Jerald F. Dirks is an American scholar whose spiritual journey took him from being an evangelical Christian to an ‘atypical Christian’ and finally to being a convert from Christianity to Islam. Dirks was educated at Harvard Divinity School and his family came from a Methodist church background.
At the beginning of his career, Dirks was a minister in the United Methodist Church, but he left the ministry in 1974 owing to theological struggles he was having around issues such as the doctrine of the trinity, the sonship of Jesus Christ, the historicity of the crucifixion event, and the Christian view of ‘atonement in the blood’.
Dirks encountered and became friends with many Muslims due to research he was doing into the history of the Arabian horse. He was struck by how impeccable the conduct of these Muslims was, and despite being determined to cling to his Christianity, he was appreciating more and more about Islam and even started adopting Muslim ritual practices while still describing himself as an ‘atypical Christian’ rather than a Muslim.
There was no single moment of epiphany that signalled Dirks’ conversion to Islam, except that he does mention a conversation he had when he was visiting the Middle East and was asked directly about his faith. While previously he had clung to the ‘atypical Christian’ title, on this occasion he said he believed there is only one God and that Muhammad is God’s messenger, thus reciting the shahada in a way that was really unintentional but revealed the extent to which his beliefs had shifted.
While Chapter 1 of The Abrahamic Faiths contains Dirks’ personal testimony, the rest of the book is dedicated to the discussion of interfaith theology. Dirks spends a long time contrasting the direction found in the Qur’an with the teaching found in the Bible, and the tone Dirks adopts when discussing the Bible is at times very critical.
There is one chapter towards the end of the book, for instance, when the author is discussing the role of women in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The picture Dirks paints of the treatment of women in the Bible is deeply critical, and the way Dirks writes indicates that he has little respect for the Bible and doesn’t consider it to be inspired revelation. I found this a little difficult to stomach, and I wish Dirks had been less attacking and more understanding of Biblical teaching, seeing as the Judeo-Christian Scriptures have been transforming the lives of millions of people for thousands of years.
The Abrahamic Faiths is full of quotations from both the Qur’an and the Bible, as well as from the Hadith literature and from theologians from Christian church history. Dirks’ arguments are on the whole very persuasive, and he presents a strong defence of Islam against ‘Islamophobia’ and the portrayal of Islam in the American media and in American culture. Dirks dispenses with many of the stereotypes Americans have of ‘Islamic extremists’ and ‘jihadists’, and the author cleverly shines light on the true meaning of Islamic terms and teachings that have been mistranslated or taken out of context.
This book has imperfections, as nearly all books do. There are some errors in printing, including the very last paragraph of the book having not printed properly meaning the book ends on an unfortunate cliffhanger! The printing errors (and there are quite a few) do detract a little from the sophistication of the book, but as an author myself I know how easily things like this can happen so I’m entirely forgiving of it. Perhaps there will be a subsequent edition that will iron out the mistakes.
All in all, The Abrahamic Faiths has served as a great primer for me as I embark on my own mission to explore matters of interfaith dialogue, especially in relation to the Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Dirks’ book is quite America-focused, and will therefore appeal primarily to Americans, though there is still lots of meaty theological content for non-Americans such as myself.
The Abrahamic Faiths is available on Amazon here (not an affiliate link). I would advise, however, that the book is currently priced significantly higher on Amazon than I have found it priced elsewhere, so if you’re interested in reading the book I would recommend checking out a few different retailers. I was able to get my copy from Blackwells here in the UK for £14.99 compared with £24.22 which is Amazon’s list price for the same edition at the time of writing.
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