Piper Contra “Loving God and Neighbor Together”

This video is John Piper’s response (and disapproval) to the document entitled “Loving God and Neighbor Together,” a document produced and signed by over 300 respected Christian leaders including John Stott, Timothy George, and Harold Attridge. It is a response to a document entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You,” written by a group of Muslim scholars and clerics and addressed to Christians.

Personally, I’m a bit torn over the documents and over Piper’s response. He seems to be toeing the line between biblical faithfulness and unwarranted narrow-mindedness, and I can’t decide which way he’s leaning. Any thoughts?

Piper more fully unpacks his views in another document called “Tolerance, Truth-Telling, Violence, and Law: Principles for How Christians Should Relate to Those of Other Faiths,” written in 2002.

(HT: Justin Taylor)


19 thoughts on “Piper Contra “Loving God and Neighbor Together””

  1. Well, you already know my thoughts on this from our emails regarding this letter back in November, but to give a quick synopsis to help stir up the conversation… I agree with Piper, and actually thought there were some additional things that a Christian could find at least worrisome. First, as Piper focuses on, the signatories completely whiffed on an opportunity to promote the true Gospel. For one, they both asked for forgiveness from the “All-Merciful One” (a common reference to Allah) and referred to Mohamed as a prophet, likening his supposed suffering and words to what Jesus said on the cross. Thus, they got dangerously close to equating the two Gods and the two prophets. I’m sure Stott doesn’t actually believe Mohamed is a prophet, but he did show a lack of foresight in signing a document that implied as much from a supposed Christian perspective.

    Another aspect that troubled me was the lack of historical accuracy and that the letters only refer to the sins of Christianity. If we are to have true reconciliation between the religions, the first place to start is for Muslims to recognize and acknowledge their own sins against humanity (which far outnumber the sins of Christianity). The Common Ground letter does nothing but imply acceptance of the same ol’ dhimmi attitude that Muslims have nothing for which to be sorry while Westerners or Christians should grovel at the feet of Islamic supremacy. Ignoring the elephant in the room is not a good way to have authentic reconciliation.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. I thought the Common Ground letter could have been much better crafted to draw a distinct yet gracious line in the sand between Christianity and Islam. Instead, to a non-Christian, it reinforced a universalistic view that Christianity and Islam are two sides to the same coin.

  2. I could try to argue “well, they are just going easy in order to open up the dialogue and then they will give them the gospel” but I just can’t do it. I don’t think this is heading in that direction. There are an awful lot of universalist thinkers who were able to sign this document as well.

    There is a large emphasis on love in this document, but that is troublesome. We cannot just say “God is love so let’s just get along.” Not long ago, a wise person stated a question thusly: “Is it unloving to tell a non-believer that God hates them?” I don’t think this document would have been the place to phrase it that way, but at some point that might need to be a part of the “ongoing conversation.”

    I realize that many of those who signed may not agree completely with the document, but wanted to put their name behind the effort, but why? Would you sign a confession that was partly true but also convicted you of something that you were not guilty of?

  3. bryan i haven’t watched the video yet but i will say – here here piper. you sent me the document a few weeks back and i saw it as neutral at best. i will watch the video sometime later tonight.

  4. Piper failed to mention anything about the “love thy neighbor” aspect. We can argue till we’re blue in the face about which God is the true God, but there’s no arguing who our neighbor is–just look at the nearest ‘homo sapien’. I Jn 4:20 says “…he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”

    Piper said he was disappointed with the scriptural references that only told part of the truth about God (leaving out Jesus’ divinity). But what about the rest of the truth about our neighbor? When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?”, he answered with the famous Good Samaritan parable, in which he portrayed a filthy, half-breed Samaritan as the agent of God’s mercy. Suppose Jesus were living in our present time. Might his parable be retitled, ‘The Good Muslim’? Who are we to say that he cannot (and does not) use those filthy, Allah-is-God-and-Muhammed-is-his-Prophet’ Muslims to show his compassion toward a wounded man whom the ‘Christian leaders’ have passed by?

  5. The Christian loves his neighbor by desiring the best for him. A true Christian leader will desire to lift up Jesus for Who He Is and Who He claimed to Be. He will desire to do this in a spirit of love, being mindful of his won state of being prior to his being born again by God’s grace through Christ Jesus his Lord and Savior. There is no dialog more important that this.

    By the way Jesus, the word of God, does not describe the Samaritan as a filthy half breed. Those are your words. This particular Samaritan had mercy on a Jew where usually hard feelings were harbored. Will a Muslim have mercy on his enemy? If he does, will he be following what his prophet teaches about that?

    Piper sees the need to be truthful above all. It is a good way to approach speaking with others. It is important not to give untruth a pass.

  6. I apologize about the misrepresentation in my previous comment. My description of the Samaritan was intended to be as seen from a 1st century Jewish viewpoint, which is definitely not Jesus’ viewpoint. Jesus was radically counter-cultural. Likewise, the description of the Muslim comes from the sense I get from some 21st century Christians. I don’t harbor that view myself and I know lots of other Christians who don’t either.

    I guess my main question is this: Do good deeds done out of mercy and mutual respect for your fellow man only have meaning and eternal value if you worship the Triune God?

  7. Dear Kelly,
    Thank you for your response.
    As a Christian I see such good deeds such as deeds of mercy as very meaningful in that they might more closely identify the doer of good – especially if such deeds are toward a perceived enemy – with the heart of Christ who did indeed love his enemies, praying that the Father would “forgive them for they know not what they do”.

    I think God uses such good works for His purposes and that they do therefore have eternal value as God works out His purpose through all events.

    As for personal eternal value, what we call life after death, I believe we would need to look at the motives behind the deeds. Pride, personal advantage etc. might show an outwardly good deed to be of mixed motivation which detracts from that deed being perfectly good. Actually, the word of God says that “there is none righteous, not even one” and that the unbeliever does not, even can not, understand this. How will we stand before God? Does God weigh out good deeds against neglect, mixed motivations, or evil? Really, who can say he or she is good upon honest self reflection? We would spin into a terrible self absorption if we were to attempt personal perfection by good deeds. Personal eternal value can only be found in the gospel. God is holy. Not one can stand before Him. But we are saved from eternal death by grace (the work of the Holy Spirit upon us) through faith (all that the Father gives) in Christ (that He died for the sins of those who would trust and believe) So the word of God calls us to understand that the only wholly truly good work is to and obey God’s work which Jesus says in John 6:29, 47 is to believe in Him.) The Spirit moves where He will. I believe the heart prepared by the Spirit of God will desire God, know itself and be on its way to recognizing the truth of the gospel when presented with it – we are such beggars, each of us, in such need of the Promised Savior.
    I do not do this type of communication much and hope this response was not “too much” Your question was thought provoking.

  8. From my brief read of the letter, my assesment is that its base flaw is its equation of Muhammed and Jesus as prophets of the One God. Here’s how the math works.

    Christian, Jesus = prophet
    Muslim, Jesus and Muhammad = prophets

    So, in a document written by Muslims, Jesus will come off looking quite good with a role that Christians will readily accept. I’m going to have to agree with Piper that world peace and a general sense of happiness is not worth the cost of adopting a Muslim, truncated view of Jesus, which is what this document insists upon for its argument of common ground. In my mind, we need to find a different way forward.

  9. Allow me to add a comment on the final paragraph of the letter:

    “So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill. God says in the Holy Qur’an:

    And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which God hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each We have appointed a law and a way. Had God willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ. (Al-Ma’idah, 5:48)”

    Sounds great, right up to the last sentence and quote where God is quoted as saying something about how he could have made the two communities one, but has instead revealed to each a way to God. I think I’ll hang on to my signature.

  10. I don’t read the document as asking us to adopt a “Muslim, truncated view of Jesus”. Rather, I see it as identifying what, in each of our traditions, calls us to the same value of ‘love of neighbor’.

    The key to initiating dialog is speaking in language that both parties can accept and understand. That means finding overlapping areas of values, which is exactly what both of these documents do. They aren’t intended to be systematic theologies of either religion and thus leave out things that are critical to a full understanding of both. To treat them as if they are ‘complete statements of faith’ is a mistake.

    I’m heartened by the exchange. An effective witness to the Muslim world is going to start when both sides are calm enough to get along. If that long-term goal (witness and conversion) is accomplished by these means, that’s great. “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some,” writes Paul. If that means speaking of Muhammad as a prophet so that we engage the Muslim community using language it understands (I.e. ‘becoming’ Muslim to the Muslim community in order to win some to Christ), then so be it. I see that as a minor thing to give up in exchange for the longer-term prospect of spreading the Gospel.

  11. Brett, to play a little devil’s advocate…

    So you would support opening dialogue with Mormons by referring to Joseph Smith as a prophet of God? Wouldn’t that affirm him to Mormons?

    To modify Paul… “Men of Islam, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I studied your religion, I found you refer to Jesus as a prophet. What therefore you acknowledge in part, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, or the All-Merciful one as you call him, does not live in mosques or churches made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And, as you know, he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

    ‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

    as even some of your own poets have said.

    The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. And that man is the prophet Jesus.”

  12. Darius:

    (I once heard a pastor get all steamed in a sermon about the devil’s advocate phrase. Cracked me up.)

    I would support opening dialog with Mormons by *acknowledging their belief* in Joseph Smith as a prophet of God. I am not suggesting that we should believe it. I am suggesting that we should not open our conversations by disdaining their belief, but rather acknowledging it, stating our own, and then working to the point where we can freely converse. If we can find areas where our values and ethics overlap (even if they come from different premises/foundations), that speeds the process. The goal, to me, is to arrive at a place where we can deliver the gospel in love and where they are most likely to receive it.

    With regard to Paul’s comments to the Athenians, you left out what I believe is a critical piece from verses 19-20, “… May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears and we want to know what they mean.” They asked him to deliver that sermon. Otherwise, yes, I think your appropriation of Paul is right on the mark. My point is not that we hold back from highlighting the true Gospel: My point is that we ought to be wise about how and when we deliver it. We should sow the seed before we attempt to harvest the crop.

    I would guess that if you stand up and deliver your modified Pauline sermon to Muslims without having first built relationship, you will find it to be an ineffective tool of evangelism (indeed, one can argue Paul found it to be ineffective depending on how one understands Acts 17:34).

    I think you are correct in that we need to be cautious to make sure that when we are being respectful we are at the same time not giving the incorrect impression that we concur with a misrepresentation of God or his gospel.

    Thanks for the response. My challenge back to you would be to ask: When Paul says that he becomes ‘like one under the law … to win those under the law’, do you think he is affirming to those under the law that they ought to be? Or is he being practical and recognizing that the most effective witness is based on building relationship first and changing belief/behavior second?

  13. Brett, I think finding common ground is essential to dialogue and evangelism. If this document kept the faiths distinct and affirmed only that ‘love for neighbor’ is a common idea in both, then I would have no problem with it. But note the quote used as the final statement of the document:

    For each We have appointed a law and a way. Had God willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ.

    By signing this document, a person is supporting the contents of the document. A signature does not mean agreement with open dialogue or a desire to pursue better bridges. Signing this document means you agree with what it says. This quote gives the rationale for its creation. If I have taken this out of context, please show me. If I have not, and I am understanding this correctly, it is arguing that the reason we have common ground is that one God created both faiths and we will all understand the differences when we all “return” to him. Therefore we should work together now. I could not sign that.

    Darius, I like your rewrite, since it uses their understanding of Jesus to come to a proper understanding of Jesus. I would say that is the right bridge to build. Probably wouldn’t create the desired world peace though.

  14. Brett, your last comment is right on. I just think this document is an inappropriate, misleading seed, at least on my current understanding of it.

  15. Kyle:

    Excellent comments, thank you.

    The quote that you mentioned is in the Muslim document, isn’t it (as opposed to the Christian response)? As such, I have no problem with it; it is, after all, Muslims quoting the Qur’an. I don’t have to ‘agree’ with their motive, reasoning, or theology for establishing relationship in order to return the gesture.

    I’m not convinced that by signing a document one necessarily agrees with each detail of the contents. If that were the case, for example, I doubt that bills would ever get signed into law. Any document that is committee-written will necessarily involve some give and take from the committee members.

    Now, had the document suggested we start praying together … I’d be more concerned. It’s difficult enough to address the question of whether Jews and Christians can pray together. 😉

  16. Brett,
    Yes, the document I quoted was the Muslim document. I see the Christian document as affirming the contents of the Muslim document, so I think we must scrutinize the first step of this dialogue in order to know what direction we are going.
    I am very glad diplomatic, loving discussions are being opened between theologians and we can only hope that years from now this attitude will trickle to the masses.
    I concur that you do not have to agree with the Muslim rationale in order to return the gesture, but the gesture made in return seems to affirm the rationale. I’m wondering how long the dual use of “God” can be sustained without either the dialogue breaking down or the adoption of a universalist denotation. The gesture that was actually returned seems to favor an inclusive view of God as the basis for further discussion. Consider this final statement from the Christian document:

    We are persuaded that our next step should
    be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another.

    Shouldn’t we as Christians, in order to maintain a respectful position on Allah, be referring to “our respective understandings of God?” Are we affirming in this statement that Muslims do indeed love God, apart from faith in Christ?
    I hate slippery slope arguments, because they bend to the whim of the one making them. However, you said you would be more concerned if the document suggested that Muslims and Christians pray together. My question is, if we are going to sit down with Muslims to determine how God would have us love him and our neighbor, what method will we use to hear from God the answer?

  17. Kyle:

    I simply don’t read ‘affirmation’ of the Muslim view into the exchange like you (and Darius, I think) do, so it’s hard for me to grasp the concern that you two have expressed. I’m pretty comfortable talking to Muslims about their understanding of God while believing fully that the understanding is flawed.

    Your last question (“what method…”) is very compelling. It’s thought-provoking enough that I have to sit and think about the ramifications and can’t whip out a cogent reply quickly. But I will think on it.

    Finally, I think the biggest weakness with my approach is one of scale: It’s easy for me to argue that ‘relationship-building’ is the best model of evangelism, but do (high-level) exchanges like this really lead toward practical, individual relationships? I say yes, but it seems to me that it’s open for debate.

    Thanks again. I’ve been challenged by your comments. And Tighty McWhitey, sorry for monopolizing your blog. 🙂

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