Friday, January 15, 2010

Must-Read: Mark Siljander's "A Deadly Misunderstanding"

Today I finished the book A Deadly Misunderstanding by Mark Siljander, and I vigorously recommend it.  A former Republican congressman with impeccable conservative credentials, colleague of Newt Gingrich and the "Young Turks" of the Reagan Revolution, Mark was also a staunch conservative Evangelical Christian, solid supporter of Israel and opponent of communists and Muslims wherever they might be found.  Challenged not long after an electoral defeat, to find the scriptural basis for his conviction to convert others to Christianity, Mark discovered to his shock that the supposed command wasn't there.  But rather than pull back into his comfortable religious shell, Mark did the crazy thing:  he learned Greek and Aramaic and started digging into what the original languages of the New Testament actually taught.

Without trying to tell Mark's story for him (which I couldn't anyhow--he tells it too well himself), let me just say that he's a shining example of what can happen when a true believer in Jesus allows for the dangerous possibility that what Jesus said and taught might actually be lived.  In Mark's case, that has meant learning Arabic and studying the Qur'an too, and discovering between Quranic Arabic, New Testament Aramaic, and Old Testament Hebrew, that an awful lot of the buzz words our faiths use to keep us apart, are actually the same words--or at least words with the same roots--in the Semitic language family.  For example, he demonstrates with some weight, that the Aramaic word "salem" that the Peshitta (Aramaic New Testament) uses to describe repentance and turning to Jesus, is of the same root as the Arabic word for "submission" to God (a Mu-slim is "one who submits or surrenders" to God).

I want to be clear:  this is no milquetoast universalist pablum.  Siljander is NOT claiming some notion of all roads leading to God.  What he's doing is far more careful and well-thought than that.  He is demonstrating the frequency with which fundamental--often violent--differences between the Abrahamic faiths are based on ignorance:  not only ignorance of the "other's" faith, but all too often ignorance of the actual text and context of our own faith and its creeds.  In this, he's coming to a conclusion a Muslim roommate and I (with far less scholarship) came to more than 20 years ago:  if both of us and our brothers merely were careful to follow what OUR OWN SCRIPTURES actually said, we'd find a lot of common ground, and at the very least, we couldn't fight each other.

Through story after story, Siljander tells how dealing with the actual person and teaching of Jesus (as opposed to the theological constructs ABOUT Jesus that make up most creeds), has opened doors for loving, peacemaking relations with Muslim, Buddhist, and other religious and political leaders on three continents.  This book is a powerful call to live in submission to the Prince of Peace, not in word and doctrine, but in actual love and practice.

Read it!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Why do you "need" God?

My wife and I finally watched "Fireproof" yesterday.  Though preachier than I might prefer, I overall enjoyed it as a well-done and worthwhile movie.  I was bothered by the content of the obligatory "Gospel Message" in the middle, though.  In usual form, the sage believer lectures the unbelieving hero on how he "can't measure up to God's standard" because he's "broken God's law."  The "Gospel," as usual, involves getting the hero to acknowledge that because of his sinfulness, he needs Jesus' redemption.

Nothing new, I grant, but we've gotta get this perspective turned around somehow.  While I do not dispute for one minute that Jesus' work frees us from our sin (though I probably mean different things when I use those words), the invitation to Jesus is not, never has been, and should not be centered around sin.  People recognize Jesus' lordship first, and only when they realize that, are they convicted of the ways in which they have failed to live as his lordship demands.  It's not necessary to acknowledge sin in order to fact, it's only once we believe that we can understand our sin.

Notice Acts 2 as a great example of this.  Peter's excellent sermon does not use the word "sin" once.  Nor does it directly mention anything about anybody's guilt.  Rather, the climax of Peter's sermon--and the clincher that makes the sale for 3,000 people--is Acts 2:36:  "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."  Yes, people are confronted with the reality of their evil act in crucifying Jesus, not because the crucifixion was a sin (though it was), but rather because Jesus is LORD.  Those who did not accept Peter's declaration of Jesus' lordship, certainly did not accept the sinfulness of his crucifixion.

Here, frankly, we could learn something from Islam.  Muslims do not invite people to grovel as sinners to come to God.  They merely declare (if I may paraphrase) that "there is only one God, you must submit to him; God sent Mohammed as a prophet, you must listen to him."  Our declaration should only be slightly different:

There is only one God, and he has raised his son Jesus from the dead and made him King.  Now live like it.

If we do that, we will certainly be convicted by ways in which our lives are incongruent with the standards of our King.  But that comes only AFTER we've recognized who's king.  It's a result, not a condition, of submission to our Lord.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Testament Word Study on Life

I wanted to highlight a recent post by my mom over at Pioneers' New Testament, because what she says is actually a useful foundation for some things I'm going to be writing soon.  She has just posted a word study on the various Greek words that are sometimes translated as "Life" or "Soul" in the New Testament.  I recommend the post, and will add more to the concept soon.