Thursday, April 29, 2010

United Church College Begins Muslim Studies Program

Emmanuel College, a member college of the Toronto School of Theology established for the purpose of training clergy for the United Church of Canada, has approved the beginning of a Muslim clergy training program.

Christian Week reports:

"The Christian Church has always existed in a context filled with a wide diversity of religious expressions."

So declares the vision statement explaining why Emmanuel College has begun training leaders for the Muslim faith.

Emmanuel, whose main role has been to train clergy for the United Church of Canada, is one of the schools that make up the Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto.

At the end of March, it began offering its first two Islamic courses: 'Islamic Spirituality in a Health Care Setting' and 'The Qur'an in the Canadian Context.' These are continuing education courses, which confer no academic credit. However, students who complete all nine planned continuing education courses will be given a Canadian Certificate in Muslim Studies.

The courses are geared to four groups of people: imams (Muslim clergy) and other leaders in the Muslim community; community workers and Islamic school teachers; people engaged in interfaith dialogue; and people who just want to learn more about Islam.

The courses will help students understand "what it means to be a committed Muslim in the Canadian context," says Emmanuel principal Mark Toulouse. The majority of Muslims in Canada are immigrants—and they struggle with how to relate to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for instance.

Toronto is the most logical place for such a program because it is "the most Muslim city in North America," Toulouse says. Muslims make up more than two per cent of the Canadian population, but five per cent of the population of Toronto. There are 60 mosques in the city.

Read it all here.

In addition to the non-credit certificate in Canadian Muslim Studies, there will be a two-year Masters degree in Pastoral Studies. In the first year, Christian students will study Bible, Theology, Ethics and Church History while Muslim students study the Qur'an, Islamic history, law and theology. Then, in the second year they would take pastoral studies together.

There are plans for Emmanuel to hire a full-time Muslim professor and to raise funds for the establishment of a chair in Muslim Studies. The story also reports the following contradictory position:

Like Emmanuel's other programs, the Islamic studies programs will stress understanding and professional training. The courses will "embrace university values," Toulouse said, and "no class will set out what you must believe."

He stressed: "We are not out to make Muslims into Christians." He added that this approach is in keeping with the United Church position that "God is at work in Islam just as God is at work in Christianity" and that "Muslims don't need to become Christians to be faithful to God."
The first paragraph claims "value neutrality" and a commitment to "university values." But the second paragraph reveals the operative theology presupposed by the college, namely, that "Muslims don't need to become Christians to be faithful to God." This theological position is the real bedrock faith foundation of the program, which must be believed by those who participate in order for the whole program to work. So it is only correct to claim that "no class will set out what you must believe" in the sense that every class presupposes that you believe the "right" way.

It seems to me that when you give up Scriptural authority and then proceed to making Trinitarian and Christological orthodoxy optional, the Unitarianism that results leads to being unable to distinguish adequately between Christian doctrine and Muslim doctrine. But where is this heading? We may recall the maxim of Richard John Neuhaus that: "Where orthodoxy becomes optional, it eventually will be proscribed."

It is very difficult to see this as anything other than a slow motion capitulation of liberal Protestantism to Islam. Emmanuel College apparently believes that they can make liberals out of Muslims. They had better be right because some of us are thinking that it is more likely that Muslims may end up making Muslims out of liberal Protestants.

8 comments:

slaveoftheking said...

"Emmanuel College apparently believes that they can make liberals out of Muslims. They had better be right because some of us are thinking that it is more likely that Muslims may end up making Muslims out of liberal Protestants."

I'm actually a bit inclined to think they might be right:

http://firstthings.com/blogs/evangel/2010/03/islam-in-the-west/

Hopefully, if they are right about that, then we will see something like this again:

http://civitatedei.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/anything-but-inevitable/

Craig Carter said...

Slave,
I think the comments on the Koyzis post (Mary, Paul McCain) are more realistic than Koyzis.

I do agree with some of the comments saying that Christianity may well convert many of the Muslims in the West, but the old, tired liberal Protestantism at Emmanuel won't convert anyone.

As for the Jenkins quote: of course he is right. Christianity has been down and out before and the Spirit has brought revival.

Gordon Hackman said...

My friends who do outreach ministry to Muslims and many of the Muslim background believers they minister to might be surprised to learn that Muslims don't need to become Christians in order to be faithful to God.

Gregarious said...

Dr. Carter,

I had no idea that this was happening at Emmanuel, but it's not all that surprising to me. I've also seen courses offered at other TST colleges that were on Hindu spirituality, not for the purpose of understanding Hinduism, but about how Hindu spirituality is compatible with and able to enrich Christian spirituality. Not to mention the classes offered on the religion of ecology.

About your last statements, you said: "It is very difficult to see this as anything other than a slow motion capitulation of liberal Protestantism to Islam. Emmanuel College apparently believes that they can make liberals out of Muslims."

I thought your "slow motion" description was surprising, since (although I am young) I don't remember a time when Liberal Protestantism didn't capitulate to Islam. It seems to me that liberal protestants have much more reverence for the Qur'an and Islam than they do for the Bible and traditional Christianity. And I think Paul McCain was right to refer to enticing nature of Islam for the secularized Muslim on the basis of Islam acting at the answer to perceived social justice and political issues by liberals. I think this can easily extend beyond just liberal Muslims and become enticing to non-Muslim liberals, especially to young leftist activists.

Actually, as a graduate student at St. Mikes, I had to take a Research Methods course this past year. And for one class we read Pope Benedict's 'controversial' address to the University of Regensburg along with a few articles written by a British liberal Muslim scholar, Ziuaddin Sardar. The professor and every student, excepting me and one other student, denounced the Pope's address and defended Islam as a religion of peace that, contrary to Benedict's point, naturally supports rational inquiry. It did feel very weird to be the only evangelical in a class full of Catholics defending the Pope against Catholics.

My point is that I don't think "Emmanuel College...believes that they can make liberals out of Muslims," but that they already mistakenly believe that Islam in its essence is liberal.

W1219estonMitcham said...

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Colin Kerr said...

Dr. Carter,

Thank you for coming to our school. I so enjoyed your two talks, and now I am enjoying your blog. God bless!

Craig Carter said...

Gregarious,
You wrote:

"It did feel very weird to be the only evangelical in a class full of Catholics defending the Pope against Catholics."

It only feels weird at first. I can tell you that you get used to it. I used to feel weird defending the Pope against my Protestant friends too, but after a while it gets to seem normal.

The difference between Protestantism and Catholicism is that in Protestantism the biggest institutions are controlled by the liberals, but in Catholicism the biggest institutions are controlled by the Holy Spirit.

What I found also was that most orthodox Catholics don't hang around the TST, just as conservative Protestants don't. The TST is a bit of an echo chamber and a backwater.

Craig Carter said...

Colin,
Welcome aboard! I hope your students and colleagues will find their way here as well.