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Rick Warren blames the messenger

Exclusive: Joel Richardson reacts to pastor’s response to criticism over Muslim partnership

Published: 13 hours ago

By Joel Richardson

Pastor Rick Warren has responded to those who have criticized his methods regarding outreach to Muslims, which includes joining together with Muslims for the purpose of interfaith social projects.

Warren’s response came in the form of an interview on Pastors.com, a site sponsored by Warren’s ministry. An editor’s note at the beginning of the article states that Warren is “often the target of unfair criticism and unfounded rumors.” Being among those who recently published my criticisms of Warren, I would like to touch on just a few portions of his response both to give Warren credit where he is due credit, and to request his accountability where he has been less than honest or forthright and where there has been found to be more than mere unfounded rumors.

The first question in the interview concerns whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Warren’s response here was solid:

“Of course not. Christians have a view of God that is unique. We believe Jesus is God! We believe God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not three separate gods but one God. No other faith believes Jesus is God. My God is Jesus. The belief in God as a Trinity is the foundational difference between Christians and everyone else. There are 2.1 billion people who call themselves Christians … whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, or Evangelical … and they all have the doctrine of the Trinity in common. … Christians have a fundamentally different view of God than Muslims. We worship Jesus as God. Muslims don’t. Our God is Jesus, not Allah. Colossians 2:9 – ‘For in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’”

Warren should be acknowledged for making such a clear statement that will, no doubt, be viewed as divisive by Muslims as well as the ever-so-vocal and perpetually offended religious pluralists. Good job, Rick.

On the other hand, I still cling to the opinion that Warren should have issued a correction for his previous linguistic/theological gaffe when he rounded out his prayer at the Obama inauguration with the following: “I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life – Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [spoken with a Spanish pronunciation], Jesus – who taught us to pray. …”

Of course, this is old news and many have debated the issue already, but the simple fact of the matter is that Warren’s use of “Isa” was a significant rookie mistake. This was not something a leader of Warren’s stature should be making at a such a high-level event. Again, for those who may have forgotten what all the hubbub was about, Isa not simply an Arabic way to say Jesus, but rather the Quranic and Islamic way. The proper and most common Christian manner to say Jesus in Arabic is Yasu.

This is not nitpicking. The Isa of the Quran is not a real historical person, but rather an anti-Christ polemical creation. The mythical Isa of Islam is not the Son of God, is not one of three in a trinity, did not die on the cross and is returning to abolish Christianity and, by most accounts, to slaughter a substantial number of Jews, as well. For these reasons I still believe Warren should retract his usage of this word. I think that despite his relative refusal to apologize to his critics, he might find that a little bit of humility, rather than the Pharisee-pointing he seems to use quite easily, might go a long way.

Next, Warren denies that Saddleback Church has entered into any form of “partnership” with Muslims, calling this claim “flat out wrong” and even accusing Jim Hinch, reporter for the Orange County Register, of false reporting.

This is nonsense. Warren and other Saddleback pastors are on record expressing that they fully believe in partnering with people of other faiths to accomplish various social projects, including combating stereotypes, war, poverty and corruption. At the 2009 Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) conference in 2009, Warren declared to an audience of Muslims:

“Now I was asked to speak to you about how Muslims and Christians can work closer together for the greater good, in our world. And I will tell you that I am not interested in interfaith dialogue, I am interested in interfaith projects. … And there are a lot of things that we could do together, but tonight I would quickly want to mention four things. Can we work on these things together? And I know we can. … Some problems are so big you have to team tackle them.”

Beyond this, Tom Holladay, a pastor at Saddleback, was quoted in the article as saying, “This is us serving our own community with Muslims here in Orange County. … We realize we don’t agree about everything and we’re very open about that. … You just recognize the differences and recognize the points where you can work together.”

While Warren may be irritated concerning the criticisms he has received on this issue, his protests are not genuine – and he has only himself to blame. In fact, in my opinion, Warren owes reporter Jim Hinch an apology.

The next issue concerns the notion that Saddleback church members involved in the “King’s Way” outreach project agreed not to evangelize or convert the Muslims with whom they are building friendships. Again, Warren calls this claim “flat out wrong” and blames Hinch for false reporting.

The problem, again, is that the statement did not come from Hinch, but from Jihad Turk, the Muslim spokesman with whom Warren’s church is working. It was Turk who said, “We agreed we wouldn’t try to evangelize each other. … We’d witness to each other but it would be out of ‘Love Thy Neighbor,’ not focused on conversion.” If Warren would like to state that Turk is wrong, this is fine, but accusing the reporter of false reporting was completely out of order.

Extending his defense, Warren passionately declared:

[A]s both an Evangelical and as an evangelist, anyone who knows me and my 40-year track record of ministry knows that I would never agree to “not evangelizing” anyone! I am commanded by my Savior to share the Good News with all people everywhere, all the time, in every way possible! Anyone who’s heard me teach knows that my heart beats for bringing others to Jesus.

I certainly hope this is true. I am genuinely cheering for reports of former Muslims being baptized at Saddleback, renouncing Islam, Muhammad and the Quran, while confessing the Jesus of the Bible. I love Muslims and desire more than anything to see them come to faith. In fact, it is precisely because I love Muslims so much that I hate Islam so deeply. This is not always an easy line to walk. And I agree with Warren that many so-called Christians are far quicker to express hatred of Muslims than to love them.

Yet I also think is fair to be somewhat skeptical of Warren. I think it was entirely fair to ponder the comments made by Warren’s own neighbor and friend, Yasser Barakat. Barakat says that he lived next to Rick and was friends for over 12 years before he even realized that Rick was a famous Christian pastor. Ironically, according to Barakat, this was not discovered until he invited Warren to learn more about Islam. How ironic!

I believe this anecdote was sufficient to make us ask if Warren is truly as committed to winning his neighbors to Christ as he claims in public. Of course, I want to be fair, and my purpose here is not to judge Warren, but again, I will say that if after 12 years of living next to Warren, Barakat had not been invited over to Rick’s house to learn more about the Christian faith, then Warren was not loving his neighbor, nor fulfilling his role as an evangelist – unless, of course, Barakat explains that Warren had always been quite open about his faith after all and that Barakat had, like Turk and Holladay, and Warren, also misspoken.

In the end, I’m sure that Warren’s response will be sufficient to comfort his church members, but in the lack of any genuine acknowledgment of responsibility on his part or of other Saddleback pastors, and in the abundance of casting his critics as false reporters, pharisees, or false-Christians, I am concerned. My hope is that Warren will use the recent round of criticisms as an opportunity for some introspection and an adjustment of his approach and methods to a more biblical model, rather than hardening himself against those who have expressed some very legitimate concerns.

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