The best response I’ve seen to “A Common Word”

Mark Ward

Below I’ve included a transcript I made (because I needed to have the text for a non-blog reason) of a new video on the Desiring God site. This is John Piper’s response to the Christian response to “A Common Word,” a document intended to promote Muslim-Christian relations.

I’ll let him explain.

Note: I did not smooth out this text except for an “um” or two; it appears just as he spoke it.

In October of 2007, 138 Muslim clerics produced a document—it’s about 20 pages in the copy that I have—called “A Common Word Between Us and You” in which they extended a right hand for conversation to the Christian church and sent it to the Pope and to any other Christian leaders who would be interested in which the main thesis was that love for God and love for neighbor is a common ground between Christianity and Islam.

And there have been a lot of responses. You can go to acommonword—I think that’s the name of it—, or something like that, where you can find it. And there have been a lot of responses. The main one that concerns me, and the reason I’m talking here, is because I am disappointed with the response that came from the one that was published in the New York Times back in, I think it was published in November of last year, of 2007. But I have a copy of it here. It’s called “Loving God and Neighbor Together, a Christian Response to ‘A Common Word Between Us.’” And I just want to register publicly a disappointment with this document, in fact a profound disappointment with the way that it’s worded—and surprise at some of the people that signed it, some of my friends, who signed it, who I would have thought would be more careful in what they lend their support to.

Because, what’s missing from this document is a clear statement about what Christianity really is, and how we could come together to talk with Muslims from our unique, distinctive biblical standpoint. It won’t work to simply say, “You have a prophet, and we have a prophet”—which is really the way this document sounds. “We have a prophet who said love your enemies; you have a prophet who said love your enemies.” That’s the way this document sounds. I’m sure the people that wrote this document do not believe that, but that’s what it sounds like. And I’ve talked to a lot of people, and I’ve read it at least three times, and I’ve written how I would respond to it.

So I just want to say that when we speak of the love of God and even quote a verse from 1 John 4, and don’t take into account the very next verse where the love of God that sustains us Christians is the love of God that sent the Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to be the propitiation for our sins, that’s the next verse, but not the one that’s quoted into the document, we are not being—it seems to me—we’re just not being honest. We’re not saying to the world who’s reading this document, that the love of God that we get strength from is the love of God uniquely expressed through Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins because he died on the cross and he rose again. All of those things Islam radically rejects. So they do not believe in the God we believe in. They do not believe in the love of God that we believe in. They don’t believe in the Son of God that we believe in. They don’t believe in the propitiation that he made for us. And to then talk in vague terms as though the love of God is a common standing place is to deceive, is to be unclear at best.

Jesus is so crystal clear when he talks about this. “If you reject me,”Jesus said in Luke 10:16, “If you reject me, you reject the one who sent Me.” Muslims do reject Jesus Christ as the Son of God, Son of man, crucified, risen savior of the world. They reject him, and therefore are rejecting God. We don’t stand together on a common love of God or a common understanding of God. They don’t worship the true God, according to Jesus. He who has the son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life. The Bible is so crystal clear that Jesus is the litmus paper as to whether or not we’re talking about the same God.

I got a great help from a good friend of mine who said this: Suppose two people are arguing about their classmates from college 30 years ago, and they’re starting to wonder if they’re talking about the same person. “She did this and she did that.” “Oh, I don’t think she did that.” “And she looked like this.” “Oh, I don’t think she looked like that.” “Oh yes, she did.” And they’re arguing. They think they’re talking about the same person, and somebody comes up and says, “Well, why don’t you just open the yearbook?” So they get out the yearbook from 1968, and they open it up, and they say, “There she is.” And the other guy says, “Oh, no no no no, that’s not who I was talking about.” And it’s all clear now. We’re not talking about the same person.

And my friend said to me, “Jesus Christ, as He is revealed in the New Testament, is the yearbook. You open the yearbook, and you look at His picture and you say, “Is that your God?” and the Muslims are going to say, “No, that’s not our God.” And then you say, “Well, we’re not talking about the same God then.”

Because Jesus said, when His disciples said, “Show us the Father,” He said, “Have I been so long with you and you don’t know me? If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father. And so all this talk about smoothing over these profound differences and then using language to lead the readers of the New York Times and to lead the Muslims to think that we really do have a common vision of love of God when we don’t even have a common vision of God is not honest. It’s not helpful.

So I want to commend those who are stretching out their hands to Muslims. I wanna write an alternative document than this one, “Loving God and Neighbor Together,” and put Jesus Christ clear and lucid and unique and distinct and necessary like he should be, right at the center of the document. Who he is, Son of God, Savior, Son of Man, Sovereign King of the Ages, and then say, “We would love to sit down with you and commend this Christ to you as the basis of tolerance.

We do not want strife. We do not want war. We do not want violence. We do not want hatred. We want to exalt Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as the ground of why we don’t kill. We do not come killing as a way to win disciples. Jesus said, “If my kingdom were of this world, my disciples would fight. My kingdom is not of this world, therefore my disciples are not fighting.” Christians don’t fight to get people to believe in Jesus. That would contradict the very nature of the voluntary nature of saving faith in the Son of God.

So we would happy to sit down with any Muslim group and commend Christ to them and let them talk to us about their prophet, but we’re not going to smooth things over and talk in vague language about how we have the same God and the same love of God, call Muhammad a prophet, call Jesus a prophet, quote Scripture selectively, so that it sounds just like the Qur’an. We’re not gonna do that.

So may the Lord grant his church today to be faithful to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, crucified, propitiating sins, justifying and giving righteousness to those who have faith in Him, and rising from the dead and reigning over the world and coming again. And one day every knee will bow before Jesus Christ and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. And those who have not bowed their knee before Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior and the unique representation and embodiment of the divine, in whom the fullness of deity dwells bodily, those who haven’t bowed the knee will be cast out into outer darkness. This is no small thing. Oh, may the church be faithful to her witness to Jesus Christ. It’s the only loving way to lead people out of destruction and into everlasting life.

These things are important. If you’re involved at all in Muslim-Christian missions or dialog, I pray that you for the sake of Christ and the sake of the lost will speak the truth about the glory of the deity and the crucifixion and the death and the resurrection and the unique saving power of Jesus Christ.

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Liberty, License, Legalism

Mark Ward

I recently recommended a message by my pastor, Mark Minnick. Here are my notes from that message, taken on my trusty Palm IIIxe. Minnick does something he rarely does: he chooses a controlling metaphor. In the hands of many such a metaphor is a cheesy device. But used sparingly, I think it can be very helpful.

(9/19/2007) Minnick on the Two Closets

  • We tend to categorize things as lawful and unlawful, but just because something is lawful doesn’t mean it’s open season, that it’s the best thing to do in a given case!
  • Think of choices as having to be placed into two closets: “UNLAWFUL” and “LIBERTY.” Every choice you make must be placed not only within one of those closets, but on one more of the racks into which that closet is subdivided.

Racks in the unlawful closet:

  1. Specifically prohibited (even though each of these is questioned within evangelicalism!):
    • Fornication (1 Cor 5-6)
    • Deserting a spouse (1 Cor 7)
    • Women teaching men in church (1 Tim 2)
  2. Prohibited by an institution that has authority over me
    • Family
    • Church
    • School
    • Government
  3. Prohibited by my conscience (Rom 14)
    • PERSONAL NOTE: Frisbee on Sunday
    • PERSONAL NOTE: Alcohol? (also falls under no.2 and possibly no.1) N.B.: Pastor Minnick puts alcohol on the the potentially overpowering rack and on the rack of things that cause people to stumble and on the institutional (school, church) rack.
  4. Applications of general scriptural prohibitions
    • Eph 5:11 – Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
    • Rom 12:2; 13:14
    • 2 Cor 6:14

Racks in the liberty closet:

  1. Profitability: Will this thing bring glory to God and therefore benefit to me?
  2. Power: the degree of power something will have in my life. Paul said, “I won’t be brought under the power of any.”
  3. Things that build people up (on the other end of this rack are things which cause people to stumble).
  4. Inconsequential things: am I going to wear glasses or contacts, eat carrots or broccoli?

Additional comments from Pastor Minnick:

  • Remember that our simplistic, immature tendency is to think that anything in the liberty closet hangs on the “inconsequential” rack.
    Even these racks are subdivided, from the very profitable down to the inconsequential and unprofitable.
  • Unlawful no. 4, applications, are where believers get at odds with each other: music, dress, appearance. We’ve got to distinguish between 1, 3, and 4. The day comes when our applications make no sense and we’ve painted ourselves into a corner (PERSONAL NOTE: face cards?).
  • Christian leadership is responsible to think about these things, to avoid simplifying life into two closets with no racks in them.
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All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes 2

Mark Ward

“Popular culture, like the meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 10,” says Ken Myers, “is a part of the created order, part of the earth that is the Lord’s, and thus something capable of bringing innocent pleasure to believers.” But he warns that “popular culture has the power to set the pace, the agenda, and the priorities for much of our social and our spiritual existence, without our explicit consent. It requires a great effort not to be mastered by it.” xiv

One important way to avoid being mastered is to really imbibe the “main theme” of Myers’ book (All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes): “not everything that is permissible is constructive.” xiii

I know I have made something like constructiveness my primary criterion in my interactions with popular culture. I always ask myself—inspired by the Bible and by Jonathan Edwards’s famous resolutions—”What will be the eternal profit, for God and myself, of this activity?”

My pastor, Mark Minnick, preached an excellent Wednesday-night message recently on choices in which he appealed to the same argument. I highly recommend this message, and I’m going to blog about it soon (DV)!

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All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes 1

Mark Ward

Ken Myers is the richly pleasing voice—and the far-ranging mind—behind the Mars Hill Audio Journal. He wrote a book in 1988 for Crossway’s Turning Point Christian Worldview Series, called All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes. I found it so profitable that I’m going to blog through it—mostly just providing good quotations.

Myers believes that “the challenge of living with popular culture may well be as serious for modern Christians as persecution and plagues were for the saints of earlier centuries. Being thrown to the lions or living in the shadow of gruesome death,” he says are “fairly straightforward” threats. “But the erosion of character, the spoiling of innocent pleasures, and the cheapening of life itself that often accompany modern popular culture can occur so subtly that we believe nothing has happened” (xii-xiii).

One of the most helpful points I took from Myers’ book is his argument that “Christian concern about popular culture should be as much about the sensibilities it encourages as about its content” (xiii). He says pop culture “shapes how we think and feel (more than what we think and feel)” (xiii). Obviously, this theme in Myers book is inspired in part by Marshall McLuhan in books like The Medium is the Message.

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TNIV and blogging protocol

Mark Ward

I appreciated the following comment and thought it worth a posted reply:

Hi Mark! It looks like you have a great blog here. I wanted to make a couple of comments about your remarks toward the TNIV, and my intent is to do so in the spirit of discussion and not antagonism.

First, you noted in your previous post,

“No, I’m not a fan of gender-neutral Bible versions. See Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress’ work for that. Neither am I a fan of the T/NIV translation philosophy, which I think includes too much interpretation. But I read Greek and Hebrew, so I don’t have to take their word for it. I’m not going to let my objections stop me from the profit of reading through the Bible in a new way this year.”

Well, I teach from the TNIV weekly and occasionally have opportunity to teach from it, but I would agree with you that I’m not a fan of “gender-neutral” Bibles either. Is that a contradiction? Well, no–and you may think I’m splitting hairs here–but the TNIV translation is not intended to be gender neutral as neutral would imply “it.” Rather, the translators prefer to call their approach to gender as gender accurate; that is, they prefer to have the translation communicate the genders intended by the original writer(s).

So if I can give an example from something you said above, I know you were kidding when you said, “fallible men (TNIV: ‘people’)”, but that is exactly not the kind of rendering the TNIV translators would make. Why? Because it’s fairly well known that those who divided up the Bible into chapters and verses WERE men. The TNIV reflects those kinds of renderings as such. But in a context such as Romans 15:30 in which Paul writes “I urge you, ἀδελφοί…” Traditionally, this has been translated as “brothers” or “brethren,” but the context of Romans 16 clearly shows that Paul is writing to a mixed audience. Even the ESV acknowledges this by giving the alternative translation in the footnotes, “Or brothers and sisters.” The TNIV simply uses that translation “brothers and sisters” because it more accurately reflects the use of ἀδελφοί in this verse. In Greek literature, the meaning of this term is always dependent upon the context.

For what it’s worth, the characterization gender neutral is actually a pejorative term used by detractors of the TNIV.

Second, you mention that you wouldn’t want to preach from the TNIV, but I can attest to you that it makes a very good translation to teach or preach from. Most of the people in the Sunday School class I teach are reading from the TNIV. They can easily follow along with the TNIV because there’s only a 7% difference between the two, but even gender issues aside, the TNIV is a much more accurate translation than its predecessor. I use it probably 90% of the time, although I occasionally use the HCSB or if the audience is right, even the NLT.

You mentioned Grudem in the other post, and I respect him greatly, but disagree with him on this issue. And I would also point to individuals like D. A. Carson and Timothy George who have endorsed the TNIV as well as the great evangelical translators who worked on the committee such as Douglas Moo and Gordon Fee.

My reply:

Hey, Rick, I think yours was an ideal comment—a good spirit and good substance. This is just what I wanted from a blog, a chance to be sharpened by the writing-and-response process.

You’re right that the TNIV is not exactly “gender-neutral,” as if it includes no references to maleness or femaleness. I do want to avoid incendiary rhetoric! But isn’t “gender accurate” just a bit slanted itself? Maybe begging the question? What alternative do other translations have but to be “gender inaccurate”?

Yes, I’m aware that men I respect, especially Carson (but also Bock, Blomberg), endorse the TNIV. And, indeed, I am in favor of using a more readable translation than the NASB with the low-income kids I work with (in fact, I used my TNIV there last night!). But here are my main objections to its use as a Bible for regular study and preaching for mature Christians:

  1. I’m uncomfortable with changing singular to plural and third-person to second-person. Admittedly, “man” is a collective singular, so as for intrinsic meaning I can’t object to “People do not live on bread alone” (Mt 4:4). But “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Mt 11:15)? Is that singular or plural? Does it matter? I’m wary of assuming that the perfectly acceptable singular can be replaced with a plural without any loss or change of sense. And if a generic “she” is acceptable in today’s writing (I see it frequently), then a generic “he” is still understandable—and when English grammar matches Greek, isn’t it best to take advantage of that?
  2. As for that “perfectly acceptable singular,” I’m aware that not all find it such. But I simply have to see this 7% gender change as sourced ultimately in an agenda I believe to be opposed to Scripture. Is language as a whole really pushing out the generic “man” and generic “he”? If so, should Christians use the Bible to get on the forefront of that change—especially when we have reason to believe it is ideologically motivated? Maybe someday soon “they” and “them” will be accepted in formal writing as singulars. I actually do think that day is coming. But I would rather be conservative with the Bible.
  3. I think the NIV—and now the TNIV—are wonderful translations to have around. They provide conservative evangelical interpretations of difficult passages. As I was reading along in Proverbs, say, when I first got my trusty parallel Bible, I would come across a verse in the NAS which just didn’t make sense to me. So I would read the NIV and find a helpfully smooth rendering. My firm inductive conclusion is, however, that the NIV is sacrificing some ambiguity that God inspired. For careful study, I’d rather my congregation (if I had one!) be first confronted with the ambiguity/difficulty and then go to more interpretive translations for a possible explanation.

    An example from the TNIV: 2 Tim 3:17 “…so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

    The TNIV presupposes one interpretation, that “the man [ανθρωπος] of God” is just a general reference to any Christian. “Man of God” in its many uses in the OT seems to refer to a prophet, a special messenger of God. Granted, “man of God” is used to refer to a pastor just one other time in the NT—but that’s to Timothy in 1 Tim 6:11. Granted, too, this verse certainly has to apply to all Christians. But I’d rather preserve someone’s opportunity to make that judgment—wouldn’t I?

Thanks again, Rick, for the interaction.

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A filler post, I know

Mark Ward

I hope to post a little substance on the TNIV, answering a great comment I got from an SBTS Ph.D. student and part-time teacher, but I need to do that after I finish Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther for the Bible Reading Program at BJU Press.

Until then…

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My ultimate team, The Ws, is headed up to the Frozen Goose Ultimate Tournament at North Greenville University on Jan 26.

Here’s my current roster:

Here’s one of the only pics I have of me doing anything remotely cool on the frisbee field. Nine times out of ten, or more like 99 out of 100, it was Greg Bartlett grabbing the disc out of the air over my head. But the camera must have brought something out of me. Or else eating wife-cooked food took an inch off of Bartlett’s vertical:
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