A Response to a Common Word

Read the document here – A Common Word

NEW: Video of John Piper’s & Al Mohler’s response, on November 18, 2009-

Pentru traducere automata, fa click aici – Romanian

John Piper:

I agree with the second sentence in ‘A Common Word’. which goes like this: „Without peace and justice between these two religious communities – Moslems and Christians- there can be no meaningful peace in the world.” I take that to be a national, social, and personal behaviors, not to expressed feelings, expressed ideas. And, I agree with the sentence in the last paragraph in the document, that says: „So, let our  differences not cause hatred or strife between us.” Those are massive longings and I share them.

In John 18:36 Jesus said, actually He renounced the sword, as a strategy for his disciples, as a way of advancing the kingdom. He said, „If my kingdom were of this world, my disciples would be fighting. My kingdom is not of this world.” and, therefore, christians should work together with people of very radically different views religiously, in order to seek ways to avoid unjust violence. They should seek together to preserve freedom of religious worship, religious assembly, religious public proclamation. Christians should renounce the use of physical force either through illegal violence or legal punishment aimed at restricting peaceful, non coercive religious expression, religious worship or persuasive religious speech.

But, the central summons of ‘A Common Word’ is flawed. This summons aims to provide a foundation for all future interfaith dialogue. Page 15 says, „Let this common ground be the basis for future interfaith dialogue between us, for our common ground is that upon which hangs all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22.

So, what is the central summons of a common word?

The phrase „A Common Word Between Us” is taken from the Koran. Quoting God, it says, „Oh people of the scripture, (Jews and christians) come to a common word between us and you, that we shall worship  none but God.”

The quotation is important because it makes clear that the central summons of ‘A Common Word’ is not that we agree as monotheists on the formal principles of love to God (whoever He is) and love to neighbor (whoever he is). That may be true. But, what the quotation from the Koran makes clear is that the central summons of ‘A Common Word’ is that christians and Moslems actually love the same God. In other words, when I read ‘A Common Word’, my question was: Is the thesis that formally our religions are similar? You put a lot of importance in love for God and neighbor. We put a lot of importance in love for God and neighbor. Those are structurally and formally similar, and we can meet on that basis.

Or, does it mean: We have a love for God and you have a love for God. That common love for that common God is the foundation. It’s the latter (that) the document means. There are 2 other reasons for believing that. The paragraph, following the one I just quoted, identifies this summons in the koran with a great commandment in the Bible. They say, „Clearly, also worshipping none but God relates to being totally devoted to God, and hence, to the first and greatest commandment. Thus, we are summoned to stand together, on the common ground of one worship of God, one devotion to God, and one love for God.” A third piece of evidence from „A Common Word”. It quotes the Koran, as follows: „Say, oh Moslems, we believe in God, and that which Moses and Jesus received. And, if they believe in the like of that which ye believe, then they are rightly guided. But, if they turn away, then they are in schism, and God will suffice thee against them.”

The main problem with the Yale response

So, its clear that the common ground, held out in ‘A Common Word’, is not a formal similarity in the two monotheistic religions, but, an actual shared love for the one God. Before I turn to what’s flawed about that, the main problem with the Yale response, which has not been addressed, is that it agrees with that. That’s the main problems. I don’t have any objections to what they address. I’ve got five, but, they’re different form all of those. And this is the main one, and the key sentence is found in the section ‘The Task Before Us’, and goes like this-this is now the Yale response to ‘A Common Word’: „We need to work diligently together to reshape relations between our communities and our nations so that they genuinely reflect ‘our common love for God and of one another’.” That’s the most problematic sentence in the document.

It’s clear from the phrase ‘our common love for God’, that those who wrote this, either misspoke- which is unlikely, since too many other traits in the document point in this direction, or that they agree with ‘A Common Word’ and the common ground for Moslem-Christian dialogue is not a formal similarity in our religions, but, in fact, a shared love for one true God and for our neighbor.

The flaw in the Common Ground, proposed in A Common Word, and embraced by the Yale response is that Jesus makes clear it does not exist.

My contention would be that this absence of such a common ground must be made explicit, not for the sake of destroying dialogue, or undermining peace. But, from a christian side, for the sake of forthright, honest, publicly faithful, Christ exalting, trust preserving dialogue, and for truth based durable peace. Jesus said, „I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in the Father’s name and you do not receive Me. If another comes in in his own name, you will receive him.” So, when Jesus says ‘receive Him’, He means ‘receive Him for who He really is- the divine, eternal Son of God who lays down His life for His sheep; takes it up again in three days’. If a person does not receive Him in this way, Jesus says that person does not love God. Jesus also said, „The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” And when He says ‘honor the Son’, He means ‘honor Him for who He really is’- ‘the divine, eternal Son of God who lays down His life for His sheep; takes it up again in three days’.

The person who does not honor Jesus in this way, does not honor God. Jesus said, „You know neither Me, nor my Father. If you knew Me, you would know My Father.” When Jesus says „if you knew Me”, He means „know Me for who I really am”. So, the person who does not know Jesus as the divine, eternal, crucified, risen Son of God does not know God. Historically, Moslems do not know Jesus, honor Jesus or receive Jesus for who He really is: The divine, eternal Son of God, who laid down His life on the cross for sinners, and rose again form the dead. So, whoever believes in Him would be saved. Therefore, Jesus says Moslems do not know God, they do not honor God, and they do not love God. As offensive as this is, Jesus said it to the most Bible saturated, ritually disciplined, God aware religious people of His day.

Therefore, the central summons of ‘A Common Word’ shared by the Yale response is deeply flawed, namely it doesn’t exist. I believe, therefore, there is a better way forward between christians and moslems. Especially, I am thinking scholars. Not your run of the mill, average, evangelistic encounter, across the street from my church, where there are thousands of Somali moslems, as my neighbors. I’m thinking of scholars and clergy writing documents for each other and who know what each other already thinks, by and large.

From the christian side, it will be honest, biblically faithful, Christ centered, Christ exalting, truth preserving dialogue, if we put these things on the table. Not in any way to push each other apart, but, to talk in basis of the most painful differences. I believe with all my heart, that as forgiven sinners, who owe our lives to God bought grace, we christians can look with love, and good will, and even tender hearted compassion into the eyes of moslems and say, „I don’t believe you know God, I don’t believe you honor God, I don’t believe you love God. And I hope that through our conversation, the beauty of Christ will be more clearly seen, for who He really is. And, if we were threatened in this room right now, by christian or moslem, I would hope that I would die for these men. Not push them in front of me, but, stand in front of them. In other words, I think it’s possible to talk this way with affection, heart felt longings, and still say what I just said. I don’t think people who reject Jesus, in principle, not to receive Him for who He is, is not to know God, not to honor God, not to love God.

So I’m avoiding the language that we worship different Gods. I’m just trying to say what Jesus said here. If our love for God is to be spoken of as central, I think it has to come from 1 John4:10-11- In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. That is the most essential definition of christian divine love. And the next verse is: If God so loved us, we ought to love one another. That’s my basis for moving towards moslems. The very love of God that they don’t share is the love of God that moves me to the table. (15:00)

Al Mohler:

It is good to be here because we are drawn here by a sense of the  imperative. The imperative is not merely to remove obstacles to world peace, rather, far more fundamental obstacles to understanding. And, as christians, we come with a sense of urgency driven by the Gospel, and not just a sense of urgency for comity. I want to stand in fundamental agreement with the concerns that I articulated when the issue first emerged on ‘A Common Word’ and the Yale Response. Subsequent months have given the opportunity for further conversation, and further reflection. But, I am driven back where I first began. And that is, with a deep concern about what I believe to be a misrepresentation found in both ‘A Common Word’ and the Yale Response, are the very heart of where  christians should be most concerned to be clear. I am glad to be engaged in respectful dialogue, and dialogue means where we do not share a common ground, we are not ready to share a common word. We’re gonna speak clearly about that and why it is so.

The ‘A Common Word’ statement is indeed remarkable. And, in fact, it is almost surely historically singular.  And when one considers what this means, as has been described „a hand reaching out to the Moslem world”, it is imperative that we take it seriously, that we take it respectfully, and we seek for understanding. I think that one of the most remarkable aspects of this statement is where it very clearly declares that is is not simply ‘a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders’. This is an attempt, at least straightforwardly from the moslem world, to broaden this kind of dialogue and to move beyond- I think the crucial world in that sentence being- ‘merely polite’ (and I understand the need for that. There is a sense in which etiquette, which can be suggested as grounded in respect, may actually be a matter of disrespect when one does not discuss what is most fundamental). The statement describes christians and moslems as ‘faith communities’ and calls for these communities to be at peace with one another. It then goes on to declare, what in terms of geopolitics is certainly true: The most important factor in contributing to a meaningful peace for the world, would be the kind of respectful dialogue between christians and moslems. And, the fact that these faith communities, as described in the document, would be, as also described- at peace with one another. The document goes so far as to say: „The survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.”

The most interesting aspect of the ‘A Common Word’ document in my mind, is that it clearly claims theological ground. And it goes beyond the mere assertion of what might be a common word to what might be a ‘common word’ and a declaration and a description of what that ‘common word’ would be- at least consisting of the 2 greatest commands of love of God and love of neighbor. The document, very clearly, seeks thereby to link Torah, and the Bible, and the Koran. In speaking of reaching out a hand of friendship, the document, very clearly and historically, singularly calls for a kind of dialogue that therefore we may expect has never before existed. And the fact that it has not existed is perhaps because, as this document seems to imply, there’s been a lack of understanding of the shared ground, in terms of the two greatest commands, of the love of God, and love of neighbor.

In response, the Yale statement ‘Loving God and neighbor together speaks of the moslem hand of friendship and of the desire of the christians, and that response, both the authors and the signatories to „extend our christian hand in return”. I, too, believe the hand must be returned. I would suggest: I believe it should be a different hand. A different kind of statement, a different kind of response. As in the moslem statement, the Yale Response also seeks to ground this  extended hand in common beliefs, as common ground: „What is common between us, lies not in something marginal , nor in something merely important to each. It lies, rather, in something absolutely to both- love of God and love of neighbor”. In another section it quotes: „that this common ground consists in love of God and love of neighbor’ and gives hope that deep cooperation between us can be a hallmark of the relations between our two communities”.

So the logic here is that in response to ‘ A Common Word’ we can affirm a common ground. Now, at one point i can say, fundamentally there is much common ground. If we are speaking, indeed, of two different belief systems, who are seeking to understand, just as a matter of phenomenology, and intellectual survey where there are commonalities; there are many commonalities. There are many commonalities between the Bible and the Koran. There are many commonalities between the belief systems and the moralities that are put forth by both christianity and Islam.

Beyond merely monotheism

There are indeed many commonalities, and the ideological factor of monotheism is indeed a matter of formal similarity. But, it is also a matter of deep dissimilarity. I would suggest that the common ground that is suggested in both of these statements, actually, from a christian perspective, simply rooted in the New Testament and the words of Jesus does not exist. Does this claim, thus clarify or confuse? I believe that it does confuse. And it confuses in a way that christians, most especially must never confuse. The issue is presented as monotheism. And, in dealing with monotheism, for instance- in seeking to ground the Yale Response, one of the documents intent on clarifying, in the questions and answers in the document to come out, the book to come out from Zondervan, is this- So, if there exists one true God, and members of all three Abrahamic faiths claim to worship one God, then perhaps the question: Do Moslems, and Christians, and Jews worship the same God? is not the right question at all. A more appropriate question might be: Do Moslems and Christians and Jews all worship God truly? Perhaps the instances of our discussions with Moslems should focus more on whom we might more truly know and worship the one true God and not another we are all in practice, actually doing so”. 22:54

Monotheism, the states belief in only one God is indeed a formal similarity. But, is it actually shared ground? Is it actually a common ground? Is it actually something that arises to a common word? One of the things stated in the documents is that Christians and Moslems claim to practice and to worship the one true God. I do not believe that monotheism is defined in these statements (both A Common Word and the Yale Response) as common ground. Surely, the issue of number is not the issue. No one can claim that all monotheists worship the same God, unless we believe that the one god appears to a lesser or greater degree in virtually every affirmation of monotheism.

Another problematic construction here is the reference to the 3 Abrahamic faiths. Now, from some kind of historical perspective, in looking at this as one who comes with no theological commitments, certainly, you would want to affirm that the historical figure of Abraham appears in a patriarchal role in all three faiths: Judaism, and Christianity, and Islam. But, to describe the three Abrahamic faiths as suggesting that they share a common monotheism, I think is very, very dangerous. All three do look to Abraham as patriarch, but the three have very different understanding in Abraham’s role in salvation history and in Abraham’s own convictions, as is reflected  in the Bible.

The problematic issue of Abrahamic faith, thy the way, is if there are three, why only three? There would certainly be new monotheistic religions that have emerged out of Judaism and Christianity and Islam that would claim the same. For instance- There are many contemporary authorities in Mormonism, who define Mormonism  as also an Abrahamic faith. That will have to wait a different discussion. Getting at the issue of monotheism, I think one of the helpful, erroneous ways of looking at this is that offered by Kennet Craig. He has suggested that Moslems and Christians refer to the same subject, when we talk about God, but to very different predicates.

The Yale Statement does not deny that there are differences  at the level of the predicates. As a matter of fact, to give the statement it’s due, it’s rather clear about those differences, and Joseph and others have made that issue clear. Christians contend for christian predicates, while Moslems contend for Moslem predicates. But, when the questions arises, Yale suggests in the question: Do Moslems and Christians (and Jews) all worship God truly? That implies that it is a common subject, merely with different predicates and our dialogue should be addressed to the level of determining the proper predicates.

As a christian theologian, as an evangelical, I do believe this to be fundamentally flawed. I think that the distinction between the subject and the predicate has a very interesting intellectual appeal, but, it is fundamentally incapable of carrying the weight of this argument because it implies that you may have one subject with different predicates, and the subject remain the same. In reality, the subject is defined by its predicates. And in this case, the different predicates are not merely different and distinct. They are contradictory where it matters most.  The title of my paper would be ‘Beyond merely monotheism’.

And, it would be the assertion that as straightforwardly as I would know, to make clear that there is no such thing as mere monotheism. Every monotheism, every theism, but in particular every monotheism has a reverent. And for christians, our monotheism is deeply, inescapably, irreducibly chronological. Our monotheism is defined, not most centrally, by a claim, merely that God is one. But rather- that the one true God is revealed conclusively in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, as indeed, fully divine and fully human. The incarnate Son of God. This is where Christianity and Islam in it’s classical form, run into direct contradiction on what might be described, using that model between subjects and predicates as the predicate. But, for christians, that predicate defines the subject.

When Moslems declare, on the basis of the koran, that Allah has no son, no associate, no partner, it’s very important that we recognize that this is directly what defines monotheism  in the understanding of the Moslem world and in Moslem theology. But, whether or not Moslems were here, and I hear that is not what is central to Islam, that is something that Islamic theologians would have to define, it is, at least for Christians, a central obstacle to our understanding that we would actually share the same subject, while differing on the predicates. The question then comes to us from a Christian perspective: Is it possible to know the Father, the one true God, while rejecting Jesus as His Son- fully divine and fully human. This is where Jesus appears in the Gospels, most clearly to reject that assertion. The answer to that question is: No.

In John 8:42, Christ says, „If God were your father, you would love Me.”  This is no mere monotheism. Jesus was addressing Himself to the most rigorously monotheistic  people on the planet. In John 8:54 Jesus said, „My Father, glorifies Me, of whom you say: He is our God (speaking of the Father) and yet you have not come to know Him”. Now, the logic of this is in the fact that from a Christian perspective there’s no mere monotheism. I think it’s very important that as theologians we speak carefully of the fact that theism always has a referent.

One of the difficulties of our contemporary days, is for instance the  use of the word ‘faith’. Faith is not in itself a substance. It is a substance in an object. And faith always has a referent. So, to say that there’s a person of faith, well, there are no persons who are not persons of some faith. The issue is, what is the referent to that faith, what is the object  of that faith. And in the same way, speaking of monotheism, one must speak of the actual subject. What is, exactly, our declaration concerning this one God? I would suggest that it’s not to cherry pick from the New Testament to understand the very clear and essential logic of the New Testament and in particular Jesus, as He speaks in John. And that, long before Jesus’s encounter with the pharisees, with whom He declares this very kind of clear Christological  monotheism, deeply rooted in the introductory chapter of the Gospel of John. We are presented with a decisive fact of revelation in the incarnation of the Christ. We come to understand that the Father loves the Son (John 3:35-36)  and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but He who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. There is no mere monotheism.

Much closer to home in the historic christian conversation , has been our conversation with the Jewish people. No one best represents that more than the apostle Paul, who in Romans 10:2 speaks of monotheistic Jews, that have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. Now, there are those that would suggest that that is a showstopper in terms of interfaith dialogue. That that is to nullify any opportunity to have a respectful dialogue. I would suggest that understanding where we do share common beliefs is important. But, of equal and necessary importance is understanding where we do not share those common beliefs and any confusion between the two is not only a matter of intellectual sloppiness form a Christian perspective, it is a matter of eternal consequence. And our fundamental irresponsibility and our unfaithfulness in terms of the Gospel.

The ‘A Common Word’ document and the Yale Response now present us with an unavoidable and not unwelcome opportunity to discuss these things. The opportunity we have, to be in this room together, to discuss this and which is to take place within the context of the evangelical theological society, affords us the opportunity to be ever more clear about the Gospel. We must not confuse the most central and essential issue. We must not imply the existence of common ground where none exists, or, at least where it cannot exist as defined and implied. For Christians, the issue is the Gospel, and we can do nothing that would confuse the Gospel. I would hope that as we seek the common ground in this room, of a common understanding of what is at stake in „A Common Word” and in the Yale Response, that we can move in such a way that will bring honor to God, and one that will bring great clarity to the Gospel. And, as a Christian theologian, I must say, the judgment of God will be upon me and upon many others who confuse what must be most clear. In the spirit of respectful dialogue, I am glad to enter into this conversation. I think that this is a good beginning and opportunity to provide an example to how such a conversation began. And, I do trust and pray that it will continue.

Dr. R.C.Sproul – Lecture 1, Monotheism from The Mystery of the Trinity Teaching Series from Ligonier Ministries

from Ligonier Ministries – http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/mystery-of-the-trinity/monotheism/Lecture 1, Monotheism:Without question, there is great mystery when it comes the Godhead. Yet the Bible plainly affirms that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Dr. Sproul begins this new series on “The Mystery of the Trinity” with this message, as he affirms that Christians worship one God.

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Dr. R.C.Sproul – Lecture 1, Monotheism from The…, posted with vodpod

R C Sproul – Nietzsche “The Consequences of Ideas”

Many of our children who have been raised in the church have the foundations of their faith shaken when they enter universities and college campuses across the nation. Here is a very important and helpful teaching series by noted theologian R.C.Sproul  available from Ligonier Ministries. The book can be purchased for under $16 here. You can also purchase the DVD or download the audio/video here.  Here is a summary of the book and teaching series from the book itself-

Summary

The greatest thinkers of all time are impacting us still. From public-policy decisions and current laws to world events, theology, the arts, education, and even conversations between friends, history’s most influential philosophies have wrought massive consequences on nearly everything we see, think, and do.

Thus it is critical for Christians to understand the ideas that are shaping them. The greater their familiarity with the streams of thought that have saturated Western culture through the ages, the greater their ability to influence this culture for Christ.

With The Consequences of Ideas, now in paperback, R. C. Sproul expertly leads the way for thoughtful readers. Tracing the contours of Western philosophy from the ancients to the molders of modern and postmodern thought—including Plato, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, and Freud—Sproul proves that ideas are not just passing fads; they endure for generations to come and demand our serious attention.

uploaded by Ligonier Ministries: 2 minute introduction by R C Sproul:

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R C Sproul – Ideas have consequences, posted with vodpod

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A teaching on philosophy in specific existentialism by R.C. Sproul: Ideas have consequences, not only for the nations, but for you and for me. The bible says – As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. You may be called to be the best physicist, the best biologist, the best musician, the best economist that God has ever put on the face of this earth, but whatever you do- Get that knowledge of God as the foundation for whatever God calls you to do in this world. This is a sample of just one of the 35 videos that are part of this series.

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