The Theological Difference

A concise statement capturing the theological difference between Islam and the gospel:

“Broadly the Islamic dictum runs: ‘To know is to do.’ Ignorance, ‘jahilayyah,’ is the problem. Hence ‘huda,’ revelation is the answer. Humans are amenable to law: They can respond to ‘thou shalt’ and heed ‘thou shalt not.’ The New Testament knows that we can know and not do. We have a defiant ability, a recalcitrance that flouts what it quite well understands. It is this perversity which needs redemption. The world is not righted by good advice, but a love that suffers, that bears, and thus only bears away the wrong and can thus forgive. For Christian faith this redemptiveness characterizes the very nature of God as told in ‘the throne of God and of the Lamb.’ This is the ultimate theological issue between the Qur’an and the New Testament, the mosque and the church” (Kenneth Craig, d. 2012 at age 99).

“In the name of God”

Samuel Zwemer died on April 2, 1952 – the day before I was born. This great Christian missionary saw the supremacy of God in all things. The Bible permeated his life. But he also diligently studied the Islamic doctrine of God. At first he drew stark contrasts with the God of the Bible; later he nuanced his view in wise and winsome ways. Unlike many Christian leaders today, he appropriately praised the all-encompassing idea of God in Islam. He even placed the important Qur’anic phrase, the Bismillah (“In the name of God”) on his study wall in Egypt. He also placed it on the cover of his journal “The Moslem World,” which he personally edited for over 30 years. For him the Islamic doctrine of God, in part, was a great strength, but also in its sad deficiencies also a tragic weakness. Zwemer knew that without a vital relationship with the Trinity, God remained unknowable and impersonal. May God raise up a new generation of Samuel Zwemers!

A Leslie Newbigin Read

A little book, most popular during Newbigin’s life time, but neglected today, yet still worth a read, is “Honest Religion for Secular Man.” (The title reflects the 1960’s).

Chapter 4, “Being God’s People,” is worth the price of the book.

He writes that the church is called to be “a band of pilgrims who have heard the word ‘Go’,” but has too often become “a large and solid building which, at its best can only say ‘Come’, and at its worst says, all too clearly, ‘Stay away’.”

The Practice of Mission Theology

“Theology is important – as long as academic theologizing is not confused with Christian living” (Introducing World Missions, 71).

I get the point, but I would push back in the following ways:

1. “Theologizing” at its best is the highest form of conversation and has intrinsic value in itself. It seeks to think God’s thoughts after him, however feebly.

2. When the Church “does theology” well, it is often the contested place where the Spirit leads God’s people into a deeper understanding of “God and all things in their God-relatedness.”

3. Theology, properly understood and practiced, is itself a component of Christian living; it is best not to extract it from this fuller context. The question is how to practice theology wisely and in submission to Christ, with the aid of the Spirit, and for God’s glory.

4. To do “mission theology,” therefore, (both local or global) is a most worthy exercise in which the Spirit may well lead us into deeper insight into the mission Dei, resulting in more faithful Christian discipleship as the Church participates in God’s mission in the world.

Wisdom Christology at Credo Magazine

Luke Stamps has written a helpful and fair review of Wisdom Christology at Credo Magazine. His concern that I may underplay the legitimate function of Lady Wisdom as a Christological type is a valid concern. I commented on the legitimate use of such an approach in an earlier interview with Andy Naselli at the Gospel Coalation. The relevant part follows here:

The Gospel Coalition has been highlighting resources on preaching Christ in the Old Testament. How does your book help people in this regard?

These confessional texts and New Testament Christology in general have multiple Old Testament roots. So when students of the New Testament locate such a strand (particularly one related to creation, redemption, and revelation) the proper move would be to

run the theme through the OT,

then to the life and ministry of Jesus, and

finally to a confession about Christ in one of these apostolic texts.

Consider “wisdom” in Proverbs 8. Like the function of other Old Testament figures and institutions (e.g., prophets, angels, Torah, temple), Wisdom culminates in Christ. If I were preaching from Proverbs 8, I would look earlier to God’s creation by his word in Genesis 1. Then I would move forward to Christ’s public ministry, with his verbal power over creation exhibited in his nature miracles. I would then land in John’s prologue, which emphasizes the Word and the Son’s creative power. Or one could end in Hebrews 1:1-4, where the Son’s creative power symmetrically aligns with his redemptive power (i.e., the one who “made” all things is the same one who “made” cleansing for sin).

The practical takeaway is that we can be confident that the gospel is the wisdom and power of God (Rom 1:16). God powerfully removes our sins. This helps God’s people see that the Old and New Testaments cohere, that Christology is rich, and that the gospel is climatically important.