The term Jihad tends to be associated with Islam – indeed for some, the two words are synonymous. But the fact is violent extremism is found in all religions. I could easily quote Islamic or Jewish leaders who justify the use of violence in the name of God, but I will give you one example from a well-known Christian. Following the tragedy of 9/11 and 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.”
In my opinion, too many evangelical leaders have also been quick to endorse Mr Donald Trump’s threat to “totally destroy North Korea.” Thankfully, many Christians in the USA as well as Europe and Asia repudiate views such as these as a gross distortion of Christianity and grave insult to the teachings of Jesus the Christ.
This year’s ReNew conference was organised by Anglican Mission in England, Church Society, and Reform and held in Leeds under the title Gospel Advance. The major theological theme of the conference explored the Atonement. Contributors included Christopher Ash, Sam Allberry, George Crowder, Matthew Mason, Vaughan Roberts, Rob Scott, Glen Scrivener, William Taylor, Rico Tice, Robin Weekes, and Paul Williams.
In his short but passionate little book, Chosen? Walter Brueggemann addresses some of the important questions regarding God’s purposes for Israel and the Church. For example, are contemporary Israeli citizens the descendants of the Israelites in the Bible whom God called chosen? Was the promise of land to Abraham permanent and irrevocable? What about others living in the promised land? Who are the Zionists, and what do they believe? The subtitle of the book tells us where he intends to look for answers, “Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” His publisher, Westminster John Knox, promises,
“The reader will get answers to their key questions about how to understand God’s promises to the biblical people often called Israel and the conflict between Israel and Palestine today.”
Chosen? comprises 59 pages of scripture commentary in four short chapters, a Q&A with the author, a glossary and 20-page study guide to facilitate group discussion around each of the chapters. The four chapters are:
Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
God’s Chosen People, Claim and Problem
Zionism and Israel
The book also contains very helpful guidelines for respectful dialogue first published by the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1992. Significantly, the title includes a question mark. I added a question mark to the titles of two of my own books: Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? and Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church.[i] Walter is recognising, as I did, that views differ on whether the Jews are God’s chosen people, even though, unlike me, he personally concludes that they are.
The Pilgrim Way is one of my favourite places to walk. It follows one of the ancient footpaths from Winchester to Canterbury across the North Downs. Now there are many public footpaths in England but this one is unique. As the name suggests, for hundreds of years it has been used by pilgrims. For some it was a way to do penance and earn merit with God. For others it was a special time to deepen their spiritual walk. The trail ends at Canterbury Cathedral where pilgrims kneel at the spot where Thomas Becket was killed by the knights of Henry II. There is a simple memorial which marks the place of Becket’s martyrdom. For nearly a thousand years, Christians have knelt there to ask God that they, like Becket, might live courageously for him in spite of the powers of the world. When the position of Archbishop of Canterbury fell vacant, Henry appointed his friend Thomas Becket in the position thinking he would do his bidding. But something happened to Becket after he was appointed as spiritual leader of England. He stopped being complacent about his faith. He put politics and luxury behind him. He gave up his former wealth and life style. And he began to challenge the king over differences between the church and government. He paid the ultimate sacrifice. But Becket’s martyrdom did not earn him a place in heaven. And neither does a pilgrimage to Canterbury. There is only one way to find forgiveness for the past and peace of mind for the future.
What will bring on the feeling of nausea most quickly for you? Is it the debris left on pavements by people who have drunk excessive amounts of alcohol the night before? Or maybe it’s those little presents left for you to step in by anti-social dog walkers who don’t clean up afterwards? Displays of wobbling body tissue resulting from a diet rich in carbohydrates is high on my list. But what is most likely to cause you to faint? For me it is the sight of blood in the wrong place, especially my own. What is it about blood that makes us queasy, nauseous or likely to faint? Perhaps it is because deep down in our subconscious we equate blood with life. There are seven essential biological functions of blood that keep us alive.
Red blood cells transport oxygen from the lungs to every cell in our body.
White blood cells defend the body against invading microorganisms.
Blood transports nutrients from the digestive system and when needed, from our storage reserves to every cell of the body. So fat is beautiful. Well some…
Blood transports hormones from our endocrine glands to target tissues in need.
Blood removes metabolic wastes from every cell to organs that excrete them.
Blood helps maintain fluid balance in the whole body.
Blood helps distribute metabolic heat within the body to maintain a healthy body temperature.
If you have travelled abroad on holiday or for work, you will no doubt have observed a variety of places of worship. Synagogues, mosques, temples, shrines, churches, chapels, cathedrals. Some permanent, some temporary. Some very ancient, some modern. Some ornate and some very simple. And within them, if you have ventured inside, you might have seen Muslims prostrating, Shia’s lamenting, Buddhists meditating, Voodoos dancing, Shintos chanting, Hindus sacrificing, Zoroastrians lighting fires, Jews rocking, Sufis whirling, Shakers… shaking, Catholics kneeling, Mystics contemplating, Pentecostals slaying, and Anglicans doing everything, decently and in order. Colourful, vibrant, diverse. Worship is universal.
Today it seems uncertainty and agnosticism are more valuable than conviction and commitment. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. The suggestion that a particular faith is the only way to God is synonymous with narrow minded intolerance, fundamentalism or with religious extremism.
Sincerity and Truth
Many people think all religions lead to God because they assume that all religions are essentially the same when you reduce them to their core beliefs. They liken the religions to different paths up a mountain, believing that as we approach the summit we realise how much we have in common. But this just isn’t true and only shows they have not looked deeply enough at what the various religions teach. If you let each religion speak for itself, you find they differ greatly on the basic concepts-God, truth, reality, the basic human dilemma and the solution to that dilemma. They differ so much that many of their statements contradict one another. For example, God cannot be both personal, as Christians, Jews and Muslims believe, and impersonal, as Buddhists and Hindus believe. Jesus cannot be a false Messiah as Judaism teaches, a prophet as Islam teaches and the eternal Son of God as Christians believe. Those are contradictory statements. According to the rules of logic, contradictory statements cannot all be true. Therefore, all religions cannot possibly be true. It is a logical impossibility. And if they are not all true, and if they lead us in different directions, then not all of them can lead to God. The sincerity of followers is not in question. You can be sincere but sincerely wrong.
About five years ago, I was invited to give a series of lectures at universities in Mashhad, Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran and dialogue with Islamic scholars in Qom. The Q&A session after each presentation was a lively affair. The most frequently asked question was about the reliability of the Bible. What did I think about Mel Gibson’s film The Passion? What did I think about Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code?
Over 1 billion people apparently believe the views popularized in The Da Vinci Code. They believe the message of the Bible has been corrupted and distorted, that Jesus is not the Son of God, but simply a Prophet and that he did not die on the cross or rise from the dead. They believe that there were many other accounts of the life of Christ suppressed and destroyed before and after the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. They believe that the Emperor Constantine commissioned the writing of the New Testament we now have which portrays Jesus as a divine figure. Dozens of other “gospels” were censored.
They believe the Gospel of Barnabas is the only known surviving account written by a disciple of Jesus and accepted as authentic before Nicea. It was supposed to have been rediscovered by a monk named Fra Marino, who came across an Italian manuscript in the Pope’s private library in 1590. He smuggled it out of the library, read it and became a Muslim.