I continue to be very excited about the Claremont Lincoln University Project to bring together Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars and practitioners. It is essential for the future that each tradition initiate its young leaders and thinkers in at atmosphere of mutual exchange and understanding.
The reason this is so important is that these three religions are not the same. They are not simply three expressions of a common understanding. They are vastly and distinctly different from each other. Of course there is commonality and overlap – for instance all three are a covenantal people and point to a covenant they have with God. I am interested to hear how each of the three groups reflects on and lives into their particular understanding.
Many Christians seem to think that the big difference between Christianity and both Islam and Judaism is what they believe about Christ. I do not think that views on Jesus is the biggest difference between the three. In fact, I am suspicious that any Christian willingness to revisit a wooden-literal reading of passages like John 14:6 or reexamine the language and meta-physics of the creedal formulations would easily result in an understanding that did not violate the Quranic understanding that God has no children. Vocabularies of ‘how God was present in Christ’ are already being worked out by followers of the prophet Isa (Jesus) in Muslim countries. [Link: an article on c-6 contextualization]
In my mind, there is a much bigger difference between the three religions than an understanding of Jesus’ identity. It has to do with the earth.
Christianity is primarily time based. While the Christian gospel is one of incarnation, ironically, Christianity has become something that is not place-based and especially not land-based. This is easily illustrated by looking at some Muslim practices and noticing their absence or contrast in Christianity.
- Prayer Direction: When Muslim pray, they face Mecca. This is a directional earth-relative orientation. Christianity lacks this orientation.
- Pilgrimage: Once in their lives Muslims are expected to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This is an intentional journey to a specific location on the surface of the earth that holds special meaning. Christianity has no such thing.
- Sunset: Certain holy days are marked as beginning at “sundown” or when a specific phase of the moon first appears as observed in a set location. This shows an awareness of the seasons, the sun, and the moon. Christian holy days and holidays are based on a calendar and clock.
- Language: If you want to read the Quran you need to learn Arabic. The Christian gospel is not only translatable into any language – Christians believe that it should be translated into every language. The Gospel is equally valid in any and every language.
In his book Whose Religion is Christianity?: the Gospel beyond the West, Lamin Sanneh puts it this way:
Being that the original scripture of the Christian movement, the New Testament Gospels are translated versions of the message of Jesus, and that means Christianity is a translated religion without a revealed language. The issue is not whether Christians translated their scriptures well or willingly, but that without translation there would be no Christianity or Christians. Translation is the church’s birthmark … Christianity seems unique in being the only world religion that is transmitted without the language or originating culture of its founder (p. 97-98)
I have several more examples of difference (including names of God and views of “holy” land) but I simply wanted to illustrate that these are three covenantal religions that all point to Abraham, they are significantly different from each other in practice and understanding. That is why I am excited to hear what they each bring to the table and what we might be able to learn from each other… because we bring such unique, distinct, and particular expressions to the conversation.