Two of my favorite ways to learn, reading and conversation, perfectly unite in a book club. Make it cross-cultural fiction, and you’ve hit my perfect trifecta. Imagine a cozy group of bibliophiles happily driven indoors by wintry weather to chat around a seasonal fire. The tromp through the cold has brought blood to our cheeks. A tromp through the tomes on our knees will bring the blood to our brains, allowing us the best of all worlds: exploring distant lands without leaving the comforts of home. The unfamiliar scenes introduced through the genre make us step outside ourselves to see both self and “the other” more clearly. We don a new set of lenses, become acquainted with distinct flavors of storytelling, learning what is shared or juxtaposed across human experience—where worldviews overlap or conflict.
Secular religious philosophers would categorize Jew, Christian, and Muslim together as “The People of the Book.” They have a shared ancestor in Abraham, the one who would be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:4-6), a shared history and geography, even a shared text in the first five books of the Old Testament: Torah/Pentateuch/Tawrat. But at God’s WORLD News and our other WORLD divisions, we resist such oversimplification for reasons that become increasingly clear throughout this discussion. These monotheistic religions have a number of key differences which we observe fractiously played out in the news of today. While history and geography lie at the heart of much of the conflict, the clearest point of contention relates not to a place or a time, but to a person: Jesus Christ.
What each of these three religions believe about Jesus, son of Joseph, son of Heli…son of David…son of Adam…son of God (Luke 3) becomes insurmountable to seeing eye-to-eye.
Unique to the Christian Narrative is the mystery of the “hypostatic union” in the person of Jesus: fully divine, fully human, Son of God and Son of Man. The other Abrahamic religions consider Jesus at best a prophet and at worst a failed Messiah. But “Christian followers of Jesus came to cherish beliefs about His life that no Jew could hold” (“Jesus the Jew,” BBC), namely His status as co-equal with God. To the Jew and Muslim alike, the doctrine of three persons in the Godhead is anathema—the height of blasphemy. They cannot abide the idea of the Trinity, much less its mysterious picture of relational shalom. Indeed, the other Abrahamic faiths argue that to esteem Jesus as anything other than a man cannot be righteous worship of the One True God. They do not understand that we only rightly worship God through “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23)
What each of these three religions believe about Jesus becomes insurmountable to seeing eye-to-eye. Believer: Jesus, Prince of Peace, serves as the reason for the labor of making peace. He calls us to act as peacemakers. Jesus’ commission for His people is weighty—Great—to go make disciples of every nation, bringing them by His Spirit into His One Kingdom.
This misunderstanding of Jesus and His specific role in the free gift of salvation, renewal of relationship with the Father, promise of restoration by the Spirit—of ultimate shalom of all things on earth and under heaven—is a sad state of affairs for both Jew and Muslim alike. But even with the grief that “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11), a promise remains: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) Knowing this promise should move us, believer, to become deeply acquainted with the story of our redemption in Jesus, to learn the stories of others, and to seek every opportunity to share the hope we have found.
Believer: Jesus, Prince of Peace, also serves as the reason not merely for our current season of celebration and feasting…but for the labor of making peace. He calls us to act as peacemakers, though we will not see it in its fullness in this place or time. Jesus’ commission for His people is weighty—Great—to go make disciples of every nation, bringing them by His Spirit into His One Kingdom.
Reading and discussing books like The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini or In the Beginning and The Chosen by Chaim Potok not only adds shades to my understanding of the disparate nature of the monotheistic worldviews but also, and more importantly, instructs my compassion. Instead of flattening adherents of other religions through a systematic study of the way they answer the worldview questions (What is the problem? What is the solution? How should we live our lives? What happens after death?,) these works of fiction insist that I behold the multi-dimensional image-bearer. So, I would argue we must accompany our reading of the news with a smidge of philosophy, a large helping of religion and worldview understanding, and a healthy side of story (fiction and non-fiction alike).
The Ultimate Story begins with our first representative head, Adam, and the covenantal terms, outlined in Genesis 2 and 3, under which God established His relationship to and expectations of humanity. Adam and Eve unfortunately disobeyed God’s conditions, in some circles as the “covenant of works” (see Genesis 2:15-17), and fell under His wrath and curse (see Genesis 3:15-19) and were exiled from the garden and the Lord’s presence. But God’s grace was already at work. He promised that the offspring or “seed” of the woman would someday crush the head of the serpent. God renewed these covenants in increasingly specific language with each representative head: Noah (Genesis 8), Abraham (Genesis 17), and David (2 Samuel 7). This story, rich with promise—covenant—came to its climax in Jesus Christ whose “heel was struck,” whose body was torn, whose crown was made of thorns…that He might bring under His reign all things under heaven and on earth. (Ephesians 1) The story finds its continuation in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31, Luke 22:20) in His blood, by which we have been made ministers of His good news (2 Corinthians 3:6). At Jesus’ Second Advent, we will finally see Him face to face and be made like Him (1 John 3:2). In that day, we will experience in reality what John beheld in Revelation 7:9-10:
[A] great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
The perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God, has changed everything. And His name is Jesus.