We live in a world where most people acknowledge some kind of sovereign deity. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each share some common roots. In spite of this, religious wars throughout the centuries have prevented our human family from living peaceably with each other. More often than not, we have warred with one another, probably moe years warring than being good neighbors.
With our lofty religious concepts and ideals it would seem to me that we could find sufficient common cause for our world neighborhood to establish a common peace, for the enrichment and progress of all. Lester Fleenor is a name known to some of you as a man that has spent his lifetime in the cause of Middle East peace. A minister-missionary of Middle East descent, he has given his life serving in the Middle East and sub-Sahara. His book God Almighty recognizes the common roots of the three major religions, and probes for common ground in the world current conflict between Allah and the God of the Bible.1
Fleenor acknowledges that “Allah” was the original name, or word, used by Arabic speaking Jews and Christians when referring to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and yes - Jesus (p2). He notes other similarities between the Islamic declaration “there is no god but Allah” and the Biblical declarations of Deut. 4:35 and Isaiah 43:10 (p4). The Deuteronomic code simply states “the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.”
He agrees that “Allah is the accepted Arabic word for God” but argues that “Allah is not the Muslim God per se. (p8). Quoting from Operation World, Fleenor claims that “Saudi Arabia once had a large Christian population” until “expelled when Islam gained control 1,300 years ago” (p6). He further suggests that Middle East Christians are comfortable with the use of the word Allah. So far, so good.
Differences come when expressing “concepts of Allah. The orthodox Christian view of Allah (God) is expressed through Christ as peace and love and the question Fleenor, which which I would agree, asks is how anyone can confine this omnipotent God to the limitations of the Muslim sword and Jewish ritual. I have no problem with the word Allah, but I find the sword at great varience with Christ the Savior.
Fleenor helps us understand better how to converse with Muslim neighbors about faith and many of us have them in the towns where we live. Reading Fleenor enriches our personal walk with God, devotionally speaking, but he also raises some questions--especially for those of us who lift up Jesus. Namely: How can we live our lives as he describes, of “materialism, selfishness, and immorality,” which in and of themselves believe, live, and promote “a wrong concept of God, for themselves and to others” (p12).
That is a question Christians everywhere have to answer? It is a question with which the Church of God must deal, if it is going to speak to this culture. We face the challenge of bearing the good fruits of true faith. Jesus compared that true faith in God to a fruit-bearing tree. The good fruit tree bears good fruit; a bad tree produces bad fruit, if any fruit at all (Mt. 7:12-13).
Jesus came to convert bad religion of the Jewish Pharisees and Sadducees, with the broken relationships, from ritual and antagonism into reconciling love and second-mile faith (Mt. 5:43-47; 7:16-20; 5:38-41). Rather than tit for tat, Jesus taught us to forgive one another's failures, to love our enemies, and to serve--the example being the Samaritan binding up the wounds of the mugging victim--that being one's neighbor.
Whatever we believe about Jesus, we can learn much about the sovereign God Almighty by taking more seriously than we do the teachings of the one who came in His Name, i.e. Jesus. Mahatma Gandhi never became a Christian, but following the teachings of Jesus that he learned from E. Stanley Jones enabled him to lead his nation to freedom and write a page in history as a defender of human rights and the common good.
For those of us who profess to follow Jesus, I propose that we become Red Letter Christians (cf Jim Wallis, A Great Awakening) and filter all our Christian interpretations through the lenses of what Jesus taught and did. We do well to return His teachings to the center of our Christian theology and practical discipleship. It will improve our interpersonal relationships. It will reform our behavior with Muslims and others that often experience great discomfort in our midst. It will increase the sacremental value of our our own personal walk with God.
I want my lifestyle et al to reflect a correct concept of who God really is, and Jesus does that better than anyone I know.
1. Lester Fleenor, God Almighty! His Word For Christians, Jews, and Moslems. (Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 2005).