LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–When Christians enter into conversation with Muslims, their conversation should be clearly and distinctly Christian, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said on his national radio program Jan. 8.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was responding to a full-page letter endorsed by nearly 300 Christian leaders that appeared in The New York Times in December. The letter, drafted by scholars at Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture, said conversation should take place between Christians and Muslims centered on the “common ground” that Muslims and Christians share.
“The document is not specific in any way about what makes up a Christian understanding [of God and Jesus Christ],” Mohler said on the “Albert Mohler Radio Program.” “We don’t believe that Jesus Christ is our hero. We don’t believe that Jesus Christ is merely our prophet. He is Prophet and Priest and King. He is the incarnate Son of God. He is the second person of the Trinity. He is the Lord over all. Any minimization of that is a huge problem.”
The letter, which also appeared in other major newspapers, was titled “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You.” The letter pushed for peace between Christians and Muslims and called for conversation based on the common ground of love for God and love for neighbor that the two religions seem to share.
The letter responded to the 29-page document “A Common Word Between Us and You,” which 138 Muslim scholars and clerics released on Oct. 13, 2007. That document encouraged Christians and Muslims to work more closely together for the purpose of peace and justice. The Muslim-sponsored document noted that 55 percent of the world’s population is either Christian or Muslim, “making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world.”
The document quotes the Koran and the Bible to illustrate how the primary documents of the Muslim and Christian belief systems mirror each other in many basic principles.
The Christian response acknowledges the agreement between Muslims and Christians in the areas of devotion to one God, love of God and love of neighbor. The letter agrees with the call in “A Common Word Between Us and You” for Christians and Muslims to base all interfaith dialogue on this common ground.
The Christian document asks for forgiveness from Muslims and the “All-Merciful One” (a Muslim term for god) for sins committed by Christians against Muslims in the past, citing the Crusades, and in the present, citing excesses in the war on terror. The Christian document concludes that “the future of the world depends on our ability as Christians and Muslims to live together in peace.”
Mohler cited several reasons why he did not sign the document.
“I didn’t sign the letter first of all because I wasn’t asked to. No one sent it to me and said, ‘Will you sign this?’ I was only asked to sign it after its public release in The New York Times,” he said. “The second reason why I didn’t sign it is far more important: I think it is confusing. Now, I want to be very clear: We should have nothing against a conversation. But I don’t think this is the way to get into the conversation. I didn’t sign the letter because I don’t understand how you apologize for the Crusades. I am sure that all kinds of sin went on with the Crusades on both sides. But I am not going to apologize for the Crusades because I am very thankful that the Muslim effort to reach a conquest of Europe was unsuccessful. Otherwise, we would be speaking Arabic on this program right now and we would be talking about the Muslim continent of Europe and potentially even of North America.
“And I am not sure what you are apologizing for in the war on terror. It says ‘many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbors.’ I don’t think that is the right way to put it. I don’t think we associate the United States of America with the Christian church. For whom are we apologizing and for what are we apologizing? I think when you release a public letter like this you are clearly trying to make a public statement and I just want to know exactly what this is trying to say.”
Mohler also stated, “We [Christians] understand God to be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We understand God to be a Trinity of three co-eternal persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we understand that Islam’s first statement about God is that He is one and that He has no Son. So, you can’t talk about the same god if you believe on one side that He has revealed Himself supremely in Jesus Christ, who is His Son, and then you believe on the other side that God has no Son. The disagreement over Jesus Christ is no small thing.
“This kind of confusion is deadly when it comes to the Gospel. Because the most important issue about the dialogue with Muslims is that Christians are very clear about the Gospel. It is not enough just to say, ‘We renounce violence.’ It is important, but it is not enough.”
Notable Christian leaders who signed the letter include Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life”; Bill Hybles, founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church; John Stott, rector emeritus of All Souls Church in London and a noted author and speaker; David Neff, editor in chief and vice president of Christianity Today Media Group; Brian D. McLaren, author, speaker and emerging church activist; and Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University.
Mohler said he recognizes that people signed the letter as an act of goodwill, but still held such an action to be unwise for Christians.
“My concern is that when Christians enter the conversation with Muslims we must enter the conversation as Christians,” he said. “I think when you address a letter to Muslims and refer to God in their terminology then there is a big problem.
“Every opportunity for conversation is an opportunity for Gospel witness. But when Christians enter a conversation, we have to show up as Christians. If you believe in the Christian God, then you believe in the God who reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You believe in the God who reveals Himself supremely in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is the God who very clearly identifies Himself and says, ‘I am this and I am not anything else.’ If you disagree about the identity of Jesus Christ, then you disagree about the identity of God.”
Garrett E. Wishall is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s comments on “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You” can be accessed at the website for his daily “Albert Mohler Radio Program” at http://www.albertmohler.com/radio_show.php?cdate=2008-01-08. The text of the document can be accessed at www.yale.edu/faith/abou-commonword.htm.