Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 2 (August 2013)

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Joshua Graves. Tearing Down the Walls: A Guide for Christians and Muslims Living in North America. Kindle edition. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services: 2013. 124pp. $9.99.

In Tearing Down the Walls, Joshua Graves attempts to bridge the divide between the American Christian and American Muslim populations. Focusing mainly on the evangelical Christian tradition from which he comes, Graves utilizes his background as the lead minister for the Otter Creek Church in Nashville, Tennessee and additional research conducted during his doctoral studies at Columbia University to construct a road map for other ministers. He aims to help them guide their congregations into mutual understanding and dialogue with their local Muslim communities.

Graves methodically lays out the history of Muslim-Christian relations in the United States. He begins with the ancient rivalry between Hagar and Sarah which led to the dueling legacies of Ishmael and Isaac, the former giving birth to Islam as the latter produced the Judeo-Christian tradition. Graves also spends time on how the September 11th attacks, as well as changing immigration laws, have forced this issue to the forefront of the American church.

Throughout the book Graves interweaves the ministry of Jesus, especially focusing on the theme of sight in Jesus’ ministry and the importance of seeing differently when engaging with people of other faiths. Through this language of sight, Graves expresses the importance of acknowledging the “otherness” of those who come from a different faith tradition. This book is not about conversion; it is about relationship.

In addition to this vital understanding of relationship, Tearing Down the Walls also provides excellent resources for jumpstarting a conversation about this topic in a local church. The arguments are laid out in a linear and compelling style written for a general church audience. Furthermore, by laying out the discussion in this fashion, it is evident that Graves understands the importance of church leadership accepting the need for relationship before attempting to move their congregations toward engagement.

Finally, the resources found in the appendix will be of great use to pastors as they attempt to uncover what knowledge and biases are already held by those in their communities. It also provides a considerable amount of perspective, as Graves shares not just the questions he asked of his small group, but also the answers they gave. This will allow pastors and facilitators to accurately gauge what content they need to focus on and what perceptions they need to work hardest to develop.

With these strengths in mind, it must be noted that Tearing Down the Walls is not without its flaws. The style often vacillates rather drastically between academic and research-based language suitable for a dissertation to the more relaxed and conversational tone of a text intended for a popular audience. This stylistic discontinuity does not take away from the content, but it can be distracting. Additionally, while the book empowers conversation within the church, it leaves leaders and other church members with few examples about how this conversation should influence future action. This may be intentional in order to allow for creativity and flexibility from congregation to congregation, but more on this topic would have been helpful.

Though occasionally disjointed stylistically, Tearing Down the Walls powerfully equips pastors and other church leaders with the resources and reasoning necessary to bring about a healthy conversation regarding the interaction between the Christian and Muslim populations in the United States. Even more, it empowers those leaders to push their congregation towards engagement and away from fear. I can recommend it as a necessary resource for any pastor or church leader looking to spark a new way of viewing interfaith relationships and a new way to generate conversation and bring about healthy dialogue with our often misunderstood neighbors.

Ben Howard

Writer/Blogger

Nashville, Tennessee, USA