Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Praying for Peace for Abraham's Children

The Bible calls upon Christians to pray for those in authority in the government so that Christians may "lead a peaceful and quiet life" (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Given how corrupt the political process is, I
sometimes struggle with whether this passage can be extended to mean that we should pray for the outcome of elections (to me it's just about like praying for someone to win a mud wrestling match).   But since the Bible teaches that God's providence is still active, and that He listens to our prayers, today I am praying for the defeat of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel's election, and that he is not able to cobble together a coalition government with his extremist allies. And the reason is very simple: peace.

Right now over four million Palestinians live under the military occupation of Israel. For decades the international community, including the United States, has promised the Palestinians that their grievances would be dealt with. From the unanimous UN Resolution 242 (which called for withdrawal of the Israeli armed forced from the occupied territories and the resolution of peaceful and secure borders for all parties involved), to the Camp David Accords in 1978, to the Oslo Accords in 1993, the United States has repeatedly placed its national honor at stake in finding a just and peaceful solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Understanding ISIS

Recently I enjoyed a wonderful conversation with a friend of mine who was raised a Muslim and became a Christian. It was only natural that we began to discuss the atrocities committed by ISIS, and the unfortunate way that some people stigmatize all Muslims as essentially nothing more than radicals and terrorists. So I have been thinking about a way to try to explain what ISIS represents to Muslims as a whole, and to do so in terms familiar to Christians. Here's my best shot.

From a Christian point of view, we believe that the story of the Old Testament was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In the language of Paul, the Law of Moses was a shadow that pointed to the reality of Christ (Colossians 2:15). And while the Old Testament contains many prophecies that - if interpreted literally - sound like a militaristic Messiah was going to subjugate the Gentiles and restore Israel as the center of the earth, ruling over the nations with a "rod of iron" (Psalm 2:9), the New Testament explains that the rule of Jesus is spiritual rather than martial, and that His kingdom is not secured by military might (John 18:36).

But suppose you were a Jewish person who did not believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. And suppose further that you believe the Old Testament should be interpreted very literally, and very scrupulously. In fact, suppose you believe the following:

  • That the penal code found in the Law of Moses should still be followed, including stoning adulterers and homosexuals (Leviticus 18), and those who teach another religion (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
  • That the land promised to Abraham - from Egypt to the Euphrates - is the rightful possession of Israel, and that Jews have the divine right to use the same tactics as Joshua and the Israelites in the conquest, including slaughtering men, women and children, to regain this territory.
  • That you should purify your people from false doctrine and sin to prepare them for the coming of the true Messiah, just as Malachi promised (Malachi 3:1-4).
The reality is that not many fellow Jews would follow your lead. Not many Jews want to embrace the penal code of the Law of Moses, or believe that the conquests of Joshua are normative for today, or that Jews who aren't practicing, orthodox Jews should be executed. There is a growing problem of right-wing religious extremism in Israel (see this article), but it is still a decided minority. And that's why the scenario I laid out is merely hypothetical.

But what I just outlined as a hypothetical is the reality in the case of ISIS. The radical clerics who are the driving force behind ISIS have opted for a very literal interpretation of certain parts of the Quran and certain reports from the life of Muhammad (called hadith). Abu

Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-professed leader of ISIS, has decided to proclaim himself leader (caliph), and impose this ideology on the Islamic world. The vast majority of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims do not want to live under his interpretation of Islamic law (shariah), and do not agree that the wars between Muhammad and the Meccans provide a normative pattern for all time, and do not believe Muslims who disagree should be executed. Hundreds of Muslim leaders have written an open letter to al-Baghdadi to make this clear. 

This in no way diminishes the real horrors perpetrated by ISIS. Nor does it minimize the grave dangers posed by ISIS, for - unlike my hypothetical example - there are many Muslims to whom this ideology is very appealing, so much so they are traveling to Syria to help al-Baghdadi try to establish his medieval nightmare. But this movement is a fringe movement in the larger Muslim population, and indeed, Muslims are by far the greatest victims of its atrocities. And it seems to me that it will be up to Muslims to stop it.

But the main point I want to make in this post is that we must be careful - especially as Christians who are supposed to be interested in the truth - not to carelessly sweep all Muslims under the same rug. Loving others means treating them as we would want to be treated - and what Christian wants to be lumped in the same category as the Westboro Baptist Church lunatics who protest at military funerals? And love also means we have a passion to share the gospel, but painting all Muslims with the broad brush of radicalism will raise needless barriers to reaching people like my friend. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Year in Review Book Recommendations

(Personal Note from Shane: My apologies for not updating the blog more often this year. The fall has been a busy season for Kristi and me. Just after I made the previous post we found out that her cancer had returned and metastasized. So our fall has been dominated by doctor appointments and visits to receive treatment. Please keep Kristi in your prayers).

I thought I would kick off the New Year with a look back at some books that I really enjoyed reading in 2014. This is not a list of books published in 2014, but books that I used in connection with my preaching and teaching. And of course, all caveats apply here - these are books written by fallible people from across a wide spectrum of belief. Judge all books by the authority of Christ! And so, in no particular order...

The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. By Edward Feser

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Notes on Islam: Jihad and Terrorism

Probably the one Islamic term more Americans know than any other is jihad. However, what this word means and its implications for Islam are often misunderstood. To many Americans, it means “holy war,” and it is the motto of Islamic terrorism. In this post we I will examine what the Quran actually says about jihad, warfare, and terrorism.

The Meaning of Jihad
Jihad comes from the Arabic root jahada, “putting forth a great effort to achieve a goal.” Those who practice jihad are called mujahidin. The word jihad actually occurs only four times in the Quran (9:24; 22:77-78; 25:48-52; 60:1), and in none of these instances is it explicitly about violence. For most Muslims, jihad refers to the spiritual struggle to live according to the teachings of God.

Warfare in the Quran
There are many references to literal warfare and combat in the Quran, and in Islamic tradition. But is it true that terrorists like Usama bin Laden are simply obeying the Quran?

According to some critics, the answer is yes. “Islam does in fact have an essential and indispensable tenet of militaristic conquest. The terrorists were not some fringe group that changed the Qur'an to suit political ends. They understood the Qur'an quite well and followed the teachings of jihad to the letter." (Unveiling Islam, p. 184).

It is especially common to find websites which isolate verses in the Quran that talk about making war against unbelievers, sometimes called the “sword verses.” The most widely quoted is Surah 9:5:

5 When the [four] forbidden months are over, wherever you encounter the idolaters, kill them, seize them, besiege them, wait for them at every lookout post…

Curiously, many critics of Islam fail to quote Surah 9:5 in its entirety. Here is the rest of the verse, along with the following verse:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Galatians 6:11-18 Notes

The conclusion of Galatians differs from the conclusion to Paul’s other letters in many respects:
  • There is no mention of future travel plans.
  • There is no request for prayers on Paul’s behalf.
  • There are no greetings to individuals among the Galatians.
  • There is no doxology (statement of praise to God).

This may simply be because this is Paul’s first letter, and therefore it is unfair to compare it to the others. But it could be due to the stark issues at stake in the letter. While this conclusion is different from that of his other letters, it does serve the important purpose of summarizing the key arguments in the letter, such as the ulterior motives of the Judaizers and the sufficiency of the cross.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Twenty-Five Years of Preaching - What I Wish I Had Done Differently

On May 14, 1989, I preached my first sermon as a “full-time” preacher. I can’t believe it has been 25 years! I have so many wonderful memories of my first work with the Oak Hill church outside of Mount Sterling, KY. And to be honest, I have been spoiled by the members everywhere I have preached. God has blessed me with wonderful relationships through the years in the various churches I have worked with.

Since this is a milestone year of sorts for me, I have been reflecting on what I would do differently if I was just now starting full time ministry in the word. Knowing what I know now, with a quarter century’s worth of hindsight, here are some random reflections. I hope that these thoughts can be of help to any younger men who are considering preaching or who have already begun to preach. And of course, I would love for those of you who have been preaching even longer than I have to share your thoughts as well.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Galatians 6:1-10 Notes

In this passage Paul continues to discuss walking by the Spirit rather than the flesh. Many commentators see these admonitions as random exhortations, but I believe they are tied into the overall context of the book. In 5:16-26 we noticed that Paul focused on issues of conflict within the community. The issues he raises here in 6:1-10 have the same theme: how those who walk by the Spirit should treat each other.