tml> Biblical Ethics and Islam
  1. Introduction
2. The Bible on its own terms
3. The Koran on its own terms
4. Contrasts between the Bible and the Koran
5. Holy War in the Bible, Jihad in the Koran
6. Christian expansion, Islamic expansion
7. The ministry of the Prince of Peace
8. Questions from the audience
Biblical Ethics and Islam

Love of Hard Questions Seminar #220
21 April 2002
8. Questions from the audience

Carole: Hi, I’m Carole from Connecticut.

John Rankin: Hi Carol.

Carole: And I . . .

John: With or without an E?

Carole: With an E. I have two questions. One concerns your methodology, and I’ll ask this as quickly as I can. We know that Yahweh promised the land of Israel to the descendants of Abraham and Jacob and Sarah, but we also know from reading parts of the Koran that apparently Allah did the same thing to the descendants of Ishmael. To me this says something about the nature of God. He’s playing tricks the way a trick was played on Job for example. Put them in an impossible situation and then see what they’re going to do. How do you reconcile this view of God?

John: The first view is I do not believe that Allah is Yahweh Elohim. I believe it traces to the Sumerian moon god, and what Muhammad did was he brought him into service for his own political agenda to unify the Arabs. That’s my first conviction. Now why do I say that? I say it--and you asked me the methodological question in a moment, but part of my methodology was to show how the Bible understands Yahweh versus how the Koran understands Allah, and to compare the two.

And what the Koran does, coming through one man at one time, is it says whatever is in the Jewish and Christian Bible that’s not consistent with what comes in 612 A.D. is to be jettisoned. So they throw out all accountability to Jewish and Christian history.

So for example, all the archaeological evidence shows that Jews have been there since X-thousand years B.C. and so forth. And so the Koran basically throws that all out on its own terms.

Let me go back a little bit deeper. What is the source of the war between Isaac and Ishmael? And I didn’t make this earlier and I’m glad to make this point now. It’s the brokenness of the covenant of marriage.

Abram and Sarah before their names were changed to Abraham and Sarah, Abraham and Sarah were promised they would have a child in their old age and Abraham believed it. Sarai became impatient and says to Abram, take Hagar, my Egyptian maid servant. So she broke the covenant of marriage and he agreed, and so he slept with her, conceived, and as soon as Hagar knew she was pregnant, she despised Sarai because she realized Sarai used her as a piece of property to further her own family building attempt. And there’s a war between the women.

So before Ishmael is born, there is a war between the women, and it wasn’t waiting for God’s promise and God’s timetable. So this is human energy at this point, not God’s timetable on the biblical territory itself. Then what happens? Isaac is born 13 years later by the supernatural provision of God, and Ishmael hates Isaac, mocks him, and there’s a war between the two sons because of the war between the two mothers, and Abraham’s caught in between because he let it happen.

He loves his son Ishmael, but it was done by the power of the flesh. And because it was done by the power of the flesh and especially breaking the covenant of marriage, that led to the war between the two women and the sense of Ishmael being an orphan in the presence of his very father. He really grew up as a fatherless boy. He was diagnosed as a wild donkey of a man.

So the whole conflict goes back to that point and so if we’re honest it starts with that sin. But from that point on forward what the Koran has done is said that the promise given to Isaac really was given to Ishmael, but it has no historical ability to go back to the Bible on its own terms and show that to be the case.

Carole: I will think about all that.

John: Okay, please do.

Carole: On your methodology this evening, I have a question. Because of your own very deep Christian faith, it seems to me that you have taken the best of Christianity and contrasted it with the worst of Muslim religion. For example, I’m very glad to hear that men and women are equal, that’s good news. But why has it taken the church like 2000 years to figure this out? Every group of church fathers, the Calvinists and everybody else, said women shall be subject to husband and that’s it. Women were barely considered to be human beings for many centuries, so it seems to me that you’re taking the best of Christianity and comparing with the worst of Muslim thought.

John: I believe I’m not, okay, and I’m accountable for anyone who can press me if in case I am. Let me make this observation. In volume one of my three volume set, First the Gospel, then Politics, I have an over 200-page chapter on human sexuality. I trace everything from Genesis on forward. I’m going to give you a very succinct answer. In Genesis 1 and 2, men and women are equal. When sin comes in, and men try to rule over women and women try to connive around men, which is the history of the war between the sexes, we have sexism showing itself in ugly profile through the Bible. The Bible never condones it, but it identifies it. And everything is subject to that reality. Some texts are hard to understand because we don’t know the cultural shorthand of the language used in the New Testament, for example. And those are issues that I deal with thoroughly.

Now, this was also understood and very equitable in the early church. However, many of the founding fathers were very much influenced by Greek and Gnostic thought. Origin castrated himself because he had such a low view of human sexuality, that’s a Gnostic thought. The very Hebrew and pre-Hebrew thought is that sexuality is good between one man and one woman and one lifetime. So your critique is well taken, and it’s a critique I agree with. The church has not followed through, but the church is not been faithful to its origin in Genesis 1 and 2.

So what I’m always saying is, judge everything back to the origins of what we say we believe in, and if we take every other religious origin text and go back to its origins, there is sexism from the beginning. From the beginning there is no sexism, as soon as sin comes in, sexism all over the place.

Carole: So you’re blaming it on free will then? That messed God’s good intentions up.

John: That’s an excellent question. What is the origin of evil? I gave a little statement earlier, God loved us enough to let us say no. So what it means, and this is my understanding, the power to give is God’s nature, but a gift forced down the throat is not a gift, is it? It’s an imposition. Therefore, the very nature of God giving us freedom to be creative stewards of this planet means he gives freedom as well, otherwise we’re robots, otherwise we’re slaves.

So the necessary risk-taking corollary of giving freedom is we might say no. Another way of putting it is God gave us--God loves us enough to let us say no. So yes, God is saying I love all of you enough to give you the freedom whether or not to accept my love. And so I ask you what better equation is there in human history? Otherwise we’re forced into one angle or another.

Carole: There’s still one problem here. One needs very great deep Christian faith to have your positive view of the church; that’s the odd thing about Muslims also. One needs to be looking at it from the inside even to understand how it can possibly work and….

John: Right, and that’s a very fair question, why I gave my limitations, and we talked about the Bible on its own terms, the Koran on its own terms, and how can I do my best to be accountable to tough questions for those who come against me or who would disagree with me, and I will come back with this observation. Islam has no concept of the image of God universal in all people. The word for peace comes out of the word submission. If you submit to our religion, there will be peace. And that submission can be by force if necessary.

Now what the inclusive nature of Genesis says is we’re all made in God’s image. We all seek peace, order, stability, and hope. So what I seek to do is I admit that I can only look at it from within a Christian framework, but I also came from a skeptical framework.

And I had a great discussion for an hour the other night at Wesleyan with a student who was disagreeing with me. And I said, what can I do better if I admit my partisanship, what can I do more honestly but to put myself in the firing line of the toughest questions continually? I know of no more humble and intellectually rigorous way to be accountable. So I can’t understand the full Muslim understanding as a Muslim, but I do believe biblically, I can touch the image of God in all of us, and understand they’re seeking peace, order, stability, and hope.

And so I ask the most important question, in the face of such conflict how can we communicate? And I’m striving to do that, but I also need to speak the truth, and speaking the truth in terms of the measurements of history and the text.

Carole: Have you spoken on a program with a Muslim?

John: I would love to find one willing and I’ve tried very hard, you can’t find them. And if there’s one to do it, I’m glad to do it.

George: My name is George.

John: Hi George.

George: The views that you’re expressing are expressed by very few Christian people. In fact there seems to be almost a fear to express that view either in the church or in the church in secular society. You’re a very small minority, Chuck Colson, Professor Hutchinson. What do you, what is your view about the failure of the church to take a stand in this battle?

John: You know Carole just talked about me taking a charitable view towards history. What I do is I take a realistic view of history and a very charitable view for the power of touching God’s image in spite of our sins. And this comes to how I answer your question.

George: I wanted to ask a question in the context of your saying kind of a world conference and people just dialoguing, but you aren’t going to have Christians willing to dialogue on the basis that you want to see dialogue. And there’s a fear.

John: I believe so much that if you create terms where people know they will be heard regardless of what they say, then truth can come up. There are a lot of Christians afraid to say what they believe. George Bush, he says Islam is a peaceful religion. He’s either wrong or exceedingly brilliant. Wrong, because it’s not a peaceful religion, it’s by the sword, but he could be quoting an Arabic definition of peace, and therefore putting it in language whereby their own terms they are.

But his instinct is very Christian underneath. He doesn’t want a war with the people. He wants to touch the image of God in people. He wants peace, he’s a committed Christian man. He’s looking at the political sense and saying, how can I represent the Prince of Peace? That’s the same question I ask. How do we go about doing it? So I really posed to myself the toughest question. In the face of such controversy, how can we proceed? How is it possible? So this idea of the Presidential Convocation is rooted in the history of my Mars Hill Forums, and an example was Thursday night at Wesleyan. That’s one of the toughest forums I’ve been in the presence of.

And what happened was, with the deep passion of homosexual rights activists, the graffiti they had on the sidewalks as I came in was the most sexually violent graffiti you can imagine against my life and my person. And that’s how the forum started, and I didn’t respond to it in those terms. And by the end of it there was actually vital conversation.

I was told that ten years ago a Christian group on campus tried to have a forum on homosexuality, it degraded into a shouting match. As a result the Christians lost reputation on campus for five or six years and have been gun-shy ever since. I got three e-mails the day before yesterday saying John, because of this forum the whole attitude has reversed direction. And people want to have more of this. Well, I’m humbled by that.

That’s a real blessing. I sought to speak the truth but to speak it in love. I’m not always sure how well I do in that. But I do believe the image of God is there and people want to be heard. But you know in Islamic nations, the people don’t have a right to vote. They don’t have a right to be heard. It’s their elitists who are there, so how do you make a difference in that context?

So I will always be as charitable as I can to the image of God in any person. I always look and I’m willing to be violated in the process in terms of my own rights. I’m always willing to look for that spark of hope in a person. If I risk touching that, speaking the truth but giving liberty of dissent; that’s the best prescription I know of.

Alexis: My name is Alexis.

John: Hi, Alexis.

Alexis: Your didactic approach has been to always go back to the origin on Islam and Christianity. In that respect you explain the animosity between Ishmael and Isaac. Can we, from this, deduce that there will be no peace between Israel and the Palestinians? They both are the sons of Ishmael and Isaac and therefore is this didactic approach to the origin tell us there will be no peace?

John: Well, very good question. First of all, I tried to say that the Bible starts with a story, and then the doctrine, so I want to talk the story before I become didactic. But it’s necessary to move into our didaction, which I’ve sought to do.

So the whole idea of this Presidential Convocation is to allow people to share their stories. Now what could happen? Let’s look at what the Bible says. There will be Armageddon before Jesus returns. But before Jesus returns, the Gospel will be preached, heard, and understood, I believe by the whole creation.

Now how does this happen? It’s not just people hearing John 3:16 once. I think it’s the Gospel being lived in the midst of people, which means religious, political, and economic liberty, and prosperity. So that just like the Jews in Exodus knew that God was good and provided for them, before Jesus returns, all people will have seen that goodness tangibly demonstrated.

So, eschatologically, my sense is I don’t know what can happen, but I do know that I will do everything I can to be an agent of the Prince of Peace. And if my theology is right on the timetable on the return of Jesus, I have great hope of being able to succeed by letting--the Palestinians aren’t even a historic people. They’re a whole bunch of different people racially; they’re recently created. But let’s talk about the Arabs and the Jews. That’s what it comes down to. Let me take ten seconds to answer his question and then we’ll do exactly that.

I understand the challenge of that, and I don’t know everything, but I do know that I will labor my best to see communication happen where it doesn’t happen. And I do have a great confidence in the image of God. If you allow people to tell their stories with no limit on their freedom and time and go all the way back to their self-understood origins, I think that possibly communication and building trust increases. And the final observation is, it will take a generational change at some level, but how can that change ever happen without that pattern of communication.

Well, great, let’s stand up and anyone who wants to leave, go ahead and leave, and I’ll stay for another formal 15 minutes and we’ll conclude at 10 of 9 for those who want to stay.

Male Voice: It’s very interesting listening to you speak, and I’ve gotten a lot out of it. I must confess that I’m not as devout by any matter of means as you are. But you said a number of things that I don’t know as a people here have really--I hope they’ve grasped.

But you said a couple of key words which I believe is the source for all the conflict that we presently see in the Arab world, especially with the Palestinians, etc. And that is that these people are not given an opportunity to listen, to forgive, and to recognize differences in people. And this really has been brought about a lot, I think, by the political structure where these people live. Most of the people in the fanatical Islamic world all live in dictatorship areas. You go to places where there’s much more freedom of government such as Malaysia, etc. where I’ve dealt with people and there are Muslim people there, and believe me, they think level-headed, the way we do.

John: Or in Turkey.

Male Voice: Yeah or Turkey, they think much more level-headed, as we do. What’s happened in these areas where people haven’t been taught to forgive, etc., I think it’s really because their political leaders, who for the most part are corrupt, the people have a lot of hate built up inside them. And the political leaders don’t want the hate to be taken out against the government, so they say as long as these people have a lot of hate built up, let’s let them blow off steam toward the Christian and the Jewish community. This way the frustration will be taken off there instead of us the leaders who are ripping them off all the time.

And so the people have not been taught to forgive and the government doesn’t want them to forgive. They want them to build up hate and to vent this hate toward the Christians and the Jews. And that way the government, they perceive, will not have the risk of being overthrown. A lot of us really have to look back in recent history, and a lot of people who we think are fanatics, that are crazy and how can they be like this, it’s really not the people, it’s the leaders.

Take an example of China during the Cultural Revolution, we thought that they were all a bunch of maniacs over there. They weren’t really maniacs. The leaders were maniacs, they were steering the people through the control of the press, etc. to act like maniacs. They really weren’t. When the people got their freedoms over there which they have to relevant extent now, we find they’re really nice people just as we are.

I think in the Muslim world basically, I have the belief that everybody is born good, and the things that surround you in the environment make you appear not to be good. These are really good people, but their political leaders have warped themselves. That’s why we all think that they’re fanatics and crazy. That their religion is totally out of whack with reality, when really that need not be the case, if these people had the freedom to express themselves, and sit down, and think rationally and understand what’s going on outside their religion. How can they forgive people or understand people outside their religion when they’re not allowed to understand or communicate or read a free press?

John: Let me just interject there a second. You’ve given a lot of good observations. In a nutshell, you have diagnostically given us a good profile but there are far deeper realities as well. Tyrannies are always there. There’s no doctrine of forgiveness in the Koran, and so what cultural history do you have for that forgiveness to begin with? The very nature of the Koran leads to totalitarian government.

This is what I believe. I don’t believe we’re all born good. I believe that sin has affected us. Sin is a brokenness of relationship, a brokenness of trust that leads us to grab for what we need instead of receiving it, given in a good society.

And so what I affirm is the strivings of the image of God for goodness in all people, the POSH L’s, if you will, the image of God. And it’s also true that you’ve got tyrannies in these non-democratic countries, but the only basis there is for unalienable rights in a democratic and constitutional republic is the God of the Bible in Genesis, not Allah, or not the Hindu concept or some other concept. All people are striving for those realities, but they don’t have a basis for it. So I think a lot of what you say is diagnostically true, but I’m going to go deeper to the actual religious nature.

If we look at nearly 1400 years of Islam’s march, there is not one indigenous Jew or Christian in Saudi Arabia today, nor have they been for, I think 1,400 years. They were all killed. And most of the churches in what is now called Palestine, which is a Roman name, to get rid of the Jewish identity, the church was wiped out tremendously. All across Northern Egypt the church was wiped out. It was the majority reality in the Seventh Century, and the Muslims swept in and destroyed them for pillage, for their economic aggrandizement, and so forth.

So there’s a history there that cannot be ignored, and so what I have to do is I have to be accountable to that history. But as a Christian, I am no more righteous than a Muslim person apart from the grace of God. But the question is who is God, where does that grace come from, and then here’s the most important question, how do I demonstrate it?

A lot of people, you’re right, are given no ability to express themselves in Arabian countries, and the Palestinians are the pawns of Arabian countries against the Jews and their hatred to the Jews. And my heart breaks for the Palestinians in that regard, and particularly if they’re raised for decade after decade of being told lies about the source of their squalor.

Seminar Contents

Mars Hill Forum home
  1. Introduction
2. The Bible on its own terms
3. The Koran on its own terms
4. Contrasts between the Bible and the Koran
5. Holy War in the Bible, Jihad in the Koran
6. Christian expansion, Islamic expansion
7. The ministry of the Prince of Peace
8. Questions from the audience