Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hoefer Sells the Farm

Hey Lutherans, get a load of this paper, which Concordia-Portland prof Herb Hoefer presented at the "Friendship of Jesus and Muslims" conference in Detroit earlier this month. Evidently this is the theory of outreach to Muslims that the LCMS Board for Missions wants to promote. [UPDATE: The text of Hoefer's paper was removed from the page the first link above originally led to. I have redirected the link to another page containing the same paper.]

It starts with the unqualified and unchallenged assumption that "we want Muslims to feel comfortable in our Christian worship services" - at least in Muslim countries or cultural contexts. This is essentially a twist on the "seeker-sensitive worship" model of evangelism. By the end of the paper, Hoefer inadvertently exposes the spiritual bankruptcy that inevitably flows out of that model.

In brief, here are a few of Hoefer's points, WITH MY REMARKS EMBEDDED IN CAPS:

1. Worshiping Jesus: Muslims are offended by the perception that Christians worship a human being. Therefore we shouldn't worship "Jesus," but only "the Lord." YES, CHRISTIANITY WITHOUT CHRIST COULD BE ACCEPTABLE TO MUSLIMS! Hoefer cites a Christian church service where Muslim visitors remarked "they could have worshipped with the same words that they heard, for it so happened that the songs they heard only referred to God and not to Jesus." THIS IS A GOOD THING? Finally, Hoefer questions whether it is proper to "worship" Jesus as such. NEED I SAY I HAVE DOUBTS ABOUT HIS QUALIFICATIONS TO GIVE ADVICE TO CHRISTIANS? Hoefer questions whether it is "still Jesus now Who is on the right hand of the Father." THIS MEANS AFTER EASTER, THE "SECOND PERSON" ABSORBED JESUS' HUMAN NATURE. IS HOEFER ASKING, OR IS HE ESPOUSING AN INCARNATION-DESTROYING HERESY? AND IF MUSLIMS HAVE TROUBLE WITH "JESUS," WHAT WILL THEY SAY ABOUT THE TERM "SECOND PERSON"? Without troubling himself to explore the question deeply, Hoefer concludes that it is not "justifiable" to offer prayer and worship in the name of Jesus, at least in a Muslim context. IF IT ISN'T JUSTIFIABLE THERE, WHERE IS IT JUSTIFIED?

2. Affirming God's Oneness: Muslims are offended by the perception that Christians are polytheists. Therefore we should reconsider the way the "classical Creeds" are phrased. SHALL WE MOVE ON TO THE ROMANTIC CREEDS, THEN? First, Hoefer argues that a minor change in the way the creeds are printed would set off the "oneness of God" from particulars about the Father, Jesus, etc. HOWEVER, THE NICENE CREED USES THE WORD "ONE" IN ALL 3 ARTICLES. SO IT IS NOT MERELY PUTTING THE FATHER, SON, AND SPIRIT UNDER THE GENERAL TOPIC OF "ONE GOD," BUT IT IS FIRMLY ASSERTING THAT THERE IS "ONE" FATHER, "ONE" LORD JESUS CHRIST, "ONE" CHURCH, AND "ONE" BAPTISM, AS OPPOSED TO THREE FATHERS, OR TWO SONS, ETC. THE CHANGES HOEFER SUGGESTS ARE NOT MERELY A MATTER OF ENGLISH TRANSLATION; THEY GO ALL THE WAY TO THE ORIGINAL LATIN AND GREEK TEXTS OF THE CREEDS. SHALL WE ROLL BACK 1,600 YEARS OF CHURCH HISTORY TO ACCOMMODATE A 1,200-YEAR-OLD RELIGION?

3. Revising the Creeds: Hoefer has still more to say on this subject: "The ancient Creeds were written to address the heresies of their day. Might we revise the Creeds in Muslim contexts to address their misconceptions?" IT'S INTERESTING HOW "ADDRESS" MEANS "POLEMICALLY ATTACK" IN THE FIRST INSTANCE AND "ACCOMMODATE" IN THE SECOND. Hoefer suggests adding phrases to the Creed that would appeal to Muslims, e.g.: "I believe in one God, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-saving..." WHO NEEDS "ECUMENICAL" CREEDS, ANYWAY? He also suggests taking the word "Christian" out of the Creed. NO BIG SURPRISE, SINCE "CHRIST" HAS ALREADY CHECKED OUT. Here are his suggested alternate wordings: "The holy, universal fellowship of believers...(Apostles' Creed); And I believe in one holy, universal fellowship and apostolic witness (Nicene Creed)." IN CASE YOU MISS THE SUGGESTION THAT MUSLIM VISITORS CAN CONSIDER THEMSELVES PART OF THAT FELLOWSHIP, HERE IS HOW HOEFER CONCLUDES THIS SECTION: "Such a clear affirmation would relate meaningfully to the Muslim concept of 'umma.' It would testify clearly that Christians also have an 'umma,' a trans-national fellowship of faith and support."

4. Using Epistle Readings: Muslims think Jesus was OK, but his teachings were later perverted by the apostles. They ridicule Christianity as "Paulianity." Reading from Paul's epistles during worship only invites more of the same. JUST TRY CENSORING PAUL OUT OF THE LITURGY, AND SEE WHETHER YOUR DOCTRINE REMAINS THE SAME! Hoefer says we affirm the inspiration of Paul's writings, but then (loath to go two whole paragraphs without tasting his toes) adds that "even St. Paul would understand his writings only to be a witness to Jesus Christ," as opposed to "our authority." EVEN IF PAUL DID NOT UNDERSTAND HIS WRITINGS AS SCRIPTURE (AND I DO NOT CONSIDER HOEFER A COMPELLING AUTHORITY ON THIS), PETER DID (2 PETER 3:16).

5. Using "Son of God": I heard your groan just now. You obviously know what comes next: By calling Jesus the "Son of God," we provoke ridicule (because of the thought of God having a carnal relationship with Mary) and give offense (because Muhammad denies that God has a son). Hoefer interprets "Son of God" as a metaphor that also applies to Israel and other individuals. NO, "SON OF GOD" IS NOT A METAPHOR, BUT A TITLE JESUS APPLIES UNIQUELY TO HIMSELF. Jesus "participates in the same nature as the Father, just as a son does." THIS IS A HORRID ANALOGY. BUT SINCE WE'VE ELIMINATED CHRIST, WHY NOT THE TRINITY TOO? Hoefer concludes this section: "We need to make that explanation, but public worship typically is not the proper venue for that discussion. It would be best simply to avoid the term in our preaching and guide our people also to avoid it in their witnessing." SO WHEN DO THE FAITHFUL GET TO HEAR ABOUT THIS? IF THE TIME EVER COMES WHEN WE CAN SPEAK OPENLY OF "JESUS" AND "THE SON OF GOD," WILL WE STILL BELIEVE IN HIM? WHO IS WINNING WHOM?

6. Using Wine, Images, Music: Though some "liturgical denominations" insist on using wine in the Lord's Supper, we shouldn't be hung up about this. It would be prudent to use grape juice, so as not to upset Muslims who forbid wine. WE'RE ONLY TALKING ABOUT THE INSTITUTION OF CHRIST'S LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT. NO BIG DEAL. Further, we should forgo crucifixes, statues, images, and stained glass windows depicting human figures. Muslims visitors will interpret them as idols. ONCE YOU EVICT GOD FROM HIS HOUSE, THE FURNITURE IS THE NEXT THING TO GO. Hoefer finally, astoundingly, stretches the "seeker-service worship" principle so far that it bites itself on the behind: Muslims, who practice very "solemn, reserved, and dignified" worship, are disgusted with our chaotic, enthusiastic, non-liturgical worship. So, "if we want Muslims to feel comfortable in our worship contexts" (THERE'S THAT BIG ASSUMPTION AGAIN), we should consider not having any music at all! THAT'S GOING A BIT FAR, IF YOU ASK ME. BUT IT IS NICE TO SEE THE "YOU GOTTA GO HAPPY-CLAPPY IF YOU WANT TO WIN SOULS" DOCTRINE IMPALED ON ITS OWN SWORD.

The text of the paper linked above is actually dated September 12, 2007. The version Hoefer delivered at Detroit a couple weeks ago added a few minor pieces of advice, which actually weren't so bad. For example, being sensitive to Muslim culture, Christians might want to forgo embracing, or even shaking hands - especially between sexes. Hoefer even proposes segregating the sexes on opposite sides of the church, similar to what they do in mosques. He also suggests that Christians show more outward respect toward the Bible, in order to impress Muslims, who revere their own holy book as a manifestation of God.

But at the end of the day, Hoefer undermines his own position, chiefly in three ways. FIRST, he is so ready to accommodate Islam that it is hard to take him seriously as a believer. If the entire Christian church were as accommodating as Hoefer suggests, most Christians would probably become Muslims within one generation. Have the Muslims ever given an inch? I don't think so. SECOND, the assumption that "we want Muslims to feel comfortable in our worship contexts" needs to be examined. By completely ignoring any alternate scenario, Hoefer leaves a gaping hole in his argument. For example, suppose some Christians in a "Muslim context" would feel particularly uncomfortable having Muslims observe their services? Is that remotely possible? Suppose, hypothetically speaking (though it's so unlikely that I'm embarrassed to suggest it), there were a "Muslim context" where the Christians were viciously persecuted for their faith? In such a "context," should we advise them to be more considerate of Muslim sensibilities?

THIRD, take the experience of the early Christians under Imperial Roman persecution. Did they hold "seeker-sensitive" services? No. They worshiped behind locked doors. They witnessed outside of church. When an outsider received their witness and asked to hear more, they catechized him. Only then - AFTER explaining the very things "seeker services" leave us no time to explain - only then did the faithful allow them to witness Christian worship. Here is an evangelism model that could possibly work in a "Muslim context," as an alternative to "seeker-sensitive worship." In essence, the Divine Service is for the faithful only. Inquirers are directed to a doctrine class, after which - if they want to join the church - they are allowed to witness that which has already been explained to them. And as for the faithful, they continue to confess the same creed, sing the same songs, address the same Jesus in worship and prayer, and receive the same Sacrament that He instituted. They get to listen to Paul's God-breathed doctrine; they get to look at crucifixes and altar paintings; and they can sit anywhere they jolly please - because they don't have to worry about who is going to see them at it!

Will this cost them? Some, perhaps. But at least they won't be selling the whole farm. Every service will be rich in reminders of why they are Christians and not Muslims. Every service will be a time to worship the Son of God, rather than some real or hypothetical Muslim seeker. All this instead of making a nervous wreck of themselves (or any other kind of wreck for that matter), trying to curry favor with visitors who may, just possibly, be looking for a blasphemer to stone to death. Wow! That sounds like such a good deal, I wonder if one could apply it beyond the Muslim context!

No comments: