Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of FearMatthew Kaemingk, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018. XIV+388 PP. ISBN 978-0-8028-7458-0. $36.78, $25.92, Kindle Edition. 

Book Review: Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear.

Matthew Kaemingk

If ever there was a book for the present time this is it. Kaemingk wants to address the question of the growing presence of Islam in the West and the tensions that have arisen within secular Western society, specifically the Netherlands and America, in this century. The book seeks to offer a third way of addressing the issue: the way of “Christian pluralism” in preference to the two options seemingly on offer, that is, a right-wing nationalistic antagonism towards Islam or ‘the romanticism of left-wing multiculturalism” (2).

Following an Introduction, the book is divided into four parts. The first part is entitled “Mecca and Amsterdam: A Case Study.” Kaemingk has chosen to look at the experience of Islam in the Netherlands as a “case study” because Islam has had a long history there: the oldest and largest Muslim population is found there, and it is a densely populated country where all live in close proximity to one another. Furthermore, the Netherlands has been a progressive and pluralistic society; and a particular form of Christian pluralism was developed there that Kaemingk uses as a template for his discussion.

In this first part, Kaemingk outlines how the supposed tolerance of Dutch society never really existed. What happened was that through the nineteenth, and for the first half of the twentieth century, four strands of Dutch culture (Calvinism, Catholicism, socialism and liberalism) existed side-by-side in an uneasy “grand bargain of necessity” called “pillarization” (41), which eventually gave way to the dominance of liberalism. When Muslim migration began after World War Two, as “guest workers” came in, Dutch society tolerated this as a “temporary expediency,” and the Dutch Government supported and looked after them with the expectation that they would return home. When this outcome was no longer likely, Government policy turned towards getting immigrants to integrate, and aimed to have them assimilate. The Dutch people were urged to have patience while this happened. When it proved too slow, or did not really happen, the Dutch public lost patience and the mood turned more antagonistic. “Instead of encountering citizens who were trained, ready, and willing to live alongside deep moral differences, the new immigrants found themselves surrounded by a progressive, moral majority who desired unity and uniformity” (47).

In this century, following terrorist attacks abroad, the assassination of anti-Islamic filmmaker Theo van Gogh, and under the influence of “a drama thirsty media” (54) and the rise of charismatic, populist politicians, Muslims were subjected to “an aggressive form of secular humanism” (57). “The four horsemen of muscular liberalism” promoted various forms of marginalization – “homosexual” (Pym Fortuyn), “gender” (Ayaan Hirsi Ali), “artistic” (Theo van Gogh) and “historical” (Geert Wilders) – by portraying Islam as threatening the way of life of secular, liberal Dutch society or mocking and denigrating Islam as a dour, humourless, and medieval religion. Softer attempts to get Muslims to assimilate were still predicated upon Muslims taking on Dutch culture and values. Hence, various types of pressure have been put upon the Muslim minority.

Kaemingk concludes this part with a brief “Interlude” which raises the question of why a Christian counter-culture should provide a defence of Islam. Briefly, it is because a democracy needs “counter-publics,” such as a Christian counter-culture, to remain healthy, and Christians should ensure space for other “counter-publics,” even those with whom they may disagree.

In Part Two, “Christian Pluralism: A History,” Kaemingk traces the rise of a community of Christians who, under the leadership of Abraham Kuyper, promoted a Christian pluralism in the face of the attempts of nineteenth and early twentieth century Dutch liberalism to impose a kind of ideological hegemony and root out Christian dogmatism through the education system. Against four other Christian responses to this (assimilation, compromise, retreat, and aggressive retribution), Kuyper proposed a fifth way: the development of a Christian pluralism that provides space and an equal footing for all ideologies and sectors.

First, Kuyper engaged in a deconstruction of the modern liberal drive towards uniformity. He argued that all ideologies and systems, including liberalism, are essentially founded upon faith. As human faiths are irretrievably diverse and pluriform, they must reject hegemony. Furthermore, human sin means that uniformity cannot be attained despite the liberal belief that ideological divisions can be overcome by education and social work. Hence, as a faith, liberalism must take its place alongside other faiths: and the Christian faith can take its stand alongside liberalism.

Having deconstructed hegemony and uniformity, Kuyper engaged in a construction of plurality. His pluralism began with the belief, or position that there was only one sovereignty, that of Jesus Christ. But this did not mean that Christians had hegemony: rather that, all other claims to sovereignty being ruled out, there is a freedom for many forms of organisation, or social and political life to flourish under the umbrella of Christ’s sovereignty. Both church and state have to be pluralistic. The theological resources that sustain pluralism are: (1) a common grace (the Holy Spirit’s cosmic and mysterious work in all peoples, faiths, and cultures), (2) a common humanity, and (3) a common creation. In preparation for the third part, Kaemingk provides another Interlude (“Beyond Kuyper”) where he outlines three areas where Kuyper’s thought requires revision or extension: in his Christology, in worship, and in action.

Part Three, “Christian Pluralism: A Future,” begins with a chapter on “Pluralism and Christ” where Kaemingk extends Kuyper’s limited Christology which focused almost exclusively on Christ as the sovereign king by looking at the work of three other theologians. Together these theologians (Herman Bavinck, Klaas Schilder, and Hans Boersma) provide Kaemingk with a Christology that yields a deeply self-giving, cruciform hospitality that is multiform and complex, providing safe boundaries within which there is freedom to be hospitable and open.

A rich chapter on “Pluralism and Worship,” first outlines the failure of liberalism to deal with pluralistic, complex societies where diversity and deep differences put a strain upon the fabric of tolerance. Liberalism attempts to deal with this by “notation,” whereby liberals try to solve pluralism by “a sophisticated system of laws, labels, boundaries, and government programs” when what is needed is “ritual and shared experience” (197). Kaemingk, drawing on others’ writings, describes how some of these “rituals and shared experiences” appear in secular society through sporting (think Football World Cup) and artistic events; and everyday common experiences in cinemas, the supermarket, on buses and trains, and in workplaces. Worship may not lead to open, pluralistic attitudes; it can reinforce prejudice and narrow exclusivism. But good, well-ordered, well-considered, and conceived worship: (a) must unite worship and public life, (b) can decentre both self and community, through centring God and (c) can speak to the heart from where true motivation to good (or ill) springs.

In a chapter on “Pluralism and Action,” Kaemingk does not offer large, politically driven “answers” and programmes but rather looks at small everyday activities of the “little people” that promote interaction and understanding between different cultural and religious groups.

Part Four, “Islam and Christian Pluralism in America,” applies the construction of a Christian approach out of Kuyper’s approach, to the situation of Muslims in America. Kaemingk first surveys the place of, and attitudes toward, Muslims in America before 9/11. Though mostly under the radar, after the fall of the Soviet bloc, Muslims became the “new other.” Since 9/11 the mood against them and Islam has hardened.

Before turning to a Christian pluralist response to Islam in America, Kaemingk surveys the way in which Muslims themselves are working to change perceptions and take control of the way they are perceived, as well as providing support networks for Muslims. Then, in another chapter, Kaemingk addresses the evangelical world and puts forward ten ways evangelicals can take action and apply the insights of Christian pluralism.

In an Epilogue called “The Politics of Holy Week,” Kaemingk reflects on the alternative type of politics that the events of Christ’s final week suggest. This leads onto the promotion of a “table politics” which means a generous, open, inclusive hospitality built on order, stability, and safety (represented by the walls of a house) thus allowing the warmth and generosity of a shared meal (table).

This is a vital and important book. It contains many excellent insights into the situation of modern Western societies. It provides much food for thought, and a clear and challenging set of ideas for developing a Christian pluralist outlook. It would make a good book for a discussion group, or a course on addressing the question of a Christian approach to Muslim immigration, and Islam in general.

Derek Tovey is the book review editor for Stimulus.