Fun Juxtapositions

Sometimes the news brings you fun juxtapositions. The last one I heard about was a local newspaper carrying two stories — one about the removal of Christmas trees from the SeaTac airport, and the other about the terrorist organization Hamas helping Christians in Bethlehem decorate the town for Christmas. Heh.

But this is a new one, and HT to Drudge. On the one hand was the call from a weather guy to decertify (take away the credendtials of) any weather official who dared to be a global warming skeptic. Okay. We have health nazis, and education nazis. Why not weather nazis? But then, on the same page, we received notice of snow . . . in Malibu. Double heh.

A Second Battle of Tours I


We have noted before that we have a responsibility as Christians to understand the times. We do not seek to do so infallibly, but we do want to live our lives in wisdom. This said, there are many good reasons for believing that the conflict between the Christian faith and Islam will occupy in the twenty-first century the place that the Cold War occupied in the twentieth. Christians cannot afford to neglect this issue, and as we take it on, we will discover that the Scriptures teach us far more about this than we might have expected.

The Text:

“And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren”

(Gen. 16:7-16).


The context of this passage is the first flight of Hagar from her mistress Sarai. Sarai had suggested to Abraham that he raise up seed “by proxy,” but after Hagar had conceived, she began to put on airs, which Sarai obviously found intolerable, and so she arranged to have Hagar banished. An angel of the Lord comforts Hagar (vv. 7-8), and tells her to return to her mistress and to submit to her (v. 9). In the course of this, a prophecy is given—that Ishmael will be an ancestor of multitudes (v. 10). His name will in fact be Ishamel (v. 11). But then there is a very telling prophecy—he is going to be ornery; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand will be against him (v. 12). He and his descendants would be a great source of conflict. And so it has been.

Now the New Testament tells us that the typology of Ishmael was fulfilled in the unbelief of the Jews (Gal. 4:24). But given the nature of typology and prophecy, we do not need to stop there. The Koran explicitly identifies Muslims as the children of Ishmael, claiming that the Ka’ba in Mecca was actually built by Abraham and Ishamael (Surah 2:122-127). Now, biologically, this is quite possible, but it is also beside the point. If you have a people who have, for about a millennium and a half, identified themselves as Ishmael, it is not surprising that they have become spiritual Ishmael, even if they were not before. But Hagar “gendereth to bondage,” as St. Paul says, and another result of this is conflict—his hand against every man.

An Important Qualification:

We believe that Jesus Christ died for all the nations of men, and has purchased them with His own precious blood. This includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Indonesia, Egypt, and Pakistan. The fact that these places are largely unevangelized thus far is not an indicator of the future. Christ will not be satisfied until all of Ishmael is brought back into the house of Abraham. This obviously means that nothing said in this series of messages should be taken as expressing hatred toward Muslims. God loves the world, and all the nations of men, and so do we. But we live in hyper-sensitive times, and it has become a dogma among secularists that in order to love a cancer patient you have to approve of his cancer too. But this is not the biblical approach. Muslims are held in spiritual bondage by the tenets of Islam, a false and very destructive

religion, and it is not loving to pretend that this is not the case—all for the sake of political correctness. This is a topic where it is easy for cowardice to masquerade as love and tolerance, and where genuine love takes courage. Love does not refuse to speak the truth. How could it?

A Brief History Lesson:

Muhammad was born around 570 A.D, a native of Mecca. When he was twelve his uncle took him to Syria, where a Nestorian Christian monk prophecied over him. When he was 25, he married his first wife, Khadija, in a ceremony performed by an Ebionite Christian priest—a cousin of his wife. Fifteen years later, he began receiving his first “revelations” from the angel Gabriel. He was at first worried that it was demonic possession, but his wife assured him that it was from God. Three years later, he began to preach openly in Mecca about these revelations. He was rejected and handled roughly by his peers. Finally, thirteen years after his first revelations, he fled from Mecca to Medina. This flight marks “year one” of the Muslim calendar, and the flight is called the hijra. His first wife had died, and it was now that many of the distinctive features of Islam began to take shape. He married the daughter of one of his most loyal followers (a girl named Aisha, six years old), consumating that marriage when she was nine. He became a marauder and pirate, ordering attacks on Meccan caravans. Two years later, Muhammad began ordering assassinations in order to gain control of Medina. He took multiple wives, and finally in 630 A.D. he conquered Mecca, when he was sixty. Tribes from all over that area submitted to his authority. He died at age 64, of a fever, just four years later.

Before he died, Muhammad sent out letters to many world leaders, demanding their submission. In the years following his death, the Islamic faith exploded out of Saudi Arabia in quite a remarkable way. The high water mark of the first great Muslim expansion ended in France just shy of one hundred years later, at the Battle of Tours in 732 A.D.. Charles Martel turned back what had been, up to that time, an invincible force. Islam made it to India in the east, and France in the west. The Mediterranean had become a Muslim lake. And as one person put it, if the Nobel Prize committee had been active in the year 1000, all the prizes would have gone to Muslims. The next period of attempted Muslim expansion into Europe was some centuries later—the Ottoman Turks were defeated in the great siege of Malta (1565), the sea battle of Lepanto (1571), and finally turned back from Vienna in 1683 (ironically fought on September 11-12). The tense relationship between Islam and Christendom was very much like the relationship of Calormen to Narnia.

The Koran:

The Koran is not organized chronologically, but rather the same way the letters of Paul are organized in the New Testament—by length. This leads many people to think that “peace” verses in the Koran and “war” verses are all jumbled together, to be sorted out as the occasion demands. But the peace verses were from the first Meccan period, and they were abrogated by the jihad verses that began in Medina. “If we abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We will replace it with a better one or one similar” (Surah 2:106). This is related to the nature of Allah, and is quite distinct from what we receive from our triune God.

A Mirror of Christendom:

Pastor Leithart has written that Islam is a mirror of Christendom, and in it we can see many of our own failings and sins. It is more like a funhouse mirror, but that is why, in this series, we will be able to clarify what the Bible actually teaches on subjects like the law, and women, and the Jews, and submission to authority. We do this as baptized Trinitarians.


“Apart from that, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the technological revolution passed virtually unnoticed in the lands of Islam, where they were still inclined to dismiss the denizens of the lands beyond the Western frontier as benighted barbarians, much inferior even to the more sophisticated Asian infidels to the east. These had useful skills and devices to impart; the Europeans had neither. It was a judgment that had for long been reasonably accurate. It was becoming dangerously out of date” (Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? p. 7).

A Word Spoken by the Word

“For him [Taylor] as for them, the world itself is a metaphor, the gift of a loving God, and is intended to raise our affections to Him and to make us sing” (Daly, p. 176).

Knowledge Extract

“But what we are experiencing is not the knowledge explosion so often boasted of; it is a torrent of information, made possible by first reducing the known to compact form and then bulking it up again—adding water. That is why the product so often tastes like dried soup” (Jacques Barzun, The Culture We Deserve, p. 40).

Bible Mongery

“So through a series of complicated circumstances, we have come to the last point, which concerns the handlers or marketers of the text. We see that text of Scripture now established by the neutral Academy, and is afterwards packaged, copyrighted, marketed and sold by hustling and enterprising entrepreneurs. The Church today has no authoritative role in the process whatever. When it comes to the Word of God, the modern Christian Church fancies herself as a shopper only — a consumer. Our collective interest in these spiritual things is simply one more itch for Adam Smith’s invisible hand to scratch. We think the Church’s duty is to send parishioners off to find the Bible section in the Christian gift center, right next to the case of small glass figurines, and there to make a dutiful purchase” (Mother Kirk, p. 58).

Layered Definition

One undercurrent beneath the Federal Vision business is a hidden difference in epistemological assumptions. The Hellenistic method strips accidents away from the thing, looking for essences. The Hebraic way of definition adds layer upon layer, looking at the thing from as many different angles as possible, and in as many situations as possible. Peter Leithart talks about this latter way of knowing in his book The Kingdom and the Power, and there is also a section on it in Angels in the Architecture.

This leads to an assumption on the part of the former that once you have a “definition,” it is time to stop, and defend that orthodox definition against all comers. We can see this tendency in the definitions of the visible/invisible Church, or with statements about “outward” Christians and Christians “inwardly.” But I have no trouble with these distinctions, as far as they go. Yes, there are Christians outwardly and Christian inwardly. But I then want to take this matter under discussion and look at it from numerous other directions, trying grasp the whole by means of addition. In contrast, the Hellenistic approach to definition (and I am not using this pejoratively; there is an important place for this kind of definition) seeks to understand by means of subtraction. How much can we take away and still have the thing we are talking about? But the temptation is then to disallow other approaches, approaches that may operate with a different set of descriptive rules. The Hebraic way gives us man worshipping, man playing, man eating, man making love, man working, man sleeping, and man writing poems. The Hellenistic way gives us a featherless, bipedal carbon unit.

For the Hellenistic approach, a true Christian is one who is one inwardly, period, stop. And this is true. But I also want to say that we have inward Christians and outward Christians, faithful Christians and adulterous Christians, temporary Christians and Christians forever, slaves and sons, wheat and tares, sons of Hagar and sons of Sarah, washed pigs and washed lambs, fruitless branches and fruitful branches, Christians who die in the wilderness and Christians who die in Canaan, and so on.

Now if someone of the other party thinks that I am essentially doing the same thing he is doing (that is, picking one and one only out of this list in order to make it the “true” definition), he has every right to be concerned. For example, if we are limited to one, then inward/outward is one of the best metaphors. But it is a metaphor, and needs other metaphors. If I were to isolate “fruitless branches and fruitful branches” to the exclusion of all others, and make it “the definition,” then I have become an Arminian. I think that this is what our critics are worried about. But we are not seeking to substitute; we are seeking to layer.