The Worship of Tashlan
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
August 28, 2009 - Charity is the virtue that, among other things, ought to prevent believers from offering ungenerous caricatures of those whose views they oppose. Every so often however, an opponent of the Gospel says or does something so inexplicable that those who merely report it must defend against objections rooted in charity: “I’m not making this up.”
Consider, for example, Brian McLaren, who is apparently now observing the Muslim month of fasting known as Ramadan. Professing as he does to be a follower of Christ, fellow Christians might wonder what would possess another professing believer to engage not merely in interfaith dialogue, but interfaith practice and ritual. (Dare one say . . . worship?) Prolific author that he is, McLaren offers the rationale.
Writes McLaren: “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.”
The grounds for McLaren’s participation in Ramadan could not be more astonishing. We are apparently to follow Jesus Christ (moral) Superstar who, as it seems, overcame a spiritual vice (read: sin) – namely, ethnic-religious bigotry – by having his own provincial religious perspective corrected by a more enlightened cosmopolitan woman. (Sounds a great deal like The Shack!)
In fairness to McLaren, many evangelicals struggle with civility in interfaith dialogue – much less mutual understanding. Perhaps this is why God inspired James to remind followers of Christ to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” But to suggest, as McLaren has, that we “seek to learn from our Muslim sisters and brothers” by active participation in their religious life, serves to denigrate not only the uniqueness of the Gospel, but demeans the seriousness with which devout Muslims themselves take their faith.
To presume that professing Christians may somehow vicariously (or actually) participate in the rituals associated with Ramadan is to treat the latter as though they were peripheral to being a Muslim. It’s as if to say, “These things that you Muslims do during Ramadan are not really central to your identity as Muslims, since we’re not and we can do them too!” The deep irony here is that what makes McLaren’s view possible is his tacit acceptance of the privitization of religion that is characteristic of the triumphalist, Enlightenment west for which McLaren is effectively attempting to apologize in such exercises. If religious conviction is ultimately nothing more than a deep, personal, private commitment to some ethereal set of personal values, then external forms of religious observance are more or less a matter of indifference. Hence, a professing Christian can observe Ramadan just as easily as a Buddhist might partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Of course, there’s a lesson here for evangelicals – who tend to take external forms of religious expression as a matter of mere cultural preference. When the apostle Paul inquired rhertorically, “what fellowship does light have with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14-ff), he was not speaking about esoteric abstractions. His counsel was situated in the concrete reality of idol worship. The external forms of religious practice were not matters of indifference for Paul or any of the earliest believers. To participate in the forms of pagan idolatry was, by its very nature, to worship someone other than God in Jesus Christ. This is what the early Christian martyrs knew that McLaren apparently does not.
By the same token, the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup are not peripheral observances in the life of Christ’s body. Rather, to partake of the Lord’s Table is to be the body of Christ. “What agreement does the body and blood of our Lord have with Ramadan?” might well be a question worth asking when in conversation with Muslims. But Paul’s negative answer is implied when it comes to living out one’s faith in the life, ministry, and worship of the church.
Related Web Resource: http://www.dougwils.com/index.asp?Action=Anchor&CategoryID=1&BlogID=6869