Is Islam a danger?

MuslimMosqueBlog

Following last week’s attacks against Jews and journalists in France, Islam has received renewed scrutiny. Heads of state have been quick to denounce the acts of terror while simultaneously defending the faith of the attackers. In response to the carnage in Paris, French president Francios Hollande adamantly stated that, “those who carried out these attacks, the terrorists, the madmen, these fanatics have nothing to do with the Muslim religion.” His certainty is politically understandable but hardly convincing. Bill Maher, in his usual provocative manner, summed up the suspicion of many when he said, “when there’s this many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard.”

It has been widely reported that radical (i.e. hostile) Muslims are the minority; that most Muslims are peaceable, charitable individuals who make for good neighbors and good citizens. This is true, but that radical minority is nevertheless many. Indicators tell us that the radical segment consists of 16-25% of the worldwide Muslim population. Worse still, this segment is growing. Such percentages are alarming and raise questions about the content of this religion.

Well, is Islam inclined towards hostility? That depends on ones interpretive method. Fundamentalist Muslims read the command for jihad as literal mandates—they believe that the commands to wage war against the unbeliever are still binding. Not only do their sacred tests command such action, but the early history of Islam is characterized by military conquest and this gives the radicals reason to see themselves as the true disciples of Mohammed. Moderates read the same scriptures but dismiss the war passages, claiming that they were nullified by later revelations. This process, called abrogation, allows believers to use some texts to erase others. They believe that the time for war is long past. These differing interpretive methods result in two different expressions of the Muslim faith. One is peaceable and the other is not.

Both are dangerous.

When we consider the threat that Islam poses, we generally view its victims as those outside of their faith. But the greatest harm is inflicted on those within, and the danger they face exceeds the threat of physical harm. As Jesus said in Matt 10:28, “Do not fear those who can destroy the body”, the fate of the soul is far more urgent. Islam’s doctrine does not just set some of its believers against their neighbors; it sets all of them against Christ. Yes, Jesus is respected by Muslims as a prophet, but his divinity, his crucifixion, and his saving work are all denied. In brief, Muslims acknowledge Jesus but refuse to accept him as the Christ.

This distinction is no trifle. The apostle John doesn’t mince his words, “who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father” (1 John 2:22-23). Muslims, of every type, are seized by a lie that puts their souls in eternal jeopardy. The conflict between segments of Islam and the West pale in comparison to the conflict between all proponents of Islam and God himself.

As Christians we must not become so concerned with geopolitical troubles that we loose sight of spiritual ones. Rather than fixating on the threat that some Muslims pose, we must consider their precarious condition. Consider how Jesus responded to the threats against himself. There were those who sought to kill him and others who chose to dismiss him, but he loved them all. In the same way, let us love all Muslims. Let us be diligent in prayer, courageous in evangelism, and merciful in every circumstance. We can do this when we remember that they are in greater jeopardy than we.

Advertisements

What the Dead Can Offer the Living

Laptop and old books with path

I’m not short on reading material, but I’m still hungrily eyeing the latest biography by Michael Horton. Chances are, I’m going to rearrange my reading list to make space for this new work on an old figure. My fascination with historical characters is that they are historical. I like stories, history is a story—ergo, I like reading about those who shaped history. But reading church history does more than entertain, it informs. Here are 5 reasons why I believe that being familiar with church history is essential for the future wellbeing of the church:

1. It breeds humility.
Every era is susceptible to chronological arrogance. Dismissing early thought as primitive, truth is treated as a recent discovery. But reading the works of history quickly curbs that arrogance—the men and woman of yesteryear were downright brilliant. Reading the works of Jonathan Edwards is enough to make one feel like a minnow. The more time I spend with past theologians, the less likely I am to be prideful of my place in God’s story.

2. It breeds further humility.
Martin Luther is an absolute gem. In an age that got so much wrong in theology, he got so much right. His brilliance is all the brighter because of the darkness that surrounded him. And yet, in spite of his genius, he was completely wrong in his attitude towards the Jews. His blind spot reminds me to keep checking my vision. Like a good carpenter, a Christian should measure twice before cutting their opinions.

3. It offers foresight.
I recently read a tweet insisting that before any Christian is allowed to post an opinion online, they take a course in church history. Amen. What is so shocking about the recent stress within evangelicalism between conservatives and progressives is that it’s nothing new. We may find the issues before us unique, but the foundational frictions have been felt before. If we want to see how things play out in the future, we should look back into the recent past.

4. It builds courage.
Jesus reminds us that allegiance to him will bring us hostility. More and more, this is proving to be true and it can be tempting to become a Christian wallflower. But when I read about the tenacity and bravery of the church in ages past, I grow bold. In a sense, I find myself borrowing their courage; if they can withstand cold steel, then I can endure cutting comments. Their resilience inspires me to stand firm in my faith.

5. It spurs worship.
Inspirational people inspire me. Inspired people inspire me more. It’s easy to be impressed with those who are brilliant, but when these people praise someone else, their respect becomes your awe. When I encounter the devotion that my heroes had for Christ, my affection for him grows. I love reading Spurgeon’s writings, because when I do, I find my love for Jesus growing deeper. History is never old, and it only gets dusty when we neglect it. Those who look behind, will likely prove to be able guides for what lies ahead.

Noah

NoahMovie2014

I walked into the cinema determined to enjoy the movie. Even before its release, Noah has been swamped by controversy as pundits have fallen into opposing factions to either praise it as excellent or slam it as profane. I decided to abstain from this skirmish. Like everyone else, I knew that the movie was not true to the biblical account so I felt protected by my low expectations. I was not there to discover truth; I was just sitting through a movie. An admirer of Russell Crowe’s acting abilities, I was going to enjoy this movie. Sadly, I did not.

The acting was good and the CG was impressive, but visually the movie was disappointing. Everyone is complaining about the stone angels as being extra-biblical science fiction, which they were, but I like science fiction and these characters still failed to impress. A curious fusion of Casper and Thing from the Fantastic Four, these good-natured monsters were a constant distraction. More than that, the ‘blighted earth’ look conformed to the worst of the apocalyptic genre—the baddies even looked like they were pulled off the set of Beyond The Thunderdome. As a science fiction flick, Noah wasn’t very good.

But what of the biblical message?

The writers chose to make Noah uncertain of God’s intent and he wrongly presumed that it was his responsibility to obliterate all humanity, his family included. To this end, he refused to find wives for his two younger sons and conspired to kill his grandchildren. It was creative license that turned dark and grizzly. In seeking to be obedient Noah became murderous, leaving the viewers annoyed with the man and frustrated with his God. The biblical account tells a sweeter story. God speaks plainly to Noah and says. “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (Genesis 6:18). The ark was built to secure the future of humanity and Noah was certain of it. The movie misses the extravagant love of God that he has repeatedly and publicly announced to creation.

Ironically, the best part of the movie was the worst. The depictions of human depravity were hard to watch but excellently conveyed. The backdrop may have been far-fetched but the sordid condition of society was utterly believable. Sitting through Noah would tarnish even the most Pollyanna view of humanity. Sin was real and judgment was just. Nowhere in the movie did I get the impression that God was in the wrong, and for this singular accomplishment the makers win applause. The problem was humanity. For this sober depiction alone, the movie is worth watching.

I would summarize Noah like this—‘the bad’ was well presented, but ‘the good’ was too ambiguous.

No, I did not enjoy Noah. In spite of willing myself to like it, I couldn’t. I don’t think it was profane, but it certainly wasn’t excellent.

Sex and Power

iStock_000014546164Small

The story may no longer dominate the headlines, but the interest in the Duke student who is paying for her education by making porn continues. This fascination, I’m guessing, is due to the bizarreness of an elite student willingly participating in society’s most notorious profession. Personally, I don’t share the fascination. I simply haven’t had the stomach to follow along. All I know is that a young woman has chosen to sell sex for money. Money and power, that is, for she claims that her current employment is “empowering”.

And it’s this claim that selling sex makes her feel powerful that has left me thinking. I have no reason to doubt her; performing in these films may make her feel very formidable, but that’s not a good thing. Sex is not meant to bestow power, for if it does, it has become a weapon. A very dangerous weapon at that, because it wounds everyone it touches—including the one doing the wielding.

This newest porn star may willingly participate in acts that countless others are enslaved to do, but her choice does not protect her from its costs. The sex industry is no friend to women. For a time, some of them may feel dominion over the men that hungrily watch them, but they will soon discover that they are seen as objects not to be prized, but to be preyed upon. Horror is coiled to strike. This course she has started down might make her feel powerful now, but in the end it will leave her broken.

Men also make the mistake of treating sex as means of power. The charming cad, who woos women to his bed only to abandon them in favor of another, fancies himself as a champion of virility. For him women are simply trophies to be won, but what he doesn’t realize is that this hunt will cost him his dignity. While his friends may congratulate him for his many conquests, his soul cannot not join in the revelry. Overwhelming evidence informs us that men who hunt for sex are generally consumed with self-loathing. They use sex to seize power only to discover that in the process they have crippled their masculinity.

When women and men use sex for power, they always and only reap pain.

Sex is not meant to be about power. In God’s beautiful design, sex is devoid of dominion. Rather, it’s the willing ‘giving away’ of oneself to a spouse in the bounds of marriage. There are no acts of coercion involved, but in mutual submission the husband and wife entrust themselves to each other. The two become one flesh. It’s a union forged in shared vulnerability. The generosity in this joining establishes trust and binds them together. When this happens in sex there are no losers, no vanquished parties, for both man and woman have been honored by the other. In God’s design nobody wields sex, it’s a gift given and received between loving spouses. This is the way sex is meant to be, for when power plays are kept from the marriage bed there is ample space for love.

Scott Hamilton‘s Faith

I don’t like dance—I know, I know, I’m a cultural Philistine, but I’m unrepentant about it. The day my eldest chose to quit ballet in favor of horse riding I rejoiced knowing that I had escaped years of agonizing recitals. But I have two girls and my amnesty is jeopardized every time the youngest does a pirouette through the house. I’m sweating again.

I may be culturally deficient, but I’m not altogether ignorant. I do know who Scott Hamilton is. And yes, I know that he’s not a dancer. He’s a skater. But my animus against flowing forms means that the disciplines get lumped together. And I used ‘lumped’ purposefully, unrepentant Philistine that I am.

But as I was saying,  I know who Scott Hamilton is, and on the occasions I have seen him on TV I have found him quite likeable. He seems like the kind of guy I would like to know. He comes across as friendly, funny, and somewhat self-depreciating—which is refreshing in such an accomplished athlete. What I didn’t know is that the man has a courageous faith that is inspiring. Scott Hamilton has lived a life of triumph in the midst of tragedy, and his victorious spirit is due to his faith in Jesus.

I don’t know Scott but his faith story makes me wish I did. Hopefully, this Olympic athlete will inspire you to run the race and win the prize.

5 Reasons You Simply CAN’T Avoid The Culture Wars

War PaintIt should come as no surprise to anyone that we live in a highly polarized society. There are separate camps that hold very divergent worldviews and their interaction with each other is mostly antagonistic. Topics like abortion, gay marriage, and the legalization of marijuana are all highly charged and the resulting disagreements are often heated. It gets ugly, no wonder it’s called a war. Weary of all the fighting some people have decided to be Switzerland and declare neutrality. Seeking to avoid the unpleasantness involved they have chosen to ‘op out’ of the debate.

The allure of being a cultural non-combatant is quite obvious—most would rather be known as a lover not a fighter. I know I would! But I think the choice is a false one. Firstly, engaging the culture does not exclude love, and secondly, I don’t think anyone can avoid the culture wars.

Here are five reasons I think neutrality is impossible:

1.  There is no DMZ
Some people seek safety by straddling the fence. Refusing to choose a side they aim to affirm the best of both options. ‘Both/and’ is deemed better than ‘either/or’. Sometimes this is true, but the right answer isn’t always found in the middle. In most of the cultural conflicts we face, there is no middle ground, no demilitarized zone. Either a fetus is a person or it is not. Either homosexuality is a sin or it is not. Either marijuana is harmful or it is not. Affirming both sides may feel nice but it’s not coherent.

2.  You are the prize
In a conventional war, winning happens by seizing land, but in this conflict it is won by seizing hearts and minds. Cultural norms are nothing more than popular agreement on a matter. If these norms are to become dominant then people need to be persuaded. Your endorsement is actively solicited and any attempt at neutrality isn’t likely to be respected. As society has grown more secular, it’s grown less tolerant of dissenting voices. Your ‘yes’ is required.

3.  Your silence is a statement
Keeping the peace through silence used to be an effective measure. No longer. While silence used to mean that the person’s view was unknown, it is now presumed to be a vote of affirmation. The person who is present in a conversation is considered as supportive unless they say otherwise. In other words, your ‘yes’ to the current ways of the world is presumed. This means that Christians can be seen as collaborators with ungodliness by virtue of their silence.

4.  You can’t hide
Remember when we were told “If you don’t like it—don’t watch it”? Today that’s hopelessly naive. With the explosion of social media we are daily swamped with ideas and images, and with the exception of puppy videos they all include some worldview. We are the targets of the largest propaganda effort in history.  I suppose that we could hide from the onslaught by disconnecting our devices but that seems unlikely and unhelpful. Avoiding the conflict is a practical impossibility.

5.  The Bible forbids it.
Christians will find no biblical support for retreating into a holy enclave. We are not of this world but we have been left in it for a purpose. Primarily, this purpose is to grow and sanctify His church through discipleship. Along with this priority is the responsibility to bless those who live amongst us. Being the salt and light includes advocating for that which is good. It is good to save the innocent. It is good to rescue the addict. It is good to encourage marriage. We love our communities by championing righteousness.

In sum: you can’t avoid or ignore what is happening in our society. Whether we wish it or not, we are all in the front lines of the culture war. But being involved in this conflict does not mean that we have to become hostile. It’s quite the opposite actually—we enter the fray armed only with love and truth.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14–16, ESV)