Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Desperately Seeking Biblical Relevancy (DSBR)

Scientific American carried a recent article asking the question of whether string theory was science or philosophy? As a theologian, what little I know of the subject presages me to answer in the affirmative. Yes. I think its a little bit of both. Or a lot of bit of both and a little of bit of each. Which is not a way to be silly but in effect, to say we should always be open to the helpfulness of uncertainty and the tension of not knowing (the article itself is provided further below).

The larger question which looms overhead for me is how the church absently discounts science and philosophy's ground-moving discussions as specious while not even questioning itself as to why it may be important to pay attention to these disciplines in the larger scheme of things. Mostly, I'm sure, the church responds this way because it feels these discussions are not "spiritual" or "biblical" or "pertinent" and hence, do not fit into the rhetoric of biblical topics as it presses the bible closely against its martyred breast.

However, it cannot be said too often that the newer insights by science and philosophy of the 21st century must demand a fundamental re-evaluation between the church's theologies and its apprehension of academia. If not, we do the Christian faith an injustice. An injustice which puts it "above" academic reproach in the minds of its congregants who are all too ready to disbelieve anything that it doesn't hear from the pulpit or read in the holy pages of Scripture.

But this is not a good thing, its a bad thing. It makes God irrelevant to the world at large as well as to the church without. It causes the God of the bible to be too-separate from His creation when we as Christians do this. And it subsequently casts doubt on God's presence in humanity when we begin to think of Him as an "unapproachable deity" by any other means than by the mystical (or subjective) approach of belief. Moreover, it causes God to be held as a "fictional reality" to the world at large whom the Christian is to witness to of God's truths in Jesus (who then becomes "myth" Himself, unfortunately). And so, in reality, the church must wrestle with postmodern science and philosophies whether it wants to or not for if it doesn't, it affects both itself, and its witness, if nothing else.

As example, a couple years ago quantum theory provided quite a bit of fertile ground in rethinking the basic ingredients of life, the cosmos, time, ontology, etc. More so, it caused the church to confront its hallowed, classically-based doctrines and dogmas, built up over eons of time on outdated foundations of Hellenism, medievalism, scholasticism, enlightenment theory, and secular modernistic philosophies. However, since the occurrence of these older outlooks another kind of foundation has come. One that is postmodern, postsecular, post-structural, and post-Christian. And one which is very conversant with science and philosophy. A conversation which can be quite helpful in addressing the church's static conversations with itself and the world by questioning "what it thinks it knows in the bible when faced with newer interpretations questioning its quasi-foundational biblical beliefs."

Contemporary theologic (biblical) investigations and dialogue keeps faith's relevancy wide, exploratory, and expansive. It allows the church to question things it never really allowed itself to question before (like, fear, uncertainty and doubt, for instance). Or by providing more answers than it would've had clinging to older theological forms of "biblical thinking" (shorthand for "popularly approved" church doctrines and dogmas).

By way of another example, science is a lot like listening to the recent fallen political theories and conducts seen on social media of the 2015-2016 presidential candidates and their proposed policies. Proposals and conducts which seem to soar until confronted with biblical truths that say, "Hey, not so fast, here's why this doesn't work anymore! Here's why this policy or action must come under scrutiny!" (Think gay rights; protection of individual Constitutional and legal rights; immigration; equality of women and genders in society; the value of peace over the heinousness of going to war in closely connected global economies; gun control; and, etc). By all accounts, these popular candidates who are supposedly the best our society can produce have each shown a gross incomprehension across a multitude of issues when landing in the area of ethics and morality. And its been a very difficult campaign season for voters to listen to or decide within. Worse, in watching the response of the church as it throws out the gospel of Jesus in favor of discrimination, racism, sexism, misogynism, war, the trampling of constitutional rights, and a whole host of other sordid issues.

Consequently many contemporary theologians are rethinking and rewriting every doctrine they have grown up with by replacing (where necessary) each part with larger ideas they hadn't grasped until more recently because of the biblical systems they were indoctrinated within. Why? Because many of those systems were forcing furious apologia rather than constructive dialogue with the sciences and philosophies. And when practiced either socially or politically, could be seen as totally without personal or community affect upon its listeners, readers, and respondents.

More simply, if God is real, if we are finite human beings, if we struggle with existentially grasping another's life circumstance, than most assuredly our epistemologies (what we think are true) must require re-examination. Thus the labor I and others have been giving ourselves to in deeply rethinking the centers and meaning of the historic Christian faith. An orthodox faith which must become current, contemporary, and relevant, if it is to be missional.

Or, as fellow Christian friends repeatedly ask, "Do you ever wonder why the old timey rants and gospels don't work anymore?" My response? "Its not because they are untrue but because they are no longer communicating into people's lives. They need another basis, direction, level of depth, or meaning altogether that cannot be found when using anti-academic, anti-science, anti-intellectual rants and dogmas." Consequently, this means that the gospel we speak must not only embrace the sciences and academia but also the lives of those whom we minister to. And it must certainly convict even the politics and political policies we espouse to one another and to the world at large. If America is a Christian nation than let's act like it and press for social justice, world peace, and global cooperation. These things are not hard to do unless we fear and distrust one another wishing to be empire builders instead of kingdom builders. Than they become impossible to accomplish. Let's begin with changing our attitudes of one another.

One last example... I can no longer vote for a political party but for the gospel itself. I wish to see its message of service, love, peace, and mercy displayed in the Constitution as America's legal charter and no longer can vote for a political party or personage which under-represents - or opposes - basic gospel moralities and ethics. As a Christian, I strive to create a redeemed society and not a fallen one - however worldly (or Christian) I may think it might be (or once was).

And so, yes, change must be embraced, listened to, and not goal-posted around as something sinful or harmful because we don't like it or fear its results. God is there, but most likely not in how we think He is there. And if God is there (or here), than I might find that I, as the church, might speak of His truths in a more relevant conversation with the world once I let go of past unhelpful church doctrines and dogmas which refuse to be so conversant with the very world we are to restore, redeem, heal, and resurrect through Christ Jesus in the power of God's Holy Spirit. Amen.


R.E. Slater
December 23, 2015

Wikipedia - The Fabric of the Universe

Wikipedia - String Theory

Brian Greene - The Fabric of the Cosmos (parts 1-4)

Universe or Multiverse? New String Theory ☆ Parallel Universes & Timelines
☆ Best Full Documentary

Published on Aug 13, 2014
Part 4/4: The Fabric of the Cosmos: Universe or Multiverse? - by Scientists, hosted by Brian Greene

Program Description

"The Fabric of the Cosmos," a four-hour series based on the book by renowned physicist and author Brian Greene, takes us to the frontiers of physics to see how scientists are piecing together the most complete picture yet of space, time, and the universe. With each step, audiences will discover that just beneath the surface of our everyday experience lies a world we'd hardly recognize—a startling world far stranger and more wondrous than anyone expected.

Brian Greene is going to let you in on a secret: We've all been deceived. Our perceptions of time and space have led us astray. Much of what we thought we knew about our universe—that the past has already happened and the future is yet to be, that space is just an empty void, that our universe is the only universe that exists—just might be wrong.

Interweaving provocative theories, experiments, and stories with crystal-clear explanations and imaginative metaphors like those that defined the groundbreaking and highly acclaimed series "The Elegant Universe," "The Fabric of the Cosmos" aims to be the most compelling, visual, and comprehensive picture of modern physics ever seen on television.

* * * * * * * * *

The idea that our Universe is part of a multiverse poses a challenge to philosophers of science.
Credit: R. Windhorst, Arizona State Univ./H. YanSpitzer Science Center, Caltech/ESA/NASA

Is String Theory Science?

A debate between physicists and philosophers could redefine
the scientific method and our understanding of the universe

December 23, 2015

Is string theory science? Physicists and cosmologists have been debating the question for the past decade. Now the community is looking to philosophy for help.

Earlier this month, some of the feuding physicists met with philosophers of science at an unusual workshop aimed at addressing the accusation that branches of theoretical physics have become detached from the realities of experimental science. At stake is the integrity of the scientific method, as well as the reputation of science among the general public, say the workshop’s organizers.

Held at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany on December 7-9, the workshop came about as a result of an article in Naturea year ago, in which cosmologist George Ellis, of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and astronomer Joseph Silk, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, lamented a “worrying turn” in theoretical physics (G. Ellis and J. Silk Nature 516, 321–323; 2014).

“Faced with difficulties in applying fundamental theories to the observed Universe,” they wrote, some scientists argue that “if a theory is sufficiently elegant and explanatory, it need not be tested experimentally”.

First among the topics discussed was testability. For a scientific theory to be considered valid, scientists often require that there be an experiment that could, in principle, rule the theory out — or ‘falsify’ it, as the philosopher of science Karl Popper put it in the 1930s. In their article, Ellis and Silk pointed out that in certain areas, some theoretical physicists had strayed from this guiding principle — even arguing for it to be relaxed.

The duo cited string theory as the principal example. The theory replaces elementary particles with infinitesimally thin strings to reconcile the apparently incompatible theories that describe gravity and the quantum world. The strings are too tiny to detect using today’s technology — but some argue that string theory is worth pursuing whether or not experiments will ever be able to measure its effects, simply because it seems to be the ‘right’ solution to many quandaries.

Silk and Ellis also called out another theory that seems to have abandoned ‘Popperism’: the concept of a multiverse, in which the Big Bang spawned many universes — most of which would be radically different fromour own.

But in the opening talk at the workshop, David Gross, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, drew a distinction between the two theories. He classified string theory as testable “in principle” and thus perfectly scientific, because the strings are potentially detectable.

Much more troubling, he says, are concepts such as the multiverse because the other universes that it postulates probably cannot be observed from our own, even in principle. “Just to argue that [string theory] is not science because it’s not testable at the moment is absurd,” says Gross, who shared a Nobel prize in 2004 for his work on the strong nuclear force, which is well tested in experiments, and has also made important contributions to string theory.

Workshop attendee Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist at Aix-Marseille University in France, agrees that just because string theory is not testable now does not mean that it is not worth theorists’ time. But the main target of Ellis and Silk’s piece were observations made by philosopher Richard Dawid of Ludwig Maximilian University in his book String Theory and the Scientific Method (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013). Dawid wrote that string theorists had started to follow the principles of Bayesian statistics, which estimates the likelihood of a certain prediction being true on the basis of prior knowledge, and later revises that estimate as more knowledge is acquired. But, Dawid notes, physicists have begun to use purely theoretical factors, such as the internal consistency of a theory or the absence of credible alternatives, to update estimates, instead of basing those revisions on actual data.

Dynamic discussion

At the workshop, Gross, who has suggested that a lack of alternatives to string theory makes it more likely to be correct, sparred with Rovelli, who has worked for years on an alternative called loop quantum gravity. Rovelli flatly opposes the assumption that there are no viable alternatives. Ellis, meanwhile, rejects the idea that theoretical factors can improve odds. “My response to Bayesianism is: new evidence must be experimental evidence,” he says.

Others flagged up separate issues surrounding the use of Bayesian statistics to bolster string theory. Sabine Hossenfelder, a physicist at the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics in Stockholm, said that the theory’s popularity may have contributed to the impression that it is the only game in town. But string theory probably gained momentum for sociological reasons, she said: young researchers may have turned to it because the job prospects are better than in a lesser-known field, for example.

Historian of science Helge Kragh of Aarhus University in Denmark drew on historical perspective. “Suggestions that we need ‘new methods of science’ have been made before, but attempts to replace empirical testability with some other criteria have always failed,” he said. But at least the problem is confined to just a few areas of physics, he added. “String theory and multiverse cosmology are but a very small part of what most physicists do.”

That is cold comfort to Rovelli, who stressed the need for a clear distinction between scientific theories that are well established by experiments and those that are speculative. “It’s very bad when people stop you in the street and say, ‘Did you know that the world is made of strings and that there are parallel worlds?’.”

At the end of the workshop, the feuding physicsts did not seem any closer to agreement. Dawid — who co-organized the event with Silk, Ellis and others — says that he does not expect people to change their positions in a fundamental way. But he hopes that exposure to other lines of reasoning might “result in slight rapprochement”. Ellis suggests that a more immersive format, such as a two-week summer school, might be more successful at producing a consensus.


Davide Castelvecchi is a freelance science writer based in Rome and a contributing editor for Scientific American magazine. He has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Stanford University​ and a science writing degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He has been a staff editor atScientific American and a reporter at Science News magazine.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Christian Message to the Violent Reading of the Bible

The problem is that instead of following Jesus, people follow the Bible. The Bible
is good if you see it as a progressive, incremental revelation of God finding it’s
fullness in Jesus (meaning that all revelation before him was inferior). Jesus IS the
point. He IS God incarnate. If there is something in the Old Testament that seems
to contradict Jesus, always go with Jesus. - Jacob Wright, 12.19.15

Three cheers and a hearty welcome to Jacob Wright's thoughtfully produced vision of why we should read the bible with a Jesus-lens and not proceed with our own religious group's boundary thinking version of God.

Violence in the OT is one of the ways we can see this type of "outcome theology" which produces "outcome politics" as we stated in a recent article. If a bible reader comes to the bible treating all parts of it with equal authority-and-force than this is what is known as a "flat reading or projection of its parts across its breadth." A flat reading does not distinguish societal era, cultural event, or humanitarian movement under this kind of interpretive microscope. Rather, it equally weights biblical teachings about God from a society's "outcome-based" theological perspective preferring one's own interpretation of God and the world over other interpretive frameworks.

Importantly, the bible is not only a "book about God" (theology) but it is also a "book about people" (anthropology). It tells us of our motives, our struggles, our sin and our self-righteousness by projecting our actions upon a God whom we define through the lenses of ourselves. When Jesus came to humanity in the NT He declared to His people that the only lens of God you will ever need is Jesus' own interpretation of God by His gospel teachings and examples of sacrificial ministries to others. This is a very important observation to make. It should stop us cold in our minds and hearts demanding of us to hear Jesus and do this very thing.

As a result, Jesus is the new standard bearer for interpreting the Old and New Testaments. For example, how might we read the Book of Revelation? If from a flat, literalistic perspective we might read it as a violent apocalyptic led by a bloody Jesus forcifully imposing His rule upon an unwilling mankind. But if from a Jesus-centric reading we might rather think of God's Lamb as warring upon the sin and ruin bourne within our souls in a metaphorical sense. Which thus asks the further question as to what kind of freedom might God allow? Is God ultimately in the business of meticulously controlling us or, if not, than what kind of freedom does God allow for a divine-human cooperative to exist?*

If we read the bible through a Jesus-lens then we must allow this understanding to challenge our doctrines and dogmas of God, the church, and even mankind itself by asking the following questions... "Did God really proclaim the things we read of Him in the OT or were they re-interpreted by His people as something else? Or, "did Yahweh's eager followers mis-proclaim Yahweh's divine love for divine violence upon their neighbors?" More so, the OT shows us the progression of God's people from an ancient society built on violence to a more conscientious society seeking the social graces of peace and mercy upon all. Or, if not, of failing altogether in this task, even as we in the church of Jesus Christ do today - both now, as well as in ages past of the historical church.

Much like the rainbow in Noah's sky promising "never again," Jesus has become the cleft-in-the-rock-of-mankind whom we must now see God through (sic, even as God protected Moses from His glory by placing him "in a cleft in the rock" so God protects us through Jesus). Effectively, even in the task of God revealing Himself to Israel in the OT they still comprehended one thing for another thing. As counterweight to this fallen/sinful comprehension, the very God Himself came by flesh and by bone to reveal Himself once again as clearly as He could to a people dull of hearing and readily blind of mind and purpose. A dullness and blindness of mind and heart portrayed in Israel's theologic scholars of their day as they proclaimed Jesus as Satan's false devil to then later unjustly/mercilessly crucify Him with the criminals of His day.

Without Jesus as our guide and interpreter we are left with the many assorted versions of the God of heaven which we read of in the OT. Hence, for myself, as for many, when interpreting the bible we must now remember to read it anthropologically and existentially. If so, we will begin to ask questions like, "Why was the bible written in this way? What does it reveal to us about God's followers back then and their comprehension of God in their ancient times? In what way is this picture of God helpful (or unhelpful) to Israel's pursuit of the living God?" Or even, "How does this new understanding of God change my doctrines and dogmas I've held so dear over the years?" and so forth.

It removes a flat reading of a literal bible methodology by moving it up the evolutionary scale of societal examination socially, spiritually, and personally by using not only context, grammatical, and historical tools, but also anthropologic and existential tools of societal/biblical examination. It is but one more layer to God Himself and why our misunderstanding of His will-and-ways seem so incomprehensible to the simpler tools of literal interpretation when not applied. Outcome theology, like outcome politics, is all in the eye of the beholder. Let us then be the more humble before God refusing to declare what is untrue of Him by our own wisdoms and worldliness when seeing the truth in Christ so plainly revealed in the NT.


R.E. Slater
December 21, 2015
edited December 22, 2015

*Regarding "God's Sovereinty"... we've asked these questions before under the topics of "divine determination" vs. "divine insistence." This latter speaks to God's oneness/presence with(in) a fallen creation in process to congruency with His personage, will, and decrees. In essence, God has granted to His creation (us) "maximal freedom" based upon who He is, which would necessarily include both the weak and strong anthropic principles (go to these links herehere, and here) - both scientifically (WAP) as well as philosophically (SAP). We've also argued this position from a "weak theological" perspective using Arminianism (Wesleyan theology) as versus the "strong theological" perspective of Calvinism (Reformed theology) using Relational-Process Theology and Radical Theology (both the anti-Christian and post-Christian variants which argue for a religionless Christianity centralized in Jesus as the gatekeeper to any faith) as divine "maximal-freedom" conveyance systems. Obviously this discussion of biblical interpretation can become both ontologically and metaphysically technical so I have deferred it to this subsection here.

Jesus Is The Antidote To Our Delusions Of A Violent God, Made In Our Own Violent Image

by Jacob Wright
December 19, 2015

Since the beginnings of Christian theology, people have recognized the tension between some of the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament versus the revelation of God in Christ.

We like to pretend that these views are not contradictory. We’ve created a dance of fancy theological footwork to merge the image of violence with the image of peace. We try to say it’s not “contradiction”, and use words like “paradox” and “mystery” instead. We say things like “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”

All the while, we know it doesn’t add up. The reality is that we see two opposing portraits of God in the scriptures: a violent God of wrath slaughtering his enemies and commanding his people to do the same, and Jesus… saying his Father is kind to the ungrateful and wicked, saying he loves his enemies and commanding us to do the same.

While I can’t claim to perfectly resolve this dilemma, my goal today is to provide a compelling case for why Jesus is, as Paul describes, “the image of the invisible God,” and THE standard by which all other images of God must be held accountable.

A God Made In Our Image

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”1 John 4:181

For a while now, I’ve been trying to sift my way out of all the confusion that comes from a flat reading of the Bible, where everything every biblical author over thousands of years says about God is equally true.

With such a conglomeration of opposing divine portraits, I had no peace of mind. I never knew how God felt about me. He loves me infinitely but also plans to destroy me if I don’t live right? This view held me in fear my whole life. In fact, the majority of people I see holding this view are also enslaved by fear, incapable of thinking reasonably about the nature of God or love.

“God’s love is a different kind of love then ours” is confusing and just another way of saying God isn’t loving. If we remove divine love from what we relate to as love, then it becomes something else and there is no use in calling it love. Such “love” has no power to cast out fear.

Today and through history, I see the this dichotomous view of God breeding self-righteousness and fear. I see people using whatever portrait of God they can find on the biblical smorgasbord of divine portraits to excuse whatever kind of violent and unloving attitude they have against people they hate or disagree with. I see condemnation of others who have different views as “heretics” and no general consensus on the truth of God’s nature.

The Bible has been used throughout history to excuse slavery, war, genocide, torture, vengeance, capital punishment, and the superiority complex of the “chosen”. The reality is that all of this can be found in the Bible. And yet, these things are the opposite of Jesus.

This is not an exclusively religious problem, nor is it a reason to think low of the Bible. Atheists are good at pointing out the violence in the Old Testament and making the Bible into an immoral, unethical book. However, the violence of the Bible is a human problem, a case study in primitive ethics and human violence which were projected onto “the gods” throughout history, our God included among them.

The Bible reveals anthropology just as much as it reveals theology

The Bible shows the Spirit at work within our messy societal evolution, as he progressively leads us out of our delusion and into the revelation of Christ. I believe the Bible reveals that God’s love is big enough to allow humanity’s violent projections, as he works with us where we are at to bring us into a higher revelation of truth and love. After all, the Bible also inspires the most powerful visions of compassion, social justice, kindness, peacemaking, and love of enemies.

So I’ve had to wrestle into a new understanding of God, where the higher way revealed by Jesus trumps the violent projections of mankind onto the God of their forefathers. I have resolved to simply focus on Jesus, since I believe he is the highest revelation of God – a God who gives me peace and hope and yet never lets me be comfortable in sin or apathy. A God who demonstrates reckless, furious, self-giving love and pro-active empathy for humanity and is dedicated to justice for the oppressed and victimized. A God who is with us and for us. A God like Jesus.

There are several ways that we can make a God of our own liking instead of the one found in the gospels. Many accuse those who believe in a nonviolent God of making a God in their own image, but those who believe in a nonviolent God are getting their views first and foremost from Jesus, who as Paul describes, is the perfect “image of the invisible God.” Since their faith is based first and foremost in Christ rather than the Bible – since they are called “Christians” rather than “Biblians”, this is commendable.

Yes, we get Jesus from the Bible, but on this matter Brennan Manning hit the nail on the head:

"I am deeply distressed by what I can only call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself. In a word – bibliolatry. God cannot be confined to a leather-bound book. I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.

"The four Gospels are the key to knowing Jesus. But conversely, Jesus is the key to knowing the meaning of the gospel – and of the Bible as a whole. Instead of remaining content with the bare letter, we should pass on to the more profound mysteries that are available only through intimate and heartfelt knowledge of Jesus."

– Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus, 1996, p. 174-175

It is never okay to quote the Old Testament to endorse something that Jesus clearly forbids

Those who easily dismiss and rationalize away the radical, counter-cultural teachings of Christ by quoting random Old Testament scriptures are not followers of Jesus; they are followers of whatever they happen to get from the myriad of conflicting images they can find in the Bible.

If someone cuts them off in traffic, maybe they can follow the “love your enemy” verse, but if someone physically threatens them, it’s time to take their pick from the smorgasbord of examples of retribution in the Old Testament (or at least the apocalyptic symbolism of the book of Revelation!). By doing this, they are able to create a God exactly in their own image by choosing whatever image of God fits what they need in the moment.

We have done this all throughout history. As Brian Zahnd so aptly put:

"Even if we restrict our inquiry into the nature of God to the Bible, we are likely to find just the kind of God that we want to find. If we want a God of peace, he’s there. If we want a God of war, he’s there. If we want a compassionate God, he’s there. If we want a vindictive God, he’s there. If we want an egalitarian God, he’s there. If we want an ethnocentric God, he’s there. If we want a God demanding blood sacrifice, he’s there. If we want a God abolishing blood sacrifice, he’s there. Sometimes the Bible is like a Rorschach test — it reveals more about the reader than the eternal I AM.

– Brian Zahnd, from his forward to A More Christlike God by Brad Jersak

A nonviolent God is really hard to make in your own image, particularly because all humans naturally see violence as an acceptable or even glorious means of shaping the world. Violence is the foundation of civilization and comes instinctively to us. This is what is so ironic about the accusation that believing in a nonviolent God is making a God in our own image.

If we want a God in our own image, a nonviolent God is NOT the way to go.

Jesus says God loves his enemies, and that we are to emulate him in this. If that does not rule out God killing and torturing his enemies, then there is no reasonable thing we can conclude from Jesus telling us that God loves his enemies, nor is there any example we can follow as to what loving one’s enemies might actually look like.

Jesus tells us to be like our Heavenly Father who is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked”, and THEN we will be his true children.

Old Testament Portraits Vs. Christ

“Kill them all. Men, women, children, and babies. Show them no mercy.”
– God in Deuteronomy 7 and1 Samuel 15

“Love your enemies. In so doing, you will be like your Father, who is kind to the
wicked. Be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful.” – Jesus in Luke 6

Here we have juxtaposed two images of God. One is an image of God in the Bible from thousands of years before Christ and one is the words of Christ himself who is “the image of the invisible God” and the “exact representation of God’s being.” Like it or not, this demonstrates a black and white contradiction.

The answer is not to throw out the Old Testament, as Marcion did in the 2nd century. Because the Old Testament has the second voice too: an ever progressing understanding of Gods unconditional love – how he pleads the cause of the victim and hates violence.

Rather, the answer is to acknowledge the obvious problem and recognize two views of God wrestling with each other in the people of God and the writers of scripture, culminating in the higher way revealed in Christ.

The Son, not the Bible, is the perfect representation of the Father. You cannot overemphasize Jesus. You cannot believe in Jesus too much. Don’t try to “balance” Jesus with other stuff. Believe in him. This is the Son, with whom God is well pleased. Listen to him!

The writings of numerous authors over the changes of thousands of years within one religious tradition which we call “the law and the prophets” or “the Old Testament” by no means presents a univocal view of God. There is a conversation going on [in the OT] – a progressive, evolving understanding of the divine. Later writings sometimes critique earlier writings, and later prophets critique earlier prophets.

Just as we see the progression and evolution of ideas and awareness throughout human history, so too do we see a progression in the Jewish people’s revelation of God

When the time was right, the Messiah came forth into history, and while many prophecies foretold him, he represented the fullness of truth in a way that went far beyond the limited, immature framework Israel had received and processed revelation through. Christ respected the law and the prophets because he recognized and affirmed the progressive revelation of God, and they, through the limited framework they knew, were inspired by the Spirit to come into agreement with the righteousness and truth of God being established on the earth.

Jesus was the fulfillment of this progressive revelation. This is why he said in Matthew 5:18, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

In Christ, the Law was fulfilled. And in Christ, the prophets’ framework of righteousness and truth being established through violence became an allegory for the “violent” aggression of God’s inescapable love.

The law of Moses helped humanity progress out of the law of the jungle – the primal, survivalist humanity bent on conquest, where the powerful subjugated the weak. A more primitive humanity which followed the survival instincts of conquest needed a strict code of conduct, with the threat of punishment, in order to progress. It was their paradigm. It’s what they understood.

This is the beginning of bringing humanity out of a reality where violence was the foundation. The law was a product of its time, and therefore reflects that time. Its values were actually quite progressive for the day they were written. It served as a stepping stone. It sent them on a trajectory towards a societal order that valued justice for all instead of survival of the fittest.

As Israel progressed, we see the prophets giving an increasing voice to the oppressed. We see mercy and justice becoming the greater focus. We see the vision of a tribal God who demands sacrifice fading and becoming the God who “desires mercy and not sacrifice” (a phrase Jesus quoted twice) – a God who loves the nations and desires to be a father to all peoples, just as Abraham had envisioned in the beginning.

While the law put us on a progressive trajectory, it was ultimately unable to usher in the true image of God. Only love could do that. Only love incarnate could show us that

The law therefore set us on a trajectory towards societal order and justice, finally concluding in the revelation of our need for the rebirth experience through Christ. The law is therefore perfected in love. The law is fulfilled by the indwelling Christ who through us shapes a new humanity – the kingdom of God. Those who are led by the Spirit of grace are revealed as the children of God.

"The New Testament leaves behind the violent, tribal, insider-outsider, rhetoric of a significant portion of the Old Testament. Instead, the character of the people of God–now made up of Jew and Gentile–is dominated by such behaviors as faith in Christ working itself out in love, self-sacrifice, praying for one’s enemies and persecutors."

Having a “biblical” defense for anything is easy. You can have a solid biblical defense for slavery, genocide, war, polygamy, nationalism, sexism, and racism. But when we hold these things accountable to the image of God revealed in Christ, we find them to fall short.

When people hold the nonviolent teachings of Jesus to be the truest image of God, it doesn’t make sense to say, “You’re trying to make God into your own image! His ways are higher than ours!” In truth, these short-tempered, violent, demanding portraits of God look strikingly similar to you and me, or at least, how we would be without Jesus.

[Facetiously,] it seems that the God many of us believe in needs to ask Jesus into his heart!

God’s Ways Are Higher

Violence is not a way that is higher than man. Violence is exactly like us. It is perfect altruism that is so much higher than our ways and our thoughts.

A God who slays his enemies, we can relate to, but a God who dies for his enemies… that is incomprehensible.

And a God that commands us to do the same? This is where it starts getting uncomfortable for us.

Jesus is the way of God that is so much higher than sinful man. In fact, in Isaiah, when God declares that his ways are higher than ours, it is in the context his lovingkindness and mercy, which is so unlike our human ways.

“’Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:7-8

The chapter literally goes on and on in extravagantly describing the outlandish lovingkindness that God has for us, detailing the overflowing peace and joy we’ll have – for the mountains will burst forth in joy before us and the trees will clap their hands for us – when we turn back to him.

So how are God’s way higher than ours? He has outrageous mercy and he freely pardons.

In fact, when Jesus finishes teaching us to love and do good to our enemies, he then says, “Then you will be children of the MOST HIGH who is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” This is the only place Jesus calls God the “Most High”. In other words, you can’t get any higher above human thought than this, and it is against all natural violent human instincts of selfishness and survivalism and revenge.

This reveals, without question, God’s core essence of love: the Most High is kind to his enemies. If someone were to strike God on the cheek, God would turn to them the other cheek. If someone were to kill God, God would not fight back. He would submit. And his submission would be his triumph over all powers. This is Jesus. This is the way of the cross. This is the high way of God.

Allow me to suggest that God never deviates from this highest way. God never deviates from being like Jesus. God is the high way. God is like Jesus.

The title “Most High” is used in the Old Testament to speak of God’s power, particularly his power over the nations as well as over all other powers and “gods”. Jesus usually spoke of God in terms of his Abba, Father, but when Jesus speaks of God in terms of his power as the “Most High”, he does so in terms of loving enemies and being kind to the ungrateful and wicked. This is typical of Jesus – subverting our ideas about God and about power.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”Luke 6:35

This is how God is the Most High. This is how God has power over the nations and above all spiritual powers: God loves his enemies and is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. In the way of the world, power is who has the biggest muscles, the biggest bombs, the most resources that can do the most destruction, who has the most skill, etc.

But as 1 Corinthians 1 says, it is the cross that is the power and wisdom of God.

God’s power is greater than the power of the world, not because he operates in the same manner only with bigger muscles, but because he operates in the opposite manner: humility, servanthood, kindness, forgiveness.

This is the tenacity and strength of the truth. This is Jesus. This is the cross. This is how the kingdom comes.

Children Of The Most High

But Jesus not only says that is how God is the “Most High”, but that is how we are children of the Most High. In other words, we are participants in this power. When we love our enemies, we become examples of the Most High’s nature.

Scripture even goes as far as to describe us as “gods” in this sense. Yes, when Jesus used the phrase “children of the Most High”, there is one other place that phrase is used, “You are gods; you are all children of the Most High.” – Psalm 82:6

When we learn the way of love and the Christ-heart takes form within us, it causes us to become peacemakers in a world of hostility – to reject tribalism, enmity, and retaliation – to have such an empathy for humanity as to seek the best for even our enemies. This is when we become like “like gods”. We become images of our Maker – children of the Most High.

There is a theme in Jesus’ thinking concerning this idea of being “children of God” or “sons of God.” (The phrase “children of God” and “sons of God” is interchangeable. Some use “children” instead of “sons” to be gender inclusive).

First, Jesus says if we love our enemies then we are children of the Most High. And again, in theSermon on the Mount, Jesus makes the connection: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Sonship is not just a small part of the gospel. It IS the gospel

John says that “To all that received him, he gave the power to BE CALLED SONS OF GOD.” Where else did we hear that phrase? Who will “be called sons of God”? Peacemakers.

So here we have receiving Christ made synonymous with becoming a peacemaker. The gospel, after all, is the gospel of peace and the good news of the kingdom of God, of “peace on earth and good will toward men”. Christ is the Prince of Peace. Jesus says the most prominent feature of the sons of God is peacemaking. To all that received the Son, he gave the power to be called sons of God – to be peacemakers – to usher in the kingdom of God.

Paul also uses this phrase “sons of God” in Romans 8, when he says all of creation is eagerly anticipating the revealing of the sons of God, for within this revelation creation will be liberated into glory. The renunciation of hostility towards our fellow man and the fostering of the Spirit of God within, of such great love, humility, and compassion, that we become peacemakers: creating family, destroying hostility, standing against the powers of injustice in the power of the Spirit, laying our lives down, shaping a new world, liberating this creation into the Fathers kingdom.

Peacemakers. This is when the righteous shine like stars in the kingdom of our Father.

Regarding peacemaking, why don’t we as Christians take this seriously, when Christ emphasized it over and over? Why do we not seek to live out the commands of Jesus, who we profess to be our Lord. “Why do you call me Lord and not do what I say?” – Luke 6:46

Good question, Jesus, let me think about that.

Violence is easy, instinctual, and natural. It’s all of our default. It takes but a quick glance at the world to know this is true. But as Jesus said, loving our enemies and bringing peace is what makes us true children of God.

Being a peacemaker is challenging. It takes far more creativity, imagination, and sacrifice than violence ever required.

And yet I love how Jesus gives us zero outs on this. Nowhere does he endorse or demonstrate violence. The best people can come up with is the temple episode, where we see Jesus at his most intense, but nowhere does it say he inflicted injury on anyone’s person.

So then it’s back to the Old Testament to vindicate our violence. Or at least the extreme apocalyptic imagery of Revelation! Yes, we can use that metaphorical apocalyptic imagery to vindicate our not taking Jesus seriously! John the Revelator to the rescue! Whew.. Almost put us in a bind there, Jesus. (For a better way to read the book of Revelation, click here)

Even with zero “outs” from Jesus, we are fishing, fishing, fishing, for some way… ANY way… to excuse our violence. We have a western world full of professed followers of Jesus, 99% of whom completely ignore his blatant command to love one’s enemies and renounce violence – who see peacemaking as weak and “not pragmatic”.

In this way, our “Christianity” has become like the Pharisees Jesus spoke so forcefully against, who “look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead.”

The Sword Jesus Came To Bring

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34

Many people seem to think this verse throws a giant monkey wrench in the idea of a peaceful Jesus. Only in a world of one-line, out-of-context verse quoting is this the case.

In this verse, Jesus is not suddenly contradicting his ENTIRE message. Obviously! He is not discussing a literal sword, but rather, the sword of his mouth, just as the book of Revelation portrays.

This sword is his message of the kingdom of God, that wages war on the principalities and powers, the mindsets and ideological strongholds in people and cultures which individually and collectively form strongholds of oppression over humanity. As the apostle Paul said,

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”Ephesians 6:12

The message of God’s humanity in Christ and his solidarity with the marginalized and victimized is a seed that begins to grow and infiltrate the thinking of this world, deconstructing ideologies of violence and injustice, and bringing into reality the angelic announcement that came with Christ’s arrival into the world, “Peace on earth and goodwill towards men.”

Christ’s command to peacefully love our enemies forces us to see common humanity in our rivals. It overturns tribal scapegoating, condemns the oppressive hoarding of wealth, and teaches us to care for the poor. Jesus demonstrated purity of heart, union with Abba, reconciliatory cosuffering, the ethics of peacemaking, and what it means to lay down one’s life.

When we enter into the message of Jesus, it begins a radical transformation within us and becomes a prophetic announcement of the kingdom of God in this world. In births in us a new way of being human… truly human. Human as Christ is human, as sons and images of Abba, who do what they see the Father doing.

This is how the lamb and his community of followers “wage war” and triumph over the beastly systems of this age, by the peacemaking blood of the lamb, by the testimony of those who have become like the lamb, and by those who have embraced the sacrificial, nonviolent love of the lamb, even if it means their own deaths.

The image of God on the cross deconstructs all images of a violent God. The Crucified God simply hangs lifeless, bloody and marred, as a symbol to humanity, drawing out empathy, exposing victimization, condemning violence, demonstrating forgiveness, making peace, deconstructing false images of God, casting down powers, and creating a new humanity with resurrection life.


Nothing makes me desire to be merciful more than knowing my Father is like that. My desire is to emulate him. Like Jesus, I want to do what I see my Father doing.

If my Father smites his enemies and pours retribution upon them, I will view my own enemies through that lens. Rather than responding with Jesus’ radical compassion and mercy, I’ll gleefully think about how those I dislike will be destroyed or tortured eternally.

But if, as Jesus said, my Father loves his enemies, is kind to the wicked, and gives to them without expecting anything back, then I will find myself hoping the best for my enemies, looking for the gold within them, keeping no record of wrongs, and seeking redemption in their lives.

In an odd twist to the “imago dei”, we become made in the image of the God we worship. The God you worship will be the God you become like.

A violent god is not the God we see in Christ. It’s a god fashioned in our own image. A nonviolent God is so very unlike us – so much higher – calling us into our true image.

Our violent God does not exist. But neither does our easy-going Jesus exist. His love is both tender and furious. It comes to level the mountains and raise up the valleys. It comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. It continuously shakes us out of our delusions to expand our awareness of the cross’ divine wisdom – kenosis (self-emptying of one's wisdom for another's) and theosis (coming into union with God) – self-emptying love and partaking in the divine nature. It lures and pushes us forward to become peacemakers and lay down our lives for one another – to grow into the true image of God – children of our Father. This is the kingdom come. This is peace on earth, good will toward men.

A violent and retributive God makes followers who don’t take radical forgiveness and peacemaking very seriously. Jesus is not that God. Jesus lays down his life for his enemies.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that instead of following Jesus, people follow the Bible. The Bible is good if you see it as a progressive, incremental revelation of God finding it’s fullness in Jesus (meaning that all revelation before him was inferior).

Jesus IS the point. He IS God incarnate. If there is something in the Old Testament that seems to contradict Jesus, always go with Jesus.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Do Muslims, Jews, and Christians Worship the Same God? (Two Articles)


by Roger Olson
December 17, 2015

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? It’s not as simple a question as it appears and therefore no simple, straightforward answer should be given. The question itself begs analysis—before any answer can be given. I worry that people who jump to answer “yes” may be motivated more by political correctness and/or fear of persecution (of Muslims) than by clear thinking about the theological differences between Islam and Christianity. I also worry that people who jump to answer “no” may be motivated more by Christian fundamentalism and/or fear of terrorists than by clear thinking about the historical-theological roots of Islam in Jewish and Christian monotheism.

So, let’s analyze the question “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?”

First, both Christianity and Islam are diverse religions. Do all Christians worship the same God? What all is being included in “Christians” in the question? What all is being included in “Muslims” in the question? Which Muslims? Which Christians? I know enough about the diversity of Islam to wonder if they all worship the same God. And I seriously doubt that all who claim to be Christians worship the same God. Does a liberal Christian who denies the deity of Jesus Christ and the Trinity worship the same God as an orthodox Christian who affirms them?

Second, the question could be interpreted as asking whether Muslims and Christians are thinking of God sufficiently alike to be worshiping the same God. Then my answer would tend to be “no”—they are not worshiping the same God. For orthodox Christianity “God” includes Jesus which is heresy if not blasphemy to most orthodox Muslims.

Third, the question could be interpreted as asking whether God accepts sincere Muslim worship of Allah as worship of himself. That is a very different question from whether Muslims and Christians are thinking sufficiently alike about God to be worshiping the same God. That latter question (discussed in the paragraph above) is an epistemological question with a more or less empirically (or at least sociologically and philosophically) determined answer. That is not to say equally astute scholars won’t disagree; it is only to say it can be researched. The question whether God accepts Muslim worship of Allah as worship of himself is very different and much more difficult to answer because answering it presumes knowing the mind of God.

Of course, some Christians will answer “no”—God does not accept worship of Allah as worship of himself—based on Jesus’s saying in John 14:6 that no one comes to the Father except through him. But, a problem with that, as I have pointed out before here, is that most of the same people who quote that verse to claim that God never accepts non-Christian worship as worship of himself admit that even when Jesus said it (sometime around 33 AD) there were Jews whose worship of God without Jesus was accepted by God as true worship of him. The question then becomes when God “cut off” all worship not centered around Jesus? When Jesus died on the cross? Then did the cross “unsave” thousands, if not millions, of Jews and God-fearing gentiles? Did God suddenly turn a deaf ear to them just because they did not know of Jesus? (Most Jews and gentile God-fearers lived outside of Palestine during Jesus’s earthly life, death and resurrection.) To say that God “grandfathered them in,” as one fundamentalist pastor said, is absurd. What about their sons and daughters who also never heard of Jesus before dying? When did God stop accepting worship by people with Abrahamic faith in God’s promises? So simply quoting John 14:6 does not settle the question whether God has ever accepted worship that does not include faith in Jesus Christ as worship of himself.

I do not think we can answer the question of what worship God accepts as worship of himself with any degree of certainty. To be sure, there are some “worships” that we can say with certainty God does not accept as worship of himself (such as worship of Satan). I admit that I am uncomfortable even with C. S. Lewis’s scenario of God accepting Emeth’s worship of Tash as worship of himself in The Chronicles of Narnia. That’s partly, however, because of the way Tash is described in the stories. Still, and nevertheless, I do not think we can say with assurance that God does not accept any Muslim’s worship of Allah as worship of himself.

On the other hand, I tend to think the theological differences between Allah in orthodox Islam (both Shia and Sunni versions to say nothing of Amadiyyah) and orthodox Christianity (Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant) are strong enough to doubt that, in most cases, Muslims and Christians are thinking of the same God when they worship Yahweh and Allah.

Having said that, however, let me also say that, as a Christian theologian, my main concern is whether all Christians are thinking of the same God when they worship. But that’s a subject for another post.

* * * * * * * * *


Amazon link
Book Description
Often the differences between the three Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - seem more obvious than their commonalities, leading to the question "Do we worship the same God?" Can the answer be "yes" without denying our differences?

This volume brings Jewish, Christian, and Muslim philosophers and theologians together to answer this question, offering rare insight into how representatives of each religion view the other monotheistic faiths. Each of their contributions uniquely approaches the primary question from a philosophical perspective that is informed by the practice of worship and prayer. Concepts covered include "sameness" and "oneness," the nature of God, epistemology, and the Trinity. Do We Worship the Same God? models serious-minded, honest, and respectful inter-religious dialogue and gives us new ways to address an ongoing question.

* * * * * * * * * *

Do Christians Worship
a Different God than the Jews?

by R.E. Slater
December 20, 2015

Miroslav Volf says that the Jews will answer "yes" while Christians will answer "no." That according to the Jewish man or woman their God is the God of the Old Testament Yahweh but does not include the Jesus of the New Testament. But to the Christian man or woman Jesus' God was that of the Old Testament as well who incarnated Himself through the personage of Jesus to finish/complete/begin the final work of salvation He must do "within the world" and not simply "outside of the world."

But what about the Muslim man or woman? Do they worship the same God as the Jew or the Christian? To some, Muslims and Jews worship the same God but not Muslims and Christians. That the Muslim and the Jew are blood brothers (Esau and Jacob) separated by geography at first and then by worship later.

However, what's missing from this debate is not how we identify with God, but how God identifies with us. Jesus says His disciples are known by their "love for one another" and when thinking about the "enlarged brotherhood" of God's disciples should we not then include this statement as a further description to the "spiritual brotherhood" of God which binds men and women? Men and women who worship a monotheistic God?

In answer, it really depends on which religious persuasion you come from. Pervasively, all Muslims, Jews, and Christians can recognize this statement but on another level it breaks down into its many religious parts according to that religious group's persuasions of who their God is or isn't. One group might show conservative intolerance whereas another group, say liberals, might misunderstand diversity for sameness.

Another way to re-parse this statement is to say that Muslims and Jews worship God incorrectly (from the Christian perspective) but you cannot say Muslims, Jews, and Christians aren't all worshipping the same God. It's the Abrahamic God. That's historical fact. You could critique each group's perception of how to worship the same God correctly - how that each religion approaches God with a different set of doctrines and dogmas - but is this God the same God or not?

Assuredly, some Christians will say this God is not the God who revealed Himself in Jesus. That He must be worshipped as the apostles of Christ taught. That Jesus is the gateway to God. Than there are other faith groups, like the Muslim and Jew, who will say we do not recognize this great prophet of God, Jesus, whom He sent to us. But we do recognize the God whom Jesus served and prayed to who is the same God who we worship and serve.

However, is this enough for God? Which presupposes we understand God's mind or would limit His grace to only those who enter into His temples through Jesus, the pinnacle of the Christian faith? Or, as others might say, God doesn't care about your religious tribe as much as He does your heart. That circumstantially, a person may be bound to be a Muslim or a Jew and unable to come to Jesus based upon experiences, backgrounds, traditions, or events.

And yet, in a larger way, in a way that is large enough for the Almighty God of the universe to admit diverse faiths into His fellowship, can this God be in some sense the same God a non-Christian believer might be able to worship? One who acknowledges the difference between good and evil? Who submits to live a life of grace, mercy, and forgiveness towards his or her's enemies? Who subscribes to the knowledge that there is one God over all who rules both by day and by night? Who wishes to live peaceably with all men?

Is this kind of God good enough to be worshipped as the same God of all Muslims, Jews, and Christians? Can it be so simply a matter of the heart's attitude towards one another and how we might live with one another? That the God of all grace is this same God of grace all His follows wish to honor by living their lives according to these grace-filled convictions no matter their religion (or morality)? Men and women who bear a conscience pricked by the convictions of service, sacrifice, and solidarity with all other men and women who bear this same Cross? The Cross of their faith, their God, their heart's convictions to live rightly with one another?


Another question to ask is that while this question is warranted for whether Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God can this be so with Jews and Christians? Jews and Christians share a mutual revelation and tradition. The Jews worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as do Christians. But the Jews do not recognize the fullness of the God they worship as Christians do who recognize Jesus as God's fulfillment of His promises.

Furthermore, time (history) is part of the issue, namely the Jews stop worshipping the God of promises-fulfilled when it was shown to be through Jesus. More poignantly, the Muslim's view of God is not revealed through the same means as the God of the Bible whom Christians worship and is thus a different God altogether, which in the vernacular sense of religion is true. Each faith has its differences with the other based upon tradition, time, culture, or theology.

But let us return to the original question, "Do Christians worship a different God than the Jews?" Volf says that Orthodox Jews have made that argument about Christians, but not all Jews would make this same distinction. And if anything is clear from the New Testament literature it is that Christians worship the same God as the Jews. That, the New Testament in itself is an apologia for precisely why the "God of the Christian" is the same "God of the Old Testament" and "God of the orthodox Jew."

Then there is Jesus' speech to the Pharisaical Jew (Jewish orthodoxy hadn't formed yet) of hardness to the God of the Old Testament, let alone to the God revealed in Christ Jesus. Jesus says to them,

John 8.39-47 (ESV) [sic, Jeremiah 29]

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.”

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.”

They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.

44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Jesus said these things to those who believed that they more correctly worshipped Yaweh of the Old Testament (the OT is part of Christianity's bible and later collated with their New Testament in Jesus) than He did. Succinctly, Jesus queries that "If they worshipped God, they would find and believe in Him because "He and God are one." To which statement the Pharisees scoffed and rejected Jesus' incarnate presence of the divine God before them refusing to recognize their God come as Jesus and were rebuked by Jesus for their unbelief.

Importantly, Christian missionaries report frequently when witnessing of Jesus to both Muslim and Jew that those men and women who are genuinely seeking God will find Jesus because they do worship the "same/real" God of the Old Testament or Koran. That this God is revealing Himself to them in a variety of ways - some by dreams and visions, some by the simple witness of service and labors of love. Which is why Christians must go and speak of who Jesus is so the Muslim or Jewish man or woman may know who they are worshipping. Many have visions of Jesus because they truly worship God of the Bible. That is why they discover Jesus and become Christian, leaving the Muslim or Jewish God behind.

And lastly, the question for Volf is not whether we all agree on the nature of God, or believe that other non-Christian religious men and women can be saved by some other means, or that we are of the same religious faith, but whether the object of our worship, God, is the same God that is the object of each other's worship. So much of the New Testament is written to say that the God of the Old Testament is the same God that is revealed in Jesus. Jews disagree with Christians as to whether Jesus is the Messiah or whether Jesus is God incarnate, but that does not change the fact that the God we worship is the Yahweh of the Jewish Scriptures and possibly the Allah of the Koran, if - full of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and service to those around them.

R.E. Slater
December 20, 2015

Book Description
Amazon link

In this award winning, four-session small group Bible study, Carl Medearis, an international expert in the field of Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations, provides background info on Islam and tools for sharing Christ with their Muslim neighbors.

Muslims, Christians and Jesus, is the recipient of the prestigious Outreach Magazine Resources of the Year for 2012.

According to Medearis, how Americans respond to Islam and how Christians think of Muslims could be one of the most significant issues of our time. Throughout the study, Medearis helps you understand the basics of Islam, the difference between “moderate” Muslims and radical terrorists, the Muslim view of Jesus, and how we should interact with our Muslim neighbors, friends, and coworkers.

From the Ground Zero mosque to whether we believe in the same God, Medearis also addresses key questions and responses to the current Muslim/Christian tensions facing our society.

This Participant Guide features video notes, group discussion questions, informative sidebars and quotes, and ideas for personal application. It’s designed to be used with the Muslims, Christians and Jesus DVD (sold separately).

Sessions include:
  1. What is Islam? Exploring Our Fears
  2. Understanding What Muslims Believe
  3. Jesus: The Bridge to Muslims
  4. Building Bridges through Relationship 
  5. Bonus session: 10 Myths about Muslims

* * * * * * * * * *

February 10, 2016

Adinliu ChWhat do you think about the article? Do you believe we Christian worship same god of Muslim?


Russ Slater - Actually I wrote the second part in it. Depending on how specific you make the question a Christian could answer both yes and no. The first article by Roger Olson shares the more narrow meaning. What I then try to explain is the wider possibilities of this conundrum by throwing the Jewish consideration into the question.

So here's a few approaches... "yes" the Muslim (M), Jew (J), and Christian (C) worship the same God if it is the God of Abraham (Yahweh). But if we ask if they worship Jesus as the NT incarnation of God, then "no" to both the M and the J.

From an inter-faith dialogue - which wishes to pursue the broadest form of the answer in hopes of creating a kind of unity - then "yes". Each religion ( M, J, C) has the idea of a ruling, Sovereign God who wishes peace, goodwill, and love for both friend and enemy. But because Islam is a lot like Protestant Christianity (partitioned into its many sectarian beliefs), there can be as many "no's" to this question as yes's".

From a systematic theological perspective if one considers God to be able to consume hell for all His enemies upon His Holy personage, then "yes", every sinner - no matter how heinous the sin - will be saved (or, redeemed)... if not in this life than somewhere in death (depending on the kind of hell one's religion imagines). Meaning that the soul's transfer from "death" to "eternal life" might be immediate, or longish (in a purgatorial way), or never. This view is known as universalism. It envisions the possibility of redemption for lost souls who have died unredeemed.

My former pastor, Rob Bell, carried this belief. However, myself, I believe that though Jesus paid for all sin, sin must still carry both a penalty, a sentence, and a payment. But unlike the Catholic purgatorial view of a possible redemption (which is similar to universalism and is more probably the origin for universalism), 
or the Baptist view of eternal torment in hell, I like the annihilation view. In it, hell begins in this life as much as heaven does, when we commit sin or chose to submit to God and gain a "spirit-filled life". If choosing to refuse God, the difficulty of escaping sin grows stronger-and-stronger making it nearly impossible to leave evil's reign in an individual as both heart and soul become further-and-further removed from God and enmeshed in sin. Regardless of the degree of sin, in all cases the only way out is through Jesus. So that, at death, eternity for that unremitting soul may be either short or long.... That is, the dead soul continues on the path of death until finally extinguished into nothingness. So that in effect, the soul simply passes away from all memory or reality in its dimishment to its relationship with (1) the Creator-Redeemer God, (2) to God's image within itself, (3) to others, and (4) to the external world (thus, there are 4 relational bonds that are dissolved either one by one, or altogether, immediately. But importantly, this process begins in life rather than in death, while in death the soul is either slowly, or immediately, annihilated in its own kind of personal hell. If the longish view than at every step God gives that dead soul a chance to repent. If the shortist view (which I prefer), that soul's consequences are sealed and any chance of redemption is nullified because of its disobedience to God while living. Though theoretically this view might allow redemption after death, its construction places full accountability in this life, not the next.

In review, there are then 4 basic views of hell - (1) one that might be overcome by Jesus' redemption (the universalist view), (2) by sufficient retraining and learning in death (purgatory), (3) none at all as the soul is consumed in hell forever (the Baptist view), or (4) consumed in this life for its sin with physical death completing a life's end (annihilation) as it is hardened and seared, unable to repent, confess, or obey God through Jesus. I might add, though they many be personal reasons a believer or disbeliever prefers one or the other view, or none at all, we must acknowledge that in whatever view, or in all views, God has given humanity the greatest amount of opportunity to repent and be saved; to reform and do good; to change from one's evil life to a life full of bounty and healing nourishment to others. That God gives us His Spirit to help us to these "Cross" points; that He moves time and event in a way that He doesn't interfere with it but allows our greatest amount of illumination and enlightenment; that He brings into our lives opportunities for reform - sickness, suffering, death of a loved one, personal hardship, godly people, etc and etc. (Please note, all these examples come from God's creation in its present state of life and death, and not directly from God Himself. I do not wish to accuse God as One who brings evil into our lives, but One who is present with us when evil comes into our life).

The reason I entertain annihilation is because I think sin needs to be accounted for in this life, not later when it has no affect upon the living. Furthermore, it makes obedience to God in this life to be immediately important and relevant, by rewarding the obedient soul by helping conquer sin's heavy, deceptive chains of bondage. Also, rather than making Jesus a convenient escape route from dastardly, horrific deeds, it shows the immediate quagmire that sin really is. That sin and evil are to be eschewed in all areas of life and at all times. But for the obedient one to Jesus there is found a fuller, deeper walk into the promises of heaven into this life now. It makes doing the right thing important now rather than living an uneventful life spiritually while "waiting for heaven to arrive" at death. As such, actively living the Spirit-filled life may cause immediate spiritual resolutions and consequences in the world so that God's kingdom may "become" - both here and now in this present life - rather than waiting for it to "become" later when its no longer impactful upon living souls.

Thus I lean towards annihilation beginning in this life; can allow for a purgatorial or universalistic theoretical view but don't like how either system avoids the immediacy of obedience to God or its redemptive impact in this life now; and reject any version of a monstrous hell (the Baptist view) because my God loves at all times and will not torture souls in an endless future. So that, if hell exists in the after-life than not all things have been submitted to Him so He may be "All in All." So I tend to see hell in this life but not the next; whereas I see heaven beginning in this life and extending into the next for the redeemed one.

And finally, I am told, but have not confirmed, that Islam does not believe in sin (which I think they mean by this "original sin") but do believe in some kind of heaven and hell. Thus, the Islamic faith may consider a human birth free of sin but full of potentiality for evil or good. Whereas the Jews do teach original sin as Christianity does. But they emphasize the potentiality of a new life much more than Christianity would in its view of "total depravity". Myself, I like the Jewish view more and the Reformed/Calvinistic/Baptist view far less. Why? Because one must acknowledge the image of God in a life that is filled with potentiality, goodness, and light. I would rather emphasize the positive than the negative, without denying sin's imprint on us in someway, somehow... whether imputed, learned, or acquired (if constructed in "psycho-analytical" terms). And so, here is another similarity and/or difference between Muslims, Jews, and Christians when discussing "heaven," "hell," or "sin" v. "goodness".

So my apologies for the long answer. I tend to think in elaborate matrices or layers of complexity. Thus I write to help distill to Christians the many possible outcomes of their faith. A faith which must be here, now, and as much as godly -minded as possible. If our faith doesn't result in pragmatic ways of living than it is a waste of time, energy, and life. Which, I suppose, could be yet another point of contact between the M, J, and C.

As always it is good to hear from you. Blessings always. - res, February 10, 2015


Adinliu Ch - Well said, it would be nice if you update this article in a brief way. Thanks for the interesting discussion.