Then it was Elijah’s turn. Stepping onto a large boulder, he slowly pivoted to gaze upon the prophets of Baal. Before him were 450 sweating, bleeding, exhausted leaders of the most prominent religion of that region and time.
Surprisingly, rather than calling down fire from heaven, rallying the Israelites around the true God, and eliminating the false teachers, Elijah said, “Gentlemen, I have come to realize that while we may have our differences, we have much to offer one another in our understanding of life. As a matter of fact, God has infused a great deal of truth into your religion, and it would be rather arrogant and unloving for me to claim otherwise. Let us unite around our common goals and demonstrate to the world that while we may have different traditions, we are all, every one of us, children of God.”
Few of us could imagine such an ending to the great encounter on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. But listening to some of the rhetoric swirling around Christian circles today, one gets the impression that perhaps Elijah got a little carried away. Couldn’t Elijah have made more progress with dialogue than the sword? Shouldn’t he have looked for common ground rather than differences and used loving affirmation rather than confrontation? Not if he wanted to be consistent with the will of God.
Today’s tolerant mood
No one today would advocate putting false teachers to death, an event unique even in the biblical record. However, the New Testament is abundantly clear that God’s people have nothing in common with the followers of false religions. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers…. What part has a believer with an unbeliever?…Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord’ ” (2 Cor. 6:14-15, 17).
Today almost any form of biblical separation has fallen on hard times, partially due to abuse but increasingly due to the tolerant mood of the moment. As a result, rather than seeing our divine mandate as taking the gospel to the lost and calling men and women out of the domain of darkness and into Christ’s Kingdom (Col. 1:13), many within the church spend their time trying to find common ground with those who teach falsehood. Some examples would be helpful.
Nanette Sawyer, in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, confesses, “I can say I am a Christian today because of a Hindu meditation master…. She taught me to meditate, to sit in silence and openness in the presence of God. She taught me to love God, which allowed me to experience God’s love for me.”1 She can be this enthusiastic over her Hindu teacher because she believes “all people are children of God.”2
In the same book, Samir Selmanovic asks, “Is our religion the only one that understands the true meaning of life? Or does God place his truth in others too?” His answer:
The gospel is not our gospel, but the gospel of the kingdom of God, and what belongs to the kingdom of God cannot be hijacked by Christianity…. To put it in different terms, there is no salvation outside of Christ, but there is salvation outside of Christianity. For the last two thousand years, Christianity has granted itself a special status among religions. An emerging generation of Christians is simply saying, “No more special treatment.”3
Last year Christianity Today published a revealing article titled “Muslim Followers of Jesus?” It debated the possibility that Muslims could remain in the Islamic religious community, follow Islamic customs, participate in Muslim prayers, study the Qur’an, and still see themselves as “Messianic Muslims.”4 While no solid conclusion was drawn, the author was sympathetic toward the possibility that one could, in fact, be a Christian Muslim.
Former Youth Specialties president, Mark Oestreicher, defines being a Christian more in terms of doing than believing:
I still believe salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. But does a little dose of Buddhism thrown into a belief system somehow kill off the Christian part, the Jesus-basics? My Buddhist cousin, except for her unfortunate inability to embrace Jesus, is a better “Christian” (based on Jesus’ descriptions of what a Christian does) than almost every Christian I know. If we were using Matthew 26 [sic] as a guide, she’d be a sheep; and almost every Christian I know personally would be a goat.5
Leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), such as Brigham Young University Professor Robert Millet, have been meeting with some key evangelicals, including Richard Moues, president of Fuller Seminary, for the last 10 years. At least 17 closed-door sessions have occurred since 2000 for the purpose of reconciling evangelicals and Mormons. In addition,
Hush-hush chats occurred between ranking LDS authorities and nationally prominent evangelicals in 2004, 2007, and earlier in 2009, though those familiar with the meetings won’t name names. Participants hope for a publicly known conference between leaders, perhaps as early as . Another prospect is a series of formal statements on agreements and differences along the lines of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, though that will require LDS officialdom’s sanction.6
Monism, paganism, pantheism, and other Eastern religious influences, formally embodied in the New Age Movement, have infiltrated evangelical circles without even being identified. So much so that Newsweek ran a celebrated article recently titled “We Are All Hindus Now.” The author stated that while 76 percent of Americans continue to identify themselves as Christians, recent polls “show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves [sic], each other, and eternity.”7
For example, Hindus believe there are many paths to God, while conservative Christians have been taught Jesus is the only way. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). But according to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, “65 percent of us believe that ‘many religions can lead to eternal life’—including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone.”8
Why we’re losing
It would seem that conservative Christians are rapidly losing the ideology wars. I believe this is because we often do not have a biblical worldview ourselves. Having raised the last two generations of believers on the back of entertainment instead of solid teaching of the Word, we have not equipped them to grapple with the Scriptures and the opposing philosophies and religions that surround us. In order to begin to correct these deficits, we must return to a serious commitment in our churches of proclaiming the whole counsel of God.
(This article is available in print in the July/August edition of Israel My Glory. We appreciate FOI for bringing it to our attention.)
1 Nanette Sawyer, “What Would Huckleberry Do?” An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, ed. Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 44.
2 Ibid., 45.
3 Samir Selmanovic, “The Sweet Problem of Inclusiveness,” An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, 194-5.
4 Joseph Cumming, “Muslim Followers of Jesus?” Christianity Today (December 2009), 32-35.
5 Mark Oestreicher, cited in Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 53.
6 Richard Ostling, “Most Improbable Dialogue,” Christianity Today (November 2009) http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/november/11.23.html.
Gary Gilley has served as Senior Pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois for over 33 years. He is also the author of several books and is the book review editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology. He received his BA from Moody Bible Institute and MBS and ThD degrees from Cambridge Graduate School. He is the Book Review Editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology, a board member of Brazil Gospel Fellowship Mission, Personal Freedom Outreach and New Tribes Mission. He and his wife Marsha have two adult sons and four grandchildren.