Kaemingk, Matthew, 2018, Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear

Publisher’s Synopsis

An alternative, uniquely Christian response to the growing global challenges of deep religious difference. In the last fifty years, millions of Muslims have migrated to Europe and North America. Their arrival has ignited a series of fierce public debates on both sides of the Atlantic about religious freedom and tolerance, terrorism and security, gender and race, and much more. How can Christians best respond to this situation? In this book theologian and ethicist Matthew Kaemingk offers a thought-provoking Christian perspective on the growing debates over Muslim presence in the West. Rejecting both fearful nationalism and romantic multiculturalism, Kaemingk makes the case for a third way—a Christian pluralism that is committed to both the historic Christian faith and the public rights, dignity, and freedom of Islam. 


By Dr Richard McCallum, Fellow, Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies


 In this helpful and timely book, Matthew Kaemingk responds to the questions raised by increased Muslim immigration in Europe and North America and tackles the problem of polarised political responses.  After looking at the discomfit of European multiculturalism in recent years, he explores the life and work of Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) to find a possible Christian answer.  Kuyper was a church pastor, school organiser, newspaper editor, university professor, party leader and prime minister in the Reformed Christian tradition who espoused “Christian pluralism”.  Kaemingk is quick to point out that this is not a syncretistic, soteriological pluralism.  Rather it is a pluralism that “can faithfully describe other faiths … defend their rights … and even praise their many contributions to the common good”, whilst at the same time wanting “everyone to know Christ” (19). 

Kuyper developed this idea of “Christian pluralism” in response to what he saw as the Dutch liberal hegemony which had even infected the church.  “He reappropriated nearly every major Christian doctrine to make his case that all Christians must fight against hegemony and for pluralism” (90), including the doctrines of creation, sin, grace, Christ, imago dei, church, holy spirit, election, justification, the eschaton and the Trinity.  In this way “his Christian faith was not an impediment to his pluralism – it was his chief resource”.

However, despite drawing much from “Kuyperian pluralism”, the author also critiques it for limiting its paradigm to Christ as King.  After all Christ is the Kaleidoscopic, Naked, Complex, Slave-King.  Kuyper misses Christ’s other roles of “prophet, servant, friend, healer, reconciler, liberator, advocate, teacher, priest and dinner host” (160).  Therefore, the challenge of Christian hospitality, Kaemingk argues, calls not just for political and judicial solutions, but an emphasis on character formation.  It needs to be enacted in everyday life, in the “salt, light and leaven” of the “little people” (162).

To this end, the author presents the reader with some heartening examples of Christian hospitality – again from Amsterdam – which resonate with our own ethos here at the Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies.  The title of the book itself reflects the sort of hospitality that we aim to give both Christians and Muslims here in Oxford.  In this we try to follow the example of Jesus and with Kaemingk recognise that “the only reason Christians could ever make space for a Muslim is because Christ first made space for” us (187).  In setting up the Free University (Vrije Universiteit) of Amsterdam, Kuyper insisted that “no professor (be he religious or secular) could pretend to be neutral” (242), something that CMCS would agree with as we seek to extend “academic hospitality” whilst not resorting to “the tired mantra that all faiths – however conflicting – are equally true” (243).  This is picked up in another phrase Kaemingk uses.  CMCS is about “building respect with a passion for truth” (245).

Kaemingk also takes a refreshingly self-critical look at America.  He laments the fact that, after the 1995 Oklahoma bombing, it was mosques not churches that were attacked, despite the fact that the white bomber was raised as a Catholic (270).  He presents statistics to show that, in the 2016 election, American evangelicals, particularly white males, overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump and later supported his attempt to ban Muslim immigration (264).  In contrast, Kaemingk points out how important it is to encourage Muslim spaces.  Muslim “families, schools, mosques, charities, organizations, media and institutions” play a “critical role in protecting, nurturing, maturing and extending their Islamic vision of the good life in America” (281) thus protecting them from radicalisation.  It is ironically those who do not attend mosques who fall prey to extremism.  He goes on to suggest 10 ways in which Christians can develop Christian pluralism, including defending Muslim spaces, deconstructing Christian nationalism, embracing cultural marginalization, and worshipping in order to “develop the heart of Christ … and train their hearts to desire hospitality over hostility” (298).

Many people will find fault with this book.  It would be easy to level the criticism that, despite frequently referencing the supposed “clash between Amsterdam and Mecca”, Kaemingk has lots to say about “Amsterdam” whilst having very little to say about “Mecca”.  Surely, he should take more account of the dangers of the “true nature” of Islam.  Does he not realise that Muslim immigration is a real danger on both sides of the Atlantic?  Does he not know what really goes on in mosques?  Indeed, Adam Francisco, of Concordia University, has already made this point.  Kaemingk’s argument, he suggests, “for a Christian politic of pluralism and advocacy in defense of Islam seems short-sighted and optimistic given the ideological and political nature of traditional Islam”.[1]  Yet that is exactly the author’s point.  The Christian response should not depend on the nature of Islam.  Rather it should depend on the example of Jesus Christ.

However, Kaemingk is not calling for complete, powerless submission to all-comers.  In the epilogue – alone worth buying the book for – he employs the analogy of a house.  If the political right wants to build walls to keep people out, and the left wants to throw the doors open to let people in, what is needed, he argues, is both walls and doors to construct a house with a table around which people can gather to talk.  “After all, tables work best in homes that are both generous and secure, both open and ordered” (305).  This is somewhat reminiscent of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ concept of The Home We Build TogetherAnd as with Sacks, the image of a house where “the distinct categories of guests and hosts ultimately come to an end” (305) will be deeply unsettling and unnerving for many, including many Christians.  That is why Kaemingk insists that for the Christian – if not for others – sitting at such a table must be undergirded by lives of shared community in the church, regular worship and, above all, a deep commitment to discipleship and following Jesus Christ.  Only then will “Christian pluralists” be able to truly offer Christ-like hospitality to Muslims.

[1] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/hospitable-response-muslim-immigration/ accessed 10/10/18

Table of Contents

  • Introduction – my enemy too


  • Ch.1 – the myth of multiculturalism

  • Ch.2 Marginalizing Islam

  • Interlude – a Christian defense of Islam?


  • Ch.3 the emergence of Christian pluralism

  • Ch.4 Kuyper’s deconstruction of uniformity

  • Ch.5 Kuyper’s construction of plurality

  • Interlude – Beyond Kuyper


  • Ch.6 – Pluralism and Christ

  • Ch.7 – Pluralism and worship

  • Ch.8 – Pluralism and action


  • Ch.9 – Islam and Christianity in America

  • Ch.10 – Muslim spaces in America

  • Ch.11 – American Evangelicals and Islam: the pluralist option

  • Epilogue – the politics of Holy Week


“One side declares Islam is inherently peaceful and good – the other that it’s inherently violent and evil” 2

This book is “an alternative path forward - a third way” 2

“Muslim immigration presents very real and very deep cultural and political challenges to the western status quo.  …… nationalists are absolutely right to call leftists to account” 3

“pluralism in this book … is not being used to explore a future resolution of religion differences.  The word pluralism is used here to describe how Christians can faithfully respond to those differences in the present” 15 

He is an “exclusivist Christian”, one of those who “wish to defend the rights, dignity and humanity of their Muslims neighbours without downplaying their exclusive commitment to Christian orthodoxy or the important differences between Islam and Christianity” 16

 “The Christian pluralist can faithfully describe other faiths, she can passionately defend their rights, and she can even praise their many contributions to the common good.  She cannot, however, take delight in the fact that they are directing their lives away from God.  While she will never force everyone to follow Christ, she cannot – and will not – deny that she wants everyone to know Christ” 19

“Reducing Jesus to one moral teacher among many, the carpenter from Nazareth might inspire the pluralist to love her friends – but never her enemies.” 19

One response to Islam in the Netherlands - “Since Islam will only bite our open and extended hand, then all that remains now is our fist” 33

“The four horsemen of muscular liberalism” - Pim Fortuyn, Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders 57

Irony - “the more a Muslim woman uses liberal language to defend her Muslim identity, the less well integrated she is judged to be” 69

“Christianity is capable of fervently defending those with whom it disagrees” 73 

“Kuyperians were pluralists before it was cool” quoting James K. Smith 77

“(Kuyper) reappropriated nearly every major Christian doctrine to make his case that all Christians must fight against hegemony and for pluralism” 90 – including creation, sin, grace, Christ, imago dei, church, holy spirit, election, justification and eschaton

“His Christian faith was not an impediment to his pluralism – it was his chief resource” 90

One of the weaknesses of “Kuyperian pluralism” is that Christ is limited to King ensuring justice for all, but his other roles are not taken into account – “prophet, servant, friend, healer, reconciler, liberator, advocate, teacher, priest and dinner host” 160

Another weakness is a lack of emphasis on character formation.  Worship and the life of the church are essential if Christians are to embody pluralism.  Kuypers followers have focused on political and judicial reform.  It needs to be enacted in everyday life. “Salt, light and leaven” of the “little people”162

He lists 8 ways Europeans frame the hijab controversy:

1.       Public secularity

2.       Free expression

3.       “Christian Occidentalism” – Europe is Christian and must be protected

4.       Object of “racial and cultural segregation” 166

5.       Political Islam

6.       Security

7.       Oppression of women

8.       Makes women vulnerable to discrimination

Looks at 3 theologians under these subtitles:

·         The Kaleidoscopic Christ i.e. all the aspects above in interlude

·         The Slave-King – story of Malchus

·         The Naked King

Six implications of “following the slave-king between Mecca and Amsterdam” 178

1.       Concern for poor and oppressed – even the enemy poor

2.       Through small insignificant ways

3.       Muslims “were created to the makers of culture themselves” not just recipients of aid 179

4.       We will be mocked

5.       Recognise our own potential for violence

6.       Remember that Christ has clothed us

·         The Hospitable King – “cruciform hospitality” 186

“Christians are not the original authors of hospitality – Christ is” “It will be the work of Christ – not of Christianity.  The only reason Christians could ever make space for a Muslim is because Christ first made space for them” 187

·         The Complex King

The ninth frame for the hijab wearing woman – Christians “called to walk alongside them with a Christ-shaped life” 193

“A Christian’s witness lives and dies with a Christian’s ethics.  When Christians fail to ethically embody Christ’s healing, justice, nakedness and hospitality with their Muslim neighbours, their attempts to proclaim Christ’s good news to them will fall on deaf hears” 193

It is Christ who saves Muslims not Christians 195

“democracy requires more than democratic ideas and institutions – it requires democratic rituals and experiences as well” 201 cf Robert Bellah’s “Habits of the Heart” e.g. sport etc being important but for Kaemingk this is Christian worship and the life of the church.

The potential and dangers of worship 204-6

“Christian pluralists experience powerful moments of joy and fear, confusion and anger, gratefulness and guilt.  The sanctuary must be a place where those experiences can find a listening ear, a guiding voice and a comforting touch” 209

“worship and public life are distinct callings in the Christian life, they must never be separated from one another” 210

Worship is theocentric, participatory and temporary 215

“if churches are going to counter the destructive practices and liturgies of Mecca and Amsterdam, their worship services will need to engage more than their people’s brains.  Churches will need to explore the sonic, aesthetic, kinesthetic power of song and story, image and taste, smell and design, posture and embrace” 220

Lament will be important and allow for release of emotion

“Those who follow a God of death and resurrection must cultivate liturgical spaces for both lament and praise, doubt and hope, anger and thanks” 233…. But never be sentimental 234

A mosaic of examples:

·         A sewing group in Rotterdam

·         The Free University of Amsterdam founded by Kuyper where “no professor (be he religious or secular) could pretend to be neutral” 242.  An attempt to model “academic pluralism – or better yet – academic hospitality” 243  Students never have to deny their faith or use “the tired mantra that all faiths – however conflicting – are equally true” 243

·         Evangelie & Moslims (E&M) motto “building respect with a passion for truth” 245 Do not deny difference. 

·         Oase – get Muslims to cook for you when you share a meal

·         Nurses and doctors working in communities as individuals

·         Mosaic, a weekly community meal welcoming asylum seekers, offers hospitality in homes

80%+ of white male evangelicals voted for Trump

76% of white evangelicals approved travel ban on Muslims and 69% are “’very concerned’ about domestic Islamic extremism” 264

Lists positive examples of churches helping Muslims 265

Wants this section of book to be “a generative future for evangelical engagement with Islam in the US” 266 and will look at history, Muslim agency and Christian response

Pre-9/11 – first Muslim arrivals were slaves

Skilled workers began arriving in the 70s and 80s – makes contrast with Europe.  US Muslims more diverse than Europe – not from colonies

Nation of Islam, fall of communism (a new enemy needed 269)

Dispensationalist reaction – looks at work of Thomas Kidd

After the Oklahoma bombing mosques were attacked.  When it was found that the bomber was a white Catholic, no Catholic churches were attacked 270

So fear existed before 9/11 but has been amplified by it.

Now there is demonization, concern about islamisation and bans on shari'a law in some states

Quotes various evangelical pastors 276 – they are just a mirror to the jihadists.  A quote from Kidd (p163) the Christian right “unwittingly aped the rhetoric of the Muslim jihadists they demonize” 277

“Donald Trump is not the instigator of American Islamophobia – he is its most recent convert” 277

We need to recognise what American Muslims are already doing to help the situation and “the critically important role of Muslim families, schools, mosques, charities, oragnizations, media and institutions in the lives of Muslims” 279

Irony.  These spaces are feared by Americans but “are actually critical to national security” … “Muslim Americans most vulnerable to the temptations of extremism and terror are not the poor but the disconnected” 281

These spaces “play a critical role in protecting, nurturing, maturing and extending their Islamic vision of the good life in America”

10 ways for pluralist action

1.       Avoid the rhetoric of both the right and the left.  One leads to the other.

2.       Defend Muslim spaces.  “Evangelicals should praise the fact that these Muslim spaces produce distinctly Muslim citizens with their own distinct visions of the good” 289

3.       Embrace cultural marginalization.  Nancy Fraser’s multiple publics and subaltern counterpublics

4.       Build Christian institutions political think tanks, universities, media, journals.  “resist the demonization of Islam” 291 Centre for Public Justice CPJ in Washington “advocates for public rights and freedoms of all faith communities”

5.       Find Muslim cobilligerents – evangelicals “have a lot in common with their Muslim neighbours” 293

6.       Deconstruct Christian nationalism.  Accept the fact that other faiths are “inevitably pervasive, public and pluriform” …. “Islam is here, Islam is public, and Islam is different” 294

7.       Construct Christian pluralism.  “If Christ alone is Lord, can Christians continue to claim lordship over Muslims?” No!  American evangelicals must stop “trying to control American history” …. “betrays a fundamental lack of trust in Christ, who is sovereign over all” 295

8.       Follow the whole Christ.  “rather than looking at their Muslim neighbours through the lenses of the world (security concerns, cultural clashes and controversies), American evangelicals must view their Muslim neighbours first and foremost through their primary lens – Jesus Christ” 297-8

9.       Go through worship training “to develop the heart of Christ” and “train their hearts to desire hospitality over hostility” 298

10.    Make pluralism vocational in every walk and space of life


Epilogue – the politics of Holy Week

“political visions that myopically seek either high walls or open doors are not only unsustainable, but they are dangerous.  Open doors fail to wrestle with the real costs, challenges and dangers of deep difference, while high walls make the politics of difference even more difficult as they actively increase social distrust, fragmentation and division on all sides” 301-2

5 critical spaces of Holy Week

1.       The streets of Jerusalem – it’s easy to start a protest but it’s more difficult to open up your home

2.       The upper room – offering oneself

3.       Mount of Olives – they came to bind him but Jesus still healed Malchus (his enemy?)  “In the shadow of the Mount of Olives, followers of Jesus can no longer seek an ultimate political goal of security from Muslims.  Rather, Christians may only seek national security for the sake of healing and building relationship with Islam”.

4.       Golgotha – exposes the violence of us all

5.       A tomb, a road and a beach – leading to life and hope

“participating in this holiest of weeks, we begin to see what the politics of walls and doors have been missing all along: a table.” 305

“to be sure, table politics require functioning walls and open doors.  After all, tables work best in homes that are both generous and secure, both open and ordered.  … the ultimate political goal is a well-set table” 305

“Table politics will demand that the distinct categories of guests and hosts ultimately come to an end. …. They will dissolve our hierarchies”305 calling each other friend.