Which Religion is True?

BuddhaFor many, this is a genuine question. It is not something that requires a pat, one word answer. “Christianity, of course!” say some. “Islam,” say others.

People have died because of either their answer to this question or their refusal to accept another’s answer as truth.

Brian McLaren not only gives insight into this (often contentious) question in his most recent book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? but has just put up a post about it on his blog. Here’s some of what he writes:

I appreciate logic as much as the next person. But I find your statement seems to be missing some pieces:

“either all religions are false or only one is true.”

I can imagine four options:
1. All religions are completely true.
2. All religions are completely false.
3. One religion is completely true and others are true wherever they agree with it.
4. All religions are partially true and partially false.

I find #1 impossible since different religions contain many contradictions. I find #2 unlikely and incredible. That leaves #3 and #4. A big problem with #3 is that you have to ask, “Whose version of which religion?” For example, if you want to claim Christianity is completely true, you have to ask, “Pope Urban II’s version of Catholicism?” or “Benny Hinn’s version of Pentecostalism?” or “C. S. Lewis’ version of Protestantism?” or “Leo Tolstoy’s version of Russian Orthodoxy?” or … you get the point.

I would be happy to say that God knows what is completely true … but I would reject any human’s claim that they or their religion knows God’s mind with perfect accuracy. That’s why, as a committed follower of Christ, I advocate
– humility of heart and mind,
– a childlike desire to learn,
– love for neighbor, stranger, outcast, and enemy,
– and a sincere hunger and thirst for justice,
because, as Paul said, “we know in part.”

Think on these thing.

(You can read the rest of Brian’s post here.)

Brian McLaren on Islamophobic Evangelicals

Brian McLaren has written an excellent piece on CNN.com about the Islamophobia which is becoming more and more widespread in Christian circles–particularly in those who claim to be Evangelicals. Do yourself a favour and read his post. Especially with a view to recent events, it makes more sense than ever that those who are followers of Jesus need to start living as disciples and not like fearmongers. As Brian writes:

Islamophobic evangelical Christians – and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late – must choose.

Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?

If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety.

No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate. (Read the full post here.)

And if you haven’t ordered Brian’s new book, do yourself another favour and get on to it!

Muslims, Christians & Jesus

http://www.bookdepository.co.ukI’m reading a great book by Carl Medearis called Muslims, Christians & Jesus:  Gaining  Understanding and Building Connections. Having been a missionary in the Middle East for many years, Carl learned the hard way that you can’t go in “with guns blazing” to convert muslims with the logical message of Jesus. (For one thing, their cultural interpretation of what is “logical” and what is not is strikingly different than ours.)

This book is a well-thought-out summary of the beliefs and practices of Islam, as well as many stories of encounters Carl and his friends had with Muslim people. What surprised him was their respect for the Bible and honour of Jesus (Isa).

His insight into the religion and, more importantly, culture of the Muslim world is so needed for us in the west who claim to be followers of Jesus. He also gives much practical advice for people who have Muslim friends or acquaintances and how to speak with them without the conversation becoming another crusade.

It is a book well worth reading not just for anyone who has contact with Muslims, but for anyone serious about following Jesus. but

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Here’s a refreshing article from Associated Baptist Press on one church’s leap into Muslim-Christian relations and what happened when Calvary Baptist Church in Washnigton, D.C. hired a practicing muslim.

Welcoming Mohamed to Calvary

While I’d bet this problem spans professional worlds, I know for sure that anybody who is responsible for a church staff will agree that good help is hard to find. Even the ridiculously high pay and indisputable glamour that come with working at a church are often not enough to attract conscientious, committed folks who do such shocking things as showing up for work when they are supposed to.

I’ve been around this block more times than I’d wish on my worst enemy, so when we began looking for a new staff member recently I confess I felt a bit of anxiety about the hiring process. The good news is that this story ends even better than I ever could have imagined, with the recent addition of Mohamed to our staff. Mohamed is a young, first-generation immigrant from Sudan who was one of the best students in an English-as-a-second-language class that Calvary offers. He happened to be looking for a job just when we were looking to hire someone, and the rest is history.

Working at Calvary has been something of a learning curve — a religious learning curve — for Mohamed and for all of us. A very devout Muslim, Mohamed’s well-used Quran comes with him to work every day. During the appointed times, he goes into the staff lounge and says his prayers. He talks freely and animatedly about his faith and his mosque, where he and his wife attend every single Friday. Mohamed is full of curiosity about what it means to be a Baptist and how a church functions, smiling and shaking his head in disbelief upon discovery of some of our quirks. Exploring our differences and similarities has become something of an adventure around here; topics of conversation in the church office now encompass everything — from the shocking realization that Baptists are not the only Christian churches that have women pastors to how Ramadan is going for him.

So when I recently began hearing news report after news report about the current controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” I thought of Mohamed and started to get a little nervous. After all, Calvary is a little bit farther than two blocks from the Pentagon, site of another 9/11 attack, but not too much farther. And, did I mention Mohamed prays in our office? God forbid that Sarah Palin discover this scandal and tweet it to the whole world.

Honestly, until I heard all the ridiculousness in the news, it never even occurred to me that welcoming Mohamed to the church staff might be a problem. Does his practice of faith threaten or diminish mine? Are the prayers he offers in a quiet corner of the office harmful to the rest of us? What’s a church to do?

I’ve yet to find biblical directions for how best to address what, apparently, may be a scandalous outrage. Lacking those, I think I am going to go with a hunch I have: that if Jesus were here he would gratefully welcome Mohamed to the church staff (given the staff of disciples he had, I know he would certainly understand and appreciate excellent work). More than that, I think Jesus would extend a hand of friendship, engage in honest and respectful dialogue about faith and actively look for all the things we share in common rather than creating and fanning irrational fears that drive us apart.

As the ridiculous and blatant disregard for our country’s First Amendment continues to saturate the political scene, I just can’t get out of my mind the image of Mohamed quietly reading his Quran while he answers the telephone at Calvary’s front desk. Aside from the fact that I’m eternally grateful for a conscientious, dedicated employee, I admire Mohamed’s commitment to living his faith.

On the one hand, some may find it strange that this sort of thing is happening every day in a Baptist church.

On the other hand, respectfully welcoming Mohamed’s faith practice and presence on our staff may be one of the most Baptist things about us.

Amy Butler is senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington. You can also read her thoughts regularly on her blog, Talk With the Preacher.

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Teachings of Jesus That Christians Ignore

Another piece of blogging that is worth reading is the post from Contend Earnestly called Teachings of Jesus that Christians Ignore.  Seth McBee compiles a list of such teachings from responses to a question he posted on Twitter. Here’s an excerpt:

I recently asked over twitter and facebook, “What is the hardest teachings of Jesus to follow?” and received numerous answers. What I want followers of Jesus to do is ask yourself if you are aiming in your life to follow these. I want you to pray that God would reinstate these commands in your life and remove the idol of culture from your heart so that God is king in your life. What is interesting is that the reason that most Muslims believe the Bible is corrupted is from teachings that came after the Crusades. The reason? They knew the Jesus in the Qur’an and knew that Isa al-Masih would never give credence to such actions. Because Arabic had no word for “crusade” before this time, it was given the translation as, “the war of the cross.” So, knowing who Jesus is, through the Qur’an, and seeing the brutal actions found in the Crusades there was only one conclusion: These peoples’ Bibles must be corrupted. I have to say, because of our actions as followers of Jesus, “Can we really blame them?”

As a follower of Jesus, I want to honestly repent to any Muslims who are reading this. I repent, in the name of all followers of Jesus, who have come before me or who will come after me that have not followed the teachings of Jesus, but have used the Bible as a means of trampling our friends of the Muslim faith. I am truly sorry.

I would also ask our fellow friends of other faiths, to please be patient with us. We are mere men and, unlike the one we follow, are not perfect but were born, just as you were born. Even saying this, I would also ask anybody from other faiths to comment or email me to let me know ways that we could follow Jesus more closely in your eyes and teachings you see that go most unfollowed by us. (Read it all here.)

Meanderings & Musings #2

Last night I attended the Make Poverty History Makin Electoral Forum. The reason for this forum was not only to hear the electoral candidates speak about their and their parties’ perspective on achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, but also to ask questions and enter the conversation. What an opportunity! Speaking at the forum were all of the major party candidates in the upcoming federal election as well as Hon. Bob McMullin, Sen. Nick Xenophon and others. The organisers did a great job pulling the evening together and it was well-attended.

As several of the candidates stated, there is an urgency in the need to address both global poverty and climate change because they are so interwoven. Climate change affects those who live in poverty the most since they have no resources to adapt to the changing weather patterns (e.g. flooding in Pakistan) and they often live on the most vulnerable land (e.g. the delta region in Bangladesh). We need to provide aid to provide resources to enable them to adapt and overcome increasingly disasterous natural events.

For a picture of what Australia is doing with regards to foreign aid, visit Make Poverty History (click here.) As was mentioned last night, Make Poverty History is not a fundraising organisation, but an awareness-raising organisation. But there are many other NGOs who are doing a great job on the ground who also need our support and that of our government. Represented last night with displays were SIMAid and The Micah Challenge. Mentioned in the speeches were World Vision, World Health Organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières and Red Cross.

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I have always respected the Quaker branch of Christianity. The Quakers (or Friends, as they prefer to be called) have a view of worship and God’s presence which is refreshing, simple, and yet quite profound. Here’s a short extract from a Friends blog on  Beliefnet (Click here for the source):

“Words . . .  They are used in different ways.  We may answer a question according to what the words mean to us, but it is possible they mean something quite different to the person posing the question.

“I think there is a real sensitivity in this question, due to a feeling that some Friends may not be coming to worship seeing it as it has traditionally been seen among Friends, but rather in terms of what other groups call meditation, which is normally something distinctly different.

“Unprogrammed worship is not a traditional Quaker term, and the adoption of the term by most Quakers today may contribute to confusion about what it is (the term is based on what it is not).  If we think of the traditional term of waiting worship, this is about waiting on the Lord.  Such waiting doesn’t always have the calming effect which meditation is usually said to have, but may result in us being convicted of our sins and of feeling a call to a change or a ministry which may be uncomfortable for us.  Also, Friends may be called to speak vocally in meeting for worship, something which is not a part of any meditation tradition of which I am familiar.

“Here’s what early Friend Isaac Penington had to say:

“‘Our worship is a deep exercise of our spirits before the Lord, which doth not consist in an exercising the natural part or natural mind, either to hear or speak words, or in praying according to what we, of ourselves, can apprehend or comprehend concerning our needs; but we wait, in silence of the fleshly part, to hear with the new ear, what God shall please to speak inwardly in our own hearts; or outwardly through others, who speak with the new tongue, which he unlooseth, and teacheth to speak; and we pray in the Spirit, and with the new understanding, as God pleaseth to quicken, draw forth, and open our hearts towards himself.

“‘Thus our minds being gathered into the measure, or gift of grace, which is by Jesus Christ; here we appear before our God, and here our God, and his Christ, is witnessed in the midst of us.

“‘This is that gathering in the name, which the promise is to, where we meet together, waiting with one consent on the Father of life, bowing and confessing to him in the name of his Son; and that fleshly part, that fleshly understanding, that fleshly wisdom, that fleshly will, which will not bow, is chained down, and kept under by the power of life, which God stretcheth forth over it, and subdueth it by. So then, there is the sweet communion enjoyed, the sweet love flowing, the sweet peace of spirit reaped, which the Father breathes upon, and gives to his children; the sweet joy and refreshment in the Lord our righteousness, who causeth righteousness to drop down from heaven, and truth to spring up out of the earth. And so our Father is felt blessing us, blessing our land, blessing our habitations, delighting in us, and over us to do us good; and our land yields its increase to the Lord of life, who hath redeemed it, and planted the precious plants and seeds of life in it.’ (God’s Teachings and Christ’s Law Part XIII, A few Words concerning the Worship which our God hath taught us)”

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Can Muslims Follow the Biblical Christ and Still Be Muslim? This is the question Aaron Taylor asks (and answers) on the God’s Politics Blog this week. Here’s a snippet from his article:

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about the “Insider Movement” which is what missionary experts refer to as Muslims who love and follow Jesus while remaining within the cultural fold of Islam. I can remember before moving to Senegal as a missionary, a thought flashed through my mind, “I wonder if God might use me to initiate a movement of Muslims coming to biblical faith in Christ as part of a Reformation movement within Islam?”

It turned out to be a fleeting thought. Instead I opted for the traditional apologetics approach, pointing out to Muslims why the New Testament is superior to the Quran and why they’re wrong about denying the divinity of Jesus and the atonement. I never seriously questioned this approach until I read Carl Medearis’s excellent book Muslims, Christians, and Jesus. In his book, Carl shares stories of his interactions with Muslims who deeply love Jesus and strive to follow his teachings — yet remain committed Muslims. I nearly wept thinking about how things could have been different if I had trusted my original instincts. (Read more here.)

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Reading O Me of Little Faith blog this week, I came across this article written to demonstrate problems with interpreting the Genesis flood and Noah’s Ark in a literal sense. It made for some interesting reading and subsequent contemplation of what I was taught from an early age. Once again, it drives home the need to see the Bible not as a Constitution, but as a Community Library; not as a black-and-white photograph, but as a multi-coloured and textured painting. I believe reading Genesis in the context of culture and genre needs to be taught more proactively in today’s churches and Christian schools.

At the same time, a group of evangelical archeologists claim to have found the remains of Noah’s Ark on the side of a mountain in Turkey. This isn’t the first time. Many others have made the same claims over the years. (More here and here.) ABC-TV’s “Compass’ program ran a doco on this about 12 years ago, following the failed expedition by Ron Wyatt, and debunked the claim that was popular at the time. I’m looking forward to the results of this Turkish-government-sanctioned dig.

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Learning How to Live‘s post on Finding God Outside of Religion is so right!

Here’s a quotable quote from it:

“Sadly, many churches, in an attempt to reach more people, built large, elaborate structures that they are now dragging like a ball and chain behind them. Instead of opening up new opportunities for ministry, they have found that their ministry now consists of making desperate appeals on Sunday to bring enough in to pay the utilities.”

Read all of the post here.