We are pleased to bring to you an interview with Carl Medearis, a famous speaker, writer in today’s missions and missiology, co-author of “Tea with Hezbollah” and author of “Muslims, Christians and Jesus“. Carl Medearis has often been connected with the Insider Movement (See our article: “Position Paper on the Insider Movement” ), which the Biblical Missiology society has expressed severe biblical concerns with. We wanted to extend an opportunity to engage him with some questions to help us and you the reader better understand his views and thoughts. While we may not agree, we believe that discourse is beneficial for the body in sharpening one another for the glory of God. We also believe that it is the responsibility of you, the reader, to filter everything we and anyone else says with the Word of God with proper hermeneutics.
While we hoped to have a live interview with Carl, unfortunately a written response interview was all we were able to arrange because of health issues with his voice. While not best, we are happy to recieve a response from Carl. We’re pleased that Carl is open to discuss some of the more controversial topics out there and answer some questions about his views, and to help us understand his thoughts and perspective on these issues.
Islamic/Christian view of God Question:
Question 1 ) This first question is a bit complex, so please forgive me for giving it some context. A concern of the Biblical Missiology Society is the perceived attempt by some in missions to establish an essential equivalence between the Quranic god and our god in order to dodge the overwhelming Biblical teaching against idols and idolatry, and show that the Quranic god is not an idol. Biblically an idol is anything that distracts us from giving full allegiance and glory to God the Father, Son, & Spirit. We believe that presenting a message that propagates this view of essential equivalence ultimately creates confusion and syncretism on the character and theological attributes of god for individuals from a Muslim background. In your blog ( See:http://www.carlmedearis.com/blog/2010/02/is-allah-god/ ) you wrote “So is it the same God? Of course it is.” Our concern with this is your approach in addressing knowing God from a cognitive angle. Knowing God is far different than knowing things about him. It is true that Muslims and Christians agree on the transcendent, glorious or majestic attributes of God. But we differ in regard to his imminence or that he is close and near to us. That God became man is a critical aspect of who God is. Thabiti Anyabwile wrote in his recent book,Gospel for Muslims, that biblically “To call upon the name of God is to call fully upon the Godhead, the blessed Trinity, one God in three persons.” He goes on to say that anything short of this is idolatry. As Islam flatly rejects a God who has come down and become man. You choose to emphasize the similarities not the vast differences to gain a hearing. Which in general is a good starting place. But do you get to the rest? So this is the question: In your blog you basically say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God except that Muslims do not see him clearly. Given the context Jesus reproaching the Jews in John 8 where the Jews were claiming to be children of Abraham and that they belong only to God. Can you explain then why Jesus did not accept their claims and in fact he told them John 8: 41-44 “If God were your Father, you would love me, …You belong to your father, the devil, …” It seems that Jesus is saying the Jews have replaced the real truth of God for the falsehood of an imperfect, incomplete, god that is not real and is an idol. Can you give your thoughts on this?
When we ask the wrong or partially wrong question, we come up with the wrong answer. To ask “is the god of the Quran the same as the God of the Bible is an interesting question, but it doesn’t lead to a yes or no answer. Anyone who simply says either yes or no, is grossly oversimplifying the issue. Here’s my thought:
The Sociological Argument
All of you reading this know me in one way or another. You know my name. You know I have interesting thoughts about Jesus, about the Middle East, about how to interact with culture, etc. How would you answer someone who asked you, “Do you know Carl Medearis who lives in Denver and used to live in Beirut?” You would probably simply say “yes.” But do you really know me? Even my Chris and my three kids find out new things about me fairly often. (Once in a while, those things are even good!)
So at one level, we’re asking this question of Muslims: Do they REALLY know God? And I would ask: Do we? Of all the percentage of God there is to know (presumably 100%), how much do you know of Him? Think about it. Maybe 1%? I think I’m probably up to .000001% of knowing all there is to know about God. We’ve just decided that we know the right .01%. The bit that is “good enough” and the .000001% that Muslims know about God isn’t good enough. (Which may be true, by the way. I’m not arguing against the point of “knowing enough” as it’s a good point.)
So to begin the discussion, we need to jump off our high horse and humble ourselves so we’re not thinking we have one less zero in front of the decimal…We all see through a glass darkly. Is the glass darker for our Muslim friends when they “see” God? Probably.
What clears the glass a bit? Jesus. We see God as clearly as we see Jesus.
The Etymological Argument (Study of Words)
“Allah” is simply the word for “god” in Arabic. Kind of like Dios is his name in Spanish. We would never say that “Dios” is the Catholic or Spanish God. We would say that that is his name in Spanish – big difference. All Arab Christians have used “Allah” in Arabic for God.
Remember when Jesus cried out at the crucifixion “My God my God….” The word in Aramaic (an early version of Arabic) was “illahi.” To say “my God” in Arabic today, you would say “Allahi.” When an Arab simply says “God” he uses the word “illah.” Same root. Same word.
Some have heard that “Allah” was the Moon God in the Arabian desert. Other than the fact that there is no evidence of this, if you were to ask any Muslim from any time in history if they worship the “Moon God”, they would be highly offended. Do we worship a pagan deity called “God?” Of course not. But our English word comes from the Germanic pagan deity of water called “Guut.” Or did Paul encourage us to worship the Roman God Zeus when he Hellenized that word and turned it into Theos? Of course not.
So on the most basic level of how we use words, the only word for “God” in Arabic is “Allah.”
The Theological Argument
Perhaps the deepest of all the issues when we discuss whether the God of the Muslims, called “Allah” in Arabic, is the same as “our God” is this: When they think of “God”, are they thinking of or praying to the “right” God? This, in my opinion, is the real issue. (And my guess is, it’s your real issue as well). Here are several thoughts on that:
A. There is only one God. There aren’t several. In one sense, unless you’d say that Muslims are worshipping an idol or the devil, then there is only one possibility anyway. It’s simply whether or not they are seeing him correctly or not. But it’s not the question of whether he is God or not. This is a huge deal. It’s one thing to say that Muslims don’t see God clearly; it’s quite another to say that it’s not the real God.
B. The 99 names of God that they use would all agree with our definitions of God.
C. Here’s the “God” that Muslims believe in: He is the creator of the heavens and the earth. He created and loves us. He is the All-powerful (omnipotent), the all-knowing (omniscient), and the all-present (omnipresent). He is the eternal judge. He is fully holy and righteous. And he is the God who saves, heals, comforts, offers compassion and mercy – and the God who’s wrath needs atonement (Although Muslims do not believe that is provided through Christ). So is it the same God? Of course it is. Do Muslims have full revelation of who he is and who Jesus is? No. Do they need that understanding? Yes. See, those two questions are easy to answer with one word.
The Missiological Argument
My final point, and the most practical, is this: to reach the heart of our Muslim friends with the good news, we need to meet them where they are. They also see through a glass darkly. They are trying to find access to the One True God. All the Muslims I know who take their faith seriously, want to know God and follow Him. Why would we not give that to them? Maybe it’s because we’re mad at Muslims and we don’t want them to “share” our God (as if he’s “ours” anyway).
When a Muslims says they believe in God or in Jesus (which they would all say), why not start out with a simple “Great, and so do I. So how about we walk together and get to know Him more.” That opens every door!
So do Muslims believe in God correctly or completely. No. But there’s a vast difference between saying that and saying they believe in an idol.
Question 2 ) A postmodern trend in missions has been to look at Islam and Christianity as two religious systems, that overlap. This overlap is often called the common ground. There is also a third circle called “Kingdom of God” wherein truth lies. This has been labeled by the Common Ground Movement as kingdom circles. In this view, they believe that Muslims can be children of the Kingdom of God, call themselves Muslim (and maintain the rituals and identity of the Islamic Umma), and attain the inheritance of the Kingdom of God without becoming New Testament Christians. The Muslims do not need to cease being Muslims (as defined by the Shahada) to enter the Kingdom of God. The opposite view is articulated on the St. Francis Journal’s website in an article written by John Span entitled “The Critical Kingdom Question: Can One Be Identified With The Kingdom of God and With Islam At The Same Time?” What is your view on this?
I am not that familiar with the Common Ground folks as I’ve not been around them or to any of their trainings. I have seen the Kingdom Circles, but don’t personally use that. Herein lies the difficulty of terminology. Islam and Christianity (as I define them) are, in fact, simply two religious systems. They have many overlapping parts. Theologically, historically, culturally. Entrance into God’s Kingdom, as defined by Jesus, has nothing to do with “becoming Christian.” It has to do with a belief in, submission to and a following of Jesus Christ as the One and Only. If I Muslim (or a Christian, for that matter) doesn’t believe and follow, then they are not in God’s Kingdom!
Question 3 ) In your blog you say that the good news should be good news. ( See http://www.carlmedearis.com/blog/2010/03/making-sure-the-good-news-is-good/ ) In this article you focused on the positive news in the good news. However, to the perishing, isn’t the gospel also the stench of death (2 Corinthians 2:16)? Where does the consequences of sin, conviction, confession, repentance come into the gospel story. How do you view Jesus’ clear calls for repentance in Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15, John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-12, and the Apostles in Acts 2:37-38, 26:20?
So much to this question. First of all, “repent” didn’t mean to Jesus what we typically use it to mean today. Now we use the word “repent” more as a synonym for “I’m sorry I offended God and have sinned. Now I will stop.” Whereas Jesus used it in conjunction with joining His new kingdom. His meaning was “Look. There’s a whole new way of life. You can keep going your way following your religious systems, or you can come and follow me.”
And yes, part of that is being sorry for my sins. But modern western Christianity has made the whole good news of Jesus Christ to mean “stop sinning and have eternal life.” The message of Jesus was much bigger and broader than that.
It’s also noteworthy that the news Jesus brought WAS good news for those most on the outside. His news was often a bit scary for the religious elite of his day. Those who thought they had all the correct answers. But to the lepers, the women, the children, the prostitutes and the Samaritans – it was plain old good news! Very little of the “hard stuff” we often lay on people today.
Therefore, I’m convinced that if Jesus were walking with us today among our Muslim friends, he would be much more grace-filled as he would call them to follow him.
Question 4 ) In building relationships with a Muslim what is your ultimate goal? If it is not conversion then what?
Carl’s Response: :
Let me be clear about two things. Muslims, without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are doomed to the same thing that those who call themselves “Christians” (or anything else) are. Secondly, I do think that tearing down walls, building friendships and bridges is inherently a good thing. A God thing. Blessed are the peacemakers Jesus said. So there is an intrinsic value in that.
However, my hope is always that Muslims (and us) would come to fully know Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection. We just have to be careful to know what we’re asking them to “convert to.” If it’s a new religion called “Christianity” then I’m against it. I also have no desire to make them more “Muslim” then they are. Both miss the point. I don’t like my friends who have come to Christ to continue to call themselves “Muslims who follow Jesus” or “Muslim Background Believers” because it undermines their status as a new creation in Christ. That’s what we want – to be found in Christ. Not to be either Muslim or Christian.
Salvation / Community Questions:
Question 5 ) In order to be a saved Follower of Jesus (a.k.a. Christian), what constitutes saving belief, what constitutes conversion, rebirth (John 3:3), born of the Spirit (John 3:7-8), Raised from death to life (Romans 6:1-5), New Creation (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), United in Christ (Romans 6:5)? In other words, what does a person from a Muslim background need to believe to confirm the Holy Spirit bringing about the changes listed above? What do they need not believe to be saved (i.e. True prophethood of Muhammad? Authority/Divine nature of Quran, etc.. can they always believe in these things throughout their walk forever? Or will evidence of the spirit ultimately lead to rejection of these?) How does this reflect on other ‘christian’ cults that proclaim Jesus, but follow a different gospel, like Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, etc..?
First of all, being a “saved follower of Jesus” is NOT know (a.k.a.) in most of the world as a “Christian.” in most of the world – like Spain, Serbia, Greece, Argentina, etc – a “Christian” is a simple cultural distinction. But I think I know what you’re trying to say….based on the verses you’ve used.
It’s a great question actually. I often ask it when I speak. What does someone need to do or believe in order to be saved. It’s a bigger question then we often realize. The thief on the cross seemed to “get in” by simply saying “remember me.”
The Ethiopian Eunuch asked Philip a question about Isaiah and then got baptized.
Some were healed and believed. Some followed from a distance and were confused, but still followed. The closest disciples seemed to have missed the whole point even by the time of the crucifixion.
When were the 12 disciples saved? Not always clear or easy to know. I think the clear teaching of Christ and the Apostles was to “turn, believe/trust and follow Jesus.”
As Muslims do this, their bad theology (whatever of it that was bad) will fall away due to the teaching of those in their lives, the reading of the Bible and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
Just like many American Christians who are trying to believe and follow Jesus have syncretized their faith with materialism or individualism – they need to grow out of that – but we don’t say they’re not believers.
So a Muslim may still be confused about the prophethood of Muhammad and the authority of the Qur’an or the divinity of Jesus and still be saved. But we don’t desire for him to stay there.
Question 6 ) In your opinion, do people who come to saving faith (As defined in the last question) need to create & form together Christian communities (the Church, Universal Body of Christ) or can they in their own perception, and the perception by those around them (Muslim or not) be part of Muslim communities (the Umma)? If Muslim communities, can they stay there indefinitely and be Biblical?
Of course we want them to be in communities of others who are clearly following Jesus. But this doesn’t mean they can’t still be in their Muslim community. Again, it’s like asking if I can belong to the Elks Club and Rotary and still be in the church? This is the great tension of living out the gospel – being in the world but not of it. So much of this, for a Muslim, has to do with what we’ve called them into. If it’s a “Christian church” with all the trappings of Western Christianity, then we will make it nearly impossible for them to live in that country – which is a failure on our part to understand the principles of being salt and light in a people group.
So we must be careful to think through what it is we’re asking Muslims to “join.” It’s the Kingdom of God and his people – the called out ones spiritually – that we’re asking them to engage in and with. Not something that has roots in western Christendom which will get them killed, persecuted and at the least, made irrelevant in their culture. Real persecution for the sake of following Christ is to be expected, but persecution for our stubborn western ignorance is inexcusable!
Question 7 ) You lived in Lebanon 12 years, have you seen a community of Christians from a Muslim Background organize and are they now continuing to meet? Do they have a pastor? Do they elect elders and deacons? Do they have relations with the larger body of Christ in Lebanon?
As far as I’m aware, in the Arab Muslim Middle East, there are no such gatherings. There are Muslims who have joined Christian churches in ones and twos. There are some small gatherings of Muslims who have come to faith in Christ, but none that would past the test you made in the question above. (In other words, Muslims who are now clearly following Jesus and who are, themselves, the leaders/pastors/elders of other Muslims who have come to Christ in a way that is clear and reproducing. I don’t think those exist in the Arab Middle East yet).
But we do have many who are following Jesus (in clear definable ways – even by your definitions) and are meeting together regularly.
Building Bridges/Relationships Building:
Question 8 ) You have written two books that delve into dispelling fears of Muslims. It seems that your desire and hope is to build bridges between Muslims and Christians in hope of fostering goodwill. In a recent talk you gave at the Muslim American Society conference (See http://www.carlmedearis.com/blog/2009/12/take-jesus-back/ ) you said to the Muslim audience, “If you’ve ever felt that Christians have unfairly taken Jesus and re-packaged him in a way that you can’t understand, then TAKE HIM BACK. He’d love to be yours!” How do you think the Muslims in this group perceived that statement? Was it your intention to have them seek the true biblical Jesus, God the Son, Triune of one? Or do you think they would embrace the Isa of the Quran more, rejecting the biblical Jesus?
Carl’s Response: :
First of all, there is only one Jesus. There aren’t two of Him. In Arabic, his name is Isa. So not sure what this question means. But of course I want them to follow the real Biblical Jesus in his fullness – that person being called Isa if you’re speaking Arabic.
And I have no idea what people “heard” when I told them they should “take Jesus back.” What I HOPE they heard was this: “We, Western Christians, have turned Jesus into a white Christian guy and then tried to reintroduce him to you and we hope you like him that way. But you don’t. So why don’t you find him for yourself. He is not ours. He is for everyone!” That’s what I wanted them to hear and from the feedback I got, that is what they heard. With the Spirit’s help, some will seek…!
Hezbollah / Hamas:
Question 9 ) Through your books we understand that it is your sincerest desire to build relationships with Muslims, especially the ones many are afraid of most. This is commendable. In building these relationships do you have concerns that your very positive attitude (ignoring the negatives) adds credibility to their extreme, sometimes terroristic activities? Have you seen many of these extremists, some of whom you mention in your books, come to a believing, knowledgeable and saving faith in God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit?
Was Jesus concerned that his association with tax collectors, zealots and Samaritans (all “enemies” in one respect or another) would be misunderstood or lead to them being more of what they were?
I’ve been asked similar things often and I can’t figure out what motivates the question. Am I being “used” by these people I meet with? Of course. Is God bigger than that?
And I don’t ignore the negatives – not at all. I speak very directly with these groups. I looked the Hezbollah leader in the eye and said “lay down your arms.” That’s pretty direct, I’d say. (And I’d say the same to the Israelis and/or Americans).
Yes, at least two of the main examples in the book “Tea with Hezbollah” are clearly following Jesus. But I’m not interested in individuals doing that – a foreign concept to Jesus – but that whole peoples would come to know him. We are called to “make disciples of all peoples” not of individuals. So we’re working at seeing 1000’s come at once.
Question 10 ) Have you read the Book “Son of Hamas” by the former Hamas insider now born-again Christian, Mosab Hassan Yousef? His father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, is a founding leader of Hamas, internationally recognized as a terrorist organization and responsible for countless suicide bombings and other deadly attacks. In a March 6 Wall Street Journal article ‘They Need to Be Liberated From Their God’: The ‘Son of Hamas’ author on his conversion to Christianity, spying for Israel, and shaming his family. Mosab states: “The problem is not in Muslims,” he continues. “The problem is with their God. They need to be liberated from their god. He is their biggest enemy. It has been 1,400 years they have been lied to.” Do you share his sentiment? yes? No? How so? What do you think of his view in his book that the only hope for peace in the Israeli & Palestinian problem is that the Muslims reject Islam, and both they and the Jews find the Biblical Jesus, and receive him as Son of God?
I have not read it, but feel like I know it since I’ve heard so much about it. And I know some of the background story of this man as I know his context well. I do agree that the only hope for the Israeli-Palestinian issue (and all others) is that they would come to know Jesus as Christ. I don’t agree with this take on the issue or how we characterizes it, as you would know by now.
But it’s typical for someone who comes out of an abusive situation to be very hateful and angry at that group of people who hurt him. If you want to know all the dirt on Mormonism ask a former Mormon. If you want all the dirt on Islam (and there is plenty) then ask a Muslim who has converted to the religion of Christianity. Because of his conversion to the wrong thing – Christianity – he has lost all voice in the Arab or Muslim world. Too bad. But Christians here love him, because he tickles itchy ears.
Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to say, comment on?
Fear is the big issue for the church. We are afraid of Muslims. When we’re afraid, we don’t go. When we don’t go, they don’t hear. Islamic extremism falls right in the lap of the church. We have the answer. Let’s spend less time worrying about what they’re believing and doing, and get on with loving them into the Kingdom through the power of Christ.