Is Jesus The Good News Islam Is Looking For?

A couple of weeks ago at church I told Paul I would go to a Perspectives class. He had been trying to get me to check out a class for several years but this time it was different. Something was stirring in my heart about the Perspectives class and I did not know why. He said that the next class was on Wednesday and the subject was Christian evangelism of Muslim people. Coincidentally later that day I read a Donald Sensing post, Who says there’s no good news about Islam? In that post he referenced an article he had recently seen, Islam is the FASTEST DYING RELIGION in the world, which said:

According to Shaykh Ahmed Katani, in Africa, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity every year:

Islam used to represent, as you previously mentioned, Africa’s main religion and there were 30 African languages that used to be written in Arabic script. The number of Muslims in Africa [a land of 1 billion] has diminished to 316 million, half of whom are Arabs in North Africa…In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Everyday, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Ever year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity. These numbers are very large indeed. …

I must admit that I was surprised. I thought it was a fatal mistake for a Muslim to convert to another religion. I was intrigued. Why were Muslims in Africa converting to Christianity?

The answer was found early in the Perspectives class. Muslims can study the story of Jesus because it is part of the Qur’an and they seemed to have little problem with the Christian concept of the trinity, the Father(God), the Son(Jesus) and the Holy Spirit. I found out that as they learned about Jesus it was a remarkably easy transition from a Muslim curious about Jesus, to a practicing Muslim who believed in Jesus, and finally to a Christian. The farther they are away from Mecca and Wahhabism, the easier the transition. I think Muslims have always been open to a God that loved them and through Jesus they found the door.

The real interesting question is whether the violence associated with Islamic terrorists is working against Islam. It is one thing for Dr. Craig to make the philosophical argument that “Islam has a morally deficient concept of God” and quite another to see Muslims turn their back on Islam because religious violence is so much harder to control than cultural violence. There is no room for peace with religious violence. Islam needs a Jesus story to make the concept of a moderate Muslim and peaceful coexistence a reality. Jesus is the good news Islam was looking for.

Would Pope Francis Ever Pray That The Middle Class Be More Prosperous?

There is nothing that tells me a politician or a pope does not care about the problems facing the middle class than when they start talking about climate change or income inequality. That got me to thinking what would Pope Francis say to Dave Ramsey or the author of Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money, Rabbi Lampin. So while Pope Francis’s stinging criticism of capitalism might be appropriate for the world’s dysfunctional child, Argentina, the middle class in America is facing adult problems like getting good paying jobs, saving enough money for retirement, and overcoming the increasingly dysfunctional government attempts at wealth re-distribution. In my world Mr. Ramsey or Mr. Lampin are probably better suited for financial and moral advice. This reminds me of Luke 12:48 which says,

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Much has been given to the United States and regardless of how you parse the poverty numbers the poor in the United States are better off than most of the world. If Pope Francis cares for both the poor and the middle class then a prayer for prosperity is an inclusive way for him to recognize that he is not in Argentina any more and that the stinging criticism of capitalism was not the best way to fill the church pews in a country that is pretty proud of their accomplishments for the poor.

What Would Paul Do?

Since I believe that the attack on Phil Robertson was primarily about the media’s distaste for Paul’s message about sin in 1st Corinthians I asked the rhetorical question, What would Paul Do? Discussing homosexuality is a tough subject but I doubt Paul would shy from the task at hand. He died as a martyr for his faith. I believe that Paul sensed that there were some “homosexual offender problems” in the church of Corinth because the NIV and NKJV translations say so in pretty definite terms. Churches seek out the broken and those overwhelmed with guilt so why is anyone surprised if a church seems to get more than its fair share of adulterers, prostitutes, drug addicts, drunkards, and people with homosexual issues. The Message and Voice interpretations of this chapter focus more on sin and less on naming names. In the context of that time in history I don’t know what homosexual offender means.  Although we are probably more tolerant to homosexual lifestyles than at any time in history, we still have homosexual problems that need to be addressed. Some of the problems are pretty complicated and uncomfortable. Was Ted Haggard a heterosexual with a homosexual obsession? On the other hand New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife is complicated and comfortable with her past. She is a former lesbian who is happily married. There is probably something a church leader can learn from her.

Phil Robertson and 1st Corinthians

Everybody is talking about what Phil Robertson said in the GQ interview, What the Duck? Various newscasters have described his comments as crude, rude, and flat out wrong. Their comments sounded so politically correct, I had to look for myself. Our newscasters are pretty low on my integrity list ever since they looked the other way when Martin Bashir suggested that Sarah Palin “truly qualified for a dose of discipline from Thomas Thistlewood”. Martin Bashir made this now infamous defecation in her mouth remark in response to her comments about our current federal debt policies. If we look at Martin’s comments in its entirety he used most of his words to attack Sarah Palin as “America’s resident dunce” rather than to substantiate his position of why he thinks her statements on federal debt are wrong or dumb. His use of an anecdotal story of slavery in 1756 is not much of an argument for or against current federal debt policies in 2013. Under the guise of journalism he deliberately wandered off the subject to make a malicious personal attack. If Martin Bashir gets lax treatment from his peers for his remarks then Phil must of said something really vile.

So with the journalism bar set so low, what did Phil say in the GQ interview? Here is the Corinthians related quote from the GQ interview that got me speed reading Corinthians on Friday night.

“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”

What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers””they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

During Phil’s darkest days, in the early 1970s, he had to flee the state of Arkansas after he badly beat up a bar owner and the guy’s wife. Kay Robertson persuaded the bar owner not to press charges in exchange for most of the Robertsons’ life savings. (“A hefty price,” he notes in his memoir.) I ask Phil if he ever repented for that, as he wants America to repent””if he ever tracked down the bar owner and his wife to apologize for the assault. He shakes his head.

“I didn’t dredge anything back up. I just put it behind me.”

These quotes sound very familiar to the argument that the Apostle Paul was making to the Corinthians. From the introduction to 1st Corinthians in the NIV Study Bible, we can see that the purpose of Paul’s visit was that “some of those who had come had brought disturbing information concerning moral irregularities in the church”. So Paul writes a letter to the Corinthians to help get them back on track with God. In chapter 6 he argues that the arbitrary judging of others was doing serious harm to the fledgling church and reminds them that judging others is God’s job. Then Paul gives them a laundry list of sinful behavior in which neither “the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God”. He follows this up with the reminder that although “Everything is permissible for me but not everything is beneficial”. This sounds like pretty good practical advice to a group of people struggling with at least eight morality issues. When we look at what Phil and Drew said in the article, you have to say that their comments are very close to what the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians. Unlike the comments made by Martin Bashir, Drew and Phil’s comments were neither personal or malicious attacks on some person or group and were on target with Paul’s message. When you read the story about Phil’s darkest days in the early 1970s, they chose to highlight the difficulty Phil had with seeking repentance. To me this part of the interview sounded like a mini sermon on the challenges of applying Paul’s message to a real world situation. So when did Paul’s hopeful message to the Corinthians of God’s grace and repentance get transformed by our media into a homophobic rant? If Phil is just the messenger then the ire of our newscasters is actually a thinly veiled, theological criticism of Paul’s message. This group that quickly criticized Phil is the same group that struggled mightily to condemn Martin Bashir’s journalism as slander. As Phil said, “Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong.” If Paul was still alive, what would Paul do?

Changing of the Guard

We have a new senior pastor at church so it is time to reflect on servant evangelism again. It has been our thing for the last twenty years. So as we embark on this journey of saying we are changing but not really changing, here are some words from Donald Sensing to keep in mind as we try to reinvigorate our passion for servant evangelism. If Jesus is King then is servant evangelism the crown prince?

Jesus was selfish (?)

By Donald Sensing

But the trick is discerning what it is that actually helps the poor. Too often we wind up treating them like pets rather than people who are, and should be related to, as responsible moral agents on their own.

And unfortunately, churches are frequently targets of what I call the "professional poor," people who make most of their actual living in scamming charitable givers. In fact, the actual majority (by far) of the supplicants who come to my church are that category.

It’s no wonder that many people are tapped out and suffer from compassion fatigue.

In the biblical model of helping the poor, the primary responsibility always rested with blood kin, then with the clan, then with the synagogue (later, church), but was never seen as the responsibility of the government. We have utterly reversed that today so that most people see primary responsibility for assistance resting with faceless government agencies.

But whenever someone wants to lower government spending to leave more money in the hands of private citizens, with which they could then increase personal assistance to the needy, well then then we are told we hate the poor and have no compassion.

So Colbert’s cute quote wears a little thin. Paying taxes does not equal Christian compassion.

Re: Bush’s Bait and Switch Theology: Religious Liberty and the Monotheistic Fallacy

From the the evangelical outpost we have this insightful post about whether we pray to the same God.

“I believe in an Almighty God,” said President Bush in an interview with Al Arabiya, “and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That’s what I believe.” The President’s attempt to promote a monotheistic ecumenism among the world’s religions is noble but misguided. Neither Muslims nor Christians (or as I hope to show, Jews) believe that we “pray to the same God.” At the risk of overcomplicating the issue, let’s examine the claim by putting it into a logical structure. The Muslim’s argument, based on the Qu’ran, can be put in the form of a (modus ponens) syllogism: 1. {If P then Q} If you believe that Jesus is the begotten son of God, then you do not believe in the one true God (See Note 1: Qu’ran (Sura 112)) 2. {P} Christians believe that Jesus is the begotten son of God. (See Note 2: John 3:16) 3. {Q} Christians do not believe in the one true God. Note 1: Qu’ran (Sura 112) — “Say: He is God, The One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, Nor is He begotten; And there is none Like unto Him.” Note 2: John 3:16 (KJV) — “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” While I doubt the President was aware of this argument, I’m sure that he would agree this is a valid argument with true premises. He should also, therefore, agree that from the Muslim perspective, we do not all pray to the same God. But the most that can be inferred by that conclusion is that Muslims do not believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God. A slightly more complex argument is needed to prove that Christians (at least those Christians, like evangelicals, who believe the Bible is authoritative) also should not subscribe to this view:

1. P — The Gospels of Matthews and John make accurate claims about what Jesus said.
2. Q — Everything Jesus said was true.
3. R — Jesus said that he is the begotten son of God. {John 3:16, 1, 2}
4. S — Jesus said that you can know the Father, if and only if you know him first. {John 8:19, Matt. 11:27 1, 2}*
5. T –> U — If you deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God then you do not know Jesus. {Modus Ponens, 1, 2, 3}
6. U –> V — If you do not know Jesus then you do not know the Father. {Modus Ponens, 4}
7. T –> V If you deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God then you do not know the Father. {Hypothetical syllogism, 5, 6}
8. W — Muslims deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God. (Qu’ran (Sura 112) — “Say: He is God, The One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, Nor is He begotten; And there is none Like unto Him.”)
9. T & W — You deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God and Muslims deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God. {Conjunction, 5, 8}
10. W –> V — If Muslims deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God then Muslims do not know the Father. {Simplification, Modus Ponens, 7, 9}

If this argument is valid then it proves that Christians and Muslims do not pray and worship the “same” God. The problem is that agreeing with #6 implies that Jewish believers–at least since the time of Christ–also do not worship the “same” God.

This is precisely what I believe.

One of the basic axiomatic truths of Christianity is that God is Triune. While this is a difficult doctrine that no one fully comprehends, all orthodox Christians agree that Jesus is not merely a ‘part’ or ‘attribute’ of God but is one of the three persons and that all are God and all are one. A Christian cannot speak of ‘God’ without including both Christ and the Holy Spirit.

We also should not claim that, though Jews have an incomplete knowledge of God, they worship the “same” God as Christians. For it is not that Jews are unaware of Jesus; it is that they reject him. They believe it is blasphemous to claim that Christ is the same person as God. Christians, if we are consistent with our belief in the triune Godhead, will say that it is blasphemous to claim that that Jesus is not God.

To do otherwise is to either deny the validity of our belief in Christ or dismiss the Jewish belief that he is not divine. In essence we are claiming either that Jews are ignorant concerning the person they claim to worship or that it is possible to worship God and exclude Christ. In my opinion, both of these options are unacceptable.

Most Jews (and Muslims) are aware of the person of Jesus Christ, aware of the claims made about him in the New Testament, and have concluded that the claim concerning his deity are false. While I disagree with their conclusion, I trust that they have justified reasons, at least in their own minds, for why they reject him as Lord. We do all believers a disservice, when like President Bush, we resort to a “bait and switch” theology– claiming that we all worship the same God and yet adding an element on which the other religions find abhorrent.

Religious liberty is a divinely permitted freedom. As Christians it is our duty to speak the truth in love and to deal maturely with genuine disagreements. The ideal of religious tolerance is not to agree to the lowest common beliefs but rather to show respect due to fellow humans made in the image of God. By glossing over our theology with a layer of politically correct ecumenical agreement we are being ‘intolerant’ of both Islam and Judaism.