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"If It's Broke—Fix It!"

by Steve Kindle

I'm Right coverI always enjoy hearing from our foreign missionaries. They all hold in common a belief that God always precedes their arrival at the mission field, and prepares the way. This notion is fraught with theological insights. Not the least of these is that God is with people whom we may consider “lost,” yet, there God is. With charity, we can call this a relationship.
A human characteristic we all share is the tendency to regard our culture superior to all others. This would include our religions. In America, we regard democracy as the best form of government and actively seek to democratize the rest of the (backward) world. This is certainly true for most adherents of Christianity—we want the whole world to adopt our faith.
This is, of course, an extension into the modern world of ancient tribalism. Not only do we find the presupposition of “We are the best,” but also the accompanying fear of those who aren’t like us. Couple this with the capitalistic notion of “win or lose” and you have the recipe for constant and continuing strife among the religions and peoples of the world.
What’s to be done about this? If you are a hardcore tribalist, you will insist on winning over all. “We have the truth and you must come to us for salvation,” is the rallying cry. Nothing will change if this predisposition dominates, and it dominates throughout the world. I find it ironic, if not humorous, that those who most exemplify this attitude are the very ones most upset when they find it in others. “Radical fundamentalist Muslims” deplore evangelistic Christianity. Fundamentalist Christians deplore “radical Muslims.” They are two sides of the same coin.
It has been said often that the only hope for world peace is that people give up exclusive claims about their own religion and accept that they are not the only ones with the truth. This is surely at least partially true. Religious strife is as ancient as Cain and Abel (the proper way to sacrifice), and as recent as ISIL. Yet it is an impractical solution; it will never happen, at least for the foreseeable future. But this doesn’t mean that the adherents of these religions can’t take this step.
Gandhi is reputed to have said, “Be the change you want to see.” If you feel that the answer to world peace is acknowledging the value of other’s truths, at least for themselves if not for you, then by living this out, there is one less person in the world agitating for division. Who knows? It might catch on.
When I read in the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, “They alone see truly who see the Lord the same in every creature, who see the deathless in the hearts of all that die. Seeing the same Lord everywhere, they do not harm themselves or others. Thus they attain the supreme goal,” I marvel at the truth therein, and my soul is enlarged. I love meeting people of other Books, and often find my own self failing in comparison to their lives and loves.
Now I know the objections to this approach are many. “The Bible says…” and “We have been given the Great Commission,” just to name two. Fundamentalists will never abandon these “truths.” It’s true that the Great Faiths are not teaching the same thing, but I believe that they are capable of producing the same kind of person—loving, considerate of the earth, peaceful—and that is the point, after all, isn’t it? In fact, if Christianity produces hateful people, willing to kill others for its “truth”, who condemn all who disagree, and hold them in contempt, why bother with it?
If I must go into all the world and preach the gospel, I will affirm that God loves all people, that God wants all people to love each other, and that God supports all who obey the Great Commandments regardless of where it is found or who said it. And you know what? God will already be there ahead of me, teaching the world in its own way the Truth.

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  1. You write ““Radical fundamentalist Muslims” deplore evangelistic Christianity. Fundamentalist Christians deplore “radical Muslims.” They are two sides of the same coin.”
    Really? Fundamentalist Christians attempt conversion by persuasion, radical Muslims by force, at times with the choice convert or die. In what way are these two sides of the same coin? Then there is the whole issue of motivation as fundamentalist Christians, if they are being true to their faith, seek to conversion out of love, whereas radical Muslims out of submission.
    “In fact, if Christianity produces hateful people, willing to kill others for its “truth”, who condemn all who disagree, and hold them in contempt, why bother with it?”
    While a good hypothetical, I do not believe it is a realistic one. Are there hateful Christians? Of course. Just look at the despicable members of the Westburo Baptist Church, though to the best of my knowledge they do not kill. But they would hardly rate as a faction of a percent even among fundamentalist, much less Christianity has a whole.
    To me the problem is not one of truth, or the proclamation of the truth, which Christ is, and we are command to do. It is one of persuasion versus compulsion. While we might have a debate about how much compulsion played a role in the history of Christianity, there is no doubt that it played some. But it also true Christianity also developed a view of religious tolerance which is the dominate view today. If that is weakening, it is weakening more among the liberals seeking to legislate their views than among evangelicals and fundamentalist.
    While there are certainly Muslims who would likewise embrace a religious tolerance, it is unclear what percentage they are, and looking at the Muslim countries around the world you would be hard press to argue it is the dominate view.

    1. Thanks, Elgin, for addressing that issue concerning Muslims and Christians, who are diametrically opposed, and not “two sides of a coin.” One is true, and one is false. They do not have the same God.

      1. My random verse for the day is Deuteronomy 23:7.
        Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land. (AV)
        There is a lone samech ס in the middle of this text. Stop and consider.

      2. I really think we need to move beyond this and acknowledge that we are dealing with one God, greater tahn our human understanding. In accepting a Biblical literalism, we may very well be allowing the God in whom we believe to be far less than the One God truly is

        1. Here’s a morning’s thought: we are not called to make Christians out of Muslims or anyone else, we are called to make disciples of all nations. In other words, its a human governance problem to be solved. There is only one God and this God is the one who teaches (Torah) and what this God teaches is how to live together in peace.

    2. Elgin, you ask, ” In what way are these two sides of the same coin?” You gloss over the history of Christianity and its violent efforts for conversion, including the Crusades, Inquisition, and the Conquistadors. And in our time of those Christians motivated by the (misreading of) Bible to kill gays and abortion doctors. The late Fred Phelps is innocent by comparison.
      As for my contention that Christianity can fashion people of hate, it is hardly hypothetical. Mel While, a leading gay advocate, was told by a listener to a talk radio interview that he should be executed. Asked why he felt this way, he said Leviticus says so. Mel asked him if he would like to do the executing. “No, that’s the government’s job.” I know from experience that there are thousand of Christians who feel this way. Even my life as a non-gay advocate for gay rights has been threatened on several occasions. We have much blood on our hands, and would have even more if “true believers” would have their way.
      I think you also need to reconsider the idea that radical Muslims are the majority. Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, to name a few, are very moderate and some even democratic. Egypt and Tunisia are trying hard to emerge as a moderate Muslim state. Life for most people, including Christians, in these countries is not oppressive.
      I’m also left wondering how you can claim that Christianity’s dominate view is one of tolerance toward others. Why, then, do evangelical Christians want to convert Muslims to “the truth”? Because they are intolerant of Muslim “truth”. Or anyone else’s for that mater. So I remain convinced that Christian/Muslim over-reaction are two sides of the same coin.

      1. You wrote that I “gloss over the history of Christianity and its violent efforts for conversion, including the Crusades, Inquisition, and the Conquistadors. And in our time of those Christians motivated by the (misreading of) Bible to kill gays and abortion doctors. The late Fred Phelps is innocent by comparison.”
        I do not think I do, though I would say that you tend to paint with a very broad brush, as there are qualifiers and caveats to each of the above examples, and yet you classify as “the history of Christianity” where I am careful to refer to a specific sections of Islam, and not all of Islam itself.
        Another problem I see with your approach is that it seems to basically be a tu quoque (you too) argument and not even a good one at that. The basic flaw is that you are minimizing evil committed by radical Islamism today based on what Christians did in the past. That Christians may have, and certainly did, commit evil in the past, does not in any way affect what radical Islam is doing today.
        Frankly I think it is really unfair to judge people who lived in the past by 21st century standards. We have all sinned and fall short. We are also massively affected by the times in which we live. I have no doubt that should Christ return be delayed that long, Christians a hundred years from now will look back at us, liberal and conservative, and ask, How could they as Christians have done X.
        Thus for me the question of those in the past is not is it something I would have done, but rather, how does it compare to the norms of the time. The truly good and the truly evil were those who broke from the norms of their day, one way or the other, in short do they move civilization forward or backwards?
        Thus when I judge Christians today by today’s standards, 99% do well and I would say that most exceed the cultural norms. Those who would “kill gays and abortion doctors” are so few as to be statistically irrelevant to any discussion of Christianity. Yes there are a handful and if you want to describe them as radical Christianists, then you might be more consistent, but there are often other mitigating factors. Thus for example, is racism a Christian doctrine? No. Can a Christian be a racist? Sadly yes. When a Christian who is a racist kills someone are they acting out of their Christianity, or out of their racism?
        But even if you simply refer to radical Christianists, this really does not help the attempt to equate them with radical Islam. The reason so many people have to reach back to the actions of Christians hundreds of years in the past is that Christianity has historically, and particularly in the modern era been a force for tremendous good and the advancement of Civilization. Thus the number of those killed by radical Christianists over the last decade is often exceeded by single car bomb from Islamic terrorists.
        In addition, while virtually all Christians strongly condemn those who kill gays and abortion doctors, the same cannot be said of Muslim attitudes of Islamic terrorism. While polling is difficult in the Islamic world the polls I have seen show support for terrorism is anywhere from 10-40%. Even in Europe there is significant support. A poll of British Muslims show 20% were sympathetic to the terrorist who committed the 7/7 bombings even though they opposed the bombing itself.
        In addition, while Christians who murder in the name of their faith are running contrary to the teachings of Christianity and even its practices (with the notable exception of the early Eastern Church), radical Islam is much more in line with historical Islamic teaching and practice, as historically Islam was spread by conquest. Thus while you cited the Crusades, it is important to remember that the Crusades were not an attempt to spread Christianity, but were a reaction to Islam in threatening the Byzantine Empire, the closing off of access to the holy land, and atrocities committed against pilgrims.
        So if you want to compare like to like, time period to time period I believe Christianity still comes out as being better, and often far better. Today Christianity is positive force, Islam negative. Yes we have had times when we, as the body of Christ, failed and failed horribly, but that has not been the norm and on balance the world is a much better place because of the Judeo-Christian views have until recently dominated the West.
        “As for my contention that Christianity can fashion people of hate, it is hardly hypothetical.”
        I agree. Though I would argue that most of the hate, along with intolerance and bigotry today is coming from the left. Just compare how Bernie Sander was received recently at Liberty University, nor is this an aberration. I heard the late neo-Atheist Christopher Hitchens comment on how surprised he was to fine that after his book, God is not Great came out, he was frequently asked to speak at evangelical churches and was very well treated, whereas he got far more grief from the left because, though generally a liberal he disagreed with them Iraq. Compare this to the fact that conservatives are rarely even asked to speak as universities, and when they are their talks are often disrupted, and they frequently require body guards.
        As for getting death threats, who of any prominence doesn’t? I have even received death threats. Nor would I conclude that a radio caller was representative of anything, or even being truthful.
        You wrote “I think you also need to reconsider the idea that radical Muslims are the majority.”
        Actually I did not say they were, and was careful to write “dominate” not majority. History is clear that one does not need to be a majority opinion, to be a dominate position. There is however a somewhat different question here than just support for terrorism, as this statement was in the context of tolerance. While I do believe that the majority of Muslims oppose terrorism, I am not so sure that a majority would embrace tolerance.
        The problem is that while Christianity has historically seen a difference between the church and the state, Islam does not have this tradition. The polls I have seen show that a majority do support Sharia law, and in fact one poll indicated that even a majority of American Muslims supported Sharia and at least as it is understood and practices at the moment, Sharia and tolerance are not really compatible.
        Finally you wrote, “I’m also left wondering how you can claim that Christianity’s dominate view is one of tolerance toward others. Why, then, do evangelical Christians want to convert Muslims to “the truth”?”
        Frankly, I am confused by your question. Your question seems to be based on the premise that intolerance is virtually universal. Are you claiming that you are intolerant? Do you not seek to persuade (i.e, convert) other to your view of the truth?
        I define tolerance as allowing that which you disagree with. After all, one does not have to tolerate their favorite ice cream. I can try and convince you that chocolate chip cookie dough is the best, but if you want to stick with vanilla then go ahead. This is where the issue of persuasion and force comes into play. So yes, I do see a big difference between asking if you would like to come to my Church on Sunday versus demanding that you serve Allah or your head will be cut off, and they are not two sides of the same coin.

  2. I avoid arguing with my authors, but I don’t avoid a bit of discussion, so here goes. 🙂
    I would agree with some of your suppositions, i.e., that we don’t need to be judging other religions or cultures. At the same time, I don’t think the gospel commission requires judgment. One of my former professors commented that it was a very liberating moment for him when he realized that it wasn’t his job to decide who was saved and who was not.
    Similarly, I think it might be liberating to realize that one can witness and carry out the gospel commission without making a hierarchy of other religions.
    I believe Christians should witness. I believe I’m called to this. By not making myself a judge of others, I believe I improve my witness. “Evangelism” has become a bad word in some circles, but I like it. I think it needs some redemption. It is the proclamation of good news. It’s not about winning philosophical debates or proving to someone that they are not as good as I am.
    Following this witness I depend on the Holy Spirit. I have no need to count coup. I don’t worry about what I’ve accomplished other than to live and witness as I believe I’m called to do. All results are in God’s hands.
    The chief thing I want to make sure of is that I have driven nobody away by my actions. And there I think we can all learn from what you have said whether we agree on certain other points or not. Good relationships will be built by truly respecting people, and we witness best in good (and genuine) relationships.

    1. I concur with you, Henry, about that lovely word, evangelism. What else must we do in a world that constantly calls us to distinguish good and evil but be that good that will be for others. Our Lt governor spoke at a Youth Orchestra concert recently and left us with two thoughts: when you make a decision, make it on the basis of hope rather than fear. And, if you can make someone happy, do it. The music that evening certain made us all happy. Such excellent discipline and cooperation among 5 dozen or so players.

  3. Without making a list, there is no doubt that the history of the Christian is filled with violence against others. Filled and overfilled. As the parent of a Canadian indigenous child and an African child, I can’t help recall that it was the Christian nations who initiated and fulfilled both colonialism and slavery. Their religion was not effective at turning them into images of Christ.
    Steve has rightly emphasized a critical problem. Quite frankly, I have no solution apart from giving one’s life for the life of the world as John interpreted the action of Jesus.
    When we are called, and we are called every day, our actions will measure our obedience.

    1. Christian nations initiated slavery? Slavery existed long before the first century and sadly still exists today. It existed in Africa when European first sailed down the coast and encounter and to their shame participated in it. Slavery is not a Christian phenomenon but one that has plagued all of humanity. If there is something unique about Christianity and slavery, it is the abolition movement.

  4. Steve, I could not disagree more. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is destruction.” It’s not what you and I “think,” but what God SAYS, that is the TRUTH. Jesus was either a maniac, a liar, or Lord (C.S. Lewis), and I have believed Him as my Lord and Savior. He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and other religions offer some “truths,” but God has plainly shown us the Truth in His Son and offered salvation to EVERYONE. You can’t have it both ways. Jesus is the ONLY Way. God resists the proud (those who think they know better) and gives grace to the humble (those who accept God’s plan of salvation). God knows who are truly His. People will know we belong to Him by our love, Jesus said. And love is both doing good for others (especially those of the household of faith) and telling others (those who don’t know Jesus) the truth of salvation – deeds and words. We show we love Jesus by keeping His commandments, which includes the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations.

    1. יֵשׁ דֶּרֶךְ יָשָׁר לִפְנֵי־אִישׁ – I don’t see any ‘seemeth’ in this verse – there is a way, an upright way, in the face of, before, each person – and following her are the ways of death – or after her.
      Who avoids death? Why is דרך feminine here? אישׁ is not necessarily male or female. That aside, what makes your judgment of my way right and my way wrong? Does life and peace follow your judgment? Does that not make you forcefully reaching into the role of God? Is this then the mind of Christ?
      Indeed the way of the church has considered upright. But her way proved also to be the ways of death. Certainly there have been exceptions, and the church has resisted them tooth and nail – and often not for any godly reasons.

      1. Bob, I don’t have a Hebrew Bible before me now, because I am out of town, but I have some thoughts related to that verse. Ish is man, and isha is woman, but Adam could mean mankind, male and female. As for derekh, Yeshua, hoo Ha Derekh, Ha Emet, veh Ha Chayim. (Yeshua He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.) He is not a way, but He is THE Way! I don’t know about “seems.” But I am reminded that Yeshua said broad is the way to destruction and narrow is the way to life. Maybe being broad minded is not so good! Yeshua said there were few that find the narrow way but many are on the broad way. HE is the Door to life. Yes, many so-called Christians have given Christianity a bad name at times in history (Crusades, Inquisition, pogroms, etc.). However, there is no other way to be saved, not by all the good works and profound ideas, except by way of YESHUA! To believe and teach otherwise is to call Jesus a liar.
        Love ya,

        1. Thanks Nancy
          Hebrew is as flexible in its language as English. Ish is man when paired with woman just as ben is son when paired with daughter, but ish is also inclusive and used for either gender as ben also is used for children, progeny male and female. See David Stein, The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures ISSN 1203-1542 Ish in Biblical Hebrew.

        2. On your second point, we are not saved by grammar. Specifically the grammar of the definite article. English, Greek and Hebrew all use the definite article in very different ways. Hebrew often has an implied definite, Hebrew and English often have an indeterminate definite, and Greek nouns without an article are often more important than those with the definite article. They signal – pay close attention when I say ‘a way’ because you don’t know what I am talking about yet.
          In the passage you quote, the definite article says to the disciples – you know the way – that’s why the definite is there. It refers to what John has already developed in his Gospel. It is not a capitalization game.

    2. Nancy, you can’t seem to distinguish between what you think God says and what God says. More to the point, many people take from the Bible what they want it to say. The fall back positions is always “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is destruction.” The problem is that the Bible can’t quite come to a universal understanding of its message. All you have to do is compare Deuteronomistic theology with Ecclesiastes or Job, to see that not everything is straight-forward and universally held. The list of biblical disagreements can be enlarged well beyond these.
      I don’t claim to have a better understanding of the Bible than you have. I do wish that you had more tolerance for differing views and would hold yours in a more humble spirit. Quoting scripture, as though this is the end of the matter is troubling, because it really is only the beginning of understanding. Even Peter had difficulty understanding Paul. Let’s not make it look so easy.

      1. Bob and Steve,
        Please forgive me if I come across as intolerant and have the wrong spirit in our discussion. I confess I do get upset when comments seem to me to disregard clear statements Jesus made. As I’m sure you will both agree, Jesus was a master teacher, the best for all time. I don’t think He was trying to hide important truths or make them difficult to understand. His audiences were generally not scholars, and He spoke simply, using illustrations from nature and things people were familiar with. I do think it is the right thing to do to quote what He said. Scripture is powerful (II Tim. 3: 16-17), and Jesus, Paul, and the other authors of the Bible quoted it all the time. Jesus defeated the devil, saying “It is written …” Anyway, I still stand on John 14:6 in regard to Jesus being the only way to heaven. This very verse brought me to salvation many years ago. I gave my life to Jesus, and it has been a meaningful and exciting life ever since. As I have said before, once Billy Graham settled the question about the Bible being the true Word of God, he was used by God to bring perhaps millions of people to salvation.
        Yes, some things in the Bible are very hard to understand, but the good news of the gospel that Paul put in a nutshell in I Cor. 15: 3-4 is something easy to understand. Praise God that He made it easy for me to understand and act on.
        Yes, I do hope we can continue a respectful discussion.
        Thank you,

        1. Hi Nancy – thanks for the reply. There are all kinds of games we can play with words (taking your example of את). They may be fun for some and foolishness for others. את for instance might mean E.T. go home. (The guttural aleph takes any vowel). And word games are a plenty in the Hebrew of the Scriptures – read my book on the Psalms to have some fun with these.
          At the base of both Testaaments, however, is obedience to the heavenly calling. Here the game is for real. But heaven is not a temporal thing as if what we do now is not important. All our hearing and doing is immediate and significant, helpful or not. So some accuracy is important.
          Personally, my feeling about you and how you write, is that you should get deeper into the ancient language, (not necessarily the modern) one letter, one word, and one phrase at a time. I found it best to begin my learning at the Synagogue and I had a wonderful teacher and still have others. They are like part of my body. I say to my Lord and he says to me, if they are not saved, then neither am I. And I know my saviour. So any words that I see that divide me from my brother Edom or from my neighbour Egypt, are words that I find deeply troubling.
          Most of my troubles of this nature come from zealous Christians perhaps with power-driven surface vehicles. I would like them to be swimming and diving rather than stying on the surface.
          I sense you are past the initial stages of learning but I don’t find the implied message that I hear fully helpful in resolving the terrifying tension between Christian and Jew today. I may be hearing you wrongly.
          I have been places where you may be – singing in Hebrew but not understanding what I am doing, as I did with the Shekinah Company 40 years ago in Toronto, or memorizing the KJV without realizing all the political and philosophical decisions that the 16th century made for me. I simply don’t accept some simple ideas like the linearity of time or the three-tiered universe. Time is much more intricate. And all these things are meant to be tested – the world is created that way. And the KJV and other translations are full of such decisions (as are my readings – but different).
          I see you’ve just responded to another sub-thread – will go and read that.

        2. Nancy, I do appreciate your zeal–it speaks to your integrity of purpose. But zealots tend to go overboard in defense of their positions. It also makes communication between people of differing views difficult. They want to win more often than understand. I had to learn that lesson the hard way after burning through more than a few friends that I had to set straight. A wonderful Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, taught me never to treat people as objects who must be brought to my point of view. Rather, pursue understanding. In the process we might both be changed, and for the better.
          I would never want to quench your zeal for God and God’s people. But I’d encourage you to expand your notion of whom this includes. That would be anyone created in God’s image. Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims are people before they are part of a religious tradition. They deserve the attendant respect and dignity you wish for yourself. “Love your enemies” is perhaps close to self-disclosed meaning, requiring little interpretation. Understanding it is the easy part; living it is the issue. I encourage all Christians to examine themselves under the scrutiny of this commandment. Including myself.

          1. Steve, I agree with every word you said. But it is of most importance to obey Jesus in trying to make disciples of all nations – Muslims, etc. We DO have to respect and understand them to reach them, and we must love them whether or not they believe. I am not looking to get a notch in my belt but only to be true to what Jesus is calling all of us to do, share the Good News. I don’t have the right attitude and spirit sometimes, so I ask for your prayers. I genuinely thank you for calling me to account.
            God bless you,

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