Theological Difficulties in A Common Word Between Us and You
Patrick De Leon
In October of 2007 a document entitled A Common Word Between Us and You was issued as an open letter to the leaders of the major Christian churches and denominational associations. This document was signed by 138 Muslim clerics, scholars and intellectuals with the avowed purpose of declaring "for the first time since the days of the Prophet the common ground between Christianity and Islam." This document purports to find this common ground in the two Great Commandments of the Christian faith as enunciated by Jesus Christ. These commandments declare the primacy of loving God first and then loving our neighbors.
This open letter was answered by another open letter, issued by religious academics associated with the Yale [University] Center for Faith and Culture. This second letter was entitled Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to "A Common Word Between Us and You." It was signed initially by over 300 Christian and church leaders, a number of these from theologically conservative, evangelical backgrounds.
Both documents seek to open dialogue between the Christian and Muslim faith communities. Both have what seems on the surface to be a laudable goal: Peace and harmony between the worlds of Christendom and Islam. And both documents assert that dialogue and harmony can occur by seeking to find and then build on our "common ground." As noted previous, it is suggested that this common ground is to be found in the two Great Commandments. Verses from the Bible and the Quran are frequently quoted in both documents to verify the commonality of these commandments to both faiths.
However, there is cardinal doctrine found in the first document that is extremely important, yet very subtly presentedand for this reason perhaps overlooked. This doctrine is actually best expressed in the words of Jesus Himself, as He is quoted in the documents. Using the form of the two Great Commandments as found in Marks Gospel, we hear Jesus say:
"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31)
Note the opening words to the Great Commandments: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." This introductory statement, known as the Shema in Judaism, sets the foundation and basis for the two commandments that follow. The commands to love God and our neighbor are both rooted in the doctrine of the unity of God, thus in the Person and nature of God Himself. This doctrine is very significant, and must not be overlooked.
Indeed, the Muslim document affirms the importance of this fact repeatedly. Notice the following quotes:
"The basis for peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and the love of the neighbor The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbor is thus common ground between Islam and Christianity." [Italics added.]
"Clearly, the blessed words: we shall ascribe no partner unto Him relate to the Unity of God. Clearly also, worshipping none but God, relates to being totally devoted to God and hence to the First and Greatest Commandments." [Italics in original.]
This point is explicitly declared in the third section of the original document entitled "Come To A Common Word Between Us and You":
"What prefaces the Two Commandments in the Torah and the New Testament, and what they arise out of, is the Unity of Godthat there is only one God Thus the Unity of God, the love of Him, and the love of the neighbor form a common ground upon which Islam and Christianity (and Judaism) are founded." [Italics added.]
Thus, it is evident that our ability to love God and our neighbor is grounded in our understanding of and devotion to the one true God. The acceptance and understanding of the concept of the Unity of God is fundamental to the two Great Commandments. Consequently, it is by accepting the oneness of God that we have a basis for our "common word" of agreement. Without the unity of God, there is no foundation for the two Great Commandments. And without these commandments, there is no common word of agreement.
This seems pretty simple, and rather obvious. However, there is a genuine difficulty here. What is meant by the phrase "the Unity of God"? This phrase is repeatedly used in the Muslim document and is essential for the entire premise of the document. Yet the phrase is somewhat ambiguous in meaning.
The underlying assumption for both documents is obvious, i.e., that both Muslims and Christians believe in one God. Both are monotheistic religions. Both have common traditions and common roots. As is stated in the Introduction to the first document: "Thus, despite their differences, Islam and Christianity not only share the same Divine Origin and the same Abrahamic heritage, but the same two greatest commandments." As a result, it is assumed that both Christians and Muslims not only believe in one God, but they worship, serve and believe in the same God. Although the outward observance of each religion is very different, at the heart they are essentially the same, or at least equivalent.
Such teaching is extremely popular right now. It is commonly accepted in many religious circles, even Christian, even among some evangelicals. However, it is not a Biblical concept, nor is it consistent with the orthodox, historic faith of the Christian church. In a word, it is heresy. Let us explore why we are asserting this.
The Unity of God
In A Common Word Between Us and You the phrase "the Unity of God" occurs repeatedly. At first glance, this seems pretty straightforward and understandable. Both Muslims and Christians worship one God. But do Christians and Muslims mean the same thing when they speak of the unity of God? In a word: No.
When Muslims posit that God is one, they mean this in an absolute sense. God is a solitary being. Allah/God is one totally, completely, and without qualification. There is, and can only be, one person in the deity. He exists alone, supremely and singularly divine.
When a Christian asserts that God is one, they mean that there is no God other than the Lord God, Yahweh, i.e., the Deity revealed in history and the Holy Scriptures. To understand the exact nature of this one Deity we must explore the Biblical revelation of the unity of God. In the Scriptures we see clearly that there is only God, yet He is revealed as eternally existing as three divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The unity of God is genuine and true, but is not absolute. God is not a solitary Being. Rather, the one God exists in a divine fellowship of three Persons, each distinctly God, each co-equal and co-substantial, each wholly divine; and yet there are not three gods, there is only one God, the Lord Almighty.
Consequently, it is evident that the phrase "the Unity of God" has very different meanings for each faith. And the two positions are not reconcilable. To worship and serve the true God of Scripture is to acknowledge the Holy Triune Being revealed there. To reject the Triune God is to reject God Himself, the revelation of His true nature. You cannot serve Yahweh and Allah. The two concepts of deity are by definition mutually exclusive. And to reject to true doctrine of God, is to reject God Himself, with the result being exclusion from salvation, eternal life, and forgiveness of sin. This may sound harsh to modern earsbasically because we have so compromised the clear teachings of the Biblebut it is the truth.
The Biblical concept of God as a divine fellowship of Persons has interesting consequences. For one thing, it makes the assertion that "God is love" more understandable. This verse from 1 John 4:7 is used in A Common Word Between Us and You to bolster the argument for a common ground of understanding between Christianity and Islam. The document also quotes a number of Quranic verses in an attempt to find an equivalent concept for Allah. However, the best they can come up with are statements to the effect that Allah loves those who are obedient and act righteously. The second document, from the religious leaders at Yale, observes that in Muslim tradition God/Allah is called the "Infinitely Good and All-Merciful." But that is about as close as they come to anything remotely resembling "God is love." Indeed, there is no Quranic citation for asserting God is love. Why? The answer is rather simple. How can an absolutely solitary being be denominated "love"? Love implies relationship, interaction between beings. We would do well here to consider the words of C. S. Lewis:
"All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that God is love. But they seem not to notice that the words God is love have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, he was not love."
The very idea of God existing as "love," being a loving Being is grounded, in His Three-Personal Divine nature. It is meaningless to speak of love as being an essential quality of Gods nature if it only came into existence after He created other beings to love.
Other consequences of the Islamic view of God involve the social and political sphere. Consider the words of Robert Letham regarding the Islamic view of Gods unity:
"From its doctrine of Allah, consequences have flowed in the history of Islam. A unitary, monadic god produced a unitary community of his followers, the ummah. The followers of the Prophet are a single community . The one nation of Islam is a unitary entity. This may help to explain why from time to time, there have been attempts to unite existing political entities . In turn, the monolith requires dhimmitude, a form of tolerance for, but servitude of, the People of the Book (Jews and Christians). It also calls for an extermination of outright infidels. As a corollary, political systems in Islamic countries do not recognize diversity. Uniformly they are authoritarian dictatorships ."
For those considering our "common agreement" it would be prudent to consider these thoughts. Theology and belief systems are not the only things at issue, so are societal norms, democratic ideals and human rights. All these matters are affected by ones view of the "unity of God."
From the foregoing, it becomes evident that our view of God and the Muslim view of God are very different. Does this mean that we cannot have good relations with Muslims? Of course not. Does it mean that we hate Muslims? Certainly not! We, as followers of our Lord and Savior, are enjoined to love all men, even our enemies. Yet our love for Muslims cannot and must not involve compromising our faith. To even hint that Christians and Muslims worship the same deity is nothing less than heresy.
The Place of Jesus
It is self-evident that Christianity is primarily concerned with Christ. Jesus is the focal point of our faith. To deny Him in any way is to reject what it means to be a Christian. Therefore, in approaching others of a different faith, we must consider what they believe about Jesus. So, who is Jesus in Islam? To the Muslim He is not God, and cannot be. God is a solitary being, absolutely one. There is no Trinity. There is no Son of God. Indeed, Muslims consider Christians polytheists, believing we worship three gods.
This issue is not explicitly dealt with in A Common Word Between Us and You. However, it is dealt with implicitly, and rather obliquely. One of the foundational verses from the Quran used in this document is Aal Imran 3:64, which reads as follows:
"Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him)."
This verse from the Quran is quoted repeatedly throughout the document. In fact the title of the document itself is taken from this verse. That this particular verse is used is disturbing for several reasons. The first is the context. If you read the verses that follow you will find a blatant condemnation of both Christianity and Judaism, and an encouragement for the "People of the Book" to convert to Islam. That Islam is presented as the only true monotheistic religion is evident from the text. Indeed, it is even evident in verse 64 itself. After all, it is the followers of Islam who are truly "muslim," that is the ones surrendered to Allah.
However, there is something even more insidious in the use of this particular verse. Note what the common word is to be, "we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him ." The common point of agreement between Muslims and Christians is to be the absolute unity of God/Allah, and the utter of rejection of God having any "partner" or "associate." This latter phrase is obviously meant to counter the Christian position that Jesus is of a divine status equal to the Father. The historic faith of Christianity clearly asserts that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father, co-equal and co-eternal in His deity, of identical nature as the Father, the same in glory, power, majesty and divine being. Islam rejects this, positing that Jesus is only a man. To declare Jesus to be divine, in the Muslim view, would be to ascribe to a mere human a position as an equal "partner" or "associate" with God. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that this phrase "ascribe no partner unto Him" is used at least five times in the document.
Another phrase is just as interesting. The document quotes Al-Anam 6:164 where the Quran, in speaking of Allah, unequivocally states "He hath no associate." In endnote "iii" the authors of the document are able to only cite one reference from the Quran for this exact phraseAl-Anam 6:164. Yet, even though this phrase is only found once in the Quran, it is used no less than ten times in the document. Why would this phrase be so prominent? The intent seems clear. From a Muslim perspective, agreement can be reached only when Christians ignore the fact that the Apostles, the Church Fathers, the entire church throughout history, and even Jesus Himself all were unqualified and adamant in their certainty as to the full Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Of course, there are other verses that use different wording and various phrases to assert that Jesus is not God, and there is no Trinity. The point here is why would the authors of the document seem to insist on this exact phrase, and use it repeatedly?)
At first glance the document "A Common Word" seems like a godsend. Here are Muslims clerics and scholars reaching out to the Christian community, offering a hand of peace. But we must askat what price? The entire offer is based on the premise that we have a common basis on which to work, i.e., the two Great Commandments of Jesus. However, as we have noted previously, these commandments are grounded in the concept of the unity of God. And this concept has totally different meanings for the Christian and the Muslim. And theres the rub.
In discussing this matter with other Christians, this writer was told to note that those who signed the second document from the Yale Center for Faith and Culture were not necessarily signing off in agreement to everything in the original Muslim document. However, our concerns over this matter are not abated by this argument. The second document affirms our basic thesis. Muslims and Christians are presented as being in agreement on the injunction to love God and to love our neighbor. But which God? "Who is God?" must be the question that is answered before anything else. This is fundamental. Without a common understanding of this theological matter, there is no common ground.
Does this mean that we must be at odds with one another? No, indeed not. The Christian is commanded to love all men, even our enemy. As Christians we can come to any negotiating table and offer terms of peace. We are children of the Prince of Peace, and we are enjoined to be peacemakers. But this posture on our part does not go hand in hand with denying the true nature of our God and Father. If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, must we not be true to ourselves? Must we reject our own faith and deny the very persons we are in order to live in harmony? Such a peace is false from the beginning, and we would question if it is even possible to last. Can a peace founded upon falsehood be lasting?
One final word about living in peace with our neighbor is required. The issue of falsehood is not the only issue. There is also the issue of intimidation. The so-called "moderate Muslim" contingent of Islam posits that they are practicing true Islam, and Islam is a religion of peace. Is this really so? Do Muslims love their neighbors as themselves? Is this part of the Islamic faith? If it is, what about the issue of dhimmitudewhere non-Muslims are accorded a secondary, subservient status? The traditional approach to the People of the Book is to offer them one of three options: conversion to Islam, death, or dhimmitude (which includes a humiliating religious tariff). Further, is there even one example of an Islamic state where there is complete freedom of religion, where Christians can worship without any hindrances or restrictions? Actually the opposite is true. In Muslim-dominated countries there is always a certain risk for anyone who does not profess faith in Muhammad as a true prophet. In this regard, read the letter from Leith Anderson, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, as to why he signed the letter from Yale. He plainly states that other Christians told him that "not signing could be damaging to these Christian brothers and sisters who live among Muslims." This sounds more like intimidation and blackmail, rather than "neighbors" of equal status loving one another and coming to terms of agreement.
The conclusion of the matter is certain. This "peace offer" comes at a high stake. These Muslim leaders are willing for us to dialogue with them, to come to a common word, with the following stipulations: 1) We must acknowledge that we Christians are worshipping the same God they arethat is, the God/Allah of the Quran; 2) In order to come together to love God and our neighbor it necessary to posit the Unity of Godwhich means a denial of the Triune nature of God; and 3) Our common agreement is based on a Muslim understanding of Gods nature as being a solitary being who "hath no associate" or "partner," thus denying the true Deity of Christ.
1 The foundational Bible verse used in the Muslim document is Deuteronomy 6:4 or its quotation by Jesus. This is the Shema prayed daily by devout Jews. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for "one" in this prayer is echad. Echad often means a composite unity, or a oneness with a diversity. There is a Hebrew word that means an absolute unity, yachid. However, the Torah does not use yachid (absolute unity) to refer to the oneness of God in the Shema, or in the Great Commandments. For a reference on the difference between echad and yachid see David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996), p. 97.
2 That the rejection of the revelation of who God is and the essential teachings of the church results in exclusion from saving faith and eternal life is found in many places in the Bible. For example: John 17:3, 2 John 9, Galatians 1:8-9, 1 John 2:22-23, John 3:36, etc.
3 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p. 152.
4 Robert Letham, Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2004), p. 444.
5 E.g., Matthew 5:9, Hebrews 12:14, Romans 12:18, James 3:18.
6 See the letter from Leith Anderson (Appendix 6).
Some Observations on A Common Word Between Us and You
From the "Introduction"
1. The signatories state they have taken a "position of respecting the Christian scripture and calling Christians to be more, not less, faithful to it." These Muslims presume they understand and apply the Bible better than we do. They have the capability and authority to call us to better obey the Bible. Their assumption: They are more righteous and obedient than we, and can direct us in spiritual matters.
2. The last sentence of the Introduction asserts the Divine Origin of all three monotheistic faiths. Do they really believe this? Do we really believe this? Can a Bible-believing Christian really believe that the visions/revelations given to Muhammad were on par with the testimony of the Prophets and Apostles? Do we really believe that the Quran is holy scripture, just as valid as the Bible? I dont think so.
From the "Summary and Abridgement"
3. "The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians." Do we accept this? What about Gods sovereignty?
4. Right at the beginning the Muslim understanding of Gods unity is asserted, and it declared that "we shall ascribe no partner unto Him ," thus denying the Trinity and Christs Deity.
From Section 1: The Love of God
5. The heading reads in part: "And may peace and blessings be upon the Prophet Muhammad." Considering the kind of person that history demonstrates Muhammad truly was do we really want to pray blessings upon him?
6. It is significant that the document itself begins with the Shahadah. The focus is set from the beginning: Islam is the true faith, and Christianity is not.
7. Are the Christians who read and respond favorably to this document really willing to assert that Muhammad is a true prophet of God?
8. It is asserted that "God is Absolute" and that "He hath no associate," again denying the Trinity and the Deity of Christ.
9. Repeated references are made to the "Holy Quran." Do we really consider the Quran holy? This writer wonders if any Christian who has actually read the book would consider it a holy book?
10. In the quotation from Al-Fatihah 1:7 we read that Gods grace is not bestowed on those "who deserve anger nor those who are astray." Compare this with Romans 3:23 and Ephesians 2:8-9. The Bible is clearwe all deserve the wrath of God, and we have all gone astray (Romans 3:10-12). Thankfully, Gods grace is not withheld from anyone. The question must be asked though: Can a Christian read this and be in a "common word" or a "common agreement"?
11. The hopelessness of the Islamic position is clear. The document says "we hope to be forgiven for our sins." Is this the message of the Gospel? Is this a message we can agree to?
12. Quoting Maryam 19:96 we see faith and works joined together as necessary for righteousness. Again, is this a message we can agree to?
13. The idea that God has no partner is asserted repeatedly. It is even stated that this is the message "which is the best that all the prophets have said." Do we agree that the prophets of God have all asserted that God is not a Triune Being, and that Jesus is not equal with the Father? And is this the best message we have to offer?
14. Muhammad is quoted as enjoining praise and prayer to come from Gods people. He goes on to say that by doing this "one hundred bad deeds are effaced." Do we agree with this?
15. This section ends with a bold assertion that the statement about the unity of God (including a prohibition about God having an "associate") is equated "precisely with the First and Greatest Commandment." Again, we emphasize that it is implicit in this document there is no true love of God or our neighbor, thus no agreement, unless we deny the Trinity and the Deity of the Son of God.
From Section 2: Love of the Neighbor
16. In the quotation from Al-Baqarah 2:177 the joining of faith and works together to achieve righteousness is again asserted. Are we really willing to join in agreement with this statement?
From Section 3: Come to a Common Word Between Us and You
17. Repeatedly we again see the concept that the basis of our agreement is the two Great Commandments. Yet these are founded on the Unity of God, which in the Muslim view denies the Trinity. Note: "What prefaces the Two Commandments in the Torah and the New Testament, and what they arise out of, is the Unity of God ."
18. Marvelous scripture twisting (2 Peter 3:16) occurs here. It is a great feat of biblical legerdemain. By quoting one unique source, and taking the words of Jesus as found in the Gospel completely out of context, the point is made that if Muslims are not against us, than they must be for us. What is then asserted is that we Christians will be at fault if we do not accept this. Note: "We therefore invite Christians to consider Muslims not against them and thus with them, in accordance with Jesus Christs words here." If Muslims are with us wont they allow freedom of worship in Islamic states? Wont they stop persecuting the church? Wont they acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ?
19. Are our eternal souls at stake because of this agreement? The document says so. It ends with the bold declaration "we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony." We must reject this categorically. Our eternal destiny is not dependent what some Muslim cleric or scholar believes about peace and working together in harmony. Jesus is our Lord and Savior, not Muhammad, not Allah, and certainly not the authors of A Common Word Between Us and You.
Some Observations On Loving God and Neighbor:
A Christian Response to "A Common Word Between Us and You"
1. Do the authors of this document have the right and authority to speak for all Christians worldwide, and to ask Muslims for forgiveness for wrongs done?
2. This document also asserts that our common ground lies in the love of God, and love of our neighbor. Two problems with this: 1) Which God, Allah or Yahweh? 2) It has already been noted that the love of God is rooted in understanding the unity of Godsomething which is totally different in Islam than in Christianity.
3. The document asserts that the love of God is "the primary duty of every believer." This statement seems to imply that Muslims are "believers." Do we agree that there are no distinctions between Islam and Christianity? Are Muslims genuinely believers the same as we are? Is not our faith based on trust and commitment to Jesus Christ, and without faith in Christ there is no salvation, no eternal life (see John 3:18-19). By the Biblical standard, and the words of Jesus Himself, how can Muslims be called "believers"?
4. The document states: "We find it equally heartening that the God whom we should love above all things is described as being Love." But is this Allah or Yahweh? And, as noted in our main document, can you even say Allah is love? No.
5. The same truth applies to the statement regarding "the One whom we worship."
6. The authors accept the first documents position that "Muslims are with them," i.e., with Christians. Is this true? Are Muslims with us in proclaiming the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ (John 14:6, Acts 4:12) to being the only way to God? Are Muslims with us in evangelism, and freely proclaiming the Gospel? Are Muslims even with us in freedom of worship, and religious expression? If so, why do we not see this in Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.
7. To compare Jesus words of forgiveness from the Cross with the behavior of Muhammad is ludicrous!
8. From a Christian perspective it is just as ludicrous to refer to Muhammad as a "prophet" without any qualification. Muhammad opposed and denied the very essentials of the Christian faith: the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, Jesus substitutionary death for our sins, etc. How can anyone who claims to be a true follower of Christ accord such a person the status of a "prophet of God"? From a Christian and Biblical worldview, Muhammad was a false prophet proclaiming a false teaching, for to deny the true doctrine of Christ is to reject truth, and ultimately to reject God Himself (cf. Galatians 1:8-9, 2 John 7-11, 1 John 4:1-4).
9. The authors accept the first documents proposition that to "fail to make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony" may imperil our eternal souls. Can any Christian reasonably agree to this?
10. The authors put Christianity and Christians in a subservient position. They close by saying the leaders of both faiths must meet together and "begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another." As Christians, do we really believe that we cannot know how to love others, and love God, without the advice and counsel of people who worship a false god?
Churches Represented by Signatories to On Loving God and Neighbor
Assemblies of God
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Church of the Brethren
Church of the Nazarene
United Church of Christ
Countries Represented by Signatories to On Loving God and Neighbor
United States of America
Universities and Colleges Represented by Signatories
to On Loving God and Neighbor
Alaska Pacific University
Arab Baptist Theological Seminary
Asbury Theological Seminary
Bethlehem Bible College, Jerusalem
Catholic Theological Union
College of William and Mary
Evangelical Theological School
Fuller Theological Seminary
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
New York Theological Seminary
North Park University
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Redeemer University College
St. Marys University
St. Petersburg Christian University
Tajikistan National University
Texas Lutheran University
Union Theological Seminary of New York
United Kingdom Seminary
University of Chicago
University of Gdansk
University of Pennsylvania
University of Santa Clara
University of St. Andrews
University of Toronto
University of Virginia
Vanguard University of Southern California
William Carey International University
Leith Anderson on why he signed the Letter from Yale
Something extraordinary has happened in our world of religious tensions between Islam and Christianity. A group of 138 Muslim scholars and leaders banded together to write a letter to the Christians of the world entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You" (http://www.acommonword.com).
With all the diversity among Muslims it is surprising that so many could agree on what to say and even more amazing that they would agree to sign and send this document to reach out to Christians. I suspect that some on the extremes of Islam would strongly disapprove.
But Christians are also a diverse lot. We know well our differences between Catholics, Orthodox, mainline and evangelical voices in global Christianity. More often we think about our difference more than what we share in common. So, how could we ever agree to answer Islams epistle? A group of Christian scholars at Yale Divinity School crafted a response called "Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You." (http://www.yale.edu/faith/abou-commonword.htm)
In a world filled with tensions between Christians and Muslims it would seem most unlikely that both letters would be written. They seek common ground in the themes of loving God and ones neighbor.
The originators of the Christian statement asked me to add my signature to a hundred others.
My first response was to take seriously the opportunity. And then I found that there were lines in the Christian letter that were not quite what I would write. I requested some changes that were made although there were others I might have preferred. Yes, I know that it is nearly impossible to keep going back to more than a hundred busy theologians and Christian leaders with the addition and subtraction and rewriting of words and paragraphs. Sometimes we all sign onto things that are not all that we would like them to be. Even after we write and say our own words we discover that we wish we had done better.
I sought the counsel of other evangelical leaders, especially those more knowledgeable of Islam than I. Thinkers I respected told me that they were giving their support and encouraged me to do the same. They told me that signing the statement would be especially helpful to Christians who live and minister in Muslim-majority countries and cultures. In fact, some suggested that not signing could be damaging to these Christian brothers and sisters who live among Muslims.
So, I agreed to add my name to the letter. While I am listed as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals I added my name as an individual and not as an institution. There simply was not an easy way to process the complexities of this inter-faith communiqué on short notice.
What are my hopes from this dialogue? First, mutual respect between the two largest religions on the globe. This includes a freedom to state what we each believe without pretending that there is comprehensive mutual agreement. Second, peace in places and between peoples who are hostile toward one another. Third, religious liberty where every nation allows its citizen to freely believe and worship even if that means changing what is believed and how worship is rendered. Fourth, an opening for future dialogue with the conviction that it is not good to live in either ignorance nor isolation.
Will there be misunderstandings and criticisms? I am sure there will be.
As an evangelical Christian I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. I take the Bible seriously as my rule of faith and practice. That is who evangelicals are and what evangelicals believe. Just as Muslims want us to know about Islam I want Muslims to know about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
President, National Association of Evangelicals
November 2, 2007
Source: This letter is available at the website of the National Association of Evangelicals, Signing the Letter to Islam, and on the official website for A Common Word, it is listed as entry number 33. Leith Anderson on why he signed Letter of the 300, on the page Responses from Christian Leaders.
Articles by Patrick De Leon
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