where is that yearbook?

Matt posted a few days ago on Piper’s response to a controversial and noteworthy document. Here’s a short recap if this is all new to you.

1. A Common Word penned by a group of 138 Muslim scholars.

2. Yale Divinity School scholars respond favorably in document signed by some notable evangelicals.

3. Controversy ensues.

4. Piper posts video response challenging some “friends” of his who signed the Yale document.

Essentially, Piper said that the document is dishonest to the biblical account of Jesus: Jesus is not simply a prophet to Christians as Muhammad is to Muslims, nor is the Islamic belief about Jesus analogous to the biblical account of his work and mission. To waver on the biblical account about Jesus in order to establish a foundation for reaching out to Muslims is dishonest. However, Piper affirmed reaching out to and loving Muslims as part of the Christian mission, an important affirmation indeed.
Then, Rick Love, one of the signers of the Yale response, sent an explanation to Piper justifying his signature of the Yale document. In the first part of his response, Love said that he saw this as a platform for evangelizing Muslims, and then he wrote this:

I do not hesitate to refer to the God of the Bible as Allah, since Arab Christians before and after the birth of Islam use the term Allah to describe the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christian and Muslim views of God are similar in that we both worship the one true God, creator of the heavens and the earth. We both believe this God will judge all peoples at the end of history. We both believe this God has sent His prophets into the world to guide His people. Christian and Muslim views of God differ primarily regarding the Fatherhood of God, the Trinity, and especially regarding the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I believe that Muslims worship the true God. But I also believe that their view of God falls short of His perfections and beauty as described in the Bible. Thus, I try to model my approach to Muslims after the apostle Paul who said to the Athenians: ‘What you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you’ (Acts 17:23).

I spoke with a friend of mine about this and he said that he was still trying to figure out if this was true. As for me, when Love wrote, “Christian and Muslim views of God differ… especially regarding the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ” that won “understatement of the year” award. And yes, even though its only January, I am confident that I will not hear a statement that minimizes the truth more this year.

I heartily agree that Muslims and Christians have different views of Jesus, and I add that this means they worship different gods. Consider these texts:

Jesus said to [the Jews], “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. (John 8:42-44)

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23)

Such statements are not found only in the Johannine literature, consider this from Paul: “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19) I don’t think this means that such people literally bow down to their own stomachs, not least because of the physical difficulty of such an act. Despite the fact that Paul does not have Muslims in view in this passage, it seems clear that those who do not love the cross of Christ do not worship God. To me, that seems to be the tenor of the whole New Testament: now that Jesus has arrived, the old covenant has become obsolete, the kingdom has begun, and the only entrance to the kingdom is humility before and trust in Jesus, the Savior-King. Or, to put it negatively, whoever does not trust (and therefore obey) the Savior-King (Messiah) does not worship the true God and therefore has no part in the kingdom.

Love’s mention of Acts 17:23 does lend some credence to his position. I understand and appreciate the humble interest shown in wanting to honestly interpret this verse, however, this should not overthrow the rest of the biblical teaching about the centrality of Jesus to the mission of God. I am no scholar and I am not very well read so my view may not be very important, but if I tried to interpret that verse faithfully in the context of Acts and in light of the other NT literature, the sentiment expressed by Paul “what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you (ie: the one, true God)” would not apply to Muslim belief. The simple support that I give for my interpretation is that the Athenians had stated clearly “to an unknown god,” whereasMuslims (of all sects) have stated clearly that they do not believe that Jesus is the divine Savior-King portrayed in the NT. The Muslims do not “worship in ignorance.” That is my thought on Acts 17:23, take it or leave it. However, the bigger issue is that we should not let one verse that is somewhat unclear overthrow a great many texts that are very clear.

It is like Piper said in his video response, if two people are talking about an old friend and begin to realize that they might not be referring to the same “old friend,” then a peek at the old yearbook picture can help clarify who they are talking about. Jesus is the “exact representation of God” so that we can know God! But this also means that if you do not acknowledge Jesus (as he is represented in the NT) and place your confidence in him, then you have rejected the true God.

What do you think? Am I totally wrong that humble confidence in Jesus as the Savior-King is the only way to enter the kingdom and thus is the only true worship of God? In Acts 17, does Paul’s missionary context in a largely unevangelized culture mean that he can “bend the rules” to accomodate slightly and win a hearing with the Athenians? Is this setting parallel to Islamic culture in such a way that we can apply it across the board in evangelism to Muslims, including documents spread forth before the entire watching world? I’m very interested to see what everyone has to say.

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2 responses to “where is that yearbook?

  1. Great job Parker!! After really thinking through this I think I am leaning more on the side you are. I firmly think we need to work towards peace and we should reach out to our Muslim friends, we need to make Muslim friends!!! I do not think though that we can at all release any of the things we hold in the closed hand, such as the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity and so forth. To do that would be in effect working to please man and forsaking God something we cannot do!

    I really appreciate Dr. Piper’s humbleness and willingness to put the responses and sometimes rebukes on his OWN website for all to see. He really is a Paul for so many of us Timmys today!!!

    I would not say that anyone that signed the letter was a heretic for signing but do agree with Piper that a new document (that I hope HE leads the way in writing up) needs to be made and signed!

    Thanks for posting on this!

    -Los

  2. Parker, thanks for writing this I really enjoyed your humble thoughtfulness. As you know, my best friend is Muslim. In fact, I was just invited to be his groomsmen in his upcoming wedding. Given our relationship I have given some thought to this subject through out the years. So here are some thoughts that I have about it.

    Firstly, I agree with you in many ways. This morning I was reading John 8 for my devotional and in it there is a dialog about what it is to be a son of Abraham and even more so a son of God. Jesus made it very clear to the present Jews that if they were sons of God then they would know that He was from God. But instead they were children of Satan because they were lying about who He was and had murderous intent just as their father the devil. This seems clear, believe in Jesus= you are son of God, you do not believe in Jesus= son of the Devil. It seems to be a very vivid dichotomy in this instance. This seems to be the point that you and Piper are making. One in which I can say I agree with.

    On the other hand, I think this might be an overly simplified view of people’s relationship to the Living God. What do I mean by that? The Bible gives a lot of black and white pictures for us to study. The Law (i.e. you shall not steal), wisdom literature (i.e. Psalm 1, the Righteous shall thrive, where as the wicked shall perish), and I propose even the above example of both kind of sons, especially because John is well known for his dichotomies (i.e. All of 1 John). But God gives us more than black and white pictures because life is not black and white. For example, God gives us the greatest commandments, Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. On top this He fleshes it out even more in the Decalogue, even more so He gives us Leviticus/Deuteronomy, to give us even more finely attuned bristles to paint life with He gives us Proverbs, and to tie everything together He gives us narratives which are an extension of the law. Here is an illustration of how this plays out, In Deut. 20.7, God tells the Israelites to completely destroy the Canaanites. In Judges 2 they fail to do this by sparing a canaanite man that helped them take a city and God judges them for their disobedience. But, as we know from Joshua 6 that Rahab the Canaanite was spared because she showed faith in the Lord and helped the Israelites. Although it seems as if they are going against Deut 20.7 God approves of this. God gave us this narrative to show that not everything is black and white. There is more to the picture. God further defines his black and white principles.

    How does this apply to whether or not Muslims worship the same God as us? In this case I think we need to think beyond black and white. I am not exactly sure how this plays out but I think I have an idea or two.

    I think there is some legitimate distinction in scripture between the fear of the Lord and the fear of God. In scripture, God (Elohim) is used to describe God’s universal reign overall of creation where as the Lord (YHWH/Kurios) is the name given to show his specific covenant presence with his chosen people. I think there are several examples of people in the bible that demonstrate the fear of God, yet do not know Him as Lord. Many of the Babylonian kings demonstrate a fear of God when they help restore Israel. The Pharoah should have feared God. Cornelius in the NT was a God fearer that came into a relationship with the Lord. I think the best example of this is Jonah 1. The author of that book describes the Pagan Sailors as being actually more in the Image of God because of the mercy they show, then the Covenant Prophet of the Lord. It is amazingly powerful and humbling. So I think that there is at least some reason to believe that there is something other than black and white. Not that these two ideas contradict each other, but they need to be observed in light of one another.

    How is this seen in today’s world? Well I think it is entirely possible that Muslims fear the Creator God of the universe yet do not know Him as Lord. I think in some ways they truly revere God but do not worship Him truly in Christ, the Son of God. And the reason they have common ground with Christians is because they have taken their ideas from the Bible, just as many people I know who borrow Christian morals of the Bible without having a saving covenant relationship in Christ.

    So in conclusion, let me restate what I am saying. Can people be saved apart from Christ? No. Do Muslims know the Lord? No. Can they know and revere God in some true sense? I think it is possibility. Like I said, I think this is a start and my ideas are not fully refined, but I want to definitely engage with the full counsel of God for this situation. Parker I appreciate your love for God and your pursuit of reverence and holiness in all things. This is complex issue and it brings me joy that we can fear the Lord in working out doctrine.

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