This is a follow-up post to the first one that I did a the Just and Sinner blog.
I think the title of this post is something that will, in the future, be ever less understood by my idolatrous friends. We live in times when all claims to know Truth (with a capital T) are increasingly thought to be based on the will to power, not to mention hatred of the other.[i]
This is particularly true if these are religious truth claims and you are making them in the academy – and the more elite, the more true this is. Everyone in such an environment knows that there is nothing felt and thought to be less respectable than asserting truth in matters of religious doctrine – particularly if it is Christian.
Clearly Miroslav Volf, being a leader in this most unhelpful of environments, is – contrary to the confessing Christian heritage he has inherited – under great pressure to conform, and to “be transformed by the renewing of your [Enlightenment] mind”. Successive recent tweets tell the story:
Wheaton didn’t suspend Hawkins for disagreeing with the Christian faith, but for disagreeing with an opinion about the God of another faith (here).
Tragic: Pushing against Islam, orthodox Xians are coming to affirm that the Jews, who deny Trinity and Incarnation, worship a different God (here).
I still cannot believe my eyes: many conservative evangelicals truly think that Jews believe in another god, and therefore in a false god (here).
Merry Christmas Wheaton and conservative Christians everywhere! That baby in the manger isn’t quite the deal you’re making it out to be. Don’t give the world the impression he is essential or anything as offensive as that.
Of course, outside of Volf’s bubble, there is nothing shocking about Christians saying that those who do not worship but reject Jesus Christ are practicing idolatry. Even those who intend to worship the God of Abraham.
I have already mentioned that John 8 is all important to this discussion. Further, in John chapter 14, in a non-polemical context, Jesus clearly tells his disciples that He is the way, truth, and life – and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. In Acts 4:12 we read of Jesus Christ that “there is Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 the Apostle Paul tells us about idolatry:
“we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”
Later, in chapter 10, Paul goes on to say that: “the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.”
But how widely should such language about idolatry be applied? Only to the non-Abrahamic religions? Speaking on the Church’s creeds, Martin Luther spoke with the entire Christian church of his day, saying:
“These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, [better: may believe in ; may call on – see here] nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” large catechism, 3rd article of the creed.[ii]
(there are some who will not listen to Luther here for what they think are very good reasons, in which case I offer them this).
And here I assert again that even many arch-conservative heresy hunters like myself (I jest – though I suspect many will see my position as just this), are not incapable of nuance when it comes to understanding this issue or explaining it in ways that are most helpful to most any human being, wherever they may be at in life. This is something that you learn one-on-one in loving conversations with individuals you are determined to treat with love, kindness, gentleness, and respect.[iii]
Why? Because they are a human being, loved and treasured – created in the image of God![iv] That means Jesus Christ died for them and their sins.
So what, specifically, is an idol anyways? I think a good practical definition is this: an idol is anything that is not good or strong enough to save us from death, our sin, and the demonic (this is true whether you call God “Yahweh”, “Allah” or “Jesus” (note Paul talks about people worshipping “another Jesus” in 2 Cor. 11). And, as Luther said, whatever we trust in with all our heart for our good is our God. Here is it important to note that even the most devout of Christian believers are, to some extent, still idolaters. Continually fighting with our “old man” (see Rom. 7), even Christians have only begun to fear, love and trust in God through Jesus Christ.
Christians cannot help but lift up Christ as the world’s only hope and salvation! The character Elaine in this old Seinfeld episode understood the importance of this issue. If you are a Christian and you loved me, you would tell me about Jesus. How about that? If you really cared, you would proselytize.
(the real key part of the video comes in the last 45 seconds: if you cared about me, you would try to save me)
Indeed, to share the message that God has come in the flesh and died for us can’t not be the desire of the Christian’s heart… Love incarnate has come for all!
So I leave you with this:
Nails and spears shall pierce Him through
The cross He bore for me, for you
So hail, hail the Word made flesh
The babe, the Son of Mary
[i] Nevermind that each and every human being is fully convinced they know quite a bit and that there are some claims that can’t be true or good.
[ii] Luther’s concern for all men’s salvation can be seen quite clearly here. It is also on his mind when in his Smalcald Articles, documents to which confessional Lutherans subscribe, he says that while the Roman Catholics confess the Trinity, they don’t believe it because they officially condemn evangelical trust in the Second Person of the Trinity as their one and only Savior.
[iii] More: I think as we get the blessing of talking with each Jew or Muslim in our life we need to keep in mind the need to learn about where they are at, listen carefully for misunderstandings they might have about what they think the biblical Jesus is, discern what they need to hear (or not hear just yet), etc. Again, here one thinks about what Luther said about Cornelius from Acts 10.
[iv] That means that we are all capable of talking about and knowing truth trans-culturally and trans-historically – such is the “game” the “human community of practice” “plays”.