(by Lucas Weeks, a ClearNote Pastors College student) Last October, 138 Muslim scholars issued this open letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You”. One month later, dozens of Christian leaders responded in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times, the text of which can be found here... I am certainly in favor of using our common ground to build bridges to Muslims. Absolutely! But there are two important points to note in this particular discussion: First, this is not a personal exchange of ideas between friends. This is a discussion between scholars and religious leaders who have given their lives to studying and teaching from the Qu’ran and the New Testament. Consequently, the Christian response has a duty to acknowledge the Muslims for their effort to build bridges (which they did do) and to respectfully explain why a Muslim must be united to Jesus Christ before his love for God and for neighbor will be the love that God desires.Pastor Roberts spoke on Romans 5 this morning and told this story about C.S. Lewis:
And it was precisely this that these Christian leaders certainly did not do.
Second, Christians who read these two documents must understand that the Muslim document was basically honest, while the “Christian” document was basically dishonest. This is a simple question of integrity.
If the men and women who wrote and signed the Christian response truly believe the foundational principle of the Christian faith is simply obedience of the two greatest commands, then the matter is simple: they simply aren’t Christians and they need someone to explain the gospel of Jesus Christ to them.
If, however, these men and women do understand that the foundational principle of the gospel is God’s love to us through Jesus Christ, then they very carefully obscured it in their response to the Muslims.
It is told that during a meeting on comparative religions in Britain that many scholars gathered together to discuss what, if anything, was unique to Christianity. Many different elements were discussed and debated. Was Christianity unique because of its concept of truth? No, other religions have this. Was it unique because of the doctrine of reconciliation? No, other religions have this. Was it unique in terms of inspiration of a particular book? No, again, other religions have this. It is told that C.S. Lewis entered the room during the debate and asked what the discussion was all about. “We are discussing what makes Christianity unique, if anything.” “That’s easy” Lewis responded, “its grace.”At the heart of Islam is man's love for God. At the heart of Christianity is God's love for Man. Islam is a legalistic religion: follow God's rules, which in Islam are few and well-specified, and you will go to heaven. Christianity is a rejection of legality. God will decide whether you will go to heaven or not, and you can't buy your way in. Only He and the Cross can make you worthy.
Is the weblog post's charge against the Christian letter's signatories valid? The letter does not say that the fundamental pillars of Christianity are love of God and Man; it is not that bad. It even alludes to God's love for Man being central to Christianity, here:
For Christians, humanity’s love of God and God’s love of humanity are intimately linked. As we read in the New Testament: “We love because he [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our love of God springs from and is nourished by God’s love for us. It cannot be otherwise, since the Creator who has power over all things is infinitely good.The main problem is that the Christian letter is a wasted opportunity. It says that love is important in Christianity and Islam, which is true but vacuous. It could have made the big point about the Islamic letter missing what is central to Christianity, and thus taught the Islamic clerics something they did not know already. Or, it could have made small points, such as that Islam, contrary to the Islamic letter, does not preach freedom of religion. Instead, the Christian letter says:
We applaud when you state that “justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part” of the love of neighbor. When justice is lacking, neither love of God nor love of the neighbor can be present. When freedom to worship God according to one’s conscience is curtailed, God is dishonored, the neighbor oppressed, and neither God nor neighbor is loved.If they're going to say that, oughtn't they to mention that Islamic law says that the penalty for a Moslem who converts to Christianity is death, and that missionaries are treated as criminals in many (most?) Moslem countries? Or maybe they are trying to allude to that, very obliquely. The Moslem letter only mentioned "freedom of religion" twice, (p. 3, p. 14 of the full, pdf, version), and then only obliquely.
Somebody should write a better response to the Islamic letter, which is carefully written and which I admire. The letter should talk about the common ground of Islam and Christianity, and about the big differences. I don't know whether it should refer to contentious side-issues such as freedom of religion. It should be written by someone who knows enough about Islam to know whether Islam really allows peaceful co-existence, or whether it demands world conquest. In either case, we have common ground, especially since there is no realistic chance of Islam conquering the world in the next fifty years, and since even when they have conquered Christians, Moslems are supposed to tolerate them as long as they do not try to convert Moslems. Such a letter, too, should not be all sweetness and smiles. The important common ground between Moslems and Christians is what distinguishes them from idolaters, New Agers, and atheists. Saying that both Moslems and Christians are supposed to be nice doesn't help bring us together, even if it were to be true.
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