What is the goal for the follower of Jesus? Are we looking for happiness, wealth, a home in heaven, eternal riches, a good reputation, a mansion, a good life now, what?
David tells us we follow Jesus because we long to be with God. It’s fundamentally a relationship that we are seeking with the creator of the universe. All we want is to know that we love and are loved by God. From this relationship springs true life, true love, true joy. Oneness with the creator makes life as it should be. We long for God, to be tucked in safely beside him forever. God is not the means to a selfish end he is the end himself.
Christopher Moore in his afterword reminds his readers “The book you’ve just read is a story. I made it up…I am not trying to present history as it might really have been, I’m simply telling stories…This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone’s faith; however, if one’s faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do.”
The book is definitely irreverent, which is why Moore feels compelled to make the above statements. I wonder if Moore will ever decide to write a book about “Hank the childhood pal of Mohammed” — not likely, the life insurance policy would be to expensive. The religion of grace is always easier to pick on.
What is the book actually about? Biff takes Jesus on an epic trip of self discovery for about 20 years through Afghanistan, China, and India. On this trip there are Yeti’s, Monks, lots of wisdom learned, evil spirits vanquished, daring escapes, people rescued, discipline learned, miracles practiced with varying degrees of success, and lots and lots of sex, not for Jesus though, his father in heaven had told him “no sex” and he was going to obey. Biff had no such prohibitions coming down from heaven however and so was free to indulge. The benefit to Jesus with having such a promiscuous friend is that he was able to learn all about sex through Biffs detailed recounting’s but yet still remain blissfully pure as the son of God. — Lovely. I’m not sure if there was a single chapter that was free from this tireless crusade to educate the son of God on all things sexual. Eventually Biff and Jesus make their way back to Judah just in time for Jesus to gather up a bunch of misfit disciples, bring in the kingdom of God, rekindle old romances with Mary Magdalene and die on the cross. Biff is not at all for Jesus’ death, and tries to prevent it, with all manner of cunning and deception. He fails, Jesus dies. In a fit of sorrow and rage, Biff tracks down Judas, kills him, then commits suicide. This inglorious end is the reason why the disciples of Jesus wrote Biff out of the official story recounted in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Is sin real? Moore never excuses or justifies the actions of Biff. Biff is impulsive, careless, foolish, proud, and selfish but Jesus loves him anyway, but not with an “It’s all good” kind of false love. Jesus, with masterful patience genuinely speaks into Biff’s life with authority. There is a right and a wrong, and Biff finds himself regularly on the side of wrong, but Jesus’ ever faithful arm is always there gently pulling him back, but yet giving Biff the freedom to make his own choices.
Who is Jesus? Jesus’ humanity comes out strongly in this book, Jesus is confused at times, unsure of himself, unsuccessful, and wanting to hear from God more than he actually does, however the author without hesitation communicates Jesus to the reader as God in the flesh. This was one point that I was surprised at, through all of the twist’s and turns of this story there is never a doubt, Jesus is God enrobed in flesh here on earth to save the world through his own death and resurrection. This beautiful high ground that has actually changed the world is present in this book! One just has to wade through a lot of swamp land to get there.
Who is man? Biff loves Jesus with all his heart, his fierce loyalty is commendable but his constant use of unwholesome traits to protect and shield Jesus from the dangers of this world, not so much. Biff is decidedly human, all of us can relate to him, but we are not left feeling comfortable with that. Sure, Biff’s escapades create lots of laughs, and at times leaves the reader shaking his head saying “really?” But in the end, It’s obvious that Jesus’ life not Biffs is the life we should long for.
Do all paths lead to God? Not hardly. Moore does not present a universalist understanding of the worlds religions. I thought for sure as Jesus traveled into the Buddhist and Hindu worlds I would be told that the Jesus way that was being developed would essentially be a repackaged version of what already existed. The tired old mantra that “all religions are the same” would inevitably come forth. It didn’t. Instead Moore has Jesus carving a new way forward in contrast to the eastern religions. Moore’s Jesus is radically anti caste. He is at his most aggressive in resisting the scourge upon humanity that has Brahmans on one side and untouchable’s on the other. He is very critical of karma and the justification of doing nothing to help your fellow human as a result of it. Jesus is gracious but firm, meditation is over rated, and the perceived wisdom of nebulous guru’s is fraught with hypocrisy and pretension.
The book is entertaining, and it contains some food for thought. Moore is certainly a clever writer, but sadly he resorts to the familiar “must use sex and sensation to sell” motif. I wish Moore would use his talents to produce a substantive work of literature.
How do you manage to have a thriving life after experiencing your dads death, neglect from your mother & grandparents, multiple raping episodes from the teenage boys next-door at age 5, uncaring grade school teachers, multiple stepdads, addictions, and the pain, confusion, shame, guilt, and self-worth issues that naturally accompany all such trauma? Mary E. DeMuth answers this question in one word: Jesus. Given her struggles, I figure she has more than earned the right to tell us what has made all the difference for her.
She calls all of her difficulties, “thin spaces”. Spaces where the natural division between humanity and the divine draws close, close enough sometimes that you can feel God. It’s through the trauma that Mary was able to understand and take deep into her heart the liberating power of forgiveness that comes through Jesus. Through Jesus she was able to see herself as a “dearly loved child of God” Her previous identities as rape victim, unwanted child, guilty person, shameful person, unworthy person and grim survivor all melted away into the warm embrace of God’s love for her. Of course the transformation of identity didn’t happen over night, it’s an on going process to be sure, but over time, Mary’s identity as a beloved child of God is permeating with light all the dark places of her life.
For example, in the early days real relationships with men where not possible, from age 5 Mary knew all to well what men were about. The feelings of self preservation, rage, distrust and shame were too strong to let anyone in, much less a man. Not so any more, one by one, the love of Christ, squeezed out these relational deterrents so she can love freely her husband, her children, and all people with whom she relates.
Her message in a nut shell? There is freedom, love, and hope in Christ. It’s one thing to overcome trauma by attempting to love yourself more as self help guru’s preach, it’s entirely another thing to know that you are loved supremely in spite of yourself and your circumstances. Mary would lead us to believe that the second option is the better option for long term help from trauma. I’m certainly not going to argue with her, her life is a living testimony to the healing power of divine love.
- The Prince — What Machiavelli would say to me: Dear Dennis, your virtue is not what matters, it’s that people perceive you as virtuous that matters, become a master of duplicity. Much good can be accomplished through what is traditionally known as evil, so dispense with those two unhelpful categories. The path to success and power, will of necessity involve lying, murder and extortion. Don’t sweat that, a true leader has a clear end in mind and the means to that end, will always be whatever it takes. One last thing, make sure you are perceived as religious, people will tend to trust you more, which will help you accomplish your goals.
- Discourse in Method — What Descartes would say to me: Dear Dennis, doubt everything, throw everything out! History, philosophy, religion, if you can conceive even for a minute how something does not add up, then junk it! How do you know anything? Well Dennis, you think therefore you are. — Whatever you think is the truth, must be the truth! What is real, truly real, is subject to your mind’s ability to grasp it. Conversely, if you can’t conceive it it must be false. You get to determine truth you see? Isn’t it grand!
- Leviathan — What Hobbes would say to me: Dear Dennis, everyman has a right to everything. Good is whatever gives me pleasure and evil is whatever or whoever stands in the way of me getting that pleasure. The natural man must demand his “rights” which are nothing more than his desires. Conscience is unnatural and should be discarded. There is no such thing as sin, justice or injustice, right or wrong, only my pleasure which is good and my pain which is bad. War is man’s natural state, because we consume each other to get what we want. That’s the good life, the natural life. The problem is when we live that way we end up destroying each other, so in order to stay alive we must, reluctantly, and with distrust and animosity, enter into society, which means we as humans agree to willingly restrain a minimal amount of our natural desires. The governments job is to maximize peoples freedoms to act on their desires, while at the same time doing what they can to minimize other peoples pain which will inevitably result from the fulfilment of those desires.
- Discourse on the origin and foundations of inequality among men — What Rousseau would say to me: Dear Dennis, make love often, work as little as possible, and reject authority. Civilization is man’s down fall, in our natural state, the man animal was happy, free and peaceful. We didn’t own anything, rather we roamed freely, awaiting natures compulsion for sex. When the desire arouse we acted on that desire without guilt or responsibility, and then moved on with life. Children were on their own early and even mothers love did not really exist. Society created unnatural, and artificial restraints on man such as duty, love and morality. These constraints started when some moron settled down and claimed land and women for his own. Dennis the ownership of land and the creation of family is the ruin of us all! By the way, women make a bigger deal of this artificial contrivance known as love, because they mean to control us, when they should be obeying us! Don’t fall for it.
- The Communist Manifesto — What Marx would say to me: Dear Dennis, you have to realize that there is one problem and one problem only that ails the world. That problem is class struggle. We need to create a world where there are no classes. There is currently a corrupted class of rich people who dominate the poor, they need to be eradicated. Any revolution that uses violence to over throw these capitalists is justified, once we are rid of them, our utopian vision of society can be realized. It will be one for all and all for one, the brutalities of capitalism will give way to the peace and serenity that comes with sharing our lives together, without capitalism, without religion, without sexual norms and without nuclear families.
- Utilitarianism — What Mill would say to me: Dear Dennis, I am not unlike Rousseau or even Hobbes in my thinking, I put it this way “The ultimate end…is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments. Our system of morality must be understood in terms of pleasure and pain nothing else. There is no God, nor is there a moral command written into nature. You need to understand Dennis, that there are no intrinsically wrong actions. You might want to know who gets to make judgement in society then? To that I say, those with the most experience, those who have tried the most things, because they will know experientially what works for happiness and what does not.
- The Descent of Man — What Darwin would say to me: Dear Dennis, this book is not quite as popular as my other one. I think it is because it’s a harsher truth, in my first book I brought to light the “survival of the fittest” explanation for life. In my next book I apply those findings to the human, and for some, those natural conclusions are rather distasteful. It makes no sense to care for the unfit, we don’t do that for animals why should we do it for the human animals? The other problem is, lousy people like the Irish seem to breed more than that good people like the Scottish, that’s a problem for the human race. Also there is no reason to think that the modern races shouldn’t exterminate the backward races, why not? that’s what happens in nature, there is no wrong here if Europeans exterminate African tribes for example. Skull sizes of Europeans are bigger than Australians, Africans and even most Americans, so that tells you whose on top doesn’t it? There is the trait of sympathy that exists among humans, it must have been helpful in past development, however, if the number of unfit continues to rise, within a people group, it will weigh that group down, then when they come into conflict with another people group unburdened by sympathy the weighed down peoples will not survive. Dennis sympathy is only good so long as it’s useful to survival of the species.
- Beyond Good and Evil — What Nietzsche would say to me: Dennis, you must have no room for gutless cowards like Hobbes and Mill. What the “nice” atheist’s and the liberal christians of your era say is complete garbage. Everyone wants to be nice, well, niceness is what is left of goodness when it is drained of greatness! Humanity has only always ever developed and grown through suffering and pain. Bring it on! That’s what makes us greater, that’s what makes us super men! There is no up or down, there is no good or evil; just sheer human will swimming in an indifferent, if not hostile, cosmos. What matters Dennis is the will to greatness, that is all. There are 2 kinds of morality, master morality which is simply that struggle leading to dominance and greatness, and then there is slave morality which values such anemic qualities as gentleness, humility, and love. — This calamity known as Christianity is nothing but slave morality and you should cast it aside.
- The State and Revolution — What Lenin would say to me: Marx was right. All capitalists must die. All perceived capitalists must die, in fact anyone that disagrees with you on even the smallest points must die! Terror is the best way to run a country, people do what you want if they are scared out of their minds. Class struggle must end. we must liberate the oppressed class. Dennis you might be asking, well if we liberate the oppressed class than won’t the state just take the capitalist’s place as the oppressor of the poor class? Of course not you fool, ask that question one more time and I’ll kill you! Once all the bad capitalists are dead, the state will not really be needed anymore, violence will end, and the state will wither away, everyone will be free to work equally for the good of the state. Utopia, always is just around corner, just beyond the next mound of dead bodies.
- The Pivot of Civilization — What Sanger would say to me: I love, love, love Darwin. Here is the big problem in our world. We are on the verge of evolutionary regress, because we are allowing the feeble minded to breed indiscriminately. Stupid persons are draining off our resources, we spend incalculable amounts of money on asylums, jails, charities, why do we do this? we are aiding in our own demise. We need to develop an IQ system that allows us to determine who is feeble minded so that we can commence with a policy of immediate sterilization. We won’t kill them off of course, but we will breed them out.
- Mein Kampf — What Hitler would say to me: Dear Dennis, I owe everything to Darwin, Nietzsche, Sanger, and Machiavelli, they were truly great people. Darwin was right, certain classes of people are inferior and it’s actually good that they be exterminated — our vision of national socialism is nothing less than applied Darwinian biology. I agree with Sanger, that the feeble minded persons should be sterilized, but even more so, undesirables should be eliminated along with the inferior races. Its easier to slit a throat than it is to castrate. The Arian race is the super man race that Nietzsche spoke of and I will expect my people to do “superhuman acts of inhumanity” in order to become great. We as a nation are so far beyond good and evil we can’t even see them anymore.
- The Future of an Illusion — What Freud would say to me: I am a godless Jew, I presume atheism, and the anti-semitism I have experienced has pushed me to write this revenge work against religion. What than is religion? Nothing more than a foolish illusion by infantile minds. It would be very nice if there were a God who created the world and was a benevolent Providence, if our world had a moral order and an after life, but all of this is just wishful thinking. How did this illusion come to be? Some sons wanted to have sex with their mother, they killed and ate their father thinking that by eating him they would gain his strength & privileges, they felt guilty, so eventually they developed sacred meals, to commemorate, condemn, and cover up the original event. Thus religion and morality was born, with prohibitions against incest, murder, and cannibalism. Any questions? Where did I get this from? Well Dennis its all there in our deep dark past, all we have to do is look.
- Coming of Age in Samoa — What Mead would say to me: Dear Dennis, The western world is full of stress and struggle, full of adolescent turmoil. I think it is because of Christian sexual morality in particular. My thought was that the natural person in his primitive state would be more free of conflict then us in the west. So I packed my bags and shipped off to Polynesian Samoa to hang out with the savages for awhile. What I discovered was that they experienced no problems surrounding romantic love because such problem causing ethics like monogamy, fidelity, and jealousy didn’t exist in their society, only free and easy sex. Also parent child problems didn’t exist because whenever children in that culture didn’t get along with their parents they just moved on to some other relative. Strong familial love is a problem. Less love not more creates less stress and more happiness. So their you have it, with just a few months of observation I quickly figured out the heart of Western problems, and justified a life of personal infidelity (of course I don’t talk about that in my book)
- Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male — What Kinsey would say to me: Dear Dennis your natural state is one of amoral sexual extravaganza. There is no moral law connected to sex. There is nothing abnormal verses normal when it comes to sex, there is only sexual pleasure that exists. There are an infinite variety of sexual forms and practices, It is all natural and normal and should not be stigmatized in any way. I’ve proven it with a torrent of graphs and charts, data and scientific language. You can do whatever you want sexually and it is completely ok. Since I wear a lab coat you need to listen to me. The sexual revolution was upon us when I wrote this book, so people were eager to accept my findings whether they were baseless or not. I was eager to accept my own findings as well as my own bizarre sex life will attest.
- The Feminine Mystique — What Friedan would say to me: — Women are incomplete when they stay at home, love their husbands and care for their families. This incompleteness is actually misery whether they admit it or not. Homelife and child raising is not meaningful work, it only leads to the unhealthy conclusion of a purposeless, boring, insignificant life. Women will only truly find meaning and fulfillment if they cast off these home responsibilities and join the work force like men do. The idea of a bliss-full house wife is a complete myth. Let the government take care of children, the nuclear family concept with mom’s raising children and wives lovingly supporting their husbands is quite possibly the worst idea of all.
- What Jesus would say to me. Trust me, pray, forgive, repent, keep your commitments, follow my commandments, practice fidelity, bless your neighbourhood, help the weak and brokenhearted, because of me and my sacrifice for you embrace an ethos of gratitude, humility, service and worship. Cling to a hope which transcends even the grave.
What’s the better story? To me it’s not even close.
Special thanks to Ben Wiker and his book 10 Books that screwed up the world and 5 others that didn’t help.
Mistin was chatting with a business minded non-religious friend in the neighbourhood
“Is there such a thing as a five year funk in business?”
“Absolutely, it’s about the time you start asking the question, ‘Am I going to be doing this forever?’”
“Well my husband and I talked about it, and we feel like there isn’t anything else we’d rather do with our lives, it’s just that we feel like we are in a bit of a funk, maybe because we don’t feel very successful with our church.”
“Well, how do you define success for your church? How do you measure it?”
“I suppose one way we would measure it, would be to help people love and follow Jesus to such a point that they are willing to be publicly baptized.”
“Ok, well then, we need to figure out a workable pipeline that leads people from attending your mothers day parties to becoming devoted enough to Jesus that they want to be baptized.”
“Business works like this, you do free stuff at the beginning, people get interested, then you call people to sign on for small packages, then medium packages, then the large package which in your case is fully devoted followers of Jesus who want to be baptized. It seems to me that you and Dennis are excellent at giving away the free stuff — you are good at the entry level, your mothers day parties and BBQ’s are tremendous, everybody loves them, but then where do you take the people from there?”
“Well, we just kind of wait, and pray, we believe the Spirit of God works in people to where they will start asking questions, and when they do we are ready to talk about Jesus with them.”
“Hmm, yeah, the spirit thing, I suppose that’s important, but what about small and medium packages? Take me for example, I don’t know enough about Jesus and baptism to know if I want the big package, but, knowing you guys, I’d probably be interested in a small or medium package, well anyway, happy to talk more about this if you like, we really want to help you.”
Thus concluded business 101 for the Wilkinsons. Does she have a point? What small and medium packages could we as a church offer? Is the church like Costco? Experience free samples of sausages, so that you can buy a package of sausages, so that you will eventually buy a pallet of them? Is the flow of Christian discipleship about smooth up-sell? I don’t think so.
Even still at what point does the walk of faith meet with a business model that works? Are there strategies that can be employed to help along the process of discipleship? The great evangelist Billy Sunday of the late 19th century bragged that he could personally guarantee a soul for every dollar donated to his business model of evangelism. Does success really come down to business models and marketing?
The only pipeline I know of is love. We must love people well, that means being present and available, that means being generous and hospitable. That means being a good friend and one who sees the needs of a neighbourhood and meet’s them. The Spirit of God acts through these tangible expressions of love, this inevitably creates conversations, which create opportunities for people to grow in their knowledge and love for the Lord and for the Lord’s people. If every Christian practiced the above as their pipeline towards success. I suspect there would be a lot more baptisms.
I confided to Jane that another person in my life had been extremely mean to me and I kept playing in my mind how I would talk to her if I ever got the chance. Jane told me I absolutely must “take those thoughts captive”. Don’t allow the mind to run like that. Simply stop it! Let it go. Move on. Yea, yea, I got the message. . . and it felt rather unsympathetic.
The next week I was vacuuming my floor and playing my favourite “tell-her-off-in-my-mind” game when the vacuum cord popped up out of no where and smacked me in the face! No kidding! I stopped, looked up to the heavens and said, “I get it!! I’ll stop it! I’ll let it go!”
And I’ve tried. But more people keep being mean to me. (Can you hear the childish whine in my voice?) They say harsh things that are unfounded. I don’t get the chance to clarify what is truth. They just tell me off and walk away and I’m too shocked to answer in the moment so I keep answering in my head over and over again for months!
What does this do for my mental state? Everything opposite of my favourite Bible verse. . . “He has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind”. I’m the one becoming mentally unstable!!!!! Where’s the justice in this? Those people were mean to me! They falsely accused me out loud to many other people!! This is not fair! I need to let them know. . . some day! I better keep preparing my speeches.
I’ve begun to notice when I work on my speeches interesting things happen. Mighty rushing winds while running, sudden cloud bursts of rain, stubbing my toe, forgetting something on the stove, random door-knocker, large truck interrupts train of thought, phone dings. . . etc. It’s almost as if something is trying to stop my internal rants. . . . nah – that’s just too supernatural and spooky. . . .
And besides these people who’ve hurt my feelings so badly and then just gone on w their lives really need to know the damage they’ve done! They’ve ripped out bits of my heart, my will, my stamina, my joy. They’ve stolen whole weeks worth of sleep from me!! They’ve altered my enthusiasm and even my personality! They’ve taken an upbeat extrovert and made me into a hiding hermit! If I could only tell them how they’ve wounded me so deeply, perhaps then I could get back to my old happy self!
At this point in a conversation I would naturally say, “What do you think?” to get some affirmation. But I’m not asking this time. I don’t want to know what you think or anyone else. I’m busy ranting. Don’t interrupt.
Then this week I woke up with the following thought.
I keep waiting for sincere apologies and I keep planning my responses and people keep saying and doing “mean things” to me so how long will this cycle continue? I need to figure out how to “let it go” for my own sake! The book of Hebrews mentions a root of bitterness that can spring up in the heart and destroy us. I need to not let that happen! If I continue on this path, I could let my own thoughts destroy me!
These offenders have likely forgotten their offences and moved on with their lives (maybe even to go on offending others or repeat offending me)! They never knew and likely never will understand the depth of the wounds they have inflicted on my heart.
I need to release them.
When I release them, the natural consequence will be that I cut my own bonds of bitterness and free myself.
So today I attempt to release them to the hands of the Almighty God who desperately loves them and wants to restore them. He loves them in equal measure to His love for me. How I must come to grips w the Father’s love for all humans!
Father God, I ask for your blessing on my offenders. I ask you for my release from the grip bitterness has gained on my heart. Please free me from the memories of their harsh words and actions. Help me to treat them as forgiven by YOU and loved images of your divine presence in our world!
Some paper, some pencil crayons and a chance to give some refugee kids a bit of fun. That was the plan. The drive down to southern Turkey was uneventful, and upon arrival at the camp there was no shortage of kids. After John* had distributed his stockpile he began to make the rounds to see what everyone had drawn. One set of pictures left John and his colleagues stunned.
A small boy produced his first picture. It was his family together in their house, everyone was smiling and the sun was shining, but in the top left there was something ominous. A plane has been sketched in, with a bomb dropping out of it.
In the next picture, the smiles have turned to frowns and tears can be seen on the faces of the children. The mom is no where to be seen, the house is on fire and an army tank approaches. This was the boys story, the same tragic story of millions.
But that wasn’t the last of the pictures. The little boy produced a third picture. A picture of a man hanging on the cross.
John, a follower of Jesus, asked the little muslim boy who the man on the cross was. The boy, stared back at John and stated matter of factly; “This is the man who is going to stop the war.” The boy however, had no idea who the man on the cross actually was. Somehow in those dark moments of terror, death, and destruction, Jesus had revealed himself to this little muslim boy, and given him great comfort and hope. John explained that the man to stop the war was Jesus and for the first time the boy heard the name of the person he was already hoping in.
*I’ve changed the name
It’s costly to convert — I always feel that anyone who writes a book like this must be very brave. Muslims don’t really have the option to change their religion. It’s one of those unthinkable things, something that still warrants capital punishment in many parts of the world. The cost of leaving the Muslim faith is immense. If physical death is somehow avoided, there is certainly the death of relationships, career opportunities and social standing. Nabeel was not just a cultural Muslim, he was a devotee to his Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. From the time of his birth he was indoctrinated in his faith, as he grew up in the west, his parents were delighted to see their only son become a staunch defender of Islam. In the Western world, preconceptions are freely and regularly challenged but Nabeel met these challenges with apologetic fervour. Eventually, over the course of many years, Nabeel left Islam to embrace Christianity, the price for him, even in the west, was tremendous.
Sharing ones faith is best accomplished in the context of a relationship — The book is about Nabeel’s story but it certainly could be David’s story as well. They were best friends through high school and university, the two were inseparable even though David was a committed Christian. Regarding evangelism Nabeel points out that
“Effective evangelism requires relationships. There are very few exceptions, the discussions that we had about faith arose naturally after we became friends and in the context of a life lived together. In fact I was the one who brought them up.”
I could not agree more.
Historical probability, truth and faith. — David and Nabeel were debaters in high school and university, they constantly challenged each other to find out the truth about whatever topic they were debating. Rational and reasonable argument became the norm for discovering truth. When it came to historical discussions the highest amount of probability based on the historical method was the criteria for distinguishing truth form error. One day David asked Nabeel the following question.
“Nabeel, stop trying to win the argument instead look for the truth — If the truth could be known, would you want to know it?
Nabeel’s answer was both “Yes” and “No” because he knew full well the cost if truth was not on his side. This launched his intense search for truth about the Bible, Jesus, the Quran, and Muhammed.
What about Jesus, the Bible, the Quran and Muhammed? Acknowledging the possibility of truth based on historical probability, Nabeel set out to undercut the claims of Christianity. Christians claim that Jesus died on the cross, Muslim’s say he didn’t. Christians claim that Jesus rose from the dead, Muslims say he did not. Christians claim that Jesus is divine, Muslims say that he is not. Looking at the evidence by use of the historical method the goal was to set the two stories side by side and determine which one is more likely the true one. This book settles into a relentless search for truth, but never does it disconnect from the humanity of this story or the cost of this search. It’s way more than just straight up apologetics.
The book reads like it might feel to be on board a ship that’s sinking. Nabeel doesn’t want the boat to sink, you as the reader can feel his anxiety and alarm, he writes in such a way that you don’t want the boat to sink either. After all, the boat of Islam is all he has known, it’s been a good boat for him. But the holes in the boat he discovers are real holes. They are undeniable. To leave the boat is the right course, if truth matters, but oh the struggle.
Faith more than just facts — Towards the end of the book Nabeel is broken, Christianity has withstood his withering scrutiny and his own faith has fallen. Muhammed is not the man Nabeel thought he was, the perfect preservation of the Quran is a myth. The ancient Muslim historians upon whom he depended for vindication of his faith, revealed the truth, and the truth was far from the story upon which his faith was built. Even still, it was too costly to leave his faith. If Jesus was real, If he was who the Christians claimed then Jesus would just have to show up and tell him directly. In three successive dreams, Jesus did. Nabeel knew the truth. To embrace Jesus as Lord would cost him everything, but hanging on to a lie would ultimately cost him more.
Serious Study — Nabeel is not like most people in the Western world who are content to embrace at a minimal level whatever cultural and religious back drop they are born into just so long as it doesn’t interfere with their personal freedom to do and be whatever they want. Truth was all that mattered to Nabeel he had to find it and align himself accordingly. In the end It was Christianity that was true not Islam.
Jeffrey Lang grew up in an abusive home, his nominal Catholic faith provided him no solace for the suffering he endured. By his mid teen age years he had become a convinced atheist. In his 20’s a friend handed him a Quran, he started reading, over time he left atheism and embraced the way of Islam. Why?
According to Lang, Islam is better because unlike Christianity, human suffering is not a result of God’s angry judgement. In the beginning according to Lang’s interpretation of the Quran, there is no great sin that brought condemnation to the human race. There was only a little “slip up”. God didn’t get angry or feel threatened by this inconsequential eating of unauthorized fruit.
The big idea of the ancient Adam and Eve narrative is not one of divine judgment and human brokeness, rather divine mercy and human preparation. God does not punish Adam and Eve, rather he blesses them and tells them not to be afraid or sad. The “slip up” was part of their training. Now they must use their reason to choose God in the midst of suffering.
The choice between right and wrong is always a struggle (Jihad), but by using the facility of reason & intellect the right choices can be made and the relationship with God strengthened. Salvation comes through the work of the mind. Lang confesses that the greatest problem with unbelievers (non-muslims) is their inability to think properly “Unbelief in Islam, is an infirmity of the mind” Lang says.
The point of Islam is to have a close relationship with God. Since God is transcendent how is that even possible? The Quran describes God as compassionate, merciful, forgiving, just, protective, wise, generous, truthful, and peaceful. All of these attributes are the seeds of God that reside in every human. When we love God by living out these attributes in the everyday God loves us back. These seeds of divinity grow into full flower as we yield to the will of God and this is how we find ourselves in close relationship with him.
Suffering is good because with out it, we could never learn to use our reason and make the right choices to live out the attributes of God. When we fail to water the seeds of divinity in us, we destroy ourselves, thus sin is simply self destruction. Hell then is not so much a punishment from God, as it is the ultimate self destruction
I’m happy for Lang, in that he certainly seems to have found the solace he was looking for. I think he misunderstands the Christian story and I am not entirely sure he’s got the Muslim story right either. But lets assume for the sake of this article he has the Islamic story correct. What are the big differences?
- Christianity emphasizes human brokeness, Lang’s Islam does not. At first, this dismissal of sin and all of it’s attendant guilt and shame might seem to be a great idea. But for me, it does not ring true. We all swim in oceans of guilt and to shrug off our bad choices as insignificant “slip ups” doesn’t actually help us understand justice or even address what is wrong in our lives. Through the cross we understand clearly both the justice and mercy of God.
- I appreciate Lang’s emphasis on the need for human reason and choice, however, as a Christian I know that even the deep thoughts of my heart are often corrupted. Even my virtue in the blink of an eye can become vice. I need a Saviour to redeem me. In the Christian story it’s not the long hard climb upwards towards God through rational thought that’s beautiful, It’s God’s condescension to me. In my blindness he gives me sight, In my sickness he makes me whole, in my weakness and inability he empowers me. I love the idea of God coming to the rescue, and that’s what happens in the story of Jesus.
A curious observation: I agree with Lang about the need for the human to choose. Islam is the better story to him and he has chosen it, it makes the most sense to his mathematical mind. I respect that choice, even though I don’t agree with it. I wish all Muslim’s would be so generous when it comes to the matter of religious choice. Let’s turn the story around a little bit. Is there any doubt as to what would have happened to Jeffrey Lang, if he had been born Mohammed Al Ghamdi in Saudi Arabia? Let’s imagine, for a moment, that someone gave him a Bible in his mid twenties and through secret study he decided that Christianity was the better story. In his enthusiasm for his new religion he begins to speak out in his home town of Medina that Jesus is his Saviour. I am certain we wouldn’t be listening to his speeches for long, we would be visiting his grave site instead. In our pluralistic world of today, something is wrong when a religion forces it’s adherence to believe on pain of death. I hope Lang’s message of free choice goes a long way in the house of Islam.
From the very beginning the early church understood the trinity as a mystery that was honoured and respected. Jesus claimed deity, and yet he was distinct from God, the promised Spirit who came at pentecost was also distinct from God and Jesus and yet was clearly divine. Before Constantine, it wasn’t a hot debate, amazement was preferred over explanation. Love for Jesus and survival were the priorities of those first Christ followers. That all changed however when Christianity became legalized under Constantine. His plan to unify his massive and fragmented empire under the banner of this burgeoning new religion known as Christianity had worked incredibly well, perhaps to well. Christian people began to fight amongst themselves now that they had the time and freedom to attempt an understanding of this great mystery of God’s three in one ness. It wasn’t long before the newly unified empire was at risk of fragmentation, this time along theological lines.
Constantine wanted it sorted, it was time for the church to meet and settle it. One idea that had been floating around since the 2nd century was Monarchialism. This idea portrayed God as one great ruling monarch, but rejected the need to make the distinction between the Father, Son, and Spirit. Monarchialism attempted to explain the trinity in two different ways:
- Modalism — God is one, but he has three modes or three roles that He carries out in consecutive periods of time. Like a single actor that plays three different roles in a theatrical production.
- Rejected – This view was rejected by the church because it doesn’t accurately account for the interaction of the Trinity in New Testament, like at Jesus’ baptism for example. Also, if these representations of one God are only masks like in an ancient play then it becomes impossible to actually know the real God. The church gave modalism the thumbs down!
- Subordinationism — There is only one superior God (Father) who is assisted by lesser god’s of lower rank (Jesus & the Holy Spirit)
- Rejected – Strongly rejected at the counsel of Nicaea in 325 as shown below.
The struggle to clarify the churches position on the trinity came as a direct result of a guy named Arias. Arias taught that the word who became flesh was a lesser god of a different nature. Jesus was not eternal or omnipotent, Jesus was only God in an approximate sort of way. Jesus was the first and greatest created being, but he was not the eternal God. Arianism in this form continues on in the teachings of Jehovah Witnesses.
Arian thought appealed to pagan converts. They were more easily attracted to the idea of lesser gods, because their pagan heritage which was full of them. Christianity in this form was more palatable to the masses. In the Arian story, Jesus Christ was a divine hero, a loose approximation would be like our modern day super man. Who doesn’t love superman?! He was greater than an ordinary human being, but not the eternal God.
Arias was a powerful speaker and a gifted networker. He also was able to put catchy jingles together that promoted his understanding of Jesus, little kids and dock workers would sing his songs. He was wildly popular, so when he was excommunicated, early in the 4th century, things got ugly. With rioting in the streets going on, Emperor Constantine was prompted to call a church council in the city of Nicaea in 325 a.d. He reminded the 300 churchmen who attended the counsel that church division was worse than war. He gave them one charge. Figure it out! He didn’t much care about the conclusion just so long as everyone agreed with it!
Since Jesus had been worshipped as God in the vast majority of churches across the empire for upwards to 300 years in some places, Arias bold revision of Jesus and his place in the Godhead was met with massive disapproval. He and his supporters were regularly shouted down in the counsel. It was inconceivable that Jesus could be anything less than equal to the eternal God. The creed that came from this council nearly 2000 years ago is still accepted to this day by the vast majority of Christians world wide. Notice the emphasis on Jesus and the three in oneness of God.
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made…We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets…
All the Bishops but three signed the creed in 325. Arias and two of his supporters were kicked out of the church. The controversy raged on for 50 more years before Arian thought was officially expunged from orthodox teaching.
The Semi-Arians tried to land a compromise. It didn’t work. They were ready to concede that Jesus was similar in nature to the father just so long as they did not have to say that he was of the same nature. This didn’t fly either — From the earliest of times, Christians believed that If Jesus wasn’t God in the flesh he couldn’t be the Saviour. Semi-Arianism prolonged the debate but a compromise that viewed Jesus as anything less than co-equal with God was not possible.
To the early believers in Jesus, salvation was not about going to heaven to get stuff, as Islam would later teach. It was about being united in the communion of the divine. From the orthodox point of view, the goal was not to attain equality with God or be made into a god as mormonism would much later teach, rather the believer would be welcomed into the fellowship of the triune God. He would belong in the company of God.
The first Christians loved this grand story, A relational God, coming to earth, welcoming the human into fellowship with him through the grace of Jesus by the power of the Spirit. The earliest benedictions evidenced this incredible three in oneness, II Cor 13:14 — May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. It was the Christian story, not to be changed. Beyond full comprehension to be sure, and a great mystery without doubt, but an absolutely beautiful and glorious story.
Thank you Bruce Shelley your book Church History in Plain Language, was very helpful.