Ramadan 2009: Part 4

I recently wrote about an experience of fasting I hope to share with Muslims in the month of Ramadan, which begins (in the US) tomorrow night. I don’t want to say too much about it at all (keeping Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 in mind), although I will try to post on the experience once a week or so. For reasons I explained earlier, I’m not planning to respond to criticism about the Ramadan fast during the Ramadan fast. But after the jump, I’ll include two emails that came in already, along with very brief responses, and a powerful quote from Protestant Reformer John Calvin.

Someone sent this, which was originally a posting on a site somewhere:

Brian McLaren to celebrate Ramadan with Muslim friends and mauls Scripture as justification for it!
Nothing surpises me any more with this deciever, his very words show who his “father” is, Satan himself.
In this missive from his website he says:
“Ramadan is the Muslim holy month of fasting for spiritual renewal and purification. It commemorates the month during which Muslims believe Mohammed received the Quran through divine revelation, and it calls Muslims to self-control, sacrificial generosity and solidarity with the poor, diligent reading of the Quran, and intensified prayer.
This year, I, along with a few Christian friends (and perhaps others currently unknown to us will want to join in) will be joining Muslim friends in the fast which begins August 21. We are not doing so in order to become Muslims: we are deeply committed Christians. But as Christians, we want to come close to our Muslim neighbors and to share this important part of life with them. Just as Jesus, a devout Jew, overcame religious prejudice and learned from a Syrophonecian woman and was inspired by her faith two thousand years ago (Matthew 15:21 ff, Mark 7:24 ff), we seek to learn from our Muslim sisters and brothers today.”
Here Mr. Mclaren actually has the ignorance to suggest that Jesus, the Son of God, the second person in the trinity, who was pre-existent with God the Father before the creation of the Earth & Heavens actually had to “learn” something from the phonecian woman in the Biblical passages he sites!
He ignores what plain context is by suggesting that the passages he cites actually mean Jesus was “learning” how to honor “god” in another way, or in other words via a pagan woman’s beliefs! Can you believe this?
The passsages he cites say nothing that he suggests they do! What the passages say is that the woman’s recognition of and Faith in Christ Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the World saved her daughter!
Secondly Jesus was expressing an eternal truth in his statements to the woman! He was saying that he had come first as the expected Jewish Messiah to the Jews! And then secondly as the Savior to all Gentiles who would believe in him! But his work with his fellow Jews came first and had to be completed first!
It makes me VERY angry to see false teachers & charlatans such as Mr. Mclaren shred scripture in order to decieve people! It shows he is from Satan himself.
As when you ignore the plain and clear meaning within scripture in order to deceive people you are doing the same as Satan did in the Garden of Eden when he said in Genesis 3:1: “Yea, hath God said”

R: Thanks for reading my post. Even though I wish you had read more carefully and interpreted what I said more accurately if not charitably, I’m glad you at least read and quoted what I actually said. Many people jump on a bandwagon to criticize something without even reading what it is they’re criticizing! A few brief responses –
First, since Ramadan is a fast, it’s not really “celebrated” as a feast might be. “Observed” would probably be a better word. I’ve made the same mistake myself. Since we Christians don’t typically fast very much, the language of fasting is unfamiliar to many of us, myself included. I share that minor correction in hopes that you would want to be as accurate in your understanding of Muslims and their beliefs as you would want them to be of your own.
Second, on my interpretation of Matthew 15, may I point out that I didn’t say Jesus learned “via” her “pagan beliefs,” as you say that I said. I believe Jesus learned, through his interchange with this woman of “great faith” (Jesus’ own words), that God’s call to him was now taking him farther than it had taken him to that point. Up to that point, God had sent him with bread that was only for his own people, but now, God was showing him that he had bread for all people, everywhere. (I don’t think you’d enjoy reading any of my books, but others might want to see a lengthier reflection on this amazing story in a book I wrote called Everything Must Change.)
It’s interesting that there are only two times in the gospels where Jesus appears to change his mind, once here, and once in John 2. Both incidents involve women – mothers, in fact. In John 2, at the beginning of the story, Jesus knew his time had not yet come, but through his interaction with his mother, he similarly heard God telling him that his time to “go public” had, in fact, come. At least that’s how I read the text.
Third, even if my interpretation of these texts is flawed (or even “mauled”), and it certainly may be since it’s amazingly easy for all of us to misread texts due to the assumptions and biases we all bring with us as readers, I hope you don’t have a problem with the idea that Jesus learned things. In Luke 2:51-52, we are told that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and Hebrews 5:8 uses similar language. Part of his willing humiliation (I’m thinking of Philippians 2 here) apparently included the need to learn things. To me, this only adds to my love for Christ – to think that “the Word made flesh” grew and learned as one who can sympathize with us. As someone who was fully human, he learned to talk, to walk, to read, to play, to work, to discern when it was time to enter a new phase of his ministry, and so on.
Also, even if you disagree strongly with my interpretation of Matthew 15, I hope you see the value in learning from Jesus’ example. (You could reference John 13:13-14, Matthew 11:29, 1 John 2:6 in this regard.) He was willing to befriend and treat “the other” with a kind of love and respect that was considered scandalous to leaders in his own faith community. Whether it was a Samaritan woman, a Roman centurion, a woman of bad reputation in the house of Simon the Pharisee, or any number of “tax collectors and sinners,” Jesus refused to shame, stigmatize, reject, and demonize “the other” the way his Jewish brothers and sisters often did. (By the way, even if you don’t want to think about Jesus learning anything, it’s clear that the early church leaders did. In Peter’s experience with Cornelius in Acts 10, for example, he as a Jewish follower of Jesus – an apostle even! – learns more about God and God’s ways through an encounter with some Gentiles. I have experienced this very thing many times – gaining greater insight about my own faith through respectful, Spirit-guided interaction with people of other faiths. I expect the same to occur this month.)
Fourth, like you, I believe that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, and the Savior of the World. On that basis, do you think it’s appropriate for you to call me, a fellow Christian, Satanic? I don’t know what else to say in response to being called Satanic except to thank you for sharing your opinion, and tell you I love you and pray God’s blessings and grace for you. Although I think you’ve misunderstood, misrepresented, and misjudged me, I appreciate your underlying desire to do and say what’s right, and may God help that desire to be fulfilled more and more in the future, for you, and for us all. For we all have a lot to learn and a long way to go as we press on toward maturity, which Paul defines as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Someone else sent this:

I always knew you were an apostate. But thank you for telling your congregation that you are an apostate.
How pathetic you and your ilk have become. Too stupid to know you are letting the enemy in. Making friends with the devil. How blind you have become.
Enjoy your throne for a while. For eternity with Mohamed is just around the corner for you.

R: You are very clear in expressing your opinion about me: apostate, pathetic, stupid, blind … You certainly have strong and clear opinions and aren’t afraid to express them boldly. That boldness will be even more valuable as your opinions grow more wise and mature (in the spirit of James 3:13-18), I’m sure you’ll agree.
Since my teenage years, I have affirmed my whole-hearted faith in, love for, and commitment to Jesus Christ, and I continue to do so, now more than ever. For that reason, I can’t imagine why you would call me apostate, since an apostate is someone who denies the faith he once held. But even though that accusation isn’t accurate, I am (God knows!) at times pathetic, stupid, and blind, so you are at least partially right about me part of the time!
Knowing your opinion of me, I hope you won’t be offended if I ask you a couple of questions, just something to consider humbly and prayerfully, if you’d be willing: Do you ever wonder if the way you feel about me is the way people felt about Jesus in his day, when he showed the “blindness” and “stupidity” to eat with people considered to be outsiders by the religious elite? Or might you be playing the role of Peter in attacking Paul for a similar willingness to associate with people considered “unclean” in his tradition (Galatians 2:9 ff)? Can you see why I, as a follower of Jesus, would want to be a true friend of Muslims, who are my neighbors, fellow human beings made in God’s image, precious people who are beloved by God? Can you see why I feel this way all the more because so many people (sadly, including many Christians) display a prejudice against them that is not unlike the ugly racism and anti-Semitism that have been too common in our past (and remain so, tragically, in our present)? Would Jesus be friends with Muslim people if he were here today? Would he perhaps dare to eat (or in the case of Ramadan, fast) with them? What would you think of him if he did so?
No pressure, of course, but perhaps you’d be willing to think about these questions sometime when you have a free moment. Then again, knowing your opinion of me, it is probably presumptuous to ask you to even consider thinking about these things at my suggestion. Either way, God bless you, and God bless us all!
Again, I don’t plan to respond to the rest of the emails and blog posts like these that will no doubt come in. Suffice it to say that the attitudes of anger, superiority, hostility, disdain, and perhaps even fear that are discernible in these messages help explain why some of us feel, in faithfulness to Christ and his gospel of the kingdom of God, that it is a great honor to seek to humbly differ, and to cross bridges, overcome barriers, identify with, and build relationships with people of different backgrounds. We don’t do this to make anyone mad, but we understand that responses like these often go with the territory. Sometimes, bringing less-than-ideal attitudes to the surface is part of God’s work in this world. When things are out in the open, they often can be dealt with more effectively than when they remain hidden.
One final comment: I recently came across this beautiful quote from John Calvin, from his commentary on Galatians (Sermons on Galatians, tr. Kathy Childress, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1997; commenting on Galatians 6:9-11, pp. 624-625). It shows the reformer’s attitude towards Muslims in his day, whom he saw as neighbors and brothers (in the spirit of Acts 16:28-29, I would imagine) – quite remarkable, I think you’ll agree. John Calvin said:

Since [God] has stamped his image upon us, and since we share a common nature, this ought to inspire us to provide for one another. The one who seeks to be exempt from the care of his neighbour is disfiguring himself and declaring that he now longer wishes to be a man. For whilst we are human beings, we must see our own faces reflected, as by a mirror, in the faces of the poor and despised, who can go no further and who are trembling under their burdens, even if they are people who are most alien to us. If a Moor or a barbarian comes to us, because he is a man, he is a mirror in which we see reflected the fact that he is our brother and our neighbour; for we cannot change the rule of nature that God has established as immutable.

P.S. The underlying issue here – of how committed, faithful Christians should relate to people of other religions – is the 9th of 10 questions in my upcoming book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith, which comes out in February 2010. Emails and blog posts like these (plus a number of other ones I didn’t include) tell me how important that question is!