Today’s Media: Content & Constraint

MEDIA IN THE 21st CENTURY

Media today more than ever, in its various forms, has become the determiner of the thoughts and intents of our hearts and minds. This is a scary concept! The definition of the word media is the means of communicating information or ideas through publishing, radio, television, computers, smart phones, videos/DVDs, movies, the Internet, and computer games. Media influence has a profound effect on our thinking and lives. It can be a very useful, positive tool in many ways, but if misused it can bring devastating and destructive consequences to us and to the lives of those we love. Because of wrong choices in this area many young people have been drawn down the path of spiritual bankruptcy and sinful disobedience to God.

More importantly, the advent of the personal computer has transformed how we communicate, promote ideas, perform research, plan vacations, and conduct our personal finances. Of critical concern is the extent to which we—especially our youth—text, post and chat rather than sit down face-to-face and have a conversation. Among family and friends, among colleagues and lovers, we turn to our smart phones instead of each other. It is not unusual, for example, for couples to break up via text message or by changing their relationship status on Facebook to single. This new mediated life has gotten us into trouble. Face-to-face conversation is the most human—and humanizing—thing we do. When fully present to one another, we learn to listen. Frankly, this is the only way we learn the capacity of empathy. Experts worry that social media and texting have become so integral to teenage life that they are causing increased anxiety and low self-esteem. Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are leading to feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness.

Lately we seem to be finding ways around conversation. We hide from each other even as we’re constantly connected to each other. From behind our mini screens, we are tempted to present ourselves as we want to be seen. On line and at our leisure, it is easy to compose, edit and improvise as we revise. We put our best foot forward, even if we’re lying or exaggerating. The word phubbing has been coined to describe the habit of snubbing someone in a face-to-face conversation in favor of texting. Unfortunately, this has become such a normal part of life that we might not even notice we’re doing it.

JUST HOW WIRED ARE WE?

According to the Pew Research Center, U.S. Census figures from 2015 indicate that 84% of U.S. households own a computer, and 73% of U.S. households have a computer with a broadband connection to the Internet. (Census: Computer Ownership, Internet Connection Varies Widely Across U.S., Sept. 19, 2014). The Internet, and specifically social media, has had a major impact on the Christian church. While some pastors and elder church leaders see this as troubling, worrying that Christ can only be properly shared face-to-face, and that online churches will eventually replace the local church, others see it as aiding the church in spreading the Good News worldwide. Regardless, it is important to see computer technology from a biblical worldview. 

GOOD OR EVIL?

My great-grandmother had a very jaded and suspect view of computers, and felt they were the makings of the Beast. To her, computers would be integral to establishing a one-world government, and would help the government establish complete domination.  I used to see computer technology as one of those tools that were “of the world,” with the potential to do more harm than good. By the time I reached college in 1982, I no longer held that negative opinion. My biblical worldview regarding computer technology has been given a positive boost as a result of personal experience and research.     

The notion of being able to connect to millions of people worldwide with a personal computer or smart phone is irresistible to someone with a story to tell. I found an online article on the Society page at www.christianitytoday.com that fits completely with my biblical worldview of computer technology and social media. According to Tim Kenny, vice president of Media Services and Internet Evangelism for BGEA, “We happen to think we’re called to tell the greatest story in human history, so it’s a no-brainer that we need to be active in social media.”

Christian-Social-Media

Richard Helsby of CBN’s Digital Media department, said, “As [Christians], we now have unprecedented opportunity to reach people we could never reach before.” CBN Social Media manager Juana Lopez said the response toward evangelism has been so great that in just one month they received over 7,000 salvation responses through social media. (Christian Ministries Using Social Media to Connect to Millions All Over the World, April 11, 2016).

CONTENT OF MEDIA

Two important areas in the use of media today must be carefully considered to help guard our minds and hearts. The first area is content. Many of the programs on television are an increasing source of crudeness which lead us to accept warped social standards and immorality. Bold, blatant sexual content, profane language and graphic violence are entering our homes on a regular basis through television. The videos and DVDs that have made their way into our living rooms have served to desensitize us even further to what the world’s view is and what is acceptable to watch.

Christian parents, teens and children watch movies that the world has rated PG, PG-13 and R. According to one Barna survey, 30% of born-again Christians watched an R-rated movie in the past week. At the college level, many students don’t even realize there are sexual scenes or profane language in some of the DVD movies they watch. Ephesians 5:3-4 says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be any obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking…” (NIV).

The computer with its Internet and gaming capabilities has not only had a negative effect on many people, but has destroyed their lives and families. The readily available “private” pornography on the Internet, the graphic sexual violence on many video games, and cyber gambling have the devastating consequences of control and addiction. As much as 60% of all websites typically visited are sexual in nature and the term “sex” in the word search is used more than the next eight most popular terms combined. More than 50% of men with Internet access admit to spending significant amounts of time viewing explicit material.

There are an alarming 15-plus million Internet users that visit gambling sites, wagering a combined amount of money in the billions. Also, smart phone capabilities have compounded the problem with easy downloading of pornography and gambling sites. Christians, young and old, have been drawn in and hooked. Content choice in these types of media, unfortunately, is very destructive to our spiritual well-being and ultimately to those around us.

CONSTRAINT OF MEDIA

The second area that needs to be very carefully considered is constraint in media usage. Not only is pornography/gambling controlling and addictive, gaming has become a worldwide obsession. Young adults enjoy many of the fast-paced computer games, which are very entertaining. But it’s hard to stop at a game or two. Because of the time spent playing these games late into the night, high school and college students are failing their courses and dropping out. My research shows that sitting for long periods of time—as occurs often in all-night gaming sessions or regional gaming marathons—may increase a person’s risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) regardless of age. Chris Staniforth, 20 years old, died after spending twelve hours at a time playing video games. He suffered a blockage—pulmonary embolism—to his lungs when he developed DVT. The coroner confirmed DVT as the cause of death despite Chris having no medical history of ill health or underlying medical conditions.

Chris Stanisforth

BUT IT’S NOT ALL BAD NEWS

A mind-blowing number of people are able to become members of a global community today as a result of the Internet and social media that would otherwise be severely limited in their exposure to other cultures, geographic images, writings, publications, news and religion. I believe God, in His infinite wisdom and omniscience, knew future population growth on our planet would reach the billions. He knew the Body of Christ would need extraordinary help in reaching the four corners of the globe. Inasmuch as God created man in His image, and given the fact that He created all raw materials available, I also think the computer is an indirect creation of God.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

The rise of social media has provided for the church both challenges and opportunities. Social media opens doors and opportunities to engage with people who rarely, if ever, step foot in a congregation. Numerous pastors have started blogging. Pastor Mike Miller, of my home church Sunbury Bible Church, writes a weekly blog. Our church also has a Facebook page and an official website. These media outlets allow for spreading information about our church, including worship times, community and Sunday school groups, special events, and the opportunity to watch sermons and worship services online. In addition, we are able to provide links to websites relative to special Sunday school groups, such as our current class in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

Through social media, Christians can share their faith with people they might not otherwise have the opportunity to witness to. The Internet allows for posting of testimonies, spiritual or inspiring quotes, photographs and other images relating to missions, teaching Bible study, inviting people to events, reaching out to individuals mired in sin or in bondage to addiction, create prayer groups or bulletin boards, share contemporary Christian songs, hymns, and gospel music, and seek to create unity in the Body of Christ.

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15, NIV).

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Fill Me Up

Because I’m an empty vessel
waiting to be filled
I find myself flirting with sin.
I do it by way of pen
and paper. Trying to stitch
hope into my skin,
I snuggle inside words. Poetry
can’t hurt me the way a
man can. In verse, I can build
anticipation again. Doors open
inside my head. Verbs press
against me, hard and
wanton. I find a sacred niche
between the lines. Here
I take the light. Here it never
darkens or leaves.
Devotion blesses me with sweetness
and excess.
Heaven is found in scenes that are
too scary and loud to live.

I’m an empty vessel.
Waiting.
Waiting.
Waiting.
Romancing myself with
my poetic wooings.
Damming myself to things
conjured. A Paradise
devoid of air, the shadows of
a scarred soul, and the
language of mangled spirit
Waiting to be loved again.

©2018 Tosha Michelle

You can visit Tosha’s blog by clicking here.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward- Question #17 – How Does Jihad Compare With the Crusades?

answering jihad

 

This is the seventeenth in a 19-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through eighteen will cover eighteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week nineteen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 17 – How Does Jihad Compare With the Crusades?

QURESHI RECALLS WAKING UP one morning to a tweet in which a disgruntled individual accused him of criticizing Islam inconsistently. If Christians fought in the Crusades, does that not show that Christianity is violent? If it doesn’t, then how could Qureshi accuse Islam of being violent?

crusades

Of course, this individual did not have the advantage of reading the previous sixteen chapters of Qureshi’s book before asking his question. By now [for those of you who have read the book, or have been following this weekly series] it should be clear there is a great difference between jihad and the Crusades. Jihad was commanded by Muhammad and the Qur’an, both in principle and in reality, whereas Jesus commanded no such thing as the Crusades, neither in principle nor in reality. Therefore, jihad reflects the religion of Islam, whereas the Crusades do not reflect the Christian faith. There is a significant difference between the two.

HOLY WAR

As was mentioned at the end of the previous chapter (Question #16), Jesus’ teachings on peace and violence were so clear that no Christian force entered into battle until after Christianity was assimilated into the Roman Empire in the fourth century. At that time, much that was culturally Roman coalesced with the Christian faith, and warfare began to gradually enter the Christian perspective.

By the turn of the fifth century, the question had become a serious one: Were Christians prohibited from all warfare, or might they engage in battle under certain circumstances? It was at this time that the Christian theologian Augustine began formulating a framework that would allow Christians to fight a just war. Providing stringent conditions, Augustine argued that fighting could fall within the will of God, but only as a necessary evil, an act that required penance. Many Christians adopted Augustine’s view, and for the next few centuries some fought under the banner of their faith with the understanding that they would have to repent as a result.

map of the crusades.jpg

So it was approximately four centuries after Jesus that Christians formulated a theology of acceptable warfare, but it took another seven centuries before Christians developed a concept of holy war. Just after the First Crusade was launched, the contemporary historian Guibert of Nogent remarked in his work, On the First Crusade, “God has instituted in our time holy wars, so that the order of knights and the crown running in their wake… might find a new way of gaining salvation.” No longer did warriors see themselves as committing sin when they fought; instead they saw their actions as meritorious, even salvific [i.e., leading to salvation].

salvationist

By contrast, Muhammad himself taught his warriors that fighting was salvific. According to Sahih al-Bukhari, “…the first army amongst my followers who will invade Caesar’s city will be forgiven their sins” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.56.2924). As Qureshi demonstrated in his answer to Question #4, Allah essentially made a bargain with Muslims. Death in battle would secure a mujahid’s station in heaven (9:1110).

So it was not until Christians were a thousand years removed from Jesus that they developed a theology of holy war, whereas Muhammad and the Qur’an themselves taught Muslims that fighting could lead to salvation. Holy war is in the very foundation of the Islamic faith.

THE NATURE OF THE CRUSADES

Some records of the Crusades depict Christians committing abominable acts. An example is Count Emicho’s slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland. A rogue Christian leader, Count Emicho systematically slaughtered and plundered innocent Jews against the behest of multiple Christian bishops. He asserted that his zeal was on account of the Jews’ mistreatment of Jesus, ignoring the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew.

Also jarring is the description of what crusaders did to Muslims after scaling the outer fortifications of Jerusalem, as recounted here in a translation of the Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanorum collected in R.G.D. Laffan’s Select Documents of European History:

Our men followed and pursued them, killing and hacking, as far as the temple of Solomon, and there was such a slaughter that our men were up to their ankles in the enemy’s blood… Entering the city, our pilgrims pursued and killed the Saracens [Muslims] up to the temple of Solomon. There the Saracens [Muslims] assembled and resisted fiercely all day, so that the whole temple flowed with their blood. At last the pagans were overcome and our men seized many men and women in the temple, killing them or keeping them alive as they saw fit… Then the crusaders scattered throughout the city, seizing gold and silver, horses and mules, and houses full of all sorts of goods. Afterwards our men went rejoicing and weeping for joy to adore the sepulchre of our Savior Jesus and there discharged their debt to Him.

At then end of the fighting, the archbishop of Pisa and the count of St. Gilles wrote a letter to the Pope, an English translation of which has been produced by the University of Pennsylvania, boastfully describing their victory: “If you desire to know what was done with the enemy who were found there, know that in Solomon’s Porch and in his temple our men rode in the blood of the Saracens [Muslims] up to the knees of their horses.”

Qureshi writes, “Please allow me to be clear: I denounce these atrocities unequivocally. I am utterly against the courses of action that the crusaders took, as they demonstrated a disregard for the value of human life, a demonization of Jews and Muslims, and no grounding whatsoever in the teachings of Jesus. That said, the description in these accounts are clearly exaggerations, as there were not enough people in the entire world to create a knee-deep lake of blood in Jersusalem. We should not view this florid language as a precise fact.”

hands of peace

Qureshi believes it is important to be accurate about the historical context of the battle. John Esposito, professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, has denounced the First Crusade in his book, Islam: The Straight Path, using these terms: “Five centuries of peaceful coexistence elapsed before political events and an imperial-papal power play led to centuries-long series of so-called holy wars that pitted Christendom against Islam and left an enduring legacy of misunderstanding and distrust.” Professor Esposito’s sentiments may be admirable, but they’re based on fiction, a fiction that has taken hold of the popular understanding of the Crusades.

The reality is that Muhammad proclaimed war against Byzantine Christians, and his companions undertook the work of conquering Christian lands. Muslims had been subjugating Christian lands ever since the inception of Islam, just as the Qur’an commanded them. According to Crusade scholar Thomas Madden, in an article he wrote for the National Review shortly after September 22, 2001, “The crusades were in every way a defensive war. They were the West’s belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christians world.”

This may bear repeating: Muslims had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world before the First Crusade. Islamic conquests were also often brutal. Qureshi shared one account of Muhammad’s companion ordering his soldiers to slaughter defenseless women and children in the chapter on Question #4. Here is another example from the Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu as Muslims were conquering the Bishop’s people:

[W]hen with great toil and exertion [the Muslims] had cast down the walls of the city, they forthwith made themselves masters of it, and put to the sword thousands of its inhabitants and soldiers, and they gained an enormous booty, and took the women and children captive and divided them amongst themselves, and they made that city a desolation.

This slaughter of men and enslavement of women and children follows Muhammad’s example in his treatment of the Quraayza Jews. Qureshi said, “Let us also not forget that Muslims often enlisted the captured boys in their slave armies, starting with the ghilman in the middle of the 800s, and later the mamluks. This practice became so deeply rooted in Islamic custom that, according to Daniel Pipes, sixteen of the seventeen preeminent Muslim dynasties in history systematically used slave-warriors.”

CONCLUSION

When we condemn the Crusades, we ought to do so in light of what they actually were: a defensive effort after much of the Christian world had been conquered by Muslims. Yet Qureshi does condemn the Crusades. The slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland and Muslims in Jerusalem was, in Qureshi’s opinion, unconscionable, especially since crusaders had taken on the name of Christ. If their efforts had represented the state and not the church, and had they been much more humane, Qureshi believes he might have felt differently. But instead he believes taking the symbol of the cross, on which Jesus died for his enemies, and turning it into a symbol for killing one’s enemies deserves to be condemned.

Qureshi said, “As a Christian, I am thankful it took a millennium for Christians to so distort Jesus’ teachings to support holy war. Had Christians engaged in such wars one hundred or two hundred years after Jesus’ death, perhaps the matter would be less clear-cut. As it is, there is little question. Jesus did not commission any concept of holy war, and it took Christians a thousand years to depart from the foundations of Christianity radically enough to engage in it.

By contrast, violent and offensive jihad is commanded in the Qur’an and we find corroborating traditions in the life of Muhammad. The foundations of Islam command Muslims to engage in holy war, offering them salvation if they die while fighting. It took Muslims 1,300 years to depart from the foundations of Islam so radically as to insist that Islam is a religion of peace.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #18–What Does Jesus Have to do With Jihad? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

 

 

The Law of Willingness

Willingness Will Result in Growth

Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the LORD and not men” (RSV). In Psalm 51:12, David writes, “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (RSV) [Italics added.] There is the childlike part within all of us that wants to say, “I can do it on my own.” We typically prefer to do things our way. But true recovery begins when we are willing to do it God’s way. This isn’t easy, but without a willingness to be open to God’s plan, we will limit our growth. It all begins with a willing and open heart.

willingness.jpg

This is such an obvious law that you might be tempted to skip over it. Don’t! It’s important. A lot of marriages die, a lot of alcoholics and addicts die, and a lot of life missions fail simply because of a lack of willingness. The corollary to this law is equally clear: Without willingness, you either die or kill something. You can either imprison yourself in your futile, self-confident ways of existing, or you can step across the line to initiate healing and growth by being willing to do whatever it takes to change.

Willingness is a mental attitude that helps insure success in recovery from active addiction. This is not always an easy concept to grasp. I’ve often prayed, “God, grant me the willingness to be willing.” Step Three (of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous) says, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Practicing Step Three involves opening a door which is closed and locked. All you need is a key and the decision to swing the door open. There is only one key and that’s the key of willingness. The chapter Into Action in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “We have emphasized willingness as being indispensable.” Bill Wilson—co-founder of AA—said, “Belief in the power of God, plus enough willingness, honesty and humility to establish and maintain the new order of things, were the essential requirements.”

willingness-quote.jpg

The dynamic of willingness applies to breaking every sort of obsession, addiction, or bad habit. It applies to every kind of weakness or addiction we face. Willingness opens the door to new paths that lead to growth. Resistance or stubbornness are signs of foolishness and self-delusion. If all we have is a stuck stance, it will stop all forward progress toward growth—with God and with others. In order to get unstuck we must have willingness.

Effective Christian living begins with willingness. God calls the willing, not the able. Moreover, He does not call the qualified; rather, He qualifies the called. We must remember that we’re talking about God’s will, not our own. The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 8:12, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (NIV). God wants willing, wholehearted service. He never forces us to do His will. Even Jesus said, “I seek not my will, but the will of Him that sent me” (John 5:30). Our spirit might be willing, but unfortunately our flesh is weak. Paul said, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18, NIV). Typically, this is not because of any reluctance on our part. It is simply because weakness of the flesh hampers even our best intentions.

Spirit-Over-Flesh

Sacrifice and willingness go together like ice cream and apple pie. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service to worship” (NASB). Consider this precept against the backdrop that Jesus gave His body—that is Himself—out of love, as a gift and sacrifice for us. His willingness should serve as an exemplar to be emulated. Christ’s willingness was apparent even before His crucifixion. Philippians 2:6-8 tells us, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by being obedient to death—even the death of the cross” (NIV).

Ephesians 3:17 makes it quite clear how willingness is supposed to work: “Christ will make his home in your heart as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” Why do we dig our heels into the ground when God wants us to sink our roots down into his soil of marvelous, life-giving, strengthening love? There is a big difference between dug-in heels and healthy roots growing deep. But your roots won’t have a chance to grow deep if you’re not willing to trust God, enabling Christ to become more at home in your heart. The more access you give Him to your heart, the more growth you will experience. Paul says, “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means” (2 Corinthians 8:11, NIV).

The Hebrew word for willingness is the verb-form abah, which means to consent or desire. Ordinary obedience in human behavior is a form of social influence in the face of perceived authority. Interestingly, obedience is different than compliance, which is behavior influenced or coerced by others. This is more like behavior that matches the majority. With this type of obedience, the result is compelled by circumstances. It is worth noting that personality plays an important role in how one responds to authority.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Our very life depends on our willingness to change. Certainly, our eternity hinges on what we do with God’s revealed truth, which leads to eternal life. But head knowledge is not enough. God wants us to act according to what we believe. And He wants us to do so willingly. Through the ages, every true servant of God has preached a message of change. We have always tended to go the way of human nature—the way of vanity, selfishness, hate, lust, and war. Repentance involves a turning away, which includes a willingness to change. Repentance is not merely being sorry for our disobedience. It includes being willing to stop doing what is wrong, do a 180, and go the other way. True repentance involves real change. Willingness ultimately means changing our way of life to conform to the will of God.

 

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2004 Sarah Young
February 17

Jesus Calling Cover Art.jpg

I AM THE RISEN ONE who shines upon you always. You worship a living Deity, not some idolatrous, man-made image. Your relationship with Me is meant to be vibrant and challenging, as I invade more and more areas of your life. Do not fear change, for I am making you a new creation, with old things passing away and new things continually on the horizon. When you cling to old ways and sameness, you resist My work within you. I want you to embrace all that I am doing in your life, finding your security in Me alone.

It is easy to make an idol of routine, finding security within the boundaries you build around your life. Although each day contains twenty-four hours, every single one presents a unique set of circumstances. Don’t try to force-fit today into yesterday’s mold. Instead, ask Me to open your eyes so you can find all I have prepared for you in this precious day of life.

MATTHEW 28:5-7; 2 CORINTHIANS 5:17

 

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward – Question #16 – What Does Jesus Teach About Violence?

answering jihad

This is the sixteenth in a 19-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through eighteen will cover eighteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week nineteen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 16 – What Does Jesus Teach About Violence?

ISLAM APPEARS TO ENVISION Moses as a prefiguring of Muhammad, and there are parallels between the two men. Both proclaimed monotheism in polytheistic contexts, both led their people out of physical oppression, both guided their people in times of battle, and both brought intricate laws to their followers.

Yet Jesus did none of these things. In the four accounts of Jesus’ life that we have in the Gospels, Jesus never led an army, never struck a man, and never even wielded a sword. In fact, His teaching on violence was clearly the opposite. The only place in the Gospels where we might expect Jesus to fight, during His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane when His disciples were willing to fight for Him, Jesus gave them this command: “Put your sword back in its place… for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

sword in the garden

If Islam’s final and most succinct commands on peace and violence can be found in Surah 9 of the Qur’an, Jesus’ final and most succinct commands on peace and violence can be found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). This sermon encapsulates Jesus’ teachings and forms a basis for Christian ethics. Nowhere in the Sermon on the Mount do we find an allowance for Christian violence, even for self-defense: “I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:39-41).

1961 King of Kings Sermon on the Mount

This teaching works in tandem with Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies. Christians are not supposed to fight their enemies, because they are supposed to love them.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 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? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48)

In the Christian worldview, the exemplar for followers of God is no mere man but God Himself. Since God cares for those who are His enemies, even blessing them with rain, Christians ought to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, so that they can follow God’s example.

love your enemies

This contrasts with the teaching of the Qur’an, where Allah tells Muslims, “O you who believe! Do not take my enemies or your enemies as allies, offering them your friendship when they do not believe” (60:1). Of course, that is not to condemn the Qur’an, as it is counter-intuitive to love one’s enemy. The Christian command may make little earthly sense, but it is the explicit teaching of Jesus. There are no teachings in the Gospels that contradict this categorical command, none that abrogate the mandate for peace and replace it with violence or hate. Jesus’ command is for grace and love, unconditional and unadulterated.

JESUS THE ZEALOT?

In his 2013 book Zealot, author Reza Aslan argued that Jesus actually did have violent aspirations. Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, seemed to borrow heavily in his book from the 1967 arguments of S.G.F. Brandon that Jesus was a revolutionary figure seeking political upheaval and not opposed to violence. Arguments such as these, heavily criticized by the scholarly communities of both the 1960s and the 2010s, generally refer to a few verses to make their points.

One of the verses is Matthew 10:34, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Those who quote this verse to demonstrate that Jesus was violent are either deceiving or deceived, as it is taken suspiciously out of context. The very next verse clarifies that Jesus is not talking about physical violence: “For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” Jesus is talking about division within families, not actual warfare. No honest and careful study could conclude that Matthew 10:34 promotes violence.

Another verse that can cause confusion if context is ignored is Luke 19:27, in which Jesus says, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.” Yet reading the whole passage makes the statement clear. Jesus is telling a parable, sharing a teaching about a king. He is not demanding that His enemies be brought before Him and killed. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells many parables, including ones about an evil judge who ignores a woman (Luke 18), a farmer who sows seeds (Luke 8), a vineyard owner who orders a tree to be cut down (Luke 13), and a woman who searches for a lost coin (Luke 15).

These parables are not meant to imply that He is an evil judge who ignores women, that He is a farmer who sows seeds, that He is a vineyard owner who orders trees to be cut down, or that He is a woman looking for a coin. Similarly, His parable in Luke 19:27 is not meant to imply that He is a king who wishes to kill people. Rather, Jesus uses stories to provide memorable illustrations, and His parable in Luke 19:27 prefigures the outcome of those who have rejected God on the final day of judgment.

Perhaps more understandably, people sometimes turn to Luke 22:36 to suggest that Jesus considers violence acceptable. In this verse, Jesus says, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” It is sometimes assumed, since Jesus told His  companions to purchase a sword, that He wanted them to fight.

Context is again critical, and a closer look reveals the problem with this understanding. Jesus in this verse is telling His disciples to prepare for a journey, and He suggests they purchase a sword among the list of items they will need for their journey. The English word sword is also misleading here, as English speakers are prone to imagine a weapon used primarily for battle. The Greek word for sword that evokes such imagery is rhomphaia, but it is not the word for sword that Jesus used. Instead, He used the word machaira. Like a machete, a machaira was a long knife designed as a multi-purpose tool, useful for cutting meat or cleaning fish. Like a machete, a machaira could be used for fighting, but that was not its only or primary purpose. It would certainly have been useful as a traveling tool.

There appears to be confirmation of this interpretation within the text. As if to ensure that His disciples would not use the machaira for fighting, He tells them two are enough (Luke 22:38). Two swords could not be sufficient among twelve disciples for fighting, but they could be sufficient as traveling tools. Either way, the verse says nothing about actually committing violence.

The only remaining account in the Gospels that might suggest Jesus’ approval of violence is His cleansing of the temple. Of all four accounts in the Gospels, the most apparently violent is the account in the Gospel of John, which says,

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts He found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves He said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:13-17).

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This passage describes Jesus at His most zealous. He sees cattle and sheep sellers, dove sellers, and money changers, and He makes a whip for driving them all out of the temple. Some who read this passage might picture Jesus violently attacking people, but a careful reading shows that Jesus expelled all three of the groups differently, and none with violence toward people. First, the Greek syntax shows that He struck only sheep and oxen: “[He] drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle.” The sheep and cattle having been driven out, their sellers followed. Jesus then turned over the tables of the money changers, causing them to leave. Finally, Jesus did not release the doves as that would amount to stealing them, but He ordered their sellers to depart. So Jesus purged the temple of all three groups of people, yet struck no person.

CONCLUSION

For anyone who wishes to strictly follow the teachings of Jesus, there is no room for violence. Not only does Jesus never allow offensive violence, He explicitly teaches against self-defensive violence, living out this difficult teaching in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a difficult teaching for Christians to grapple with, as it would otherwise seem self-evident that violence is permissible for just causes, such as self-defense or protecting the oppressed. Jesus did not give us any exceptions to this tenet. His commands were categorically peaceful.

Jesus’ radical stance against violence coheres with the life He lived and the message He preached. The very crux of Christian theology is that Jesus, the example for all mankind, was willing to die for others, including His enemies. He came to serve those who killed Him, even to die on their behalf. His commands to His followers are consistent with His example. He tells them to love their enemies, to pray for them, and to self-sacrificially serve them, and in this way to be like God. Reading Jesus’ words carefully leaves no doubt: Jesus commanded total love and grace.

This degree of peace was so radical that Christians struggled even with the notion of self-defense, and for 300 years after Jesus Christians never fought in a single battle.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #17–How Does Jihad Compare With the Crusades? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #15 – How Does Jihad Compare With Old Testament Warfare?

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This is the fifteenth in a 19-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through eighteen will cover eighteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week nineteen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 15 – How Does Jihad Compare With Old Testament Warfare?

NO MATTER THE CONTEXT in which jihad is discussed, one question invariably arises: How can one condemn jihad in light of the violence in the Old Testament? It is one of the most common questions Qureshi encountered since jihad was cast into the public limelight. In fact, Qureshi had to address this question the morning he wrote this chapter to the book, during a Q&A session in Atlanta.

Qureshi writes, “I do not wish to argue in this chapter that the God of the Hebrew Bible is better than the God of the Qur’an, even though I am a Christian and will not be able to keep this chapter totally free of bias. Nor will I seek to defend the morality of the violence in the Old Testament per se; others have cultivated that task far more thoroughly and accurately than I could here.” As an example, Qureshi cites the 2014 book by Paul Copan and Matt Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide?

Qureshi is attempting merely to compare jihad, the Islamic doctrine of warfare, to incidents of Jewish warfare in the Old Testament. The two religious systems conceive of warfare differently, and only after we have understood the details can we analyze the morality and ethics of either.

APPLES TO APPLES

To begin, we must make sure we are comparing apples to apples. The Qur’an is a very different type of book than the Bible, and it is easy to confuse categories when comparing the two. The Qur’an consists almost entirely of Allah’s words in direct address (with a few notable exceptions, such as the words of worshipers in Surah 1). The Bible, on the other hand, contains many genres, including poetry, apocalyptic literature, wisdom literature, prophecy, and history.

This final genre means that the Bible recounts many events not endorsed by God, but simply recorded in God’s Word. Such events should not be placed in the same category as battles that God Himself commanded. The latter category is the one of interest for our purposes.

Qureshi has seen many polemic discussions focus on Genesis 34. In this account, Jacob’s daughter is raped by a Canaanite, and her brothers seek revenge by lying to the men of the Canaanite city and then killing all the males, looting corpses and houses, seizing flocks and herds, and taking women and children captive. Yet Yahweh never sanctioned this. It is inappropriate to consider this an attack that God had commanded. There are other attacks that Yahweh did endorse, such as the ones commanded in Deuteronomy 20:16-18, but we ought to keep these distinctions clear.

RULE NUMBER 1: WAIT 400 YEARS

A dear friend of Qureshi once said, “If you want to follow the biblical model of attaching a land, the first thing you have to do is wait 400 years.” According to Genesis 15:13-16, Yahweh said to Abraham, ‘Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own… [In] the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Warfare in the Old Testament was designed to purge the Promised Land of the Canaanites (a group of whom are the Amorites), and this was God’s promise to Abraham. That promise was fulfilled 400 years later, affording the Amorites many generations to repent and change their ways before the Hebrews finally attacked.

This is different from jihad in the Qur’an. Although at times there were buffer periods of a few months before Muslims would attack (9:2), that was not always the case, as with the Muslims’ attack on caravans.  Additionally, the warfare the Qur’an commands is not due to any evil action, but rather due to the beliefs of non-Muslims, such as the Christian belief that Jesus is the Son of God (9:29-30).

THE CHOSEN PEOPLE

Another important matter to consider is that warfare in the Old Testament is not about subjugating inferior peoples. Yahweh does not promise the Jews that they are the best of people and that their enemies are less than they are. He makes this quite clear in Deuteronomy 9:4-6:

After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations… Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

In other words, the Hebrews were not inherently better than the Canaanites; they were a stubborn and stiff-necked people. Yahweh was not affirming the superiority of the Hebrews by giving them victory so much as judging the sins of the Canaanites.

The Qur’an, by contrast, envisions Muslims as the best people: “You are the best of all people, evolved for mankind” (3:110). It teaches that Jews and Christians who do not convert to Islam are the worst of all creation: “Those who do not believe [in Islam] from among the Jews and Christians and the idolators will go to hell. They are the worst of creatures” (98:6; see 98:1-5 for context). This is why the Qur’an in 9:33 commands Muslims to fight Jews and Christians, so that Allah may cause Islam “to prevail over all religions.”

Qureshi said, “I must emphasize that I am not cobbling together verses of the Qur’an to make a point here, but rather am highlighting those verses that were used by classical Muslim jurists and theologians to explain the foundational teachings of Islam. This view of jihad reigned from the tenth until the nineteenth centuries, which leads to the final, most important matter for our consideration.

A TRAJECTORY OF DOMINATION VERSUS A TRAJECTORY OF GRACE

As Qureshi explained in his answers to Questions 4 through 6, it is not just that battles are memorialized in the Qur’an, but also that the final chapter of the Qur’an is the most violent of all, commanding Muslims to fight and subdue non-Muslims. The title of the chapter is “the Disavowal,” and it disavows all treaties of peace that came before it.

Muhammad’s life moved from peaceful to violent in a crescendo, reflecting the trajectory of the Qur’an, and he died just after conquering the Arabian Peninsula. His words in the canonical collections were, “I have been ordered by Allah to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger… [O]nly then will they save their lives and property from me” (Sahih Bukhari 1.2.25). Muslims are commanded to follow Muhammad’s example, and his example was jihad.

By contrast, the stories in the Old Testament do not enjoin Jews or Christians to fight today. Though commands to fight are recorded in the text, no Jew or Christian is commanded to memorialize these battles as ongoing conduct. They were a part of the history of Israel, certainly, but not a mandate or continuing command going forward. Qureshi adds, “Although I cannot speak fairly for the various branches of Judaism, I can speak for the Christian faith: Jesus is the exemplar of Christians, and His message was one of grace and love. The violent stories in the Old Testament, however we understand their moral justification, serve as little more than a historical footnote in the practice and expectation of the Christian life.”

CONCLUSION

This question deserves much deeper treatment than can be afforded to it here, especially the presence of God’s grace even in the Old Testament, and Jesus’ role in present and eschatological judgment. But when we compare apples to apples, we see that there is a great difference between jihad and violence in the Old Testament. An increasing trajectory of jihad was the model of Muhammad until the day he died, and he is the exemplar for Muslims. It was enjoined upon them, the best people in mankind, in the final commands of the Qur’an so that Islam could prevail over all other religions. Early and classical Muslims interpreted jihad accordingly, systematizing it into a doctrine and ultimately coming to dominate one-third of the known world.

By contrast, the violence in the Old Testament that God commanded occurred after 400 years of waiting. God reminded the Jews that the expulsion of other races was not because the Jews were the best of people, but because others had sinned. Ultimately, Old Testament warfare is not meant to be an example that Christians model their lives around today. The trajectory in Christianity is not from peaceful to violent, but vice versa.

Violence has a very different place in Islam and Christianity’s theological frameworks. The final marching order of Islam is jihad. The final marching orders of Christians are grace and love. Qureshi turns his attention to this matter in the next Question which I will cover next week.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #16–What Does Jesus Teach About Violence? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

 

Forming a Christian Worldview

IMPLICATIONS OF A WORLDVIEW

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Every worldview frames how one understands the world and how one acts in that world. Understanding the phenomenon of worldviews has implications for our thinking in at least three fundamental ways: (1) understanding what happens when variant worldviews meet, (2) recognizing the degree to which worldviews are inherited, and (3) acknowledging the limited degree to which we can objectively reflect upon and alter our own worldviews. Conflict between worldviews usually stems from incompatibility at the level of our assumptions. For instance, if one assumes that the material realm is all that exists, then talk of the immaterial seems absurd. Dialog between individuals who hold differing worldviews must begin by talking about the assumptions inherent in their respective worldviews.

A second implication of the fact that we all hold worldviews is, perhaps, more troubling; it must be admitted that worldviews are less chosen than inherited. From the moment we are born, our views of the world are shaped by the culture and subcultures within which we are raised. Our families, religious traditions, educational institutions, media, and a host of other forces instill within us assumptions about the world and our place in it. We are less aware of these influences than we might imagine or wish. Most of what we know and believe has been given to us by our parents, friends, community, and society. We learn more about the world from others than we conceptualize on our own. We accept and assimilate more than we reject or deny. In short, we do not develop our own private worldviews. At most, we refine and re-conceptualize what we have learned.

The repercussions of this claim are astounding. Very few people have been able to rise above their cultural prejudices to challenge institutionalized slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender bias, or a host of other societal ills. It is humbling to consider how many incorrect beliefs we have adopted – and how many immoral actions we engage in – because of how deeply acculturated they are in our own worldviews. The fact that so many of our beliefs and behaviors are blindly accepted and ignorantly followed is alarming. We are not completely without hope because of our observation about worldview thinking: We can, to a limited degree, perceive and reflect on our worldview. Willingness to look at our assumptions with humble recognition of our own finitude and failings, though, presents an opportunity for re-examination.

FORMING A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW

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Worldviews ask four basic questions: “Who am I?” “Where am I?” “What’s wrong?” and “What’s the remedy?” The worldview with which you were raised, modified by your personal experiences and reflection, will inevitably affect how you answer.

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Creation

A biblical understanding of Creation informs our concept of who we are, the nature of the world in which we live, and the proper ends toward which we should strive. The biblical account begins not with an anthropocentric focus centered on humanity, but with a theocentric focus centered on God. It is God who creates. It is God who gives graciously and lavishly. It is God who declares the Creation to be “good,” and after it is completed with the making of an image-bearer, it is God who declares it to be “very good.” Humanity is intimately connected to the Creation, and yet is set in a unique relationship to the rest of Creation.

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The biblical sense in which humankind is an image of God, who is given dominion over Creation, is easily misunderstood. The image of a god was a familiar concept within the Ancient Near Eastern cultural context in which Genesis was first read. Images such as idols were thought to contain the essence of a god, and human beings were thought to have been created to care for that god and his or her god-image. Politically, however, Ancient Near Eastern religions promoted social stratification, where kings and priests had more access to the gods – and hence more power – than common folk. Kings and idols were carried in front of and venerated by those who were not royalty. In Egypt, it was not uncommon for kings to claim that they had been suckled by a goddess to buttress their own claims of divinity. The blending of the god-image with the elevation of the king afforded them an incredible amount of power.

Kings ruled their provinces as the gods’ representatives – as the caretakers of the land, resources, and people belonging to a local deity. Oppressive kings created and sustained economic, political, and educational systems that favored the elite and oppressed the marginalized. In contrast to the surrounding religious cultural context, the God of Genesis reveals that all of humanity was created to bear His image. To be His representatives on earth, to do what God would do: to lovingly rule and care for the creation (including not only what we might call “nature,” but also all other aspects of God’s Creation – including societal and cultural institutions). The Judeo-Christian belief that humans are the image of God and have dominion over Creation is not one in which some people have divine right over others, nor one in which nature is to be pillaged, but rather that all of Creation (natural and cultural) is to be tended and developed in loving submission to God’s sovereign rule over all things.

Creation holds two truths in tension, first, that humans are part of the created order, and thus, in many ways similar to the other creatures, and second, that they are made in the very image of God and given a caretaker role over the realm to which they belong. We are part of Creation, and yet uniquely set over it to steward it. More importantly, we are social beings, and only through community can we reflect the image of God.  First, God created man from the dust of the ground. Then, God decided that is not good for man to be alone. God made “a helper fit for him.” Loneliness is not good. It is clear that human beings are viewed as the pinnacle of Creation, with the affirmation by God that Creation is very good coming only after the creation of humanity. David felt this, and expressed his emotion in Psalm 119:14a, “I will give thanks to you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (NASB).

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The Bible shows Creation as infused with potential. God’s creative power bequeaths power and creativity to the Creation. Humans are told to tend the garden, that is, to develop its potentials. Certainly, there is a great deal of creativity involved in tilling the earth and mining its countless treasures. The presence of the first couple in the garden creates the beginnings of social and cultural life. It is through mankind that Creation will be shaped as people bring to fruition the possibilities of development implicit in the work of God’s hands. Creation is pregnant with potential for art, agriculture, education, civil government, science, and literature, waiting to be developed by those who bear the image of God. That is, after all, the very definition of Creation.

A final point about Creation must be made: that man, a created being, is given freedom. He can name the animals. He can till and tend and shape the garden as he wishes. But this freedom is also given limits: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Genesis 2:16-17, RSV). There is a paradox in the concept of created freedom. It is the use of free will to transgress against God’s will that is the next part of the story, what theologians sometimes refer to as original sin.

The Fall

While Christianity affirms the goodness of Creation, it also teaches that this goodness is only part of the story. The next chapter in the story recounts the rebellion of the first human beings against their God-given boundaries, and a failure of their responsibility to tend the garden faithfully as God’s representatives. The result was a fundamental alteration of the entire created realm. As a result of human disobedience, pain was multiplied, relationships were damaged, the ground itself became cursed, and death entered the world (Genesis 3:14-19). From that point on, the Bible recognizes a twisted nature within the human condition: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB). Moreover, it is precisely because those who were given authority over the creation rebelled that the created realm over which they rule is subject to the curse.

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It is worth pointing out that the created realm is not just physical nature, but it also encompasses the potentials for culture and technology, and all of these things are affected by the curse. Thus, art, architecture, politics, science, commerce, and every human endeavor is now marred and easily twisted away from their proper ends – bringing glory  to God, stewarding the creation in love, and living in peace with each other and with nature.

As we read on through Genesis, we see that the sin of Adam and Eve leads in quick succession to sibling conflict and fratricide, to an antediluvian culture where God laments at how great the wickedness of the human race had become on earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time, and the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. (See Genesis 6:5,11). We are able to see sin as a corporate phenomenon. We begin to catch a glimpse of how sin becomes embedded within cultures and institutions, so that its members become blind to the sins of their culture. It’s sometimes easy to forget that evil is a feature of our existence – a certain undertow – separate from our personal choices and decisions. We are born into a world shaped and distorted by such evils as violence and abuse in families, apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, violent jihad, sexual immorality, and the wrongful taking of life.

Throughout Scripture we see not just an individual inclination to sin, but the corporate nature of sin, such that the last five of the Ten Commandments focus on social consequences of individual sin (murder, adultery, theft, false witness, covetousness). The permanent vices and crimes of adults are not transmitted by heredity, but by being socialized. The “gospel” of individualism has taught us to see the sinfulness of every human heart, and has inspired us with faith in the willingness and power of God to save every soul that comes to Him. But it has not given us an adequate understanding of the sinfulness of the social order and its share in the sins of all individuals within it. It has not yet evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of human society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion.

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While it is entirely appropriate for us to attend to individual sinfulness, doing so is incomplete unless we also focus on our participation in the social and corporate sins of our social practices and social structures. Spiritual conversion, then, is not just repenting of individual sin, but also examining our participation in collective sin, and prophetically challenging sins that become embedded within a society, including economic systems which disadvantage some and privilege others. Unfortunately, many Christian denominations tend to focus either on individual sin and the need for individual repentance or on culturally embedded sin and the need for social reform and social justice. A fully biblical picture must acknowledge and address both personal and social dimensions of sin.

We must also note that sin has widespread effects throughout the created realm. While sin itself has both individual and social dimensions, the biblical view is that sin affects the entirety of creation. God told Adam and Eve, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-20, NIV). The effects of the Fall are pervasive, and yet we often fail to notice them, because they are part of the fabric of our lives. When sin shattered a perfect creation, everything changed. It’s not just that we sin or that we are sinned against; it’s that everything is different from the way God intended it to be, and all of these differences can be attributed to the consequences of sin. There are weeds in our garden now, and in our personalities. We have mental illness, disease, discontentment, failure, and a lack of vision. Since the Fall, creation now groans with birth defects and disease and poverty. Everything around us is broken. Things are not the way they are supposed to be.

Notice that we look forward not only to individuals being released from the consequences of personal sin, as we see in Romans 8:1-2, but now we see that all of the created order is being released from the consequences of the Fall. In part, the release of Creation from the bondage of the Fall comes about when the image bearers begin to rule properly as God intended, rather than in selfishness and idolatry.

A Christian understanding of human nature affirms our created origin in the image of God, and it recognizes the reality of human sin and its pervasive effects throughout the created realm. Decay, suffering and morality are among the unavoidable realities that led the author of Ecclesiastes to remark on the seeming futility of life. While a Christian worldview insists that we acknowledge the reality of sin – both individual and corporate – the Bible also speaks of God’s continuing interest in humankind, and recognizes remnants of the splendor in which humanity was created. In the Reformed view, Creation and Fall both frame important aspects of human nature, but it is the story of redemption that speaks to the deepest hopes of humanity.

Redemption

The biblical story proceeds from Creation and Fall to the unfolding story of Redemption and Restoration. The story advances through God’s interactions with characters such as Noah and Abraham and Sarah, and to events such as the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, and the giving of the Law to God’s people. It includes the progressive history of God’s interactions with the Israelites, the proclamations of the prophets, and the rise and fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It reaches its climax in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It proceeds through the early church, and continues today through God’s activity in reconciling all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). Throughout these encounters, we see Redemption cast in both individual and social terms. Individuals are called to turn from their evil ways, and the entire nation of Israel is called upon to enact justice.

Since sin has social consequences, and is corporate as well as individual, Redemption involves confronting both individual and corporate sin. Reconciliation of relationships is clearly a major focus of Christ’s redemptive work. But Redemption goes well beyond individual and social life. Colossians tells us that Christ is reconciling all things to Himself. This means that every aspect of creation is to be redeemed and restored: Art, music business, economics, politics, our caretaker role over the environment and our fellow creatures, and so forth. In every conceivable area of life, Christians are called to be agents of Redemption.

Consummation

The biblical story as discussed explains why human nature has elements of both good and evil. It explains why the world around us is subject to decay and disease. It introduces God’s desire to reconcile humanity and the entire created realm to Himself. If we were to leave the biblical narrative at this point, we would have an incomplete picture, because it has yet to address questions about our ultimate end and the final shape of God’s Kingdom. Christians believe that they live in the “now and not yet” of salvation. While a Christian has been saved from the penalty of his or her sin, the struggle with sin and the effects remain very real.

The term Consummation refers to the completion of God’s rule over the Creation that has been in rebellion against His sovereignty. The concept of Consummation is sometimes framed as re-creation – that is, that God restores the Creation from its fallen state. Fulfillment comes in the eschaton, the end of the present age, which begins when God’s rule is firmly established. Much of what the Bible has to say about this is difficult to interpret because it is often presented in apocalyptic imagery. It is also easily misunderstood, since modern, western, individualistic Christianity often focuses on the salvation of the individual rather than on the Restoration of all Creation.

Re-creation culminates in the reversal of sin’s effects on the fallen, judged Creation. The biblical account climaxes with the “new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Peter 3:13, NRSV). It is clear that this picture is not just one of individuals saved from personal sin. It is also an image of the people of God living in community where righteousness reigns. Thus, the complete reign of Christ offers the solution to both individual and social dimensions of the Fall. Moreover, Restoration involves the redemption of all created things. It is my belief that Christ intended for us to live in a manner that promotes the redemption of all things within our present circumstances.

Concluding Remarks

To hope for a better future in this world – for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, those who are mentally or physically ill, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful, and wounded world – is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to the Gospel as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God’s ultimate future into God’s urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of mission and evangelism in the present. It is a central, essential, vital, and life-giving part of it.

The whole point of what Jesus was up to was not merely saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of Creation which is God’s ultimate purpose. So, Consummation is the final outworking of what God will bring to completion, but which He is already beginning to bring about in and through His people in restoring all things to His rule.

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #14- Why Do Some Christians Call God Allah?

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This is the fourteenth in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 14 – WHY DO SOME CHRISTIANS CALL GOD ALLAH?

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IN JUNE OF 2014, hundreds of Malaysian Muslims rejoiced as their supreme court confirmed the illegality of Christians using the word Allah to refer to the Christian God. The Catholic Church had challenged the ban many times on the grounds that Malay Bibles had used the word Allah for centuries. Authorities argued in response that a Christian use of the term could cause confusion and entice Muslims to convert, a criminal act in twelve of its thirteen states.

For a time, the Church had succeeded in convincing the Malaysian government to lift the ban, but in response Muslims began firebombing churches, ultimately leading to a reinstatement of the ban in October 2013. Three months later, Muslim authorities confiscated hundreds of Bibles from Christians on the basis that they used the word Allah, and in June a seven-judge panel confirmed this hard line stance against Christians. Political pundits saw the ruling as a “vote-winner” for the government, appealing to Malay public with sentiments that are increasingly Islamic.

ALLAHU AKBAR

When the decision was announced, Muslims around the court started chanting “Allahu Akbar.” The phrase is called the takbir, and the Malaysians may have been reciting it simply in thanks to God and to give him praise. The slogan is versatile; it is used in daily prayers, upon hearing good news, during ceremonies, as an incantation before engaging in a difficult endeavor, or even in moments of general excitement. It is not primarily a war cry, as some believe.

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So the Malaysian Muslims around the courthouse may have been chanting the phrase in celebration as many Muslims do. But if they knew the literal meaning of the phrase, they may have meant something more. For example, many people think that Allahu Akbar means “God is great” or “God is the greatest.” As a non-Arab Muslim, that is what Qureshi was taught the words meant. But the word akbar is actually in the comparative form, and the phrase ought to be translated “Allah is greater.” It implies that Allah is greater than something in particular. Some have speculated that the phrase was originally used to intimidate the enemies of Muslims in battle, by saying that Allah was a greater God than their alleged god. In his earliest biography, we find Muhammad reciting the phrase before attacking the Jews at Khybar. This etymology is not certain, though, as there is not enough evidence to support it.

What is clear is that many Malaysians see Allah as a proper name for the Islamic God, so when they started chanting “Allahu Akbar,” they could have meant that the Islamic God is greater than the Christian God. If they did, they might have been hearkening back to the original meaning of the term.

ALLAH: PROPER NAME OR GENERIC TERM?

Allah can indeed be used as the proper name for the God of Islam, but is also functions in most majority Muslim languages as the generic term for God. It is commonly believed that Christians used the term Allah to describe Yahweh even before the advent of Islam. Allah functions as a contraction of al-ilah, “the god.” So language and context matter when discussing the word Allah. When speaking in Urdu or Arabic, Qureshi tended to use Allah as a generic term, as do most speakers of those languages, but when speaking in English, he tended to use it as a proper name referring to the Islamic conception of God, as do most speakers in English. Qureshi said, “When it comes to suggestions for how others should use the term, I would simply enjoin them not to be quick to criticize.” The term can be used in multiple ways, and conversation is far better served by focusing on meaningful matters rather than proper use of a term that can be legitimately used in many ways.

CONCLUSION

Some Christians call God Allah because it is often the generic word for God in Muslim-majority languages. Qureshi sees some benefit to adopting this word or other Arabic terminology if it helps clarify matters or build bridges of discussion, so long as it is not perceived as deceptive or confusing. Language is a fluid tool designed to help people communicate, and we should not be overly critical when others do not use terms the way we do.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #15 – How Does Jihad Compare With Old Testament Warfare? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

Celebrities We Lost to Overdose

It is a tragedy when anyone dies of a drug overdose. Drugs are no respecter of persons. It takes anyone at anytime, killing without prejudice. Why do humans like to get high? One answer is that drugs provide shortcuts to religious and transcendental experiences. If something can be ingested, injected, inhaled or absorbed into the human body, it can be abused. In the United States alone, nearly one-third of the population either abuses drugs or has a relationship with someone who is chemically dependent. Other countries face a similar problem.

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Nearly half of drug abuse in the United States involves the misuse of prescription drugs. This is not only deliberate misuse, such as forged prescriptions, Medicaid fraud, and black market sales, but also errors made by physicians and accidental misuse of prescribed drugs—especially by the elderly. Many observers have become concerned about the astonishing increase in the use of Ritalin, a physician-prescribed drug given to American children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Many widely-used chemical substances damage the brain, heart and lungs of the user, as well as the bodies of the user’s unborn children. Drug use contributes to the leading causes of death in the world—heart disease, stroke and various types of cancer. It also generates an incredible financial burden for society. The total cost of substance abuse in America has been estimated at more than $240 billion per year. According to the World Health Organization, approximately one out of five hospital beds in the United States is occupied by someone with substance abuse as a contributing factor, and nearly 50 percent of all preventable deaths are related to some aspect of substance abuse. Substance abuse and its consequences are major medical and social problems.

Today, the medical model of addiction dominates the thinking in much of the Western world. This model suggests that people who abuse chemical substances or have behavior-related problems are victims of faulty genes that produce internal chemical imbalances. This can promote the notion that people have little control over their lives, and at times is used as an excuse for lawlessness by wildly mixing up moral responsibility with diagnosis. Indeed, much conventional wisdom about substance abuse undermines personal responsibility.

Factors Preventing Substance Abuse:

  1. Purpose in life
  2. Strong system of values
  3. Positive parental example
  4. Close relationship with parents
  5. Positive peer influences
  6. Academic achievement
  7. High educational aspiration
  8. Regular school attendance
  9. Regular church attendance
  10. Realistic long-term goals
  11. Knowledge of consequences
  12. Hope of a reward

It is alarming how many celebrities who have died secondary to drugs and alcohol over the years.

  • Corey Monteith, age 31, who played Finn Houston in the Glee TV series, was found dead in his Vancouver hotel room after taking a lethal cocktail of heroin and booze.
  • Sid Vicious, the bassist for the punk rock band Sex Pistols, died in his sleep after partying with heroin the night of his 1979 release from New York’s Rikers Island. His drug dealer that fateful night was his mother.
  • Dee Dee Ramone, Ramones founding member, bassist, singer and songwriter, died of a heroin overdose. Police found a syringe and five balloons of heroin near Ramone’s body.
  • Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana front man, was found in 1994 at his Lake Washington home. Although he shot himself—a suicide note was found—a high concentration of heroin and a small amount of diazepam was found in his bloodstream.
  • Peter Farndon, the founding member of The Pretenders, was found in his bathtub by his wife following a heroin overdose.
  • Lenny Bruce, standup comedian, died in 1966 after overdosing on heroin.
  • Jim Morrison, front man for the Doors, died on July 3, 1971, at age 27. He was found in a Paris apartment bathtub, reportedly dead from a heroin overdose after snorting what he thought was cocaine.
  • Jimi Hendrix was arrested in 1969 for possession of heroin, but was acquitted after claiming the drugs were planted in his belongings. He died of a heroin overdose the following year.
  • Hillel Slovak, founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, died on June 27, 1988 of a heroin overdose.
  • Elvis Presley died at age 42 on August 16, 1977 after being found unresponsive in his upstairs bathroom. Cause of death was cardiac arrest secondary to an overdose of prescription drugs, including codeine, Valium, morphine, and Demerol.
  • Chris Farley died in 1977 after a night of partying with a hooker. An autopsy revealed a cocaine and morphine overdose.
  • John Belushi, of Saturday Night Live fame, was found dead in his room at the Chateau Marmont hotel in 1982 from speed-balling: injecting a combination of heroin and cocaine.
  • Whitney Houston, 48, was found unconscious and submerged in the bathtub of her suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel just hours before a pre-Grammy party. She died of an accidental overdose of cocaine and other drugs.
  • Corey Haim, the former child star who played in The Lost Boys, died of an accidental drug overdose. It was determined that he’d been obtaining prescription drugs through various aliases.
  • Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose. She was found wedged between a table and the wall with a cigarette in her hand.
  • Heath Ledger, 28, who won a posthumous Oscar for playing the Joker in The Black Knight, was found unconscious in his bed by his housekeeper. Ledger died of acute intoxication due to taking six different prescription drugs.
  • River Phoenix, 23, who was scheduled to perform on stage with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, died from an overdose of heroin and cocaine.
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, Oscar winning actor who starred in over 40 films, was found dead of an apparent heroin overdose on February 2, 2014. He had been clean for 20 years. Hoffman was 46.
  • Len Bias, pro basketball player, died of a cocaine overdose in 1986.
  • Christopher Bowman, professional figure skater, died of a overdose of cocaine, diazepam, alcohol, and cannabis.
  • William Holden died at 63 after he fell and bled to death following a night of intoxication.
  • Michael Jackson died in 2009 of an accidental overdose of lorazapam and propofol administered by his private physician.
  • Marilyn Monroe died in 1962 at age 36 from an overdose of barbiturates. Officially ruled as a private suicide, although several conspiracy theories still persist.
  • Amy Winehouse, a talented singer with a unique take on jazz, died in 2011 at age 27, from alcohol intoxication.
  • Prince died of an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2009.
  • Anna Nicole Smith succumbed to an overdose of methadone and medication for anxiety and depression in 2007.
  • Tom Petty died from a fatal combination of fentanyl and oxycodone in 2017.
  • John Entwistle, bass player for The Who, died of a heart attack due to a cocaine overdose in 2002.
  • Len Bias, Boston Celtics second overall NBA draft pick, suffered cardiac arrhythmia after an accidental cocaine overdose, and passed away in 1986.
  • Truman Capote died of liver failure secondary to drug and alcohol abuse in 1984 [Ironically, he was brilliantly played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in Truman.]
  • David Kennedy, fourth son of Robert F. Kennedy, died from  an overdose of cocaine, meperidine, and thioridazine in 1984.
  • Judy Garland died in 1969 secondary to a barbiturate overdose.

Concluding Remarks

If you know someone who is struggling with active addiction, please talk to them about treatment. If you need help, contact your local Al-Anon chapter. If you are stuck in the bondage of addiction, there is hope. First things first: Contact your local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. I struggled with active addiction for forty years. Step One says, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.” Drug overdose is the leading cause of death in the United States, with 64,000 deaths last year alone. President Donald Trump said in the State of the Union Address this week that 700 Americans die every day from drug overdose.