Have a little faith and How Reformed Theology proves that all religions are not the same

Whether it is Oprah, a college religion professor or a Hallmark Channel movie, our culture likes the idea that all religions are equal and that they are essentially doing the same thing.  This weekend, I watched a Hallmark Channel movie, Have a little faith: a true story, which attempts to demonstrate this point through a moving story of inter-faith activity.  The movie is based a book by Mitch Albon (author of Tuesdays with Morrie) which tells the story of interfaith activities in Detroit and the life stories of Albon’s rabbi and an inner-city pastor who went from gang banger to man of the cloth.  The movie is encouraging in that it shows how people from various faith traditions can work together for the common good.  In addition, Have a little Faith, portrays Albons’s Rabbi as a delightful man who selflessly serves his congregation for fifty years, helping his congregants get through all of life’s storms by providing them with a sympathetic ear and wisdom of the ages.  It is next to impossible not to fall in love with this man.

But unfortunately, this movie attempts to promote the idea that all religions are essentially the same.  There is a scene where Albon’s character is in a grocery store with his Rabbi and the Rabbi greets one his friends. The Rabbi then tells Albon that this woman is a very religious Hindu who he greatly respects.  Albon then asked the Rabbi, “Why are you so high on this woman’s religion, shouldn’t you as a Jew be promoting your own religion?”  The Rabbi responds, that essentially religions are like trees, some are oaks, some are maples some are apple trees, but in the end they all have the same goal.

The Rabbi in this movie might have met our culture’s standards of being a good Jew, but after reading the prophets of Jeremiah and Isaiah with a Covenant theology perspective, I am not sure if, he met God’s standards of being a good Jew.  All throughout the Old Testament, the prophets are chastising the Jews for chasing after foreign gods.  Jeremiah in the second chapter, using marital imagery told the Jews that they spread their legs before idols like whores.  The whole narrative of the Old Testament is about how God called a people to be separate and refrain from living like their neighbors by worshipping idols but instead to be a nation of priests that led people to THE GOD.  Then because the Jews refused to submit to God, God exiled them from the land of Israel.  Based on that criterion, Judaism and Hinduism are not the same, one worships THE GOD and another worships gods like Israel’s neighbors in the Biblical period.

Ironically Albon put a glaring contradiction in his book and screenplay.  In another part of the movie Albon’s character is talking with the gangbanger turned pastor and told the pastor that because the pastor now runs a church in the intercity, works with the homeless and tries to get drug addicts and drug dealers out of that life style, the pastor had made up for his evil deeds.  Then the pastor (played by Lawrence Fishburne) responded with a response that articulates the heart of the gospel,  “you can’t repay God for what he has done for you.”  My reformed theology meter went off and my inside voice said, EXACTLY!!!  And I thought, based on the Pauline epistles and the book of Hebrews; the pastor understood the heart of Judaism better than the Rabbi. The pastor got to the heart of the Old Testament and New Testament; it’s all about faith not works. I am fairly certain that Albon did not pick up on this, but the pastor’s response completely contradicted the philosophy of the Rabbi.  The pastor simply stated that we can not make ourselves right with God, yet every religion in including many forms of Christianity (some Catholics, and some Arminians) teach that man must make himself right with God by performing good deeds.

Whether the pastor was reformed or not is impossible to tell from the movie, but his response parrots the theology of the protestant reformers.  Martin Luther and the protestant reformers turned that idea of salvation by works on its ear.  Calvin masterfully married, Paul’s teachings about justification by faith and James’s teachings that faith without works is dead and demonstrated that yes salvation is through Justification by faith and it is out of that justification that Christians are to do works in the process of sanctification as God brings man to glorification.  For Calvin, works and good will to man should be a product of salvation not a means of salvation because no one can repay God or use their works to put God in a head lock so that he will have to let you into heaven.

Calvin and reformed theology demonstrate that the Rabbi was indeed wrong, all religions do not have the same goal.   While the goal of most religions is to get right with God through works, Reformed Christianity teaches that we are made right with God by his work on our behalf and our works flow out of that relationship as we live as we were created to live; Two very different Goals.  To read more about the heart of reformed theology see Michael Horton’s book, For Calvinism.

If the protestant reformers were wrong about the message of Christianity than Oprah, the college professors, Hallmark movies and Mitch Albon are right, all religions are the same because they are all about men working their way toward God or gods.  All religions are based on a revelation (the Bible, Quran, Buddha, Hindu scriptures), which points man to God or gods and provides the steps to take to get right with God gods.  But if the reformers were right, some God or gods did not give man a law to point him to God, but instead God came himself in the person of Jesus Christ to reconcile man with himself and fulfilled the law himself so that man can have a right relationship with THE GOD.

If the reformers were right than the death and resurrection of Christ demonstrate that man’s goal is to live in the already not yet of the inaugurated kingdom of God awaiting the consummation of the kingdom.  The goal of reformed Christianity looks to Revelation chapters 21 and 22 as the goal of our relationship with God, not self-actualization, not getting my personal relationship with Jesus just so, not even doing as much good to others as possible, but rather total and complete restoration of creation.  Sorry Rabbi Lewis, but I don’t know of any religion that has that goal therefore all religions do not have the same goal.

The fact that some religions believe in one God and other believe in many gods demonstrate that all religions are not the same.  In fact agnostic religion professor James Carse author of A Religious case against beleif argues that is simple laziness and lack of understanding about religion to assume they are all the same.  I completely agree with Carse and when an agnostic and myself a self proclaimed Puritan agree on something, it is worth serious consideration.

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