Saturday, 20 October 2007

The Cross and other religions

Last Wednesday I attended some lectures about the challenges and opportunities of Christian Mission to the Muslim and Hindu communities in this country. It was a useful reminder that Christians should be engaging with these communities, showing friendship and hospitality, listening to what they believe (not just what we think they believe!) and also listening to their fears. For example, I didn't know that the Hindu community currently feel very marginalised: both government and Church are bending over backwards to engage with Muslims (for obvious reasons) but very little is heard about making such Hindus have their say.

However, as with many things Church of England, there was a rather obvious lack of engagement with the main questions:

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? The speaker said yes. He mentioned one 'faithful Muslim' who loves going to Taize services - a display of unity despite 'doctrinal differences'. It seemed to be taken for granted that Muslims at least partly honour Jesus by declaring him a prophet.

Is there revelation outside Christ and the Bible? The speaker said yes, in response to a question which insisted we shouldn't ignore books such as the Bhagavad Gita. He mentioned approvingly church services in which there had been three readings: Old Testament, Gospel and Bhagavad Gita, although acknowledging that this would be difficult for some.

Although these main questions were touched on, as the examples show, there was no theological engagement with them.

One of Luther's best contributions to the Church was his distinction between a "Theology of Glory" and a "Theology of the Cross". Put simply, if we hold to a theology of glory we imagine God is rather like we think him to be. We claim to know intuitively what "strength" and "glory" and "power" are, and imagine God to be the most strong, most glorious and most powerful. (See here for a better, but still short, summary.)

Luther, like the apostle Paul (see e.g. 1 Corinthians 1-2), thought differently. Sin has darkened our minds so that we do not think straight. What God is like is not what we think him to be like, but he is as he has revealed himself, and this most clearly at the cross. God's true strength, glory and power are revealed in the weakness, shame and humility of the cross.

In other words: a god without the cross is not the True and Living God. Muslims claim to honour Jesus while denying that he was crucified, but this is to deny all that Jesus stood for. It is in fact to mock and dishonour the true Jesus who came, he said, to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Similarly, while the Bhagavad Gita may contain some nice stuff, it does not reveal Truth because it never takes us to Christ and him crucified.

2 comments:

Saju Muthalaly said...

Interesting post Tim, I am at the moment reading the autobiography of Bede Griffith- Born and brought up in England but lived for many years not very far from where my parents live in India. He does argue that it is possible to see Christ in other religious texts, especially Hindu texts. He takes the line along with other Indian theologians such as Samartha that 'although Christianity belongs to Christ; Christ does not belong to Christianity (exclusively). I wonder what you make of it?

Tim V-B said...

I'm a bit hesitant to answer without knowing in what ways Christ is seen in other religious texts - otherwise my reply might miss the mark!

When God speaks, he only says one thing: "Jesus". But he says it so loudly that it echoes around creation. The fact that the whole creation was made in, through and for Christ, i.e. that it is "Christ-soaked" suggests to me that we will find Christ-echoes in all sorts of places. Everything from seed having to "die" and be buried before new life can come - pointing to Jesus' death and resurrection - through to the fact that much literature is comedy, i.e. there is a situation which gets bad before a final resolution (happy ending). Almost every chick-flick follows this pattern, and we could say that this is an echo of the patterns of creation--fall--redemption. So in this sense we might "see" Christ in creation or in films, or indeed in other religious texts.

Another example - if in some religious text a god leaves heaven and comes among humanity, that is an echo of the incarnation, just as many peoples have flood-myths in their background, while the original true story can be found in Genesis.

But do these other texts take us to Jesus of Nazareth? Do they encourage us to trust in God the Son for our justification? I rather think not. If they lead elsewhere, though they are echoes of truth, they are ultimately forgeries that will disappoint.