tml> Biblical Ethics and Islam
  1. Introduction
2. The Bible on its own terms
3. The Koran on its own terms
4. Contrasts between the Bible and the Koran
5. Holy War in the Bible, Jihad in the Koran
6. Christian expansion, Islamic expansion
7. The ministry of the Prince of Peace
8. Questions from the audience
   
Biblical Ethics and Islam

Love of Hard Questions Seminar #220
21 March 2002
1. Introduction


Female Voice: Please welcome John Rankin. [audience applause]

John Rankin: Oh my goodness, look at this cross right there. Some people are hiding. Well, good evening. It is a joy to be here and let’s just take a moment if we might and consecrate this time in prayer. Father we are grateful that you’ve loved us with an everlasting love, that you’ve spoken into existence a magnificent and beautiful universe. You’ve made us man and woman as your image bearers to receive your love, to give your love, and to enjoy the stewardship of all you’ve blessed us with. We ask as we look into this controversial subject tonight that your Holy Spirit will be our teacher, and may the name of Jesus our Messiah be lifted up, and we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Well since Nancy asked me to explain what a secular humanist is, last night I did Mars Hill Forum number 68. And in my Mars Hill Forum series, I invite the most competent skeptics I can find in to dialogue over issues of controversy and Jerry, here from New Haven tonight, was at Wesleyan on Thursday night. And would you say, Jerry, that was an energetic interchange?

Jerry: Very energetic.

John Rankin: The topic was, “Is Same Sex Marriage Good For the Nation?” I did an e-mail on this about a very vital, controversial, lewd reception I was given to begin with, but the ministry of the Spirit really went forth very well and I’ve had many wonderful reports afterward.

What I do in the Mars Hill Forums is I essentially go straight for controversy, and the reason I do so is not because I like controversy. In fact if you talk to my bride of 25 years, she will tell you that if we’re watching a movie on television, and you know how the music tells you that some conflict is about to come onto the screen, well when that music begins, John either goes to the john or he goes to cook some popcorn. So I’m not a person who enjoys controversy but by the same token, Jesus came in the midst of great controversy because where there is controversy, so often the human soul is closest to the surface. Honest in its acknowledgments of passions, of hopes and fears, and many times you will not get a discussion of an issue apart from controversy. And so the question is, can we come in the middle of controversy and speak words of peace, which is who Jesus is.

And so that’s a nutshell of much of my ministry and a secular humanist in our topic last night was, “Does it make any sense to be an atheist?”, with my guest being an atheist. And he said, actually he never did say it made sense to be an atheist. He said it didn’t make sense to be a Christian so we took off from that. But anyhow, the point being that being raised a secular humanist was being raised someone who was not taught whether or not there was a God. My father is a theist, a long line of Presbyterian ministers in his background, but he left a Biblical fold because of intellectual questions and also hypocrisies that he saw in the church. And so, he migrated to the Unitarian church, in which I was raised, and my Sunday school teachers were agnostics, or atheists, or skeptics.

And, I was raised to be a skeptic and yet, as a seven- or eight-year old, I was impressed by the fact that my Sunday School teachers were explaining too much. And how does an eight-year-old who hasn’t read Shakespeare say, “You protesteth too much?” But yet my spirit was aware of that so what happened was, I became a skeptic of the skepticisms I was taught, and I’m a Christian now.

So, we entitle these seminars “The Love of Hard Questions” seminars, and intrinsic to a Biblical worldview is a love of hard questions. And so tonight what we want to do is we want to look at some of the hard questions surrounding the conflict between Islam and Christianity, and there is a conflict. And it’s 1,400 years old, and we need to talk about that reality.

I was speaking at a PC [Presbyterian Church] USA church, in my home church, Covenant Presbyterian in Simsbury, it’s PC USA. I was speaking at a big Presbyterian church in Buffalo on this topic after church one Sunday, and a number of Muslims from the medical school in Buffalo came along. And what was interesting was I said, as I began the comments, that feel free to interrupt me at anytime and ask a question. And I was not prepared for really almost a chauvinistic attitude from these Muslims, where their religious attitude was that we speak and you listen, even though I was the host of the event, even though I was the speaker. So they did interrupt, which was fine, I was very gracious to them. They made the event. I didn’t even cover my material because I responded to their questions, which was fine.
But we came to the end and it was vibrant. I was hospitable, but then finally I said, you know I’m going to make one final comment. We’re a little bit over time. I’m going to show a point of conflict between the Bible and the Koran that I think is important. And this one Muslim from Egypt, who is an American citizen, he said no, we will end the discussion now. There is no conflict. I go whoa, what chutzpa, not that he would have wanted to use a Jewish term but . . . [audience laughter] ... but what chauvinism, I thought. And I said well no, excuse me sir. But you know you and your two friends have really been given incredible freedom here in a Christian church to ask your questions. I rearranged my whole program accordingly, but I am the speaker and you are our guest. And I’m going to conclude on this matter of conflict between Jesus, or between the Bible and the Koran.

And then he said there is no conflict. He said, I believe in Jesus. And then, a moment of quiet, and the pastor, David, came with a pointed question and said, “Is Jesus the Son of God?” And he said no. Then you don’t believe in the Jesus of the Bible, there is a conflict. And what was interesting was when I said no to him saying no, I don’t think he was ready for that. And I literally saw demons jump in his eyes, and this is one of a half a dozen times in my life where I really experienced something like that.

And so he wasn’t going to admit a conflict, but when asked a specific question, there was a conflict. So here’s the most important question in the face of conflict. In the face of conflict, how do we conduct ourselves? And I’ll make a simple observation I made at Wesleyan the other night to a room full of mostly homosexual-rights partisans. I said, I don’t desire one inch of greater liberty to speak what I believe than I first give to those who believe otherwise. That’s the Golden Rule in cultural, academic, and political context, and it’s something I believe in profoundly and theologically.

Why is this? If we go to the Garden of Eden, the Lord did not just give us one choice. He gave us good, and he gave us evil, and defined the difference between the two. Why did he give us a level playing field for both? In shorthand, I believe the answer is, if we were forced to only have one choice of goodness, we would not be image bearers of God. We would be puppets, animals, slaves. And the very nature of love as a relationship is it involves choice in both directions. And if we’re forced to love, we don’t love. Forced love in other language is rape. And so what you have in Genesis is God says, this is good, this is evil, choose the good, and even after you choose the evil, I will die on the cross to restore to you the freedom and the power to choose the good.

And so a radically Biblical worldview takes confidence that truth is truth regardless of my opinion or someone else’s opinion, and therefore lets it present truth on its loving, honest basis, and let it commend itself accordingly. However, we face a tremendous challenge with Islam and that is, historically, Islam doesn’t give a level playing field, politically, intellectually.

The only time it ever had any intellectual hospitality to Jewish and Christian worldviews was when it was in complete political control and was unthreatened by a little bit of variety within their midst. And only the Jews and Christians in Islamic society, the dhimmies, the protected people, they were protected to not be forced to convert to Islam, if they paid an average 50% tax. In other words, they didn’t have full freedom, they didn’t have full respect. There is no history of that in Islam, and so if that’s the case, how therefore do we conduct ourselves in the face of an honest and, I think, the most powerful contest on the planet right now?

Os Guinness, some of you know Os Guinness, he was speaking recently and I’ve know Os for quite some years, a very fine man. And he made a very simple, poignant observation. And he’s a master of saying a lot with very few words. He said the history of Europe is the battle against the tide of Islam, and that’s true.

Going back to the 7th Century, Islam has pressed against the European nations trying to take over by the sword. And you can look at the history of Europe for over a thousand years, it has been the wall of demarcation between the onslaught of Islam. And so this is a reality that a lot of people don’t want to talk about for various reasons.
Okay, my agenda in the time I have tonight is I want to talk for about one hour, I’m going to try to do it a little bit quicker, and I will succeed give or take a half an hour. But I will try to talk about one hour. And I want to go through as you have in your outline, in fact you can take your outline which someone gave me a copy of, well anyhow I know it, and we’re going to look at the Bible on its own terms, and then the Koran on its own terms. And I’m going to interweave these two.

Now when I use the language on its own terms, what do I mean by that? I want to take the Bible as the Bible understands itself, the writers and the community that has believed in the Bible. And I want to give the same respect to the Koran. And so I’ll try to be very careful as I do that. Then, secondly, and probably briefly, because this could be a whole seminar unto itself, I will try to make some key differences between Holy War in the Bible and Jihad in the Koran. Many times people will say well if Jihad is Holy War among the Muslims, what’s the difference between that and the Jews wiping out everyone in Jericho, like the Canaanites? A very fine question, again, the love of hard questions.

Then very briefly we will look at the contrast between Christian expansion following the death and resurrection of Jesus and Islamic expansion beginning in the last ten years of Muhammad’s life. And then finally, the ministry of the Prince of Peace.

Okay let’s begin with the Bible on its own terms, and before we do I want to make two observations. First of all is, I approach this subject with both strengths and weaknesses. The strengths would be that my calling in life, and in ministry in these last 18 years of public policy ministry, is Biblical ethics. Ethics is a word that means how we treat one another, and so the greatest ethic of all in the Bible is to love the Lord our God, heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves, the vertical ethic, and then the horizontal ethic. And that is how our scripture starts, with God’s love for us. And so I will be coming at it from that strength of comparing ethics.

The second observation here is that I have weaknesses, and the weaknesses are these: I read the Koran, I’m reading it a second time right now. I have studied Islamic history, but it goes back over 20 years ago since I last did it. And therefore, I am constraining myself to observations I know to be true, even observations about Islam that I’m 95% are true, I probably will hold back from, or I will tell you that I have some uncertainty. And the uncertainty is based on the fact that I need to re-read. I’ve almost cleared my desk, my back-reading pile to the point I’ve got about 20 books on my active-reading pile desk. It kind of looks like a cityscape, skyscrapers of different heights of books piled.

And Islam is the tallest tower on my desk right now. And I think I’m going to have to read 30, 40, 50 books, a whole range of Islamic history from the Hadith to the history of Islamic expansion from Christian perspectives, Jewish perspectives, secular perspectives, Islamic perspectives. And so I want to make sure that I really understand the territory and the debate, and where the scholars come down on this subject.

I still haven’t figured out when adolescence begins. I keep postponing it to about 12 years ahead of where I am, so now I think it starts around 60. But anyhow, so I still rationalize I’m young enough, I’m actually considering next fall at the Hartford Seminary actually learning Arabic and trying to learn it fluently. I think that’s a crazy thing for a 48-year old, almost 49-year old to do, and yet when you look at the debate worldwide with Islam right now, I think that’s very crucial.

So I do know a good amount, I’ve studied it in the past. But my sense is that I owe it to the image of God and all Muslim people to really understand their religion, their Koran, their history, their text. Because I believe that underneath all the disputes there is the common image of God for whom Jesus died, and we want to be agents of that redemption.

The other prior observation is the story that many of us have heard, like me I’m sure second-handed, about how U.S. Treasury agents, if they are those who become involved in the counterfeiting department, what do they learn, I’m told for the first either six weeks or six months? They learn the real thing inside out so that they can identify a true dollar bill in their sleep, upside down in a bat’s cave, if it came to that extreme. Why do they do that? Because when you know the real thing, then you can pick up the one slight difference which would reveal a counterfeit. And so we as Christians need to know the real thing. And so I’m going to start on that basis. So let’s look at the Bible on its own terms and the Koran on its own terms, back and forth, with a few basic observations.

  1. Introduction
2. The Bible on its own terms
3. The Koran on its own terms
4. Contrasts between the Bible and the Koran
5. Holy War in the Bible, Jihad in the Koran
6. Christian expansion, Islamic expansion
7. The ministry of the Prince of Peace
8. Questions from the audience