Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cookies, Christ, and the Koran

Tonight at our High school youth group the conversation turned to the question of whether Jesus is the only way, or if other religions are also ways to God. I had made chocolate chip cookies, and three were left in the plastic container. They became the perfect teaching aids. What follows is a transcript of the evening (more or less.)

ME: Okay, well, as I see it, everybody has a front door and a back door into their souls. The front door is reserved for God to speak directly to you, through the testimony of His holy word or through direct encounter. (We read 2 Tim. 3:16, 1 Peter 1:16-21.) The back door is the way He comes into you, indirectly, through the creation. (We read Romans 1:20).

Let's let the container represent you, and let the lid be your "front door." (Having already removed the two cookies, I take the lid off the top of the container.) Let's talk about front doors tonight, and save back doors for later. Now, one way of approaching the question is to consider the other religions' scriptures. Let's let the cookies represent God speaking to us.

1. Now, we could say that everything is Cookie. This is what Hinduism does. They believe that everything is god. Hindus don't think there is any distinction between the container and/or the cookies, or between them and us. I am cookie, you are cookie, we are all Cookie.

(I imagine one kid proceding to bite another kid.) But see? That doesn't seem to fit our experience very well. It would be rather difficult to live out that belief. We'd have to constantly tell ourselves to ignore or deny what was happening to us. So let's shelve it.

2. Another thing we could say is that there are no cookies. That would be like believing there isn't any God speaking to us. That's what naturalists say, people like Dawkins and Hitchens and others who claim that reality reduces to matter in motion.

However there are cookies, aren't there. "Ahh," says the naturalist, "Maybe they are an illusion. A projection of your own consciousness, a wish fulfillment, an opiate to help ease the pain of life: whatever, they are something you dreamed up."
Poppycock! I'm here to tell you I was there when those cookies came out of the oven. I saw them and smelled them and I tasted some crumbs. Do you trust my testimony? Am I a reliable witness? (More nodding heads. This would have been a great point for somebody to have read 1 John 1: 1-4.) It's very important who you trust, who you take to be your authorities. But that's a class in itself. What's the bottom line? There are cookies here!

3. So, do we all agree that there are indeed some cookies before us? (Heads nod.) Well, now all we have to do is decide how many cookies we should put in the container. Let's let one cookie represent the Old Testament, and one the New Testament. People who say there is only one cookie are Jews. They don't believe the other cookies belong in the container. They believe only the OT is the word of God. (I put one cookie in the container.)

Now, we are Christians. We believe that the NT is God's word, too. (I put the second cookie in the container.) But we don't think the third cookie belongs. Let the third cookie represent the Koran.
KID A: How do we know that the third cookie doesn't belong? Or for that matter, that the second cookie does belong? Maybe there should only be one cookie!

ME: Good for you! That's the crux of the problem, isn't it. What should we do?

KID B: Well, the OT has prophecies that the NT fulfills. If you can demonstrate that, you can accept the NT.

ME: Excellent! That's exactly the strategy that Peter uses in his Pentecost sermon. (We read Acts 2:14-36).

(Kid C reads Acts 2:17-21.) See, this is straight from the OT, Peter directly quotes the prophet Joel. Now look what Peter says. (Kid D reads Acts 2:22-24). Peter specifically reminds his listeners of all the miracles, wonders and signs Jesus did, and of his ultimate sign: resurrection.

To further nail his point, he quotes Psalm 16:8-11, a psalm of King David himself. (Kid A reads Acts 2:25-28.) Then he shows how even though the Jews thought it referred to David, it actually is fullfilled in Jesus: (Kid B reads Acts 2:29-36.)

Okay, so there are two cookies in the container. But how do we know there shouldn't be a third?

ME: A crucial question, which we must face if we are to have mature faith. The usual contender for third cookie is the Koran. What criteria do you think we should we use for admitting it into the container?

KID C: The same one as what got the second cookie in.

ME: Okay, and this is where we have some problems. If the OT promises a coming Messiah, and if the NT claims that Jesus is the Messiah, and that He has arrived claiming to be the Son of God and has proved it by dying and rising again, the Koran contradicts that message. Muslims honor Jesus (Isa) as a prophet, but not as God incarnate. Furthermore, they do not believe that "he was crucified, dead, and buried, and that on the third day he was raised from the dead." Rather than fulfilling and completing the NT (as if there was anything more to be fulfilled!) the Muslim narrative requires denying its main character and plotline. It looks like it the third cookie fails the admission test. It may look a lot like a chocolate chip cookie, but in reality it isn't. It shouldn't go in the container.

KID D: Then what if I were a Muslim, who never heard of Jesus? I'd have three cookies in my container from the day I was born. Would that mean I would go to hell?

ME: Another important question, and time is running out. Quickly, I'll just say that if it is true that only two cookies actually belong in our containers, then someone who has three cookies or just one cookie is closer to the truth than someone who has none, or someone who has a dozen, or someone who thinks everything is a cookie.

Look at Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and the other OT saints of Hebrews 11. They only had one cookie in each of their containers--Christ hadn't even been born!--yet they are listed in "the rollcall of the faithful." They aren't in hell. I side with C. S. Lewis on this. Remember Emeth in The Last Battle? Aslan accepts all Emeth's Tash-worship and considers it as directed to Him. But when Emeth thinks Aslan is Tash and Tash is Aslan, Aslan lets out a huge, angry roar. God is merciful, but He is also "jealous."

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