WRF Board Member Paul Gilchrist Responds to Recent Christianity Today Article on "PROSELYTISING IN A MULTI-FAITH WORLD"

SOME THOUGHTS ON “PROSELYTISING IN A MULTI-FAITH WORLD”

Re.  Ed Stetzer, Mark Galli on Miroslav Volf,  and David Neff  in Christianity Today, April 2011

By WRF Board Member Paul R. Gilchrist
prgil@comcast.net

 

            I have been teaching on the O. T. Prophets for many years now, and now during my retirement years I have had the opportunity to do some more teaching and research. I am amazed at the way the Classical Prophets are taught without much of a reference to the historical foundation of the Former Prophets (which in our Western Christian tradition we call the Historical Books of the O. T.  We often miss the major sea-change that took place in ancient Israel when king Ahab had made a treaty with the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon and consummated that treaty by marrying Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians (and who also was a priest of the Canaanite gods Baal and Asherah, Jezebel also being priestess of Baal and Asherah).  Ahab was very weak politically and Jezebel was a strongwilled woman who imported her religion into Israel.  It may be noted that their daughter was married to Jehoram of Judah and did the same there, leading Judah’s kingly line almost to annihilation.  But God raised up Elijah the Prophet to confront Ahab and Jezebel’s 850 prophets and priests of Baal.  We all remember the confrontation on Mt. Carmel.

            After three and a half years of drought, Elijah challenged king Ahab to a contest on
Carmel.  Bring your prophets and two bulls (significant because Baal was often depicted as a young bull).  They erected two altars, one for sacrificing a bull to the “god” Baal, the other to be sacrificed to Yahweh, God of Israel.  The god who answered with fire, “Let Him be God.”  All morning and into the afternoon, the prophets and priests of Baal prayed and practiced their rituals, calling for Baal, the storm god, the god of lightning, to answer with fire.  Nothing happened.  Elijah then asked that his bull and altar be doused with water.  He prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who had called them to this occasion.  The fire of Yahweh fell and consumed the sacrifice, the wood and the altar.  When the people saw it they shouted:  “Yahweh, He is God!  Yahweh, He is God!” 

All of this was a mighty demonstration of obedience to the first and second commandments:  “You shall have no other gods besides Me, and You shall not bow down yourself to them nor serve them” (i.e. the idols or the gods which they represented).  Not only so generically, but throughout the OT the injunctions and warnings were given regarding the gods of the Canaanites, for this would lead to syncretism and eventual apostasy from Yahweh the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  It is to be noted that the common Semitic word for “god(s)” is ilum, thus in Hebrew elohim is used, and in Arabic allah.  Although these words are etymological cognates and to a certain extent semantic equivalents, the literature describing their god(s)  need to be consulted as to what it claims and who or what the particular god is.  Thus for the Canaanite gods, the Tablets from Ugarit are a helpful source, the Noble Quran would reveal the Allah of Islam, and the Scriptures  of the Old and New Testaments reveal who Yahweh Elohim is.  But to say that the words used are cognates and to a certain extent semantic equivalents is not to say they are one and the same god. 

The Scriptures make plain that Yahweh Elohim is in no way to be equated with the gods of the nations, whether Baal, Asherah, or any other god past, present or future.  Indeed, Yahweh claims exclusive rights to deity:  “To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.  “Before Me there was no God formed,  Nor shall there be after Me.  I, even I, am Yahweh, and besides me there is no savior.”  “Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock, I know not one.”  In these verses Isaiah agrees with Elijah about Who is the God of the Bible  And neither Elijah nor Isaiah had any concerns about being politically correct when contrasting the gods of the Canaanites or of the Assyrians.  One need only compare what Elijah said about Baal when the prophets and priests could not arouse him with the classic description in Isaiah 44:9-20. 

·         Even Jonah did not admit to any similarities (or equalness)  between the gods of the Phoenician sailors and Yahweh God who had sent him on a mission to Nineveh. 

·         Nor did he afterwards when in Nineveh compare his Yahweh to the gods of the Assyrians, but boldly proclaimed the imminent overthrow of Nineveh as his God had ordered him to do.  Nowhere do we find God’s servants backing off their message for fear of offending their hearers.

Observations:

(1)                There is no question that Christians must witness to Muslims with love and kindness.  But this does not mean that we keep silent about who our Sovereign God is nor of Jesus Christ as the second person of the Trinity.  Indeed, there are two major questions for the Christian:  First, WHAT is Islam and what does the Noble Quran teach? And second, HOW do we testify to the gospel of Jesus Christ?

(2)               Regarding the issue of not translating “Son of God” because people in other religions take offense at this expression or may misunderstand the notion: 

·         Jesus did not back off from telling the scribes and Pharisees that He was the “Son of God.”  They took offense, and they even wanted to kill Him because He was claiming to be equal with God.  But Jesus did not keep silent about this. If need be, a simple footnote explaining the expression would be helpful. 

·         Paul in writing to the Corinthians made it clear that Jesus is Lord, in direct denial that Caesar was Lord.  That claim was offensive to people under Roman rule. 

·         Paul did use the statue of the unknown god as a point of contact with the Athenians, but in no way was he equating that statue as a symbol of Jesus Christ.

(3)                Christians need to be aware that the earlier writings from Mecca are abrogated and replaced by the latter writings from Medina.  Thus, Stetzer quotes the Quran, sura 2 ayat 256 “Let there be no compulsion in religion;  Truth stands clear from Error; whoever rejects Taghur (evil) and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks.  And Allah knoweth all things.”  Indeed, there are at least 114 verses that speak of love, peace and forgiveness.  But these passages friendly to Jews and Christians were written early on in Mecca in order to attract people.   However, later he left Mecca in AD 622 and went to Medina.  He became powerful and militaristic, and the principle of nasikh, or overridden, was established which considered previous verses as if they did not exist.  Thus, there are passages in suras 5 and 9 in which he vehemently opposed Jews and Christians.  Thus, Quran sura 9:5 (considered the verse of the sword) which was revealed later cancelled out the previous verses, stating:  “Fight and slay the Pagans wherever you find them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”  Some 60% of the verses of the Quran speak about jihad which became the basic power and driving force of Islam.  Jews and Christians are referred to as the “People of the Book” (a reference to the Scriptures) and in the Mecca sura’s Muslims are urged to live at peace with them.  But in the Medina sura’s the “People of the Book” are to be treated with hostility, as in Sura 5:51:  “Take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliya (friends, protectors, helpers), they are but Auliya of each other.”  (See also 5:52-57, and 4:89). 

(4)               Christians should also be aware that Islam is not just a religion, but a political government, too.  This includes the acquisition of territory and maintaining ownership and control by the power of the sword.  It teaches that Allah is the only authority, including political systems which must be based on Allah’s teaching and nothing else.  Hence, the ultimate goal of Islam is to establish Islamic authority over the whole world through jihad.

(5)               My good friend, Anees Zaka, a PCA pastor ministering among Muslims, tells me that in 30 years of ministry, Muslim converts who have come to Christ clearly say that “Allah is not the Biblical God.”

Conclusions:

The above observations are important for our understanding.  We cannot approach Muslims and be blind-sided.  But neither should we be “polically correct” and be afraid to speak truth in love. 

Recently I had dinner with the retired Dean of Faculty of Theology at the Pan American University in Guatemala City.  His approach to Muslims was very simple:  just give them a copy of the Bible (or at least the N. T.).  Let them read the Scriptures for themselves.  The same Holy Spirit who gave us the Scriptures is able to open the blind eyes of those who read.  How many Muslims have come to Christ simply by reading the Scriptures for themselves without distorting a good translation for fear of offense or misunderstanding.  By the way, as a refugee Armenian from Turkey with a Ph. D. in sociology (including statistical analysis)  he observed that the estimate of  33% of Muslims controlling the world by 2025 is too small of a figure – it will be much larger.

 I just read the article “Inside Out” by Emily Belz in World Magazine, May 7, 2011 on the matter of translations of Scriptures for Muslim readers.  The problem of the “insider movement” which promotes watering down translations and preach a diminished Gospel, etc. seems to be a growing issue.  I strongly recommend your reading this article.

One last point:  Where is the God of Elijah?  And where are the Elijah’s who will proclaim the Triune God of the Scriptures with love and tears in their eyes and hearts?