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December 05, 2007

Last week I wrote a brief article about apostasy and heresy and concluded with a portion that dealt with the difference between dialog and controversy. I quoted an article written by David Samuel. He dealt with this same subject and said

I think this explains the ease with which many in recent years have been able to enter into dialogue with Roman Catholics and even Muslims and Hindus. It demands a certain detachment from the truth to be able to do that. You are obliged to put a question mark over it, otherwise you are not genuinely engaging in dialogue, which means, at least in principle, you are prepared to change and qualify your beliefs. I think we must be very careful to distinguish between dialogue and controversy. Dialogue carries with it implicitly this assumption, that you will be prepared to modify and change your position, in the light of the debate, if it so requires you. But controversy, in which all the Reformers engaged, is quite a different thing. You start from what you know and believe to be the truth, and your object is to expose the error and confusion of the opponent’s position and, if possible, persuade him of the truth. It was dialogue in which Satan engaged Eve in the garden. She would have been safe if she had insisted on controversy. When men have not a fervent love of the truth and no sense of abhorrence of error they are in the anteroom of apostasy. It is said that the apostle John fled from the public baths, where Cerinthus the heretic appeared, lest they should fall on him. Today some evangelicals would be glad to stay and engage in friendly dialogue.

He is correct that dialogue carries with it the assumption that there is a question mark hovering over my beliefs. It is consistent with a postmodern mindset, in that I acknowledge that though I believe what I believe quite strongly, it might just be all wrong. Certainty is sin. Those who dialogue enter into their dialogue with that attitude and it is no wonder that they are often persuaded that they are indeed wrong. As Christians we have no need, no right, to dialogue about our faith. We are not on equal footing with others when it comes to the fundamental doctrines.

In October of this year 138 Muslim scholars and clerics sent an open letter to Christian leaders and teachers around the world. “A Common Word between Us and You” was their call for these two faiths, which claim billions of adherents from across the globe, to peacefully co-exist. It was a call to base all future interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims to be built upon what these Muslim clerics believe is the common ground between the faiths. “The basis for this peace and understanding already exists,” they say. “It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.” And our common ground should lead to this:

Thus in obedience to the Holy Qur’an, we as Muslims invite Christians to come together with us on the basis of what is common to us, which is also what is most essential to our faith and practice: the Two Commandments of love.

So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.

Their rationale is based in part on their Scripture and in part on matters perhaps more practical:

Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. Together they make up more than 55% of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.

And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.

Four scholars at Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture chose to respond to this with a full-page advertisements in the New York Times (that was published on November 18). They titled this response “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You.” It was endorsed by over 100 Christian theologians, pastors and scholars, among whom were Rick Warren, Brian McLaren, Leith Anderson, Timothy George, Richard Mouw, Robert Schuller and John Stott. It has long been an observation that efforts of this kind create strange bedfellows. This is no exception.

The letter was one of penitence and delight—penitence for wrongs committed by Christians against Muslims, and delight for the efforts of the Islamic scholars to find this common ground between the faiths. Some might even see a tone of pandering. “As members of the worldwide Christian community, we were deeply encouraged and challenged by the recent historic open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals from around the world.” These Christian leaders agree with the common ground between these two faiths.

What is so extraordinary about A Common Word Between Us and You is not that its signatories recognize the critical character of the present moment in relations between Muslims and Christians. It is rather a deep insight and courage with which they have identified the common ground between the Muslim and Christian religious communities. What is common between us lies not in something marginal nor in something merely important to each. It lies, rather, in something absolutely central to both: love of God and love of neighbor. Surprisingly for many Christians, your letter considers the dual command of love to be the foundational principle not just of the Christian faith, but of Islam as well. That so much common ground exists—common ground in some of the fundamentals of faith—gives hope that undeniable differences and even the very real external pressures that bear down upon us can not overshadow the common ground upon which we stand together. That this common ground consists in love of God and of neighbor gives hope that deep cooperation between us can be a hallmark of the relations between our two communities.

The letter concludes with further agreement that this common ground ought to be the basis for further interfaith dialogue. It concludes with the promise that these leaders will continue to labor towards the goal set by these Muslim clerics.

Let this common ground”—the dual common ground of love of God and of neighbor—”be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us,” your courageous letter urges. Indeed, in the generosity with which the letter is written you embody what you call for. We most heartily agree. Abandoning all “hatred and strife,” we must engage in interfaith dialogue as those who seek each other’s good, for the one God unceasingly seeks our good. Indeed, together with you we believe that we need to move beyond “a polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders” and work diligently together to reshape relations between our communities and our nations so that they genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another.

Given the deep fissures in the relations between Christians and Muslims today, the task before us is daunting. And the stakes are great. The future of the world depends on our ability as Christians and Muslims to live together in peace. If we fail to make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony you correctly remind us that “our eternal souls” are at stake as well.

We are persuaded that our next step should be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another. It is with humility and hope that we receive your generous letter, and we commit ourselves to labor together in heart, soul, mind and strength for the objectives you so appropriately propose.

So here is an example of dialogue. This is not controversy such as the controversy carried on by the Reformers during the time of the Reformation. It is not controversy like the controversy generated by Jesus’ Apostles as they took the gospel to the nations following the Lord’s death. Rather, it is dialogue, the likes of which we saw when Evangelicals and Catholics attempted to get Together. It is dialogue that, by all appearances, places Christians and Muslims on equal footing as they attempt to work together to arrive at some kind of agreement. Perhaps most shockingly, the documents takes for granted that the God of Christianity is the god of Islam. Nowhere in this document would one come to believe that the God of the Bible is different than Allah of Islam.

Nowhere in the Bible do I find Jesus telling us to find common ground with other faiths—with people who chase false gods and who are wholly committed to the downfall of the Christian faith. Nowhere do I see the Apostles, as Christ’s representatives, engaging in dialogue or seeking common ground in which to pursue God together. Rather, I see the promise of division and hatred. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, “says Jesus.” “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Robert Munday read the document and the reply and offers six questions, all of which are worth considering. Essentially he asks, “Do the men and women who signed this document really understand what they have signed?” Do they understand that Islam always has been and always will be fundamentally opposed to the foundational beliefs of Christianity? Do these people not realize that Muslims will and must reject the authority of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus, the existence of the Trinity, the atoning death and the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ?

In a follow-up article Munday says, “There is much that is commendable in interfaith dialogue [He and I would feel differently on this point]. But if it is to have any real significance for Christian believers, those who engage in it must start with what Scripture teaches regarding the essential nature of the Gospel. Many of those who claim to represent Christianity in interfaith dialogue have already succumbed to a relativism that lacks such a foundation. And, increasingly, Christian respondents are so eager to find common ground, in light of the terrors that have occurred and fears regarding the future, that they are taking the course of appeasement in the face of Islam, eager to find “Peace for our time”—peace at any cost. It will not serve Christians well if they underestimate the true distinctiveness of the Gospel. And it will not serve anyone well if we underestimate the challenges that the world faces from the religion known as Islam.”

He touches on something important here. As Christians we have the Bible and within its pages we have the gospel. This is something that is distinctive to Christianity and something that has been given to us by God as a sacred trust. This is where we must begin. We cannot downplay or ignore the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we lose the gospel, we lose everything. There is no need, no call, to dialogue about the gospel. And there is no reason to dialogue with people who have and will and must reject it.

If you are interested, here are the documents (in PDF format): A Common Word and the Christian Reply.

What do you think? Do Christians have any business being engaged in dialogue with Muslims? If so, what would we hope to accomplish? What would our goal be? How can we defend this from the Bible?

December 01, 2007

Yesterday I posted a brief reflection on the nineteenth chapter of Acts—a portion of Scripture that has often struck me as a hilarious commentary on human nature. Earlier this week, as I was reading through Phillip Ryken’s commentary on 1 Timothy, I found some thoughts he wrote about this portion of Scripture and immediately marked it as something worth sharing. Today seemed a logical time to do so.


Demetrius was right to be worried. The Ephesian silversmith made shrines for the goddess Artemis, and what kept him up at night—worrying about his job security—was the rapid growth of Christianity in his city.

Up until a missionary named Paul arrived, the silver trade in Ephesus had been rather lucrative. The worship of Artemis “brought no little business to the craftsmen” (Acts 19:24). But Christianity meant the end of the idolatry, and this posed a real threat to their livelihood. So Demetrius called the silversmiths together and said:

These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship. (Acts 19:25-27)

The silversmiths wanted to defend the honor and majesty of their queen. More importantly, they wanted to keep their jobs. So “when they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ So the city was filled with the confusion” (Acts 19:28-29). A massive protest was held in the giant theater of Ephesus. For two straight hours, as many as twenty thousand people shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:34).

Eventually the city clerk was able to quiet the crowd. He said: “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky?” (Acts 19:35). Yes, the whole world did know this, for the temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was 425 feet long and 220 feet broad, with 127 columns of white marble, each 60 feet high. It took two centuries to build it. Edwin Yamauchi calls it “the largest structure in the Hellenistic world, and the first of such monumental proportions to be build entirely of marble.” Inside stood the ancient and enormous statue of Artemis herself.

The goddess seemed immortal, but Demetrius was right to be worried. The coming of Christ meant the end of Artemis. She has now been tossed on the scrap heap of history. With the exception of a few scattered columns on a plain near ancient Ephesus, the last fragments of her temple—a handful of coins and a few broken columns—are now on display in the basement of the British Museum of London.


Ironically, Artemis is now known to most people only through the Bible, which contains little more about her than the description of her vast popularity and supposed immortality. The broken, decrepit bits of her temple, a wonder of the ancient world, are relegated to the basement of a museum.

November 27, 2007

Last Monday I announced that anyone who pre-ordered my book over the next week would be eligible to win a $100 gift certificate to Westminster Books or, as a consolation prize, a copy of the Literary Study Bible. Thanks to all of you who took the opportunity to buy the book. I ran the numbers and randomly selected the winners. And here they are. The first place prize goes to Ryan Higginbottom and the Bible goes to Debora Todd. Congratulations to the two of you. As for everyone else, well, at least you got a book out of the deal!

For anyone who has not yet ordered the book, you can do so right here.

November 25, 2007

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers…or sometimes just because I really like them. It is a way of introducing my readers to blogs that they may also find interesting and edifying. Every two weeks (or so. That is theoretical. Practically, I don’t get around to updating as often as I should and we’ve been know to have kings for a month or two!) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my right sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making the readers of this blog aware of other good sites.

This week’s King for a Week is Stand to Reason, a blog associated with (obviously) Stand to Reason. This organization was founded by Greg Koukl and Melinda Penner in 1993 to “equip Christian ambassadors with knowledge, wisdom, and character.” It “trains Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed, incisive, yet gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values in the public square.” The blog, which was started earlier this year, furthers this goal with regular updates dealing with a variety of subjects, most of which have to do with apologetics and worldview. Though the site tends to be pretty American-centric (perhaps a bit too much for this Canadian’s liking!) it is still a good source of information and of thought-provoking content. It’s a good one to add to your RSS reader or to your list of daily stops.

In the coming days (and/or weeks) you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to look around.

November 23, 2007

I am not usually a big bargain hunter, but since we’re going to be down in Georgia for Christmas this year, I’ve been keeping an eye out for good deals at American-based e-commerce stores. After all, if we’ll be in the U.S. for Christmas, it means I can buy things online, have them shipped to my parents, and enjoy the deals that can be found online (deals that quickly become anything but when having to pay international shipping rates and duties).

Here are a few “Black Friday” deals I’ve found that may interest you.

Amazon is having a Black Friday sale and is offering a few good deals. To be honest, it is a little bit disappointing, but if you root around you can find a few really good deals. Some of them are available in limited quantities so you have to be fast. There are whole sections of books and software titles that are on sale.

Monergism Books is having a Thanksgiving Day sale and is offering quite a few good deals. The complete Calvin Commentary set for $169 seems particularly good to me but there are lots of other specials worth looking at as well.

Lifeway has a few deals including The Nativity Story DVD for $10, The End of the Spear for $5 and Tony Dungy’s biography for $13.49. There are also some good CD deals to be had for about $5. Some of these deals run only for a couple of hours so check soon if you’re interested.

Family Christian is having an “After Thanksgiving” sale. Though it’s dominated by ChurchMerch and garbage, there are a few notable items, including the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, a couple of audio Bibles, and some decent albums.

Christa Taylor is offering 20% off on everything in her catalog from today until the 26th.

If you come across any other deals on items that may be of interest to Christians, feel free to post a link in the comments section. As always, shop and read with discernment! There is far more bad than good at many of these places…

November 21, 2007

I’m off to a late start today. We had a regularly scheduled parent-teacher kind of conference for my daughter (who is in Kindergarten/Preschool) and my wife had to first observe her in her class for an hour and then to speak with the teacher for a few minutes. Turns out our girl is near the top of her class in everything. So we’re pleased! But, because I had to keep an eye on the baby while Aileen was at the school, I’m running a couple of hours late. So I’m going to use this opportunity to mention a few things that have been on my mind recently. These are some of the articles, products or sites I’ve bookmarked over the past few days.

Rebellion of Thought

Here’s an interesting-looking product I just stumbled across yesterday. Rebellion of Thought is a DVD that seeks to answer these types of questions: “What is post-modernism? How has it affected our culture? How will it impact our future? What is the role of the church in a post-modern world? Does man truly need God or is God merely a fairytale idea left-over from a past cultural experiment? These questions are the launching point for Rebellion of Thought, as filmmakers, The Brothers Williamson, examine a new generation that refuse to accept authority, code and convention. How do believers in Christ express their faith in a compelling, relevant way?” The DVD features interviews with such notables as D.A. Carson, Jim Spiegel and Gene Edward Veith, Jr. You can view a trailer here at the film’s official website. The film can be purchased through Amazon: Rebellion of Thought.

Amazing Grace

Last night Aileen and I sat down to watch Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce (through the Playstation 2, as it turns out, since it refused to play in our DVD player). We both agreed that the movie was well done and definitely worth the two hour investment in time. It is rare to see a movie where the hero is a true Christian and one who was motivated primarily by his faith. Though it was not without its flaws and small historical inaccuracies (for example, Wilberforce would never have known the hymn “Amazing Grace” set to the tune we sing it to today) it was largely accurate. The filmmakers made a point of having Wilberforce declare that he did not find God, but that God found him (which is exactly how Wilberforce would have said it himself). I loved hearing Newton declare, “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior.” While I thought the film could have played up Wilberforce’s motivation a bit more, showing that his faith was a prime motivator in his quest to end slavery, I still thought they captured his trials and stubbornness. The acting was top-notch and the sets were very good. If you haven’t seen it yet, consider renting or buying it. You can get it, of course, at Amazon: Amazing Grace.

The Future of the World in 23 Pages

The Independent, quite provactively, really, calls “Policymakers’ Summary of the Synthesis Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment” the future of the world. “For all but the most perverse of sceptics, it ends the basic argument. And it also urgently warns that the risks are greater, and possibly closer in time, than was appreciated even six years ago, when the third assessment was published.” They compare it to Scripture. “It is chapter and verse, it is Holy Writ: you may not agree with it, but this (backed up by the full reports) is what the world scientific community thinks. Its opening words are magisterial – almost Biblical – in tone. ‘Warming of the climate system,’ it pronounces, ‘is unequivocal’ . It goes on to spell out that the atmosphere is rapidly warming, snow and ice are melting across the world, and the global sea level is rising at an increasing rate; yet the problem is solvable if governments act decisively.”

Regardless of your view on human agency in global warming, such a document can be alarming. But as Christians we know that not even the best and the brightest scientific minds can predict the future of the world with any accuracy. One thing we can predict, I think (and with some accuracy) is that if these people have their way, we’ll “solve” the “problem” with a whole lot more legislation, many new government controls, and a great deal of new spending.

Scarlet

Stephen Lawhead fans will be delighted to hear that Scarlet, the second part of his “The King Raven Trilogy” is available. It seems to have been released a couple of months ago and somehow slipped past my radar. It continues Lawhead’s alternate telling of the story of Robin Hood. I reviewed the first book Hood. The second is available now at Amazon: Scarlet.

Kindle

On Monday Amazon finally introduced the world to it’s new Kindle wireless reader device. Though it launched to lukewarm reviews, Amazon quickly sold through their initial stock and have begun a waiting list. The product uses what they call a revolutionary electronic paper technology that allows electronic reading to feel more like reading a book on paper than on a typical computer screen. The screen has no backlight, so does not tire the eyes (but also cannot be used in the dark).

My first thought was that the Kindle is almost unbelievably ugly and that it looks like a relic of the 1980’s. John Gruber at Daring Fireball thinks it will fail: “So the Kindle proposition is this: You pay for downloadable books that can’t be printed, can’t be shared, and can’t be displayed on any device other than Amazon’s own $400 reader — and whether they’re readable at all in the future is solely at Amazon’s discretion. That’s no way to build a library.” I am inclined to agree, but would still be interested in giving it a go. Business Week takes another position and declares that Kindle is the iPod of books. Time will tell. I am asked to read a lot of manuscripts these days and can’t help but think the experience would be more enjoyable on that screen rather than on a computer screen. Maybe if the Kindle were just a couple hundred dollars less expensive.

You can take a look at the Kindle right here.

November 19, 2007

Buy my book and win $100. Just like that…

The Discipline of Spiritual DiscernmentIt has been a few weeks now since my book became available for pre-order. I offer my thanks to the hundreds of you who have been kind enough to order a copy (and special thanks to Aileen who volunteered to take on the task of organizing all of the orders—putting them into a spreadsheet and printing up address labels. She spoils me.). I’m looking forward to getting all of those books signed and sent and on the way! It won’t be long now…

There are just a few weeks left before the pre-order period is going to end. At that point I’m going to need to tell the publisher how many copies to send to me when I’m down in Chattanooga for a conference at the end of the year. So your opportunity to pre-order a signed copy is quickly coming to an end.

I know there are a few people who are holding back. They are planning to buy the book, but not quite yet. To give some incentive to these people, I’m offering a special deal for the next seven days. Every person who buys a copy of the book before the end of the day on November 26 will have the opportunity to win a $100 gift certificate for Westminster Books (Do note that, at the moment, Westminster ships only to U.S. addresses. Feel free to write them and register your discontent with this policy if you live outside the States. Demand your right to good books at low prices!).

For each copy of my book you buy you will be given one ballot and at the end one person will take home a $100 gift certificate which will be sent to you in time for you to use it for Christmas shopping. As a consolation gift (and a pretty good one at that), I’ll add in a copy of The Literary Study Bible for a second place winner. I’m happy to ship this Bible anywhere, so non-U.S. residents can still win something!

I don’t expect thousands of people to jump at this offer. Therefore, those who do take it are going to have pretty good odds of winning that gift certificate. So what are you waiting for?

You can learn about the book, read the endorsements, and buy it right here.

Buy It!

Make it a Gift

Some readers have asked if the book will be available on time for them to give as a Christmas gift. Unfortunately, it will not. However, if you would like to make a gift of it, I can offer you a card you can print and give to your loved one(s). The card will say something to the effect that you’ve got the book on order and that it will arrive (signed by the author!) very shortly after Christmas Day.

November 11, 2007

Today is the day of rest - the day God has graciously given us that we might rest in Him. Today, while digging around in my files, I came across a favorite hymn—“Safely through another week,” penned by John Newton. It seemed a good hymn to ponder on a Sunday afternoon (even though it is clearly intended for Saturday evening reflection). It speaks of God’s grace in granting health and safety through the week gone by, of anticipation in meeting with God in worship, of the power of the Gospel as it is carefully carried by God’s servants, and finally, of joyous anticipation of the coming of the culmination of so many Sabbath days. “Thus may all our Sabbaths prove till we join the church above!”

Safely through another week God has brought us on our way; Let us now a blessing seek, on th’approaching Sabbath day; Day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest, Day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest.

Mercies multiplied each hour through the week our praise demand; Guarded by almighty power, fed and guided by His hand; Though ungrateful we have been, only made returns of sin, Though ungrateful we have been, only made returns of sin.

While we pray for pardoning grace, through the dear Redeemer’s Name, Show Thy reconciled face, shine away our sin and shame; From our worldly cares set free, may we rest this night with Thee, From our worldly cares set free, may we rest this night with Thee.

Here we come Thy Name to praise, let us feel Thy presence near, May Thy glory meet our eyes, while we in Thy house appear: Here afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast, Here afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast.

When the morn shall bid us rise, may we feel Thy presence near: May Thy glory meet our eyes, when we in Thy house appear: There afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast, There afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast.

May Thy Gospel’s joyful sound conquer sinners, comfort saints; May the fruits of grace abound, bring relief for all complaints; Thus may all our Sabbaths prove till we join the church above, Thus may all our Sabbaths prove till we join the church above!

I trust that the remainder of your Lord’s Day will be a beautiful, peaceful, meaningful time of rest and remembrance. And may all our Sundays prove this way until we enter into the long-awaited eternal rest that this day foreshadows.