Just a few moments ago, a fellow Baptist whom I greatly respect shared some thoughts on Islam via Facebook that I wanted to share here. The thoughts come from the Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, James R. White. James has spent much time and energy reaching Muslims with the Gospel. He has debated some of the worlds most renowned Muslim scholars like Shabir Ally, and has written a book titled, What Every Christian Needs To Know About The Qur’an. Without a doubt, James is regarded by many respected scholars and theologians as an authority when it comes to Islam.
I’m sharing James’ thoughts because I believe his words are needed, especially in our current day. Many are asking questions about Islam, and if it is a “religion of peace”. Many are also asking questions about Radical Islamic Terrorist groups like ISIS, and if groups like these represent all Muslims. These are important questions, and the way in which we answer them directly affect how we relate to our Muslim neighbors. As Christians, we do not have the luxury of misrepresenting others, or painting them in a manner that does not accurately represent their beliefs. If we ever want to reach Muslims with the Gospel, we must first understand what they actually believe and why they believe it. I believe that in this post, James does a stellar job of answering some of these questions and making distinctions that are necessary for Christians to make if we’re serious about bringing the Gospel to Muslims.
(Note: I have slightly edited James text, adding italics and making it slightly more readable since it was originally a social media post.)
White On Islam
For the past decade I have been seeking to communicate the gospel to the Muslim people. I have proclaimed the same message to them that I proclaim to all the other groups to whom I seek to proclaim the gospel: true peace with God can only be found in the repentance and faith in Jesus the Messiah. There is no other way. Without Jesus, you have no peace—no peace with God, and, as a result, no true or lasting peace with others. There is only one way, only one God-ordained, God-given, God-determined way of peace with Him. Since Jesus is the unique Incarnate One, trying to find any other way of peace with God will result in disaster and is, in fact, an act of rebellion against God, for it is a positive statement that He lied in testifying of Jesus as His Son by raising Him from the dead.
I have proclaimed the perfection of Christ’s atonement, and its utter necessity and perfection, in every context I have found: whether on the Internet, the Dividing Line, or in person in debates quite literally around the world.
No one can possibly point to a single time I have contradicted myself on this point. And yet, despite this, I have Christians speaking as these have spoken in the graphic I am attaching to this post. Why? Well, here is the thought process. In their thinking, Islam is one, monolithic faith. No variation, no differences. Their arguments against Islam depend upon their ability to say this is Islam, all of it, in its entirety, and since it is wrong about this, therefore, my case is established. Islam is a false religion. Repent and believe!
The problem is, Islam is not a monolithic faith. While you can surely identify a core set of teachings, the outworking of those teachings, and how they are understood, and practiced, and promoted, today, differs around the world. This is not even an arguable point, but many have so little contact with, and knowledge of, the variety of expressions within Islam that it is easy for them to dismiss this reality, especially since it threatens their (at times) simplistic apologetic approach.
Has anyone ever heard me say “Islam is a religion of peace?” No, they have not. Given my fundamental belief in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only means of peace with God, how could I say that of anything or anyone who denies the Christian message? Sadly, many of these Christians have fallen into the trap of defining “peace” as the world does: in reference to external conflict, terrorism, jihad, etc., rather than thinking from a biblical perspective first, recognizing that the rejection of Jesus as the sole mediator between God and men of necessity precludes Islam from giving true peace to men (a “mere prophet” is insufficient to bring about that peace).
But even if we were to limit our examination of “peace” to external conflict, it is painfully obvious that the meaning of terms like “jihad” does differ within the Islamic community. Attempting to deny this requires a tremendous effort at redefinition that mainly takes the form of, “Well, if a Muslim disagrees with my definition of what they mean by jihad, they are not really a Muslim.” And you can always find Muslims to aid you in that task, since, of course, the ISIS style Muslims, who are busily murdering other Muslims for disagreeing with them, make the same argument. Of course, making ISIS style thinking the standard of how you argue might not be wise, but who am I to point that out?
What is without argument is that there are streams of Islamic belief and expression that are more peaceful, outwardly, than others. The toxic, self-destructive forms, which I have always said have deep and ancient roots in the Islamic tradition itself, often turn on each other, leading to the conflict so often seen down through Islamic history. But one must be blind, or bigoted, or just willfully dishonest, to not see that the history of Islam as a whole is not just one massive bloodbath. There have been times of peace and stability where a progressive culture was created that produced philosophers and mathematicians and scientists. I would argue that form of Islam is highly susceptible, however, to the corrosive effect of the ISIS style of jihadism, and it is so because of the inability of the religion’s founding documents to fend off the very man-centered, “this really proves total depravity is true all around the world” impulses of low-order Islam. But the fact remains that, by God’s common grace, a higher-order Islam has existed, and continues to exist through to this day. I know, personally, Muslims who remain faithful to the central tenets of their faith who would never accept any definition of their faith that would lead them to murder their fellow men. Argue that they are not Muslims all you want: all you are doing is demonstrating why the conflict exists in the first place.
The problem with the question “Is Islam a religion of peace” is that it assumes an obvious definition of “Islam” that history, reason, experience, and study, says does not exist. Far better is honesty: the form of Islam being promoted most widely in our world today (Wahhabism) is not, and cannot be, a religion of peace in either the fullest or more narrow externalistic sense. Its founding principles demand that it be war-like and that it use force as the means of ensuring external obedience to its interpretation of sharia. But demanding that this corrosive form be taken as the only representative of Islam is to make the very same mistake the secular world does in demanding I answer for the Westboro Baptists and Steven Andersons and Walid Shoebats of the world. And since I know every single one of those who are twisting my words, ignoring my meaning, etc., make those very distinctions, in fact, demand that they be made for their own personal interests, I point out the hypocrisy of the double standard.
Do Muslims do to me exactly what these Christians do to Muslims? All the time. Is it more common for Muslims to broad-brush than it is for Christians to do it? I firmly believe so! Does any of that give us an excuse to continue to fail to think clearly, fairly, and accurately? Can anything allow a Christian to use double standards? The answer is, to those with ears to hear, and minds to think, clear.