The Islamization of Christianity
Udo W. Middelmann
The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation
Chalet Les Montaux, CH 1882 Gryon, Switzerland #41 24 498 1656
Our world continues to grow together as a result of trade and travel. International organizations bring people from formerly separated worlds into contact. Ideas and cultures merge as old boundaries melt away in cosmopolitan encounters. A result is the growing fascination with other religions. After the wave of interest in India and areas further East earlier in this generation, Islam receives much attention in our days.
The rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the war between Muslim Bosnians and Orthodox Serbs as one of conflicts along the fault lines between Islam and other cultures stir us to discover the more moderate, cultured roots of the important heritage, theology and culture of historic Islam. The extremes do not dismiss the core of Islam. Instead, curiosity and admiration lead to a fascination with Islam in the Western culture with its characteristics carved into Biblical features from earlier paganism.
The recent increase in wealth of most Islamic countries due to the oil trade has made the expression of Islamic thought and culture a world wide phenomenon. Mosques or Islamic cultural centers are now found in the major cities of the world. Islam presents itself to many as an alternative to Christianity. For some it is a more hopeful and coherent religion after the perceived failure of Christianity to provide a stable cultural and moral framework. The growth of Islam among non-white people in traditionally European contexts is partially related to Islam declaring to be, with some violence to geography, an African religion.
Sharing the same world, large trade of a commodity needed in the industrialized world and the search for a solution to the Arab/Israeli stand-off have awakened us to an old discussion of the significance and cultural energy of Islam.
These factors contribute in some way to the manner in which we view Islam. Today we respond more favorably to the Islamic world pressing on the belly of the European/American world view. No longer are the gates of Vienna challenged by Islamic hordes. Many invite Islam to challenge our traditional view of the world from a Biblical and rational perspective.
There are two areas in which there is a process of the Islamization of Christianity under way. The first is the attempt to harmonize two different religions, two different ways of explaining the world, the place of the human beings and the purpose of life. The second is a more subtle move of some Christian circles to embrace what is fundamentally an Islamic view of God and man, of life in history. It may turn out to be an insidious merger on the level of theology, coming to a common view of God. I would suggest that while the former is pathetic and culturally superficial, the latter is a destruction of the uniqueness of Christianity and the Bible. In both cases, the result is an embrace of a view point antithetical to our view of God and man in the name of religion. This can not but effect dramatically the way we live, think and morally order our lives.
1) Harmony of Religion
The culture and societies influenced by historic Christianity are in crisis. They have created space for both believers and unbelievers to live and function side by side. The confidence about a discernible truth and the hope for reasonable people has nurtured a degree of toleration unmatched in religious communities elsewhere. Even when we don't agree on the transcendent, at least we live in the same social and material context.
Other religious perspectives know reality only with a transcendent dimension. There is more to life than meets the eye or the laboratory. The world of facts is in direct relation to the world of meaning and of purpose. To them, secularism, i.e. the view that lives and events are adequately organized and understood as they appear in time without reference to God, is a thoroughly Christian phenomenon. It robs a part of the divine from the gods and makes it knowable as such. What is a form of blasphemy for them is for the Christian the affirmation that there is a real creation, which can be known partially even when one does not know the Creator.
The accusation raised against the Western world has several prongs. We are accused of materialism, neglecting the spiritual dimension, and finding no basic purpose and meaning to things. Matter is reduced to its mechanical components and studied independently of meaning, responsibility, and purpose. It is separated from the concerns about the transcendent, of philosophy and of revelation. It merely exists, but contains no statement of purpose. Without a creator, matter can not be a created thing, but it is still valuable to man.
This separation of fact from meaning is secularism. We divide the world easily into a world of faith and meaning on one hand and into the world of facts on the other. The results is an a-moral treatment of matter. Ultimately it denies the person, for the body is also reduced to its material components. Certainly it produces a mentality of irresponsibility, for there is no one to whom we must explain the use of matter.
A second accusation is directed at our individualism. We have accepted the call to be people with names, individuals with importance. We sign our art, reward accomplishments and leave much of life to personal choice. The Bible gives that dignity to people. However, the individual becomes an individualist, when he separates himself from all others, from social relations and obligations as well as from God. In his autonomy he plays god and creates his own world. We invent justifications for what we want to do as we go along. We believe what we want to about marriage and the unborn, about law and justice, about God and man. Our neighbors are the people we like. We assume rights and have no shame to voice our unexamined and untried opinions as relevant or true.
Thirdly, we are accused because of the rise of private and public immorality. Our culture expresses individualism also in the realm of personal morals. We bow to no authority but our feeling. We insist on our rights, but accept few responsibilities. We do what feels good and pay little, if any, attention to the larger discussion about taste, morality and the lives of others.
We readily see some basis to these accusations. The cultural cohesion and manner of life in the Islamic community appeal to many. They feel uneasy about the extend of materialism, individualism and flaunted immorality. They recognize the cultural, social and spiritual decadence. They find in Islam an alternative of spiritual order, of community and of public morality.
Islam also appeals because of its supposed proximity to Judaism and Christianity. It is grouped as one of the three monotheistic religions. Lessing wrote the Ring Parable in "Nathan the Wise" to give a rationalist response to religious rivalry. God revealed his truth to the three brothers, whom the father loves equally. None of them knows which ring is the original and which are the two copies. They all know of the equal love of the father.
In the modern religious climate truth is associated with the intention rather than with formal propositions. It makes it easier to assume a family relation between Christianity and Islam. When the former is believed to have become a failure, visible in the disorder and cultural decline of the West, the latter is readily welcomed as a more stable brother. At previous times in European history a mixture of cultural uncertainty and political malaise at home had awakened an almost exotic interest in the Near East. The appreciation of the Islamic cultural contribution to European history was only surpassed by the fascination with Islamic mysticism and its oriental pageantry.
We are in a similar situation. We are overcome by doubt when we discover the excessive individualism in our culture. We are then prone to reject the individual emphasis so central to the Bible's view of the person. Likewise, it is easy to discredit the study of the material world by means of scientific rationality, when we face the results of scientism in human and ecological costs. One way to combat personal decadence is to deny the right of people to make their own moral choices. But, in the desire to correct an excess it is easy to deny the individual the space to exist as a person in a rational universe and the responsibility to study it in order to be able to survive in it.
Some Christian circles believe that personal sin is really the outworking of structural evil. They assume that a flaw and inconsistency is the result of a larger context, not of personal choice. In this discussion they might suggest that Christianity makes people become individualistic, pursue science autonomously and make private moral choices. It is the system's fault, not the result of a faulty and irresponsible understanding of Biblical revelation.
Their feeling of discomfort can only be relieved by a radical solution to save the world from disaster. It is found in adopting Islamic notions and practices as additions and correctives to what is seen as Biblical views, in order to remove the un-Biblical practices in our social and cultural context. I would liken this to the effort to help a patient in hospital by taking away his life-support system. He will never again get ill.
The admission of a world with problems in our own back yard makes people grasp after the straw of Islamic spiritual alternatives. Our public morality must be brought in line with God's teaching. Our life must rediscover the value of community. We are faced with the disastrous results of materialism. It is time that we link our scientific studies again with the world of the transcendent, with responsibility, with a search for the spiritual dimension of science. The material world is seen as part of the mystery of life to be preserved in the cosmos. It is not a neutral thing in itself, to be studied and changed along moral expectations of human being..
Islam is an impressive alternative model. If Christianity produces problems, Islam can be a response to our cultural malaise. When materialism, individualism and immorality are seen as fruits of Christianity rather than an aberration in human sin, the Islamic view of God, man and the cosmos is a variant with impressive social and moral benefits.
The Islamic religion, when separated from the radicals, produces agreeable results. There is no secular world in distinction to the religious world of practice. Their spiritual life is public and openly confessional. It includes all of life in one field of knowledge and experience. Their laws produce a sense of shame, a fear of punishment and thereby public morals. Sensuality is seemingly hidden. Everyone willingly accepts their place in the established and spiritual order of things and society.
Here may lie the background for the increasing chorus of voices advising us about what we can learn form Islam to restore the moral, cultural and intellectual fiber to our society. The extremes of fundamentalism in Islam enable us to overlook the serious divergence from reality in Islam. When we reject the extremes, the remaining differences seem to be minor. In fact, the greatest appeal lies in the suggested harmony of all Being. Allah and his prophet, God and man, Creator and creation, private obedience and public faith, all events as the will of Allah, and, finally, the claim to be the last and universal revelation of God: all add up to a picture of union and harmony.
Yet to any serious student Islam as a world view is totally different from Christianity. Its community is created at the expense of personal responsibility. Its morality is public, but achieved through severe punishment and an insistence on mindless obedience. Its spirituality is repetitious and impersonal, not a chosen and deliberate love of God with all your heart, mind and soul. Its religious view of the material world is fatalistic, for it forbids any interference with nature. The natural flow of events must not be tampered with. Science is the observation of nature as a manifestation of the divine will. But it is not a way to study the use of nature for the sake of better dominion.
Islam is a religion of resignation to inhuman and questionable moral results in the lives of people. Allah made the world, and you must accept the way it interacts with you, even should it kill you. You are allowed no questions, no doubt, no individual responsibility. Negation of self is your salvation. One abstains from sin by not making choices, rather than by love and educated obedience.
Islam, in the words of an Islamic scholar, is much closer to the religions of India and further East than to Christianity. It is the religion of one God, but that unity is one of principle, not of moral character. Islam teaches that all events and realities are in direct agreement with Allah. He wills what comes to pass. The standard statement among Muslims for submission to that agreement is "Ensh'allah": If Allah wills. Any certainty is not the result of doubt removed by answers, but of the refusal to doubt in the first place. All of life is a process, which Allah directs. There is no life, no history, no matter outside of Allah. He is not only in total control. He is totality of Being.
The submission to what happens as the acceptance of an exclusive, if inscrutable purpose, is common to all religions outside the Old and New Testaments. The Greeks had their fate. The African tribal religions have their occult circles of interaction. South American paganism has the place of man caught in the forces of evil. Hinduism has all people caught in the system of darma with repeated reincarnations. Job's friends saw a closed system of suffering and personal sin. Fate is the common view.
Only Judaism and Christianity has ever called people out of submission to fate by a moral and intellectual act of believing God. We live by God's word, not by bread, by events in history or by following the example of nature. There is a fallen world, which is not the mirror of the divine. Life, not nature; man and woman, not the collective; discernment, not submission; Jehovah, not Ba'al of the fertility rites; moral stands instead of lying down together in ungrounded spiritual exercises.
Islam has no secular thought, and is shocked at our secularism, because it allows for no doubt about the real world. It assumes that reality is the way Allah wanted it. Tough luck, if you don't like it or if it hurts. Retrain your senses to see the good in it. The problems people have with reality lie in their minds. This is a clear parallel to Eastern religions, a stark contrast to the Bible.
Islam is not only shocked at our obvious secular mentality. It is foreign to it how any slice of life could be lived without a regard to God's mind. The idea that man could be autonomous is foreign to all but those who have found the dignity and freedom of people originally given in the Bible. Only Christianity and Judaism has made room for atheists and, though disapproving, lets them live with honor.
Islam is also shocked at our scientific mentality, which seeks to change the way nature functions when left to itself. Our inquiry into the working of nature in order to make use of the knowledge to redirect the ways of nature is seen as blasphemous. For we question the finality of the way things are. We work from the perspective of the Fall as well as Creation.
Jewish and Christian thought, informed by the Bible, will seek to make the dessert bloom. Thorns and thistles are to be restrained by the sweat of the brow. Wells need to be dug to feed the growing herd. For the Islamic mind, this interference is an objection to what Allah designed for you to teach obedience. It assumes a link between Allah and the real world, a moral and possible ontological continuity stretching through all existence. Islam does not know of the Fall.
Islam also does not know the personal character of the infinite God. The God of the Bible is limited to his personal characteristics. In these he is inexhaustible, but he could not be a different god. He is also limited in other ways, for He created a world outside himself. In addition our historic choices will affect him and change the nature of his relationship to us. We can plead with him and change the course of history. There is a dynamic between persons, including the persons of the Trinitarian God, in the Bible.
This can not be said of Islam, where Allah is addressed as the merciful, but his mercy is never evident or experienced, except by the belief that whatever happens is an act of God's mercy: life or death, famine or plenty: all is one, Allah!
Islam was an effort to set the one order of Monotheism against the pluralism of Arabian pagan religions. It began to control people and societies by explaining all things in relation to Allah, who had spoken through his prophet. Culturally it did away with the chaos of polytheism. However, without the Trinity of the Bible there never was communication or discussion in the Islamic deity. There is only ultimate unity.
Consequently, Islam rejects all discussion about itself. It is all unity without diversity. Those who differ are enemies. There are no other possible views in its realm. Islamic schools of thought must fight each other. There is no history of debate in the way you will find it in the Jewish tradition or the scholastic debates. There are no arguments for the sake of heaven. There is only the Koran repeated by the faithful, but never expounded or even translated. In the uncritical repetition of the text lies the avenue to spiritual life.
Islam offers a universal arrangement for society, uniting people in public prayer, in the obligation to give alms and in the common recital of "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." It even unites all religions by absorption, with its idea that Jesus was an earlier prophet, now superseded by Mohammed. Islam denies the Trinity, because there is no room for real personal existence, for discussion before and after creation. There are no loose ends, no reality of prayer effecting anything in God. Moses, had he been a Muslim, could not have interceded for the people. Therefore, there is also no Savior and no compassion. Job would have had to be satisfied with his pious, but immoral friends.
Allah is therefore never described as weeping over Mecca, while Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. Jesus reaches out and touches the sick, He delivers those in the hands of demons. He lets the rich man go away, but still loves him. He stilled the waves on the Sea of Galilee. The Church took its cue and obligation from this distance between God and nature, His holiness and the fallen world. She stood up to what is seen as fate, sin and a fallen nature to improve the intellectual, spiritual and practical life of Man.
This is made possible, because in the Bible God is not identified with what happens naturally or statistically. We must therefore argue with reality before God. Wisdom is not drawn from nature, but from revelation rightly understood. There are false and true prophets, good and bad priests, just and unjust judges. Discussion leads to discovery to make wise and moral decisions.
The appeal of Islam lies in the call for an uncritical submission to whatever comes to pass. Each thing and event has its divinely appointed time and place. The group acts communally. All doubt is removed, all discussion silenced, all loose ends tied up. It is a way to approve of what happens, to seal the box of doubt and query. There is something deeply satisfying in such a world. We learn to take one thing at a time, while being able to approve it without reservation. Where our doubt crop up, we remove them with the belief in our finiteness, our ignorance and God's superior wisdom.
2) Harmony in Theology
When life gets tough, we have all heard here and there in Christian circles one or the other of the following comments: It was the right time for her to die. God must have had something better in mind. God in his grace took him home to himself. God allowed it to happen. He made it come to pass. God must have wanted it that way.
Wait a minute! Are these comments typical for Islam or do we hear and read them in wide circles of the contemporary church? They have a ring of familiarity about them. They are the comments made in the face of what we used to consider tragedies. People comfort each other by these words!
To the extend to which we agree with these statements and find them a comfort, we have ourselves moved over from a Biblical perspective to an Islamic one. The change can be gradual and insidious, but we have redefined God for the sake of our peace, our longing to make life in a fallen world less absurd existentially. We have found a way to make the experience of brokenness acceptable: we assume that it was acceptable to God.
Worse, we have redefined God. He now becomes the one who authors good and evil. We declare our inability to understand, then turn around and suggest that he must have thought it to be good. We are no longer partners of a God who is a war with a fallen world, who grieves over death and who has pity and compassion for people caught in a horrible situation after the fall. That God has been banished by us.
We may not have noticed this subtle, but radical change in our thinking. It leads finally to immoral consequences. If Islam considers doubt and questions a blasphemy, it is equally blasphemous for Christians to stop the complaint about death in its many forms and to assume that God identifies with everything that happens. Many have in fact become friends of the friends of Job. They overlook that much on earth is not right. It is even absurd. There is a war going on in heaven, with consequences in the life of Job and each believer. Life in war is a mess, and the just suffer without cause.
The will of the Lord is precisely not yet being done on earth in the same way it is already being done in heaven. The Lord's prayer encourages us to pray for a future time when there will be no such discontinuity. In the world today it is very real and painful. There is no tidy world in the Bible. We are not allowed to bow to fateful circumstances, but to question them and to resist them, where that is morally demanded. Even Joseph did not resign himself to being sold to Egypt. Though God would turn to good what his brothers had meant for evil, Joseph rightly asks the steward to remember him before Pharaoh, lest be left to rot in prison alone. The cause of the tragedy was not the will of the Lord.
The view that God wills all things on earth is often the result of a genuine search for spirituality. We want to obey, to believe correctly and to give God the glory. Trouble is that this is the wrong way to go about it. Obedience is not blind, but informed. Faith is believing certain things about God and the world, informed by Scripture. The glory of God is identified with his holy character, a distinct, moral and resolute personality, who fights evil, death and confusion.
Spirituality is not the opposite of thoughtfulness. It is not an embrace of alternate categories and priorities. Spirituality is not irrationality. It is also not an antithesis to material concerns. Spirituality in the Bible is the response with our sprit to what God's Spirit has told us in the Scriptures (I. Corinthians 2:6 ff)and confirms to us by His presence. We are filled with the Spirit, when we have more, not less discernment (Eph. 5:18). The Spirit of God will lead us into truth, not away from it. He will make us more sensitive to wrong as we read his word and compare it with the reality of life. This includes wrong ideas about God. He will remind us of what He, the Spirit, has revealed through the prophets and apostles (2. Peter 1:19ff).
Christ was grieved, deeply moved in the Spirit(John 11:33)to weep, to be troubled about such a hideous reality as death in his created world after the fall of Adam. To be spiritual then involves the courage to oppose the results of the Fall and to complain to God, not against him. You will show your submission to Him in your refusal to accept the outworking of man's rebellion in reality as final , inevitable and good. God's world is spoiled. History is not holy, normal or approved. God is at war against it, and He will win.
There is no way to make peace with normality in a fallen world. The church has brought forth through its teaching doctors, judges, teachers, soldiers, journalists and others, who dare to stand against the silence of nature, of the normal. They make no trouble except to those who want to have a quiet public in silent resignation. Justice is our concern, not peace at any price. There is a warning against those who call :Peace, Peace, when there is no peace! in a number of setting in the Old Testament.
The temptation is great to find a way to approve of what happens. Were one to do so, one would embrace a closed, sealed and finished situation. None of us likes an unresolved situation. But life in the fallen world will remain unresolved until Christ returns. Only then will there be everlasting righteousness.
We want to have a program that would explain to us why things happen. It is easy to find a mechanical explanation for mechanical problems. Open the operating manuals of any machine and you find the solution to the problem. We want something or someone to be responsible. Little wonder that we would like to find a similar manual to explain human tragedies and to resolve them.
It is more than sad that we make God be the author of that program. We assume He approved the events. We readily accept the version that He allows it to happen. He could have stopped it, but didn't. Therefore, though we do not understand, it must have been right. For a higher purpose, inaccessible to us, rooted in the inscrutable counsel of his holy will, he has determined that... the child should die and Hitler should live a little longer with his program of genocide.
We cringe, but are told to accept it in deep humility. We don't understand, but must see it spiritually. We argue with it, but are told that we are face to face with a mystery! We are told that is all part of the sovereignty of God, as if that left no questions unanswered.
The Bible demands that we reject this submission to tragedy. There should be no insidious acceptance of Islamic thought by way of resignation. This line of thinking identifies God with whatever comes to pass. Yet the God of the Bible is removed from what comes to pass in two ways.
First, God created a universe outside himself. He is not in it and does not identify with it. When he made it, it was good. It was an unfinished world. Adam was to name the animals and to have dominion over it. He could and would arrange things differently. Apple trees would have apples. People would have children. But much was left to the creative work of men and women. Therefore to discover the way of nature and to find ways to change it is part of the original creation and not an act of rebellion.
Secondly, that good creation has been affected by the sin of man. It is no longer good, but broken. It is not in all its parts the reflection of the character of God. Consequently we must ask God to what extend he agrees with the way things are now. What should we do about life in a fallen world? What is He willing to invest anew? Does He approve the ways of history?
Certainly the Bible reveals a God, who does not have other gods beside or behind himself. There is noone else to call the shots or to whom God needs to bow. He will accomplish fully what He has planned. He will do this in His own way. All details are known by Him. He is intimately, personally and directly involved in the whole process. He is not surprised by anything that happens. He knows the end from the beginning.
But, and this is an important "but", God's sovereignty in no way implies a functional control. There are events which occur without God's hand the only one at the tiller. Our prayer can effect a change. At no time is God's sovereignty limited by free moral agents. But His ways are effected. Prayer, like anything else, changes things no only for us, but also for God. In the same way, our actions change all of history.
Sovereignty does not suggest that God can do all things at all times, only He chooses not to. Some things are impossible even for God. His infinity is not a characteristic, but a measure of his personality and existence. His love or justice will never come to an end. But He can not lie, and still continue to be God. He is able to direct all things, but will not be able to bring the resurrection until the return of Christ. His sovereignty does not imply that He could do all things by tonight. But He will be able to do all things in time, as He continues to work on our behalf and His.
Some things He can do now, others later. He could raise Lazarus from the dead, but He could not give him a resurrection body yet. He can not yet create a world in which 5 year-old do not get run over by a truck. We wait for the return of the Lord. Until then we weep, but not as those who have no hope or those, who doubt the sovereignty of God. We test all things and accept only what is good. We oppose evil with concrete measures, without opposing God or defying His will.
Sovereignty is not a control mechanism. The Bible speaks of God being accountable to no one. He is able to bring about what he has planned. He is the victory over sin and death. But the Bible does not leave a doubt about the agony, the effort , the tears of God in the midst of the battle to bring that about in the end. There is a prince of this world in the meantime. He has real choices, as do we. He is not yet bound as he will be at the end.
We do God no honor, when we deny the tragedy of the human existence in this world. He considers much of our life that and more. We are bound to the results of sin from the past. We live in the world partially also shaped by Adam's choices. Why do we deny it, or at least belittle it by our approval? It is a false comfort to make God responsible for what happens. He is the real comfort as the one, who will correct, not merely add to, the fallen world with the resurrection.
I suggest that the reason why many like to identify God with what is happening in their life is a fear of a loss of control. They make themselves believe something, for they do not like anymore than anyone else the unfinished situation found in a fallen world. Consequently they advocate the control of God over the events in history, but abandon God to immorality. He becomes the author of whatsoever comes to pass. At least He allows what, in their eyes, He could prevent, if only he chose to. But since it happens, He must have decided not to want to help...even though He could have.
We abandon the basis for much personal and social effort in the fight against sickness, death, injustice and fate, when we submit to an idea about God wanting every situation we experience. Perhaps the diminishing interference, the guilt about real grief or the lack of passion in general in the face of any evil by sections of the evangelical church in the course of normal, but tragic events of human life explains that in their heart and mind they have become Muslims. When all events are the will of God, the only remaining effort is to make people believe that.
Perhaps that is the explanation why so much of the church focuses on personal faith and private spirituality, following some discipleship program for personal growth. The weighty issue of making a statement by our words and life for the existence of a God at war with a fallen world is easily neglected. If the solution is sought to find a way to accept the status quo or to embrace normality, the focus will be on psychology and meeting personal needs.
If our focus is on being disciples, we will declare the existence and character of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came in the flesh to oppose evil, dispair, false teaching and death itself. The freedom of the children of God is not one found in indifference to the reality of a broken world. It is rather the freedom to stand up and to enter the battle with spiritual armor, and to be found standing.
The world does not need one more way to teach resignation in life and death. Christ did not model for us a way of accepting death. Healing comes when we recognize the difference and exhibit God's moral stand for life against death.back to top