Friday, March 2, 2012

The Chaos in Christianity – Rick Warren, Islam, and Allah

In his classic book, “Authentic Christianity,” Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote,
“There can be no more urgent question at this present time than just this: What is Christianity?”[1]
There seems to be no shortage of controversy and chaos these days in the Christian religion. One name that seems perpetually to be at or near the top of that list is Rick Warren. Recently Warren has initiated a campaign to “bridge the gap” between Christians and Muslims, along with other religions. These groups will search for common ground and seek to build relationships and coordinate common goals within the framework of those broadly agreed upon principles and values. Groups that participate in this initiative or network or effort have agreed not to proselytize from one another. According to Warren they are modeling Jesus’ command to “love thy neighbor.” However, one cannot help but ask, “Is this what Jesus meant when He informed us of the second greatest commandment?” Is this what Jesus had in mind when He sent the disciples out in Matthew 28? Finally, did Paul really think the Athenians were worshipping Jesus with their sign “to the unknown god?” This is precisely Warren’s message when he claims that Islam’s Allah is Christianity’s Yahweh. Finally, what are the implications of Warren’s practice to the gospel and what does a responsible and dutiful reaction from the Christian society look like?
First, what is the commandment to “love you’re your neighbor as yourself” actually commanding us to do? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all three mention this commandment in their records. Mark’s account takes place during one of many challenge-riposte games typical of the Mediterranean culture and in Greco-Roman times. In order to appreciate the story, we need to look back to Mark 11:27 in order to understand the antecedent to “they” in 12:13. The chief priests, scribes, and elders sent some Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus specifically to play the challenge-riposte game in hopes to shame him. The religious leaders were very displeased because Jesus was conducting himself as one with authority and this was an obvious threat to their political agenda. Jesus plays the challenge-riposte game with the Pharisees and Herodians, and then with the Sadducees. Jesus wins both challenges, creating a bit of a dither. Finally, a scribe, which is a person that is an expert in the interpretation of the law, decides to issue his own challenge. He asks Jesus, “which is the greatest commandment?” It is in this context that Jesus informs us that we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus answers the challenge brilliantly.  It is significant to note that before Jesus issued this commandment, He harkens back to the first line in the Shema. The Shema is found in Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Num. 15:37-41. The central concern of the Shema is the one true God of Israel and her duty to acknowledge Him all her behavior. Within the context of Deut. 6, the commandments of Yahweh should make anyone who desires to cooperate with those who worship a false god quite uncomfortable. The LORD says, “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you.” The LORD follows this commandment by instructing the Israelites that it is both good and right in the sight of the LORD for them to drive out their enemies from the land. These enemies are those who worship false gods, the very gods that Yahweh has warned Israel not to follow.
In order to help us understand better what this commandment actually means, Jesus employed the use of a parable that Luke recorded. The parable of the Good Samaritan serves as Jesus’ prime example of what it means to love one’s neighbor. The illustration is perfect because Jesus used the one ethnic group that the Jew hated above all else, the Samaritan. Of all people to set an example of what genuine love is, Jesus picked a Samaritan. The priest and the Levite both failed to stop and provide any care whatever to the injured man. The Samaritan exemplified the love of God more than the religious leaders because he actually took action in the situation. However, this love for neighbor cannot exist in a vacuum. The fact that Jesus embeds this commandment into the Shema is an indication that loving the one true God is a prerequisite to loving your neighbor as yourself. No one would ever have accused Paul of not loving the incestuous man and woman at Corinth. Yet, he did not hesitate to remove this man from the community because of his immoral conduct. Godly love involves godly compassion within the context of the gospel of repentance. Godly love does not seek to provide solely for the needs of a person from a temporal perspective. The believer provides temporal assistance within the context of giving that person the gospel. This same Jesus who commanded His disciples to love their neighbor as themselves, also commanded those very same disciples not to give what is holy to dogs nor to throw their pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet and turn and tear you to pieces. This commandment and others like it seem to be totally lost in Rick Warren’s strategy. A partnership with wicked men who worship a false god comes dangerously close to violating this commandment. Loving your neighbor as yourself involves setting aside personal bias and offense and meeting temporal needs within the overall framework of meeting the eternal needs. Neglect of the latter circumvents the entire purpose of demonstrating love to one’s neighbor. Moreover, even if one could love their neighbor as themselves without first loving the one true God, what good would it do them? These two commandments are the greatest and the second one is subsevient to the first. So what you are loving your neighbor as yourself, you are also breaking the greatest of all the commandments by not loving the one true God of Scripture!
According to the news story, there will be no proselytizing between groups within the initiative. One cannot help but wonder why Christians would want to be involved in any initiative that forbids them from pursuing converts. When Jesus sent His disciples out at the great commission, he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” He did not say go and form groups that include those who worship false gods, find common ground, and do lots of social good. He commanded His disciples to produce converts who were dedicated to following Christ in every way. Rick Warren seems intent on marking himself off as something other than a gospel preacher, as something other than orthodox. While many have written Warren off as a heretic, this is not true of all and perhaps not of most in evangelicalism. However, Warren seems to think he can continue to push the outer limits and remain within the Christian community’s good graces. This move may shift opinions of Warren dramatically. Christ did not call Christians to give up producing disciples for the sake of some common good shared by adherents of false religions. He called us to proclaim the truth and make Christian disciples every chance we get.
The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about Christians creating partnerships with unbelievers. He had this to say: Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever. [II Cor. 6:14-15] The Greek construction for the prohibition is me genesthe, and this is the strongest negation one can construct in the Greek language. It would be the difference between saying, “don’t do that,” and “you better absolutely not even think about doing that.” It is the same construction used in Romans 6 when Paul asks if we should continue to sin in order that grace may about? Absolutely unthinkable! One major concern in the Christian society is this loss of separation. It would seem that an extreme reaction to the legalism perpetuated by errant fundamentalist thinking has produced, in turn, an extremely casual view around the idea of biblical separation. One should keep in mind that while the fundamentalist movement may have went too far, this does not mean that the entire idea of separation was wrong. It is not. Quoting Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones once more,
“Today people no longer recognize the category of the moral. Modern men and women say, “We have a new morality.” But that is simply a repetition of what the devil has suggested before. He puts an idea back into some cupboard and brings out another one, and everybody forgets the old idea. He lets a century or two pass, then brings the first one out again. “Brand-new!” people say. “A new morality.” But it is as old as Adam in its sinfulness! Nothing new at all, nothing original in any sense whatsoever. All perversions and all foulness are described in the Bible as well as in the pages of secular history.”

In our attempt to correct extremes, the greatest danger is to introduce new extremes. We see it all the time and nowhere is this more obvious than in modern Christianity. In part two of this topic, I will tackle Rick Warren’s claim that Allah and Yahweh are the same God, that is, the idea that the god of Islam is the God of Christianity. I will also discuss the implications of Warren’s view to the gospel and how the Christian community should react to Warren’s views.

[1] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity, 1st U.S. ed. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2000), 5.

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