CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Why Can’t They All Just Get Along?

Nov 19, 2008

As the saying goes, “Jaw jaw is better than war war.” Thus getting warring factions together to talk through their differences instead of killing one another is a good thing. Discussion is better than warfare. This can apply to interfaith dialogue as well. On the whole, it is better that differing religious groups meet and talk through their differences, than throw bombs at one another.

But there are very real limits for a biblical Christian as to how far one can go with interfaith dialogue, especially when it comes to theology and beliefs. Learning about other religions is one thing, but diluting one’s own Christian beliefs merely in order to just get along is another thing altogether.

Take Islam and Christianity for example. While there is some common ground between the two religions, there are major differences as well. Indeed, the very core of Islamic theology is fundamentally opposed to the very core of Christian theology. To affirm one is to renounce the other. Both cannot be held to simultaneously, without repudiating logic in general, and the law of non-contradiction in particular, let alone repudiating each belief system.

Take the issue of the deity of Christ, his eternal existence, and his oneness with the Father. All of this is bedrock Christian teaching, but all of this is denied in Islam. Muslims revere Jesus and look to him as one of a number of important prophets, but they utterly reject his claim to divinity, or being the son of God (eg., Surah 19:35). The Koran teaches that Jesus was simply a messenger, like those who had passed away before him (Surah 5:75).

But the New Testament makes it plain that if someone denies these basic truths, then they have nothing to do with God or the truth. They are in fact false prophets and deceivers. A number of passages spell this out very clearly:

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:1-3).

“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).

These – and other passages – tell us much about the eternal deity of Jesus Christ. When they tell us that he has come in the flesh they of course speak to his pre-existence, and the fact that Jesus is the Son of God.

Islam regards it as blasphemous to think that God could have a son. So the very heart of Christianity, the notion that God has become incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, is denied by Muslims. They regard it as the height of blasphemy. And biblical Christianity, as these passages assert, regards those who deny the incarnate Son as being deceivers and in fact of the anti-Christ.

Indeed, to reject the Son (as he presents himself) is to reject the Father. Jesus made this perfectly clear in his teachings. Consider a few of many passages in which Jesus speaks to this truth:

-John 5:22-23: Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

-John 8:19: Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

-John 12:26: Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

-John 12:44-45: Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.

-John 15:23: He who hates me hates my Father as well.

Sure, Muslims honour Jesus as a prophet, but they reject his claims to be God’s son and the only saviour. Plenty of people honour Jesus – even pagans do that. But to properly honour Christ is to receive him and his claims, and not just accept some whitewashed version of him.

But it gets even more impossible to reconcile the two faiths. Perhaps the height of Christian belief and teaching is that Jesus Christ died on a cross for our sins, and then rose again on the third day. This is the utterly basic and bedrock teaching which distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. It is such a central and core belief, that the apostle Paul could even say that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then our faith is in vain. Indeed, if there is no resurrection, then we are still dead in our sins, and we are of all men to be most pitied, he says (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Islam of course flatly denies that Jesus died on a cross and rose again (Surah 4: 157-158). So again, we have two completely contradictory views on the crucial doctrines of Christianity. If what Islam teaches about Jesus is true, then the biblical teachings cannot be true. But if what the New Testament says about Christ is true, then Islam cannot be true – at the most fundamental level. It is as simple as that.

So how exactly are Christians to get along with Muslims, theologically speaking, when they deny the very heart and soul of the Christian Gospel? Certainly we can get along as friends, as neighbours, as workmates, and so on. We can even get along as co-belligerents, working together on common causes. I have myself worked together with Muslims on various pro-family initiatives.

But just how are the two religions to co-exist on a theological level, when they affirm mutually contradictory propositions about God and his son? A biblical Christian shares very little major theological common ground with a Muslim, and vice versa. Thus any attempts by interfaith dialogue groups to try to water down these differences, or to seek to patch over these significant doctrinal differences, are doomed to failure.

Again, Muslims and Christians can come together and discuss these issues. But a real Muslim will not want a watered down version of Islam. A real Muslim will want to see everyone become a Muslim like himself. Likewise, a real Christian will want everyone to be introduced to a personal, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Too often however these interfaith meetings are all one-way traffic. Too many Christians are willing to sacrifice key Christian beliefs in the interests of getting along, of being loving and appearing tolerant. And too many Muslims are quite happy to exploit such endeavours for their own ends.

Jesus told us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We are also told to test the spirits. Those Christians going into interfaith dialogue need to be very careful indeed. They need to properly know what they believe and why. And they need to be aware that there is a satanic and deceptive presence in the world which is seeking to lead people astray.

Paul tells us not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices. We must test all things, and not allow ourselves to be deceived by various false prophets and various well-meaning interfaith advocates. Too many gullible Westerners have already fallen for some classic misinformation about Islam. And too many Christians are suffering in dhimmitude in Muslim nations around the world. Indeed, the suffering and persecution they face is immense, and many are dying for their faith in these lands. For their sake, we dare not allow ourselves to be duped by apologists of Islam, or any other non-Christian worldview or religion.

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8 Responses to Why Can’t They All Just Get Along?

  • Christians who have delved a little more behind the goo-goo-gah-gah warm fuzziness of “interfaith” are soon confronted with the cold facts that there is Truth and falsehood.

    Jesus didn’t get nails & arise 3 days later, for his “followers” in this day & age to seek affinity with the followers of a mere man documented to be a bandit, murderer, & child bride consumator for starters, who arguably exhibited psychotic symptoms in his discourses with “allah”.

    It’s way past time for nandy-panderism…..

    And Elijah came to all the people and said. “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word. 1 Kings 18:21

    Solomon consorted with the opposition & his kingdom was tore from him. 1 Kings 11:4-11……perhaps this is a cautionary tale for the Church today, increasingly marginalised, & seemingly irrelevant, looking to “interfaith” for another ear-tickler.

    It’s not too late to get back to where we belong.

    Grant Weedall

  • Thanks Grant

    Yes I was thinking just recently that it was because of the exclusivist preaching of truth (as opposed to all falsehoods, lies and idolatries) that Jesus and most of the twelve disciples met with very unpleasant deaths. One commentator on another post asked me if I was “obsessed” with exclusivism. I said, just as much as Jesus was. Such exclusive truth claims give lie to so much of the whole interfaith movement, which thinks we can all just get along if we ease up on our theological exclusivism. But a follower of Jesus Christ just cannot do that.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Yes Bill there seems to be a correlation between Truth & suffering, as we see from Hebrews 11:35-40. Verse 36: “Still others had trials of mockings and scourgings,yes,and of chains and imprisonment…” Keep reading on & it only gets worse for those who adhere to the Truth.

    How can there be more than one truth? When you do an exam you know there is only one right answer for each question…..if you conduct a scientific experiment you will get one definitive conclusion. Christians are dreaming or deluded in thinking we can all just get along…. was Jesus wasting his breathe when He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” -John 14:6

    Or do we see the fulfillment of 1 Timothy 4:1: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits, and doctrines of demons.”

    Better to be labelled exclusive, because the Good News of Jesus Christ is exclusive – there’s no better way!

    Grant Weedall

  • Hi Bill, I want to thank you for the insightful and informative topics that you have. I’ve been reading for days now and am at awe of your knowledge and ability to put together articals with such clarity. Dr Kameel Majdali said you were really good. I know that he was giving high praise of your work, but even in this, I think it is an understatement to say the least. Keep up the great work.
    I’m not a great writer but I have a couple of thoughts to this article of yours.
    What a great question. Why can’t they all just get along? I think the view to think that we are to all just get along is an ideology that flies in the face of what the Bible has to say. To get along with everybody will at all times cause one to have to water down your beliefs. This is why the interfaith dialogue movement is ill-founded.
    God specifically instructed/commanded the Israelites not to unite with the pagan nations around them. Look at the results of their ‘interfaith’ dialogue, the exclusiveness became no longer exclusive. The truth of the Word of God became diluted, their beliefs being diluted. Dangerous territory I would say. Bill, you are spot with your views on the exclusiveness of Christ. Jesus never once diluted his words to appease those around him. He spoke the truth and only the truth. To go into talks for the purpose of ‘getting along’, though well meaning, will mean that the ‘Christian’ in the meeting will have to dilute the exclusive truth of Christ, as I am sure as you are, the Muslim isn’t going to budge in their beliefs.
    Again Bill keep up the great work. I sense your frustrations at times. Gives me something to pray for. Bless you heaps.

    Rohan Needs

  • Many thanks Rohan for your kind words.

    And thanks too for reminding us of God’s instructions to Israel in the OT. Yes, the command not to intermingle with the Canaanite peoples and their religions was clearly made on numerous occaisions, but unfortunately Israel disobeyed God, and ended up being just as bad as the Canaanites. They too then had to face the judgment of Yahweh. A good lesson for us today.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Interesting article Bill. Its good to see a Christian’s perspective on this topic. I’m sure there are similar points and articles from the Islamic viewpoint too.

    I would just like to give a viewpoint of an atheist.

    I partially understand the reasons for articles points, but obviously cannot put myself in your shoes completely as I am an athiest. But, it is a very real concern amongst non-religious people such as myself, that tolerance is not achievable between the various religions.

    There is certainly an aspect that Christianity is superior in this article (of course, I can understand why). This leads to the conclusion that all other religions are inferior and wrong.

    Intolerance leads to hatred. Hatred leads to fighting. Fighting leads to wars and bloodshed.

    Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples where this propaganda is misunderstood to the point of hatred and violent behaviour between various fringe groups of religions (christianity and islam). It is the same teachers, the same materials but a different interpretation. And usually, it is the intolerance part of the teachings that these people focus on.

    It is us athiests that are always caught in the middle. This is why i firmly believe that a religious believer should never, ever be in charge of the nuclear codes because they are not fully impartial.

    Perhaps… If religions cannot grow up and teach tolerance to each other, then it is up to the rest of us to step in and enforce rules to ensure tolerance to bring our best chances of peace.

    Ian Webb

  • Hi Bill,

    Is is an interesting question and for me the simple answer is every group thinks they are correct. In itself this is ok but only becomes a problem when groups try to impose or force their views onto others.

    Ben Green

  • Thanks Ian

    A few responses here. None of what has been said above makes much sense if there is no such thing as truth. But if absolute truth does exist, then yes, battles over truth claims will always occur. Hopefully they will remain intellectual battles, but truth matters, truth is important, and people will always defend what they see to be the truth.

    And tie this into what you said: “Intolerance leads to hatred. Hatred leads to fighting. Fighting leads to wars and bloodshed.”

    Your assumption here is that religious truth claims lead to all this, while atheistic truth claims somehow do not. The fact is, atheists are as convinced that they are right and have the sole truth as any religious person can be.

    And if you don’t think atheists can be fundamentalistic, crusading, intolerant and viscous to their opponents, you simply have not read The God Delusion, for starters. Atheists can be just as bigoted and intolerant as anyone else. And they can be just as hateful and just as willing to go to war.

    Indeed, this is even truer of atheists than of religious people, simply in terms of numbers. More people were killed in war last century than in all the previous centuries put together. The hundreds of millions of people killed last century were primarily the victims of atheist ideology, whether that of the Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao or Pol Pot.

    So spare us this baloney that atheists are somehow above intolerance, hatred and blood shedding. They are up to their ears in blood, and the works of the new atheist crusaders simply confirm that secular religions can be every bit as intolerant, hate-filled and proud of their perceived ideological superiority as any religious person has ever been.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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