Friday, September 21, 2012

Three Religions, One God? (Part 1)

Kathy Armistead, an editor at Abingdon Press and also my Mother-In-Law, sent me a pre-published copy of a forthcoming book Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God by Jacob Neusner, Baruch A Levine, Bruce D Chilton, and Vincent J Cornell. Since we are studying Christianity and World Religions in the congregation during the coming weeks, I will devote Fridays to commenting on this work chapter by chapter.

Chapter One. One God: The Enduring Biblical Vision (Baruch Levine)
From the Jewish perspective, Levine argues that at the core of the conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslims is each group's belief that there is but one true God. "It is precisely the 'oneness' (=unity) of God that forces the issue of exclusivity." Instead of arguing which one of many gods is strongest, since all claim a single God the question is which claim to the one true God is accurate. Jews hold that they are singularly God's chosen people, Christians proclaim that Christ is the one true way to access God and thru him they become the new Israel, and Muslims claim that the Prophet Muhammad received revelations from God that are now found in the Qur'an and that these revelations supersede the Old and New Testaments and now Islam uniquely proclaims the fullness of God's will and God's truth.

On the one hand, since we all believe there is but one God, the one God we all worship must in some sense be the same, but simultaneously the variation in details between each group indicates a world of difference.

Levine endeavors to answer a singular core question: "Who holds the rights to the one true God?"

Arguing at great length and detail from the Hebrew Scriptures (or "Old Testament" as we call it) Levine finds his answer in Psalm 145 "The Lord is near to all his 'callers;' to all who call upon him faithfully (verse 18)."

So Levine would say that anyone who faithfully calls upon the Lord and worships the Lord in sincerity, by that virtue holds the rights to the one true God.

I won't respond in much detail until we have had a chance to look at each of the chapters. But here are a few initial reactions:

1. Why are we interested in whether or not three clearly different religions are in fact worshiping the same God? Each faith holds a unique claim to the uniqueness of their God, whether it be the Jewish Covenant, the Christian New Covenant, or the revelation of God through Prophet Mohammad in the Qur'an? The preface to this project, presumably agreed upon by each of the authors suggests the goal of the discussion is peace and justice: "Whether or not Jews, Muslims, and Christians worship the same God, we must find the will (politically, socially, and personally) to continue the process of dialogue despite our differences and focus on the worthy goal of peace with justice for all." I will eventually comment on two apparent assumptions: First, whether finding common ground is necessary to achieving peace. Second, whether the primary goal of the Christian mission is in fact "peace."

2. Because Levine writes from his Jewish faith and establishes his argument from the "first?" covenant, when he states that everyone who faithfully calls upon the Lord and worships the Lord with sincerity, holds the rights to the one true God, I assume that the one true God to which he invites us to hold rights and worship with sincerity is the Lord of the Jews--the One who delivered them from the land of Egypt, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If there be any distinction between these monotheistic religions then in so much as Levine has offered an invitation that we all worship one singular God together, he has invited us to the God of the Jews. This will also be discussed at greater length in a future post.

Leave your comments and thoughts so that as the conversation continues I can incorporate your responses into responses to the different chapters. Next Friday we will discuss Jacob Neusner's chapter. Jacob also writes from a Jewish perspective, but will argue the opposite perspective: that Judaism stands in judgement against Christianity and Islam.

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