Vulnerable Love

Vulnerable Love

Title of Book: Vulnerable Love
Author: Bernhard J.G. Reitsma
Publisher, Year: Langham Partnership, 2020
Reviewed by: C.H.

The relationship between Christians and Muslims has always been complex, often caught up in political, historical and cultural debates. Among both Muslims and Christians, as well as those who claim no faith, there have been widely divergent viewpoints on how Christians and Muslims should engage.

Bernhard Reitsma, in this book ‘Vulnerable Love’, acknowledges these tensions and dilemmas and seeks to call Christians to different pathways of engagement. His principle argument builds from two key dynamics. The first is a call to Christians to examine themselves, letting them learn in their theology from their interactions with Muslims. The second is what he considers to be a different starting point in dialogue, starting with creation rather than matters of salvation.

This should not be seen as Reitsma avoiding foundational matters of Christian faith. He maintains a strong Christ-centred view of restoring man’s relationship with God. As Rev Charles E Van Engen says in the Foreword: [Reitsma]… remains solidly grounded on the Bible, clear in his understanding of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, and forthright in expressing where he disagrees with Islamic thought.’ (Loc 203 Kindle Edition)

I was first attracted to read the book by the title, Vulnerable Love, wanting to explore different ways of storying my Christian faith in relation to Muslims. The role of the idea of vulnerable love did not feature in ways that the title perhaps suggests. The first three sections of the book set up the final two section with deal with the idea of vulnerability by considering the Church as a vulnerable community and the relationship between Christianity and Islam from that idea of vulnerability.

The book explores the relationship between the church and Islam and begins by advancing Reitsma’s understanding of the fundamental problem. Drawing on the history of relationships between the two religions, he centres down on the challenge of Islam to the church and to the communities of believers who constitute the church using what he calls a biblical-theological approach to examine those challenges. He concludes that an approach which he calls ‘The Contextual Approach’ is needed, defining this as a Christ-centred means of bringing the two communities together.

He then introduces his starting point for building relationships, creation. He builds his argument on the idea that in John’s gospel the story of creation is continued in Jesus coming as a human. He argues that Jesus reframes the Sabbath, using the example of healing on the Sabbath. Because creation is no longer as it was meant to be, and the relationship between humans and God is broken, Jesus comes to restore creation, inaugurating a new creation with his death and resurrection.

In exploring the Church as a vulnerable community, Reitsma argues that it is the nature of the Church to be a minority. The nature and origin of the Church make it something that is completely different from powers and institutions of this world. This is an issue of marginality which Reitsma seems to miss. While he addresses issues of persecution, he suggests that suffering is inherently a part of who the Church is. He says: ‘Suffering is an essential characteristic of the Church of Christ in a distorted creation. Because the church is a new creation, its nature is at odds with the powers and structures of the broken reality. That unavoidably brings suffering.’ (Loc 2943 Kindle Edition)

In speaking of the relationship of the Church and Islam a call is given to the Church to embrace its vulnerability. He suggests that vulnerable love calls the Church to seven areas of vulnerability in its relationship with Islam: to be vulnerably fearless, vulnerably devoted to mission, vulnerably inclusive, vulnerably prophetic, vulnerably self-critical and vulnerably just.

Reitsma helpfully centres the Church in his discussions, calling the whole of the Church, not just that part in Muslim nations, to embrace its call to relationship that brings healing and wholeness to a broken creation. For this, his book is worth reading and its ideas worth wrestling with. His arguments at time circle around, which make reading challenging in parts when you are used to a particular flow of logic. However, in doing that he reframes thinking through different lenses and if you can stick with his flow you will be drawn to fresh conceptualisations of the Christian relationship with Islam.

I recommend the book with that above caveat. It takes some work to read it, but there are some beneficial ways of considering the Church and its relationship with Islam that are needed in today’s global world.

(c) When Women Speak… February 2021

C. Hine has spent more than three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and was part of Interserve’s International Leadership for nine years, and has recently rejoined it. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).


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