Taking up the Cross in Evangelical Christianity: The Perspective of a Christian Jihadist
I am in Toronto, Canada for a three day conference arranged by the Evangelical Christian-Muslim Dialogue Group. The aim is to create a common framework for extended conversation between Evangelical Christian and Muslim scholars and religious leaders. The ultimate goal is to commit ourselves to a dialogue that will build a deep and lasting trust that will remain despite any obstacles that may arise.
The video game taking Christian America by storm is entitled ‘Left Behind: Eternal Forces’. Controversially, it encourages players to kill anyone who resists conversion to Christianity. As Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft battle it out for domination of the electronic game world, the games’ creator anticipates a ready market among those who have already bought 63 million copies of the ‘Left Behind’ novels.
The game is set in New York City, a rather unusual venue for the Battle of Armageddon you might think since New York doesn’t actually get a mention in the Bible. It is, however, the location of the United Nations headquarters and that is the clue. Never popular among conservative evangelicals, in Left Behind: Eternal Forces, the bad guys are the Global Community Peacekeepers, who are on a search and destroy mission in Manhattan. Their target is the remnant of newly converted Bible-believers, left behind when Christians were apparently raptured secretly to heaven. These new believers, left on earth, form a Christian army called the Tribulation Force.
Under the heading ‘Turn or Burn?’ a review by Focus on the Family suggests this might be: “the kind of game that Mom and Dad can actually play with Junior—and use to raise some interesting questions along the way.”
In an interview with Tim LaHaye, the author, Focus on the Family asked whether Christians will really be expected to militarize in the future?
“He told Plugged In Online that this fictionalized depiction in the books, movies and now video games is a representation “of the self preservation instinct of the much-persecuted saints during the Tribulation.”
What a relief. It’s all right to kill then if it is out of self preservation. Players pray for their adversaries “and try to do good spiritual things for them” but at a certain point, it becomes acceptable to kill them. A rather more sceptical review from a Jewish perspective, by Jews on First, observes that,
“The goals of the game are simple: Spread the gospel, and stay alive. But staying alive may sometimes lead to the taking of life — “fighting hellfire with hellfire”. And that raises a knotty moral conundrum for any game designer who worships Jesus, the Prince of Peace.”
Sadly, we would not be here if we were merely debating the merits of a children’s video game.
The theological presuppositions behind the Left Behind video and books are known as Christian Zionism. The Christian Zionist movement has somewhere between 30 and 100 million supporters in the USA alone. It is undoubtedly therefore a significant part of the Israel Lobby helping to shape American attitudes and policies in the Middle East.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Following the tragedy of 9/11 and the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, multi-bestselling author and Christian journalist Anne Coulter, wrote,
“We don’t need long investigations of the forensic evidence to determine with scientific accuracy the person or persons who ordered this specific attack. We don’t need an “international coalition.” We don’t need a study on “terrorism.” … We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”
More recently, at the July 19th, 2006, inaugural event for Christians United for Israel, in Washington DC, after recorded greetings from the then President, George W. Bush, and in the presence of four US Senators as well as the Israeli ambassador to the US, Pastor John Hagee, stated :
“The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West… a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ.”
John Hagee is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio (a church of 19,000 members). His views are carried in America on 160 TV stations, 50 radio stations and eight networks which combined are heard or seen weekly in 99 million homes.
Many Christians in the US as well as Europe repudiate Christian Zionism as a gross distortion of Christianity and grave insult to the teachings of Jesus the Christ.
The Institute for the Study of Christian Zionism was formed monitor and challenge this destructive movement. Resources can be accessed at, www.Christianzionism.org.
I have written two books on the movement, Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? and Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church.
Most recently Porter Speakman has produced a new film challenging Christian Zionism called With God on our Side which is available at this conference.
How can we best challenge this misuse or abuse of Christianity in sacralising a belligerent foreign policy that is bringing Muslims, Jews and Christians into conflict?
What follows is not a critique of Islamic Jihad. We are grateful to Dr Afsaruddin for her illuminating paper on “The True Meaning of Jihad in Islam”. Nor will this be a defence of pacifism or of the Just War Theory. For that I recommend J. Daryl Charles, Between Pacifism and Jihad: Just War and Christian Tradition. My title is “Taking up the Cross in Evangelical Christianity”. I have subtitled it, “The Perspective of a Christian Jihadist”. I want to give a simple, personal reading of the teaching of Jesus the Christ and his Apostles on the Christian jihad. I want to show how the Scriptures refute the misuse of the Bible to justify an apocalyptic or colonialist agenda in the Middle East. I have five headings.
1. The Nature of Christian Jihad
2. The Extent of Christian Jihad
3. The Strategy of Christian Jihad
4. The Weapons of Christian Jihad
5. The Purpose of Christian Jihad
1. The Nature of Christian Jihad: “Against Spiritual Forces”
Jihad is translated in English as “Holy War”. It literally means “struggle”. In the New Testament, the language of conflict and warfare is used to describe the struggle Christians face in living the holy life as God intends.
In the first instance, the ‘Holy War” or struggle faced is internal not external. It is personal and not political. In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer points out:
“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:4)
The apostle Paul’s two letters to a young disciple called Timothy provide a fascinating insight into Christian jihad as Paul employs the metaphor of the ‘soldier’ to describe the Christ follower. Here are the verses:
“Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well,.” (1 Timothy 1:18)
“train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come…. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:7-10)
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12)
“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs; rather, they try to please their commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
It is important to stress that the jihad or striving described here is not referring to the means by which we earn salvation – whether by good deeds or hard work. The New Testament teaches that salvation was achieved for us in and through the finished work of Jesus the Christ. It is because we have been saved that we are to strive to become like Jesus, in our words and compassionate actions, so that God be glorified and others will want to know him too. Toward the end of his life the apostle Paul could look back confidently and say, past tense,
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8)
At a personal level then, it is a struggle against temptation and sin. At a political level it is also a struggle against evil and demonic power. What is significant, however, is that in the Christian Scriptures the ‘enemy’ is never identified as other people, but evil forces at work in the world. At worst, those who oppose us are tools or pawns of Satan. But however they treat us, we must remember they are people created in the image and likeness of God and for whom Christ died. The apostle Paul wrote,
““Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12)
The evil powers are therefore spiritual in nature and heavenly in source, supernatural, evil and demonic. The apostle Peter wrote,
“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
The Christian Jihad is winnable. Satan can be resisted in the strength of God. The Christian jihad, however, is not primarily directed against other people, but against the one who abuses them. It is directed at our real enemy, the devil and his forces, who oppose Jesus the Christ and at times persecutes his Church. On one occasion, Jesus reminded his friends,
“Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:20)
The apostle James also wrote,
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
So the jihad, the struggle, whatever the cause, whether from temptation or persecution, can be turned into something positive which God uses it to refine, to strengthen and purify our faith.
2. The Extent of Christian Jihad: “To the Ends of the Earth”
The extent of the Christian Jihad is global but, it is not, I repeat not, territorial. Whenever Christians have tried to impose a particular political agenda, or create a so called “Christian” Nation or Empire, the consequences have invariably been destructive.
In all four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus the Christ is recorded as commanding his followers to take his gospel, the good news of the kingdom, to the whole world.
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The expansion of the early Church from Jerusalem to Rome, at the time, the centre of the Roman Empire, is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Churches were planted in Judea, then Samaria, then Asia and then Europe, as people voluntarily choose to follow the teachings of Jesus the Christ, as the gospel was shared with them in acts of compassion and mercy as well as proclamation.
Ironically, the gospel spread most rapidly as a result of persecution rather than imposition. The Acts of the Apostles records repeated waves of opposition to the early Christians and in some places outright persecution which led to martyrdoms. Persecution, however, served to grow the Church as they were scattered but it failed to destroy it. Acts 8 records one such instance.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria…Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:1, 4)
What is significant is that the early Christians never retaliated when they were persecuted. Instead they prayed like this,
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29)
The apostle Paul instructs on what to do when facing opposition,
“…the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
The early Church prayed for boldness to continue to proclaim the gospel. They did not retaliate. They considered it an honour to be associated with Jesus. The nature of Christian Jihad. The extent of Christian Jihad.
3. The Strategy of Christian Jihad: “Love Your Enemies”
The strategy of Christian jihad is both simple but profound. Jesus insists,
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self?” (Luke 9:23-25)
The image of a person “taking up” or carrying one’s cross daily to describe the Christian calling is probably the most graphic to be found in all the teaching of Jesus. Imagine carrying a cross and you will appreciate how demanding in the extreme this teaching of Jesus is. A person who carried a cross was going to their death. If you are carrying a cross, you cannot carry anything else, least of all a weapon. Jesus here calls his followers to give up their lives daily in his service. Following Jesus Christ therefore must involve ruthless self denial and radical service of others. As Dave Robinson reminded us yesterday, all the Law and the Prophets are summarized by Jesus in two commandments.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
In what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus elaborates on what this means.
In relation to how we treat other people, most profoundly, Jesus called his followers to be peacemakers. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9)
Jesus called his followers to be light.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14, 16)
And specifically in relation to our enemies,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
Jesus summarises his teaching by saying,
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).
To fulfil our responsibility, followers of Jesus the Christ are specifically called Ambassadors. We have been appointed to a ministry of reconciliation.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
Ambassadors play a unique role in representing their government on foreign soil. Ambassadors live and work away from their homeland. For Christians, this world is not our true home.
“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11).
As Ambassadors for Jesus the Christ, and as strangers in this world, followers of Jesus the Christ are mandated to share our knowledge of Jesus the Christ with those who have not heard, but to do so respectfully and with gentleness.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
This is the radical transforming strategy of Christian jihad. The language of the New Testament jihad is not about conquest or conflict, but about compassion, mercy, diplomacy, mediation and peacemaking.
4. The Weapon of Christian Jihad: “Sword of the Spirit”
The contrast between Christians and those who opposed them is most clearly seen in the weapons deployed in the Christian jihad or struggle. Jesus explicitly prohibited his followers to extend his kingdom by the sword. Jesus said to him,
“for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
The apostle Paul explains why.
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:3-5)
The battleground in Christian jihad is the heart, the soul and the mind. It is not territorial but intellectual. It is not imperial but volitional, of the will. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he uses the metaphor of the soldier to describe how to achieve victory in Christian jihad.
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6: 14-17)
Notice that the Christian’s armour is entirely defensive. Entirely defensive except for one item. One weapon is allowed. “The sword of the Spirit” is the Scriptures. They are the only weapon allowed Christians. As the Scriptures are read, spoken, memorized, proclaimed, applied, taught or preached, something supernatural happens.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)
The Scriptures are the only legitimate weapon of Christian Jihad.
5. The Purpose of Christian Jihad: “Every Knee Shall Bow”
While the extent of the kingdom claimed by Jesus the Christ is the whole world, he never imposed his Kingdom rule. Before Pilate at his trial Jesus insisted,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36).
Jesus expressly repudiated the idea that, as a king, his followers would or should fight for him. Jesus did acknowledge that at times there would be tension between his kingdom and that of earthly rulers when he insisted, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17).
This is why he promised his followers blessings as they struggle against opposition in order to follow him,
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
But the purpose of Christian Jihad is submission to the will of God. It is to become like Jesus – holy as God is holy. And in so doing, beginning with ourselves, lead others into submission to his perfect will, to know him, love him, obey him and so become like him also. The glorious picture of the future in Scripture is of the day when Jesus will return from heaven and ever knee shall bow.
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2:9-10)
One day the whole world shall be brought into submission to God’s perfect will. Inshallah.
6. Conclusions: “Now that you know these things”
In this presentation I have tried to present biblical passages that explain Jihad from a Christian perspective. Clearly not all Christians share these views. However, I do believe they are faithful to the teachings of Jesus the Christ and his Apostles.
Christian Zionism in contrast, which wages a jihad against Muslims and indirectly against Jews, is a defective, misguided and dangerous theology. It is an exclusive theology driven by a political agenda which elevates one nation over others, rather than an inclusive theology centred on Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. Christian Zionism uses the Bible to justify racial superiority, land expropriation, home demolitions, population transfer, colonial settlements, the denial of international law and fundamental human rights.
In its worst form it espouses an apocalyptic, pessimistic and confrontational approach to the Middle East. It not only fuels islamophobia but also anti-Semitism and imperils the existence of the indigenous Christian community in the Middle East. It incites and exacerbates Islamist retaliation against both Jews and Christians. What does Jesus think about all this? On Palm Sunday, Luke tells us,
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42).
I believe Jesus continues to weep not only over Jerusalem, but also for all his children in the Middle East, as well as those who promote a theology of war and conquest here in the West.
It is a very long way from the simple teaching of Jesus the Christ who promised “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). To explain what he expected of his followers, Jesus once told a story about a Christian Jihadist.
“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:25-35)
The tension inherent in Jesus story for all who came down that road, as much as for those who heard him, has to do with the identify of the man who has been robbed. Jesus says he was ‘stripped him of his clothes’ and left ‘half dead’. He is no longer identifiable by his clothes or accent as a Jew or Samaritan or Gentile. No one could identify him as one of ‘us’ or ‘them’. He has been reduced to the condition of a human being. Jesus asks,
“which of these three… was a neighbour?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)
This is the heart of Christian jihad. Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17).
15th May 2010
 Focus on the Family. Left Behind now an ‘End Times’ game. http://www.pluggedinonline.com/thisweekonly/a0002989.cfm
 Anne Coulter, National Review, 13 September 2001, http://old.nationalreview.com/coulter/coulter.shtml
 Sarah Posner, “Pastor Strangelove” The American Prospect Online, http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewPrint&articleId=11541 <Accessed March 2007>