Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chrislam: Finding Common Ground & Losing Common Sense

The following is an online dialogue, concerning Islam and Christianity, with a gentleman who attacked the beliefs of a friend of mine, and was attempting to make the case for the popular belief that Islam and Christianity are essentially one and the same. For clarity, my opponent’s words appear bold and italicized. May God add His blessing to your reading.

The Quran is as loving and vengeful as the Bible.”
This statement of yours is entirely simplistic or reductionistic. When I read such statements I can only conclude that the person making the assertion has studied neither the Qur'an nor the Bible in any depth whatsoever. It displays a total lack of understanding. (This is the kind of sophomoric analysis one finds in an introductory "comparative religions" class.)

Indeed, the Bible contains passages of horrific violence. However, such passages are descriptive, rather than prescriptive. That is, the Bible describes such things but it nowhere prescribes such behavior on the part of believers in Jesus Christ. (And do not fallaciously equate or confuse church history with biblical theology.)

The Qur'an on the other hand, does indeed prescribe such behavior. For example, the followers of Islam are exhorted: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned...” (Surah V, 33). [Any attempt to parallel such teaching to the case law found in the Pentateuch is nothing more than contrivance.]

Further in Surah V we read: “O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people” (51).

Passages such as these are found throughout the entire Qur’an. I know because I’ve read it from cover to cover. Jihad [often translated as “striving” for Islam/Allah] is a constant theme. Moderate Muslims attempt to soften the concept of Jihad to mean “internal struggling.” But this goes against the plain reading of the text itself. Jihad [understood and applied in a very broad context] is a central tenet to those who follow Islam.

I believe that your motives are pure. I’m sure you’re a very loving and peaceful man. Most people are. But the pluralistic philosophy that all religions are equally true and valid or that they’re essentially the same is little more than naiveté or wishful thinking.

Whether you like it or not, it comes down to one's own interpretation of what one is reading.”
There you go again. You are making an authoritative statement. With magisterial authority you pronounce that everything “comes down” to private interpretation, whether I “like it or not.”

And yet again, you are mistaken. The Bible itself is clear: no scripture “is of any private interpretation” (2Peter 1:20). According to the Bible, God is the originator and interpreter of His word. That is, the Bible is self authenticating, authoritative, and perspicuous.

The Bible is not to be treated as a “wax nose” to be twisted or formed according to personal whim. Upon what logical or rational basis do you assume that the Bible means what the individual says it means or that the individual is the final arbiter of truth? You are making authoritative statements based upon nothing but personal opinion. With no ultimate authority other than yourself, what can you possibly offer us other than your own personal dogmatism?

Why is it that many of us can't seem to remember both religions came from the same damn family?
Well, friend, many of us find it difficult to remember things that never happened.

Christianity is a revealed religion. That is, it didn't come from man. Rather, God revealed Himself specifically in His Son and through His apostles and prophets in scripture. Now, you may reject this truth statement of Christianity. This is your prerogative. But please don't offer simplistic and ahistorical nonsense that Christianity and Islam come from the same source. You're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

Both Christianity and Islam came from God, or Allah if one so chooses to use this name. However, you've made my point for elitist babble.
No. Christianity and Islam did not both come from God. Christianity and Islam each make absolute truth claims concerning the nature of God and of Christ; truth claims which diametrically oppose each other. To claim that God has revealed Himself in contradictory truth claims, is tantamount to believing a = -a is a true mathematical statement. In other words, such a claim is illogical and absurd.

Islam vehemently denies the Trinity. Christianity is rooted in Trinitarian theology. Islam vehemently denies that God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. That God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Islam vehemently denies the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity affirms the full deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Islam denies that Christ died and resurrected for sinners. Christianity upholds this as the central tenet of the Faith. I could go on and on. (But I don't want to bore you with facts and "elitist babble.")

The "similarities" between Christianity and Islam are contrived by people who know next to nothing of either religion.

Interesting, Steve, that u speak for god and that u know Christianity and Islam both don't come from god.....wow, do u know in advance winning lotto tickets as well.....???
I don't presume to speak for God. God has authoritatively and sufficiently spoken for Himself in His Son and in scripture. “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds…” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

You may refuse to listen to God in His word and in His Son, but this doesn’t mean He hasn’t spoken. As for winning lottery tickets...why don't you try to argue with the state that truth is relative and that your ticket is every bit as true and valid as the winner's? Insist that it is narrow minded bigotry to assume there could be only one set of winning numbers. See how far this gets you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Zionist Creed: Give us Your Money but Keep Your Jesus

The Roman amphitheater hosts some of the wildest concerts in Israel, but it rarely sees a crowd as excitable as this one. After all, this was no mere musical act, but the conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck.
The former Fox News talk-show host was joined on stage by the American evangelical icon John Hagee, who, in a twist on Kennedy's famous "ich bin en Berliner" comment had the crowd chanting "ani yisraeli," which means: "I am an Israeli."
Today was the first fixture, a rally attended by 3,000 people, mostly Americans who traveled to Israel especially for the Beck events. It took place at Caesarea Amphitheater, an impressive venue built in the first century by Herod the Great.
Sunday evening, I chanced upon this event as it was being televised on TBN. (Obviously I chanced upon it because who purposely watches TBN?) I watched 4 speakers, including John Hagee.

I heard “Jesus Christ” mentioned only one time--by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. The context? "Christians are standing with us [Jews]. We believe Jesus was a good Jewish teacher, but not God or the Messiah." (This is not an exact quote, but with these very words he SPECIFICALLY and FORTHRIGHTLY denied Jesus was and is God the Messiah.)

And all the Christians were cheering. It made me sick. Shame on Hagee and every Christian mindlessly "standing" with Christ deniers--on the mistaken notion or basis that they [Jews and Christians] are worshipers of the same God. "Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son" (1Jn 2:22).

The Bible couldn't be more clear: Those who deny the Son do not have the Father and actually call "Him [God] a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son" (1Jn 5:10).

Hagee and others consistently referred to the writings of Moses--as though this is common ground. But what does JESUS our LORD say to the Jews [and everyone else] who deny Him? "If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me" (Jn 5:46).

Ultimately, the only biblical thing, the only truly loving thing, is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our Jewish friends. It is utterly unloving and unchristian to tell Jews “You’re okay” or “You’re God’s chosen people"--APART from faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of all men.

Rather than follow Christian Zionists, let us emulate the attitude of the Apostle Paul.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved…For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1,3-4)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The End of All Learning

When asked “which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus responded, “You shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Honesty, and perhaps some humility, demand that we admit that not a single one of us has kept this great commandment, for even one day of our lives. Thus the law of God drives us to the grace of God, and it is in the grace of God that we find rest and salvation.

But though we do not find salvation in the law of God, we do find direction there. Specifically, we find direction as to how it is that we are to love God. We are to love God with all of our being, and a large part of our being is our mind. Hence, we are commanded to love God with all of our mind.

How often have I lamented that a great number of Christians fail to love God with their minds? The Christian may fail to love God with his mind in many ways, but I wish to speak here of two--one being obvious and the other not so obvious. We begin with the deplorable condition of biblical and theological illiteracy so rampant in much of the church world today. The Christian, persistently ignorant of the faith, cannot be loving God with all of his mind.

I dare say that never in the history of the Protestant faith, has the evangelical church been more shallow and superficial in its theology. Some of this theological ignorance is due to laziness in the pulpit. I am put in mind of Ezekiel, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherd feed the flocks?” (34:2). How much of the institutional church is comprised of weak, anemic, starving sheep languishing under idle shepherds?

Yet, much theological ignorance is not due to laziness in the pulpit, but laziness in the pew. To the Lord’s “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18), the lazy pew yawns, “Oh, it’s Sunday, the day of rest. Don’t make me think too much.” Then of course, the lazy pew is quick to add, “But don’t bore me either!” Alas, the lazy pew is shallow and superficial and cannot love God with the mind. Sadly, the church is never more like the world than when she is weak minded.

Theological ignorance is one way, the most obvious and the most prevalent way, that Christians fail to love God with the mind. But there is another way, less obvious and less prevalent, yet more insidious than theological ignorance; and it is the way of theological arrogance. We could stress the difference thus: The theologically ignorant fail to love God with their mind; while the theologically arrogant fail to love God with their mind.

I have met Christians who are theologically sound in many ways, yet paradoxically, in their arrogance; it appears that they love theology more than they love God. Theology is not God. We must never forget this. It is altogether possible to be more excited or proud concerning, or to love more, the doctrine of God, than God. When I love the doctrine of God more than I love God, theological arrogance ensues. This is the import of Paul’s words to the Corinthians. “Knowledge puffs up...if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him” (1Cor. 8:1-3).

Now, it should be understood that one cannot love God apart from doctrine or theology. How can we love God if we do not know Him? But it should be equally understood that we can love theology with the mind without truly loving God with the mind. Respected theologian, J. I. Packer, writes,

What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have it? For the fact that we have to face is this: If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it. There can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can be no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose and valued by the wrong standard. (Knowing God, p.p. 22-23)
Is there a remedy for theological ignorance on the one hand and for theological arrogance on the other? I know of only one: Love God with all your mind. This is our duty and should be our delight. To conclude, I leave you with the words of John Milton: “The end of all learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love and imitate Him.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Analogy of the Rowboat

Picture yourself relaxed and reclined in an unassuming rowboat, just offshore, on a secluded and placid lake. The lake with its pristine magnificence, promises tranquility for as far as the eye can see. Then, it seems almost unconsciously, you are transported into another world. You are transported into another world because you are in your rowboat and because you are in your favorite novel. What is time and space when one is afloat in a boat and absorbed in a book?

But then your reverie is ruined as reality breaks in upon unreality in the form of a distant clap of thunder. There is a storm on the horizon. The world, the real world, has changed. The placid lake promising tranquility has broken her promise. The real world has changed and you have changed. You have changed because you are no longer “just offshore”, but you are presently far removed and distant from land.

Unbeknownst to you, you were two hours into a book and now you are two hours into a lake. This is at once both startling and confusing. The world looks different from here than it did from there. Yes, the world has changed and you have changed, but as your mind clears and adjusts, it is abundantly clear that something has remained unchanged: the shore. The shore is precisely where and as it was. The shore is precisely where and as it was because the shore is anchored. The shore is anchored and you are not.

There is a coming storm and its furious approach will not delay. You are afloat in a boat but you are no longer absorbed in a book, and now time and space take on a renewed significance. You have a window of opportunity. What must you do? Pray and hope that the storm dissipates or pray and row for the shore? One is the way of uncertainty, the other is the way of certainty. One is the way of pretense and madness, the other is the way of courage and wisdom. Which is the way for you?

I wanted you to picture this scenario in your mind because this picture captures, metaphorically, the scenario, the real scenario, in which the United States finds herself. How did the United States get from where she was to where she is? The journey from where the United States was to where she is, is not merely a journey of progress, but we must say that it has been a journey of certain progress marred with tragic regress.

It is said, and generally agreed to, that the United States is a post Christian nation. How did the United States become a post Christian nation? When did the change take place? We would say that the transition from Christianity to post Christianity did not take place punctually, or at a specific or appointed time; but rather, the transition from Christianity to post Christianity has transpired incrementally, gradually and over time.

Like our make-believe rowboat that slowly and steadily, and imperceptibly, floated away from the shore; the United States has slowly and steadily, and imperceptibly, drifted away from her Christian heritage. This is incrementalism. While we as Americans have been absorbed in the unreality of postmodern philosophy, we as a nation have incrementally drifted away from that which offers security in the face of the storm.

In our allegory of the rowboat, the shore is absolute Truth. The shore is absolute Truth anchored in the Christian theistic worldview. The shore is absolute Truth anchored in the understanding of God and His world. The world has changed and we have changed but the shore remains unchanged. What will we as Americans do?

Will we take the way of uncertainty or certainty? Will we take the way of pretense and madness or will we take the way of wisdom and courage? Shall we row towards the shore or shall we row away from the shore until we can no longer see the shore, and then pretend that the shore doesn’t exist and never did?

Excerpted from my book, “God & His World,” p.p. 177-179.