Results tagged “Islam” from Reformation21 Blog

Assessing Religious Militancy

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We are all distressingly familiar with debates over the nature of Islam. Is it a "religion of peace," or is it a religion of war and conquest? Is it essentially repressive and militant, or are there traditions and movements within Islam that can effectively counter these tendencies? And even if it was once a bad actor, can Islam not undergo a transformation to bring it in line with modern views of freedom, tolerance, and mutual respect?

These debates raise another, more fundamental question: When can a religious system be blamed for the behavior of its adherents? Can we determine whether Islamic teaching itself is the cause of militant behavior and oppressive behavior committed by its adherents, or are their actions a distortion of its teachings? How do we speak conclusively about what Islam or any religion teaches or practices when there are controversies, schools of thought, and disagreements over the meaning and practices of that religion going back centuries?

To bring conceptual clarity to this debate, I propose the following: To determine what a religion teaches, and thus what we can expect at least a significant percentage of its adherents will do, the first step is to determine its source or sources of doctrinal and practical authority. Secondly, one determines whether a given doctrine or practice is a plausible, or legitimate interpretation based upon that authority. From the standpoint of public policy toward a given religion, especially regarding public safety and immigration (which is why we debate the meaning of Islam in the first place), the ability to predict whether adherents will likely act on a given doctrine should be the policy question regarding the "nature" or "essence" of a religion, not whether "all," or even a majority hold to or practice it.

The significance of this distinction cannot be overemphasized. As Christians are well aware, it can be difficult to find specific doctrines or practices that all adherents of a world religion subscribe to unequivocally and without exception, and Islam is no different. However, to identify beliefs and practice on the basis of the received authority of that religion, and doctrines or practices held by a significant percentage of those identifying with a religion over time on the basis of that authority, is not especially problematic. The study of religions would be impossible without the ability to distinguish a range of beliefs and practices that are legitimately inferred from its source(s) of authority from those which may develop over time, but lack such authority.

What then are the sources of authority in Islam? Like Christianity, it has an authoritative revelation, the Qur'an, which was revealed by Allah to his prophet, Muhammad, and is itself eternal and unchanging. Its directives and teachings are thus binding on all Muslims. Again like Christianity, it has an authoritative founder, Muhammad. Among the vast majority of practicing Muslims, there is little or no question as to whether, if Muhammad commanded or engaged in a certain activity, a Muslim should follow it, since not just his revelations, but also his life, is divinely inspired (Q 33:21). So if it is certain that Muhammad engaged in an activity, it is morally permissible for a Muslim to engage in it. (One exception: Muhammad was allowed to have over 4 wives.)

Thus, for a given doctrine or practice associated with Islam, to determine whether it is legitimate or plausible to be believed or followed, one may apply a fairly straightforward test:

The Founding criterion: The doctrine or practice is taught in the Qur'an, or taught or practiced by Muhammad in the hadith, the "narratives" of Muhammad's sayings and actions. Of the two, this one is clearly the more significant.

The Tradition criterion: The doctrine or practice has been taught or observed throughout the history of the religion, especially by its earliest adherents.

If we have the Founding criterion, why do we need the second, the Tradition criterion? It is certainly true that for many Muslims, the first will likely settle the issue. But the second is a potent clarification and reinforcement of the original revelation and actions of Muhammad. The knowledge that a specific practice has been followed since the time of Muhammad carries enormous persuasive force for any Muslim.

This approach to the question of what Islam teaches helps resolve a common mystery, and removes a common misunderstanding. The mystery is how a person who has been a "moderate" or nominal Muslim could become radicalized. Typically, we look for external factors, such as chronic unemployment, social alienation, or criminality. But in many cases, these factors appear to play a negligible role. Some of the major terrorist acts committed since 9/11 have involved Muslims who at one point were well-assimilated, attended high school and college, and were gainfully employed, such as Rizwan Farook (Orlando shooting), Nidal Hassan (Ft. Hood shooting), or the Tsarnaev brothers (Boston Marathon bombing), as well as many of the 4,500 Muslims residing in Western countries who joined ISIS.1 Moreover, if non-religious, sociological factors were enough to drive a person to terrorism and militancy, why are there not more Buddhist or Mormon terrorists? Why are there no non-state Christian or Hindu armies conquering cities and beheading those who resist? However, if militancy is a legitimate or plausible interpretation of the Prophet's teaching and practices, there is a perfectly good explanation as to why they behaved as they did: It is a legitimate interpretation of the founding and tradition of Islam.

A common misunderstanding, and indeed a highly dangerous one, is that we merely need to encourage Muslims to adopt a modern understanding of their religion, and the militancy will dissipate over time, just as it supposedly has with Christians, who once displayed the same barbaric tendencies.2 (This explanation was given to me by the academic dean of a major Texan university, viz., Christianity isn't militant only because no one really believes it anymore.) But what is a "modern understanding"? Essentially, it is a recognition of an authority higher than the Founding - the scientific method, "reason," "experience," so-called Enlightenment values, or the deliverances of modern critical methods which would demonstrate that the Qur'an, like the Bible, is merely a human construct. But this is precisely the problem. A person's religion is his ultimate source of knowledge, wisdom, and authority. The modern (really, postmodern) West is essentially asking Muslims to give up their religion in favor of its own. And a modern understanding conflicts not only with the Founding, but with the far deeper and longer, and thus more authoritative Tradition criterion.

Let us now turn to the question of Islamic "militancy," which I will use as shorthand for military conquest in the name of Islam and the subjugation of non-believers.

The Founding criterion asks whether a given doctrine or practice is taught and practiced by the founder in the authoritative texts. The most frequently cited verse in the Qur'an supporting jihad, or holy war, is 9:29 "Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and his apostle nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth (even if they are) of the people of the Book, until they pay the Jizya [poll tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." But this is certainly not the only verse. There is also 9:5, "... fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war) ..."; and 47:4, "Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers, smite at their necks, at length when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them)." Conquest in the name of Islam is also supported throughout the hadith. For example, "Allah's Apostle said, 'I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah'. And if they say so, pray like our prayers, face our Qibla [prayer facing toward Mecca] and slaughter as we slaughter, then their blood and property will be sacred to us and we will not interfere with them except legally" (Sahih Bukhari 1:387). Notice the next citation combines both the Founding and the Tradition criteria: "When the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) appointed anyone as leader of an army or detachment he would especially exhort him... He would say: 'Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war...'" (Sahih Muslim 4294).

The hadith confirm that Muhammad led armies, arguably in defense of his rule in Medina, and eventually conquered Mecca, his hometown. On his deathbed, Muhammad ordered the expulsion of Jews and Christians from Arabia, "Two faiths will not live together in the land of the Arabs." He commanded all Muslims "to fight all men until they say 'There is no god but Allah'." He ordered the execution of captured opponents whom he considered traitors, most notably 600 Jews in Medina, and distributed women and children as slaves to his soldiers. We also know from Islamic history that the Rashidun, the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, as well as subsequent dynasties conquered vast territories in the name of Islam. Successive victories eventually included the conquest of the Levant, North Africa, the Byzantine Empire, and Spain. But for decisive losses at Tours (732) and Vienna (1683), Europe itself might have been conquered by the armies of the Prophet. Thus, by both the Founding and the Tradition criteria, militancy has been practiced from the beginning, and is perfectly legitimate for any Muslim to engage in. To do otherwise would be to reject the Prophet's example, as well as to repudiate the first centuries of Islam's history, beginning with the earliest adherents who knew him personally.

Should someone ask whether Christian doctrine and practice are compatible with militancy on the Founding criterion, and even on the Tradition criterion, things look markedly different. There are indeed historic instances of forced conversions (Charlemagne's war against the Saxons), and religiously-motivated genocide (the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the first Crusade, as well as various incidents of so-called Christian mobs and armies committing genocide against Jewish communities). But there is nothing resembling this in the life or teachings of Jesus, nor in the lives or teachings of the Apostles as contained in the New Testament (the Founding criterion). None of them led armies. None advocated forced conversions. The use of coercive state power to enforce Christian doctrine would have to wait several hundred years to the time of Constantine.

Thus, even if it is debatable whether Islam itself is militant, depending, of course, on how it is defined, it is certainly not illegitimate or implausible to consider it such, and to raise serious questions as to whether it can ever be reformed.


 

1. For a much fuller treatment of this question, see Ibn Warraq, "The Root Cause Fallacy," in The Islam in Islamism: The Importance of Beliefs, Ideas, and Ideology, Kindle ed., (London: New English Review Press, 2017), loc. 532f.

2. Those defending the possibility of a moderate Islam would do well to study recent German analysis of this question. Ahmad Mansour, an "Arab Israeli" residing in Germany, explains in detail not only what it will require to prevent growing radicalization among Muslim youth, but also how it will require massive state intervention. See "Prävention und Deradikalisierung," in Generation Allah: Warum wir im Kampf gegen religiösen Extremismus umdenken müssen, Kindle ed., (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 2015), loc. 2309-3130. Hamed Abdel-Samad, a former Muslim and son of an Egyptian Imam, believes that Islam "as a system" simply cannot be separated from its militant heritage (see Ist der Islam noch zu retten? (Munich: Droemer, 2017), p. 298. He now requires a bodyguard while traveling in Muslim neighborhoods in Berlin, a depressing irony.


Nicholas K. Meriwether is Professor of Philosophy at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio.

The question of religious or spiritual unity between Christians and Muslims has come up in recent days, largely in response to political debate over the danger of admitting Muslims into our country.  On one extreme was the purported statement by Liberty University President Jerry Fallwell, Jr. that Christians should carry guns so as to kill Muslims.  In response, Wheaton College students wrote of Christians' obligation to pursue unity and solidarity with Muslims based on our shared human dignity.  Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor at Wheaton, , has gone further by donning a Muslim headscarf and declaring not only her human solidarity but her theological solidarity with Muslims.  She validated the proposition that "Muslims and Christians worship the same God."  Reacting to this statement, Wheaton College has suspended Hawkins pending an inquiry into her violation of the college's doctrinal statement.  Wheaton should be commended for acting clearly but also deliberately and fairly in this matter.

There are various issues in this debate that Christians should carefully consider and on which we may legitimately differ.  But whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God is not one of them.  Let me offer three reasons why Christians must steadfastly declare that we do not worship the same God that Muslims do:

1.       The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity.  The Bible proclaims that there is one God in three distinct persons.  Jesus therefore instituted baptism "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19).  Muslims vehemently deny and condemn this teaching, seeing it as a fatal compromise of its central tenet of monotheism.  This means that Islam denies the deity of Jesus Christ, saying, "the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God" (Qur'an, sura 4).  This means that Muslims profess belief in a God who is fundamentally different from the God of the Bible in his very nature. 

2.       God Revealed in Christ vs. Mohammed.  In her statement of solidarity with Muslims, Dr. Hawkins stated that Christians and Muslims are both "People of the Book."  The question is, of course, which book?  While Islam shows a certain measure of respect to the Old Testament, it holds that God's chief revelation came through Mohammed, a man of considerable violence.  Christians believe in a God whose chief revelation is through Jesus Christ, God's Son and the world's only Savior, as he is presented by the prophets and apostles in the Bible.  To put it mildly, there is a fundamental difference between those who look to Mohammed versus to Jesus for their belief in God. 

3.       The God of Grace.  The God of Islam shows grace only to those who merit his approval by faith and good works.  The Christian God distinguishes his grace by bestowing it upon the unworthy and defiled.  Paul's teaching that "God justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5) and through Christ's death showed "his love for us while we were still sinners" (Rom. 5:8), is fundamentally at odds with the Muslim belief concerning God.  So while Muslims and Christians both use the terminology of grace, Islam denies the grace of God on which Christians rely for their salvation.

However laudible it may be for Christians to express kindness and human solidarity with members of other religions, the one thing we must never do is deny our faith in the Triune God who is revealed through Jesus Christ, God's Son, who alone died to free us from our sins.  In denying the exclusivity of our faith, apart from all other religions, Christians are not exhibiting the love of Jesus.  At the very heart of our message to the world we must always affirm - all the more so during the Christmas season - that Jesus alone is Savior and Lord.  As John declared, "In him was life, and that life was the light of men" (Jn. 1:4).

"I can drive no man to heaven or beat him into it with a club." So observed Luther on March 11th, 1522, in a sermon to Wittenberg parishioners. Though his point was rather obvious, Luther felt compelled to make it because in his absence from Wittenberg during the preceding ten months, certain persons had grown impatient with the progress of reformation in the city and had resorted to means of legal compulsion and/or violence to bring about the changes in doctrine and worship they desired.

Luther had, in fact, made the same point in a sermon to the same audience the preceding day. Having insisted in no uncertain terms upon the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, from which faith love for God and others as well as pure worship necessarily springs, Luther emphasized in that earlier sermon that such faith itself properly springs from the proclamation of God's promises, not from the use of force: "I cannot, nor should I, force anyone to have faith." Indeed, the use of force is ultimately, in Luther's estimation, unnecessary and unfruitful for the successful expansion of God's kingdom, because the divine word of promise -- first as it is encountered in Scripture and then as it is proclaimed by God's ordained ministers -- accomplishes that very task. "The Word created heaven and earth and all things; the Word must do this thing [i.e., achieve the conversion of men], and not we poor sinners." For our part "we should give free course to the Word and not add our works" -- that is, our means of coercion -- "to it." "We should," that is, "preach the Word, but the results must be left solely to God's good pleasure."

Luther discovered a perfect example of the Word's ability to grow God's kingdom sans a baton or baseball bat in his own experience of the preceding years. "I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God's Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends..., the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything."

It's questionable whether Luther retained his position on the exclusive prerogative of the Word to accomplish the growth of Christ's kingdom in later years. Increasingly alarmed over time by the extreme efforts of Anabaptists to implement their own version of a spiritual/civil kingdom by force (which means, thankfully, they never possessed in sufficient measure), Luther grew ever more tolerant of the use of reciprocal force to keep the Anabaptists in line, civilly and (perhaps) religiously. One could, maybe, argue that his position remained consistent, and that the force against the Anabaptists he eventually endorsed was purely towards the end of political restraint rather than religious uniformity.

Regardless, the willingness Luther showed even in the 1520s to see civil offenders repressed by military/legal means reminds us that his doctrine of the Word's power was specifically a theological point about how Christ's kingdom is sustained and increased, not a generic endorsement of persuasion vis-à-vis coercion in every conceivable context.  A strong hand is sometimes required to keep wayward citizens -- or, for that matter, wayward children -- in line. Only the Word, however, can produce genuine faith, hope, and love directed towards God within a man, woman, or child.

Luther found a biblical example of the Word's exclusive power to bring about renewal and reform in the Acts 17 account of Paul's missionary work in Athens. "When Paul came to Athens, a mighty city, he found in the temple many ancient altars, and he went from one to the other and looked at them all, but he did not kick down a single one of them with his foot. Rather he stood up in the middle of the market place and said they were nothing but idolatrous things and begged the people to forsake them; yet he did not destroy one of them by force. When the Word took hold of their hearts, they forsook them of their own accord."

Luther might, had he wished, have found a further illustration of his point in church history, from a consideration of how Christianity spread in its earliest centuries. The first three centuries of Christians spread the gospel exclusively by means of proclamation. Indeed, they had little choice. Because their newfound religion was deemed illegal, they were consistently marginalized from positions of political, social, or military influence, and were at least occasionally made the victims of intense persecution. They witnessed to the reality that God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself with their lips and, on occasion, with their lives. By the very nature of their situation, they were prevented from promoting Christ's kingdom by establishing "Christian" nations or by commandeering the legislative or judicial machinery of existing states. Significantly, it was the greatest period of growth the Christian church has ever experienced, even in the absence of the factor of Wittenberg beer.

The early expansion of Christianity stands in marked contrast to the early expansion of Islam in this regard. From early on, Mohammed and his followers employed whatever military means they could muster to further the spread of their religion. Within a decade of Mohammed's death, Muslims had spread from their base in the Arabian Peninsula to conquer Palestine. Within little more than a century of Mohammed's death, Islam had conquered Syria, Persia, Northern Africa, and much of the Iberian Peninsula. All of this, of course, was by force, even if forced "conversions" as such grew thinner (being less politically expedient) the farther Islam stretched from its geographical home base. Such military accomplishments were remarkable, but not unprecedented (think, for example, of Alexander the Great), and thus no sure sign of divine favor. The rapid expansion of Christianity without means of force (indeed, in the presence of much persecution), by way of contrast, is remarkable, and arguably points to a providential kindness towards the doctrine championed by the earliest Christians.

Christians have rather often been a bit slow to learn the lesson that Luther, Scripture, and church history jointly teach us in this regard. The temptation to trust in force -- whether personal, financial, or political in kind -- for the expansion of Christ's kingdom, even when force is not actually employed, is constant. It is the flip-side of the temptation not to believe that God's Word can actually, in God's perfect timing, bring sinners into his Kingdom, or bring that Kingdom to its eschatological realization. One gauge of where our confidence for the success of the gospel actually lies might be the optimism/pessimism we feel over the outcome of political elections or particular pieces of government legislation. There is, of course, every reason to participate in political processes to bring about the best conceivable civil state for ourselves and our neighbors, believing and unbelieving alike. There is, equally, every reason not to get too worked up over either our successes or failures in such efforts; we are, after all, heirs of a kingdom which will not be achieved by political process, but will flourish through the proclamation of God's promise and the power of that proclamation to generate true (that is, justified, sanctified, and eventually glorified) citizens of the same.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

T4T?

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A non-Christian friend of mine recently returned from a trip overseas. When I asked him how his trip was, he looked me in the eye and, with finger pointing and shaking in my face, steadfastly declared to me, "There is no God."  That was the first thing he wanted me to know. He knew I was a Christian, and he was anxious to give me one more reason why he was not. His reasoning was that, if there were a God, the places that he had seen on his trip would not be in the reechy and augean conditions that characterized so much of what he saw. For him, the suffering that he saw was so overwhelming that it was a sure and certain indication that God could not exist. My response to him was very simple, and it stopped the conversation (at least for a while). I simply said to him, "What makes you think that God is responsible for such things?"


The first epistle of Peter is written to a group of suffering Christians. These are Christians who have been "grieved by various trials" (1:6), they are in exile (1:17) and thus living in places that are foreign to them; they are encouraged not to be surprised when fiery trials come upon them (4:12) - note: not if fiery trials come, but when they do. The Christian perspective on suffering is in diametrical opposition to my friend's. This is not surprising; there is an antithesis between Christian and non-Christian. That antithesis is not theoretical. It applies to the way we think, the way we act and the way we view the world. In the midst of their suffering, Peter gives this command:

...sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (NASB; 1 Peter 3:15).


The command is to "sanctify Christ as Lord." In the previous verse, Peter refers to Isaiah 8:12ff., which includes a command to regard Yahweh as holy. Peter attributes the prerogatives of Yahweh to Jesus Christ. The New Testament application of Isaiah 8:12f. is that Christians, in the midst of their suffering, are to remember and recognize, in their hearts, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Instead of looking at the overwhelming suffering around them and declaring that there is no God, they are rather to declare, "Jesus is Lord." They are to "sanctify" or "set apart" the Lordship of Christ in their hearts by showing his Lordship when suffering comes. Peter then goes on to tell them (and us) that the way to sanctify Christ as Lord - the command to set Christ apart as Lord - is met as we ready ourselves for a defense of that which we believe.


If we are honest with ourselves, it may be that our mindset is more in sync with my friend's oftentimes than with Scripture. It may be that, when suffering comes, or when it threatens to overwhelm us in some way, we may think that belief in God seems foolish. How could God allow such a thing to happen? Why wouldn't he prevent this?


Last month, I had the privilege of teaching in Jakarta, Indonesia for two weeks. Indonesia has the highest Muslim population, by ratio, than any other country in the world; 86% of its population is Muslim. I have no idea what it must be like to live there from day to day, but I had a glimpse of it when I was there. It is impossible to put into words the intensity of the pressures and problems that persist in a country like this, especially if one is a Christian.


A few decades ago, Dr. Stephen Tong determined that the best response to the overwhelming suffering and pressure that is replete in Indonesia was to build a Christian church as a testimony to the truth of the gospel. So, in keeping with the law of the land, he applied for a permit to build. He waited and pleaded and waited and pleaded. As expected, his petition was either ignored or delayed - for fifteen years!


When the authorities finally agreed to let him build his church, they insisted that he could not put a cross on it. The cross is a sign of offense to Muslims; it is an affront to their religion, he was told. Dr. Tong told the authorities that he had to put a cross on the church. There was no other way, he argued, to show that this was a Christian church. Whether the authorities relented or not is unclear. What is clear is that a cross sits atop this Indonesian "megachurch," now housing a few thousand Christians on Sunday morning. After preaching to the initial hordes at 7:30 each Sunday morning, Tong moves into the Mandarin service, on a separate floor of the church, and preaches there. Meanwhile, someone is preaching on another floor at the English service.


The church building itself (see picture below), designed by Tong, is cylindrical. As one drives along near the church, visible from any side of the cylinder are carved, in bold relief and written in Latin,  one of the "Solas" of the Reformation - Sola Fide, Solus Christus - or the command to Love God and our neighbors. Tong has made sure that anyone who drives by that building will know what it is. The building itself clearly indicates that Christ alone is Lord.


On Monday thru Friday, over 400 children attend the Christian school that is housed at the church. They are preparing for the future of Christianity in Indonesia. In a Muslim culture, young people of all ages are daily learning about Christ. Not only so, but conductors from around the world reserve the Concert Hall (also designed by Tong) in the church and bring their orchestras to perform in the largest Hall in Indonesia. The Jakarta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Tong, performed on one of the weekends that I was there. The orchestra is composed of some from the church, but others from outside, and many who are Muslims. Dr. Tong conducted the orchestra through Haydn's "Summer" and "Spring," and made sure that the near-capacity audience understood that the music itself was testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord.


Dr. Tong, and a goodly number of his parishioners, have been prepared to defend their Christian faith; they are ready to give an answer. They have to be ready in a culture that is so hostile to them. They've defended their right to build a Christian church, to have a Christian school, to have a Concert Hall, a museum, a seminary... These things wouldn't happen without a defense of Christianity. They wouldn't happen unless one was convinced that Christ, not Allah, is Lord.


It is impossible for most of us in the West adequately to recognize the tremendous, almost miraculous, developments that have allowed this church to exist. In the midst of an overpowering Muslim presence and control, there stands this enormous church building. To drive by this building and read the words, "Solus Christus" which tower high above the bustle of the city is incredible beyond words.


I wondered, as I tried to take in something so foreign to me, how many Christians in the West would have the same tenacity as Tong, were they in his shoes. Would the hegemony of Islam cause confusion and fear among us? Would Western apologists, in these circumstances, try to form a syzygy with Islam and call it "Together for Theism" - T4T? Would we Westerners, like my friend, in the face of so much suffering, pressure, and persecution conclude that there is no God?


It is difficult to translate my Indonesian experience into a Western context. Whatever the context, however, Peter's admonition is the same. Our responsibility as Christians is to be prepared to give an answer to those who would ask us the reason(s) for our hope.


Perhaps the most significant point of Peter's command is the reason that he gives for it. It is as simple as it is profound: "For Christ also died for sins, once for all..." (3:18). The ironic twist that just is the transposition of the gospel is not that when we see suffering we should conclude that there is no God. Rather, it is that when we see suffering, we should remember that God himself, in the Person of his Son, did exactly that, so that suffering and sin would one day cease. Suffering is clear evidence that Christ is Lord; it is not a testimony against that truth. Dr. Tong recognized that, and defends the faith, giving testimony to Christ in the midst of enormous opposition.


The suffering that is the cross of Christ - the very thing that, on the face of it, might lead us to believe that there is no God - is, as a matter of fact, the deepest expression of his sovereign character as Lord.


Sanctify Christ as Lord, and be ready to give a reason for the great and only hope of the Christian gospel.

megachurch-outside.jpg


Full Version of "Towards a Faithful Witness" Available

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The full print version of Pastor Seaton's response is now available for download as a PDF. Simply go to the article "In Pursuit of a Faithful Witness" at reformation21.org and scroll about halfway down. Read the full version and pray for this important issue!

Christ and/or Muhammad

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I want to thank John Piper for his bold rejoinder to A Common Word, an ecumenical movement to foster peace among Muslims and Christians.and especially to the Christian response from over 300 Christian leaders, including many leading Evangelicals.  As Piper points out, the problem with this initiative is not the sincere desire to promote peace and mutual respect, but in what it concedes in order to do so.  In short, the Christian endorsers of A Common Word laud the "common ground" that Muslims and Christians share in our convictions regarding the love of God and our calling to love our neighbor.  Piper points out, however, that the Muslim ideas of God and God's love are radically opposed to the Christian beliefs of God and His love.   The unavoidable effect of this joint resolution is strongly to suggest that when it comes to God and His love, Muslims and Christians believe substantially the same thing.  Piper calls on Christians to seek peace and respect with greater honesty, i.e., that which refuses to downplay the fundamentally different beliefs of Islam and Christianity -- not merely in degree but in kind -- and which refuses to demure from calling all men to faith in God's only Son and our only Savior.

I suppose that a survey of the history of religion and war would show that in times of great violence there is usually an impulse to downplay important religious differences so as to soften inter-religious anger and hatred.  But it is always distressing to see Christians so willing to downplay the most central and vital aspects of our faith in pursuit of some "higher" end.  I am sure that the signatories of the Christian response mean well.  But for Christians there must never be a higher end that the glory of God as revealed in his Word and the spread of the biblical gospel with clarity, love, and courage.  At the very moment when increasing numbers of people have concluded that "all religions believe the same thing," the very worst thing Christians could do -- the least loving and ultimately the least peaceful -- is to foster the idea that one's understanding of God need not embrace Jesus Christ as the unique revelation of God and as the Savior-Son God has sent as the only hope for a sinful world. 

In this respect, the most distressing part of the Christian response was the willing and favorable comparison between Jesus and Muhammad as exemplars of divine love.  Have we so lost our nerve?  Have we so lost our sense?  Have we so lost our devotion to Christ as the unique and essential revelation of God and His love?  If we have, we can be sure that the result of our apologetic compromise will not be either love or peace.

HT: JT