This is a seductive sentiment in a world in which religious violence can seem as present and potent as God. But it is dangerous, disrespectful and untrue....
Of course, one purpose of the "all religions are one" meme is to stop this fighting and this killing. But this meme, however well intentioned, is neither accurate nor ethically responsible. God may be one according to the Abrahamic religions, but when it comes to the mathematics of divinity, one is not the only number. Many Buddhists believe in no god, and many Hindus believe in 330,000. Moreover, the characters of these divinities differ wildly. Is God a warrior like Hinduism's Kali or a mild-mannered pacifist like the Quakers' Jesus?
I do not believe we are witnessing a clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam. But it is a fantasy to imagine that the world's two largest religions are in any meaningful sense the same, or that interfaith dialogue will magically bridge the gap between them. Each of the great religions offers its own diagnosis of the human predicament and its own prescription for a cure. Each offers its own techniques for reaching its religious goal, and its own exemplars for emulation. Muslims say pride is the problem; Christians say salvation is the solution; education is a key Confucian technique; and Buddhism's exemplars include the lama and the bodhisattva. If practitioners of the world's religions are mountain climbers then they are ascending very different peaks and using very different tools.
You would think that champions of multiculturalism would warm to this fact, glorying in the diversity inside and across religious traditions. But even among multiculturalists, the tendency is to pretend that the differences between, say, Christianity and Islam are more apparent than real, and that the differences inside religious traditions just don't warrant the fuss practitioners make over them....
This wishful thinking is motivated in part by a principled rejection of the traditional theological view that only you and your kind will make it to heaven or paradise. For most of world history, human beings have seen religious rivals as inferior to themselves—practitioners of empty rituals, perpetrators of bogus miracles, purveyors of fanciful myths. The Age of Enlightenment popularized the ideal of religious tolerance, and we are doubtless better for it. But the idea of religious unity is wishful thinking nonetheless, and it has not made the world a safer place. In fact, this naive theological groupthink—call it Godthink—has made the world more dangerous by blinding us to the clashes of religions that threaten us world-wide.
Faith in the unity of religions is just that—faith, and perhaps even a kind of fundamentalism. And it does not just infect the perennialists. While popular religion writers such as Mr. Smith see in all religions the same truth and the same virtue, new atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins see in all religions the same idiocy and the same poison. In both cases, Godthink is ideological rather than analytical. It gestates in the dense clouds of desire rather than with a clear-eyed vision of how things are in the ground. In the case of the new atheists, it springs from the understandable desire to denounce the evil in religion. In the case of the perennialists, it begins with the equally understandable desire to praise the good in religion.
Neither of these desires serves our understanding of a world in which our religious traditions are at least as diverse as our political and economic arrangements....
I too hope for a world in which human beings can get along with their religious rivals. I am convinced, however, that we must pursue this goal through more realistic means. Rather than beginning with the sort of Godthink that lumps all religions together into one trash can or treasure chest, we must start with a clear-eyed understanding of the fundamental differences between Judaism and Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, Daoism and Confucianism.
Some people are convinced that the only foundation on which inter-religious civility can be constructed is the dogma that all religions are one. I am not one of them. In our most intimate human relationships, who is so naive as to imagine that partners or spouses must be essentially the same? What is required in any healthy relationship is knowing who the other person really is. Denying differences is a recipe for disaster. What works is understanding the differences and then coming to accept and, when appropriate, to respect them. After all, it is not possible to agree to disagree until you see just what the disagreements might be. And tolerance is an empty virtue until we actually understand whatever it is we are supposed to be tolerating.
Al Mohler offers some perspective on Antony Flew's life and death.
First, we are reminded of the fact that basic and important questions of faith often arise in adolescence. The biography of Antony Flew may well have been remarkably different had his theological questions and concerns been treated with dignity and seen as an opportunity by the mature Christians around him.
When young people sense that there is no intelligent Christian response or answer to their deep questions and concerns, they may well come to the conclusion that there are no answers and that there is no intellectual defense of the Christian faith.
Second, Flew’s intellectual pilgrimage underlines the fact that the boldest atheistic arguments are often put forth by people who are closer to belief in God than may first appear. In retrospect, Antony Flew had dropped hints of openness to belief in God, even as he was recognized as one of the world’s most famous atheists. Many prominent Christians, now and in the past, were once fervent atheists. Atheists, we should note, at least consider the question of the existence of God to be consequential and important.
Third, the conclusion of Antony Flew’s life must affirm for us the fact that the rejection of atheism does not always lead to an embrace of Christianity. Salvation comes only to those who come to belief and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ — not to those who merely embrace the existence of a divine First Cause. Rejecting atheism is not enough.
It is an eternal tragedy that Flew's "conversion" didn't conclude in Christianity. The loss of every soul is a tragedy. I was very sad when I heard of his death because he had come so far and we were praying for his salvation.
He was one of the most famous atheists of the 20th century, and his very prominent embrace of theism is a good encouragement for Christian ambassadors to engage even the most adamant atheist. We don't know what God might be doing in their souls that we cannot see. And we need to be ready to answer reasonable challenges and questions. It's part of discipleship and it's part of evangelism. We do our best, being faithful messengers, and leave the results up to God.
I'm reading Practical Prayer by Derek Prime. It's a small book that lives up to it's name. Prime is insightful rather than clever about what the Bible teaches about prayer, and he exposits practical, helpful guidance for prayer. Some of the best teaching brings us fresh insight and motivation to apply the Bible to our lives.
I found his explanation on praying in Jesus' name and praying in the Spirit Biblical and insightful. Here's a summary of the points he makes about each of these aspects of prayer.
Praying in Jesus' name isn't a formula for how to end our prayers. It's a way to guide and ground our prayers.
Praying in Jesus' name means:
Having faith in Him as we pray
Praying in harmony with His will
Prayer that reflects our union with Him
Praying in a way that honors Him
Praying in the authority of Jesus because He is the unique Son of God
Praying in the Spirit means:
Our prayers reflect His life and power and are not mechanical
Praying in sincerity and truth
Exhibiting dependence upon His help and appreciating our helplessness without Him
To be assured of our access into God's presence through Jesus
To be guided by the Spirit in our requests by what He has taught us in the Bible; to pray for the glory of the Lord Jesus, our own sanctification, and the need of people who are without Christ
Sometimes we have to reframe a critic's question in order to give an accurate answer. The questions, Am I going to Hell if I don't believe in Jesus?, is an example. As it is asked, it makes it sounds as though Jesus were the problem, not the answer. As though failing a theology quiz sends us to Hell. Instead, we need to reframe the question to answer accurately and show that sin is the problem, and Jesus is the only way because He alone has solved that problem. Sinners don't go to Hell for failing petty theology quizzes.
While giving a talk at a local Barnes & Noble, someone asked why it was necessary for him to believe in Jesus. He was Jewish, believed in God, and was living a moral life. Those were the important things, it seemed—how you lived, not what you believed.
To him the Christian message depicted a narrow-minded God pitching people into Hell because of an arcane detail of Christian theology. How should I answer?
Remember that the first responsibility of an ambassador is knowledge—an accurately informed message. What is our message?
One way to say it is, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’ll go to Hell. If you do believe, you’ll go to Heaven.”
That’s certainly true, as far as it goes. The problem is it’s not clear. Since it doesn’t give an accurate sense of why Jesus is necessary, it makes God sound petty.
So how do we fix this? Here’s how I responded to my Jewish questioner. I asked him two simple questions.
“Do you think people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished?”
He thought for a moment. “Well, since I’m a prosecuting attorney…yes.”
“So do I,” I agreed.
“Second question: Have you ever committed any moral crimes?”
There was a slight pause. This was getting personal. “Yes, I guess I have,” he admitted.
“So have I,” I confessed, agreeing with him again.
“So now we have this difficult situation, don’t we? We both believe those who commit moral crimes ought to be punished, and we both believe we’ve committed moral crimes. Do you know what I call that? I call that bad news.”
In less than 60 seconds I had accomplished a remarkable thing with this approach. I didn’t have to convince him he was a sinner. He was telling me. I didn’t have to convince him he deserved to be punished. He was telling me.
I was tapping into a deep intuition every person shares: knowledge of his own guilt. And I didn’t do it arrogantly or in an obnoxious, condescending way. I freely admitted I was in the same trouble he was.
Now that we agreed on the problem it was time to give the solution.
“This is where Jesus comes in,” I explained. “We both know we’re guilty. That’s the problem. So God offers a solution: a pardon, free of charge. But it’s on His terms, not ours. Jesus is God’s answer because He personally paid the penalty for us. He took the rap in our place. No one else has done that. Now we have a choice to make. We either take the pardon and go free, or refuse it and pay for our own crimes.”
This approach reveals a very important sequence in making our message intelligible: First the bad news, then the good news.
There are other illustrations you could use to do this, but the sequence is critical. It’s the way any good doctor proceeds. And it was the consistent method used by the apostles. Take a look for yourself. In every one of the 13 times the Gospel was preached in Acts, the disciples used the same approach.
Why is this technique important? Because it gives an accurate sense of why Jesus is necessary. It shows that God is not trivial, but merciful, not petty, but kind, graciously offering forgiveness to those who desperately need it.
This is an example of why I enjoy James Lileks' writing: to know there's someone else like me always planning, always organizing, and not understanding why my logic isn't apparent to everyone - and trying to laugh at myself instead of taking it too seriously because it is ridiculous. Someone else in the world thinks like me so maybe I'm not that weird.
At the grocery store on Saturday the clerk was bagging the groceries, and doing a...fine job. I admit I make it easy: I load the belt by category and destination. Everyone does, don’t they? It’s part of planning ahead. If I arrange the items so it’s meat / vegetables, then bladders of liquids, then dry food, then domestic goods, everything’s in bags that can be ferried to their property destination without rooting through a bag that has bacon, razors, socks, and cereal. She stocked the bags well, and respected the genre classifications I’d set up.
“Nice framing,” I said. That’s the term for bracing a bag so it has walls, and everything fits together.
“Thank you,” she said. “They don’t teach us.”
“No, they show us a video on how it’s supposed to be done, but they don’t train anyone. Everything I learned I learned from Byerly’s.”
That’s the high-end grocery store. They have one person to run the belt and another to bag. Half the baggers are retirees, half 20-somethings. I don’t mean a hellish vivisectioned conjoining of the two. They’re all good, and I don’t just mean they don’t put coffee cans on top of grapes. They frame well. That’s the skill of grocery-store bagging: the ability to look at the items on the belt and see the frame.
Last week, I debated a women's studies professor at California State University San Marcos on the topic, "Should Abortion Be Illegal?" I’ve posted all seven parts of the debate on our student site, STR Place.
J.I. Packer writes about one of the solutions to how the church can do better discipleship, especially with youth. Christians should know what Christianity is.
Historically, the church's ministry of grounding new believers in the rudiments of Christianity has been known as catechesis—the growing of God's people in the gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight. It is a ministry that has waxed and waned through the centuries. It flourished between the second and fifth centuries in the ancient church. Those who became Christians often moved into the faith from radically different worldviews. The churches rightly sought to ensure that these life-revolutions were processed carefully, prayerfully, and intentionally, with thorough understanding at each stage....
We are persuaded that Calvin had it right and that we are already seeing the sad, even tragic, consequences of allowing the church to continue uncatechized in any significant sense. We are persuaded, further, that something can and must be done to help the Protestant churches steer a wiser course. What we are after, to put it otherwise, is to encourage our fellow evangelicals to seriously consider the wisdom of building believers the old-fashioned way.