Monthly Archives: August 2010
I just woke up from a dream. It was so frightening, I had to write it down.
I dreamt that I was watching President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton. They were surrounded by the secret service and all of the high up officials in the U.S. government. Probably a few cabinet members. I heard semi-automatic gun shots. I could see Bill Clinton and the others ducking for cover. It looked like Bill Clinton was a specific target. More gun shots. More ducking for cover. Then I saw President Obama attempt to give a press conference to reassure the nation that he and the officials with him were okay.
A bomb goes off where the two presidents and the officials are standing. Both are unharmed but in the crowd of a hundred or so surrounding them, it was implied that some were killed.
By this time, I’m thinking that the nation is under a terrorist attack, probably perpetrated by Islamic extremists.
I look to the left and I see a massive crowd of people as far as the eye could see.
All white men.
All carrying Christian flags and bayonets.
All charging the White House.
I wake up.
I have no idea why I had this dream. I’ve never thought that the violent revolution strain in some of the tea party rhetoric is very realistic. Neither have I been concerned about radical reconstructionists (Christians that want to implement the law of Moses) taking over.
So why the dream?
Could it really happen?
My spiritual son in the faith has recently gotten married. I am so proud of him. I met Jean Pierre when I was working in Senegal. My wife and I led him to Christ and now he is an evangelist for Senegal. For years, Jean Pierre went about his ministry as a single man. He wanted a wife that could work with him in ministry–and he refused to settle for anything less! Jean Pierre now has a lovely wife from Brazil that is dedicated to sharing the gospel to the Senegalese people.
Congratulations Jean PIerre!
In the film “Dead Man Walking”, shortly before Matthew Poncelet (played by Sean Penn) is executed, there’s a scene where Poncelet confesses his crime of rape and murder. Up until that time, Poncelet had showed little remorse to his spiritual advisor Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Surandon) even though earlier he declared confidently that he knew that Jesus would take care of him on judgment day. What did Helen Prejean—a Catholic nun—tell Poncelet in his final moments that caused a hardened criminal to face the truth about his sinful condition? She called him a child of God. Tears of contrition flow, as Poncelet responds, “Nobody ever called me a child of God before.”
As touching as the movie’s climax may be, a thorny question remains. Is it theologically sound to call someone who hasn’t confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior a child of God? If we take our cues from standard evangelical theology, the answer would be a resounding no! After all, according to standard evangelical theology, there are two types of people in the world: children of God and children of the devil. It takes a conversion experience to go from the latter to the former. After all, didn’t Jesus make it clear that disbelievers are “of their father, the devil” (John 8:44)?
While it may be comforting to divide the world between “us” versus “them”, the moral implications of this worldview is nothing short of monstrous when carried to its logical conclusion. If it takes becoming one of “us” to liberate a person from their status as “child of the devil” then what we’ve effectively done is demonize—literally—everyone except “us” the saved ones. To demonize is to dehumanize, and to dehumanize is to provide a mental justification for all kinds of atrocities against those perceived as the “other.”
Think about all the crimes perpetrated in the name of Christ throughout Church history, or even the suffering inflicted on others today when Christian faith is mixed with blind nationalism. When it comes to formulating an appropriate response to Islamic terrorism, too many Christians schooled in the classic us/them dichotomy of American evangelicalism have little choice but to resort to a theology that says convert them or kill them. Is this really the best way to read the Scriptures?
I don’t think so. At the same time, I admit that I don’t have all the answers when it comes to how to formulate a theology of evangelism that’s both morally defensible and Biblically credible. I think a good start would be for evangelicals to take a closer look at the passages of Scripture that emphasize God as the Father of humanity, not just the Father of Christians. Perhaps the best known passage is Acts 17:29 where the Apostle Paul affirms a pagan quote to show that the idol worshiping Athenians are indeed the “offspring of God.”
There’s also the story of the prodigal son that Jesus told in response to the Pharisees that accused Him of “eating with sinners.” In the story, sinful humanity is portrayed as a son that has gone astray, but a son nonetheless (See Luke 15:1-2, 11-32). Jesus also taught the masses to think of God as a “Father in Heaven”, even to pray to Him as “our Father.” Clearly out of all the masses that He taught, not everyone in His audience would have fit the bill as being in the “in” crowd, yet this didn’t seem to bother Jesus as much as it might bother today’s fundamentalists.
And by the way, that passage where Jesus supposedly calls disbelievers “of their father, the devil”, He was talking to the Pharisees, the people that set themselves up as religious leaders yet were spiritually clueless enough to call Jesus a “Samaritan” and a “demon” (John 8:48). Is this really a proof-text for us/them Christianity or is Jesus addressing a specific grievance aimed at the religious leaders of His day? The answer to this question could mean the difference between a theology of love and a theology of hate. Choose wisely.
My article “Can Muslims follow the Biblical Christ and still be Muslim?” created a firestorm on God’s Politics last week. In the article I suggest that we don’t see a very high Christology in Peter and Paul’s sermons in the Book of Acts, and yet we’re explicitly told in Scripture that those who heard their message were genuinely saved. I suggested that just because Muslims can’t bring themselves to say, “Jesus is God”, we shouldn’t write them off so quickly as heretics. The thread of the comments has been pretty explosive, many suggesting that I’ve given up Biblical faith in the name of political correctness—even though I explicitly say in the article that I’m NOT denying the deity of Christ.
I think there’s a much, much deeper issue in play here, and since I’m on a journey here, understand that I may not be able to communicate my thoughts very well, so a little grace would be welcome. What’s starting to come into focus for me is the revelation that it’s not up to Aaron Taylor to decide who’s “in” and who’s “out.” What if following Jesus has very little to do with “in” verses “out” and “us” verses “them”? What if following Jesus means simply that? To follow Jesus? I’m not saying that doctrine isn’t important. I’m just wondering how we arrived at the place where we think that we’re saved through doctrine and not saved through Jesus?
What does it mean to follow Jesus? If we look in the New Testament there seems to be a wide range of what that means. For the thief on the cross, it meant a simple request for Jesus to “remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” For the woman at the well, Jesus seemed to be content with letting her know that He is the Messiah. For a group of curious onlookers it meant simply to “believe in the one whom He sent.” For the rich man it meant to “sell all of his possessions and give to the poor.” Some followed Jesus out of curiosity. Some followed him because they wanted social status—like James and John—Jesus’ closest disciples. And some doubted even after the resurrection as Jesus was giving them the Great Commission!
Combine all this with the curious habit of Jesus of constantly ticking off the religious people of His day by eating and drinking with those perceived to be outsiders. One of the primary points of the parable of the Good Samaritan was to challenge religious prejudice. By making the perceived heretic the hero of the story, Jesus was pointing to the central issue of what constitutes true religion. Love of God and loving your neighbor as yourself.
So in my Q&A sessions when people ask me what do I think about all the people in the world that follow other religions—whether they’re “in” or “out”—I answer honestly. I say something like this:
“Jesus said ‘I am the way the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me.’ At the same time He also told the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story where He made the perceived heretic the hero, challenging the religious prejudice of His day. I’m learning to live with the tension of these two truths.”
I’d love for everyone to believe that Jesus is God (though I’m quite aware that the statement needs a lot of explaining, especially in the light of Eastern and Western philosophical assumptions). At the same time it’s not my job description to determine who is “in” the kingdom and who is “out.” My job is to lift up Jesus and let Him run His Kingdom. If we start with Jesus, we can eventually arrive at correct doctrine, but if we start with doctrine, we may lose Jesus in the process.
Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about the “Insider Movement” which is what missionary experts refer to as Muslims that 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 Koran 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.
But now I have new questions, and they’re a bit unnerving because they strike at the heart of what it means to be a “Muslim” and what it means to be a “Christian.” I’ve heard that there are Muslim followers of Jesus that revere and strive to follow after the Jesus that they see revealed in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but I’m wondering if these same Muslims can find a place in their theology to accept the rest of the New Testament as well? And if they can, I’m wondering if Christians can find a place in their theology to make room for Muhammad as a pre-messianic figure, pointing people to faith in Jesus the Messiah (a term the Koran affirms by the way) maybe not as authoritative as an Old Testament prophet, but perhaps on par with the status of local prophets in the New Testament?
Let’s break this down. Because most Muslims can’t bring themselves to say, “Jesus is God”, Christians write them off as heretics. The problem with this is that there’s nowhere in the New Testament that says, “Jesus is God”; so what we’re doing is insisting on non-Biblical language as a litmus test for Biblical faith. The doctrine may be true, and I believe it is, but should we really think of someone as outside the fold if they can’t bring themselves to say something that isn’t directly stated in the New Testament?
I wonder if a Muslim that respects the New Testament could find it in his or her theology to accept the statement, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God….and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-14). If a Muslim can accept this statement as the inspired Word of God, could we not call them brothers and sisters even if our understanding of what these verses mean may be slightly different?
Let’s talk about the cross. Mark Siljander has done an excellent job in his book “A Deadly Misunderstanding” showing that the case can be made in the Koran that Jesus died and rose again. If this is true, might it be possible for a Muslim to accept that the Messiah’s death has saving significance even if—to my knowledge—the Koran doesn’t explicitly say so? After all, the Koran does confirm the authenticity of the gospels and the case can be made from the gospels that the blood of Jesus was shed for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28).
If we look at the sermons of Peter and Paul in the Book of Acts, we see neither a very high Christology, nor do we see the doctrine of penal substitution—a doctrine highly offensive to Muslims—and yet we’re told explicitly that those who heard and believed their message received eternal life (Acts 13:48). The Apostles’ message in the Book of Acts was essentially “Jesus was crucified, but God raised Him from the dead and through this man is preached to you forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life” (see Acts 10:39-43, 13:37-49, 17:31-32). Notice the Apostles’ emphasis on the humanity of Jesus in His saving work. I daresay if an evangelist preached like that today, he or she would likely be labeled a heretic!
Lest I be misunderstood, I’m not denying the deity of Christ, and neither am I saying that the doctrine of penal substitution is wrong per se. I’m simply raising the issue that if a Muslim can believe and practice the bare essentials of what Biblical faith in Jesus requires and still be true to their own faith, then not only have we figured out a way to build a bridge of peace between the historic religions of Islam and Christianity, we’ve also figured out a way for Christians to be faithful to the command of Jesus to “Go and make disciples of all nations” without using our faith as a battering ram to demonize people of another faith.