Sin, Forgiveness, and Reconcilitation

Christian and Muslim Perspectives

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Lucinda Mosher, David Marshall
  • Washington, DC: 
    Georgetown University Press
    , April
     176 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Sin, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation: Christian and Muslim Perspectives digests the proceedings of the 13th Building Bridges seminar in Washington in April 2014. Launched in 2002 as an initiative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Building Bridges Seminar gathers scholars of Islam and Christianity and convenes annually for deep study of an overarching theme relevant to Christianity and Islam. The theme in 2014 was “Sin, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation.”

After a brief introduction, the book begins with the two opening lectures of the seminar. Christian theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen gives a short overview of the Christian perspective, trying to do justice both to the biblical texts and to the different interpretations in the East and the West. He concludes that “all Christian traditions believe that something is wrong with us and the world” (5), and that forgiveness in Christianity is (or should be) unconditional, a result of divine forgiveness (7). 

The Muslim historian Jonathan A.C. Brown gives a brief summary of the Muslim perspective, starting with a 2014 story from Iran, where a killer was not executed given that the mother of the victim forgave him. Brown concludes that this scene demonstrates the basic principles of Islam: man sins against God, man sins against man, God forgives, “and perhaps His mercy spreads among the people” (14). 

Part 2 of the book discusses Christian and Muslim perceptions of sin in more detail. The Christian theologian Christoph Schwöbel gives a very instructive synopsis of the basic Christian concept, including Jesus’s view—a “dramatic reinterpretation” of sin,” reintegrating the sinners into communion with God (25)—Paul, Genesis 3, Augustine, Thomas, and Luther. Schwöbel concludes by making three suggestions: Sin “should be understood as dislocation of human creatures” (34), forgiveness “consists in the separation of sinners from their sins through God’s judgment” (35), and the only adequate form of discourse about sin is the “first-person language of the confession of sin” (36). 

In the most detailed article of the volume, the Muslim Islamic scientist Ayman Shabana examines the primary Islamic thoughts on sin. He focuses particularly on the story of Adam in the Qur’an (7,11–27) and the conceptualization of sin in the interpretation of the relevant Qur’an texts (e. g., Al-Tabari, Al-Razi, Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Rida). Shabana observes that the question of the impact of sin on belief was one of the main factors that divided the theological schools in Islam, such as “does a grave sinner remain a believer?” (58). He concludes that Sin is “disobedience in the broadest sense” (60), through sin “one harms oneself by forfeiting the chance of being rewarded,” and “the struggle against sin is part of the eternal battle of the children of Adam against Iblis and his followers” (61).

Parts 3 and 4 of the book discuss Christian and Muslim concepts of Forgiveness and Reconciliation. Part 3 opens with a concise outline of forgiveness and redemption in Christian understanding by Susan Eastman, concentrating on the stories of forgiveness and redemption in Luke 15,11–32 (the story of the prodigal son) and Romans 8. She concludes that forgiveness and redemption, and even the relationship to God itself, are gifts—gifts “of unstoppable, gracious presence grounded in the characteristic of the giver” (82). Mohammad Hassan Khalil offers a brief insight into the Islamic discussion on forgiveness, starting with suras 103; 39,53–59; 6,128 and 11,106–108. He stresses that the hadith corpus is characterized by a “spirit of forgiveness” (88), which should lead the interpretation of the Qur’an texts on everlasting damnation and even on shirk.

Part 4 considers the idea of Reconciliation. Philip Sheldrake concentrates on the aspect of reconciliation between people and discusses Matthew 18,21–35, Ephesians 2,11–22, hospitality, and the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Eucharist. Sheldrake’s inspiring article emphasizes that reconciliation between people lies at the very heart of Christian life (105), and that it is “before all else an action rather than an abstract doctrine” (101). Finally, Asma Afsaruddin explores Reconciliation and Peacemaking in the Qur’an, concentrating on the interpretation of five fundamental Qur’an texts: 3,103; 8,63; 8,61; 60,7–9 and 49,13. She concludes that 49,13 should be understood “as representing the overall objective of our interfaith and intercultural conversations” today (116).

At the end of parts 2–4 important texts from the Bible and the Qur’an have been added word for word. The book concludes with an account of the informal conversations at the seminar. 

This small volume offers a concise insight into the topics of the seminar and provides the reader with a positive impression of its friendly and respectful atmosphere. It is a very good textbook for any Christian-Muslim group that wants to have a dialogue about Sin, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation in Christianity and Islam. Inevitably, most of the articles are very short, and some of them have been written from a highly interreligious perspective. Yet that is no serious disadvantage given that there is, as far as I know, no comparable book on the subject. Our thanks go to Lucinda Mosher and David Marshall for editing the volume.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Wolfgang Reinbold is Professor of New Testament at the University of Göttingen and Chairman of the House of Religions in Hannover.

Date of Review: 
January 30, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Lucinda Mosher, assistant academic director, Building Bridges Seminar, is a faculty associate in Interfaith Studies at Hartford Seminary. 

David Marshall, academic director, Building Bridges Seminar, is director of the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies and associate research professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Duke Divinity School.



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