Collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
If the works of the following six writers, who are former pastors or nun are read, with due diligence, Christianity will pave way for Islam.
This post briefly describes their lives and works and concludes with a video by Karen Armstrong about compassion of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him.
A. Dr. Jerald F. Dirks a Christian Minister until he converted to Islam
“There is some irony in the fact that the supposedly best, brightest, and most idealistic of ministers-to-be are selected for the very best of seminary education, e.g. that offered at that time at the Harvard Divinity School. The irony is that, given such an education, the seminarian is exposed to … much … historical truth. …As such, it is no real wonder that almost a majority of such seminary graduates leave seminary, not to ‘fill pulpits,’ where they would be asked to preach that which they know is not true, but to enter the various counseling professions. Such was also the case for me, as I went on to earn a master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology.” Dirks
Dr. Dirks is a former minister (deacon) of the United Methodist Church. He holds a Master’s degree in Divinity from Harvard University and a Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Denver. Author of “The Cross and the Crescent: An Interfaith Dialogue between Christianity and Islam” (2001), and “Abraham: The Friend of God” (2002). He has published over 60 articles in the field of clinical psychology, and over 150 articles on Arabian horses.
Childhood and Education
Struggle for Personal Integrity
Weaving Different Threads into A Single Strand
The Comfort of the Old and Familiar Identity
Playing Intellectual Word Games
Paying A Small Price for A Good Return
‘The Cross & The Crescent: Dialogue between Christianity & Islam’ by Dr. Jerald Dirks
Childhood and Eduction
One of my earliest childhood memories is of hearing the church bell toll for Sunday morning worship in the small, rural town in which I was raised. The Methodist Church was an old, wooden structure with a bell tower, two children’s Sunday School classrooms cubbyholed behind folding, wooden doors to separate it from the sanctuary, and a choir loft that housed the Sunday school classrooms for the older children. It stood less than two blocks from my home. As the bell rang, we would come together as a family, and make our weekly pilgrimage to the church.
In that rural setting from the 1950s, the three churches in the town of about 500 were the center of community life. The local Methodist Church, to which my family belonged, sponsored ice cream socials with hand-cranked, homemade ice cream, chicken potpie dinners, and corn roasts. My family and I were always involved in all three, but each came only once a year. In addition, there was a two-week community Bible school every June, and I was a regular attendee through my eighth grade year in school. However, Sunday morning worship and Sunday school were weekly events, and I strove to keep extending my collection of perfect attendance pins and of awards for memorizing Bible verses.
By my junior high school days, the local Methodist Church had closed, and we were attending the Methodist Church in the neighboring town, which was only slightly larger than the town in which I lived. There, my thoughts first began to focus on the ministry as a personal calling. I became active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship, and eventually served as both a district and a conference officer. I also became the regular “preacher” during the annual Youth Sunday service.
My preaching began to draw community-wide attention, and before long I was occasionally filling pulpits at other churches, at a nursing home, and at various church-affiliated youth and ladies groups, where I typically set attendance records.
By age 17, when I began my freshman year at Harvard College, my decision to enter the ministry had solidified. During my freshman year, I enrolled in a two-semester course in comparative religion, which was taught by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, whose specific area of expertise was Islam. During that course, I gave far less attention to Islam, than I did to other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, as the latter two seemed so much more esoteric and strange to me. In contrast, Islam appeared to be somewhat similar to my own Christianity. As such, I didn’t concentrate on it as much as I probably should have, although I can remember writing a term paper for the course on the concept of revelation in the Qur’an. Nonetheless, as the course was one of rigorous academic standards and demands, I did acquire a small library of about a half dozen books on Islam, all of which were written by non-Muslims, and all of which were to serve me in good stead 25 years later. I also acquired two different English translations of the meaning of the Qur’an, which I read at the time.
B. Prof. Bart D. Ehrman, Who Showed Us The New Testament in True Colors
Bart D. Ehrman (born 5 October 1955) is an American New Testament scholar, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ehrman has written and edited over twenty-five books, including three college textbooks, and has also achieved acclaim at the popular level, authoring four New York Times bestsellers. Ehrman’s work focuses on textual criticism of the New Testament, the historical Jesus, and the development of early Christianity.
Ehrman grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, and attended Lawrence High School, where he was on the state champion debate team in 1973. He began studying the Bible and its original languages at Moody Bible Institute, where he earned their three-year diploma in 1976. He is a 1978 graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, where he received his bachelors degree. He received his PhD and M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studied under Bruce Metzger. He received magna cum laude for both his BA in 1978 and PhD in 1985.
Ehrman became an Evangelical Christian as a teenager. In his books, he recounts his youthful enthusiasm as a born-again, fundamentalist Christian, certain that God had inspired the wording of the Bible and protected its texts from all error. His desire to understand the original words of the Bible led him to the study of ancient languages and to textual criticism. During his graduate studies, however, he became convinced that there are contradictions and discrepancies in the biblical manuscripts that could not be harmonized or reconciled. He remained a liberal Christian for fifteen years but later became an agnostic after struggling with the philosophical problems of evil and suffering.
Ehrman has taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 1988, after four years of teaching at Rutgers University. At UNC he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies. He was the recipient of the 2009 J. W. Pope “Spirit of Inquiry” Teaching Award, the 1993 UNC Undergraduate Student Teaching Award, the 1994 Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement, and the Bowman and Gordon Gray Award for excellence in teaching.
C. Bishop John Shelby Spong, Who Demystified Many Christian Myths
John Shelby “Jack” Spong (born June 16, 1931) is a retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church. From 1979 to 2000 he was Bishop of Newark (based in Newark, New Jersey). He is a liberal Christian theologian, religion commentator and author. He calls for a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief away from theism and traditional doctrines.
In his several books, he has successfully exposed the official Christian dogma and myths, while creating a few new myths of his own. A selective reading of his works, where he is demystifying the conventional doctrines and ignoring where he is creating new myths can be most useful for a seeker of Truth.
Spong was born in Charlotte, North Carolina and educated in Charlotte public schools. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1952, and received his Master of Divinity degree in 1955 from theEpiscopal Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. (That seminary and Saint Paul’s College have both conferred on him honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees.) He wrote: “[I have] immerse[d] myself in contemporary Biblical scholarship at such places as Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Yale Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School and the storied universities in Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge.”
Spong served as rector of St. Joseph’s Church in Durham, North Carolina from 1955 to 1957; rector of Calvary Parish,Tarboro, North Carolina from 1957 to 1965; rector of St. John’s Church in Lynchburg, Virginia from 1965 to 1969; and rector of St. Paul’s Church in Richmond, Virginia from 1969 to 1976. He has held visiting positions and given lectures at major American theological institutions, most prominently at Harvard Divinity School. He retired in 2000.
Spong describes his own life as a journey from the literalism and conservative theology of his childhood to an expansive view of Christianity. In a 2013 interview, Spong credits the late Anglican bishop John Robinson as his mentor in this journey and says that reading Robinson’s controversial writings in the 1960s led to a friendship and mentoring relationship with him over many years. Spong also honors Robinson as a mentor in the opening pages of his 2002 book A New Christianity for a New World.
Recipient of many awards, including 1999 Humanist of the Year, Spong is a contributor to the Living the Questions DVD program and has been a guest on numerous national television broadcasts (including The Today Show, Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, Dateline, 60 Minutes, and Larry King Live). Spong’s calendar has him lecturing around the world.
A play about the life of Spong, called A Pebble In My Shoe, has been written by Colin Cox and produced by Will & Company. Spong has seen the play at least a half dozen times at different places in the United States.
Spong’s writings rely on Biblical and non-Biblical sources and are influenced by modern critical analysis of these sources (see especially Spong, 1991). He is representative of a stream of thought with roots in the medieval universalism of Peter Abelard and the existentialism of Paul Tillich, whom he has called his favorite theologian.
A prominent theme in Spong’s writing is that the popular and literal interpretations of Christian scripture are not sustainable and do not speak honestly to the situation of modern Christian communities. He believes in a more nuanced approach to scripture, informed by scholarship and compassion, which can be consistent with both Christian tradition and contemporary understandings of the universe. He believes that theism has lost credibility as a valid conception of God‘s nature. He states that he is a Christian because he believes that Jesus Christ fully expressed the presence of a God of compassion and selfless love and that this is the meaning of the early Christian proclamation, “Jesus is Lord” (Spong, 1994 and Spong, 1991). Elaborating on this last idea he affirms that Jesus was adopted by God as his son, (Born of a Woman 1992), and he says that this would be the way God was fully incarnated in Jesus Christ. He rejects the historical truth claims of some Christian doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth (Spong, 1992) and the bodily resurrection of Jesus (Spong, 1994). In 2000, Spong was a critic of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faithof the Roman Catholic Church‘s declaration Dominus Iesus, because it reaffirmed the Catholic doctrine that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true Church and, perhaps even more importantly, that Jesus Christ is the one and only savior for humanity.
Spong has also been a strong proponent of the church reflecting the changes in society at large. Towards these ends, he calls for a new Reformation, in which many of Christianity’s basic doctrines should be reformulated.
His views on the future of Christianity are, “…that we have to start where we are. As I look at the history of religion, I observe that new religious insights always and only emerge out of the old traditions as they begin to die. It is not by pitching the old insights out but by journeying deeply through them into new visions that we are able to change religion’s direction. The creeds were 3rd and 4th century love songs that people composed to sing to their understanding of God. We do not have to literalize their words to perceive their meaning or their intention to join in the singing of their creedal song. I think religion in general and Christianity in particular must always be evolving. Forcing the evolution is the dialogue between yesterday’s words and today’s knowledge. The sin of Christianity is that any of us ever claimed that we had somehow captured eternal truth in the forms we had created.”
D. John Dominic Crossan, Who is showing us the Historical Jesus
John Dominic Crossan (born February 17, 1934) is an Irish-American New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity, and former Catholic priest who has produced both scholarly and popular works. His research has focused on the historical Jesus, on the anthropology of the Ancient Mediterranean and New Testament worlds and on the application of postmodern hermeneutical approaches to the Bible.
Crossan was born in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland.Though his father was a banker, Crossan was steeped in the rural Irish life, which he experienced through frequent visits to the home of his paternal grandparents. On graduation from Saint Eunan’s College, a boarding high school, in 1950, Crossan joined the Servites, a Catholic religious order, and moved to the United States. He was trained at Stonebridge Seminary, Lake Bluff, Illinois, then ordained a priest in 1957. Crossan returned to Ireland, where he earned his Doctor of Divinity in 1959 at St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, the Irish national seminary. He then completed two more years of study in biblical languages at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. In 1965 Crossan began two additional years of study (in archaeology) at the Ecole Biblique in Jordanian East Jerusalem. During this time, he travelled through several countries in the region, escaping just days before the outbreak of the Six Day War of 1967.
After a year at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, and a year at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Crossan chose to resign his priesthood. In the fall of 1969 he joined the faculty of DePaul University, where he taught undergraduates Comparative Religion for twenty-six years until retiring in 1995. In 1985, Crossan and Robert Funk founded the Jesus Seminar, a group of academics studying the historical Jesus, and Crossan served as co-chair for its first decade. Crossan also served as president of the Chicago Society of Biblical Research in 1978-1979, and as president of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2012.
E. Rowan Williams, Former Archbishop Of Canterbury, Calls Britain ‘A Post-Christian Country’
Rowan Douglas Williams, Baron Williams of Oystermouth PC FBA FRSL FLSW (born 14 June 1950) is an Anglicanbishop, poet and theologian. He was the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Metropolitan of the Province of Canterbury andPrimate of All England, offices he held from December 2002 to December 2012. Williams was previously Bishop of Monmouth and Archbishop of Wales, making him the first Archbishop of Canterbury in modern times not to be appointed from within the Church of England. He spent much of his earlier career as an academic at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford successively. He speaks three languages and reads at least nine.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron recently caused controversy last week by calling Britain a “Christian country,” but the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Rowan Williams, has a different take on the matter.
Williams told the Sunday Telegraph that Britain is no longer a “nation of believers,” and the era of widespread worship is over.
Williams elaborated on his statements by explaining that “the cultural memory is still quite strongly Christian.” However, “It’s a matter of defining terms. A Christian country as a nation of believers? No. A Christian country in the sense of still being very much saturated by this vision of the world and shaped by it? Yes.”
F. Karen Armstrong: A Former Nun Ordained to Teach All that is Good in Islam
Karen Armstrong FRSL (born 14 November 1944) is a British author and commentator known for her books oncomparative religion. A former Roman Catholic religious sister, she went from a conservative to a more liberal andmystical Christian faith. She attended St Anne’s College while in the convent and majored in English. She would become disillusioned and leave the convent in 1969. She first rose to prominence in 1993 with her book A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Her work focuses on commonalities of the major religions, such as the importance of compassion and the Golden Rule.
Armstrong was born at Wildmoor, Worcestershire, into a family of Irish ancestry who, after her birth, moved to Bromsgrove and later to Birmingham. In 1962, at the age of 18, she became a member of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, a teaching congregation, in which she remained for seven years. Armstrong claims she suffered physical and psychological abuse in the convent, according to The Guardian newspaper:-
But the sisters ran a cruel regime. Armstrong was required to mortify her flesh with whips and wear a spiked chain around her arm. When she spoke out of turn, she claims she was forced to sew at a treadle machine with no needle for a fortnight. 
Once she had advanced from postulant and novice to professed nun, she enrolled in St Anne’s College, Oxford, to study English. Armstrong left her order in 1969 while still a student at Oxford. After graduating with a Congratulatory First, she embarked on a DPhil on the poet Tennyson. According to Armstrong, she wrote her dissertation on a topic that had been approved by the university committee. Nevertheless it was failed by her external examiner on the grounds that the topic had been unsuitable.Armstrong did not formally protest this verdict, nor did she embark upon a new topic but instead abandoned hope of an academic career. She reports that this period in her life was marked by ill-health stemming from her lifelong but, at that time, still undiagnosed temporal lobe epilepsy.