Friday, December 18, 2015

Thinking Culture: Peacemaking, a Wheaton Professor and 'God vs Allah' Debate

Are you a cultural observer? I try to be and I believer it is necessary for living with Gospel intentionality. In these new Thinking Culture posts, I want to look at recent news that is shaping our cultural but always from the perspective of Living Sent Today. The following are my reflections about some of the major news of this past week. 


“Gunshots fired into a mosque in Connecticut. Armed men protesting the ‘Islamization of America’ outside Islamic centers in Texas. Death threats called in to mosques in Florida, Maryland and Virginia.”

This is the opening line of a recent CNN report (12/11/15) entitled, “Threats, harassment, vandalism at mosques reach record high.”
Some may say this backlash is to be expected after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks and all the news of ISIS.  But such reaction is never the best course of action. Violence only begets more violence and leads to more causalities in this war of worldviews. This should never be the response of Christians, and sadly Christians are involved. 

Jesus in the 'Beatitudes' outlines the best way to live so as to be blessed of God. The seventh instruction in his short list is: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9). 

To listen to much of the rhetoric coming from Christians today, the conclusion needs to be that many have forgotten this requirement or otherwise relegated it to selective usage. But doing so we negate the blessings of God as the Lord is under no obligation to bless us without obedience to his will and way, which certainly includes how we relate to others__ even our enemies. (see Romans 12:17-21). 

We need a more thoughtful response. My friend Jason Clarke offers training in this area of peacemaking at  Jason made the point over coffee this past week that peacemaking needs to be at the forefront of our Gospel witness and I certainly agree. I think Jesus would too.


A tenured Wheaton College professor, Larycia Hawkins, who wore a hijab in solidarity with Muslims was put on administrative leave this past Tuesday by her evangelical Christian school. Professors Hawkins had posted on social media: 

“I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity. I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” 

I applaud Ms. Hawkins for her expression of love and show of solidarity with Muslim women. Muslim women, especially, need such vocal and visible support, as they too often live in fear and isolation. They need the friendship of Christian women.

Ms. Hawkins is also correct that both Christians and Muslims are “people of the book.” While Muslims do not accept the whole Bible, they do accept the first five books of the Old Testament and they do revere the Gospels, or ‘Injil.’ Muslim respect for the “Injil” allows for bridges of understanding from the Quran to the Gospel. 

Is Ms. Hawkins conclusion about God and Allah being the same correct? It's a complicated answer. Technically, from a point of logic, Ms. Hawkins statement is not incorrect but more needs to be offered than social media often permits. Theologically, there are deep differences that need to be considered. What we should not do is make this a point of contention that erects barriers to the Gospel as so often happens. 

My friend Cody Lorrance offers a take on this story at his blog


Let's consider this question further with some Biblical examples. Many Christians object to the idea that there is any commonality between Allah and God. Arguments form over the attributes of God vs. Allah but let’s back off the arguments and ask some questions. 

Can we first agree that we all have an imperfect knowledge of God? Starting there we can explore the nature of our God who is beyond knowing fully. We will find there are many commonalities and one great exception - Jesus or how he is understood. 

      Can we also agree that we are or should be seeking to know the truth, as much as we can, about God? We never arrive in this pursuit but learn more about his nature through our life with him. Many Muslims are “truth-seekers” and open to conversations about God if we take the time to listen. Have a conversation, not a debate. Bridge differences, don’t argue. Our purpose is not to win arguments but to share Good News. 

      Even if there are irreconcilable differences between God and Allah here are a few thoughts that inform my thinking for living everyday life with Gospel intentionality: 

1.  There is only one creator we call 'God' but he has many names in various languages.

      This informs a common starting point in reaching other cultures. Many religions offer some form of a creation account, Muslim look to Genesis. In the Apostle Paul’s ministry in Athens, Paul encounters the pagan religion of the Greeks. Paul finds a temple altar to an “unknown God” and uses this as a bridge to tell the Greeks about who this “unknown God” is. (see Acts 17:16-34), Muslims believe in the creator, but God is “unknowable” to them, so it’s a great place to start a conversation and follow Paul's example.

(     (Note: the etymology of the word "God" is adopted from a barbaric proto-Germanic tribe.)

2.  Without Christ our available knowledge about God is incomplete. 

This informs our missional approach to crossing-cultures. In the Apostle Peter’s ministry to Cornelius, we find this Roman who although spiritual (like many Muslims) does not understand the Good News of Jesus Christ yet. But God has to first deal with Peter’s cultural bias so that the Gospel advances to the Gentiles. Peter makes this insightful declaration, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (see Acts 10). Muslims believe in the prophets, revere Abraham, Moses, David and others, but they don’t yet know that Jesus is more than a prophet offering forgiveness of sin. Like Peter, it’s our job to go and tell them; and we can start with what they do know.

3.       God is known by many names and natures, even in Scripture. 

This informs our approach to reaching others who have a different understanding. In Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan women at the well, we find a cultural difference in understanding God. The Jews pointed to Abraham as the father of the faith, while the Samaritans looked to Jacob as the father of their faith. Jesus points her to himself filling in the missing pieces (see John 4:1-26). Muslims know something about Jesus but we need to fill in the missing pieces. We cannot do so while arguing about the nature of God. 

Today, we could paraphrase John 4:25, “The Muslim woman said, “I know that Isa al Masih” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Muslims believe Jesus is the 'Messiah' (sura 3:25, 19:30) and are awaiting his return but know very little about him. Let’s introduce them to him now so they are prepared for his soon coming. 

Here is another thoughtful posts I read this week on the “God vs Allah” debate is here. The reason I am calling these posts 'Thinking Culture' is because that is exactly what we need today. A thoughtful and thinking people produces a thinking culture (Proverbs 23:7).

When the angels announced the arrival of Jesus on earth, they declared, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” It’s our assignment for Living Sent Today to think well about and share the news of his favor - his mercy, grace, salvation and peace - in all its fullness, to all peoples, including Muslims.

May the Lord bless you and your this Christmas with all of his goodness in Immanuel, God with us. 

Ps. Fair warning, I hope to be blogging more in 2016. Have a Jesus filled New Year! 

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