DAN MCVEY. Confronting the Hubris of Hope: A Christian Reflection in an Islamic Mirror. San Bernardino: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014. 184 pp. $9.99.
Dan McVey serves in an adjunct role with Abilene Christian University, primarily with the International Studies Department in the Study Abroad programs. He is also adjunct with Heritage Christian University in Accra, Ghana, and the University of South China, Hengyang, Hunan Province, China. McVey tries to spend his time building bridges between Christians and Muslims, especially in Europe and Africa, where his work quite often takes him. Due to his experience both as a missionary and a teacher in primarily Muslim contexts, McVey is well equipped to address and reflect on this topic.
Confronting the Hubris of Hope is a challenging text in which McVey asks difficult questions about both Christianity and Islam. For example, McVey asks, “How can any religion contain all that is good, true, virtuous, and honorable?” (157). According to McVey, such a religion does not exist. Rather, all of our religious traditions are simply human attempts at explaining divine revelation. It is impossible to place ourselves in the historical contexts of those who originally received the Scriptures (i.e., the Bible and the Qur’an). McVey challenges both Christians and Muslims to speak out for each other on common concerns, and to rush to defend one another whenever possible. He questions Christians’ reliance on creedal definitions (e.g., the development of the title “Son of God”) that are restrictive for cross-cultural communication. Likewise, McVey asks Muslims to be more open-minded regarding shared theological conversation (e.g., regarding the role of Jesus).
The “Hubris of Hope” is the strongest chapter, in my opinion. For McVey, a cursory glance at religious history reveals that both Christians and Muslims have done unspeakable things in the name of God, Allah, or their respective religions. Rather than meeting each other as equals, Christianity and Islam have often met due to conquest, oppression, and violence towards one another. We must not let the hubris of our hope in our respective religions (e.g., Christianity and Islam) blind or prevent us from respecting and loving one another. This hubris deceives people into believing that their religious tradition has a monopoly on absolute truth. For Christians, the hubris of certainty regarding God leads to aberrations of the teaching of Jesus. As McVey writes, “Certainty seeks no partners” (126). McVey cautions against equating the authority of God with our own authoritarian tendencies. When we speak of God, we always speak from limited knowledge. There is a measure of ambiguity in the Scriptures, as humans must interpret them. Rather than confusing our limited understandings of God with Truth, McVey encourages Christians and Muslims to allow the ambiguity to “make room not only for tolerance in mercy that reflects God’s own character, but also for dialog” (135).
The book seems unorganized in places. However, McVey does provide a qualification at the beginning of the book, writing, “I am by nature and experience a practitioner rather than a theoretician or academic, so please excuse the clumsiness of thought” (7). Yet, where the book lacks in organization, it certainly makes up for it in content. The reader will not discover a detailed bibliography or footnotes but will learn from McVey’s personal experiences and reflections following years of living in primarily Muslim contexts. These reflections from an experienced cross-cultural practitioner are valuable and challenging—both to the lay and academic reader.
The text is particularly relevant for Christians seeking to engage with Muslims. However, this book will be challenging for the reader who has a limited scope for what McVey defines as hope. McVey believes, “hope is a mellowing influence upon faith, an admission of the incomplete nature of religious allegiance in that recognition by all humble believers that whenever we speak about God, we always speak in incomplete knowledge and terminology” (124). Likewise, an unobservant reader might accuse McVey of pluralism. However, McVey is simply calling for an end to religious fundamentalism. A Christian approach can, historically, range from crusade to colonialism, and from triumphalism to hubristic intolerance. Because of this, McVey hopes that it will be our goal to be Christlike rather than Christian. For McVey, the Way of Jesus is not a set of beliefs. Rather, “the brilliance of Jesus is seen in the fact that his prescription that we should love our enemies in fact requires us to get to know our enemies” (158). We ought to humbly acknowledge our incomplete understandings of the divine, apologize for our failures that have hurt others, and seek to work together in our pursuit of truth.
Brady Kal Cox
Graduate School of Theology
Abilene Christian University
Abilene, TX, USA