My CIU colleague Daniel Janosik has just published an important new work in the early history of Christian-Muslims relations in this survey of John of Damascus. Recently, Daniel and I participated together in a session on the doctrine of the Trinity in the history of Christian mission at the Evangelical Theological Society. In this post, he has responded to a few of my questions about John of Damascus: First Apologist to the Muslims.
What led you to write this book?
The book is a re-write from my Ph.D. dissertation. In my research I wanted to study the development of the Trinity in the Patristic age, especially as it relates to Apologetics, and I wanted to focus on how the Trinity was understood in the developmental phases of Islam. All of these factors came together nicely under John of Damascus, who was the chief theologian of the time and had written two treatises in regard to Islam and its opposition to Christianity. As the first Apologist to the Muslims, John’s views influenced generations of Christians after him, and he provided me with the eyewitness I needed in order to explore the early developments of the movement that became Islam.
Who should read this?
This is a scholarly treatment of John of Damascus, his writings on Islam (which I translated from the Greek), the development of Islam, and role of Apologetics in the development of doctrine. However, it is written in a way that is very accessible to the average lay person in the church. It is especially helpful for anyone who wants to understand how Islam was perceived at that time by the Christians and how history tells us a very different story from the traditional views of Islam that pervade so many books today. John was an eyewitness to these events, and as the chief financial officer of the Umayyad Empire under the caliph Abd al-Malik, he was able to reveal an insider’s understanding of what he called the “heresy of the Ishmaelites.” This is a book for anyone who wants to dig deep into the sands of history in order to clear away the layers that prevent us from understanding what really happened.
What are your favorite parts of the book?
One of my favorite parts of the book is going through the two treatises that John wrote on Islam, the Heresy of the Ishmaelites and the Disputation between a Christian and a Saracen. As an Apologist, I really enjoyed analyzing his arguments against Islam and gaining his perspective of the religion itself. It is so important for us today to learn from someone who was an eyewitness to the early events and one who may have influenced some of the first theological debates in Islam. I also enjoyed being able to explore the testimonies of other non-Muslims who lived at that time and wrote about their experiences with the monotheistic religion that became Islam. Looking through their eyes we can gain a perspective from the past that will help us reach out to Muslims today.
What other writing projects are your working on at the moment?
I am finishing up a book called A Christian’s Guide to Islam, which is geared for the general Christian in the church who wants to know everything necessary about Islam and Muslims in order to reach out to their Muslim friends with truth and love rather than fear. It is scheduled to be out in July 2017. I will also be working on a book that will provide a critical analysis and commentary on the text of John’s works on Islam.