Why should Christians learn about Islam? Why teach on it? Why discuss it? Why stir up yet another debate or controversy?
One time, during the debates over the formation of the U.S. Constitution, someone proposed that the United States be prohibited from having a standing army of more than 15,000 men. I forget the exact number; my inaccurate anecdote will still illustrate the principle. At that point in the debate George Washington leaned over and whispered to a companion that the motion needed a rider, to the effect that the United States would never be invaded by a force of more than 10,000 men.
The point is that we don’t have the luxury of choosing our enemies, or of deciding the nature of the times we will live in. The history of our world is in the hands of God — He will determine the course of all events. Our lives, and the lives of our grandchildren, are not a “choose your own adventure” novel, where we control the flow of events. And if God has determined, as it appears that He has, that the conflict of the 21st century will be between Islam and the West, it will do little good to wring your hands and wish you were elsewhere. I was born in 1953, smack in the middle of the Cold War, and neither I nor my family had any say over it. We could be engaged thoughtfully or not, but transfering out to an alternative world was not an option. So my formative school years included drills where we all headed down to the basement “in case of nuclear war,” a thing thankfully missing from the upbringing my children had. On the other hand, when I was a kid, there were no security screenings at airports.
The conflict, as I mentioned, will be between Islam and the West. But the West is conflicted — torn between its Christian heritage on the one hand and its secularized (and apostate) caricatures of Christian values on the other. Islam is also conflicted — between its Westermized (read, Christianized) moderates and its back-to-the-Koran fundamentalists. The situation is enormously tangled, and the fundamentalists have done more than a little surrpetious borrowing from modernity as well. More on this later.
Christians have to study, think and learn. They have to learn how to oppose the claims of Islam without shilling for the bastardized Christian values found in what some call the values of “modernity” or “democracy.” The god of American civil religion is a unitarian god, just like Allah, and we will not get anywhere by trying to show how these two idols really have a lot in common. They do, and that’s a problem.
As we give ourselves to study this subject, we need to begin with thanksgiving. The triune God of Scripture, the one who controls every aspect of history, has placed us in these times, and he expects us to become men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do. The temptation will be to look at Islam from a distance, draw the caricatures, and offer up a cartoonish response. Many American Christians feel that Muslims are simply inscrutable — scary inscrutable — just like one of those Islamic characters in a Jorge Luis Borges short story, distant, vague, foreign, alien. But Muslims were not created by Allah, but rather by the triune God, and they bear His images, despite whatever the Koran might say. This means that Christians can hear them speak, and understand, and it also means that Christians, having heard, may speak the gospel, and be heard themselves.
The great blessing in this is that the contemporary crisis in the Islamic world provides the Christian Church with a reductio ad absurdum for virtually all the important questions that face the Church today. These are questions where the Church, confronted with the demands of modernity, has been compromising, wavering, capitulating, waffling, noodling, backfilling, and more. Enter fundamentalist Islam, providing outlandish answers on these questions, and thoughtful people look around, wondering if there is a third option. When it comes to our junior high daughters, do we have to choose between burkas and the skanky-wear on sale at fine stores everywhere?
The rise of an Islam in crisis bring the questions home to us. They include but are not limited to: the centrality of Trinitarian faith in the formation of a healthy culture, the Jews, the state of Israel, and Zionism, the role of women, the necessary conflict between Sharia law and biblical law, and the fact that, Fukuyama notwithstanding, modernity is a hollow shell, incapable of answering the demands of militant Islam. That job, if it is to be done at all, will have to be done by Christians, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.