I have no idea what you people read when you're not reading the funny papers over here, but Justin Taylor has been interacting with a fellow named Rick Love over at his blog regarding whether or not it's profitable or right to say that Muslims worship the same God, via their monotheism, that Christians do.
I think that Rick's view is overgenerous -- which is often a mistake one makes which ultimately hurts one's self. But in this case, I think it also hurts those to whom one preaches the Gospel.
I have dragged Rick's latest 8 points over here to make some longer comments.
1. [Justin's] critiques vividly illustrate that not all monotheists are created equal. My previous response focused on the objective beliefs of monotheists and failed to acknowledge the subjective (or heart) dimensions of monotheistic worship. I was wrong in not pointing this out and stand corrected. In fact, there is a spectrum of “receptivity” among monotheists. There are people who are monotheists by confession but whose hearts are far from God, as you made clear in your reference to John 8. However, there are also monotheists who are receptive to God as the stories of Nicodemus (John 3), the Samaritan Woman (John 4), and Cornelius (Acts 10) make clear.You have to give a guy credit when he can say something like "I was wrong". I think the problem is that Rick thinks here that he was only wrong by omission and not wrong in the conclusion he has drawn by this omission. The last sentence of this statement makes it clear that in spite of conceding that John 8 really fortifies the hard exclusivism of Christian monotheism, he doesn't really work out all the ramifications of that exclusivism.
See: in John 8, Jesus does something which echos the OT, and it's not merely in his reference to Abraham. He's telling the Jews what the prophets have told them before -- namely, that infidelity toward God defines their sin. It's rather odd that the Jews get this right away by saying that they are not illegitimate children -- but that Rick doesn't quite get how that relates to even older statements from God to Israel like Micah and Hosea's prophecies.
Activity in the temple does not equal right worship -- and that is what is at stake. Right worship is fidelity toward God, and that starts on the inside of man and moves outside of him. I'll have more to say on this in Rick's point #6.
What we call Muslims to is not merely changing the name of the God they worship -- I would be willing to concede that someone who worshipped "elohim" would be worshipping "Yahweh", and that in Arabic Bibles the name "Allah" there as a generic term is a fair reference to God. What we are calling them to is worship of the true God of all things, maker of Heaven and Earth, in whom the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature are given to us in Jesus Christ.
Rejecting Christ is rejecting God. Saying less than that, however nuanced, is falsifying the Gospel and leading people to false faith.
2. In the framework articulated in my previous two responses to Piper, I have made it clear that while monotheists worship the true God, they lack the revelation of Jesus Christ and are not saved. Therefore, the Jesus-denying monotheists of John 8 clearly fit into my framework (I just failed to make this explicit as I note in point #1 above). Moreover, I can’t find anything in the text where Jesus says that the Pharisees worship the wrong God. (Did I miss something?) It seems to me he is saying their hearts are not right before God and thus their worship is not acceptable. (We will come back to the issue of the heart shortly.)In fact Rick did miss some things pretty significant. The first is this: Jesus says explicitly that God is not their father, but the Devil is. Just because Jesus didn't then say, "and because the Devil is your father, you are worshipping the wrong god," doesn't mean that we don't here have John putting the loadstone of idolatry around the necks of the Jews. Jesus says plainly that the Devil is a murderer and a liar, therefore these men are also murderers and liars; that statement ought to be contrasted with the statement Jesus makes about Abraham, namely, "If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God."
God's followers/children act like Abraham; the Devil's followers/children act like the Devil. It's a simple parallel construction, and it points to idolatry, not "lack of revelation".
And there is a worse omission here by Rick: Jesus says explicitly that it is not revelation that they lack. Jesus says to them, "Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires." The message is presented to them, but they cannot bear it because they are not of God but of a false god.
3. Parenthetically: unlike Jesus, we are not always able to accurately discern those who are Jesus-denying. Many people may appear like they are denying Jesus when in fact they really don’t understand who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Just as we cannot assume that all Jews were Jesus-denying people, in the same way, we cannot assume that all Muslims are Jesus-denying people. We CAN assume that they need to see and hear about the beauty of Jesus – His person and His work.This is a mistake of taking our non-omniscience as a basis for radical skepticism. It annihilates our ability to know and therefore act on any external data. If it is true that "we are not always able to accurately discern those who are Jesus-denying", I think that we have only a handful of choices. One is then to preach the Gospel to all as if they are all lost, all Jesus-denying -- which leads to the radical fundamentalism of some who wind up in a theological circle so small that they can only keep one foot in it.
Another way to handle that is what Rick does here -- and that's to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, thinking they only know a little about God, and that their evangelism only requires us to fill in the missing details. I think that's a horrible mistake as it overlooks the radical implications of the Gospel.
It is possible to make the Gospel too fragile, as I think the radical fundamentalist does; I think it is equally likely to make the Gospel optional, or somehow so nuanced that it does not call men to a radical change. Neither option ought to be on the menu for evangelists and preachers of the word.
4. [Justin seems] to wonder how I could possibly say that monotheists worship the true God. I feel strongly about this because I think the Bible speaks strongly about this. First of all, a polemic against idols and an affirmation of monotheism is at the heart of the Ten Commandments "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth” (Ex 20:2-4).I'm interrupting here because there's something Rick misses badly here, and that's the point that the 10 Commandments do not require monotheism but right worship of the true God. That is not merely "monotheism" any more than living with one woman right now is monogamy. You have to be married to the right woman, and be faithful to her, to be monogamous. Anything else is adultery.
In the same way, you have to be devoted to the right God, and live as if He is your God and you are one of His people. Anything else is idolatry. If that's not what the 10 Commandments require, then God was mad at the people for the wrong reasons when He told Moses to destroy the Golden Calf.
Secondly, the Shema (“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! Deut 6:4), describes the fundamental truth of Israel’s monotheistic faith. It was confessed daily during prayer in contrast to the idolatry and polytheistic beliefs of Israel’s neighbors. Thirdly, both Jesus and Paul clearly affirmed monotheism (Mark 12:29ff and Rom 3:30; 1 Tim 2:5). Therefore, it seems to me that polytheism vs monotheism is the big divide in Scripture re: worship of the true God (The 160+ references to idolatry in the Bible further strengthens this viewpoint). In the NT Paul says that when Gentiles offer sacrifices to idols they are really offering sacrifices to demons and not to God (1 Cor 10:19-20). In other words, polytheism and idolatry are clearly demonic in light of Scripture, whereas monotheism is always portrayed positively.Let me re-affirm that the question is not whether there is one God or many gods: it is whether one is rightly seeing God as God.
What's at stake in the Bible is not philosophical monotheism: what is at stake in the Bible is the personal identity of the one true God above all false gods which man puts in His place. I'd say this is most vivid particularly in what comes after the Sh'ma -- in that God says to Israel, "listen: teach these things to your children so that you don't forget Me."
5. Ahh, you say. But what about James 2:19? “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” I would argue that the intent of James 2:19 is not to critique monotheism, but rather to critique “faith without works.” In other words, it is not the objective belief content of monotheism that James critiques, but the lack of obedience-producing faith in their hearts. In fact, James’ argument only makes sense if we see his affirmation about monotheism as an orthodox confession. In keeping with the original intent of the text, I think we could apply James’ teaching to modern Christians as follows. If James were writing this to Evangelical churches in America he might say: “You believe that God is three in One – the Holy Trinity. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” Demons know that God is one. I assume that they also know that God is three in one!!Again, I think Rick misses the point here widely. If someone were to pull out James 2 for the sake of underscoring the true worship of God, one has to go to context here -- because James' real concerns in James 1-2 is "true faith" vs. "false faith". James says that faith which looks upon the Law and then forgets the Law -- that is, it doesn't do anything about the Law -- is a false faith. He is carrying that thesis forward in James 2, and when he comes to the religion of demons, he says, effectively, that the demons know the truth about God -- they just don't do anything about it.
The demons do not worship God, and are not saved by God -- that's James' implication. That is, if you want a faith like the "faith" of demons, you can have the same end as the demons.
6. The two key texts you used to critique my theology, John 8 and James 2:19, lead us to another very important point: worship is a thing of the heart – something that I did not carefully explain. I think we would both agree that right theology is not enough – whether a person is a receptive monotheist or a non-obedient Trinitarian. I think the story of Cain and Abel gives us insight into these issues. Both worshipped the one true God. But Abel’s worship was acceptable and Cain’s was not (Gen 4). So the issue is not just about worship of the true God, but more precisely about worship that is acceptable to God, i.e., “true” worship of the “true” God.I'm not sure what this has to do with whether or not worshipping Allah is interchangable with worshipping Christ. What's at stake in preaching to Muslims is that they have a false revelation and therefore worship a false god, not that the make insufficient offerings.
7. Here’s how I would like to rework your illustration, recognizing the limitations of the metaphor. I would say that monotheism could be compared to an understanding that the U.S. has one President and that the U.S. is a great country to live in. There are those who acknowledge that the US has one President but they hate him and do not want to live in the U.S. (=unreceptive or hard-hearted monotheists). There are other people who actually respect and even love the President of the U.S. and long to live in the U.S. but neither know the President nor are they U.S. citizens (=receptive monotheists). Finally, there are those who respect and love the President of the U.S. and in fact have personally come to know him. They have also become full citizens of the U.S. (=repentant monotheists who come to follow Jesus).The problem with this illustration is that the Bible doesn't make that many categories for those who are outside of Christ.
Christ is the light which shines on all men, exposing their evil deeds, and men reject the light. Period. The fullness of God is given to us in Christ, and those who reject the Son reject the Father. Period. Either one has right faith in God through Christ, or one is hell-bound because he has rejected God.
Those are the biblical categories. The Bible doesn't paint a gray area to which we can them shuttle people in the hope that we can make the Gospel less offensive to them. And if I haven;t said this clearly, I'll say it clearly right now: philosophical monotheism is an affront to God, who is personal, active, loving, just and holy. Effacing the identity of God is just as idolatrous as calling Dagan or Ashtoreth the god of your nation. It's a Romans 1 error for which men are condemned.
8. Justin, I think it is extremely important to note that there would be little or no difference between you and me in practice. Both of us would approach the monotheist with the goal of sharing the unfathomable riches of Christ. Both of us would ultimately seek to win him or her to follow the one who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life!”I disagree strongly. The view you are advocating is that there is actually less to do for the Muslim than there is, for example, for the Hindu or the Buddhist. That will yield specific results in evangelism in practice.