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Burning Books or Proclaiming Christ

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UPDATE - Go here to see Michael Horton's update regarding this post.

To mark the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, The Rev. Terry Jones is planning an “International Burn the Qur’an Day” at his 50-member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Yesterday Gen. David H. Petraeus warned that if a Florida church goes through with its plan to burn copies of the Qur’an this weekend, it could “endanger troops” and set back the U. S. war effort in Afghanistan. Beyond Afghanistan, it could spark protests and violence around the world (David Nakamura, Washington Post on-line, Sept 7, 2010). On Monday, 500 protesters at a Kabul mosque burned an effigy of Mr. Jones.

There is a long history of burning books when you don’t want to actually deal with the ideas that they promote. When the medieval church sponsored public bonfires of the Reformers’ writings, raw power seemed more convenient than reasoned argument. It’s an act of desperation. In other times and places, a call for Qur’an-burning would be dismissed as a crank’s irresponsible exercise of free speech, but in the present context, Jones has received more attention than perhaps even he could have imagined. To their credit, evangelical organizations—like the World Evangelical Fellowship and the National Association of Evangelicals—have been as vocal in opposing this incendiary event as liberal religious groups.

Especially given the timing of the event, NAE President Leith Anderson says that Terry Jones and his handful of supporters are engaging in “revenge” rather than the loving witness that Scripture teaches (citing 1 Thes 5:15). According to Mr Jones, however, “We only did it because we felt there needed to be an outcry against Islam, because Islam is presenting itself as a religion of peace” (The Christian Post on-line, July 30, 2010). Evidently, Mr. Jones believes that the best way of making the point that Islam is not a religion of peace is with a public burning of its primary text. I have not read his book released apparently for the occasion: Islam is of the Devil. Nor do I intend to do so (life is short). However, summaries point out that the author somehow sees American tolerance of Islam as the root of the nation’s social and moral evils. Another irony: on the Dove Center website, the seventh of Mr. Jones’ reasons for such book-burning is that “Islam is not compatible with democracy and human rights.”

In spite of the widespread Christian condemnation of the proposed action, this is not an isolated case. John Hagee leads a San Antonio, Texas, megachurch with a telecast that reaches 99 million homes around the world each week. His central message in books, sermons, and broadcasts is Christian Zionism—which includes a call for a pre-emptive strike of Iran by Israel. Although such voices are on the fringes of what used to be a more mainstream movement within evangelicalism, the basic paradigm (namely, radical dispensationalism) is held by millions of Christians in the U.S.. Besides the fact that Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth was the best-seller of the 1970s and the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins led the best-seller list for the 1990s, this popular end-times theology has played an influential role in foreign policy from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush.

I do not doubt that many Christians who hold to these radical scenarios would denounce the incendiary proposals of Terry Jones and others. However, at a moment like this it is worth reminding ourselves what we believe and why we believe it. After all, as Christians our first question is not whether Qur’an-burning will set back war efforts in Afghanistan, but whether it is consistent with Christian neighbor-love and will set back efforts to reach Muslim neighbors with the Good News.

On one end are those who react by invoking religious pluralism. At least when it comes to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we are talking about the “Abrahamic faith traditions,” after all. We are all children of Abraham and should stop killing each other. As simple as this sounds, it is a position that no Christian can hold. The prophets—all the way to John the Baptist—announced that the true children of Abraham are all who trust in the coming Messiah. Jesus Christ made himself the focal point for the inheritance of everlasting life, replacing the Temple by forgiving sins directly in his person, proclaiming himself Lord of the Sabbath, welcoming the outcasts, and offering himself in death and resurrection for the life of all who embrace him. Paul, who had persecuted the church, was now the Apostle to the Gentiles and argued—just as Jesus had—that all who are united to Christ by faith are children of Abraham. The distinction between Jew and Gentile is abolished in the “new creation” that is Christ with his body. Faith, not law; justification in Christ, not physical descent or obedience to Torah, is the only way to become a child of Abraham—more than that, a child of God. By the way, this means that nominal Christians are no more children of Abraham than anyone else. There is only one way into the family: faith in Jesus Christ.

This means, of course, that all rival prophets, priests, and kings are pretenders. Judaism and Islam—as well as heretical forms of Christianity—reject the central claims of the gospel. Israel may be an ally of the U.S. whom we are obligated by moral and political ties to support as citizens. However, Israel is not holy land and no longer has any eschatological significance in the history of redemption. Where the Temple Mount once stood in redemptive history, Jesus now stands, calling, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.”

As citizens of democratic nations, Christians may be concerned about the implications of Qur’an-burning for international peace and justice. However, as citizens of the kingdom of Christ, they have even more reason to denounce such actions. Recall James and John—the “sons of thunder”—asking Jesus if they could call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan village that rejected their message. We read that Jesus rebuked them.

This is not the era of driving out the nations from God’s holy land, for the church is the only holy land and Christ is its living Temple. This is the era of enduring persecution, not for provoking or participating in it. In the Book of Revelation we read that it was not the martyr’s protests or book-burnings, but “the word of their testimony” and their witness to the Lamb that conquered the Beast.

Along with other religious distortions and denials of the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Islam belongs to that vast complex that makes up the Beast of the last days. Yet there are also “Christian” ways of looking away from Christ and attaching ourselves to the powers and principalities that array themselves against the Lord and his Messiah. Muslims need to encounter the power of faith in Christ that bears the fruit of hope and love. They need to hear the gospel and its central claims with gentleness and respect. Believers in Christ too are those who have been delivered from the power of sin and death and are not yet perfect in their understanding or actions. Christians are called to love Muslim neighbors simply because they are created in the image of God. Yet they are also called to proclaim the gospel and to explain and defend it, albeit with gentleness and respect.

As responsible citizens, we cannot help but be concerned about the political ramifications of Islam—especially since Islam is a geo-political as well as religious movement. Yet as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, we must resist the temptation to confuse U. S. interests with the goals of the City of God. Furthermore, we should recall the myriad ways in which Christianity confused these two kingdoms in its history—not only in medieval Christendom, but in the “God-and-Country” confusion that we see all around us today on the left and the right.

Muslims are our neighbors and regardless of what their religion encourages, our scriptures call us to imitate our Father who sends sunshine and rain on the just and the unjust alike. It is an era of common grace, a space in history for calling all people everywhere to repentance and faith in Christ. Our children play regularly with Muslim neighbors and sometimes the topic of religion comes up in conversation. It is interesting to overhear the interaction. On occasion, the oldest boy will ask me questions about Jesus and why we believe that he rose from the dead. I cannot imagine that the burning of the Qur’an this coming Saturday will help move that discussion along.
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  • Guest - Smitty

    In the process of researching a book I have just published, it came to my attention that:(1) During the Crusades of 1099, the Knights Templar encountered and fraternized with their supposed Muslim equals, an organization named "The Hashishim", (2) Muhammad got much of his "inspiration" from a vaunted appearance of the angel Gabriel while Muhammad was holed up in a cave. We know from Scripture that Satan is able to transform himself into an "angel of light."

    It is my contention that Muhammad was stoned on hashish in that cave when Satan appeared to him masquerading as Gabriel and Muhammad said, "Cool, man! Lay it on me Gabe." and so began a religion of hatred, murder and conquest by the sword.

    Allah is not the same God we Christians and Jews worship--Allah is Satan himself. And thus this B.S. about "We all worship the same God so let's be buds!" is exactly that--it's B.S. Let's face it: Islam is a devil religion from the git-go which is born out by the Quran and the actions of true believers in Islam worldwide.

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  • Guest - Rana

    "His central message in books, sermons, and broadcasts is Christian Zionism—which includes a call for a pre-emptive strike of Iran by Israel. Although such voices are on the fringes of what used to be a more mainstream movement within evangelicalism, the basic paradigm (namely, radical dispensationalism) is held by millions of Christians in the U.S.."

    Dr. Horton, I think you underestimate radical dispensationalism's influence on "mainstream" Christians:

    * the most popular women's author in Christian books/ bible studies is Beth Moore, her bible study on Daniel is very popular and very dispensational,

    *Mike Huckabee was a popular Christian candidate for President and he proposed the forced ethnic transfer of all Palestinians from historic Palestine into Saudi Arabia,

    * I have been to several "Reformed" churches where the understanding of eschatology of the people in the pew is no different than those who have read Hal Lindsey and the Left Behind Series, etc, etc, etc.

    When Huckabee was campaigning for President I did not here one iota of criticism from any Christianity and Culture type writers on his position of Palestinian ethnic transfer which essentially is a form of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

    I think in many ways because Reformed churches do NOT emphasize eschatology in the same way Calvary Chapel, John Hagee and other Christian Zionists Reformed people in the pew have filled their eschatological vacuum/ lack of knowledge with the popular Christian Culture's view which is Left Behind Series Theology.

    I am often trying to encourage people to love their Muslim and Arab neighbors rather than fear them, in fact today I spent at least an hour of my daughters' school picnic in deep discussion about these issues with a Calvary Chapel friend. I often feel like I am one woman show, meaning I am the only Christian and particularly in Reformed circles pleading this teaching of Jesus.

    Speaking of Jesus, just today I saw a post on John MacArthur's GTY about Islam, I was disappointed that Johnny Mac chose to be negative about Islam rather he could have encouraged believers by telling them that:

    * Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet

    *Muslims believe Jesus is alive in Heaven and will return to Earth to defeat the Dajjal, or Antichrist.

    And that these Muslim views of Jesus open doors and dialogue. In my personal experience in sharing the gospel with Muslims, because Muslims revere Jesus as prophet and Messiah (Qu'ran 3:45) we have a point of departure that enables us to share the gospel and tell our Muslim neighbors about Jesus. Rather what we have spreading like wildfire in America and her churches is this anti-Muslim, anti-Arab caricature that in reality the farthest thing from most peoples minds is to love their neighbor and talk to them about Jesus of Nazareth who lived in Palestine, in Egypt ... and I wonder if all of this Mid-East directed phobia and hate is the work of Satan placing obstacles to the gospel of Jesus Christ before a people who desperately need Him and the good news he brings.

    And some final thoughts on Zionism by my former seminary professor Dr. Kline:

    What Zionist ideology projects is a grotesque parody of the kingdom of God – a land without the temple, an earthly fullness without a heavenly focus. From the beginning it was not so. And if it be that a temple building is included in the plans of these modern architects of the kingdom, while they yet spurn the claims of Jesus, the promised seed of Abraham, the Christ of God, what is this but another Babel-tower, another titanic attempt to erect the cosmic focus by autonomous human effort, another repudiation of the grace of God and his redemptive provision of the true holy temple-city from heaven? Such a pseudo-temple the man of sin might occupy but the Son of Man, himself the true temple, would ultimately destroy it. Any response from the Christian community, dispensational or other, that does not challenge the Zionists’ appeal to God’s covenant with Abraham to justify the present Israeli occupation of Palestine represents a tragic failure to confront them with fallen man’s absolute lack, in himself, of claim on God’s covenanted kingdom and with the sinner’s desperate need to find restoration to God’s favor through Jesus Christ. To show sympathy to the Zionist in his defiant claim is to hide from him the gospel of God’s love and to encourage him on his unbelieving way to perdition apart from Christ, the sinner’s only hope.

    Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue (Wipf and Stock, 2006), p. 347.

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  • Guest - Lisa A

    ps... I should say , you didnt see HIM or HIS FIRST DISCIPLES OR ST. PAUL deliberately knocking down Roman or Greek statues-

    I'm sure the Early Church years later knocked down these statues, because by that time, Christianity already started getting somewhat corrupted by man's good intentions.

    Point is- we need to clean "our own House" of corruption and let God take care of the other faiths out there His way. This is not to be confused as compromise, however.

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  • Guest - Lisa A

    "Burn as many Korans as you think necessary until the evil known as Islam retreats back to the darkness from where it came."

    Do you really really believe that intentionally scandalzing Muslims is going to make Islam retreat into the darkness?
    Wow, you have another thing coming.

    Sinking to their level by burning their Qu'ran could insite a holocaust- and don't think it's not possible with the way our media loves to stir the pot for the sake of news.


    Seems to me from many of the posts here that, sadly, the Muslim attitude has already entered our Christian churches- and we are quick becoming just like the Taliban hotheads.

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  • Guest - wes

    1) A prudent approach to this problem is to have language scholars carefully translate

    the Koran into English (unless it has already been done). 2) Then have religious

    scholars from all faiths have an intense study and interpretation of what the Koran

    states and the Bible. 3) Have a discussion of all the contradictory interpretations

    televised in the U.S. and recorded on DVD.

    Let all people then decide which is the truth.

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  • Ernie wrote on September 9th: "No, it is not OK for Christians to burn Qur’ans ... burning the book they call holy is not OK."

    Should we take what you say as an override of the Constitution?

    Henry Mitchell

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  • Guest - keijo

    God is great and he wil be withus in fight against our enemies and we wil win and be rescue from hurts and hate and be big in salvation and life in Jesus who is the king of the king in for ever ,thanks and bless and pray,keijo sweden

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  • As usual, Mr. Horton cannot restrain himself from becoming involved in politics:) It seems that Horton likes freedom of religion as long as the religious person happens to agree with Horton's views on common grace and being politically correct within the Democratic Party's definition of such. Horton should move to rural Georgia:)

    While I admire The White Horse Inn program and this blog, I read it with a critical eye and not as a blind follower of self-appointed demagogues.

    Mr. Jones, despite his heterodox Pentecostal views, has every right under the United States constitution to burn a Koran if he so chooses. His acts are covered by both the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech in the Bill of Rights.

    Looks like Horton favors a form of liberal theonomy. Agree with Horton or else! Perhaps the doctrine of common grace is at fault here. Horton can't decide if he's going to be a Calvinist or a closet Arminian/Amyraldian, which is what the common grace position really is.

    Charlie J. Ray

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  • [...] at the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton has provided a well thought out response to the recent fuss about burning the Quran.  In it, he seeks to help frame the debate [...]

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