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Posted By Eric Sammons On May 15, 2009 @ 9:29 am In Ecumenism | Comments Disabled
Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and well-known Evangelical leader, has a blog post  in which he takes issue with the Pope’s (and the Church’s) dealings with Islam. Here is the text, with my comments in red:
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Should Christians “Respect” Other Religions?
The world we now know is marked by religious pluralism and the clash of worldviews. The modern world brings individuals and groups of different belief systems into both proximity and potential conflict. How should Christians respond when asked about this? Should Christians “respect” other religions? [A legitimate inquiry, but it begs the question: what do we mean by "respect"? Does it mean we agree with the religion? That we think it has the right to practice its faith? Or something else? Mohler doesn't really define it here.]
Headlines throughout the world announced this week that Pope Benedict XVI, while visiting Jordan, spoke of his “respect” for Islam. This came on the heels of the Pope’s notorious [this seems to be a loaded word] 2006 speech at Germany’s Regensburg University. In that speech Benedict quoted Emperor Manuel II, one of the Byzantine monarchs, who said: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” [Note that the pope didn't say he completely agreed with that quote.]
The outrage throughout the Muslim world was immediate and overwhelming. The Pope issued clarifications and explanations, but Muslim outrage continued. This week, with the Pope scheduled to make his first papal visit to an Islamic country, the sensitivities were high.
The Vatican’s official transcript  of the Pope’s comments at the Amman airport records him as saying:
My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by His Majesty the King in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam.
[Here we have the first problem with Mohler's analysis: he asks in the first paragraph: "Should Christians 'respect' other religions?" yet note that the Pope says that he has "deep respect for the Muslim community". He did not say that he had respect for Islam per se, but for the people who practice that faith. As Christians, we have respect for all people created in the image of God, so his statement is quite benign. The pope also wants to pay tribute to the "virtues" proclaimed by Islam. Considering virtues are always virtues, no matter who proclaims them, I see no problem with that either.]
There are so many different angles to this situation. First, we have the spectacle of a Pope being received as a head of state. This is wrong on so many counts. [It would be interesting if he explained at least one count. Why exact is the pope being a head of state intrinsicly wrong? Does it not allow him opportunities such as this one to promote Christ's Gospel?] Second, we have the Pope speaking in diplomatic jargon, rather than in plain and direct speech. [Mohler seems to have a limited understanding of how the Gospel can be preached. History has shown that there are many means by which one can proclaim the Gospel - "diplomatic jargon" is not automatically excluded from that list. Furthermore, this pope has proven in the past that he is not against being blunt when the occasion calls for it.] Third, we have the Pope speaking of “respect” without any clear understanding of what this really means. [What? Why does Mohler say this? How does he even know how the Pope defines "respect." Again, it would be nice if Mohler himself defined it for us.] Does the Pope believe that Muslims can be saved through the teachings of Islam? [Now we have it - this is the real issue that Mohler has with the Pope and Catholicism in general.]
Actually, he probably does — at least within the context of a salvific inclusivism. The Roman Catholic Church officially teaches that Muslims are “included in the plan of salvation” by virtue of their claim to “hold the faith of Abraham.”
In the words of Lumen Gentium , one of the major documents adopted at Vatican II:
But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.
The same language is basic to the current official catechism of the church as well. Within the context of the document, this language clearly implies that Muslims are within the scope of God’s salvation. While the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Islam is both erroneous and incomplete, it also holds that sincere Muslims can be included in Christ’s salvation through their faithfulness to monotheism and Islam.
[I give credit to Mohler for at least going to official Church teachings - many Evangelicals and fundamentalists would not do this. However, he woefully misinterprets the Church's teaching, most likely because he simply doesn't have the background to understand it in context. The Church talks of the "plan of salvation" in the sense that God desires all men to be saved, and likewise, that all men on some fundamental level desire to be saved. Thus, other religions are often attempts by man to reconcile himself with God. These attempts are always inadequate, but they reflect the need for God within all men and often contain truths that are implanted into our DNA - like the existence of a power above us, our sinful nature, and our duty to serve others. These are things that are true no matter who proclaims them, and if someone acknowledges them they draw closer to God.
The Church has always proclaimed that only through Jesus Christ is anyone saved - this was proclaimed at Vatican II and it is in the Catechism. However, the Church does not arrogantly declare that God is bound to save people through Christ only in ways we know. We know that Christ is the only way to salvation and we must proclaim that fact (which the pope does again and again), but we also humbly acknowledge that we do not know all the ways of God and if He desires to save someone, through Christ, who is not outwardly Christian, He can do so if He wishes.]
Thus, when the Catholic Pope speaks of “respecting” Islam, he can do so in a way that evangelical Christians cannot. Within the context of official Catholic teaching, the Pope can create a fusion of diplomacy and doctrine.
While evangelical Christians face a different context to this question, the urgency is the same. We are not playing a diplomatic role as head of state, but we are called to be ambassadors for Christ and his Gospel.
In this light, any belief system that pulls persons away from the Gospel of Christ, denies and subverts Christian truth, and blinds sinners from seeing Christ as the only hope of salvation is, by biblical definition, a way that leads to destruction. [Here is a difference between Mohler's worldview and the Catholic worldview: we believe that anyone who practices virtue and acknowledges truth (like the existence of one God) draws closer to God through that activity. Yes, it might be deformed and/or incomplete, but it still contains truth. And since Jesus is the Truth, he is present wherever truth is proclaimed.] Islam, like every other rival to the Christian gospel, takes persons captive and is devoid of genuine hope for salvation.
Thus, evangelical Christians may respect the sincerity with which Muslims hold their beliefs, but we cannot respect the beliefs themselves. We can respect Muslim people for their contributions to human welfare, scholarship, and culture. We can respect the brilliance of Muslim scholarship in the medieval era and the wonders of Islamic art and architecture. But we cannot respect a belief system that denies the truth of the gospel, insists that Jesus was not God’s Son, and takes millions of souls captive. [In this paragraph Mohler gets much closer to the Catholic position. It is the true elements of Islam that the Pope respects, not the false ones (this should be obvious). His statements here make me wonder if Mohler is simply looking for a reason to criticize the Pope.]
This does not make for good diplomacy, but we are called to witness, not public relations. We must aim to be gracious and winsome in our witness to Christ, but the bottom line is that the gospel will necessarily come into open conflict with its rivals.
The papal visit to Jordan points directly to the problem of the papacy itself and to the confusion of Roman Catholic theology on this very point. To understand Islam is to know that we cannot identify Muslims as those who “along with us adore the one and merciful God.” To deny the Trinity is to worship another God.
Respect is a problematic category. In the end, Christians must show respect for Muslims by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the spirit of love and truth. We are called to love and respect Muslims, not Islam.
[Mohler needs a broader view of what it means to preach the Gospel. The Church looks at things with a very long view. If the Pope spouted off in Jordan as Mohler wished, he might have gotten some kudos from Evangelicals. However, would it have been something that long term would have helped advance the Gospel in the Muslim world? I don't know, but I do know that the Pope desires that all men, including Muslims become Christian (well, Catholic, actually), so his "diplomatic" efforts are part of a long-term effort to bring the Gospel to everyone.]
Article printed from Divine Life – A Blog by Eric Sammons: http://ericsammons.com/blog
URL to article: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2009/05/15/respect/
URLs in this post:
 a blog post: http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/mohler/11603605/
 official transcript: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2009/may/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20090508_welcome-amman_en.html
 Lumen Gentium: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html
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