Rick Love loved Jesus above all else. He loved the Bible as God’s Word.
Rick’s love for Jesus led him to love Muslims. But his love for Scripture eventually changed his mind about how to love Muslims.
Rick, who passed away on December 29, did not always love Jesus. In a candid confession in his book, Glocal: Following Jesus in the 21st Century, Rick describes how in his youth he “embraced the ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll’ lifestyle of the sixties.” After partying through the night of his 18th birthday, he woke up in the morning thinking, “There has to be more to life than this, and I’m going to find it.” It was of the 1970s Jesus Movement he would later write, “I encountered Jesus, and my life radically changed.”
From the start, Rick’s faith was all about following Jesus, which he distinguished from the cultural trappings associated with “Christianity” and traditional ways of “doing church.” It was certainly not about a heretical fusion of Christianity with American nationalism, that he believed has tragically damaged the witness of American Christians.
The other element at the heart of Rick’s faith was the authority of Scripture. Not content with merely upholding inerrancy as an abstract doctrine, he would steep himself daily in the biblical text, allowing it to guide his life. His wife Fran describes how day after day she witnessed Rick holding up his hands in prayer and worship as he studied the Bible.
From Scripture, Rick understood early on that God cared about all nations and cultures. This moved him to care about Muslims. For decades, he assumed this meant he should become a missionary in the traditional sense. He and Fran went to Indonesia to serve Jesus. Later Rick was asked to lead Frontiers—one of the largest evangelical organizations worldwide dedicated to reaching out to Muslims.
Rick’s “second conversion”—a term he used himself—began after the terrible events of 9/11 and the so-called “War on Terror.” In early 2002, Rick was stung by an article titled “Stealth Crusade” in Mother Jones magazine, which depicted Rick as the prime example of a deceitful approach to missionary work among Muslims. In the overheated and interconnected post-9/11 world, this article quickly went viral. Translated into many languages, it found its way onto the front pages of Muslim-run newspapers around the world.
The article misrepresented Rick, and distorted his views. But it also made him acutely aware that Christians frequently talk to each other as though no one else were listening. Terms familiar to us are easily misunderstood by others. For example, in his youth Rick described himself as “militant” for Christ, by which he meant “passionately committed.” Later he came to understand that to non-Christians, “militant” sounds aggressively militaristic.
But Rick was also troubled in his conscience. Though he had never been dishonest in the way Mother Jones implied, he felt he had not truly been honest with his Muslim friends either. He believed he needed to repent.
Rick urged Frontiers to adopt what he called “3D Communication”—communicating with integrity and consistency before three key audiences: fellow Christians, Muslims, and secular news media. Under his leadership, Frontiers changed its mission statement to read, “With love and respect, inviting all Muslim peoples to follow Jesus.”
Notice the emphasis on “following Jesus”—not “Christianity”—echoing Rick’s first conversion.
Ultimately, Rick’s second “conversion” took him deeper, guided by his love of Scripture. He had always been a peacemaker in relationships among Christians, but the wars and violence following 9/11 led him to a fresh study of biblical peacemaking.
In his book Peace Catalysts, he writes: “As I studied the topic of peace from Genesis to Revelation, I realized that the idea of peace and peacemaking is much bigger than I thought. I wondered how I had missed it … What I discovered transformed my life … May you examine the Scripture to see for yourself, and may you experience your conversion of peace.”
Rick did not waver in his evangelical theological commitments, but he became convinced his understanding of the gospel had been incomplete. By focusing exclusively on rescuing souls for the afterlife, he had ignored God’s loving concern for people’s wellbeing in this world. Rick came to believe that peacemaking was at the heart of what Jesus said God’s children should do.
But what if a Muslim friend does not want to follow Jesus? Rick believed, following Matthew 22:39 and Jeremiah 29:7, that following Jesus still requires us to love that friend and continue our friendship, working together for the peace and wellbeing of society. He became convinced that Jesus’ way of loving Muslims would not allow friendship to be instrumentalized as a mere means to the end goal of conversion.
In 2006, Rick left Frontiers, founded Peace Catalyst, and devoted the rest of his life to peacemaking with Muslims. In 2008, I was privileged to work closely with Rick on the Common Word initiative, bringing together senior Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders around the world in a call to love God and love each other. Rick’s experience convinced him that loving Muslims with no ulterior motives could powerfully change the world.
Ultimately, Rick’s second conversion was not a departure from his original faith. It was a restoration of his original focus on simply following Jesus.
Peace Catalyst prioritizes loving friendships with Muslims. A key value is hospitality, as Muslims and Christian friends (sometimes with Jewish friends) break bread together around a common table, with no strings attached.
But Peace Catalyst is ultimately about following Jesus. On its website, Rick wrote:
“Above all, we are followers of Jesus, on a journey with him, following where he leads us. We center our lives on him—not on the religion of Christianity, not on Western civilization, and not on patriotism. Jesus is the great peacemaker. We affirm a Jesus-centered approach to life because this highlights the treasure of the good news.”
Rick came full-circle back to his original faith: following Jesus.
But did Rick still believe in “inviting Muslims to follow Jesus”? Muslims and Christians alike often asked him that question. His typical answer was something like this: “Of course I would like to see my Muslim friends encounter Jesus as I did, just as Muslim friends want me to embrace Islam. But ultimately that is up to God, not me. What is up to me is that Jesus calls me to follow him in loving my Muslim neighbors unconditionally and partnering with them toward a peaceable world.”
In his later years, Rick believed strongly that though the gospel includes an eschatological future in heaven, it is also about God’s kingdom coming and God’s will being done on this earth as it is in heaven.
Rick passed away from complications related to bile duct cancer, and entered the presence of the Lord. But in his last days, he maintained hope that what he created in Peace Catalyst would carry on his vision.
“I want to be part of creating a new heaven and a new earth with God,” said Rick, quoted in his obituary.
“A peaceable kingdom.”
Joseph Cumming is a scholar of Islamic and Christian thought who serves as pastor of the International Church at Yale University.