The Islamization of Christianity

kinnon —  May 28, 2009 — 18 Comments

The iMonk points to an important essay from the Francis A Schaeffer Foundation, The Islamization of Christianity. I have commented to friends that the God of some of my brethren, a portrait of the Father as one who is most concerned for his own glory and sovereignty seems to me more like the Allah of Islam than the God I see revealed in the Old and New Testament.

The essay author, Udo Middleman says this,

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.

Please read all of it.

kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

18 responses to The Islamization of Christianity

  1. Does this mean we should be trying harder? Is that the take-away lesson here?

    I see what he’s saying as far as attributing *every* bad situation to God. Obviously, bad theology, and an Islamic approach. But I’m not convinced that the opposite is always true either.

    I just don’t know yet if we can make blanket assumptions about situations across the board. We tend to think of all “good” situations being from God and all “bad” situations not being from Him. That’s definitely how I was taught in the charismatic stream. But the problem with that is that *we* end up defining what is “good” and “bad” – and God might see it a bit differently. Yes? No? Maybe? I definitely don’t have definitive answers on these issues yet.

    Also, I’m just not sure how Gen 45:5-7, where Joseph keeps reiterating that *God* sent him to Egypt, fits with this particular perspective.

    Any thoughts?

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  2. … Have you considered my servant Job?

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  3. I form light and create darkness,
    I make well-being and create calamity,
    I am the Lord, who does all these things.
    Isaiah 45:7

    If Islam has a sovereign God consistent with the Bible in some aspects then so what?? What Islam misses is not on sovereignty… it’s on grace. All this article has is philosophical musings with no scripture. Who’s the one trying to re-create God?

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  4. Sorry, I wasn’t fair… there is some scripture here but philosophy is clearly
    the rudder of your interpretation.

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  5. Paul,

    John 14:8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

    To borrow from a commentor @ the iMonks’ Jesus-Shaped Spirituality blog, “The whole of the Old Testament needs to be interpreted through the lens that is Jesus.”
    link to jesusshaped.wordpress.com

    Jesus does not demand worship nor insist on the recognition of his authority. As he says in Matthew 20 – “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    So Paul, what “philosophy” is the rudder of “my interpretation”?

    Jovial Cynic,
    Indeed.

    Sarah,
    As is my wont to remind my family, I will often say “We live in a broken world, suffer the consequences of that brokenness and, unfortunately, we are the ones who broke it.” For some to suggest that things like the multiple death causing collapse of a bridge, or the Death Camps in Germany, Russia, Cambodia et al, or the molestation of children across the planet – all are part of God’s will is to view the Lord through a very different lens than what Jesus presents in the Scriptures in my most humble opinion. (This would be who the writer appears to be responding to in his essay – and he finds their view of God tragically similar to that of those who follow Allah.)

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  6. Jesus does not demand worship nor insist on the recognition of his authority

    Tell that to the dudes he kicked out of the temple.
    Or the dude who wanted to go bury his dad. 🙂

    I like Middleman. I agree with some of what he says here.

    In many circles, the god of professing Christians is indistinguishable from Allah, but not usually because of a focus on sovereignty, but because of nonTrinitarianism or Christlessness.

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  7. Ah, but my dear Jared, in no case did he “demand nor insist” but instead he exercised his authority. He wasn’t concerned how the butt-kicked “dudes”, or the “but first I gotta go bury my Dad and get my inheritance dude” felt about him. ( “Gee, shouldn’t they be worshipping Me and doing exactly as I tell them to.” )

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  8. Well, if you mean in the sheepish, neurotic sense of his authority being contingent upon their following, I agree.

    But it sounds very demanding when he says “No one gets to God except through me” or “If anyone does not hate his family for my sake he is not worthy of me” and things to that effect.

    But I would say he was concerned about how they “felt about him” to the extent that he was concerned about them.
    Which is what Middleman is concerned about us losing in the sovereignty talk he’s critiquing, I think.

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  9. Sounds a lot like the Health & Wealth crew’s mentality — that God would never hurt a fly and wants us all happy, healthy, and financially blessed.

    I’ve heard Udo a few times before (in a living room in L.A. once ), and found him thoughtful and insightful.

    Not this time.

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  10. I agree with your most humble opinion. Those extreme cases seem like a no-brainer for me. And my questions are sincere – as I am really wrestling with some of these questions right now. So I ask not to be adversarial, but to hear what you think. 🙂

    My questioning was more regarding the Joseph example. And it probably arises out of my past experiences with charismatic cultural excesses, and the outright denial that *any* hardship or suffering (on *any* level) would be acceptable, or desirable, or serve any useful purpose for a Christian.

    The problem I have is with applying a one-size-fits-all answer to *every* situation of hardship or difficulty across the board. I’m very skeptical of that kind of broad generalizing.

    I read somewhere (in some Bible lexicon) a definition of “meekness” that has always stuck with me: Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the OT, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time.

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  11. David Faulkner May 29, 2009 at 3:34 am

    Hi Bill,

    Thank you for this discussion. I found it this morning via Erika’s blog. (Can’t seem to get Typepad to accept the a href tag for the link.) For what it’s worth, I’ll cross-post below what I’ve just offered there. I’m sure it’s got holes in it, but ain’t that just the problem here with our theories?

    “I just wonder, though: the common thread is a kind of fatalism, which to be sure is present in Islam, but it’s also present in Western culture anyway. From a British perspective, I think it’s been around in folk religion here for a long time.

    “Then combine that with a rationalist desire to explain everything (illogical as fatalism + rationalism seems) and hey presto: we come up with our trite and sometimes insensitive theories of what God has done in a painful or unjust circumstance. Maybe a Christian response to such things in the light of a sovereign God is not to invoke some Calvinist micro-managing deity but to refrain from our explanations, given the rebukes to Job’s friends. If pastorally I encounter hurting people and rush in with my theological explanations of their suffering, I can cause more damage than healing. There’s a place for reflecting on the ‘Why?’, but we may not get an answer.”

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  12. Sarah,
    I would say that in some cases God chastises us for our own benefit – a direct intervention in our lives – in other cases He allows things to happen – not because they are a part of His plan (though he is not shocked by them happening), but because of the brokenness of creation – a brokenness caused by us.

    I would also say that in some cases He directly intervenes in terms of healings and miracles and in other cases He is strangely silent. And my response to that is His ways are not my ways, and His thoughts are not my thoughts.

    I do not believe that everything bad that happens to us is God’s chastisement, nor that everything good that happens is “part of God’s plan.”

    (I’m a little under the weather today, so forgive me if my response is a little scattered.)

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  13. I would say that the Trinity in their interaction with us, their fallen creation, show just how much they are concerned for us. And, I agree, that’s what Middleman is concerned about.

    Our God is not capricious in any way, shape or form.

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  14. Robby,
    Go back and read all of Middleman’s essay and see if that’s what you really think he’s saying. I don’t. At all.

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  15. David,
    Well said and thanks for posting this here. (And you won’t read a better writer/blogger than Erika. She is one of the Evangelical Covenant Church’s many blessings to blogdom.)

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  16. David,

    Great response, and it certainly resonates with my pastoral experience. For some reason your comment never showed up on my blog, which it sounds like you intended. Hmmm….

    Bill, you are too kind. I hope you guys are back in town again soon and we are able to connect again!

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  17. Bill,

    I’m not sure that this is something that we can lay at the feet of Islam. I’m reading Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age right now, and if there’s a process whereby we stopped being “partners of a God who is a war with a fallen world” it can be said to have happened in the birthing of modernity in the West, you know, Cartesian dualism, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation. I’m over-simplifying Taylor’s arguments a great deal here, but I’m just baffled as to why this has anything to do with Islam.

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  18. Seems like Islam was rather dragged in to the article kicking and screaming; while there might be some theological similarities between the view of G-d, determinism and suffering/evil/etc on the one hand and Islam on the other, the causal connection is absurd. The attempt at linkage fails.

    That aside (and it’s not essential to his article) I think it’s thought-provoking and thoughtful, and I appreciate the comments here as well.

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What do you think?