I enjoyed Pastors’ Study Week. (This wasn’t meant to say that I don’t usually enjoy them but you know how it is with conferences or classes – and Pastors’ Study Week is a mixture of both – that some engage you more than others.) It is good to have these opportunities to meet and learn together. We often study a book – read and reflect – present a chapter – and lots of talking (on and off the topic – we’re Lutherans after all J ) and this year’s book (Miroslav Wolf’s ‘Allah – A Christian Response’) gave us a good opportunity to do this.
The book engages you. I found at times I could give a tick to what I read, scribble notes and replies on other pages, and occasionally throw the book at the wall. The thesis is that while everyone acknowledges or agrees that when it comes to salvation Christianity and Islam are worlds apart, in terms of living together in this world it is true that the two religions – and here the language itself becomes interesting – have a ‘common God’ or ‘common ground on God’. Whether there is common ground depends on where you stand and what you want to say – hence the book. Obviously Christianity and Islam are monotheistic religions – they both profess that God exists – and that he is one. There are things that flow from that truth – creation itself, the creation being separate from the Creator, that God is good, and that ethics can have commonalities – and there are things that challenge – the Trinity, the identities and roles of Jesus and Muhammad, the purpose of the faith, and the theology of worship. But neither ‘side’ is talking to atheists so there is some common ground which might be very helpful to know when Christians and Muslims live together whether in families or countries.
Of course knowing that there is one God (or God is one) does not save us automatically. James reminded his readers that even the demons know that – and shudder (James 2:19). The issue is what this God has said and done to reveal himself – and for Christians this answer centres on Jesus and for Muslims it doesn’t (though Jesus – or Issa as they call him – is part of their answer). The revelation includes God’s Word and so studies of the texts (and history) of the Bible and the Qur’an also are not unimportant.
What struck me in the discussions was how easy it is for people – dare I say, all people – to ‘judge quickly’. Frame an issue or a person in a particular way and then you have a way of ‘handling’ them. It almost can come down to a judgement by sight – see a Christian (she’s an idolater) or see a Muslim (he’s a terrorist) yet we teach our children not to make snap judgements (especially based on appearances). Of course it is more complicated because there are centuries of history and a plethora of news items that influence us. A question to ask of course is ‘What do the religions teach about …?’ that should help people understand with whom we are speaking.
We also know that people don’t always match their ‘labels’ either so knowing what a religion teaches doesn’t mean that the person in front of us actually believes it. So we are left with doing what James also said, ‘Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger’ (James 1:19 ESV). We could initially judge people on their nationality, sexual ity, wealth, gender, religious affiliation but my reading of the book reminded me to reaffirm that when listening to people (and when seeing myself in the mirror) the label to use is ‘human being – loved by God – for whom Jesus died – a sinner just like me’. Listening to people helps me hear whatever we might have in common – our humanity for a start which knows that there is a hidden God around. Who is your God? How do you know? What is your evidence? In the answers to such questions is the sharing of faith – yes, I want everyone to see God – me included! – and I believe we only do this in the face of Christ for it is in Jesus’ cross that we see our best picture of God. — GS