9/11 – Time to Get Along

In my most recent posts about Sri Lanka, and in an OpEd in Saturday’s StarTribune, I’ve been reflecting on how Christians, when we’re in the minority, seem to act better. Now, it was just one experience in one country, but it was striking.

Today, the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., is a good day to reflect on how we deal with those of other religions. Was 9/11 a religious attack? At least in part it was. Religious extremists, to be sure, but religious nonetheless. (And there are extremists in Christianity, too.)

On the occasion of this anniversary, there is a new book that I think will help many Christians think through how they maintain their Christian identity — even uniqueness — in an increasingly pluralistic world.

This is not a book about interfaith dialogue. This is a book about Christian identity. It’s Brian McLaren’s new book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World.

My endorsement of the books reads,

“Surely there is no problem more important — and more vexing — to people of various faiths than how we can all get along in this pluralistic, postmodern world. Can we, for instance, love our Muslim neighbor without fearing him? Can we work alongside our Jewish colleague without trying to convert her? Can we pray with a Hindu? Worship with a Buddhist? In Brian McLaren’s capable and gentle hands, these questions are answered, and a new way forward is offered. This is a book for Christians (and others) who want to maintain their religious distinctiveness but develop loving compassion for their neighbors of other religions.

I highly recommend it.

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  • Frank

    Does he state that biblical compassion and love compels us to share our faith? To love people of other faiths enough to want them to be right with God through Jesus Christ?

    • Evelyn

      Jesus instructs his disciples to spread the word during the Great Commission which, for example, is at the end of Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20):
      Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

      How you interpret the Great Commission hinges on what you think the words “obey” and “commanded” mean. “Obey” is translated from the Greek “terein” which means “to watch over, guard, or observe”. “Command” is translated from the Greek “entellomai” which means “to command, emphasizing the end-objective, i.e. reaching the purpose (consummation, end result) of an order – i.e. as envisioning how or where it ends up.” (from bible.cc)

      “obey everything I have commanded you” therefor means that Jesus asked his disciples to observe his instructions keeping in mind the purpose of those instructions. This is not like a dog obeying his master’s command to “sit”. It is like you thinking about what Jesus says and following his instructions when appropriate goals would be reached by following them.

      In the great commission Jesus also tells his disciples to “teach” which is translated from the Greek “didasko” which literally means “cause to learn”. There are many ways that a person can learn and true learning is between that person and God and depends on spiritual maturity. You may want a person to be “right with God through Jesus Christ” but you have to realize that this “rightness” is your own interpretation of “rightness” and may not be personally or culturally appropriate for those whom you wish to “cause learning” in.

      Some people are not willing to swallow what you are trying to teach them and, in that case, Jesus instructs his disciples to move on and spread the word to other ears. Some will be able to hear and some won’t. This is exemplified in Mark 6 when Jesus was a bit impatient with those who couldn’t understand his teachings after getting insulted in his hometown and spends very little time there before moving on.

      He instructs his disciples to be itinerant. The idea was to spread the news to people who could absorb it but not waste too much time on those who were unwilling to hear it as in Mark 6:7-13:
      Jesus called the twelve followers to Him and began to send them out two by two. He gave them power over demons. He told them to take nothing along with them but a walking stick. They were not to take a bag or food or money in their belts. They were to wear shoes. They were not to take two coats.

      He said to them, “Whatever house you go into, stay there until you leave that town. Whoever does not take you in or listen to you, when you leave there, shake the dust off your feet. By doing that, you will speak against them. For sure, I tell you, it will be easier for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day men stand before God and are judged than for that city.”

      Then they left. They preached that men should be sorry for their sins and turn from them. They put out many demons. They poured oil on many people that were sick and healed them.

      So, Frank, if you don’t feel that you are being heard you are free to shake the dust off of your feet and move on. Perhaps you could go preach to a choir. They will listen to you and follow you like dogs, you’ll be able to show them the way to heaven, and you all will be happy together. What’s the point in staying on Tony’s blog, insulting people, and engaging in fruitless discussion? Do you like being fearful and angry? You could always take a valium or try meditation. Good luck with your quest!

      • Frank


        Does he state that biblical compassion and love compels us to share our faith? To love people of other faiths enough to want them to be right with God through Jesus Christ?

        • Evelyn

          The answer is no to both questions. The word “love” in the english gospel translation is translated from the biblical Greek word “agape”. If you are unaware, the word “agape” is generally not found in ancient Greek writings other than the gospels so it is thought to be a gospel-specific word. “Agape” means “to know with the attempt to understand and have compassion for”. “Love your enemy” therefor means “know your enemy with the attempt to understand his point of view” not “know your enemy with the attempt to defeat him”. Agape-loving people of other faiths means to get to know them with the attempt to understand them. This usually entails the emptying of self which, according to some, happened to Jesus on the cross and then taking on the faith of the other so that you can truly see through their eyes. In this way, you will learn more about yourself and about your own faith. Jesus is the way to God but so is Mohammed the way to God. It is simply a matter of translation. For example, a “road” is a road in America and a “rue” is a road in France. If you went to France and kept insisting that they couldn’t call a road a rue then they’d think you were a crazy person. Evangelization done right is more about getting to know yourself than it is about converting people who don’t share your point of view.

  • Brad C

    This may be a bit of an obscure reference but bear with me.

    Just like the defeat of the Spanish Armada marked the beginning of the end of the control of the Roman Church rule over Europe – the events of 9/11 marked the beginning of the end of Absolutism in Religion.

    For years Christians argued about the authenticity of their claims with arguments like “Would you die for a lie?” an argument that presupposes that the Disciples of Jesus would not “give their life if the message was not true.” On 9/11 we learned that people are willing to give their life for what they believe – EVEN IF THAT BELIEF IS COUNTER TO THE BELIEF THAT YOU HOLD TO BE TRUE.

    Call it what you may – the post modern world, the post Christian world – the world changed on 9/11 and I believe it was the beginning of the end… the end of Absolutism. The beginning of the recognition that we can’t all be right – even if we are willing to die and kill for our beliefs.

    It is so odd to me that Christians have become so ashamed to believe in faith anymore. Everything has to be verifiable…and the “empirical” verification comes from their own interpretation of the Bible – never considering how limited we are as creatures.

    I am too small minded to understand all of these issues…but one thing I believe – 9/11 was the beginning of the end – the end of the religious claim “I am right and you are wrong”

    • Curtis

      I pray you are right. But my faith is weak in this regard. The murder of the U.S. Ambassador in Lybia shows absolutism is alive and well, and my fear is that the popular response will be one of equal but opposite absolutism. Fear seems to breed fear. Hate breeds hate. I hope I am wrong. We may have survived 9-11, but when our response to hate is to hate in kind, we behave as if the terrorists were right. I hope we don’t allow the terrorists to win the battle for the human heart.

  • Brad C

    I must add to my previous post – the evens yesterday in Libya and Egypt compel me.

    I am glad Brian is writing books like this – it is going to open him up to more criticism, but it needs to be done. In fact this is why I am such a big fan of Tony, Brian, Doug, and all of the “Emergent Leaders” as they are willing to take on some of the crucial issues of our day and time.

    Absolutism just doesn’t work – it doesn’t work in the religious spectrum as well as any other endeavor including math, science, biology, etc. The goal of the enlightenment thinkers was to find this absolute position – a place of irreducible certainty. I’m sure it seemed like a noble goal at the time but post modern thinkers have clearly pointed out the fallibility of this position when you are dealing with human constructs, human conceptual ability and language. I think most people today have recognized this – but not all.

    I am sure some would disagree, but it appears to me that Christianity is going through a reformation – a post modern reformation. This reformation is being fought by some, if not most, theologians, but the “parishner” is moving rapidly into an embrace of a more post modern/pragmatic position on theology especially in Europe and North America.

    I know pray for this reformation to spread to Islam.

    I pray that thought leaders in Islam are looking at these ideas and recognizing that belief ends before it can reach a position of “absolute understanding”. I pray this for all religions, especially the Abrahamic – I pray for a humble recognition of the limitations faced by humans and the language they use. I hope for an embrace of philosophical pragmatism – a thought process that seeks agreements that work not silly positions of “certainty”.

    Back to Emergent – I am so proud that I have been involved in this movement and so thankful to consider people like Tony, Brian, Doug, Tim, Danielle and all the rest to be friends. I still think the work of Emergent (fostering philosophical/theological conversations) to be among the most important work of our time. I wish it had the resources necessary to increase the conversation in North American AND around the world and to expand the conversation to other religious thought leaders – it is time to end religious violence as well as religious absolutism that fosters it.

    • Brad C

      sorry for the typos

    • Curtis

      Check out http://www.mpvusa.org Reform is happening across the religious spectrum.

    • Ted Seeber

      Uh, it’s the reformationists who are spreading the violence- the Muwahiddun.

      Are you REALLY SURE you want to refight the 100 years war in the Middle East?

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  • Greetings, Tony – I’m glad that you pointed out my book is a book about Christian identity. In that way, it is a prelude to interfaith dialogue – or at least, to productive interfaith dialogue. (Many of us have discovered how easy it is to have unproductive and counterproductive dialogue.)

    You and I have modeled through the years how possible it is to differ and in our differences find friendship. I remember our first substantive conversation occurring after I gave a talk (was it in Denver?). You disagreed vehemently with one of my basic points (as you understood it), and I replied, “I couldn’t disagree with you more.” (I think I actually misunderstood your disagreement!)

    Then we had a meal together and had a fantastic talk and out of it, a lasting friendship has developed.

    One of the great things about Patheos.com is that it provides space for conversation that can lead to friendship without undermining distinctive identity. And the same can be said for your blog, which is one of my favorites anywhere.

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  • I’ve been attempting to work out some issues with the growth of the church and the world at large, in which the tension of the church and world are the central figure in our ability (as a whole) to move forward in a natural progress of humankind. I am viewing the growth and change process from psychological development, looking at these issues as though at an adolescent growing into adulthood. I have only just begun this quest, I will be posting my study at enterthesilence.blogspot.com for those that are interested. Thanks

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