I continue to be very excited about the Claremont Lincoln University Project to bring together Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars and practitioners. It is essential for the future that each tradition initiate its young leaders and thinkers in at atmosphere of mutual exchange and understanding.
The reason this is so important is that these three religions are not the same. They are not simply three expressions of a common understanding. They are vastly and distinctly different from each other. Of course there is commonality and overlap – for instance all three are a covenantal people and point to a covenant they have with God. I am interested to hear how each of the three groups reflects on and lives into their particular understanding.
Many Christians seem to think that the big difference between Christianity and both Islam and Judaism is what they believe about Christ. I do not think that views on Jesus is the biggest difference between the three. In fact, I am suspicious that any Christian willingness to revisit a wooden-literal reading of passages like John 14:6 or reexamine the language and meta-physics of the creedal formulations would easily result in an understanding that did not violate the Quranic understanding that God has no children. Vocabularies of ‘how God was present in Christ’ are already being worked out by followers of the prophet Isa (Jesus) in Muslim countries. [Link: an article on c-6 contextualization]
In my mind, there is a much bigger difference between the three religions than an understanding of Jesus’ identity. It has to do with the earth.
Christianity is primarily time based. While the Christian gospel is one of incarnation, ironically, Christianity has become something that is not place-based and especially not land-based. This is easily illustrated by looking at some Muslim practices and noticing their absence or contrast in Christianity.
- Prayer Direction: When Muslim pray, they face Mecca. This is a directional earth-relative orientation. Christianity lacks this orientation.
- Pilgrimage: Once in their lives Muslims are expected to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This is an intentional journey to a specific location on the surface of the earth that holds special meaning. Christianity has no such thing.
- Sunset: Certain holy days are marked as beginning at “sundown” or when a specific phase of the moon first appears as observed in a set location. This shows an awareness of the seasons, the sun, and the moon. Christian holy days and holidays are based on a calendar and clock.
- Language: If you want to read the Quran you need to learn Arabic. The Christian gospel is not only translatable into any language – Christians believe that it should be translated into every language. The Gospel is equally valid in any and every language.
In his book Whose Religion is Christianity?: the Gospel beyond the West, Lamin Sanneh puts it this way:
Being that the original scripture of the Christian movement, the New Testament Gospels are translated versions of the message of Jesus, and that means Christianity is a translated religion without a revealed language. The issue is not whether Christians translated their scriptures well or willingly, but that without translation there would be no Christianity or Christians. Translation is the church’s birthmark … Christianity seems unique in being the only world religion that is transmitted without the language or originating culture of its founder (p. 97-98)
I have several more examples of difference (including names of God and views of “holy” land) but I simply wanted to illustrate that these are three covenantal religions that all point to Abraham, they are significantly different from each other in practice and understanding. That is why I am excited to hear what they each bring to the table and what we might be able to learn from each other… because we bring such unique, distinct, and particular expressions to the conversation.
July 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm
This is fascinating stuff which I have also come across in my studies. It is incredible how much covenant and land are indeed tied together in Judaism and Islam. It is equally incredible how little land meant even to the early Church given the culture they emerged from. What a radical shift for these Jwish people. Early Christians were stripped of even land ownership. In fAct we see them selling their land to cAre for each others needs! Great And interesting post Bo!
July 20, 2011 at 5:49 pm
Thanks buddy 🙂 I also re-posted your comment over at Homebrewed where there has been a little bit of an ongoing conversation about this. -Bo
July 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm
You are right that Christianity is not “bound” as it were by space. I think Jesus was getting at this this when speaking with the Samaritan women in John 4:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
(John 4:21-24 ESV)
I think that he was freeing faith from “sacred space” and in a sense sanctifying all space. He frees worship from a geographic orientation (toward Jerusalem or Mecca). This makes sense since even before Jesus walked this sod the psalmist proclaimed “The Earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof.” (Ps. 24.1) The Hebrew is tricky there since Earth can also be translated land and I think the writer knew that and was challenging the readers to remember that God is God of all, not just the land of Israel.
This is why the nature of Christ is indeed the stumbling block, that which will always separate Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The kerygmatic proclamation of Christianity is “Jesus Christ is Lord.” He is proclaimed Lord of all, everywhere. His lordship is not bound to only the people of Israel and the people of his time as Islam teaches. Furthermore he truly is Christ, which is something that Judaism denies. The nature of Christ is in fact the most significant difference between the two (or three) faiths. so I think you missed the boat entirely with this post.
I feel a need to call you out for writing the following. “In fact, I am suspicious that any Christian willingness to revisit a wooden-literal reading of passages like John 14:6 or reexamine the language and meta-physics of the creedal formulations would easily result in an understanding that did not violate the Quranic understanding that God has no children.”?
It seems to me that you are asserting that a reevaluation of passages and a revisit of the creeds would necessarily yield a conclusion similar to that of the teaching of Islam that God has no children. It seems that you are further asserting that those who haven’t easily come to that conclusion are “unwilling” to revisit or reexamine the text or the creeds.
Isn’t it possible that people might just look at the same evidence and disagree?
Is it possible that you have been surrounded by a philosophically impervious bubble that shields you from sincere thoughtful dissent?
How do other statements fit into your “suspicion”? For example, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:12 ESV)
Doesn’t the Muslim idea that “God has no children” actually undercut this idea?
In other posts you say that relationship is the major key to reading and interpreting the whole Bible. The language of Father and child is used in the Cristian scriptures to describe this relationship, this covenant. And Christ is described as the Redeemer and Mediator, as the one who makes and offers the covenant to those who trust Him.
July 25, 2011 at 5:03 pm
Wow. that was quite a note… but I think that there are 4 things to highlight
1) I really like your take on the ‘land’ issue and it encourages me that there is a lot more to explore there !
2) you read John 14:6 in the exclusive way – but we already knew that since we have conversed in previous posts about that. So, no biggie. I was taught to read it that way and so I have no problem doing theology with that in the mix 🙂
3) you asked “Is it possible that you have been surrounded by a philosophically impervious bubble that shields you from sincere thoughtful dissent?” I literally have no idea what you are talking about on this one. It is no one reflects the reality of my life or situation.
What bubble would you be referring to? My life is split between school, church, and friends/family, and my theological stuff (like this).
So A) my life is not a singular. There is no bubble – it is all intersections B) in each of those intersections there is contention. I am continuously challenged in my line of adventurist reasoning and innovative thinking.
just out of curiosity? On what are you basing this line of reasoning? You’ve never visited me. You have no idea who I talk to in a month or who challenges me. What are you talking about??
4) You are right about the relational language. But you went the wrong way with it. God relates to Jesus as a Father relates to a son. It is relational language not ontological concreteness. It is expressing something – not in a absolute way that captures reality.
plus … Jesus is not the only person scripture calls the son of God. I just think a little humility might be in order in stating certainty of our understanding of that statement by Jesus.
I have been researching about this idea for an upcoming post. I will let you know when it is up. I really think that Greek used in the Creeds to represent a Hebrew idea might not be a BIG a gap with the Muslim concern (Arabic). There is a gap – yes – but I am not convinced that it is unbridgeable. If it is, fine. We can live with that. But I am not sure that it needs to be as big as it currently seems to be.