The Gospel is under attack - Part II

Posted by Fr. Tere on 08/29/2014

We continue with Part II of the Gospel Under Attack.

Wake up and smell the sulphur…

The second great vulnerability is in our lack of engagement with Islam. 

 Look at this recent map of the holdings of ISIS (also known as ISIL).

The “Islamic State” group(s) want to establish a stateless caliphate in which Sharia Law rules. Qānūn-e Islāmī (قانون اسلامی ), Islamic law, means “the moral code,” but it would be better understood to be an Islamic worldview imposed everywhere. Remember that “Islam” means “submission.” That is the heart difference between Islam and the Christian faith. When we come to Christ, He sets us free. In Islam, the law is imposed upon us. The militants who are advancing militarily believe that states need to be toppled and people need to:

(1) convert to Islam,

(2) pay dhimmi-unbeliever’s tax (which is crushing second class citizenship),

(3) flee, or

(4) die.

That is what they are imposing on the Yazidi and Christians in the Mosul area, and will everywhere they get the chance. 

The gravity and strategic significance of the map above is revealed when one overlays the road system of Iraq on it. Notice how virtually every road is dominated by ISIS troops.

These are not just the major roads, in most cases they are the only roads. That means that they can completely control the area if they can control the ground transportation, especially in the absence of US air power.

Apart from the Ramadi-Rutba Road, all of northern Iraq is under ISIS control, save Kurdistan. A tiny number of troops are utterly controlling vast areas of territory, and inflicting horrible violence on the population. This atrocity absolutely requires a strategic response. Not only must we respond in this location, we need to engage with Islam in other areas as well.

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to meet with one of the very top Islamic leaders in another nation. He was quite engaging, and our conversation had a lot of favor on it. Things went so well, that we decided to proceed from our meeting to lunch. Much to the amazement of the “aides” who were along, I took the opportunity to respond to what I believed to be an inner prompting of the Holy Spirit (please note, I am not advocating adopting this as a wholesale strategy for Islamic engagement. I believe, though, that it was the right thing for this time.)

I was not sure where things would lead when I said to him, “Most of the time, all our interfaith conversations are limited to topics around which we can find agreement. Things like weather and superficial topics. Would you like to invest our lunch-time conversation in identifying the areas about which we completely disagree?”

He replied, “Yes,” that it would be an “interesting conversation.”

We went on to discuss the central difference of the understanding of who Jesus is. He came from the perspective of Jesus being a holy prophet. I came from the orthodox position that He is God and man—two natures in one person––fully God and fully man. The conversation was lively and quite animated, but very congenial. Neither of us was really expecting to change the mind of the other. Eventually, the conversation took an interesting turn. To this point, we had communicated well with good will. Even though there was disagreement, we were developing a friendship. We had talked about the extremists with whom he had to deal, and I was able to speak sincerely about some Christians who say and do things that are not helpful. With the relational equity that was developing, we were able to even talk about atonement—the concept of how we who are separated from God by sin can be “at-one” with Him.

I have found that a wonderful way to engage in cross-cultural conversation is to ask a question, but it must be one genuinely framed. I said, “Could I ask something about atonement – how we become one with God—or you may say ‘closer to God’?”

He replied, “Yes, of course.”

I asked, “For Christians, we become one with God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. In keeping with the sacrificial system of the Pentateuch (which Muslims accept to be authoritative), Jesus Christ, Who is both God and sinless man, freely offered Himself as a sacrifice fulfilling the demands of the Old Testament sacrificial system, pouring his life-blood into our curse of separation and death so that we can be restored to intimacy with God the Father from whom we have been estranged. Isn’t there a parallel with radical Muslims who believe that they must shed their own blood in order to inherit Paradise? Aren’t they relying on shed blood, too?”

“Yes,” he said. “Though many of us would not agree with them. Some, perhaps many, are doing that.”

“Would that blood sacrifice be sufficient to bring a person into intimacy with God as Father?” I asked.

“We would not think in those terms—Paradise for us is different from that,” he replied.

“What if God Himself were to shed His own blood? What could that win? What could that produce?” I asked.

“I will have to think on that,” he said. “Perhaps for another conversation.”

Please understand, I am NOT suggesting such a line of conversation with Muslims you might meet. I do think that we must engage Muslims with meaningful dialogue. We have been so disappointed with the fruit (or lack of it) from dialogue in our own tribe, we may well be hesitant to engage in it with Muslims. We must rethink that. At least some of us need to become equipped to have those conversations. All of us need to be mobilized to pray as a matter of urgency that the Lord will anoint substantive conversations. I firmly believe that when the Gospel is given a level playing field in conversation and life experience, it will win the day.

 Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America has called us to pray diligently for the situation in Iraq and Syria and other places where Christians are under assault from radical Islam. To fail to do so will be devastating for the Christians who live in those regions. It will also be at our own peril. If not stopped now, it will march until it is next door.

Now, in addition to looking for the right places for conversation with Muslims, I pray for my new friend. I also pray that the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ will visit him in his dreams and experiences. I can hardly wait until we get to speak again.

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