Posts tagged ‘Islam’

Terror Strikes New Zealand

Members of the public mourn at a flower memorial near the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch

Credit: RTE News

“The wages of sin is death,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:23.  These words were horrifyingly instantiated this past Friday when a terrorist gunman opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50.  The crime was, in every way, monstrous.  Minutes before he went on his rampage, he emailed top government officials a rambling and incoherent manifesto, outlining his ardent white nationalistic beliefs.  He then strapped on a helmet camera so he could livestream his attack on social media.  Finally, he shot many worshipers at these mosques, which included several children, at point blank range as they cowered in corners.

If anyone ever doubted the dastardly death that sin – including philosophical sin like white nationalism – can bring, now would be the time to become a true believer in the devastations of depravity.

Near the end of the book of Genesis, we read of a man named Jacob and his twelve sons, the favorite of whom is Joseph.  Joseph’s brothers, Genesis 37:4 says, “hated him” because of his status as his father’s favorite son.  Their hatred eventually spawned a plot among the brothers to kill their kinsman.  And they would have, were it not for a last-second intercession by one of the brothers, Judah, who decided it would be more financially advantageous if, instead of killing Joseph, they sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:26-27).

Hatred is an acid that eats up the soul.  This is why the Bible’s consistent and continuous call is to love – and not just to love those who are like us.  The Bible’s consistent and continuous call is to love those who are very different from us and even hate us.  As Jesus puts it:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:44, 46-47)

White nationalism explicitly tramples on Jesus’ command.  It not only fails to love its enemies, it actually creates enemies where there need be none and becomes an enemy to those who do not fit its arbitrarily contrived ethnic and philosophical strictures.  It trades the foundational and universal sanctity of life for a hackneyed and exclusionary solidarity of race.

Blessedly, love did manage to rise up and break through when hatred was spraying a hail of bullets into two mosques in Christchurch.  48-year-old Abdul Aziz was at the second of the mosques.  He was there with his four children to pray.  When the terrorist began firing in the parking lot of the mosque, rather than running away, Mr. Aziz ran into the lot with the only thing he could find – a credit card machine.  After firing off many rounds, the terrorist returned to his vehicle to grab a second weapon, and Mr. Aziz hurled the credit card machine at him.  The terrorist then fired off another series of rounds at Mr. Aziz, who managed to protect himself by ducking between cars.  When the terrorist returned to his vehicle yet again to grab yet another weapon, Mr. Aziz found one of the guns he had dropped and, after realizing it was empty, threw it at the windshield of the terrorist’s car.  The windshield shattered.  The terrorist was spooked.  He sped off.  And many lives were saved.

Mr. Aziz explained, in an interview with The New York Times, “I was prepared to give my life to save another life.”  That’s love.  And it stopped hate dead when hate was trying to speed death.

Christianity teaches that there was another man – a perfect man, who was also God – who was prepared to give His life to save other lives.  His name was Jesus.  And He not only was prepared to die.  He did die.  And He not only saved lives by His death.  He bought for us eternal life with His death.

“The wages of sin is death,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:23.  But he continues: “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In Jesus’ death, love killed hate.  May this be our confidence and our conviction as we mourn the tragic losses in Christchurch.

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March 18, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Sharia Law and Biblical Grace

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  This is the apostle Paul’s sobering summary of the human condition.  And he’s right.  Not only is there is not a person alive who lives up to God’s standards of righteousness, there is also not a person alive who lives up to the standards of righteousness he sets for himself, as any person who has ever attempted – and failed at – a New Year’s resolution can tell you.  Sin is universal.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, in the Indonesian province of Aceh, two Christians were publicly whipped, according to the dictates of Sharia law, “for playing a game at a children’s entertainment complex in a way authorities say amounted to gambling.”  Aceh’s population is 98 percent Muslim, and people can face floggings for acts including “drinking alcohol, adultery, gay sex, gambling or having romantic relationships before marriage.”  Indeed, the province’s courts are imposing hundreds of whippings a year for acts like these.  Last January, a Christian was sentenced to 36 lashes for selling alcohol.

I do not believe that drinking or selling alcohol, in and of itself, is sinful, though I do believe that drunkenness is.  Likewise, I don’t believe that a good-natured raffle for a few laughs is inherently wicked, though I am also well aware and wary of the dangerous greed that gambling can stoke and how the gambling industry, especially in the form of state lotteries, cynically preys on the economically disadvantaged.  I do believe in a traditional sexual ethic. So, I would say, as do the courts in Aceh, that any sexual activity outside of the confines of marriage strays from what is appropriate.  In short, though I would qualify certain things, I find myself in broad agreement with Aceh’s moral concerns.  But I also find myself fundamentally at odds with Aceh’s response to these concerns.

The radicalized form of Islamic law that Aceh’s theocratically-minded courts seem to be bent on propagating addresses sin through judgment.  Each sin, in these courts’ minds, deserves a flogging.  Christianity, however, addresses sin in a whole different way.  Christianity acknowledges the reality and ubiquity of human sinfulness – “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) – but addresses such sinfulness not with judgment, but by grace: “All are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

In John 8, Jesus is famously confronted by some religious leaders who bring to Him a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery.  In a breathtaking display of theocratic virtue signaling, they crow: “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do You say” (John 8:5)? In their recounting of Mosaic law, the religious leaders conveniently overlook the fact that it was both the adulteress and the adulterer who were to be punished by death, as, in this case, they bring to Jesus only the adulteress. They also needlessly restrict the method of execution to that of stoning, even though Moses makes no such specification.  Nevertheless, they are broadly correct that adultery was, according to Mosaic law, punishable by death.  Jesus, however, instead of debating the finer points of where the adulterer is and what method of execution should be used, simply responds:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:7, 9-11)

Here, Jesus brilliantly puts His finger on the problem with responding to sin with judgment instead of with grace.  If one responds to sin with only judgment, there will finally be no one left to mete out any judgment, because no one is without sin.  Everyone will have been stoned.  Only grace can address sin in a way that leaves anyone standing.

Christianity certainly understands and accepts the role governing authorities play to discourage wickedness by means of penalties.  But Christianity also knows that people need more than a penalty in the face of sin.  They need a Savior who does not condemn them, but forgives them.  And this is what a theocracy like Aceh’s, which plays the roles of both political and religious authorities, cannot provide.

Interestingly, the Bible does accept lashings as appropriate remuneration for sin.  But the lashes do not fall on us. They fall on God’s Son:

He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

The courts of Aceh, it turns out, are lashing out far too late for it to do any good.  The lashing that was really needed already happened 2,000 years ago.

It’s time to put the whips down.

March 5, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Processing the Terror in Orlando

Orlando Terror Attacks

Credit:  The Guardian

Terror doesn’t sleep.

This is one of the lessons we’re learning from what has become the worst mass shooting in U.S. history carried out early this morning around 2 o’clock at a nightclub in Orlando.

The shooter’s name was Omar Mateen.  He had drawn the attention of the FBI in the past, and before he carried out his terror attack, he called 911 to pledge his allegiance to ISIS.  By the time his AR-15-style rifle and his handgun were silenced, 50 people were dead and over 50 were injured.  Mr. Mateen himself was killed by law enforcement officials while he was holed up in one of the club’s bathrooms with hostages.

News reports have been filled with people expressing shock, sadness, and outrage.  All of these responses are certainly appropriate, but what especially grieves me is that they are also entirely predictable.  We know how people will respond to a terror attack emotionally precisely because we have had so much practice responding to terror attacks emotionally.  ParisSan BernardinoBrussels.   But this tragedy – like the ones that have come before it – is too important not to respond.  When human life is senselessly and violently taken, we should stop and we should reflect and we should respond.  Here are a few things, then, to keep in mind.

Do not be afraid.

This is not the first time I have written this in the face of a terror attack.  But this is also something that bears repeating.  After all, whenever an attack like this one unfolds, our natural and almost reflexive reaction is to ask, “Am I next?  Am I safe?”  But such questions are unhelpful because such questions are utterly unanswerable.  There is no way for us to control the future.  This is why the apostle Paul commends us to be people of prayer rather than people of worry and fear: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  We may not be able to control the future, but we do know someone who holds the future.  We are called to present our fear to Him and place our trust in Him.

I should point out that there is a difference between being afraid and being vigilant.  Fear happens when a person mulls over all sorts of possible, though unverifiable, bad scenarios for the future.  Vigilance is when a person looks for clues of trouble in the present and reports them to the appropriate authorities for investigation.  Being vigilant is helpful.  Being afraid is needless.

Remember, there is a reason attacks like the one in Orlando are called acts of terror.  They are attacks specifically designed to instill fear.  Don’t let these attacks have their way in your heart.  Christ is stronger than terror.

Be careful connecting dots.

One of the major focal points of this story has been the clientele to whom this night club in Orlando catered.  The club at which these attacks were carried out is called the Pulse, which is well-known as a hotspot for those in the LGBT community.  Shortly after the attacks, GLAAD, a gay rights advocacy group, tweeted, “Our hearts break for the victims and families of this horrific act of violence. We stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in #Orlando.”  The call to stand in a solidarity of care, concern, and compassion is well-taken.

At the same time, many in the media and beyond are already wondering and conjecturing out loud concerning whether or not the fact that this is an LGBT club in any way served as a motive for the shooter.  In an article for the Huffington Post, Michelangelo Signorile offers a brief history of attacks against LGBT spaces, strongly intimating that the Orlando attack was probably more of the same.

Whether or not the patronage of this nightclub is somehow connected to the motive of the shooter is certainly a question that needs to be asked and answered.  At this point, however, overly confident pronouncements can do more harm than good.  A good rule of thumb is this:  investigation precedes correlation.  In other words, let’s not jump to conclusions.

As a Christian, this is something that I must regularly remember.  It can be far too tempting to search for some pious, consoling, and grandiose reason why a God who Scripture reveals to be a strong and sure defense would allow a horrific tragedy like this to happen.  But correlating current events to overly specific divine purposes is a theological fool’s errand.  Theologically, I must say only what I can know for sure according to Scripture: (1) that such a shooting is an expression of deep sinfulness and depravity (Romans 3:15); (2) that events of death grieve the heart of God because death is not a part of His design (1 Corinthians 15:20-22); and (3) that God is with and cares for those who have lost loved ones (Psalm 23:4).

Connecting disparate facts now will only leave you looking a fool later.  So be careful.

Remember Christianity’s unique message.

As I have said in the past, I am sympathetic to those who claim that ISIS does not represent Islamic theology, at least in any responsible sense.  Just as I do not see the theological stances of, let’s say, the Westboro Baptist Church to be authentically Christian in any regular sense of the term, I can understand why many Muslim theologians would decry and deny that ISIS represents their faith.  But even if ISIS does not represent the Islamic faith in any theologically and academically rigorous way, it does represent some sort of faith – even if the faith it represents calls on its adherents to destroy those it hates.  And this is where Christianity stands apart.  The beauty of the Christian faith is that it centers around a man who loved those who hated Him and sought to destroy Him.  Moreover, whereas ISIS calls on its fighters to lay down their lives in order to bring death to infidels, Christianity has a Savior who laid down His life in order to bring life to sinners.  In other words, Christianity serves as the perfect foil to all the terror ISIS is dishing out.  Christianity loves when ISIS hates.  Christianity promises life when ISIS seeks death.  This is why, on a day that is full of plenty of reasons to hate and to grieve, I once again to turn to Christ who gives me reasons to love and to hope.  And I ask you to join me in doing the same.

May Christ reveal His love and His life to Orlando.

June 12, 2016 at 4:05 pm 5 comments

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

Larycia Hawkins

Dr. Larycia Hawkins

Last week on this blog, I discussed the danger of trading theological integrity for political expediency in the wake of Donald Trump’s proposed ban on all non-resident Muslims entering our country.  As I explained, Mr. Trump’s claim that his ban is “not about religion,” though politically palatable, cannot be factually truthful.  His ban, I argued, is necessarily about religion because it affects a whole group of thoroughgoingly religious people.

I also argued that it is important for us, as Christians, to have honest theological conversations with our Muslim friends.  We may disagree on a great number of things, but at least we agree that theology matters.  Categories like orthodoxy and heresy, truth and deity are important to us.  In a culture that is far too dismissing of theology, Muslims and Christians should be enthusiastically engaging in theology.

This is what I argued for last week.  And now this week, almost providentially, I have an opportunity to practice what I blog.

One of America’s premier evangelical institutions, Wheaton College, is embroiled in an imbroglio after one of its professors, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, claimed that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  Wheaton placed Dr. Hawkins on paid administrative leave, explaining in a press release:

As a Christian liberal arts institution, Wheaton College embodies a distinctive Protestant evangelical identity, represented in our Statement of Faith, which guides the leadership, faculty and students of Wheaton at the core of our institution’s identity. Upon entering into a contractual employment agreement, each of our faculty and staff members voluntarily commits to accept and model the Statement of Faith with integrity, compassion and theological clarity … Dr. Hawkins’ administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions.[1]

Dr. Hawkins’ assertion is well worth our time and attention because it is an example of precisely the kind of theological discussions I would argue Christians and Muslims ought to be having.  Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?  Is Dr. Hawkins correct?

As a Christian, I would answer the question of a shared deity among Christians and Muslims in two ways:  “No, but…”  The answer “no” is necessary for theological honesty.  The answer “but” is crucial to Christian hospitality.  Let me briefly explain both answers.

“No”

It is very difficult to assert, at least in any way that demands a nuanced theology of divinity, that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  In defending her assertion on social media, Dr. Hawkins cited theologian Miroslav Volf, who, in an interview for Christianity Today, explained:

I think that Muslims and Christians who embrace the normative traditions of their faith refer to the same object, to the same Being, when they pray, when they worship, when they talk about God. The referent is the same …

God is one in both traditions. That’s very important. Two, God is merciful. Also, God is just. God’s oneness, God’s mercy, and God’s justice are significant commonalities. We have different understandings of each of these, but the overlaps are really impressive.[2]

Volf argues that Christians and Muslims worship the same God based on a list of divine attributes that happen to be the same between the two faiths.  His list of divine attributes, however, strikes me as ad hoc.  What about the Christian contention that God is one, yet also three persons?  Muslims do not believe this (cf. Surah 4:171).  What about God’s humanity?  At the heart and soul of a Christian’s faith is the God-man Jesus Christ.  Muslims flatly reject this (cf. Surah 10:68).  What about God’s greatest attribute – that He is love (cf. 1 John 4:8)?  Though one of the 99 names Muslims have for God is “the Loving One,” that God is love seems to be a bridge too far for Islamic theology.

Volf acknowledges such differences, but then moves quickly to downplay them:

There are significant differences that are the subject of strenuous debates. Some differences really are foundational to the faith, like the doctrine of the Trinity. At the same time, there’s this amazing overlap and similarity. We need to build on what is similar rather than simply bemoan what’s different.

Volf’s assertion that Muslims and Christians worship the same God in spite of significant differences in their respective conceptions of Him begs a question:  where would Volf draw his line?  When do differences in theology become profound enough for there to be a difference of divinities?

If somebody postulates the existence of more than one God, I would have to say we don’t worship the same God. If somebody says that God is basically one with the world, I would also have to say we don’t worship the same God.

Again, all of this seems very ad hoc to me.  For Volf, the attributes of God’s oneness and His distinction from creation are vital.  The attribute of God as three persons is not.  Why?  Simply because Volf says so?

Jesus is quite clear that, in order to be a true worshiper, a person must worship “in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).  It is quite difficult to worship “in the Spirit” while denying the Spirit’s personhood, as do Muslims, and it is impossible to worship “in truth” while denying at least parts of what Scripture says is true about God.  It is important to note that the issue here is not whether a person has a complete understanding of God.  Jesus affirms that a person can worship the true God while not having a complete understanding of Him when He says of the Samaritans, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know” (John 4:22).  Worship does not require perfect knowledge.  True worship does, however, require faith.

But the Scriptures are also very clear that if a person perverts what can be known about God from biblical revelation, he has moved from worship to idolatry.  This is why the apostle Paul, when he was in Athens, was “greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16), but was also willing to engage the Athenians in a theological conversation around the altar the they had built “TO AN UKNOWN GOD” (Acts 17:23).  The Athenians’ altar stemmed from ignorance.  Their idols were built on false and dangerous ideas about divinity.  The altar propelled Paul to further conversation.  The idols incited his unapologetic condemnation.

Considering that Islam does not claim to be ignorant of God, but rather claims that God is widely different from whom Christians claim He is, it is difficult to see how either a Christian or a Muslim can honestly say that both faiths worship the same God.  Just because two divinities share a short list of attributes does not mean they are the same God any more than a mother and a daughter who share some genes are the same person.  This is why I must answer “No” to the question, “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” If this is all I was to say, however, I would not be saying enough.

“But”

I firmly believe that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.  This is not to say that I think Muslims have no knowledge of what I as a Christian would confess to be the true God or that the God of Muhammad does not reflect in certain ways the God of the Bible.  In Romans 1, Paul reminds us that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20).  It is no surprise, then, from a Christian standpoint, that the God of Muhammad would have attributes that are influenced and informed by the God of the Bible, for the God of the Bible is not only particularly revealed in Scripture, but generally, though not salvifically, knowable through creation.

Ultimately, even if someone believes that Christians and Muslims do indeed worship the same God, this still does not settle the question of what is true about God, how one is to approach God, and how one receives eternal life with God.  The Quran, for instance, speaks of Jesus, but rejects His death for sinners (cf. Surah 4:157-158).  The Bible makes Jesus’ death for sinners the very locus of His identity (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2).  Thus, when Muslims and Christians talk about Jesus, the question should not be, “Do the Bible and the Quran talk about the same Jesus?”  Even if they do, this is finally of little consequence.  A better question would be, “Does the Bible or the Quran authoritatively reveal the true Jesus?”  After all, who Jesus is matters just as much as that He exists.

What is true of Jesus specifically is true of God generally.  We need to be asking, “Does the Bible or the Quran authoritatively reveal the true God?”  Who has the true and supreme revelation about God from God?  As a Christian, my answer must be that the Bible has the true and supreme revelation about God from God.  My guess is a Muslim would beg to differ.  But this is why a willingness to have hospitable theological discussions is so important.  And this is why, if a Muslim friend would like to offer his or her thoughtful and respective perspective on the God of Muhammad and the God of the Bible, I would love to hear it.  Understanding may not always lead to agreement, but it does generally lead to charity.  And that’s a virtue both our religions share.

_________________________

[1]Wheaton College Statement Regarding Dr. Larycia Hawkins,” Wheaton College (12.16.2015).

[2] Mark Galli, “Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?Christianity Today (4.15.2011).

December 28, 2015 at 5:15 am 4 comments

Pray for Paris

Paris Eifell TowerI first heard the news on the radio when I was driving home from work Friday night. Phrases like “breaking news” and “continuing coverage” caught my attention. As more and more details of the ghastly attacks trickled in from across the Atlantic, I knew it was going to be a long night for the people of Paris. 129 dead. 352 injured, 99 critically. And ISIS was claiming responsibility for the coordinated attacks that hit six targets at once. After opening fire on their victims, all but one of ISIS’s operatives blew themselves up when police approached, hoping to kill even more people with suicide bombings.

Considering these attacks came just days after ISIS was suspected of downing Metrojet Flight 9268 over northern Sinai as it was on its way from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg, it is quickly becoming apparent that ISIS will stop at nothing to intimidate the world. As of now, their tactics are working. Many, many people are very, very scared.

As Christians, we know we are commanded to be not afraid. The words of Psalmist come to mind: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2). Logically, we also know that fear does us little good at a time like this. It solves nothing. It changes nothing. It only paralyzes us and clouds our judgment. But at the same time we are called not to fear, we are also called to be in prayer. Indeed, the apostle Paul addresses both fear and prayer when he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). At a time like this, when the world is fearing, we should be praying.

As this tragedy continues to unfold, allow me offer four things for which I think we can and should pray. My hope is that God will not only comfort you as you pray these petitions, but that He will use these petitions to help you process what has happened. After all, what has happened affects not only the city of Paris or the nation of France; it affects the world. Nous sommes tous les Parisiens.

On to the prayers.

Pray for Paris.

In one way, this goes without saying. And, thankfully, it is already happening. A quick check of my Twitter account shows #Prayers4Paris is trending. So pray for the grieving. Pray for the fearful. Pray for the people of a city who are trying to pick up the pieces of an illusion of safety that has just been shattered. Pray for Paris.

But let me take this a step farther. Because as Christians, to pray for Paris means to pray for all of Paris – even for those who support and sympathize with the attackers. Jesus admonishes us to pray not only for those with whom we share a kinship, but even for our enemies: “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). So pray for ISIS operatives in Paris and, for that matter, all over the world. Pray, yes, that any further plots would be thwarted. But also pray that their hearts would be changed. A changed heart stops evil much better than even the most sophisticated international intelligence operation.

Pray for sobriety.

The shock and sadness of yesterday’s attacks will soon dissolve into political posturing and raw outrage. Rash responses will be given. Foolhardy decisions will be made. We need to stay away from all such impulsiveness.

If history is any indication, I am especially concerned that many will fall into what logicians refer to as the fallacy of composition. This fallacy asserts that if something is true for the part, it must also be true for the whole. So in this instance, if a few radical Muslims who are part of ISIS are terrorists, then it is reasonable to be wary of any Muslim because he or she might be a terrorist.

Don’t fall for – or propagate – this fallacy!

I have many friends who own firearms. They are, of course, very responsible and cautious with their weapons. But every time a mass shooting happens – in Roseburg, in Charleston, in Fort Hood, in Sandy Hook – many of them openly worry that the actions of a few deranged lunatics will affect all firearm owners. They worry that people will take the actions of a few and use it to stifle the whole. And so they lobby not only for their rights as firearm owners, but also for their character as people.

What firearm owners do for each other, Christians can and should do for Muslims. Let’s not lose our ability to think soberly and clearly not only about these attacks specifically, but about Muslims generally. The vast majority of Muslims are people who hold much in common, especially ethically, with Christians. They love their families. They despise promiscuity. And they support traditional values like honesty, hard work, and generosity. Let’s be willing to vouch for the character of Muslims. And let’s be willing to support and love them as people.

Pray for governments.

The French government, the U.S. government, and many other governments across the world have some difficult decisions to make. ISIS must be stopped. Thankfully, God has given governments the authority to do just this. The apostle Paul explains:

He who rebels against the [governing] authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. (Romans 13:2-3)

Paul says that those who rebel against good order arranged by good governments will bring judgment on themselves. For good governments will seek to avenge and deter – often with force – evil events. The terrorists, then, have every reason to be terrified.

As governments across the world try to discern how to respond to these attacks, pray that their responses would be decisive, measured, and Godly. In short, pray that world governments would act in ways that thwart evil while honoring God’s Word.

Pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Ultimately, we know that governments, though they can do much to suppress evil, cannot stop evil. Only God can do that. In fact, shortly before Paul writes his words concerning government, he writes about God’s final judgment: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). God’s vengeance is the only vengeance that gives victory.

When does God avenge evil? On the Last Day. Then and only then will evil be wiped out once and for all. Until then, attacks will happen. Lives will be lost. Evil will rear its head. And we will “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). Considering that none of this is pleasant or good, the final prayer of the Bible can be our prayer today: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). “Come and wipe out evil. Come and make everything – including those hurting in Paris – new.”

And He will.

November 14, 2015 at 4:05 pm 4 comments

In Response to ISIS

Credit:  Christian Post

Credit: The Christian Post

The video was titled, “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” In it, 21 Egyptian Christians, dressed in orange jump suits, were gruesomely beheaded by ISIS militants along a beach in Tripoli. One of the final frames of the video zooms in on the waters of the Mediterranean, red with the blood of these martyrs.[1]

Christians aren’t the only targets of ISIS’ rage. Just last week, ISIS released images appearing to show gay men being thrown off buildings only to be stoned after they fell to the ground. A statement released by ISIS explained that the organization is “clamping down on sexual deviance.”[2]

The reaction to such savage killings has understandably been one of untempered ire. Egypt’s president pledged retaliation against ISIS for the slaughter of its Christians. Indeed, Muslims and Christians together are raising a unified chorus of disgust at ISIS’ actions. Andrea Zaki, vice president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, noted, “With their blood [these martyrs] are unifying Egypt.”[3]

Though the slaughter of Egypt’s Christians has gotten more press than ISIS’ heinous injustices against gay people, both demand a response in addition to whatever political or military responses may be offered in the national and international arenas. Here are two responses that, I believe, are appropriate and important for a moment such as this.

First, we need an anthropological response. After all, whether we are Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, we are all human. Indeed, as Christians, we know and believe that we are all created in God’s image, which affords us not only a shared humanity, but a necessary dignity. This collective humanity and dignity, in turn, involves certain shared hopes and desires. We all desire safety. We all desire respect. We all desire love. When these shared desires are so violently violated, as ISIS has done, basic empathy leads to visceral revulsion. Thus, we can join the world in condemning these acts, if for no other reason than that we are all human.

Second, we also need a theological response. This response is especially urgent because far too many in the broadly secularized West have refused to admit that there are theological drivers behind ISIS’ actions. Writing for The Atlantic, Graeme Wood explains:

We are misled … by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature … The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.[4]

I should point out that parts of Wood’s history of ISIS’ theological origins – especially his claim that ISIS’ theology is of a “medieval religious nature” – are questionable and, thankfully, have been appropriately critiqued. Nevertheless, his basic premise still stands. ISIS is acting in a way that is robustly and rigorously driven by a certain religious understanding. For ISIS, theology is no mere veneer to cover up some naked ambition for power.   Theology is at the heart of who they are. Thus, it does us no good, for the sake of some self-imposed, naïve political de rigueur, to pretend that at least some of ISIS’ drivers are not theological.

This is where Christians are in a unique position to lend their voices to the challenges and crises presented by ISIS. For we can offer a better theology than ISIS’ theology. We can rebuke a theology that allows the slaughtering of people with whom they religiously and culturally disagree, as Jesus did with His disciples when they wanted to destroy the Samaritans because they were a people with whom the disciples religiously and culturally disagreed. And when a theology leaves room for stoning those who live outside of traditional sexual ethics, we can say with Jesus, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7).

Blessedly, the parts of this “better theology” I outlined above are ones with which the majority of the Muslim world would agree – because even though this “better theology’s” origins are explicitly Christian, its implications are broadly ethical.   And even if ISIS’ understanding of Islamic theology is real, it is certainly not catholic. Plenty – and, in fact, the vast majority – of Muslims share our higher ethical aspirations. Indeed, perhaps what was once a Judeo-Christian ethic can expand into a Judeo-Muslim-Christian ethic.

Ultimately, of course, although theology includes ethics, it is more than just ethical. It is finally soteriological. And this is good. Because this means that even as ISIS continues its campaign of terror, it cannot thwart the promise of God that the faithful who have died at ISIS’ hands are now safe under heaven’s altar.  For this we can be thankful. And because of this we can continue to be hopeful.

______________________

[1] Leonardo Blair, “Heartbreaking: Egyptian Christians Were Calling for Jesus During Execution by ISIS in Libya,” The Christian Post (2.18.2015).

[2] Cassandra Vinograd, “ISIS Hurls Gay Men Off Buildings, Stones Them: Analysts,” NBC News (2.15.2015).

[3] Jayson Casper, “Libya’s 21 Christian Martyrs: ‘With Their Blood, They Are Unifying Egypt’Christianity Today (2.18.2015)

[4] Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic (March 2015).

February 23, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

1500-Year-Old Bible Discovered! Christianity Debunked! Not Exactly.

Turkish BibleHere we go again.

I’ve been seeing it all over Facebook.  The headline reads, “1,500 Year Old Bible Confirms That Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified – Vatican In Awe.”  It seems startling.  The only problem is, it’s not true.  And, it’s nothing new.  These kinds of articles that seek to undermine the veracity of the Bible have been being published for years now.  Indeed, the discovery of this 1,500-year-old Bible is news that’s now better than two years old.  But it’s just now hitting Facebook.  And because many people are being confused by it, it’s worth a look.

The article opens:

Much to the dismay of the Vatican, an approximately 1,500 to 2,000 year old Bible was found in Turkey, in the Ethnography Museum of Ankara.  Discovered and kept secret in the year 2000, the book contains the Gospel of Barnabas – a disciple of Christ – which shows that Jesus was not crucified, nor was He the Son of God, but a prophet.  The book also calls apostle Paul “The Impostor.”  The book also claims that Jesus ascended to heaven alive, and that Judas Iscariot was crucified in His place.[1]

Let’s separate some fact from fiction here.

“Much to the dismay of the Vatican…”  The Vatican did, according to The Christian Post, make an “official request”[2] to see and study the Bible, but it was not out of dismay.  Like any theological artifact, it piqued their curiosity.  Many people desired to study this book.

“…an approximately 1,500 to 2,000 year old Bible…”  Maybe.  But probably not.  There are reasons to believe this book is a forgery, probably written around AD 1500, which is, coincidentally enough, about a century after many scholars believe the Gospel of Barnabas itself was written.[3]  Timothy Michael Law, a Junior Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, has a nice blog on the antiquity of this Bible here.

“…the book contains the Gospel of Barnabas…”  Again, maybe.  But possibly not.  We actually don’t know what the book contains because it has not been widely studied.  The Christian Post quotes theology professor Ömer Faruk Harman who notes that people may be “disappointed to see that this copy … might have no relation with the content of the Gospel of Barnabas.”

“…which shows that Jesus was not crucified … and that Judas Iscariot was crucified in His place.”  The Gospel of Barnabas does indeed purport that Judas Iscariot was crucified in Jesus’ place.  But this is because this Gospel was written as an apologetic for Islam.  Indeed, it prophesies the arrival of Muhammad, but, if the 15th century dating of this Gospel is correct, it does so about 800 years after Muhammad!  In other words, its prophecies are really no prophecies at all, but polemical forgeries.

The line from this Facebook article that made me sigh the loudest is this one:

It is believed that, during the Council of Nicaea, the Catholic Church hand-picked the Gospels that form the Bible as we know it today; omitting the Gospel of Barnabas (among many others) in favor of the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Ever since Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code, this has been a canard that just won’t die.  At no time during the Council of Nicaea did the Catholic Church hand-pick any Gospels.  The four Gospels we have today were already widely accepted by the Church by the time of this council.  If you want to read the canons issued by the Council of Nicaea for yourself, you can check them out here.  None say anything about the Gospels.  Indeed, none say anything about the canon of Scripture at all.

Ultimately, even if this Turkish Bible is indeed 1,500 years old and even if it does contain the Gospel of Barnabas, the Council of Nicaea was held in AD 325, which is still before the time of this Bible.  Thus, part of the reason the Council of Nicaea never considered the Gospel of Barnabas during its meetings is because there was not yet a Gospel of Barnabas to consider!

It was David Hannum, criticizing P.T. Barnum, who said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  Don’t be suckered by this Facebook article.  The Bible as we have it still stands.  And on it, your faith can still stand.

___________________________

[1] “1,500 Year Old Bible Confirms That Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified – Vatican In Awe,” Moorish Harem:  Man’s Greatest Accomplishments (4.28.2014).

[2] Clara Morris, “Turkey’s 1500-Year-Old, $28M Bible Linked to Gospel of Barnabas?The Christian Post (2.23.2012).

[3] See Jan Joosten, “The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron,” Harvard Theological Review 95, no. 1 (2002).

May 12, 2014 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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