Why review another book comparing Islam and Christianity? Two Stories of Everything: the Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity by Duane Alexander Miller take a different approach than most. Rather than comparing Islam and Christianity as religions, Miller compares the metanarratives that Islam and Christianity tell. Metanarratives are the overarching story that includes and defines all the smaller stories of a people. It is the story that communicates the worldview of a group. I find it interesting that Miller never uses the term ‘worldview’ (if he did I missed it). I think he wanted to stay focused on the stories of everything rather than get bogged down in a philosophic analysis. He has lived in the Middle East and has personal experience interacting with Muslims for whom he shows great respect. He explains his approach in the introduction:
People often talk of Islam and Christianity as competing religions, and compare their doctrines and practices. When I moved to the Middle East ten years ago I shared this opinion. But over that time I found this approach to be deficient. Which is not to say it is wrong, but it fails to grasp the genius of either of these collections of doctrines and practices. … In this book I will outline the stories that Islam and Christianity tell. Furthermore, all these stories (or narratives) find themselves included in a great story of everything, which is to say a metanarrative. Islam and Christianity, whatever they may be, certainly do propose to tell a grand story of everything, from creation of the world and time all the way to the consummation of history and the eternal fate of human souls. – Duane Alexander Miller, Two Stories of Everything, xi.
The book explores the metanarratives of Islam and Christianity chronologically. Chapter one looks at Protology (the study of beginnings). Chapter two compares how Islam and Christianity understand humanity. How Islam and Christianity incorporate Israel into their metanarrative is the subject of chapter three. Miller tells the story of the central character of each metanarrative; “Jesus, the Mediator Between God and Man” (chapter four) and “Muhammad, the Prophet and Statesman” (chapter five). In chapter six the author examines the “Life in Community” of each metanarrative with subheadings: “Ethics,” “Doctrines in Christianity,” “Doctrines in Islam,” “Rituals,” and “Concluding Remarks.” Miller assesses how each community is fulfilling its mission in chapter seven. Chapter eight observes how the stories end. As he explains how these individual stories fit within the larger story, the metanarrative, he debunks some common superficial comparisons:
I have heard Christians emphasize how much we have in common with Muslims because we all believe Jesus will return. There are indeed commonalities between Islam and Christianity but this does not strike me as one of them, precisely because one of the central reasons for Jesus’ return [in Islam’s metanarrative] is to refute Christianity (and Judaism) publicly … Jesus in this eschatology functions like Allah in the Qur’an: the one who consistently vindicates the cause of Muhammad. -122,123.
The above quote illustrates the value of this approach. Surface similarities must be understood within the metanarrative to avoid comparing apples and oranges (an image on the books cover). This is true not only in comparing Islam and Christianity but also in comparing Christianity with any other metanarrative whether that be secular humanism, Hinduism, or Buddhism.
In his concluding chapter Miller summarize one of the fundamental differences in the two metanarratives:
After observing that their protologies [origin stories] appear similar I argue that they propose different anthropologies, with human beings being created for different reasons. In Islam it is to know the power of God, and in Christianity to know his love. Both agree that the worship of the Creator is essential to the human telos. The fundamental bifurcation in the two metanarratives, though, emerges at the point of harmartiology: Christianity claiming that the entry of death through sin into the universe is the fundamental problem in the metanarrative, with Islam presenting the divine contest between God and the devil, who himself will utilize the strategy of ignorance or jahiliyya to debar people from knowing God’s commands and obeying them. In the Christian metanarrative the rebellion of man is of such depth that humanity’s alienation from God becomes communal and communicative: original sin. In Islam the rebellion results in expulsion from the Garden, though the original innocence of humans is retained. Those who obey God’s commands will, in the end, return to the Garden. -131.
Two Stories of Everything is easy to read with a helpful glossary at the end of 137 pages of text. The reader might desire a little more explanation at times and may quibble at some details. Overall, the book is a great example of the importance of understanding the metanarrative of the audience in communicating the gospel. Surface similarities or points of contact must be examined in the context of the metanarrative in order to understand the meaning. We might find that what we think is a great point of contact is understood very differently in the local metanarrative.
Mike Matthews’ book, A Novel Approach (which I reviewed in December, 2017) explains the importance of studying the stories and metanarratives in communicating the gospel as do the rest of the series by the consultants at Worldview Resource Group.