Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Common Love for God?

In the New York Times on Sunday, November 18, there appeared a "A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You." This Christian Response was written by scholars at Yale Divinity School's Center for Faith and Culture (which may, in and of itself, call into question the Christianness of this response).

This open response can be read in its entirety here. Let me quote a couple of highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be).

First, the article uses a Muslim designation for God (the All-Merciful One) as the one from whom these Christians are asking forgiveness for the Crusades as well as the excesses of the "war on terror" (quotes in the original). It reminds me of just how flawed our view of sin is when we think we can meaningfully ask forgiveness for the sins of someone else. Of course, I am assuming that none of these people who signed this letter were involved in the Crusades or the "war on terror." It also makes me wonder why they are using a Muslim designation for God rather than a biblical one. God is full of mercy towards those who repent. But he has none for those who do not. But why not just use biblical terms?

Second, they say "It is therefore no exaggeration to say, as you have in A Common Word Between Us and You, that 'the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.'" Later they say, "The future of the world depends on our ability as Christians and Muslims to live together in peace. If we fail to make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony you correctly remind us that “our eternal souls” are at stake as well."

This is a troubling view of world peace. It is true that so long as Muslims (or any people) wage war against non-Muslims (or any people) that there will not be peace. And it is true that at times in the past, nominal Christians have waged war against others in the name of religion. That was a misguided venture then, just as it would be now.

But to say that the future of the world depends on our ability to live with Muslims in peace is a fairly direct denial of the sovereignty of God and the prophecies that a King will come to bring peace by destroying his enemies. The future of the world depends on God, not on our ability to forge peace with someone else. Now, that does not mean that we should not pursue peace. But neither does it mean that we should think that if we could somehow strike peace with Muslims that the world would suddenly be set for the future.

To be sure, the greatest problem in this world is not external and physical warfare, whether carried on by nations or terrorists. The greatest problem is the sin of the human heart, and only Christianity has an answer for that.

Third, these scholars and signatories note "our common love for God." This is perhaps the most disturbing of all. Since Muslims have denied the person of Jesus Christ, the God that they love has nothing in common with the God of Christianity and the Bible. Jesus himself said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). Lest we should underestimate the intent of his words, we should note that those who lived with him clearly understood what he was saying. That's why they tried to kill him, as John 5:19 tells us: "For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God."

The idea being espoused by many that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is unbiblical. It provides no hope for eternal salvation. It is blasphemous to God because it denies his incarnation, it denies his atoning work and resurrection, and denies his promise to return in judgment and salvation.

It is also troubling to see the signatories noted on this document. We should expect names like Robert Schuller and Brian McLaren. But also appearing are names like David Yonggi Cho (Yoido Full Gospel Church), Timothy George (Beeson Divinity School), Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church), Duane Litfin (President of Wheaton College), Richard Mouw (President of Fuller Theological Seminary), John Stott (All Souls Church, London), and Rick Warren (Saddleback Community Church).

How can these men profess any knowledge of or allegiance to the biblical gospel while signing on to something that speaks of Muslims and Christians having a "common love for God"? Is that not, at some level, a denial of the person of Jesus Christ? I can see no other option.

They conclude this document with this: We are persuaded that our next step should be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another.

The fulfillment of the requirement for loving God and loving others is to preach the gospel of salvation in Christ alone. We do not need for leaders (or followers) at every level (or any level) to meet together to determine that. We need only to open the pages of Scripture and take seriously the command of Christ to preach the gospel to all nations and to make disciples.

That these signatories would propose something else is most certainly a step of compromise. How can this be acceptable to these men? Why can we not say, "We love you in the name of Christ and do not intend to bring physical or national warfare against you. But in the name of Christ, we call you to salvation through Christ alone"? That was the message of Christ, the apostles, and the early church. Throughout church history, countless Christians have given their lives to the point of death for the sake of the gospel and the call to preach it to all.

It is a false dichotomy to suggest that living in peace with Muslims requires us to profess that we love the same God. We do not. We love and worship the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, who is God. And to love and worship him is to preach him as the only way of salvation.

We should live in peace with others, as much as is possible (Romans 12:17). But we must also never compromise on the truth that the one true and living God is the God who revealed himself in his son, Christ Jesus. And it is he alone that we trust in for salvation, and we must preach the exclusivity of Jesus to all nations. We must do it with love and grace, but we must do it with courage and boldness. We dare not compromise, not even for the sake of peace.

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