Recent research by LifeWay Research, under the leadership of Ed Stetzer, suggests that American views on Islam are very much polarized, particularly among  pastors.  What is most surprising is that while some protestant pastors see Islam in a more favorable light than before, evangelical pastors increasingly see Islam as a violent and dangerous faith.  How will this affect people in the pew?

Immediately following the tragic events of 9-11, some evangelicals had a change of heart–at least temporarily. Church attendance went up, but according to Pew research, attitudes toward Muslims went down. Several evangelical books came out, warning about the danger of Islam, and in 2006 I was asked to review a few. My article, “Unveiling the Truth about Islam” was published in Christianity Today, and the two least helpful titles are revisited.

First, Secrets of the Koran: Revealing Insights into Islam’s Holy Book, suggests a real Muslim is by definition a violent one. The book selectively cites harsh Qur’anic verses, used by fanatical Wahabbi-Salafist Muslims, but ignores moderate passages and their interpretations. Second, From 911 to 666: The Convergence of Current Events, Biblical Prophecy and the Vision of Islam, was faulted most for presuming the anti-Christ would be a Muslim. Dates were even set for the Beast’s appearance–2014!  I said, “Unfortunately, too many of these evangelical polemics are historically inaccurate, theologically misinformed, and missiologically misguided.” Like most people (including Muslims), evangelicals struggle in knowing how to respond. They are shocked, not only by Islamist brutality, but because hundreds of young people, born and bred in the West, are signing up for ISIS. Some recent reactions sound familiar.

For example, on his blog, evangelical Allen West cherry picks Qur’anic verses for every evil act ISIS is engaged in–beheading, forced conversion, cruelty to women, persecution, taxes, deceit and jihad. This “textualized hermeneutic” of only looking at the Qur’an is a simplistic analysis of radical Islam. It fails to reference a single “soft” passage, and neither does it acknowledge that political, social, economic, cultural and ethnic factors also shape extremists.

Furthermore, there is an ongoing tendency to demonize Muhammad and to view current happenings as proof of the End Times.  For that matter, we have been in the “end game” for the last 2000 years.  Yet, a time will come when “God will pour out his Spirit on all people,” when old and young shall “dream dreams” (Acts 2:14-21).   This is an apt description of what is currently happening among Muslims as God makes the wrath of man to praise him.  Also, in “Why the Caliphate Will Devour Its Children,” Philip Jenkins views these events as a “sign of desperation” due to poor governance, failed economies and unfulfilled dreams. And then he says that what ISIS is doing will result in more evangelical apocalyptic speculation about the anti-Christ. The new Caliph, he says, has a stated goal to conquer Rome and the entire world. Al-Baghdadi has that wild and woolly look about him.

Finally, in “A Christian Response to Islamophobia,” Timothy Tennent references a recent piece published in Charisma magazine.  Author, Gary Cass, CEO and President of Defend Christians, said evangelicals have three choices in regard to Muslims: convert them, deport them, or shoot them. Since they will not convert (“their hand will be against everyone” Genesis 16:10-12, Arab Muslims are the sworn enemies of God), and since our government lacks the courage to deport them, the only option is to buy a gun in self-defense. After arming ourselves, Cass suggests we need to trust God! Tennent rightly concludes that publishing such an article shows evangelicals have yet to articulate a Christian response to Islamic fundamentalism. He then goes on to suggest a fourth option–Christian witness even in the face of martyrdom and death.

The purpose of this post is not to beat up on evangelicals but to help us stay focused on the mission of God. We may never understand what motivates Muslim militants, but what we do know is that Islam is reeling. Humanly speaking, the future is bleak for the Middle East and much of the Muslim world. One hundred years ago, Samuel Zwemer advised against stereotyping Muslims and urged Christians to “awaken sympathy, love and prayer on behalf of the Islamic world until its bonds are burst, its wounds healed, its sorrows removed, and its desires satisfied in Jesus Christ.”  “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).