Some Thoughts on Inter-religious Dialogue

Of late I have been following a controversy recently created and stirred up by professing Christians among the “right” in U.S. politics. This controversy primarily surrounds one event (taking place over the course of two evenings) started and participated in by Dr. James White – specifically a dialogue that Dr. White had with a Muslim imam named Yasir Qadhi – and unfortunately the critics focus most of their attention on lambasting and slandering the persons involved. I wish to avoid that end of the controversy, however, and address the views that are being promoted by the critics where it involves how a Christian should interact with unbelievers – particularly members of other religions.

(Side NOTE: the dialogues in question can be found at these links: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=updtj99Fp80 & https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=r2tPHLOej1w . . . For those interested in being better able to share the Gospel with Muslims, I would highly recommend them)

Now, one of the more reasonable arguments I’ve heard from the critics of the dialogues has been pulled from Scripture by referencing 2 John 7-11. Their argument is basically that a public meeting, for the purpose of merely discussing certain issues, should never be held among Christians and people of another faith – because that would violate the spirit of the passage referenced. (Their argument particularly centers around a very fearful view of Islam, however I believe my summary captures the essence of the argument.)

The first thing the reader should note about the passage mentioned – and many like it (e.g. Romans 16:17-18, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 & 14, etc.) – is that the author is primarily warning followers of Christ away from the poison of those who practice and believe things that go against the teachings of Christ. The context of many of Scripture’s warnings against false teaching is false teaching and practice that tries to claim to be Christian.

Put another way, Scripture’s concern is to keep disciples away from false doctrine that claims to be in the same vein as what Christ would teach. It does not necessarily address false religions that do not associate themselves with Christianity, possibly because it is easier to recognize that they are not of God.

However, the strong language against the apostate does not necessarily correlate to assuming the disciples of Christ should treat the unbeliever with the same severity (at least, not at all times). In fact, I would say the actions of Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles is reason enough to think that we should regularly be interacting with the lost. 2 Thessalonians 3:8 implies their having worked daily among unbelievers as well as believers; the whole book of Acts would give examples – but Acts 17:16-21 is a pointed example; and obviously Jesus spent much time with people who He knew would end up deserting Him – John 6:64-66. Now, I have heard one radio talk show host complain not so much about the conversation but the “official public format” of the dialogues participated in by Dr. White and Dr. Qadhi. My question, however, is how is a public format any different than the examples cited? Other than the fact that more people get to learn and participate in the format used by Dr. White?

Lastly, unfortunately it seems this whole thing has become a controversy because so many Republicans in America fear (and sometimes despise) Muslims, and that extends into American Christianity because of how it identifies itself with Republicanism. I would encourage the reader not to make that mistake – a Christian’s politics might primarily be conservative (because of being affected by Scripture), but that does not mean the views or position of the “conservative right” are by default Christian.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

No disciple of Christ should fear anyone of any ideology or religion that sets itself up against God. Take courage, Christian, and share the Gospel with your neighbor (Muslim or otherwise) and treat them with love and respect as you do so.

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Life Altering Books

I thank God for books, and try to read as many as I can. It is partly through books (extra-biblical and Biblical) that He saved me.
My wife suggested that for my next post I list and talk about some of the more influential/helpful books that I have read… And that is pretty much what is pictured above.

The first book that truly shook me to my core was The Holiness of God by R C Sproul. I peruse the book now and find the principles taught within it so foundational and simply primary to what the Bible teaches – but when I first read the book, around the age of 19 or 20, I had hardly ever heard the word “holiness” explained, let alone heard it expounded and taught as an essential of God’s nature. My almost constant reaction as I went to reference after reference of Scripture that the book pointed to was a jaw dropped in astonishment at how much of the Bible I was completely ignorant about. Though I have no “conversion story” that could indicate a time and place in which God saved me, I would almost be willing to bet that it was in the course of reading this book that He did.

Having soaked up so much profound truth from that book, I sought out more by R C Sproul at the library I frequented and came across the title Surprised by Suffering – and again God used Mr. Sproul to open my eyes to a gaping hole in my knowledge and understanding of Scripture.

Here I should probably note that my memory on the separation of time between reading the books in this list is a little hazy, because at that point in my life I was always reading several books at a time, and it was around this point that I began to listen to at least three sermons a day that I found online – this was possible because I had no job and only attended a trade school two days out of the week, so I was in my room studying for vast amounts of time.

All that to say I’m not sure if I found A W Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy because I heard it quoted in a sermon or read it quoted in a book. Regardless, I’m fairly certain I read it fairly soon after Mr. Sproul’s work, and found it incredibly helpful and thought-provoking. Although Tozer rarely actually quotes Scripture and deals more with conceptual application, his way of thinking, I believe, is very convicting and helpful for breaking one of any form of mental stupor they might have fallen into.

Again, I’m not sure how I found J I Packer’s Knowing God, but it was extremely helpful in continuing my study of theology in the Bible.

Throughout the course of reading, studying, and listening to sermons, I had heard many people mention and quote a man by the name of John Piper – enter God is the Gospel and Don’t Waste Your Life. I had actually looked up and listened to quite a few hours of Mr. Piper’s preaching through the Desiring God website before I found and read these books (I think). But they were incredibly thought-provoking and convicting on their own particular topics.

I heard about Voddie Baucham and his book Family Driven Faith (which I’ve always thought would have been better titled “Faith Driven Family” 😉 from a good friend at the trade school I was attending at the time. I subsequently added his itinerant and pastoral preaching to my list of things I listened to regularly, and have also read nearly all of his other books since then.

Radical by David Platt, was incredibly helpful and influential in helping me to see the way our culture was effecting Christians’ practice of their religion – and it was supposed to, ‘cuz the book’s subtitle is: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.

Another impactful book I would add to this list is The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a book that I would almost recommend that every Christian read at least once.

Finally – just because this article has already gotten way longer than intended, and I have to stop somewhere – I heard Paul Washer highly recommend The Exemplary Husband by Stuart Scott on numerous occasions and so eventually bought the book. I found it to be one of the best books aimed specifically at husbands and their duties that I have ever read.

Well, I could add a LOT more to that list – considering that I think I read more than a hundred books in the three+ years following my discovery of The Holiness of God – but again, I need to conclude somewhere; and not everyone has the kind of time to read that I did then and still spend sufficient time in Scripture.

So I will close with an acknowledgement of the sufficiency of Holy Writ, and a reminder to myself and others that – though wide reading is good and necessary for developing the brains God gave us – disciples of Christ must hold Scripture as the highest standard and be students of God’s Word above and before anything else.