Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Same God Debate

My son recently posted an article from Christianity Today (http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/january/do-muslims-christians-worship-same-god-wheaton-hawkins-ems.html) and some comments on Facebook about the recent “Same God Debate”.  I began to respond to some of the comments.  However, since my comments became a little too long for a Facebook post, so I decided to write a blog post instead.

Good article and glad that the debate is including missiologists.  But it seems to me that this debate has happened before.  I agree that there is much common ground between Islam, Christianity and Judaism – the “Abrahamic Faiths”.  It is important to find common ground between Christianity and any other worldview.  That point of connection may very well lead to the explanation and eventual acceptance of the Gospel.  However, just as correlation does not necessarily mean causation, common ground does not necessarily mean common nature or common object of worship.  It also seems to me that Paul addressed a very similar debate and had a very clear answer in the first century.  On the surface and in some very basic truths, just as Islam and Christianity has common ground, so does Judaism and Christianity.  We both accept the Old Testament as revelation from God.  We both agree that God is one.  God is the creator.  God is the sustainer.  God is the ultimate judge.  God is sovereign, all powerful, all knowing and so forth.  So what is the problem?  The problem is not belief in or zeal for God, the problem, in Paul’s words is zeal for God “in accordance with full knowledge”.  That full knowledge is embodied in Christ.  In writing about his “brethren according to the flesh”, to the Roman church, Paul says, “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God about the Jews is that they would be saved.  (2)  For I can testify on their behalf that they have a zeal for God, but it is not in keeping with full knowledge.  (3)  For they are ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God while they try to establish their own, and they have not submitted to God's means to attain righteousness.  (4)  For the Messiah is the culmination of the Law as far as righteousness is concerned for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4).  Paul continues to explain what he means in chapter 10 and his argument culminates in phrases like, “If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (10:9)” and “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (10:13)”.  It seems to me that just as Paul captured the key difference between Christianity and Judaism in the first century, he may have also nailed the key difference between Islam and Christianity in the 21st century, “For they are ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God while they try to establish their own, and they have not submitted to God's means to attain righteousness. (10:3)”.

Paul makes it clear that as much as there is in common between Judaism and Christianity, the key difference is “God’s means to attain righteousness”, which is “the end of the Law with respect to righteousness” which is “Christ”.  In other words, in Paul’s mind, there is only one means of salvation and that is Christ.  This was also clearly stated by Jesus Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through Me. (John 14:6)”.

So, while we may agree that there is one God, that He has revealed Himself in the Old Testament, He is the creator, etc., we do not agree on His “means to attain righteousness” and to Jesus and Paul, this is the fundamental truth on which salvation – reconciliation with God rests.