Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Christians and Muslims: Chrislam? Islianity?

There’s been some new controversy lately about Christians and Muslims doing scandalous things like talking with each other and working on common projects for the good of others. The stir this time is about Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church speaking with a large group of Muslims about working together in peace projects. Some have labeled Warren’s efforts, as well as the efforts of others, to be leading toward a path of syncretism, that is, morphing Christianity and Islam together to form a new, apostate religion called “Chrislam.”

I have friends and colleagues who regularly participate in faith dialogues with both Muslims and Mormons. The unique thing about this kind of dialogue is that the common ground is Jesus—different ways of looking at Jesus, to be sure, but Jesus nonetheless. A lot of criticism as also come their way, primarily from Christians who don’t think this is a good idea.

I heard of a man—a Christian leader—who was asked to speak to a group of non-Christians. They were very interested in Jesus, but had been formed by a religious and social world that was filled with multiple deities, none of which even closely resembled the God of the Bible.

So the man accepted the invitation and quickly came to the conclusion that these people had found favor with God, in spite of the fact that they had no understanding of orthodox Christianity and had certainly not gone through any of the steps that this man had undertaken to show a commitment to Christian faith.

When word got out, his fellow leaders called him on the carpet and wanted to know what this was about. It was scandalous, this thing he had done. It was the equivalent of someone going into a mosque full of devout and prayerful Muslims and, out of a perceived obedience to God, declaring that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus had found favor with them and had accepted them before they could quote the Apostles’ Creed or get baptized.

Anyway, the man declared that the very Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit—had visited these people and that he had seen evidence of this. So the leaders marveled at what God seemed to be doing, even though it would be quite some time before someone actually scoured the Bible to figure out how it all fit in God’s plan for the world.

You can read that story for yourself. It’s in the Bible—Acts chapters 10 and 11, to be precise. The event didn’t start a new religion, but it did morph the emerging Christian church from a distinctively Jewish movement to one that brought Jews and Gentiles together as one people—the people of God. It would be Paul who would later give biblical and theology reasons for all of this. The book of Romans is mostly about that.

I wonder how things might have looked if Peter and the rest of the early Christian leaders had taken a combative stance against the Gentiles rather than taking the risk to see what God was doing? I wonder what would happen if we who claim to follow Jesus could take the risk of following him into some places that we deem to be scandalous? What if, upon going into those scandalous places, we were to find that God was already there, at work among the people that comprise the world that he loves?

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