Who Cares if Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Lots of folks are asking that question these days, and though it is an important question (and one that I will not be answering in this post), I don’t think the question is as helpful as other people seem to think.

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

Some people say yes, and these people imply that Christians are therefore under obligation to show compassion to Muslims because of their theological commonalities.  After all, aren’t Christians and Jews and Muslims all “people of the book?”  (That phrase comes from the Qu’ran.)  And, since we are all people of the book, shouldn’t Christians treat Muslims with compassion?

I do not agree with this implication.

The Problem With Saying Yes

As Mark Tooley points out in Newsweek, if you stress that Christians are obligated to show compassion to Muslims because they are theological cousins, you are inadvertently implying that Christians are not under the same obligation to show compassion to other peoples with whom they don’t have any theological commonalities.  Hindus, for example, are not “people of the book,” and yet that fact should not affect Christian treatment of Hindus (or Sikhs or Jains or Buddhists or atheist communists, etc.)

A Christian’s compassion for another does not depend on that other’s theological commitments.  Whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God is completely irrelevant to the issue of whether a Christian should show compassion towards his Muslim neighbor.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?  What if the answer is no–should that change how a Christian treats her Muslim neighbor?

Love Isn’t Conditional

Christians are not required to only love people with whom we agree (or partially agree).

Jesus, after all, told his followers to love their enemies.

 

 

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In Death’s Dark Valley

Our community was shocked last week when we heard the evil news that an 18 year-old young woman named Zoe Hastings was found murdered.  What do we do in the face of this kind of loss?  I don’t know the Hastings family personally and I don’t presume to have any idea of the hell through which they are walking.  But, I have been thinking about loss, and I humbly offer the following thoughts to anyone struggling with the question, “What do we do in the face of evil, death, and suffering?”

We Grieve

When we experience loss, we grieve.  It is appropriate and necessary to be filled with anger or dread or numbness.  It’s okay to scream and cry.  When someone you love is taken away, anything less than grief would be an obscenity.  And, because grief comes in all different forms and in different ways and at different times for different people, whatever you are feeling is fine.  Don’t analyze it.  Just grieve.

We Resist

When we experience evil and loss we want to scream out “Why?”  When evil comes upon us, it is always inexplicable, but for some reason we still feel the need to offer an explanation.  Don’t.  One of the wisest things I ever heard my father say: “Resist the urge the explain.”  We don’t know why Zoe Hastings was murdered.  No one knows.  “Why?” is a useless question, and do not attempt to offer an explanation or a platitude–however well intentioned–to someone grieving.  Resist the urge to explain: it won’t do any good.

We Hope

I may not have an answer to the “Why?” questions, but there is something else that I do have.   Please know that I mean no offense in sharing the following, as I am aware that not everyone reading this shares my faith.  But, as a Christian, in the face of evil, pain, and loss, I have hope.

Now, Christian hope is not wishful thinking.  It is not a vague sense that we should think positively or put a sunny gloss on our grief.  Wishful thinking has nothing to offer to those who grieve.

No, Christian hope is certainty.  Christian hope is based on the fact that Jesus is risen; Christian hope knows that the Resurrection proves that evil will not win and that everything sad will become untrue.  Christian hope is the certainty that God will ultimately right every wrong.

That is the hope I have.

So, in the face of evil, death and suffering, we grieve.  And we wait until the day when God will make everything new.

And we hope.

Lord, help our unbelief.

 

P.S.  One of My Favorite Bible Verses

Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

The Most Important 236 Words You’ll Ever Read

The following 236 words are among the most insightful, prescient, and terrifying words I have ever read.

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good–” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.

G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, 1905

This is the culture in which we now live.

 

 

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What I Read

What do you read on a regular basis?  We are what we eat, and that includes the words we consume.  Today’s post (part 3 of a 3 part series) is about the magazine, journals, and books that make up my media diet.

Print Subscriptions

In addition to The Dallas Morning News (mentioned in part 1), I subscribe to the print editions of the following periodicals:

  • First Thingsa magazine founded by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus that, while including Protestant writers as well, tends to come at things from a conservative Roman Catholic perspective.  First Things is hit or miss for me: some of the long essays are just first-rate, while others are either over my head or boring.
  • The Atlantic, a magazine that I’ve been reading since I was in middle school and that used to be much better than it is.  (I guess I subscribe out of loyalty.)  In the 90s and early 2000s when Cullen Murphy and then Michael Kelly (who was killed in Iraq in 2003) were editors and William Langesweiche and James Fallows were writing frequent longform pieces for the magazine and Benjamin Schwartz (especially Benjamin Schwartz!) was editing the Books section, The Atlantic was one of my favorite magazines.  I’d receive a copy in the mail and read the whole thing, almost in one sitting.  In recent years, though, The Atlantic (founded in 1857!)  has seemed to me to foolishly chasing “relevance” and adopting the perspective of the sort of 25 year-old secular graduate student in the humanities who gets his wisdom from The Daily Show.  (This is not a perspective I share, if you couldn’t figure that out.)  Although The Atlantic published some great longform pieces from time to time, I get each new copy of the magazine out of the mailbox with much less enthusiasm than I did 20 years ago.
  • Outsidea glossy adventure magazine.  I wish Outside devoted more space to book reviews, as I’ve ready some really excellent novels the past couple of years that I first read about in Outside, e.g., The Dog Stars and The Abominable.
  • Texas Monthly, which has enough ads to fill JerryWorld™, but also includes in each issue something I find worth reading about my adopted home state.
  • Plougha small Christian journal that, while ecumenical, draws on the Anabaptist tradition.
  • Books and Culturea newspaperish magazine that covers, from an evangelical perspective, exactly what the title suggests.  Like First ThingsBooks and Culture is hit or miss for me, but I recently resubscribed because I really believe in its mission.
  • The American Conservative, a magazine that I discovered from reading Rod Dreher’s blog.  I don’t know of any other place online or in print that is similar to TAC: small c conservative, isolationist, contrarian, and realist.  (I was pleased when Benjamin Schwartz, whose work at The Atlantic I referenced above, joined TAC last year as national editor.)  For a good example of the kind of stuff TAC covers that no one else does, see this piece from April on suburban sprawl and walkable cities called “Cities for People–or Cars?”.

The Dallas Public Library

Where would I be without a good public library?  Well, I’d have a lot more shelf space, that’s for sure.  Here is my current library shelf in my home office:

FullSizeRender 10

Don’t be impressed–I have a habit of hearing about a book, placing it on hold at the library, and then stockpiling a bunch of great books I haven’t yet and probably won’t ever read.

And Most Importantly, Real Books!

I love reading, and I love reading physical books.  I have aKindle and I use the Kindle app for iPhone; I like the way I can quickly annotate an ebook.  But, despite the convenience of the ebook, I still think the regular old book is a pretty great form of technology, and reading a good book can quiet my mind better than just about anything else.

I read books on theology and leadership for my job, but what I really like reading are books on history and especially long novels.  I try to vary up the books I read: something on one topic, and then something completely different.  (As an example of something really different, I read a very long novel this summer, completely unlike anything else I’ve read in years: Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset’s 1100 page masterpiece about a woman living in 14th century Norway, and one of the best books I’ve ever read.)

In Conclusion: I Need to Make Some Changes

As I’ve been thinking about my media diet these past few weeks, I’ve once again been confronted with the fact that I fritter away too much of my time on unimportant online content that cuts into my time and ability to read books that matter.

My goal is to read 40 books this year, which would be more than I’ve managed in the previous 2 years.  My current total: 29.

Maybe I need to stop watching so much Arrested Development.

 

 

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My Daily Media Diet

What are the books, podcasts, websites, blogs, and newsletters that make up your media diet?  You are what you eat, and that includes the information you consume.  Today’s post is about what I read daily as part of my media diet (part 1 of a 3 part series).

What Is a “Media Diet?”

“Media diet” is a phrase I came across several years ago in a web series by The Atlantic.  A reporter would interview public figures about how they stayed informed and what they regularly read and watched and make a simple post out of it.  (I still remember Malcolm Gladwell‘s comment about his daily reading habits: “Since my brain really only works in the morning, I try to keep that time free for writing and thinking and don’t read any media at all until lunchtime.”  I totally identify….)

In part 1 of this series (parts 2 and 3 coming on the next two Mondays) about my media diet, I’ll focus on what I read daily (or at least regularly).

What I Do First Thing in the Morning

I’ve written before about the importance of the First 15, i,e., spending at least the first 15 minutes of your day in prayer, scripture, and silence.  So, I’ve been getting up really early recently in order to have an unhurried time of prayer first thing, before I workout.

Currently this is what I use in my prayer time:

FullSizeRender 9

 

Breakfast: The Dallas Morning News and NPR

After working out and while eating breakfast and getting ready:

  • I get the print version of The Dallas Morning News delivered at home, and read it every morning (except Sundays, when I don’t get to it until late afternoon, if at all).  I have come to really like The DMN and get more locally-focused and sports news from it than anywhere else.
  • I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition radio program most mornings.

Blogs: Rod Dreher (and Not Much Else)

I used to read Andrew Sullivan’s blog almost every day.  Now that he has stopped blogging, almost the only blogger I read regularly is Rod Dreher.  Rod Dreher is a fascinating and unique writer: a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy living in his native rural South Louisiana who writes about culture from a social conservative point of view.

One of the topics Rod Dreher writes about that I find most intriguing and persuasive is the so-called “Benedict Option”: the idea that Christians in the West today may need to follow the 5th century example of St. Benedict and spend less time participating in politics and the culture wars and more time deliberately cultivating the practices that will “thicken” our faith and deepen our witness.  Here is a post from Rod’s blog in July that summarizes his thoughts on the Benedict Option.

Websites I Read Almost Daily

  • I read The New Yorker almost every day.  I like the short form pieces from folks like John Cassidy and Amy Davidson, but I really prefer The New Yorker for its long-form essays like this one about Northern Ireland that I wrote about in April.
  • I also browse The Atlantic‘s website regularly, though I believe that The Atlantic is a much worse magazine since it expanded its online footprint.  Many of the online articles seem to be merely a slightly (sometimes very slightly) more serious version of the kind of thing that I suppose you find on Buzzfeed or The Huffington Post, and I do not mean that as a compliment.  The Atlantic these days seems to feature quick-reaction pieces on hot-button topics that lack nuance and wisdom.  (I’ll say more about my complaints with The Atlantic in part 3 of this series.)
  • I browse the Yahoo! main site and scroll through the headlines, particularly about sports and politics.
  • I check out the BBC Sport’s soccer page almost daily.

Online Newsletters and Other Sites

  • I read movie reviews on Plugged In every few weeks or so.  I’m interested in movies, but I like reading reviews from a conservative Christian perspective (a perspective you don’t get from mainstream reviewers).  I rarely have time to see movies in the theater anymore, so I find myself reading many more reviews of movies than actually seeing movies.
  • I’ve recently discovered Book Notesa free newsletter from Byron Borger, owner of Hearts and Minds bookstore in central Pennsylvania.  Through Book Notes, I’ve stumbled across books that I would never have heard of elsewhere–it’s a great resources.
  • I read articles and watch videos the videos on the CrossFit main site several times a week.

Coming in Parts 2 and 3….

Parts 2 and 3 will be about what I regularly listen to and watch and read in print.  The above is what I read online on a  regular basis.  What about you?  What makes up your daily media diet?

 

 

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Jesus is Not Running For President

Hypocrisy.  “Hypocrisy” is the first complaint many people make against Christians.  And you know what? They’re right: we are hypocrites.  Especially when it comes to politics.

Politics First, Faith Second

I’ve noticed that many American Christians are shaped more profoundly by the political views of our respective tribes—liberal, conservative, etc.—than we are by the Jesus we claim to follow. Recent polling of American Catholic views of Pope Francis are a good example of this tendency:

  • Conservative Roman Catholics are in approval of the Pope’s views on same-sex marriage and abortion (he’s opposed to both) but they disapprove of his remarks on climate change and his critique of unfettered capitalism.
  • Liberal Roman Catholics are the exact opposite.

I am not in any way implying that the Pope speaks for Jesus, nor that all Christians ought to think the same way as Pope Francis. My point is simply that it is troubling that American Catholic views of Pope Francis break down along partisan lines.

And it’s not only Roman Catholics who do this: Protestants like me do the same thing as well. And this tendency to put politics first and faith second is extremely problematic.

Jesus is Lord, Not Caesar

“Jesus is Lord, and not Caesar.” For 2,000 years, Christians have made the claim that the ultimate authority is not whoever holds temporal political power, but that Jesus Christ is rightful Lord of the universe. Jesus is Lord, which means his place is first, and I (and everything else) am second.  But when people who claim to follow Jesus take their identities from the Democratic or Republican parties first and from Jesus second, we are effectively saying, “Caesar is more important than Jesus.” We are saying our first allegiance is to our political tribe and we are only paying lip service to our Lord. Our tendency is to justify our political views with our faith, rather than beginning with our faith and then trying to work out our politics. In other words, we are hypocrites.

No, It’s Not Wrong to Vote Red or Blue

I am not saying that if we all just followed the Bible then we would know exactly how to vote. I’m not that naïve. The Bible is not always easy to interpret or understand, and even if it were, this world is complicated and imperfect, so policy decisions are always going to require choices between lesser and greater evils and actions without certainty of outcomes. Life is complicated, and because of this, some Christians will believe that they can be more faithful Christians in the public square as Republicans and some will believe they can be more faithful followers of Jesus as Democrats, etc. It’s not wrong to take a political position on this or that issue.

What is wrong is to be a Republican or a Democrat first, and a follower of Jesus second. If you believe everything in your respective party’s platform is 100% in line with the teachings of Jesus, you have a problem. It should be obvious that Democratic or Republican policies are uncertain attempts to work in a messy world—they are not gospel, and we should not confuse them as such.

A Quick Self-Assessment

How do you know what you believe? If you are a Christian, do you believe what you believe because you have deeply wrestled in prayer and searched the scriptures over this or that issue, or do you believe what you believe because everyone in your political tribe thinks this way?

So, with regard to the topics below, we need to ask ourselves, “Why do we believe what we believe?”

  • Same-sex marriage
  • Guns
  • War
  • Torture
  • Drone attacks
  • Immigration
  • The Planned Parenthood videos
  • The Death Penalty
  • Welfare policies

Jesus is Not Running For President

We are going to have to pick a president next year, and that president will not be perfect. Christians will disagree over which man or woman running is best equipped to lead our country. That is okay. What is not okay is for me to transfer my ultimate allegiance to my political tribe. Jesus is not running for president, and political parties and partisan positions shouldn’t be worshipped. Don’t make the mistake of putting second things in the place of what ought to be First.  That’s called idolatry, and it never works out very well.

Just ask the builders of Babel.

 

 

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Why Did God Permit the Charleston Murders?

We don’t know.  “We don’t know” is the honest answer to any question about why God permitted Dylan Roof to murder the Charleston Nine.  No one knows.  But though we will never have a definitive answer this side of the grave, a strange parable Jesus tells does offer an interesting perspective on the perennial “Why?” we ask whenever innocent people suffer.

Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

Today’s Eat This Book Portion

The Eat This Book campaign at my church provides folks a scripture reading schedule to follow.  Right now, we are reading through the Gospel of Matthew (about a half chapter a day), and today’s reading comes from Matthew 13, one of my favorite passages in scripture.  Reading the strange parable of the wheat and the weeds this morning has got me thinking about last week’s murders in Charleston.

The Wheat and the Weeds

wheat-fields-nature-landscape-sunrise

Surrounded by a crowd by the shore of the Sea of Galilee one day, Jesus told the following parable:

 ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn….” 

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!'”

(Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

Parables are meant to unsettle, to make you think.  So go read this strange parable again, slowly.  (In other words, don’t scan the way you normally do on the Internet.)

Some Quick Observations

  • Jesus points out that evil and good are so tightly mixed together in this world that no man or woman can perfectly separate one from another.  I know this is true, because I know it is true in me.
  • Jesus reminds us that, though evil seems to be growing stronger, so is good.  This is an evil world, but evil is not stronger than good.
  • Jesus says that, this side of Judgement Day, it is impossible to root up all the evil in the world without also destroying the good.  For reasons only known to God, if there is to be good in the universe, there must also be the freedom for evil.
  • Jesus makes it very clear that evil, though it seems strong today, will one day be utterly destroyed by God.
Emmanuel AME Zion Church member Kevin Polite helps members into the church for the service on 6/21/15 [David Goldman/Getty Images].

Emmanuel AME Zion Church member Kevin Polite helps members into the church for the service on 6/21/15 [David Goldman/Getty Images].

Let Me Know What You Think

I find this parable strangely comforting.  What about you?  What do you think this parable is about, and how might it relate to the evil that was done in Charleston last week?