At first it seems to be the usual. God is love, love is God. What’s all the fuss?
In fact, as long as we bring our own definitions and assumptions into the document, there’s much to like. God is love and love makes the world go round, all you need is love, what the world needs now is love sweet love, love is many splendored thing, love will keep us together, love is all you need, love means never having to say your sorry. But what is Agape Love? Isn’t it Sydney Carton going to the gallows? That’s not exactly good news unless you realize that it’s not liberation we’re after (and that’s the word Rowan uses) but redemption. They are not the same thing.
There is an almost sophomoric quality to his assumptions, his ideal for religious plurality, many of them left unsaid. It’s one thing to say Presbyterians and Lutherans should get along, let alone Protestants and Catholics. But what of the many political varieties of Islam in Great Britain? One size does not fit all, even when we wish it were so. Love means facing the truth even when it hurts – and sometimes it really hurts, so much so that we are asked to pick up our own cross and follow Jesus (however it is that He fits into the Trinity, with or without his personhood).
Rowan appears to make some some rather grand assumptions, especially about the Trinity. In his brave attempt to smooth things over, he has to smooth over the difficult bits about Jesus character (John 14:6 for example). And yes, Jesus has character, He is a person. He sits at the right-hand of the Father, except when He stood up for Stephen as he was martyred. Whatever that means. Jesus is not just a floating scarf, waffling through the air, full of air but not much substance.
Rowan’s appeal to “God is Love” as an antidote blinks at the reality of the nature of 21st century Islam – he seems to be more in the mood to appease (which isn’t really love but fear) then see his neighbor through the cross of Christ and allow that love to break his heart. Love strengthens us to share the Good News of Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us discernment in how and when. Scripture is clear. Pluralism is a ruse. We don’t have rival football teams for nothing – the nature of the heart of man is tragically wicked and in desperate need of redemption. If a religion has no redeemer, there will be no change, no hope, only despair. And despair can produce unfortunate consequences. It is not loving to turn our heads away. The change will come in our culture because the Church is alive and will express our love for Jesus by winsomely extending the warm hand of fellowship to our neighbor without prejudice, not by preaching “I’m Okay, You’re Okay, and Allah is Okay too.”
The letter is almost filled with the sort of idealistic musings we used to share late nights around around the table in college, even admitting that some times God just gets pissed off and not without reason. Otherwise, what is justice? At the heart of justice is a zeal for righteousness. Rowan apologizes for a lot of things, but never once did he apologize for the cultural debauchery of Western modernity.
Rowan seems to be on the defensive, explaining that while the Muslims might be wrong about the Trinity, they are not as wrong as they thought they were and oh, by the way, it doesn’t really matter because we should all just love each other anyway. Let’s just not mention the part about Jesus being the Son of God and the son of Mary, implying that the whole bit about his being born to a Virgin was metaphoric (which is what I think Rowan is implying, to be quite honest), not one of history, not that Mary became pregnant supernaturally, not that God was His Father – literally (Rowan does not make that case – did you notice? In fact, he seems to go out of his way to dispute such a thing – the conception is a metaphor). He doesn’t explain the nature of God as three persons, in fact, he seems to refute it (remember, “God in three person, blessed Trinity” that we sing in the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy found in the Hymnal? Oops) – that we can have a deeply personal relationship with God (doesn’t mention it), that He speaks to us, that we obey Him, that we repent, that our lives are changed, that we were created to be in a personal relationship with God and this is made possible not directly one on one to God, but through the mediation of His Son, Jesus Christ (John 14:6 again) in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, there is much that appears familiar – but still, at the heart of it are these assumptions that are just plain off the rails and cause alarm, coming as it is from someone who is supposed to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. He’s trying so hard to be accommodating, to be helpful, to point out how much we all have in common. I do think he’s a very nice person – he seems genuinely sincere. But it’s so not true. Page after page of “why can’t we belong since we all want to love” and missing the point that we really don’t have that assumption – it’s just plain wishful thinking. At the heart of humankind is something far more broken and the nature of the threat in Great Britain is akin to how seriously religious and political leaders want to face that threat. Is it real or is it memorex? Ironically, in a way, he reminds me of the chief of the Arapaho, Little Raven, who trusted the American government only to find himself ambushed and betrayed at the Sand Creek Massacre. Rowan may know theology, but he doesn’t seem to know either his history or human nature. He sounds like he’s back in the Summer of Love, San Francisco, circa 1967. And we know what happened soon after.
While he alludes to there being some sort of issue that Jesus came and God got the credit, it doesn’t seem to be anything like Redemption or Transformation or even the work Salvation. It seems more like we have this Cosmic God who passively loves everybody but not personally, but cosmically. Pass the Allen Ginsburg incense burner.
God may love us, but He can’t be in direct relationship with us because we are spiritually corrupt. It was His action plan to send His Son into the world to be our Savior and our Redeemer and reconcile us to God. God is in relationship with us through Jesus Christ and Him Alone. No one else can come to the Father except through Him. Either we believe it or we don’t. This is the crossroads, the crux, the heart of the Gospel. In the end, as Dylan says, we all gotta serve somebody. Who will it be?
Jesus is the Mediator. There is no other. Isn’t Rowan Williams the guy who should be making the case for a robust Christianity? He seems content to leave these poor people lost in the name of Plurality, as though sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is somehow rude. The case for Christianity can be made with passion and it can be made lovingly and it can be made gently and compassionately and with great kindness. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance and it’s not easy to show kindness, not only to our adversaries, but to our own friends. Look at Billy Graham – he never flinched from the hard bits, but he always demonstrated his deeply abiding convictions with love and grace. He even went to the Soviet Union when everyone else was blowing the gasket – but he didn’t mince words, he told them the truth. And it took of hold them.
Peace, peace, they are just words when they are absent the transformation power of the Gospel. There is no peace. Being polite is not peace. It’s just putting people on hold.
What changes everything is when our hearts are radically transformed and reformed when we invite Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Redeemer, into our life. Our focus is on Jesus, not on some Hippie God Lava Lamp Thingy. For all the lofty theological language that dares confrontation, it still comes across as some sort of Haight Ashbury Love In, this new Age of Aquarius.
The fact remains – Islam and Christianity are just two completely different religions, they are two completely different world views, they have different intentions, different goals – secular Muslims may be one thing, especially those that want to assimilate into British culture – but the majority of what Britain is facing is not secular Muslims assimilating into the culture, oh no it is not.
In order to calm the Islamic cultural fears about us, Rowan has to remake the Trinity and Jesus into some sort of emasculated spiritualism, harmlessly parading about, like the New Hampshire bishop on a press junket. But if Rowan really wants to demonstrated a Love-In, just have everyone over for supper at the palace, pour a few bottles of wine and tell silly stories about the kids. Loosen up. Get real. Tell us the truth.
This letter is naive in that it misses the crucial point on the crux of Christianity – who is Jesus and why did He die and what does that have to do with the rest of us? It’s like he spends 12 pages talking about Starbucks but never offers anyone a cup of coffee.
Love is the aroma, but the Gospel is a cup filled to the brim.
God is the great I AM. His Covenant People are the Jews and we are His people out of the New Covenant – we have been grafted in. We are saved and the door is open to all for this great news, our Great Commission. There is no way this is compatible with Islam and everyone knows it – that’s why the terror is exasperated, these are two separate world views. If Rowan would get on the airplane instead of pleading green and staying home and fly to Nigeria and Uganda he’d see for himself that love does not mean appeasement, but standing firm in the Christian faith and praying that others may come to know Jesus through our witness.
Christ’s redeeming love extends to all and His life fills us when we accept Him as Lord. This is no time for a groovy Lava Lamp. This is no time to advocate pluralism. And the Trinity is God in three persons, persons that are distinct and in relationship with one another, unified in the mystery of the Godhead, Three in One. Rowan’s Trinity comes across as three psychedelic colored scarves just flapping in the breeze, a breeze that builds into the winds of war.
This is the time to take our standard and plant it firmly in the ground of scripture, a ground made holy by the blood of Christ and of the martyrs, and say to all, here I stand by the grace of God, and I, I shall not be moved. In the meantime, would you like a cup of coffee?
Read Rowan Williams’ entire letter here.