Thursday, January 24, 2008

Responding to "A Common Word Between Us and You"

On October 13, 2007, 138 Muslim scholars and clerics sent an open letter to leaders of Christian churches, everywhere. The letter highlights what Muslim clerics say they beleive Christians and Muslims have in common: a Scriptural mandate to love God and love people. In response to this gesture of peace from the Muslim world, 300 Christian leaders signed their name to a letter drafted by scholars at Yale Divinity SChool's Center for Faith and Culture in support of a Christian response to A Common Word Between Us and You. Some of the leaders who signed their name to this letter are Joseph Cumming (Yale Divinity School), Leith Anderson (President, National Association of Evangelicals), Bill Hybels (Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, Chicago, Illinois), Tony Jones (National Coordinator, Emergent Village), Brian McLaren, Richard Muow (President, Fuller Theological Seminary), Robert Schuller (Founder, Crystal Cathedral), John Stott (All Souls Church, London), and Rick Warren (Pastor, Saddleback Church, California).

John Piper already has an excellent response to this letter. After reading both documents for myself (which you can see here and here) I have a couple of observations, primarily because some well-respected men in evangelical circles have affirmed in writing that they believe that Christians and Muslims can achieve peace by loving God and loving our neighbor as our Scriptures command because they believe that this explicit tenet in both the Bible and Qu'ran are sufficient common ground for peace between Christianity and Islam.

The Christian response says:

"If we can achieve religious(emphasis mine) peace between these two religious communities, peace in the world will clearly be easier to maintain."

A significant problem presents itself immediately:
How is religious peace possible between Muslims and Christians as long as their are significant differences in how each of us view the person of Jesus Christ? The Muslim letter states, "The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and the love of the neighbor. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity."

But what about Ephesians 2:13-16? "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might creae in himself one new man in place of the two, so making pecae, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing hostility."

The second issue is that the sacred texts of Islam also betrays that there can be any real peace between believer and unbeliever. Citing the Qu'ran 9:29: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book (Christian or Jew), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
There is another concerning aspect of this ecumenical olive branch extended between Muslim and Christian leaders. In what way does this document injure the biblical call to evangelize people from all nations, tribes and tongues, including Muslims? The document implies that, from a spiritual perspective, Muslims seeking to live in cultural and social peace with Christians, are okay spiritually. This letter makes dangerous assumptions, such as: Allah and Yahweh are the same (in our understanding of their character); the love of God for man and Himself can be divorced from the person of Jesus Christ, which is implied from the Christian side by this statement: "Our love of GOd springs from and is nourished by God's love for us". Sure it is, but not apart from Jesus Christ (1John 4:8-9.

Will any Muslim who may agree with the spirit of this letter in hopes of achieving worldwide peace (is this really possible apart from Jesus) not take offense at the Christian who signs this document and then proselytizes them? My concern is that this document harms the evangelistic impulse that should drive us to share the gospel with Muslims because it implies that they have no need for a Savior.

I certainly affirm the need for open dialogue between Muslims and Christians. Less open hostility and deliberate efforts to find common ground as a part of the human race is an admirable goal. I also believe that it is imperative that we live to do good to all men, both friends and enemies. As followers of Jesus we should show respect for Muslims and their religious convictions, never becoming belligerent or hateful in our response, always willing to respond with gentleness (as we should all people, regardless of their religious persuasion). However, the greatest good for mankind is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we cannot sincerely seek the good of others and divorce the importance of Jesus from the equation. There can be no peace, not lasting peace, apart from the establishment of God's Kingdom through the reign of the Son of God Jesus Christ. There can be no "religious" peace between Muslims and Christians until there is agreement that there is only one prophet, Jesus.


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