CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christianity, Other Religions, Islam and Terrorism

Aug 1, 2010

Living the Christian life in a non-Christian world is always tricky business. We must navigate our way through life, avoiding various extremes. We are called to confront the world, while we are also called to interact with the world. We are called to remain unspotted from the world, yet called to make an impact on the world.

How the people of God live in relation to other religions is also ambiguous and a bit of a juggling act. Two clear teachings run throughout the Bible concerning this relationship. On the one hand God’s people are to withstand and reject false religions and gods, and proclaim the one true God.

On the other hand, God’s people are always called to be a missional people. It is our job to reach our pagan and unbelieving neighbours with the truth claims of our faith. Trying to confront other religious traditions while seeking to reach people in those religions is always a complex and difficult task.

Yet we are called to do this very thing. How it works out in detail and in practice is not so easily come by. Indeed, it is somewhat amiss of me to seek to explain all this in a short article. Plenty of book-length studies on this topic have appeared, and even they cannot readily cover all the necessary ground to properly treat this issue.

I raise this topic because of a recent news item which has caused a bit of a stir. It seems that a church in Florida wants to have a ‘Burn a Koran Day’ on September 11 in remembrance of all those who died at the hands of Muslim terrorists in 2001. It is also doing this, its website says, to stand against the evil of Islam.

So what are Christians to make of this effort? One way to respond is to place this activity within the dual framework I have just outlined: to confront non-Christian religions while seeking to win individuals within those faith traditions.

Certainly in regard to the second biblical emphasis of reaching out to non-believers, this book-burning approach is unwise and unnecessary. It will alienate those we are seeking to reach. To desecrate the Koran is probably far more serious amongst Muslims than is desecrating the Bible amongst Christians.

Sure, there were many biblical confrontations between God’s people and false prophets and those who worshipped false gods that can be appealed to, chief of which being found in 1 Kings 18 (the confrontation between Elijah and the Baalists). That was a real power encounter indeed, with quite severe consequences for the false prophets.

And one might even find a biblical precedent for book burnings. In Acts 19:19-20 we read of one such public book burning. But in this case it was the book owners themselves (recent converts who came to see the evil of sorcery and magic) who burned their own books in Ephesus.

And with memory of recent activities in Nazi Germany, it is certainly not a good image to convey to the watching world. But concern about political Islam is a legitimate thing. Indeed, this is another balancing act which believers need to negotiate.

As I have written in other places on this site, when it comes to Islam, believers need to be doing at least two things simultaneously, as difficult as that might be. On the one hand, none of us should be ignorant or uninformed about the truth that Islam is not only a false religion which denies the very heart of Christian truth claims, but it is also an expansionist faith as well.

The ultimate goal of the Islamic faith is to see everyone submit to Allah, to see a universal caliphate installed, with everyone under sharia law. And military and political means to achieve this are fully condoned by the Koran, the Sira and the hadith.

This of course must be resisted. The free West has every reason to defend itself against the spread of totalitarian Islam, and to reject moves to see the West come under further sharia compliance. We have an obligation to see this threat for what it is, and resist it accordingly.

But on the other hand, Christians know that Christ came to die for the sins of everyone, including our Muslim neighbours. Jesus loves the Muslim, just as he loves the atheist, or the Hindu, or the Buddhist. But God’s love for them means wanting to see them set free from the false gods and idolatry which they are enslaved to.

We are called to share God’s love to everyone, Muslims included. They need to hear the gospel message just as much as anyone else. We need to pray for our Muslim contacts, love them, and show them the liberating power of Christ’s love. This of course may well seem to conflict with the first duty of resisting Islamist tyranny.

Indeed, it will always be a bit of a juggling act. Thus I can share with an individual Muslim the good news of the Christian faith, but also affirm political measures to prevent Islamists from overtly or covertly undermining the God-given gifts of liberty, democracy and religious freedom.

Indeed, even if one decided to become completely non-political, and never even speak out about things like 9/11, or the threat of Islamist expansionism, one will still find that simply standing up for the claims of Christ will cause offense.

A Muslim regards the Christian teaching that Jesus is God’s son as blasphemous. Yet no decent Christian would ever stop proclaiming that truth simply in the name of being tolerant or inclusive. To proclaim the truth of Christianity is in fact to be exclusive, and will result in people of other faiths getting upset and going on the defensive.

That cannot be helped. Indeed, Paul often speaks about the offense of the gospel.  Simply telling a Muslim that he needs to repent and receive Christ as saviour will seem offensive and insensitive. But the proclamation of the gospel will always offend sinners and always appear restrictive to those who reject Christian truth claims.

While we cannot avoid the offence of the gospel, we can avoid unnecessary offence. Thus the Koran-burning exercise seems to be one of those things we should forego, in the interest of reaching Muslims for Christ. And to say that does not mean for a moment that we minimise the horror and evil which occurred nine years ago.

Islamist terrorism and expansionism needs to be resisted, and that I shall continue to do. But I will also continue to pray for Muslims, and seek out opportunities to share with them about my Saviour. As in all these matters, we need to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

Getting the balance right will not be easy. But we must seek to reflect who God is in all these situations. That means we will fearlessly and unflinchingly proclaim Christ as the one and only saviour. And it may mean we will also work politically, even militarily, to seek to stop jihadist violence.

But it also means seeking to love our Muslim neighbours, properly representing the living Lord to them. This is true in plenty of other situations of course. For example, we can and should love the alcoholic, and seek to set him free, while hating and working against the alcoholism which is destroying his life.

As I said earlier, living a Christian life in a non-Christian world is never going to be easy. And at times tensions and conflicts may be unavoidable, as we seek to pursue a number of important goods at the same time. This is certainly true here: opposing Islamist jihad while loving Muslim neighbours.

A tough ask you might say, but one which we must seek to get the right mix on.

content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2010/07/fla-church-to-host-a-burn-a-koran-day-on-sept-11/1

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23 Responses to Christianity, Other Religions, Islam and Terrorism

  • Hi Bill
    The Koran denies the doctrinal foundations of the Christian religion. Christ’s divinity, the Incarnation, the crucifixion, and the redemption.
    .
    Even though the Muslims only represent something like 3% of the total residents of the European population they are a very visible minority.

    Even the way they dress is a visible means to emphasize their identity which is at the same time religious, cultural and social. They are faithful to their religion.

    To the contrary Muslims find in Europe a society where Christianity is absent or approaching extinction. Christian values and ideals have all but disappeared.

    Perhaps the presence of so many Muslims can act as a stimulus to reawaken Christians from their dormant faith and become a visible group that live and act according to the name worthy of Christians.

    Anne van Tilburg

  • Thanks Bill you have said very well what needed to be said. We are called to share God’s love to everyone, Muslims included. Truth & balance, seems like the correct formula for a successful balancing act.
    Peter Baldry

  • The words, speak the truth in love comes to mind.

    Burning the Quran would be considered, in my mind, as an outright act of hate and disrespect towards the people of the Islamic faith and will push people further away from God and further distort their ideas about Christianity and who Christ is.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this “burn a Quran day” would lead to a reason for Islam fundamentalists to consider another terrorist attack.

    I also wondered if this pastor heard from God about burning the Quran, or if it was just his own idea that he is promoting, putting not only his congregation at risk but all of the Christians in America & the world.

    Thanks for a very insightful article Bill.

    Jeanie de Beer

  • Bill,

    I think that history might have shown that whether the “book” or the person who owns the book is burned, no change occurs.

    Unless the “burning” takes place in the human heart, and the person is changed on the inside, then all physical burning does is to harden resolve for the “cause”.

    When Jesus comes in to change a person on the inside, there is quite often a great willingness and readiness to “ditch” the things from the old life.

    David Alston

  • Any approach to non-Christians should spring from sincere love and a longing for the salvation of all souls. Anything that is founded on fear, resentment or hate comes from the enemy of man and will therefore cause more hate and division.
    Anna Cook

  • What an informed article, thank you. From past experience I had more success with Muslim neighbours by baking them a cake and we consequently had morning tea in each others homes. They were great neighbours who looked out for our house as we did for theirs.We lived in Vietnam for one year and we taught that love is the most powerful weapon in the world, more powerful than communism or nuclear missiles. At the end of our stay the communist landlord bought our daughter a gold cross which he put around her neck and said his first English words, ‘God bless you’! He had heard me say the Vietnamese version for a year and we obviously touched his heart by our love and the Holy Spirit brought the fruit.
    Ilona Sturla

  • Christ sacrificially loved the sinner but spoke out strongly against the nature and consequences of sin, and hypocrisy. We can do no less. We need to love the Moslem while boldly speaking out against true nature and consequences of Islamic cultural dominion. And the hypocrisy behind Moslems attempting to promote Islam as something desirable and sweet in the west, when in fact Islamic dominion and rule has show itself to be utterly ruthless and intolerant. As reported Amanda Hodge in the Weekend Australian (July 31-Aug.1,World), in (supposedly democratic) Pakistan more than 8 out of 10 surveyed supported the segregation of men and women in the workplace and the stoning of adulterers, and almost three-quarters endorsed the “death penalty” for those who leave Islam. Least we forget!
    John Heininger

  • Thank you for an interesting article. Any book burning achieves nothing but offense and shows lack of love for one’s neighbour, which Jesus preached. But you are mistaken when you say Muslims worship false gods and idols. The God of Abraham sent the angel Gabriel to reveal His presence & word to Arabs, who worshipped idols. Muslims abhor idol worship and worship the same one true God that Jesus worshipped. Muslims do not believe that Jesus was God nor the son of God. But Muslims believe he was a great prophet who is with God now and will return on Judgment Day.
    Fatima Samson

  • Dear sir:
    Lovingkindness and Truth must together row the boat of Christian faith. My experience as an evangelist and a teacher is that as soon as I allow one of these twin sailors to jump ship, Whammy! I am drowning people in a gooey sea of Love or water boarding them relentlessly with Truth. Truth was made to sail with Love, and Love is perfected in the company of Truth. This, I have found, is the key to winning souls from other faiths, and to building the Faith that endures in others.

    See Ps 25:10, Ps 85:10, Eph 4:15 and 2 John 2:3.

    Sincerely,
    Rev. John Stone

  • Thanks Fatima

    This is where we differ. Christians and Muslim do not worship the same God, and the Islamic rejection of Jesus Christ as the son of God makes Islam a false religion. See here for example: www.billmuehlenberg.com/2007/08/19/no-we-do-not-worship-the-same-god/
    www.billmuehlenberg.com/2007/08/16/what-to-make-of-allah/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,
    Burning books is what Hitler did. As a Christian, Counter Jihadist and an Islamophobe, this is not the way to get things done. Having read the Qur’an myself, the book deserves to be burned, thrown in a toilet etc.. That said, actions like this will only further inflame those who have been brainwashed and duped by the evil that truly spews from hell, Islam.

    You have written an EXCELLENT response to what I see as a serious mistake if this church in Florida follows through with this. As much as I am against Islam, this is not the way.

    Fatima, You are mistaken .Jesus was rejected by many, many Muslims and Islam as a whole. A loving God would not allow the atrocities that have been committed under the flag of Islam for the last 1400 years. Jesus was the The Lord’s true perfection. The same cannot be said about Allah or his ‘prophet’ Mohammad. This is not the place to have an argument as I respect what Bill is saying and wants to say.

    Cross posting as fresh perspective on my site and thanks so much, Bill.

    May you and yours be blessed in His love.

    Rick Lakehomer, USA

  • The muslims do indeed worship a false God as there is only One True God – the Christian God. My heart breaks for them, seeing that they are from birth brainwashed into believing a false religion by mullahs. It raises an interesting theological question: will God in His infinite mercy look more kindly on Muslims, who have wasted their lives pursuing a false religion and rejected Christ, or on atheists, who have rejected his only son Christ also? Or will they be equally lost? I guess only God in His infinite wisdom knows the answer to that, but our part is to spread the Christian message to everyone in the little time we’re given.

    Barbara Murray-Leach

  • “We are called to confront the world, while we are also called to interact with the world. We are called to remain unspotted from the world, yet called to make an impact on the world.” I am astonished by the truth in those words.
    Cammie Novara

  • The cliche ‘those who don’t believe in anything will fall for anything’ is relevant here as the West abandons its spiritual roots. Is God using the Muslims to punish ungodliness? The blasphemy and godlessness that is rife even in Australia must be insulting to God e.g. the book by Richard Dawkins, ‘The God Delusion’ and others such as Christopher Hitchins book ‘God is not Great’ to name just a few examples. I complained to the manager of Dymocks books as she portrayed Dawkins book very prominently….but what good does that do? There has to be more ‘collective’ action and I guess this site is a rallying point. We should be more vocal in opposing these things, after all that’s how all the other groups get their policies etc through by perseverance and pushing their agenda. Do the Muslims still make blood sacrifices of animals? And why do they have a moon crescent? Is this connected with the ancient moon god?
    Angie Volmensky

  • Take the Qur’an to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal as a class action. If the politically correct can ban Biggles, and other innocuous stories, then Australia should be informed and exposed to the story line of the Quar’an.

    If John Heininger knows that the Qur’an promotes discrimination, not within its own laws, but within the Australian discrimination laws then why not marshall the resources of his wide network and test the book and the law?

    History suggests that the ‘fight’ will be easier to win today than tomorrow.

    Ray Robinson

  • I would put the Dove World Outreach Qur’an burning exercise in the same category as Jesus’ outrage at the money changers at the temple. Both were provocative and violent acts (burning “sacred” books and turning over “sacred” money tables) that were not politically correct.

    My initial reaction to that Church’s demonstration was “oh no, they’re not going to win any friends and fellow advocates – they may even tick off folks who share their concerns about Islam”. Thinking about it further, you are correct. Muslims are the most likely to be offended. We won’t gain any converts that way. They will be offended in the same way that Nazi’s would have been offended by the burning of Mein Kampf – perhaps more so. No converts there, either. But making nice with the Nazi’s didn’t bear much fruit, as Chamberlain notoriously demonstrated.

    Book burning is certainly not politically correct. Neither is criticism of the gay lifestyle or criticism of the supremacist and intolerant Islamic ideology. Political incorrectness offends people. But so do the actions that are the object of our political incorrectness.

    I guess we are seeking a balance between actions that will effectively influence those we seek to influence with actions that are not offensive. Are there better ways to achieve that balance with regard to Islam. Probably. Will they work? They haven’t so far. It is absolutely true; the Qur’an is an evil book as Islam is an evil ideology.

    However, virtually any action pointing out the evils of Islam have been offensive to most Muslims. If political correctness and refraining from drawing offense were our primary guideposts of life, we might as well wave the white flag right now.

    Gerald Mucci

  • Well balanced, Bill. Say, have you heard if Dawkins or any of the other ‘sensitive’, ‘new atheist’, demonizers-of-the-Bible are going to show up in Florida and burn a Bible or two?

    What about Fred Phelps? He loves being professionally insensitive and affirms this kind of methodology. Anyone know if he is going to show up in Florida and blame book burning on homosexuals?

    As far as international Islamic anger and threats to troops (recently pronounced ‘non-combat’ troops, e.g. all the glory of peacekeeper without the blue helmets), I don’t personally blame this nut case in Florida. CNN or the NY Times or someone had to look far and wide to find this guy and make him international news.

    Following the motive of Dawkins of making all things associated with Christianity look deranged, these major media outlets are frankly the ones to blame for any violence resulting from this little handful in Florida. They wounded none and they are insignificant. The Koran or Q spelling is a book with words on it, nothing magical. I blame the mainstream media for purposefully finding someone on the fringes and using him to drum up violence globally via people who are unstable, and then blaming religion.

    It strikes me as a kind of media bullying instigation. Or inciting a riot. Shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater and such. I wouldn’t doubt anti-faith people are purposefully giving the story legs and I find this more evil than the burning or the backlash.

    They are like ‘clever’, elitist, bully boys, picking on a youth in the restroom who they know is prone to being tipped toward uncontrolled violence. Then doing the Bart Simpson thing ‘Not me, no I didn’t do anything!’ If something should be backlashed…well…nuf said.

    Joe Whitchurch, Indianna, USA

  • Please, please pray or email the Dove World Outreach Church directly as I did. If this action goes ahead, our sisters and brothers in Muslim majority countries will undergo an intensification of what they experience everyday. Indonesia has already threatened retaliation against the Christians in that country if the book burning goes ahead. Our brethren are leading Muslims to Christ by their example of love. Let’s not interfere with that work which will result in harm to our sisters and brothers and also lose opportunities to win other Muslims to Christ through their love.
    Kerry Letheby

  • Dear Bill Muehlenberg,
    The assumption is: Let us lay aside all wasteful thinking as to arousing violence because of this September 9/11. For as it is written: the wicked and the one who loves voilence His (God) soul hates. Wherefore Mr. Muehlenberg let it be known to us all who call ourselves Christians, that God is a God of love: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son… You are therefore right in what you have written. And therefore let this be known to you that God loves you. (Amen).
    Sunday Babatunde Teniola.

  • “The Massachusetts Bible Society in the USA has said it plans to take a stand against hate and give away two copies of the Qur’an for every one Christian extremists burn.”
    www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13064

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Seems to me that this Koran-burning thing is a bit like trying to pacify & tame a wild animal by shoving an electric cattle prod up its backside.

    If you poke sticks into a hornets’ nest, don’t be surprised if the hornets swarm out and attack. Pastor Jones doesn’t actually look terribly bright, but does he really, seriously think that an act of this provocation will solve any of the problems or convince any Muslim that Christianity is the true way?

    Somehow I don’t think so.

    Surely antics like this are merely taking on the same tactics we abhor in the enemy. Does the New Testament anywhere teach fighting fire with fire? Can’t recall anywhere offhand.

    David Williams

  • A philosophical comment on statements such as:

    “The muslims do indeed worship a false God as there is only One True God – the Christian God.”

    When you think about it logically, there is actually no such thing as the ‘Muslim God’, the ‘Hindu God’, the ‘Jewish God’ or even the ‘Christian God’. There is just God.

    We can choose to honour & worship God the correct way or the incorrect way, to call him by a correct or incorrect name, to ascribe to him correct or incorrect attributes, to speak and act in ways he approves of or disapproves of, etc.

    There is really no such entity as a ‘false god’, only false ways of worshipping God.

    OK, I’m not sure whether this is useful or not. Just thought I’d throw it in as a thought.

    David Williams

  • “That means we will fearlessly and unflinchingly proclaim Christ as the one and only saviour.”
    Not only ‘saviour’, but KING; who reigns over everything in the earth and in heavenly places; and so we, as Sons of God (those who proclaim faith in Christ) must confront the enemy in battle as a soldier in the Kings army and stay the advance of the axis of evil.
    Also, the Church, is the bride of Christ, so must submit herself to her groom and in doing so bring the love of her Christ to those who do nor know Him.
    Michael Thompson

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