Terry Mattingly, On Religion
— At the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, centuries of Islamic doctrine have literally been carved into the shrine's walls.
Two quotations on the northwest wall will be of special interest to anyone interested in the latest whirlwind of controversy linked to evangelical superstar Rick Warren and his giant Saddleback Church.
The outer face inscription states, in part: "Praise be to God who has not taken a son and who does not have any partner in dominion. ..." On the inside, after a reference to Jesus, is written: "Peace be upon the day he was born, the day he dies and the day he is raised up alive. That is Jesus, son of Mary. ... It is not for God to take a son."
In other words, Islam proclaims a strict monotheism, while rejecting the Christian belief that God is One, yet has been revealed as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Thus, it matters that fundamentalist critics are circulating excerpts from a recent Orange County Register report claiming that Warren and his megachurch have joined with nearby mosques to promote a "set of theological principles" -- called the King's Way -- proclaiming that "Christians and Muslims worship the same God."
Warren is never quoted affirming these crucial claims and the article also reports that leaders on both sides have agreed to cease evangelistic efforts to convert members of each other's flocks.
The preacher and bestselling author has attempted to distance himself from the online firestorm, which builds on longstanding claims by religious broadcaster Jack Van Impe that Warren has become a proponent of "Chrislam" -- an alleged attempt to blend Islam and Christianity.
Warren's defenders have, however, posted an interview transcript in which he has responded to these "Chrislam" allegations.
"Christians have a view of God that is unique," stressed Warren. "We believe God is a Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not three separate gods but one God. No other faith believes Jesus is God. The belief in God as a Trinity is the foundational difference between Christians and everyone else."
The Saddleback leader also denied that King's Way efforts to build a "bridge" of understanding and tolerance represents a change in his Southern Baptist congregation's commitment to evangelism.
"Building a bridge" to the Muslim community, said Warren, "has nothing to do with compromising your beliefs. It's all about your behavior and your attitude toward them. It's about genuinely loving people. ... Before people trust Jesus they must trust you. You cannot win your enemies to Christ, only your friends. ... Besides, it is Christ-like to treat all people with dignity and listen to them with respect."
Meanwhile, the conservative "Apprising Ministries" website has posted what it claims is a piece of a King's Way document obtained by the Register from a source close to the interfaith effort.
In its section on God, this report claims that both sides -- backed with quotations from the Bible and the Koran -- agreed that "God is one," "God is the Creator," "God is different from the world," "God is good," "God loves," "God is just" and that "God's love encompasses God's judgment."
The problem, of course, is that Christians and Muslims, as well as Jews, have for centuries proclaimed that "God is one" -- while disagreeing on whether this oneness can be reconciled with Christianity's doctrine of the Trinity.
Contacted by email, Warren insisted that public discussions of an official King's Way doctrinal statement -- as opposed to a program by that name that promotes interfaith understanding -- caught him by surprise. "Neither I, nor my staff had ever seen such a document UNTIL the article mentioned it. It wasn't created or even seen by us. ... Saddleback Church as a church was not involved," he said.
However, the bitter cyber-debates continue, similar to those surrounding Warren's efforts to promote dialogues with atheists, gay-rights leaders and President Barack Obama and his supporters on the Christian left.
Asked directly if he is "promoting Chrislam," Warren released this blunt reply.
"It's the lie that won't die," he said. "Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation. Period. If I didn't believe that, I'd get into a much easier line of work! But I do believe that everybody needs Jesus and I am willing to put up with false statements and misunderstandings in order to get the Gospel out."
Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.
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