Friday, September 22, 2006

Words of Wisdom from John Piper

Noted pastor, author and Bible teacher John Piper is someone I respect a great deal. This past week, he wrote the following response to the troubling situation that evolved after Pope Benedict's remarks on Islam. Great food for thought and prayer, and I post it in its entirety for your perusal.



"Whoever offends our Prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the
nearest Muslim." Those were the words of Sheikh Abubakar Hassan Malin to a
gathering of Muslims in Mogadishu on Friday, September 15, 2006. On
Saturday, Palestinians wielding guns and firebombs attacked five Christian
churches in the West Bank and Gaza. On Sunday, September 17, in London,
outside Westminster Cathedral, Anjem Choudary addressed a demonstration and
said that those who insulted Islam "should be subject to capital

These were among the reactions to a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI at
Regensburg University, in Germany on Tuesday, September 12. Perhaps
connected to the speech was the murder on Sunday in Mogadishu of
sixty-six-year-old Leonella Sgorbati, an Italian Catholic nun serving as a
nurse in a children's hospital.

In the speech, the pope was addressing the foundation of the secular
university. The subject was faith and reason. He was arguing that the
foundation of the university, and the spread of truth and faith, lay in the
rationality of God. He asked, "Is the conviction that acting unreasonably
contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and
intrinsically true?" He answers, "I believe that here we can see the
profound harmony between what is Greek, in the best sense of the word, and
the biblical understanding of faith in God."

In other words, the pope is arguing that the university, and all people,
have an obligation to act in accordance with reason, because reason is
rooted in God. At this point, he brought in a discussion of the difference
between Islam and Christianity on the relationship between God and reason.
Christianity, he argues, sees reason as rooted in God.
But, citing a noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, he says that "Ibn Hazn went
so far as to state that [in Islam] God is not bound even by his own word,
and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's
will, we would even have to practice idolatry."

This, he implies, disconnects God and reason and opens Islam to a use of
violence in spreading their faith that is not governed by reason. He cites
Sura 2, 256 from the Qur'an, where Mohammed says that there is no compulsion
in religion. Then he draws attention to the later developments in the Qur'an
by quoting the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus in 1391 in Ankara
(today's capitol of Turkey). The emperor apparently said that Mohammed
taught that one could "spread by the sword the faith he preached." Then the
pope said,

"The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the
faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible
with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. . . .
God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's
nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone
to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without
violence and threats. . . . To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need
a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a
person with death . . . . The decisive statement in this argument against
violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary
to God's nature." (The entire speech is on the www in numerous places.)

These references to the role of reason in Islam, and the apparent
endorsement of violence (in parts of the Qur'an) as a way of spreading
Islamic faith, have outraged Muslims and sparked violence and calls for
violence. Subsequently, the pope said, "I am deeply sorry for the reactions
in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of
Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.
These in fact were a quotation from a Medieval text, which do not in any way
express my personal thought."

How should Christians respond to this situation? I will suggest ten
responses that flow from the Bible.

1. Admit that the Christian church has often been too entangled with civil
governments, with the result that violence has been endorsed by the church
as a way of accomplishing religious, and not just civil, goals. The
Crusades, for example, stand as a monument to collective Christian blindness
to the teaching of Jesus. We should make every effort today to avoid
political alignments between the Christian church and any civil government
or political party. (See my article, "Tolerance, Truth-Telling, Violence,
and Law" at

2. Make clear that the use of God-sanctioned violence between Israel and the
nations in the Old Testament is no longer God's will for his people.
The coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as a suffering servant, rather than
a warlord, and his gathering of a people from all nations rather than only
one, are two of the many reasons why the Christian church today should
not-and almost universally does not-endorse or use violence to promote the
gospel of Jesus Christ.

3. Admit that there are many Muslims today who do not approve of violence in
the spread of Islam. Admittedly, to many of us in the West, their number
seems small and their voice seems muted by the reputation of the more
violent strains of Islam. We do not know how large that segment of Islam is.

4. Point out how Islam, in its most sacred writings and authoritative
teachings, belittles Jesus Christ, not just occasionally in the news, but
constantly by its dominant claims. Islam denies that Jesus Christ was and is
God, a central truth of the New Testament and the Christian church (John
1:1-3; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:8). Dominant streams of Islam deny that
Jesus died on the cross and therefore deny that the claim that his death
atones for sin and propitiates the wrath of God is true (1 Corinthians
15:1-3; Romans 3:21-26; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). Therefore,
defenders of Islam daily defame Jesus Christ and insult the glory of his

5. Point out that, in response to this constant defamation of Jesus Christ,
there are not public threats or demands for apologies from the church. This
is not because we do not love Jesus above all things, or because we have no
zeal for the glory of his name. It is because he told us to expect this
(Matthew 10:25; John 15:20) and then modeled for us how to react: "When he
was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not
threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1
Peter 2:23).

6. Do good to those who hate you-and, of course, those of other faiths who
don't hate you (Luke 6:27). This is not because Christians do not believe in
vengeance. We simply believe that it is not ours to give. And this age is
not the time to give it. This is an age of mercy and patience and
forgiveness toward those who malign the King of the universe. He will have
his Day of Wrath. But we are too sinful to be entrusted with that righteous
judgment. Rather, we should obey the words of the New Testament: "Beloved,
never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is
written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary,
'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to
drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head'" (Romans

7. Seek to win others to saving faith in Jesus by persuading with words, not
imposing with force. This was the way the gospel spread among many religions
in the early centuries of the Christian church. The earliest teachers said,
"Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others" (2 Corinthians
5:11). When the New Testament speaks of the "sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians
6:17) or "the weapons of our warfare"
(2 Corinthians 10:4), it clearly means the word of God and power of
spiritual persuasion.
8. Always be ready to die, but never to kill, for the sake of commending
Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for sinners and rose again as the
Lord of the universe. Jesus promises to triumph through our accepting
suffering, not our causing suffering. He died to save all who will
believe-from every nation and religion. He calls us to follow him on this
Calvary Road. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls
into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much
fruit" (John 12:24). This is not the death of a suicide-murderer. This is
the death of one who loves his enemies and, as he dies, prays, "Father,
forgive them, for they know not what they do"
(Luke 23:34), and, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60).

9. Pray for the salvation of all those who belittle Jesus Christ. Pray that
they would put their faith in Jesus Christ who died for our sins so that if
anyone-from any nation or any religion-would embrace him as Lord and Savior
and Treasure of their lives, they would be saved from the guilt of sin and
the wrath of God. They would have eternal life and joy.
This is the way the great apostle Paul prayed: "Brothers, my heart's desire
and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1).

10. No matter the cost, continue to exalt and commend Jesus Christ as the
great and only Savior that he is. Say with the apostle Paul, "It is my eager
expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full
courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or
by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." The day will
come when every knee will bow to Jesus as Lord and as God (Philippians
2:10-11). Until that day comes, affirm with Paul: "I do not account my life
of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and
the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel
of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).

Longing for the Savior to be exalted,

Pastor John

The only qualifier I would add to the above is that this should not be construed to mean that a government cannot protect its citizens through military or law enforcement means, nor should it mean that individual Christians cannot protect themselves, someone else, or their loved ones from direct threat. For instance, if a purported terrorist was getting ready to shoot, stab or explode somebody in a crowded public square (or to break in to my home), I would have every right (and duty) to do what is necessary to stop the threat.

I also think people confuse martyrdom with thug behavior. If a government tries to execute me for my faith, that is one thing. However, if some thug on the street wants to kill me or my family, I find no obligation in Scripture to lie down and let him do so. When it comes to issues such as these, we need to take the whole counsel of God as found in the Bible and not isolate a few verses to justify a totally pacifist position. It's just not there.

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