Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

concrete dome buildings during golden hour

Recently SBC pastor J.D. Greear received some criticism over claims that he said that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. 

In all fairness, that’s not exactly what J.D. said. In his book Breaking the Islam Code: Understanding the Soul Questions of Every MuslimJ.D. stated that while the Christian and Muslim conceptions of God are irreconcilably different, there are some shared assumptions about God which can be used in apologetic conversations with Muslims, e.g. monotheism, affirmation of the Old and New Testaments, recognition of Jesus as a prophet, etc.

You can hear, watch and read J.D. Greear speak on this subject in his own words here.

Allah and God

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Israel, and during my time there I met several Israeli Christians, including some Arab-Israeli Christians. Arab-Israeli Christians refer to God by the Arabic word for God: Allah. Just as the English word God is of Germanic origin, and is not itself particularly tied to the God of the Bible, but is a “generic” name for deity, Allah is a similar word in Arabic. As monotheists, who believe there is only one God, we use this word to speak of the one supreme God rather than using a personal name for God to differentiate Him from other deities, since we do not believe any other so-called god is a rival to Him. There is precedent for this in the Bible, in which the ancient Hebrew word, with its Mesopotamian origins is used: אל (“El”), and in the New Testament, the Greek word Θεός (“Theos”).

Islam is different than Christianity in their belief that the Quran cannot be translated to any other language other than Arabic. Muslims are required to pray in Arabic, meaning that non-Arabic speakers are not allowed to pray to God in their mother tongue, but must memorize and recite Arabic prayers. Furthermore, when they read the Quran, they must read it in Arabic. There are “interpretations” of the Quran into other languages, but they are not considered scripture; only the Arabic-language Quran is considered valid and legitimate. It is for this reason, that muslims all over the world refer to their deity as Allah and not God in English, Gott in German, Бог in Russian, and so on.

So, the real issue is not: “What is the difference between Allah and God?”, but rather: “What is the difference between the God of Islam and the God of the Bible?” Even though they are both monotheistic supreme deities, they have different attributes, and therefore, even though they are both called “God”, they are not the same.

Why Islam is Like Mormonism

As the above tweet mentions, when Islam first came on the scene in the 7th Century, Christians did not consider it a different religion per se, they originally considered it a Christological heresy, and they considered Muhammed to be a false prophet.

In the Near East at that time, the majority of the population, particularly in urban areas, was Christian. In the Arabian peninsula, where Muhammed was located, polytheism was still practiced by the majority of the population, many of whom were nomadic. Muhammed led the Arabic people into monotheism, but a new and unique form of monotheism, which built on, but changed, the teachings of Judaism and Christianity.

The reason Islam was considered a Christological heresy was because Islam affirms both the Old Testament and the New Testament, considering them both holy scriptures, upon which Islam seeks to build. However, they claim that both the Old Testament and the New Testament have been severely altered and redacted, and therefore are not trustworthy. They argue that as a result, the Quran, which they claim is a new and trustworthy revelation given to Muhammed, the last and greatest in the long line of prophets, is the only trustworthy revelation available to us, and the Quran “sets the record straight” regarding things which have been altered and redacted in the Old and New Testaments.

For more information on why we can be sure that the Bible has not been altered (neither the Old nor the New Testament), check out this article in which I discuss historicity, attestation, and canonization.

Some of the things Islam claims were changed in the Bible: God’s choosing of Isaac instead of Ishmael (they claim Ishmael was the chosen son, since they trace their ancestry through him – and they claim the Jews changed the Bible to say that God chose Isaac). They also claim that what the New Testament says about Jesus was radically changed by Christians in order to claim that Jesus was God, when in fact (as they say), he was only a prophet. They do however, acknowledge that Jesus was sinless, unlike Muhammed.

Thus, Muslims deny Jesus’ deity, and along with that comes a denial of his identity as Savior. As a result, they teach salvation by works, whereas Christianity teaches salvation by grace, through faith, through the atoning work of Jesus on our behalf. The Christian gospel is that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, which is the basis for our standing before Him, as opposed to Islam, which claims that you must earn your way before God by trying hard enough to keep the 5 Pillars of Islam, so that hopefully your good works with outweigh your bad works, and then God will allow you into Heaven. These are two radically different soteriologies (doctrines of salvation, i.e. how one is saved).

In a way, Islam is quite similar to Mormonism. Consider the similarities:

  • Both claim to build upon the Old and New Testaments, but claim that both have been corrupted and are therefore not trustworthy in the present form in which we have them.
  • Both claim a “new revelation”: the Quran and the Book of Mormon
  • Both claim a new prophet: Muhammed and Joseph Smith
  • Both change the identity and story of Jesus
  • Both teach a works-based soteriology (doctrine of salvation)

Are there bridges of shared assumptions between Christians and Muslims which can be used for apologetic and/or evangelistic purposes?

I believe there are. My wife and I, before we were married, used to serve together in a refugee camp in Hungary which was populated mostly by Muslims from Asia. We provided humanitarian aid to them, and as we built relationships with them, we got the opportunity to share our faith with them as well. We found that they had an affinity for the New Testament and an openness and interest in reading it, so we provided them with copies of the New Testament in their own languages. Many of them, though they had been taught that the New Testament was one of their holy books, had never had the opportunity to read it, assumedly because of the teaching in Islam that the New Testament has been changed and is not trustworthy. However, as these people read the New Testament, many of them were captivated by Jesus, and decided to become Christians. The inbuilt affinity for the Old and New Testaments, for Jesus, and their monotheistic belief, are great starting points for sharing the gospel.

An example of this in the Bible can be seen in how the Apostle John, in the Gospel of John, begins in chapter 1 by identifying Jesus as the divine Λογος (Logos = “the Word”). The concept of the divine Logos was a Greek philosophical concept, which basically meant: “the grand idea” or “the grand force” of the universe. John identified the Logos (translated: the Word) as Jesus. By doing so, John was tapping into an existing belief for apologetic and evangelistic purposes, like Paul did in Acts 17 in Athens, where he appealed to the Athenians on the basis of their altar to “the unknown god.”

Like Paul and like John, may we be uncompromising in our biblical beliefs, and yet wise to use opportunities to share the gospel with people in ways they can grab ahold of, that they might find love, joy, hope, freedom, and salvation in Jesus.

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Original Music by Michael Payne: My Times

Michael Payne, who serves as worship pastor at White Fields Community Church in Longmont, just released an original song called “My Times”. Check it out on YouTube here:

Here’s what Mike wrote about the song:

The story of this song starts back in 1996 when I arrived in Debrecen, Hungary with my backpack and guitar. It comes from Psalms 73 and 31 and encapsulated the start of my journey as a missionary. This song would become a mainstay for our Monday night English language Bible study with the medical students. But then I left the song behind in Debrecen as we moved to Budapest where I felt God call me to invest in Hungarian songwriters and song-writing. Since our move to the States 21 years later, this song has taken on new meaning as my family declares this same endless truth to God again – “My times are in Your hands”, stepping out into a new chapter in life.
Music is not only about the song itself, but who you play it with and it was a great joy to record this with great friends.
I hope the story and the words of this song resonate with you wherever you are in your walk with God.

Mike is going to be featured in the Longmont Times-Call’s 100 People of the St. Vrain Valley feature, in which they highlight notable people from the area.

You can also listen to Mike’s music on Spotify: Michael Payne on Spotify

Reader Questions: People Claiming to Be Christ at the End of the Age

accuracy analogue clock countdown

Earlier this year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received this question:

“Dear Pastor Nick, I am an avid listener to Hope FM in Baltimore, MD, and love when you host the call in show. I have a question: How will we not be fooled by others that pretend they are the Christ in these days ahead. Maybe even trying to deceive us with signs or wonders. Thank you so much.”

The Text: The Olivet Discourse

The text you are referring to comes from what is called the “Olivet Discourse,” a teaching Jesus gave to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, a hill east of Jerusalem, during his “passion week,” the week Jesus spent in Jerusalem leading up to his crucifixion.

In Matthew 24, Mark 13, & Luke 21, Jesus warns his disciples that a time is coming when many will come claiming to be the Christ, but not to be deceived by them.

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. (Matthew 24:3-6)

The disciples ask two questions: (1) when will these things be, and (2) what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?

Jesus’ answer to these questions intertwines prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and his second coming. The nearer event (the destruction of Jerusalem) serves as a symbol and foreshadowing of the more distant event (the second coming).

Jesus warned his disciples from the outset that many people would be deceived as they awaited his return. There have been many times in history in which this has happened, in three main forms:

1. People claiming to be the Messiah

Tragically, those who rejected Jesus when He came to them as Messiah ended up falling after false messiahs who led them into nothing but death and destruction. For example, 100 years after Jesus, a man named Bar Kokhba was considered by many Jews to be the messiah. He led a revolution against the Romans and enjoyed early success, but was soon crushed.

2. People claiming that Jesus has returned, or that they are him

In the First Century, the Christians of Thessalonica had heard a rumor that Jesus had returned, and that they had missed it! Paul the Apostle wrote his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, in part, to dispel this rumor, and assure them that Jesus had not yet returned, and that when he did, they would surely know it.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed that Jesus returned in 1914, invisibly, and began his reign over the Earth from within the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (official name of the Jehovah’s Witness organization). The problem with this, of course, is that the Bible says that when Jesus returns, it will be visible, and will usher in a time of peace, which clearly the world has yet to see.

There is currently a man in Russia who claims to be Jesus returned: Siberian ‘Jesus’ Vissarion, Former Traffic Cop, Leads Patriarchal Russian Cult That Believes In Aliens

3. People wrongly predicting the date of Jesus’ return

William Miller produced publications which convinced hundreds of thousands in the United States that Jesus would return in 1846. When Jesus did not return, there was great disappointment, with some falling away, and some cultic groups spawned from the prophetic fervor.

Here is a fascinating list of false predictions of the return of Jesus: Predictions and claims for the Second Coming of Christ. You’ll notice that one of them just passed: June 8, 2019!

Trying to predict the date of Jesus’ return is a fool’s errand, since Jesus not only told us not to worry about it (Acts 1:7), and that no one knows the date or the hour, and that  it would happen at a time when we do not expect it. In other words, there is no secret code that anyone is going to crack and figure it out.

How will you recognize Jesus’ return?

When Jesus comes, it won’t be a secret coming. Everyone will know.

The Apostle John tells us in Revelation 1:7: Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him

John did not need a special vision to know that every eye will see Him. John heard Jesus this himself: So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:26-27)

So, how can you be sure not to be deceived? Ignore alleged predictions or claims of Jesus’ return. Jesus’ second coming will not happen without you knowing it.

Sources:

Why is Satan Going to Be Released at the End of the Thousand Years?

agriculture air clouds countryside

Earlier this year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received this question:

The end sounds so perfect and beautiful but we still have not seen the last of satan because it says he will be released for a short time. Why? Does he finally repent and come back to God or does he get out and give God the finger and go back to hell?

The Text: Revelation 20

The section of Scripture you are referring to is Revelation 20, which describes, in apocalyptic language, a few things that will happen leading up to the final judgment:

1. Satan will be bound for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1-3)

It’s worth noting that it doesn’t say that Satan will be in Hell, only that he will be bound. Currently, we know that Satan’s abode isn’t in Hell, but that he “roams the Earth” (see Job 1:7). As to how or where Satan will be bound, we don’t know the details.

2. Christians, but not non-Christians, are raised from the dead to reign with Christ for this thousand year period. (Revelation 20:4-6)

In 2 Timothy 2:12, Paul encourages the believers that “if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

3. When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations and lead a war against the saints in Jerusalem. (Revelation 20:7-9)

4. Satan will be defeated by God and thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:10)

For more on the difference between Hell (Hades) and the Lake of Fire (AKA “the second death”), check out: Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?

So, to answer one of your questions directly: “Does he finally repent and come back to God or does he get out and give God the finger and go back to hell?” The answer is: No, Satan does not finally repent. He is released from being bound, and then judged by God and cast into the Lake of Fire (so, not exactly back to Hell, since Hades and the Lake of Fire are not the same thing, and the Lake of Fire is the final judgment).

Three Views on the Millennium

There are three main views on the thousand year period of time described in Revelation 20. Here’s a summary of each:

Premillenialism

Believe Christ will return “pre” (before) the millennium (Latin for 1000 years). Premillenialists understands the millennium to be a future time of great peace and justice, a literal 1000-year period which will begin when Christ returns to reign on earth as a physically present King.

Postmillenialism

Believe that Christ will return “post” (after) the millennial period. Postmillenialists think that before Christ returns to earth, the gospel will spread and triumph so powerfully that societies will be transformed and peace and justice will reign on earth for a thousand years (or for a long period of time), after which Christ will return for the final judgment.

Amillenialism

Those who hold an “a” (non-literal) millennial view believe the thousand years described in Revelation 20 is the present church age, and that there will be no future “millennium” before Christ returns for the final judgment.

Related to this is the question of whether the thousand years are to be interpreted literally (most premillennialists hold this view) or symbolically (most postmillennialists and amillennialists, and some premillennialists hold this view).

The nature of the binding of Satan is important to the three millennial views. Premillennialists read this as predicting a complete removal or restriction of Satan from the earth during this golden age of social righteousness, international peace, and physical well-being, with Christ reigning on earth. They argue that the phrases “shut it” and “sealed it over him” picture a removal of Satan from the earth too complete to represent the current age.

Postmillennialists also think this will be a future golden age, but that Christ will not return until the end of that time. Amillennialists believe that the Jesus’ first coming has already bound Satan and brought God’s light to the nations, therefore they argue that this binding of Satan for “a thousand years” refers to the gospel’s spread among all nations during the present age, and to the present restraint of the church’s persecutors until an outbreak of rebellion before Christ’s return.

I would agree with the pre- (and post) millennialists, that it is quite a stretch to say that Satan is currently bound; watching the news for 5 minutes will show you that evil is very present in our current day, and the New Testament speaks about Satan being active, for example: 1 Peter 5:8 says “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him.” If Satan is bound, then why does it say that he prowls around, and he must be resisted?

Each of these views falls within the realm of Christian orthodoxy and are based on different ways of interpreting this text along with other texts in the Bible.

[Source: Adapted from ESV Study Bible]

Why is Satan released at the end of the thousand years?

It seems that the purpose of Satan’s release is one last temptation, to address the question of whether people have been following God because they were not tempted, or because they truly loved God.

The End is Beautiful

You mentioned that the end seems so perfect and beautiful, but we haven’t seen the end of Satan. I guess that depends on what you mean by “the end.” I would say that Revelation 20 doesn’t describe the end, but only the beginning of the end. It is in Revelation 21 that we see the true end, about which we are told:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

This is the hope that we hold onto and look forward to, and we rejoice in the fact that the day is coming very soon (James 4:14 says that this life is but a mist which appears for a moment and then is gone) when Satan will be defeated and all evil and suffering will be no more, forever.

That is the glorious hope that we hold onto, which puts everything in perspective!

When Was the New Testament Recognized as Holy Scripture?

person reading the daily fake news newspaper sitting on gray couch

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the Bible. Maybe it’s because people often settle for getting their information from dubious sources like social media or somebody they know who told them something.

This past Sunday, in our I Could Never Believe in a God Who… series, we looked at the Bible. The message was titled: I Could Never Believe in a God Who…Gave Us a Faulty Bible (click here to listen).

Some common misnomers about the New Testament:

  • Early Christians didn’t have the New Testament
  • The books of the New Testament were not considered anything special in their time,  and it was only later on that these books came to be thought of as holy scripture.
  • The New Testament only came into existence at the time of Constantine, 300 years after Jesus.
  • The New Testament has been changed and tampered with over time.

As common as these beliefs are, they are actually historically incorrect.

Did First Century Christians View the New Testament Books as Scripture?

In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul wrote these words: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

What Scriptures are being referred to here?

Obviously it is referring to the Old Testament scriptures, but interestingly, this comes from the last letter Paul ever wrote, at the end of his life. By this time, almost all of the books in the New Testament had been written, and they were being distributed amongst the Christian churches, to be read and studied in their gatherings.

There are 27 books in the New Testament. By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, at least 23/27 books of the New Testament (including 2 Timothy) had been written and were in distribution amongst the early Christians, who considered these books Holy Scripture in the same way that the Old Testament was considered Holy Scripture.

So, when Paul says, “All Scripture” — most scholars believe he’s not just talking about the Old Testament, he’s also talking about the New Testament!

In the New Testament, what you find is that the Apostles understood that God was using them in their time to bring about a New Testament of Holy Scriptures, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Here are a few examples:

  • In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to the writings of Paul as “Scriptures”
  • In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul referred to his own message as “the word of God”
  • In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul takes a quotation from the Gospel of Luke – and he calls it “Scripture” (Luke 10:7)
  • In some of his letters, Paul instructs the recipients to distribute his letters and have them read in the churches. (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27)

Paul uses the term “all Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:16, as opposed to the term he used for just the Old Testament in the prior verse: “sacred writings.” In other words, Paul uses a different, and broader term in Vs 16, because he is talking about more than just the Old Testament; he is including the recently written New Testament books, including the gospels and some apostolic letters.

Criteria for Canonization

When I was a kid, I used to love going to the grocery store, because in the checkout line they had tabloid magazines that were full of fake news.

“Aliens landed and took over Washington DC!” “Sasquatch sightings!” “Giant eagle carries off children!”   

We still have fake news today, but back then it was fun; now it’s just disturbing.

As you might imagine, there was a lot of fake news going around about Jesus in the years, decades and centuries following his ascension. So, the early church was forced into a position where they needed to create a “canon” of Scripture, in order to combat the fake news about Jesus, and solidify the accurate accounts of what really happened, and what was really inspired by God.

In the end, they canonized 27 books in the New Testament, using 3 major criteria:

  1. Apostolic authority – Was it written by an apostle or an eye-witness?
  2. Congruency – Was it consistent with what the rest of the Bible taught, and what the early Christians believed?
  3. Acceptance — Was it widely used and accepted in the Early Church?   

The now well-known Gospel of Thomas, which was discovered in Egypt in 1945 immediately fails on 2 of these 3 criteria: it is not congruent with the rest of the Bible, and it was not accepted by the Early Church.

On further examination, it also fails the test of apostolic authority, since – although it bears the name of an apostle, it contains anachronisms, which indicate it was written much later than the time when Thomas actually lived. The reason it bears his name is because, in an attempt to make this Gnostic writing seem credible, they falsely attributed it to an apostle.

The reason the Gospel of Thomas was not included in the canon was not because of fear or suppression from church authorities, but because it had no business being there, since it’s just fake news.

The New Testament is the Most Widely Attested Ancient Document in Existence

Did you know that we have no original copies of any of the books of the New Testament?

It’s true.

But did you also know that we have no original copies of nearly any other ancient work?

Consider this chart:

Ancient Documents Chart.jpg

We actually have fragments of the Gospel of John dating from only a few decades after they were written.

There is nothing that comes close to the New Testament when it comes to historical reliability.

Those 5686 manuscripts also match up, which means that when you read the Bible, you can be sure that what you are reading today is what was actually written.

It hasn’t been changed, it hasn’t been tampered with. It is an accurate account of Jesus’ life, and it has been considered holy Scripture and the very words of God since the earliest days of Christianity.

Isn’t the New Testament Full of Contradictions?

Check out this video in which Mike and I discuss that topic:

Here are some helpful links for you to look at as well:

Podcast Update: New Content & New Ways to Listen

black recordering microphone

They say that listening is the new reading. My friend’s tweet from this morning illustrates this growing trend:

I’m an avid podcast listener, and many of my friends are as well. I listen to podcasts while I drive, sometimes while I run, and often when I am doing busy work around the house.

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

The Edison Institute did a survey of 1200 Americans about podcasting and determined:

  • Young people are listening to podcasts: 85% of podcast listeners are under 55.
  • The fastest growing demographic is among people aged 29-54, with 29% year-over-year growth in listenership.
  • Educated. 85% of podcast listeners have at least college education.

This week our podcast at White Fields Church added a few updates:

  1. You can now listen to us on both Apple Podcasts and Spotify
  2. In addition to our weekly sermons, we are now uploading a weekly conversation between me and Mike in which we dig further into some of the practical and theological issues related to Sunday’s message. (We post videos of these discussions on YouTube here).

Check out the latest episode in the player below (email subscribers click here). In this episode, Mike and I talk about whether babies go to heaven, if there is an “age of accountability” and if God judges people during this life, or withholds it until the “final judgment.”

Why is Rape Wrong?

rainforest during foggy day

Primates & Sexual Assault

Did you know that female primates are regularly sexually assaulted by male primates? Harassment, intimidation and forced copulation are regular practices of male primates towards female primates. [1]  Having studied the behavior of primates, scientists have concluded that “the sexual harassment of females is hard-wired into primates.” [2]

From a purely evolutionary perspective (if one holds that view), these practices can be seen to have evolutionary advantages, namely the propagation of the genes of the strongest and most aggressive males, rather than the weaker, more passive males.

The Limits of a Purely Scientific Worldview

In her book, Confronting Christianity, Rebecca McLaughlin points out that whereas science can describe the way things are, and the reasons why people do things, it does not speak to the way things ought to be, e.g. ethics and morality.

Science can tell us how things are. It can explain why, for instance, a man might have the drive to commit a sexual assault as an effective means of propagating his genes. But it cannot tell us why he would be wrong to succumb to that drive.

We can conduct sociological calculations to see what behaviors turn out better for the group and decide that sexual assault yields a net negative in the overall happiness of the tribe. But to call rape wrong, we need a narrative about human identity that goes beyond what science or sociology can tell us.

She points out that if we as human beings are nothing more than what can be described by science, and our story is nothing more than the evolutionary story, then we have no grounds for insisting on human equality, protection of the weak, equal treatment of women, or any of the other ethical beliefs we hold dear. [3]

In other words, we need something more than science and sociology to answer the questions of who we are and why we are here. If these questions arise merely because of feelings which are ultimately just figments of our imagination, and there is in fact no greater meaning to our lives or purpose for our existence, then we cannot justifiably claim that anything, including rape, is really wrong – nor that our feelings, such as love, have any real meaning at all.

But as McLaughlin points out,

Christians ground human uniqueness on the biblical claim that we are made in the image of God. Just as God calls creation into being, so he calls humans to serve as his representatives on earth, in special relationship with their Creator and with each other, and charged with moral responsibility. To maintain their beliefs about goodness, fairness, justice, and so forth, a secular humanist too must hold that humans are moral beings, distinct from other primates.

Created in the Image of God

Currently at White Fields, we are in the midst of a series called, I Could Never Believe in a God Who… (click here for a link to our podcast)

The first message in this series was one about the question of whether Christianity encourages the suppression of women and minorities, in which we looked at the issue of what it means to be created in the image of God, and what this means for a biblical understanding of human personhood, equality, and gender roles. (Click here to listen to that message)

This coming Sunday we will we looking at why the Bible matters, and why “crowd-sourcing” our ethics – i.e. the idea popular today that we don’t need an outside source such as an ancient book to tell us how to live our lives – is a flawed theory, doomed to failure – as can be seen by looking at modern history.

So…Again: Why is Rape Wrong?

To answer the question in the title of this post, rape is wrong because it is an assault against a human being who is endowed with dignity by nature of being created in the image of God, and is also an affront to the God who created us in His image and gave us His moral code by which to live. The way to be happy and successful, both as individuals and as a society, is by submitting to this fundamental design of our creation.

The Gospel Comes With a House Key: Hospitality & the Gospel

person handing keys

Home as a Hospital & Incubator

As a member of the lesbian community in Syracuse, New York, Rosaria Butterfield learned what it meant to use her home as a hospital and an incubator, which reflected her values to others. Members of the lesbian community in Syracuse made sure that everyone in their community had keys to each others houses; they looked out for one another and cared for each other. They viewed their homes as oases in a harsh world, and yet they sought to win over their neighbors by being the best neighbors on the block.

These lessons—learned far outside the walls of the church—are instructive for Christians, she says.

It was through the hospitality of a Christian couple in her neighborhood, that Rosaria changed her mind about Christianity. At the time, she was a celebrated professor at Syracuse University. Raised in an atheist home, Rosaria had always assumed Christians to be hateful, judgmental people, who considered people like her enemies. In fact, her interest in spending time with Christians came as a result of her intent to write a book about how Christianity fuels toxic masculinity. As a result, she sought out a Christian couple in her neighborhood, but her interactions with them surprised her and challenged her preconceived notions about Christians, so much so that she began to consider what they had to say about Jesus and the Bible. Ultimately, she embraced the gospel and forsook her lesbian lifestyle. She is now married to a pastor and they have adopted several children. They seek to use their home as a hospital and an incubator for the goal of making disciples of Jesus.

Ground Zero of the Christian Life

In her book, The Gospel Comes with a House KeyRosaria Butterfield describes what she calls “radically ordinary hospitality”, which she argues is “ground zero of the Christian life.”

Rosaria makes a convincing argument for this, pointing to passages like Matthew 25:35–36, in which Jesus talks about hospitality as the litmus test for real faith on judgment day. She also points out Mark 10:28–31, in which Jesus talks about how those who receive the gospel may very well lose a lot in the process of conversion, in order to gain the promises of God’s Kingdom, but that along with eternal life they can also expect to receive a new community. Inclusion in this new community, characterized by radical ordinary hospitality, is what Rosaria equates with receiving a “house key” when one receives the gospel.

Because Christian conversion always comes in exchange for the life you once loved, not in addition to it, people have much to lose in coming to Christ—and some people have more to lose than others.

A Resource for Evangelism

Hospitality, Rosaria explains, is an often under-utilized resource for evangelism as well. Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality, she says, see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom.

The purpose of radically ordinary hospitality is to take the hand of a stranger and put it in the hand of the Savior, to bridge hostile worlds, and to add to the family of God.

She goes on to tell stories of how she and her husband intentionally live below their means, so they will be available and able to use their means to help others on a whim, as needs arise.

God promises to put the lonely in families (Ps. 68:6), and he intends to use your house as living proof.

A Sign to the World

Rosaria describes “radically ordinary hospitality” as: “using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed.”

Radically ordinary hospitality shows this skeptical, post-Christian world what authentic Christianity looks like.

Love and/or Approval?

She points out how important it is to reflect Jesus in our relationships. Jesus wasn’t embarrassed to relate to people who were different than him. He understood the difference between love and approval.

She mentions that Christians often ask her, “How can I love my neighbor without misleading them into thinking I approve of what they do?” She advises that we first remember that no one approves of everything that others do. Parents, for example, love their children even at times when they hate the things their children are doing.

Rosaria responds to a question people sometimes ask: “If my neighbors who identify as _________ are in sin, then why are they the nicest people on the block?” To this she responds: “If our Christian worldview cannot account for that, it can survive only in the echo chamber of imaginary theology.” To answer this question, we must understand a few very basic theological principles: 1) all people are recipients of “common grace” to varying degrees, and 2) our problem as human beings is not a lack of “niceness” but a debt of sin before a just and holy God. To put it in simple terms: “Nice people” need Jesus just as much as “not nice people”, because only through Jesus can anyone be redeemed.

Conclusion

Rosaria encourages Christians to be courageously loving rather than fearfully cautious. I was challenged, encouraged, and inspired by The Gospel Comes with a House Key, and I recommend you check it out.

Compelling Stories & the True Myth

opened bible on wooden surfaca

Have you ever noticed that many of the stories that you love, all have the same core elements?

This is a reality which played a major role in CS Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity, as he discussed it with his friend JRR Tolkien. I told that story in this post, called Addison’s Walk.

Lewis later articulated this concept in Mere Christianity, in which he described how the gospel story of Jesus Christ is the “true myth,” and the fundamental myth, which is written on the human heart, and to which all other myths point.

Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth

It isn’t only Christians who have observed this phenomenon. Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature who researched comparative mythology, wrote a book titled, The Hero with a Thousand Facesin which he showed how there is a common structure in the mythological stories told in all human cultures of an archetypal hero. This structure has come to be known as the “monomyth.”

This podcast episode gives a very engaging description of the monomyth theory and how  Hollywood has now begun to use it as a formula for writing stories that people want to watch: Imaginary Worlds, The Hero’s Journey: Endgame

I first heard about The Hero with a Thousand Faces while recording a podcast episode for the Expositors Collective Podcast at a training weekend in Bradenton, Florida last December. That episode was released this past week, and you can listen to it here: Expositors Collective, Episode 45: Telling a Compelling Story.

The discussion in that episode is based on a talk I gave at that event on the topic of homiletics (the art of preaching), about how to use narrative format in order to craft compelling expository sermons.

Why Do People Like to Read These Kinds of Stories?

Interestingly, when Joseph Campbell was asked why he thought it was stories contain these common elements, which are all present in the biblical narrative, his response was that the reason people write in this way, is because it is what other people like to read. However, in that response he fails to answer the question and get to the root of the issue, which is: Why do people like to read these kinds of stories?

As Christians, we would agree with Tolkien and Lewis, that the reason for this is because we are created by God, and this story is the true story of the world, which we intuitively know because God has placed it in our minds and put it in our hearts.

This same theme was identified by Don Richardson, a missionary to Papua New Guinea who discovered that there are common virtues and mythologies held in all cultures in the world, and that these shared stories create a basis by which the gospel can be shared cross-culturally, even to people who have never been exposed to the gospel before. He documents and explains this in his books Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts.

Popular Examples

In our interview, Mike mentions a clip from the Simpsons in which Homer says something profound about the Bible: “Everybody in this book is a sinner… except for THIS GUY!” Here’s the clip:

I recently found out that at the end of the series, J K Rowling revealed that Christianity inspired Harry Potter. In an interview, she stated how she always thought that the influence of the biblical narrative was so obvious that every reader should have noticed it, and that the Bible verses on Harry’s parents’ gravestones “sum up and epitomize the entire story.”

What does all this mean for us?

It means that when you read a story that compels you, when you watch a movie that makes you cry, when you read a news story about heroism that touches your heart, there is a very profound reason for that: that story resonates with and reflects the true story of the world, the gospel story of Jesus Christ – the true story of the ultimate problem, the ultimate peril, the ultimate act of sacrificial love, the ultimate story of good overcoming evil, and the ultimate hero.

If you follow the ladder all the way to the top, it will lead you to Jesus. As you enjoy these stories, don’t fail to recognize that what you truly long for in your heart of hearts is nothing less than Jesus himself and the redemption that is found in him!

Foster Care, Jesus, & Living Out the Gospel

May is National Foster Care Month in the United States, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services.

Our Story

Something you may not know about me and my family is that we foster parented, and ultimately adopted the child we had in foster care. He came to us at age 14 and is now grown, living on his own, and pursuing a career. We’re very proud of him.

A Picture of the Gospel

Foster parenting is something very near to my heart, and I believe it is one of the most profound ways in which we can live out the gospel: choosing to make someone family, placing your love on them and caring for them, not because you have to, but because you choose to. That is what God has done for us in Christ! He took us who were strangers, and in Christ he makes us full-fledged sons and daughters. He adopted us into his family! (Romans 8:15).

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Did you know that Jesus was adopted? Joseph, knowing that Jesus was not his biological son, chose to raise him as his son – to provide for him, teach him, and love him, and be a father to him.

A Profound Need

Foster parenting and adoption are some of the greatest ways in which you can make a real, substantial difference in the life of another person. Does it come with risk? Absolutely! But is it worth it? Most definitely.

Take a look at this infographic from Together We Rise, a non-profit which helps families get into foster care, and foster-to-adopt. It shows the number of children in foster care waiting to be adopted in the United States.

Image result for together we rise children waiting to get adopted
Children in Foster Care Waiting to Get Adopted in the United States

I challenge you to pray about if God might have a role for you to play in this important and life-changing endeavor, of living out the gospel by welcoming a child-in-need into your home.

A Counter-Cultural Approach

Many people think of parenting in terms of what a child will do for them, such as give them a sense of fulfillment, companionship or the promise of posterity and an heir. The gospel causes us to think differently about parenting, however, in light of how God has parented us. Rather than thinking about what parenting can do for me, my focus in parenting becomes what I can do for the child, to give them the love, provision and instruction that they need; pouring out myself for their sake.

Further Reading

Our church is involved in two annual initiatives, one at Christmastime and the other in the summer, when kids are preparing to go back to school. You can read more here about Project Greatest Gift and Project Back to School.