In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon,
there has been much public debate about the nature of Islam, particularly
in the Arab and central Asian regions. Many say that Islam worships
the same God as does Judaism and Christianity, that it is inherently
a peaceful religion, and that Islamic extremists are no different than extremists found
in any culture or religion. Others say Islam worships a false god and
is inherently warlike.
My interest in First the Gospel, Then Politics... resides
in the reality of the God of Genesis 1-2. He is good, and he made all
men and women in his image to share his goodness. But as sin is introduced
in Genesis 3, evil comes into the world and affects all of us in one
way or another. Jesus is the Messiah in whom all the goodness is restored
for those who trust in him, and thus the "Gospel" of Jesus Christ is
rooted in the Greek word for "preaching the good news."
We need Good News at a time like this, and specially as we look at
a protracted and worldwide war against terrorist cells, their support
networks, and even nations. Many issues will prove very complex, and thus
we need an honest grappling with history, where foundational
and interpretive truths are learned. This is The Love of
Hard Questions. We need to know how to preach and demonstrate the
Good News as Paul did on Mars Hill in Acts 17, when he took the truest
hopes of the pagan Greek poets, and aimed them not toward an unknown
God, but toward the true God and Creator of us all.
This series will consist of concise segments so you
can spend just a few minutes with each segment and grasp some edifying
information. I will be rereading the Qur'an, the holy book
of the Muslims, and I will be rereading and further researching Islamic
history. I am starting with the authoritative translation of the Qur'an
from Arabic into English by 'Abdullah Yusuf 'Ali, first published
in 1989. And the first of many books I will read is the classic "Mohammed
and the Rise of Islam," by D.S. Margoliouth (1905). I will read those
who support the superiority of Islam, those who seek to syncretize
it with Judaism and Christianity, and those who oppose Islam as a
An ancient proverb in the Arab world goes something like
this: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." When, in Matthew 22, the
Pharisees and the Herodians sought to trip up Jesus, they were fulfilling
this proverb. They hated each other (with their opposing political
philosophies), but they hated Jesus more. After they failed to trip
up Jesus, a third party, the Sadducees, who hated both the Pharisees
and Herodians, tried their hand at opposing Jesus. After they failed,
all three parties were again enemies of each other.
In the early 1980s, the United States helped create the "religious
schools" of Islamic extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan,
in order to counter the Soviet Union's attack on Afghanistan. These extremists
were cultivated because they were such fierce fighters, as the Soviets
learned. But in so doing, as a nation, we banked on the old Arab proverb.
We did not realize the backside of such a proverb, in my own words:
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend, until we defeat the common enemy,
and our new friend becomes our new enemy." This is who Osama Bin Laden
is. He, and those with him, took American money and training to drive
out the Russian "infidels." Now they have built upon that training,
and have formed the Al-Qaida network and other terrorist organizations
to kick the American "infidels" out of their Islamic world. The enemy
of our enemy has struck us with vengeance.
How do we proceed from here as a nation, and not create such a backlash
again, while we necessarily need to put an end to these terrorist cells?
I do not know, except that I have great faith in the power of the Gospel
to break down any barrier. Thus, I will be thinking out loud with
you as I write this series, and always grateful for your input. If we
take seriously the image of God in all people, then we need to honestly
learn about other peoples and their religions before we can make a difference
in a broken world.
I studied Islam in both college and graduate school, but it has been
some years. That is why I must, for integrity's sake, go to the original
sources once again, and work from there to the present. I have several
assumptions based on my prior study:
1. Islam never did and does not worship the God of the
2. Most Muslims, especially outside western
civilization, do not have first-hand knowledge of the Bible.
3. All Muslims are made in the image of God, and deserve
the unalienable rights God gives all of us.
4. Biblically faithful Christians will love those who
count themselves our enemies.
5. Biblically faithful Christians will work hard to
learn how to communicate that love in the most difficult of times.
John Rankin is the Founder and President of the Theological
Education Institue (TEI) of Hartford, Connecticut. He is the author
of the three-volume series "First The Gospel, Then Politics" and host
of "The Mars Hill Forum Series," which asks the toughest questions of
Rev. Rankin has his Masters of Theology (Th.M) from Harvard
Divinity School and is a graduate of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.