Why Nations Rage: A Biblical Response to Radical Islam
The first Christian century was a brutal one for a growing minority who dared profess their faith as followers of Jesus Christ. Believers encountered a double whammy of injustice and persecution from leaders of the prevailing religious structure who despised those who would dare advocate divergence from their traditional Jewish law and the Roman authority who would tolerate no supreme allegiance except to Caesar.
In chapter four of Acts, Peter and John had been arrested, threatened and ordered not to preach or teach in the name of Jesus, a restriction imposed on many believers across the Muslim world today. The response of the church to this situation is a model for how the global church should respond–they prayed! When they heard it, they lifted their voices to God and said, “Sovereign Lord who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything
in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against His anointed.
’”We are asking the same question today. “Why do the nations rage?” Why do those in authority in Muslim nations set themselves against Christ and those who follow Him?” Why does ISIS indiscriminately behead Christians in Libya, al Shabaab slaughter Christian students in Kenya and Boko Haram massacre Christian villagers in Nigeria?
1. They recognized the consequences of a sinful world. Since Cain’s murder of his brother Abel in a jealous rage history confirms we live in a fallen world. The merciful character of God has provided a redemptive alternative, but His moral nature does not allow coercive manipulation of choices by those who inflict injustice and are committed to the destruction of those who do not conform to power structures and imposed ideologies.
2. They reflected confidence in a sovereign God. The New Testament church in Jerusalem affirmed their belief in a God who made the heavens and earth and everything in them, including those who were wrecking havoc and threatening their peace and security. They continued their prayer in Acts 4:27-28 to remind God:
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy
servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along
with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand
and your plan had predestined to take place.”
The greatest tragedy to occur in the world was not the massacres carried out by angry Muslims or a terrorist attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. The most heinous injustice occurred when the sinless Son of God was betrayed and crucified by an conspiracy of Jews and Gentiles and the unlikely alliance of political adversaries, Herod and Pontius Pilate. But this did not take God by surprise. The church acknowledged that God not only knew this would happen, He planned for it to fulfill His purpose of bringing redemption to a lost world.
3. Therefore, they renewed their commitment to a saving word. They did not ask God to remove the threats and harassment they were experiencing, so they could live in peace and prosperity. They did not pray that God would destroy their adversaries and create an environment in which they could propagate the gospel without danger or retribution. They concluded their petition in Acts 4:29:
“And now Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.”
Confident that Jesus was the answer, they prayed for boldness to proclaim the good news of hope and salvation, even in the face of personal risk and danger. The church today needs to follow the example of earlier believers and understand biblical realities of being hated and persecuted for the sake of Christ. Yet, rather than responding with paranoia and fear of ISIS lone wolf enemies among us and the spread of global terrorism, we should engage the threat with the most powerful weapon supplied by our divine leader–to love our enemies and a bold, positive witness of a living Savior.
Many Christians are unaware that Muslims have an annual celebration that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and God’s merciful provision of a substitute ram in his place. The celebration is called Eid-al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice). The celebration takes place at the end of the Hajj or pilgrimage. Everyone who is financially able purchases an animal to sacrifice. The animal must be killed in accordance with Islamic law in order to be considered Halal or permissible. This entails a short prayer of blessing while slitting the animal’s throat, giving careful attention to drain all the blood. The meat is then shared with family, friends and the poor. The celebration happens all over the Muslim world but it is certainly not limited to Muslim countries. Here in the United States I have seen goats and even a cow sacrificed to celebrate Eid. It is always a treat to see the interaction of my Muslim friends with rural South Carolina farmers negotiating the purchase price of an animal.
Several years ago, I memorized the story of Abraham and Isaac so that I could go to the Mosque and share it with my Muslim friends during this celebration. As I entered the mosque my friends greeted me with excitement, “Eid Mubarik” or “happy Eid!” The atmosphere reminded me of Christmas celebrations. The food was abundant. Everyone had on new clothes. The mood was genuinely joyous. I sat down with a small group of guys I knew fairly well from previous mosque visits. I told them how I had memorized the story concerning Abraham and his son and asked if they would like to hear the story. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed and so I began: “God told Abraham to go to a mountain and sacrifice his son…” but before I could continue, a young man interrupted, saying, “I have heard this story, it’s about Abraham and his son Ishmael.” Someone else in the group replied, “no, the story is not about Ishmael, it’s about Isaac.” Within seconds people began taking sides. My friends looked to me and said, “Well, which is it?”
Life Together: An Integrated Approach to Introducing Muslims to Jesus
Due to the incredible turmoil in the Middle East and elsewhere and the resulting mass migration of many Muslims to Europe and the Americas, the Church has an unparalleled opportunity to build relationships with Muslims and introduce them to Jesus. Many in the Church would like to respond to this opportunity but wonder how to go about connecting with Muslims. Responding to this growing need a number of ministries have stepped up their training efforts to help.
The ministries primarily involved in these training efforts advocate for one of three approaches: Polemics, Apologetics, or Building Bridges. In this post I will take a look at these three approaches and identify some strengths as well as some weaknesses. After doing so I will present a fourth alternative. Let’s call it Life Together….
In his book, “A Wind in the House of Islam,” David Garrison seeks to understand and describe the people movements to Christ that are increasingly taking place throughout the Muslim world (6). According to Garrison, eighty-four percent of all the movements to Christ – defined as at least one thousand new believers or one hundred new churches within two decades (230) – have taken place in the 21st century (226). Though Garrison admits that these movements represent a very small, “statistically almost insignificant” fraction of the Muslim world, he sees this recent development as a potential “hinge moment in history” (232) that may lead to the “Day of Salvation for Muslims” (252). In response to this new move of God in the Muslim world, Garrison aims to ascertain how God is bringing Muslims to faith in Christ (24). He hopes his study will equip the church to better participate in what God is doing, encourage Muslim converts, and inspire Christians to become more engaged in Muslim outreach (41). In this paper, I will review this important study by briefly summarizing its contents and then seeking to assess its strengths and weaknesses in accomplishing Garrison’s aims.