The question I received prompting this post: “I would be curious to hear what your thoughts are on how we should respond to ISIS? I’m fully aware of what an American response looks like… But what should a Christian response look like – how should our faith dictate our response, especially with what just happened in Brussels (although there is a long list of atrocities that have been committed).”
I’ve been asked to write a post about how Christians should respond to ISIS. To be honest, this prospect terrifies me.
It terrifies me because I fear that I might write something that is downright wrong and someone might take it to heart.
It terrifies me more than telling someone the right way to view alcohol or cursing, because while someone might take those to heart, I am more confident that I am not wrong because the inerrant word of God is pretty clear on those subjects, and I am confident that my exegesis was solid.
The Bible isn’t as clear about ISIS. Bad words and booze existed in the first century… ISIS did not.
How do I go about it then?
I will first try to characterize ISIS in terms that the Bible does comment on, then I will try to draw some distinctions between ISIS and the people in ISIS, and finally I will attempt to tell you how to act in response to ISIS, Muslims, and the particular attacks that take place increasingly regularly. The Outline is as follows:
How should we see it?
How should we see them?
How should we respond to each?
How should we see it?
ISIS is an institution with an ideology and a worldview. Obvious, I know, because all institutions have an ideology and a worldview. It is patently unavoidable. However, what makes this more difficult is that we don’t really know with clarity what ISIS believes or what they want. It’s an underground organization. They don’t have a website with their purpose statement and goals posted for anyone to read. The first step to evaluating the institution is the first place I fall short of being fit for this task. I don’t know much about them. To try and rectify this I went and read a few studies that tried to answer some questions about ISIS. I found that their main goals are at least reasonably deducible. This is one good one I found, conducted by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center: http://www.crethiplethi.com/files/cp_0115.pdf
I recommend reading at least the overview on pages 1-14. A few things I gleaned from it to help you out are the main ideologies and leaders of ISIS.
The figure-head of ISIS is a man named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIS is an organization residing in Iraq and Syria and is an Islamic fundamentalist organization within Sunni-Islam. They see the golden age of Islam as the military conquest that took place in the 7th century, in which Islam grew and spread throughout the Middle East, across North Africa and into Spain and France, eventually being stopped by Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne. The ideology of that time was to convert everyone on earth to Islam or kill them, and ISIS claims that this is the correct interpretation and exercise of Islam’s teachings and texts. ISIS wants to do the same: conquer the world and convert people to Islam, and kill them if they refuse.
These facts are once known, are not particularly surprising to the general public. It’s what everyone guessed. Most everyone recognizes that this is ISIS’s goal and most everyone is comfortable condemning ISIS for these beliefs. Where the political upheaval comes in is the question: is ISIS’s interpretation of Islam correct? Does Islam teach what ISIS claims it teaches? Who has the correct Islam, ISIS or all the non-ISIS Muslims in the world? How you answer these questions will likely say something about your politics.
I, again, must admit my ignorance and deficiency in answering these questions. I have read the Qu’aran and I know many Muslims personally, but I don’t know who has the “right” Islam, and to be honest, I don’t care.
I don’t care because whichever one has the “right Islam” they both have the wrong Jesus. Both institutions believe a lie. I don’t care to draw lines between different groups within Islam. I also don’t care to draw lines between Islam and Atheism, or Hinduism and Buddhism, or Atheism and Agnosticism, or pick any other religions/worldviews out there.
I draw a line between Christianity and everything else. The simple fact is that they all need to hear, understand, and believe the gospel that their adherents are sinners in need of a savior and Jesus is that savior. Where you land on Jesus (is he the Messiah, the seed promised by God in Genesis 3:15 or isn’t he?) is the most important issue and it’s the one I draw the hard lines on.
Whether ISIS or other Muslims interpret Islam correctly, Islam’s still a lie, and it needs the truth.
(“What is truth?” you ask? “”Truth is that which corresponds with reality, identifies things as they actually are, can never fail diminish change or be extinguished, must be able to be expressed in logical propositions, sourced in the God of the Bible, the author of all truth.” How can I be so brash and arrogant to say that I know the truth and Muslims don’t? The only reason I can be so brash and arrogant is that I have an independent, historically verified source for what I claim to be true. I base all my truth claims on the Bible and what the Bible assumes. The question you have to ask yourself is, “Is he right or wrong? Is what Stephen claims the same as what the Bible claims, and is what the Bible claims true?” How do you determine if it’s true? You ask yourself, “Do I have good reasons to believe that it’s true? Does it correspond with reality? Does it identify things as they actually are? Can it be expressed in logical propositions?” I believe the Bible has the best explanation and correspondence with reality, and that it must be true. If I’m wrong, we may find out after death, or we may never know… I’m just doing the best I can with what I have. Epistemology is a wonderful field when studied well.)
Back on Track:
Let’s assume for the sake of the rest of the post that you agree that Christianity is actually true and so everything that directly contradicts Christianity is actually false. Islam (both ISIS’s form and the general form) is in direct contradiction with Christianity because it does not teach that Jesus is God in flesh, salvation by grace instead of works, or Christ’s atonement for sins on the cross, three of the most essential teachings of Christianity.
Islam is a false gospel, it cannot save.
On top of the theological contradiction between Islam and Christianity, there is a stark moral contradiction between Christianity and ISIS in particular. ISIS says that killing those who refuse to convert is right, Christianity says that non-converts are God’s business. He will save whom he will. We are to continue to try and convert any and all through reason, preaching, and pleading, but we are to ultimately leave the salvific work to God should our warnings go unheeded. Not so for ISIS.
ISIS says that it is supposed to be God’s instrument for establishing God’s kingdom on earth, Christianity says (in italics because many Christians get this wrong) that Christ will establish His kingdom Himself and we are not supposed to build His kingdom on earth. The only “kingdom work” we do is finding future residents of that kingdom and printing them kingdom visas and green cards. We don’t build the kingdom here to usher Christ back to earth. ISIS says the opposite.
ISIS believes that any measure is justified in accomplishing the goal of making the whole earth Muslim, and their particular brand of Muslim. Christianity believes that the only extreme measures one should go to in converting a soul are extreme self-sacrifice, extreme humility, extreme love, and extreme service to others.
Christianity also believes that moral violations of the type that ISIS commits are reprehensible. Christianity knows that evil exists in this world because of the fall, and that the sins ISIS commits should be hated, as with all sin that all humans commit. We should hate the evil that ISIS does, even as we hate the evil we ourselves do. (That language is very specific and I will come back to it.)
How Should we see them?
We’ve been talking on an institutional level about what the institutions of Islam, ISIS, and Christianity teach. But now we have to go to the personal level. How do Christianity’s teachings affect how Christians should see Muslims (of any variety), as opposed to how Christians should see Islam. A Muslim is a human being, Islam is an institution. We’ve moved from the ideas to the people holding them.
As I said, we should hate the evil that ISIS does, even as we hate the evil we ourselves do. We should not hate the Muslims who do the evil. We should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Recognize, please, please recognize, that the members of ISIS are no different than you in that they are sinners in need of a savior. Please hate the things that they do without hating them.
Hating the sin and loving the sinner is the biblical standard, as much as many “Christians” today want to disregard the old saying. Hating evil and loving good is a Christian value, and Christians should be able to do it better than anyone else, because we are the only ones with direct access to the source of good, the source of morality.
We should primarily see the members of ISIS as lost sinners in need of the grace of Jesus Christ and we should want with all our heart that they would repent of the evil deeds they have committed and continue to commit. We should go to our graves, if necessary, in trying to bring them to that point of repentance, and though we may be required to kill ISIS members in the course of armed conflict, we must not enjoy the killing.
(Realize that this is how Christians should view ISIS and Muslims. This is not necessarily how the U.S. Government should view ISIS and Muslims. Again, I am ill-equipped and and unfit for the task of determining how the institution of government should view the institutions of ISIS and Islam. The best answer that I can give is to look to the constitution for an answer, all the while realizing that these earthly governments will pass away, but God’s government will reign forever.)
How should we respond to each?
The final question is the one I’ve actually been asked to answer. In light of the realities above, how should Christians respond both to ISIS and to Muslims (of any variety)? I’ve kind of already answered these questions, but I’m going to summarize them into points for you.
- Weep. Go ahead and feel the deep despair that wells up in you as a result of seeing such evil. Cry out for Christ to return. Beg him, plead with him, to come back this very moment so that evil itself might end. Do as Habakkuk in wailing to the lord, “How long?”
- Hate what is evil. ISIS as an institution is evil and we can and should hate the lies it purports and evil it achieves. Likewise, Islam, Atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and any other worldview that is not on the side of Christianity are evil and we can and should hate the lies they purport and the evil they achieve.
- Love what is good. There may be nothing good within the ISIS institution, other than the image of God inseparably stuck to its members. If that’s the only good in ISIS, love it alone.
- Fight against the evil. If you are willing and able, or called to do so, take up arms to stop the evil that ISIS commits. Devote your money, your time, your skills, your mind, to defeating ISIS because it is evil and we know that evil is wrong and must be put to death, and will ultimately be put to death. Killing is sometimes necessary and sometimes the right thing to do. I realize that’s a dangerous statement, and the cases when it is right are much fewer than when it is wrong, but I do believe there are some cases. Usually they involve military action or family defense. (I highly recommend C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Chapter 7 “Forgiveness” of book 3 in particular to think more about this.)
- Love them. Really truly love every Muslim you come into contact with, recognizing that they bear the image of God as one of His creations, and may be a member of His elect, destined to be one of His sons.
- Pray without ceasing that every Muslim might repent and believe in Jesus for salvation from their sins. Pray that those you come into contact with are elect.
- Preach the gospel in season and out of season. Tell Muslims that they are sinners in need of a savior then tell them about that savior.
Third, Specific Attacks:
- Feel helpless. Yes, you read that right. Feel helpless. Know that when these evils occur, there is nothing we can do to go back in time and prevent them from having occurred. Again, weep at the evil. Mourn the loss and the death that is a direct result of the fall in Genesis 3. Recognize that the only one who can do something about ISIS, or any sin and evil, in an ultimate sense is God Himself. We can do our part to fight the evil, but if we defeat ISIS, humans will still exist, and still be fallen, and so another institution will rise up and takes ISIS’s place. Feel helpless and let your helplessness lead you to the only source of help.
- Pray. Since your helplessness has led you to your knees, stay there a bit. Pray longer and harder, petitioning the Lord to return. Ask him to put an end to the curse we received in Genesis 3.
- Do whatever you can. If you’re geographically, financially, intellectually, or any otherly able to help respond to the attacks, then for God’s sake do it! Never let the helplessness of evil allow you to join in the evil of inaction.
As I look for a way to finish this post, I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul. He was the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the first century. He was the leader of a sect of Jews committed to killing every last Christian for the simple reason that they didn’t believe what he did. He was not beyond the reach of the gospel of Jesus Christ and his imminent return, and that gospel is the only hope for ISIS.
P.S. Something I wanted to say, but couldn’t find a good place for, is the fact that action in the current society looks a lot different than I think it used to. The need to preach the gospel with reckless abandon 100 years ago meant actually going out and preaching the gospel. Praying meant actually getting on your knees for hours at a time and praying, not posting the words, “Praying for you” as a status. If you’re going to petition the almighty for intercession in the affairs of the world he has created, why not take it a little more seriously than a facebook status? One thing I don’t think is helpful at all is these “movements.” Taking action has been reduced to changing your profile picture on facebook or drawing a red x on your hand. Raising awareness is all fine and dandy, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not taking action. Give money, give time, give yourself to the “causes” you support. Give up your job and move to the affected areas you want to change for the better. Donate half your income to an organization that trains locals in doing the work you can’t do. Do something substantive, don’t just talk about it.
Just a little side rant I’ve been wanting to write out for a long time, and hadn’t found a place for it.
 Paul R. Shockley