A Common Word Between Us and You

I wanted to alert your attention to something that I have heard virtually nothing of in the news, blogs, etc, although am surprised that it has flown under the radar. Here it is:

On October 13, 2007, on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, 138 Muslim scholars and clerics sent an open letter “to leaders of Christian churches, everywhere.” The signatories to that letter, titled “A Common Word Between Us and You“, include top leaders from around the world representing every major school of Islamic thought. The text of “A Common Word Between Us and You” appears at www.acommonword.com

Essentially, these Muslims leaders were proposing the coming together of Muslims, Christians and Jews to find common ground based on the commands to love God and neighbor as found in the Old Testament, New Testament and the Qu’ran.

True, all these texts do include the love of God and neighbor as being the fundamental core of each of these religions. My problem is not with the extension out to Christians by the Muslim leaders, but lies with the response by Christian leaders to the Muslims.

But at the outset, let me say that I may be misinterpreting the response by these Christian leaders. That is why I am bringing this to your attention, so that we may read this together in community {both locally through the church, through the internet, and through the lens of Scripture and church history}. I want to understand the heart of their response, but I honestly struggle with it.

Please read the Muslim text “A Common Word Between Us and You” and then read this: “In the name of the Infinitely Good God whom we should love with all our being- Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You.

My problem with the Christian response is that not only is it signed by some “conservative” Christian leaders, but that the language they use appears to synthesize the idea of “God” that Christians and Muslims adhere to. While I am thoroughly open to a dialogue between Muslims and Christians, I do not believe there is “common ground” between the two groups, if you are arguing that God, or loving God is the common ground. I say this because the 2 groups worship 2 different gods. You can’t roll them into one.

What is lacking in the Christian response is what separates Christianity from every other religion: we serve a Trinitarian God, namely the Father, Son, and Spirit. The language used by the Christian response is lacking Trinitarian language. In fact, the Spirit is never mentioned. Of course, they may counter that when they use the term “God,” they are implying the Trinitarian God, but I find this to be lacking.

If I were to engage with a Muslim, I would say at the outset that when I mention “God” I mean precisely and distinctly the Triune God of the Christian faith: The Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. I cannot use the term “God” in the same way that the Muslims do. Allah and Yahweh are 2 different gods. Yes, Christians believe in one God, but this God is Trinitarian in nature: Three distinct persons, one essence or nature.

Or, as Dr. Bruce Ware defines it in his book “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance“:

“The Christian faith affirms that there is one and only one God, eternally existing and fully expressed in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Godhead is equally God, each is eternally God, and each is fully God–not three gods but three Persons of the one Godhead. Each Person is equal in essence as each possesses fully the identically same, eternal divine nature, yet each is also an eternal and distinct personal expression of the one undivided divine nature” {p.43.}

See also the Council of Nicea [A.D. 325] and the Council of Constantinople [A.D. 381] from church history, where this doctrine was vigorously defended.

So, when we engage in dialogue with Muslims, we must choose our words carefully and yet be very explicit as to what those words mean and convey, namely that when we say “God” we mean precisely and definitively the Triune God: the Father, Son, and Spirit.

We must also convey that the Triune God has appeared physically in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the God-man {Philippians 2:5-11}. We must affirm that in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell {Colossians 1:19}. This must be stated explicitly in our evangelism and preaching and should not be assumed.

Especially because Muslims hold that “There is no god but God, He alone, He hath no associate, His is the sovereignty and His is the praise and He hath power over all things…” {this quote is taken from Muhammed in their document and is a combination of several phrases from passages in the Qu’ran}. The phrase “no associate” in Islamic thought includes that any consideration that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God the Son is wrong.

My problem with the Christian response lies with these statements:

“Abandoning all ‘hatred and strife,’ we must engage in interfaith dialogue as those who seek each other’s good {I’M OKAY WITH THIS SENTENCE UP TO THIS POINT}, for the one God unceasingly seeks our good.”

I think the response should have been more clear: the Triune God seeks our good {for those who have trusted in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross as the payment for man’s sins and satisfier of the Father’s wrath and those indwelt by His Spirit Romans 8:28-30}.

Another sentence needs addressing:

“…and work diligently together to reshape relations between our communitites and our nations {AGAIN, I’M OKAY WITH THIS SENTENCE SO FAR} so that they genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another.”

My problem lies in that Muslims and Christians do not have a “common love” for God because each religion’s idea of God is diametrically opposed. I cannot say that I share a common love for God with a Muslim. We worship 2 different gods!

Please read both documents and then comment. I truly hope that I am misunderstanding what I am reading. But we must never cease to be explicitly Trinitarian in our worship, preaching, discipleship, and evangelism. For when we have a distorted doctrine of God, then it will pervert our worship and even have an effect on what we do between the sheets of our beds {read Romans 1:18-32}.

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7 comments

  1. Appreciate you bringing this up. I logged on to the sight the other day, after you mentioned it to me.
    I have not read or thought through it enough, but your questions seem valid to me.

    Loving our enemies and loving our neighbors as ourselves does not mean we accept what they believe as true. Sounds like this document confuses this distinction a bit.

    As I’ve thought about this, too, I think that Muslims would have a harder time signing something like this, because, unlike Christians who are told to “love their enemies,” I seem to read contradictory advice in the Koran toward Christians and Jews. In other words, it would be biblical for a Christian to love a Muslim, without compromising orthodoxy, but it would be un-Koranic for a Muslim to do so. (see this blog for specifics: http://scrawnypulpit.blogspot.com/2006/09/what-does-koran-say.html)

  2. I agree Lance. If nothing else, we must let this serve as a reminder that when we speak of God, we must as Christians define Who this God is, namely the Triune God of the Bible {Acts 17:22-31}. Also, when we speak of Jesus, we must be sure that we clarify which “Jesus” we are talking about, as there are many views of Jesus out there {2nd Corinthians 11:4}. Also we must clarify what we mean we we speak of the gospel, as there are many ideas out there as to what the gospel means {Galatians 1:6-9}.

  3. Bravo. I too have no issue with Muslims reaching out. And I think we should take their offer of peace.
    But God help us if we take away from, add to, or water down the Word of God. Let us meet and agree that fighting gets us nowhere. You lower your weapons, we’ll lower ours. However truth is not relative.

    “Martyrs not popular charts…. ….Cause now I’d rather die than follow mediocrity!” — Project 86

  4. I too believe the fidelity of any Christian (leader or not) rests upon his faithfulness to the name and work of Jesus: Christians make the knowledge of the cross of Christ the summit of their ambition (1Co. 2:2) because such knowledge is the wisdom of God and the power of God (1 Cor 1:23,24). “To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life (2 Cor 2:16).

    An illegal immigrant may look, sound and live like a citizen. He may claim to be a citizen and pledge allegiance to the authority of his preferred country. Yet, his criminal conduct in just one necessary aspect of the Law/Authority supercedes and discounts his adherence (no matter how diligent or faithful) to all other aspects. For awhile, he may enjoy most of the privileges of citizenry. But when the time comes to prove his citizenship, his claim is disproved and he is denied the full benefits afforded true citizens. He has not performed the necessary steps to actually become a citizen. Therefore, he shall receive the punishment his negligence warrants.

    A Muslim may look, sound and live like a person who is a follower of God. He may claim salvation and to be a follower of the Most Holy God, pledging allegiance to his authority but denying Jesus, an intrinsic aspect of God. His unfaithful conduct in just one necessary aspect of the Law/Gospel supercedes and discounts his adherence (no matter how diligent or faithful) to all other aspects. For awhile, he enjoys many of the privileges of being a creation of the One True God. But the time will come when his citizenship will be proved; he has not performed the necessary step to actually become a citizen of the kingdom of Yahweh. His claim disproved, he will be denied the full blessings afforded all worshippers of I AM.

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