In perhaps the geekiest article I have read in the last two weeks, we have discovered a new biggest prime number. It’s a math thing and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s really OK. The article goes on for a bit explaining the usefulness of prime numbers, but then quotes an admission in the press release announcing this massive discovery that this particular prime number is too big to be of any real use. In other words, this is a record-setting discovery that leaves the world unchanged; suitable only for the Guinness Book.
I think most of us harbor hopes of really impacting the world for the better. Whatever we do, whatever we know, we hope that our knowledge and our training and our activity will be the training, the activity that finally makes the world right. Yet somewhere we get so balled up in our thing that we lose track of our efforts to really impact the world.
There is a whole other discussion that has me reflecting on getting so balled up in our thing that we forget to change the world. Back in mid-December, the story broke of a Wheaton College prof being suspended for wearing a hajib and declaring that Muslims and Christians worship the “same God.” Given that Wheaton is the leading Evangelical institution of higher learning in the nation, this story has created a firestorm in religious discussion circles. But at some point in the last month the entire discussion has drifted so far from the events and so esoteric that it has grown devoid of usefulness.
The left is trying to graft their equal rights agenda onto the discussion. Within Evangelical circles the discussion is happening in such a rarefied vocabulary that only the academic elites can follow it. It makes the Evangelical academic and intellectual elite look as if they are no different than the left, grafting their agenda onto the issue rather than dealing with the issue straightforwardly.
The essential question in the discussion is one of enormous import. How do we build a bridge between Islamic culture and Western, formerly Christian, culture? This is the conflict point of the world right now. The advance of our culture has always been lead by Christian outreach. To try and do that is some of the most important work possible. But at this point this one professor’s efforts are now so overloaded with baggage from all directions that no one can find the forest for the trees.
For the record, I think this professor’s efforts were symbolic and not in any way substantive and therefore are simply trivial. It is stunning to me that such trivia has erupted into such a firestorm. And yet, I also think that is the problem. In the end, the “same God” issue is fraught with theological implication, and just as I could bore you to tears with prime number trivia, I could go on ad nauseum about all the theological debate, but does it move us any closer to solving the problem?
In the world of science, theory often comes after discovery of the solution to a problem. In other words we often know what works before we know why it works. Somehow I cannot help but think that if we can solve the problem at hand, that being western/Islamic relations, the answers in the “same God” debate will present themselves. Or even better, the Islamic world will be evangelized and the debate will simply disappear.
Such loss of focus is, I think, the heart of the problem. At some point, our understanding of Christ has become more important than Christ Himself. While this professor’s “sin” is not nearly so egregious as the woman caught in adultery that the religious leadership brought before Jesus, I think the lesson from this episode is the same. The call is not to examine her, but ourselves.
I stated earlier that the advance of our culture is always preceded by Christian outreach. But nowadays it seems like that outreach is as cacophonous as the debate around this professor. Missionary organizations argue over which gospel point to emphasize and how best to use the limited resources available in any given region. Such is unavoidable, I imagine, when Christianity has become as diversified as it has. Yet somehow we need to overcome it.
It is time to refocus on the mission and stop the unrelenting naval gazing. It does not really make any difference how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.