When a pastor friend of mine told me that there was an interfaith dialogue at George Fox University, the local college, I was excited to go. I have read, studied, and listened to and about this type of thing, but never had attended one in the flesh. I figured it would be an eye opening experience.
The speakers were a Zen Buddhist teacher, a Rabbi, a Muslim and a Woman Pastor (From George Fox). The music and rayers were done by the local Baha’i Center. (see their bios)
The Jewish Rabbi spoke first. I took notes. By no means is this a complete discussion or recounting, but rather it just hits the things that I felt were most noteworthy. He was discussing the Jewish “Master Story”. He said it was a story of the confronting of power and that the story was centered in Exodus and Numbers. He went on to explain that need to confront power (Pharaoh) and go to the promised land.
The thing that really got to me was the Rabbi’s discussion extolling doubt as a virtue. He started of like this: “You know those tv preachers… I am envious of them, of their confidence.” *Audience has sporadic laughter and agreement*. He continued to expound on the idea of doubt is a virtue of faith. This idea was linked to the idea of a rabbi discouraging a non-Jew from becoming Jewish. It was a somewhat non-nonsensical argument in my mind.
From a Christian perspective this guy was coming out of shallow left field. Doubt isn’t a virtue. Faith is. Nowhere in his presentation, which included a lengthy discussion of Jews seeking justice for the oppressed, was there anything about looking for a messiah. Maybe it is just my Christian perspective, but I thought that the Jews were still looking forward to the Messiah. How is it that we can have a discussion of faith and not mention Jesus the whole time. I wish that he would have answered the question: Who is Jesus to you?
The Muslim speaker presented next. He opened up with a commentary on the moderators opening comments. He was focused upon this idea of justice, and how justice was missing from many of the presentations of this kind ( speaking of interfaith discussions I believe). I found myself somewhat frustrated by this talk of justice by a Muslim. It was my belief that justice for this man meant something that is injustice from not just a Christian perspective, but from every other perspective represented there: namely, Sharia Law. I had stopped listening and my mind was flooded with the few specifics of Sharia that I knew and perhaps the only verse in the Qur’an that I know by heart – O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people. — Qur’an 5:51. So Here is a man standing before me who is preaching a justice that would mean my ( and the rest of those present who were not Muslim) subjugation, oppressive taxation or death. My mind then went on to wonder how many people were actually understanding what he wasn’t saying here. How many people would understand that his concept of justice is in fact unjust.
I came back from my thoughts, in time to hear him begin discussing how cartoons of the prophet are offensive. He explained that from the Islamic perspective all the prophets are to be respected. He then went through in Arabic some of the highlights of the OT prophets, asking the crowd if they could recognize which prophet he meant. Then he got to Isa. I knew I was about to be galled. The crowd of course didn’t recognize the name. He pressured them and finally told us that it was the prophet we would call Jesus; and that we got his name wrong. The smug arrogance of the statement was thick in the air. I could tell that many of the Christians had a deep disagreement and frustration by this statement, which was oddly encouraging that they seemed to take a stand on something. I would have loved to press this guy on this idea and on the concept that he actually respects Jesus as a prophet, given that he denies what Jesus taught. I get the feeling that he doesn’t understand that Jesus claimed for himself divinity ( John 8:48ff).
He then went on to discuss Muslim prayers, something that I found interesting is that he said that you get more credit [with Allah] if you pray with at least one other person. The idea was that it was somehow a better work than simply praying alone. He then discussed heaven and how it is about having more good works than bad works. I was sure that his 15 minutes had elapsed at this point. He must have discussed prayer for another 5 minutes.
He seemed to be winding down, with the concept of missionary work being offensive to Muslims. He said if you come to the poorest and dig a well that is good, but if you dig the well and “Bring your Christ” it is offensive. He made it seem like this type of thing is akin to taking advantage of the poor. With this he finished. I sat back thinking to myself how he really just didn’t tell the whole story. From my understanding, the concept here is that Jesus is not God in Islam. That to come and preach that Jesus is God is what is offensive to the Muslim. They need us to do these things for them, but don’t want Christ preached beyond what the Qur’an says about him.
Here is the problem: The Message of Christ is Offensive. ( cf. Gal 5:11, 1 Pet 2:8, Rom 9:33) I know this may come as a shock to you — the Gospel of the crucified God-Man Jesus Christ is just as offensive to the Muslim as it was to the Jews and Greeks.
One might think that I am a bit off the reservation with the whole justice and Sharia law issue. After Mr. Ahmed’s presentation, I went up to him and asked him if he felt that Sharia law was perfectly Just. His answer was no surprise, he said that it was absolutely just. I would assert that any man who consistently holds to that position, and believes that such a law should govern any land, can never ultimately have religious agreement with a non-Muslim. The difference in concept of justice is so definitively separate. To be clear, that doesn’t mean that he will be violent, abusive or destructive to those of another faith.
Mr. Carlson Spoke after the break. I am not really going to say much about his presentation, for two reasons. 1. Buddhism as a non-Abrahamic faith would require a lot of explaining and 2. Given that he holds to a non-theistic view of Buddhism, the specifics don’t matter as much as the general theism issue in my mind. He is simply an Atheist with an Eastern philosophical-religious system at the end of the day. I believe he should be addressed as any atheist would.
The Final speaker of the night was Sarah Baldwin, the George Fox Campus
Pastor. I did Call Mrs. Baldwin a couple days after the event to clarify a couple of things. Sarah presented what she called a “Theology of Suffering.” The focus of her presentation was that we experience the Christian life not as Jesus and me, but as Jesus and we. She stated off with a story about going to Calcutta. She said she was struck by the amount of suffering. She began to tell of a woman who was naked on the streets, and how she experienced “Jesus in the flesh, in the eyes of that woman.” She then said that she could make sense of the gospel, “whatever you do for the least of these.” I was ready to lose it.1 The Gospel is not whatever you do for the least of these, the Gospel is defined for us by Paul as –
…That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:3ff (ESV)
I would say that if we are offering up a gospel different from what Paul dictates for us in scripture, we are in serious trouble.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
However, the most problematic statement by Mrs. Baldwin was, “by Jesus’ Death, he carries our suffering.” I don’t need a crucified savior to relate with my suffering, I need him to remove my sin.
Here’s my big problem with the whole event. There wasn’t a clear proclamation of law and gospel. There was no call to repentance of sinners. I understand an event to gain knowledge about other faiths, but I believe that Christians that are given an audience of non-believers, should be compelled to call them to repent. If we believe that hell is real, and people are really going there, how could we function otherwise?
If interfaith events can create unity between contradictory faiths, it must be by the abandonment of the uniqueness of each or one. Moreover, Biblical Christianity is incompatible with any other religion, if we are to keep its unique truths. I believe Paul says it best:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:14-18
1 — in my later call with Sarah, she clarified that the gospel isn’t “whatever you do for the least of these,” and she described the gospel as what I would call the Eschatology of Hope, the good news of resurrection and the kingdom of God becoming present.