually says in certain points and desire to be stretched, you need to read this book. You will learn much through Siljander's interactions with Muslim leaders and also with his interactions of great study through the Aramaic translation of the New Testament (which is a personal conviction with just that statement). You will learn such things as:

Who is Allah? What does this term have to do with the term "God"? (for an excerpt, click here)
What do Muslims understand of the Christian when we speak of the Son of God, Jesus' death and the Trinity?
What does the Qur'an say about Jesus and the spirit of God?
What is the Aramaic understanding of (this was one of my favorite parts):
- Camel through the eye of the needle (Matt 19:24)
- The Lord's Prayer, specifically on God leading us into temptation
- Jesus telling us to hate our family members (Luke 14:26)
- Heap burning coals on our enemy's head (Romans 12:20), etc.

As you can see, this book is jammed pack with data. It is only 222 pages, and flows in and out with exegesis and personal stories of his travels all over the world. It is very readable and very enjoyable and one that I couldn't put down. I read it in three days. It will have you saying "amen" one second, "no way!" the next and lastly just plain shaking your head in personal shame for your misunderstandings.

I ask you, please read this book and be challenged. Will you agree with everything in this book? Probably not. Will it stretch you more than other books you have read in the past? I would bet it will be in the top 5, if not the top book as far as its' challenges.

I have had a brief conversation with Mr. Siljander and I hope to have some more in the future. I pray that I get the chance to sit down with him and seek out his wisdom on how God continues to challenge him on the path he has been put on. Until then, I pray that my misunderstandings of others, are able to be broken down as I search out the truth in both Jesus and my relationships with others who aren't like myself.

I highly recommend this book.

May God be glorified.


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