Thursday, October 11, 2007

Refusing the Game of Religious Relativity

Allow me to preface this blog with the assurance that this is not an anti-Bush rant. There is quite enough of that going on without my contribution. I have, admittedly, mixed feelings about the current U.S. president and his policies and practices but not on the basis of ideology. I will stop there, but I wanted to make these points clear before I proceed.

On October 4, Arabic-language television news channel Al Arabiya interviewed President Bush in the White House. Early in the interview, Al Arabiya notes that in the Islamic world, Bush is seen as an enemy of Islam, as one who would like to destroy it. The President is asked if this is in any way true? He replied, "No, it's not. I've heard that, and it just shows [sic] to show a couple of things: One, that the radicals have done a good job of propagandizing. In other words, they've spread the word that this really isn't peaceful people versus radical people or terrorists, this is really about the America not liking Islam.

Well, first of all, I believe in an almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That's what I believe. I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace. And I believe people who murder the innocent to achieve political objectives aren't religious people, whether they be a Christian who does that -- we had a person blow up our -- blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City who professed to be a Christian, but that's not a Christian act to kill innocent people."

There are parts of Bush's answer that are quite helpful. However, as a Bible-believing Christian (which the President also purports to be), I must take exception to his statement that "all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God."

What Bush is supporting here is the concept that behind the "gods" of the various religions, there is the true God. This may sound reconciliatory and open-minded but it is quite false and no true Muslim would believe it, nor should any Christian.

Both Christianity and Islam are revelatory religions, meaning that they are based on claimed special revelations of God. For Christianity, that special revelation is the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ. We do not believe that God is whoever or whatever we want Him to be but only who and what He has revealed Himself to be. We are not free to think of God however we like. We also know from Paul's writings to the Romans, that the religions of man are not a sign of people seeking to know God but evidence of mankind's rebellion against what God has revealed about Himself.

In short, we do not all pray to the same God and never have since the fall of Adam and Eve.

I understand why the President made such a statement. It was an attempt to be reconciliatory and to demonstrate religious tolerance. This is laudable. But no true Muslim is really going to accept the idea that their God is the same God as that of Christianity, just as no Christian should. Nor was it entirely necessary. It is not necessary to say, "Hey, there is really no difference between us" in order for people to get along with each and accept each other. True tolerance is admitting that there are significant differences; we do worship different gods but that does not mean that we have to kill or hate each other. We can accept the right of Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists to believe whatever they believe and still hold to our own convictions firmly and without apology. Believing in absolutes does not require that we force them on others.

But playing the game of religious relativity convinces no one ultimately and does nothing to win the respect of those who differ from us in creed and conviction. It pours contempt on our own convictions and denies the value of God's revelation to us.


nachtwache said...

I have to ask, since Christianity came from the Jewish faith, we accept Jesus as the Messiah that had been promised through the OT, Jews and Arabs are descendants of Abraham and pray to the God of Abraham, who is the God of the Bible, who Christians pray to; if we all pray to the God of Abraham, isn't it the same God?

Glenn Penner said...

If Jesus is God and both Muslims and Jews deny this, are we still worshipping the same God? If we worship a God who has revealed Himself as triune and Jews and Muslims deny this, are we still worshipping the same God?

Anonymous said...

There are too many significant theological differences between Islam and Christianity that are in direct opposition to each other to claim they are one and the same religion. Claims of absolutes are just that. You can't pick and choose the ones you want without inventing your own religion. Just take a look at all the cults claiming the title "Christian."

Because a person or group makes the claim to be praying to the God of Abraham does not mean they actually are.

Perhaps it would be helpful to do more study into the beliefs and origins of Christianity, Judaism and Islam?

Livingsword said...

Hi Glenn;

First time commenter long time lurker here…

I agree with everything you said, and the way you said it, well done.

nachtwache said...

I know that the religions are not the same, Jews don't accept Jesus as the Messiah and Muslims see Jesus as a Prophet, not as the Son of God; they do however believe in God the Father who Abraham worshiped. They don't have the gift of salvation nor free access to the Father through Jesus, as Christians do.... still, to me it seems that the God they claim as their God, is our God too, only we have accepted the promised Messiah and they haven't. So they don't have the whole truth and the freedom Jesus gave us.
Even Christian denominations have differences, but as long as the denomination accepts Christ's divinity and teaches the basic Christian principles of salvation, they're Christian.
I know the new age beliefs are full of falsehoods, eastern mysticisms and superstition, mormons and JWs were founded by false prophets.
I'm not saying all religions lead to God. Jesus said that he's the way, no one comes to the Father, but through Jesus.
Hmmm, understand what I'm trying to say?

Livingsword said...

Hi Nachtwache;

Respectfully…their god is a false god that does not exist. They worship a god that has a completely different character and nature…a “no god”.

Anonymous said...

"If we worship a God who has revealed Himself as triune and Jews and Muslims deny this, are we still worshipping the same God?"

I would respectfully submit that yes, we are.

Though I also take exception to Bush's statement that "all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God", I don't think it's necessarily religious relativity to acknowledge muslims' worship of the one true God, maker of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham.

This is not to say for one moment that they are worshipping Him rightly, or understand His character as He has revealed Himself.

As a Christian who has been working among muslims for many years (therefore my anonymity on an internet forum), I believe this is one of the few areas of agreement we can have with muslims. Neither Abraham nor the Old Testament prophets had the full revelation of the triune God as revealed through Jesus Christ, yet we do not believe that they had a different God than the Father of Jesus Christ.

When Christian converts from Islam have been asked if they now worship a different God than before, the answer almost invariably is "no", though they now understand His nature and character much more fully. It's more like Paul said to the Athenians: "Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you."

I appreciate your good work, Glenn, and don't often find much I disagree with on these pages. (And they're always thought-provoking.) But I think if you spoke with more muslim background believers about this issue, you might be surprised at their take on it.


Glenn Penner said...

Sorry, not convinced. My opinions are, I beleive, built from a theological understanding of revelation in Romans. The fact is, if they are not worshipping God correctly, as you assert, then they are not worshipping the true God but one of their imagination. Islam, in particular, is not a religion based on a true revelation of God. The fact that they may be close to the truth is no indication of truthfulness. Irenaeus once wrote, "Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself."

Anonymous said...

"If we worship a God who has revealed Himself as triune and Jews and Muslims deny this, are we still worshiping the same God?"

This general question has been heard and read alot lately. Those who state "Yes, we do worship the same God" do not appear to be knowledgeable of any of the three faiths.

There are varied branches of Judaism. Yet non of them are of the ancient Hebrew faith of the Old Testament. Much of what is practiced today is from various texts of Rabbis which came centuries later. The ancient Hebrew faith pointed towards the coming Messiah God had promised ever since Genesis 3:15 after our first parents fell into sin. Throughout the entire Old Testament God's at work to bring about the fulfillment of the Savior. Jesus, being that very Savior as shown in the New Testament, constantly went back to the Old Testament, and showed how it testified of Him and His Redemptive Work on the Cross and His Resurrection.

Abraham practiced the Ancient Hebrew faith. He looked forward to the day of the coming Savior. Jesus stated as much when He was questioned of some of the religious leaders of his day:

John 8:56 "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad."

It's interesting to note just a verse or two later:

57 Then said the Jews unto him, "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?"
58 Jesus said unto them, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM."

Jesus used the same reference God used back in Exodus when Moses asked God who shall he tell the Hebrews who sent him. God replied "I AM that I AM."

The people who heard Jesus who wanted to stone Him on the spot knew very well He was claiming to be God Himself.

Jewish teachings refer to Jesus as little more than a Rabbi, a teacher. Muslims refer to Jesus as a Prophet second to Muhammad. That's two traditions who reject Jesus as being God right there.

Christianity has taught Jesus is, was, and always will be God. The Triune God has always been and always will be. Three persons, yet only one God. Trinity in Person and Unity in Substance. Majesty Coequal.

While one may attempt to state Judaism, Islam, and Christianity cling to the same is an impossibility.

I highly applaud the article.

nachtwache said...

Wow, look what I started. I guess in the end we'll all find out how God sees it.

The Seeking Disciple said...

I agree with your post. The Church needs to stand against the many errors of Islam. While I believe President Bush meant well, I believe he is doing more harm than good by telling people that we all pray to the same God.

Anonymous said...

I must agree with your statement, Mr glenn penner. I do believe that to each his own God, and I also believe that Islam and Christianity (Too extremely prominent and vastly known religions at present) are on par with each other, that no religion is greater than another, but simply ones own way of life, the very definition of "Religion".

When cutting into the doctrine of each religion and using the written words against one another, it is obvious they are not worshipping the same God. It is obvious, in my opinion that Bush merely said that to examplify his political stance on religious tolerance, as a political ploy in responce to the overly relevent aspect of the war: religion. When reading the bible, it is verbosely appearant that the Christian doctrine is strongly rooted in the principle of monotheism, one true God and all others false. For bush to present himself as a bible-reading Christian, and say we all worship one God, is indeed absurd.

Mr or Miss "Livingsword" presented the intolerance of other Gods through Judeo-Christian doctrine prestinely, in that any Gods outside of the Christian God is an idol, false, and empty.

In conclusion, although I disagree with the arguement that Christianity's God is the one and only God, I very much agree that Bush was out of line to say we all worship one God.