Uncommon God, Common Good
10/4/12 at 11:33 AM 0 Comments

Rick Warren: Slammed for Chrislam or Slammed for Love?

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Many of you may already know of Pastor Rick Warren being charged with promoting ‘Chrislam’ based on his relationships and work with Muslims. Pastor Warren and close associates have vehemently denied the claim. The critics maintain through their use of the term ‘Chrislam’ that Pastor Warren’s bridge building efforts with Muslims involve blending the teachings of Christianity with Islam. It goes beyond the scope of this article to analyze the difference between appropriate contextualization and syncretism, but the blending of Christian beliefs with those of other religious traditions that compromises the gospel is syncretistic, and orthodox Christianity rejects syncretism. I firmly believe Pastor Warren rejects syncretism and seeks to guard against it in his engagement of Muslims. We need to take his statements that are intended to demonstrate his orthodoxy at face value and him at his word. Based on Pastor Warren’s rationale for his engagement of Muslims (which for him entails loving them because of Christ and loving them to win them to Christ), he should not be accused of syncretism, but rather ‘slammed’ or ‘charged’ with seeking to love faithfully his Muslim neighbors.

Now why should a Christian befriending and working with Muslims be accused of Chrislam, if he is not renouncing his Christian convictions, or syncretistically blending them with the claims of another tradition? No doubt, there are several reasons. One of the main reasons is guilt by association. It is worth noting that Jesus was the victim of people’s guilt by association charges. A core group of religious leaders condemned Jesus for associating with tax collectors and sinners. In Matthew 11:19, the Lord is quoted as saying in response, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” (Matthew 11:19) What was the fruit of Jesus’ actions? Did he compromise his convictions? Did his close disciples abandon him to become “tax collectors and sinners”? Or did the “tax collectors and sinners” take him to heart and take to heart his message? The latter is the case. The guilt by association charge did not stand.

We need to take seriously how committed Jesus was and is to loving the world in the concrete, not the abstract. During his earthly ministry, Jesus loved real people who were embodying particular traditions and engaged them graciously and truthfully and with sensitivity, as in the case of the centurion in Matthew 8 (see also Luke 7) and the woman at the well in John 4. He had challenging words for the religious elite in his own tradition whose self-righteousness kept them from reaching out in love and mercy to those who were in need: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32; see also Matthew 9:12-13).

Those who rightly fear doctrinal compromise should also fear compromising love. While I don’t want to be accused of promoting Chrislam, I don’t want to be accused of slamming the door on love of Muslims either. How will Muslims ever come to know that Christ radically loves them if we Christians don’t share life with them and his love for them? I should add here that we Christians should not limit our concern for Muslims to longing for them to come to know Christ. We should be concerned for them as fellow humans created in the image of God and as our neighbors (Mark 12:31) and friends, whether or not they ever respond to our invitation for them to come to know Christ personally as Lord and Savior. With that in mind, are we inviting Muslims into our lives, and are we accepting their invitations to enter into theirs? What would Jesus do?

What would Jesus do given the various associations of guilt there are between Christians and Muslims? It can take quite a bit of time to share Jesus given the various negative associations Muslims and Christians alike make regarding ‘the other,’ especially in our post-9/11 world. Infinite patience is required. As Stephen Neil says in Christian Faith and Other Faiths, “Our task is to go on saying to the Muslim with infinite patience, ‘Sir, consider Jesus.’ We have no other message. . . . It is not the case that the Muslim has seen Jesus of Nazareth and has rejected him. He has never seen him, and the veil of misunderstanding and prejudice is still over his face” (Christian Faith and Other Faiths: The Christian Dialogue with Other Religions {London: Oxford University Press, 1960}, p. 69). As I argue in Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths ({Thomas Nelson, 2012}, p. 94), Many “Muslims have not heard the gospel and rejected it; they have not yet encountered the radical love of God in Christ Jesus that welcomes prodigals [like myself] home and that welcomes strangers from distant lands and makes them citizens and children in God’s house.” Many Muslims “have heard of America’s Christian God who imprisons them as aliens and enemies of his kingdom. Unfortunately the clash of cultures in the post-9/11 world replaces the all-important clash of theologies” [that involves countering wrongful associations of guilt] “and makes it all the more difficult for Muslims to encounter Jesus face to face and heart to heart.”

It is important, then, that in keeping with the call to love our Muslim neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31) as fellow humans created in the image of God that we make sure that we are infinitely patient to share life as well as the love of Christ with Muslims. We should not allow the rightful concern to avoid syncretism to lead us to slam the door on love.

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths (which can be found wherever fine books are sold), and is a charter member of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.

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