Jihad If You Do, Holy War If You Don't

I continue to scratch my head over Christian reactions to Islam. Granted, I would not be so itchy had a three-week journey in Turkey not raised a host of questions through which I am still sorting. Even so, the Christian (and especially neo-Calvinist inspired) criticisms of Muslims for rejecting secularity are richly ironic.

Take, for instance, this plug for the new Trinity Institute to be led by theonomists-turned-Federal Visionaries, James Jordan and Peter Leithart, which talks about the all encompassing claims of Christianity, even on those areas of life considered by secularists to be not religious but secular (i.e., temporal):

When I first came to Japan in 1981, I was a premillennial dispensationalist struggling to plant a church in a pagan culture. Jordan’s The Law of the Covenant, which I read in 1984, showed me how the Bible could and must be read to apply to cultural issues today. Jordan’s various writings on Biblical symbolism, especially Through New Eyes fundamentally changed the way I read and taught the Bible. Our local church here now practices paedobaptism and paedocommunion, employs a liturgy we learned from Jeff Meyers, Jordan, and Leithart, and relies extensively on the voluminous writings of Jordan and Leithart in the research institute that supports our Christian education program. Faithfulness to the Scriptures and love for the Triune God exude from their wide ranging works that address questions and problems in Biblical exegesis, theology, liturgy, history, politics, philosophy, literature, music, and even popular entertainment. When young pastors ask me for book recommendations, I tell them to buy and read everything they can get by Jordan and Leithart.

Note that “faithfulness to Scriptures” involves politics, the arts and sciences, and movies. Note as well that Leithart himself has defended the political theology of Constantine precisely because it is a worthy alternative to secularity.

So what makes Muslims different aside from a different sacred text?

But the irony is all the more apparent in Bill Evans’ recent post about Islam. I won’t go into all of Evans’ points but a couple of paragraphs stand out. The first is the standard line about Islam lacking any room for secularity, despite the examples of Turkey and Dearborn, Michigan:

Islam is a religio-cultural-political package. There is no ultimate distinction in Islam between the sacred and the secular, and thus none between mosque and state. All of life is understood as a matter of submission to Allah. For this reason, while there has sometimes been religious toleration under Islamic governments, there can be no real religious pluralism in the practical political sense of the term. That is to say, adherents of other religions will not be viewed as equal members of society in a context governed by Islamic principles.

Don’t lots of neo-Calvinists also say this about Christianity? Substitute God for Allah and you have a fairly close resemblance, though neo-Calvinists, at least in their Dutch iteration, were never able to rid the Netherlands of the incredible toleration that the nation practiced.

Later in his piece, Evans invokes Richard John Neuhaus’ brief against a Naked Public Scqure, or an overly narrow conception of secularity:

Western secular liberal democracy no longer takes the question of religious truth seriously. In fact, it largely lacks even the vocabulary to discuss religious truth claims, and this places it at a distinct disadvantage when deals with groups for whom such truth claims are central. We in the West are the heirs of the post-Enlightenment fact/value dichotomy—on the one hand there are empirical, scientific facts; on the other hand there are values which cannot be rationally confirmed. Such values are matters of opinion, and religious beliefs and convictions are, on this reading of things, merely values. Along with this comes the inevitable privatization of religion. Religious belief is simply a matter of personal opinion that is acceptable only so long as it remains private and unobtrusive.

The public square, as the late Richard John Neuhaus aptly observed, has thus become “naked” or stripped of religious expression. When Barack Obama claims that Muslims will have a different opinion of America because he “understands their point of view,” Muslims know full well that he is not taking them as believers or their truth claims seriously, and they are not impressed. But we really cannot expect a Western secularist like Obama to respond in any other way, and hence the persistent disconnect between Islam and the West.

This may be a plausible construction of secular society, though if Christ himself introduced the notion when he distinguished between what is Caesar’s and God’s, Christians may actually embrace secularity as part and parcel of their religion. But if Evans is right about secular society in the West, can he really blame Muslims for objecting to secularism?

If Christians are going to portray the struggle between Islam and the West as a clash of civilizations, and then take shots at the West for abandoning Christianity, they will need to give a fuller account of the differences between Islam and Christianity on secular politics. Without that, they sound a tad whiney and a whole lot inconsistent.

39 thoughts on “Jihad If You Do, Holy War If You Don't

  1. Jordan & Leithart should put together some kind of “church in a box” book bundle. My goodness! Adopt all of their program so the non-Christian neighbors can feel like a bunch of martians have descended on their town. How about Van Drunen as a substitute for the Jordan/Leithart program?


  2. Sounds like Evans needs 2k to make it adhere. I still think the distinction that 2k is consistent with the scriptures particularly in it’s new covenant and NT iteration makes this plausible from a christian citizens perspective. I see no such opportunity in Islam apart from them adopting a theologically liberal hermenuetic toward the Qu’ran, in fact this is what analysts are hoping for. Even in Turkey, when they’ve copied the west in it’s secularism, they have had to argue that the West’s political secularity was actually Islam’s in it’s heyday and the West ‘stole’ the principles from them, so they’re just stealing it back. So, even here they are forced to reconcile or baptize their secularity in a ‘theonomic’ triumph of Islamic ideology.


  3. Inconsistency is the key. My neo-calvinist friends never take the “nothing is secular, everything is sacred” meme to it’s full conclusion. They have no problem borrowing from the secular speration of church and state to keep the state from interfering with their choice of praise band music or location of thief next accountability group.


  4. Darryl, spot-on conclusion. There is a basis to distinguish the two civilizations and to argue for the merit of this country and it’s not the Christian faith. It’s the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (which of course are rooted in an historical march of evolving self-government in the west). Too many Christians are ignorant of that history and the import of these documents. Thus a whole-lotta-assuming goes on by those claiming it is Christianity that gave us this country and all its benefits, rights, values, etc.

    It’s ironic that Christians, by mis-characterizing the foundation of our society as ‘Christian’, actually undermine its greatest strength. The genius of the founders was that they set up a secular self-government that was not Christian, yet fully knowing that those whom were the self-governed were nonetheless very much Christian, or at least religious. The founders wanted to be done with religious wars. By missing that distinction, those who today ascribe Christianity as the foundation of our government have unintentionally led us back to the cultural/political equivalent of the Thirty Years War in Europe.

    Curious, I don’t understand how the Powerline story is an example of Islamic secularization. Is that what you meant?


  5. The first link goes to Leithart’s web page. Interesting that you can’t comment on anything there.

    These guys are thoroughly Postmillennial. It shapes everything they do. It’s kind of ironic that they are protestants, because if they were consistent you would think they would see the Reformation and the splintering of the church into many sects (30,000 according to the bogus count of the Called to Communion guys) to be a huge interruption of the long, steady march to a glorious, thoroughly Christianized world. The age when the magistrate and the pope united behind one church should have been a glorious time in their view. I wonder what will happen to this movement when the charismatic figures (Wilson, Leithart, Jordan, Wilkins, Schlissel, etc.) pass on. Will their younger followers continue the movement or will they move into more time-tested, traditional Reformed & Presbyterian churches?


  6. Jack,

    Exactly. The only other alternative, and it’s real, is that populist Islam goes the way of protestant liberalism, in that the vast majority of adherents(Islam) enjoin a much less than literal or ‘orthodox’ view of Islam. It has happened in America, outside of evangelicalism, which is quite frankly too ignorant to make a break from it’s implicit acceptance of western ideals(seperation of church and state). Otherwise, we in the west are left to either pound them into submission or simply impoverish them to the point where they are back to throwing rocks.


  7. Pat,

    I used to interact with Rev. Nolder during my Facebook days. Interesting guy. I’ve encouraged him to post on Oldlife but haven’t seen him do it yet. I would be interested to hear how the CREC in Pella is perceived by the locals. You have a Petri dish of Reformed theology in Pella – CRC, URC, RCA, OPC (John Muether’s brother, Chuck, is the pastor), CREC. Fascinating place sociologically.


  8. sean, I agree. Yours is the same observation that I made on the 9/24 thread:

    This distinction is really my only point. And it doesn’t mean that there haven’t been, and aren’t, more moderate strains of Islam here and there. But those strains are viewed by theological Muslims in a similar way that the OPC would view the World Council of Churches, i.e. a “Rodney King” aberration from the true religion. I hope the Rodney Kings of Islam can catch some old-time revivalism and grow. But it doesn’t help the moderates if the west misconstrues Islam.


  9. Is the secular “naked square” the place where everybody agrees to not be thinking about what Jesus said “when we as private citizens act in this sphere”? If so, I can see some Muslims going for that, even if it means also not thinking about what Allah said.

    Luke 11:23 As many as who are not with me are against me

    Mark 9:40 For the one who is not against us is for us.


  10. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/books/review/ted-widmer-on-john-winthrop.html?ref=review&_r=0

    Interesting that Widmer has no reference to Richard Gamble’s new book.

    I found the essay by Mark Lila in today’s NYTimes more interesting. On the one hand, Kelsa (Claremont Review) rightly names Woodrow Wilson (Presbyterian) as the villain. But on the other hand, Kelsa (with other “conservatives”) cannot see the present as a consequence of Ronald Reagan—“if conservatives conceded Reagan’s ideological victory they would have to confront the more prosaic reasons that entitlements and deficits continue to grow in Republican and Democratic administrations alike. “


  11. In Islam, religion, state, and culture form one entity. This is apparent in Turkey, where Ataturk’s forced secularism is giving way to the re-Islamization of the country, under Erdogan’s rule.

    Mr. Hart should read more about Islam before making his comparison. I suggest, “Islamic Imperialism: A History,” by Ephraim Karsh, Professor and Head of the Mediterranean Studies Programme, King’s College, University of London, published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006.

    In his Introduction to the book, Professor Karsh writes:
    “The worlds of Christianity and Islam, however, have developed differently in one fundamental respect. The Christian faith won over an existing empire in an extremely slow and painful process and its universalism was originally conceived in spiritual terms that made a clear distinction between God and Caesar. By the time it was embraced by the Byzantine emperors as a tool for buttressing their imperial claims, three centuries after its foundation, Christianity had in place a countervailing ecclesiastical institution with an abiding authority over the wills and actions of all believers. The birth of Islam, by contrast, was inextricably linked with the creation of a world empire and its universalism was inherently imperialist. It did not distinguish between temporal and religious powers, which were combined in the person of Muhammad, who derived his authority directly from Allah and acted at one and the same time as head of the state and head of the church. This allowed the prophet to cloak his political ambitions with a religious aura and to channel Islam’s energies into ‘its instruments of aggressive expansion, there [being] no internal organism of equal force to counterbalance it.’” (P. 5)


  12. Madam makes the crucial point and distinction:
    In Islam, religion, state, and culture form one entity. This is apparent in Turkey, where Ataturk’s forced secularism is giving way to the re-Islamization of the country, under Erdogan’s rule.


  13. Jack and Bassam, the problem I see is a blanket generalization of Islam. I’ve read enough Bernard Lewis to see that Muhammad and early Islam are fundamentally different from Christianity (though I do wonder about similar anti-secular impulses among Christians — “no neutrality, everything is religious all the way through”). I also don’t presume to know the subtleties of Turkish politics and the tensions between Erdogan’s party and the older secular Kemalists. But generalizations about Islam as anti-western or anti-secular don’t do justice to Muslims living in Dearborn or Istanbul. Part of what I am asking is for Christian critics of Islam to worry also about Christians who oppose secularity not for the sake of Allah but Jahweh.


  14. I started reading James Bratt’s history of Dutch Calvinism in America last night. Pretty early on he gets into Kuyper and the birth of Neo-Calvinism in the Netherlands. It’s a good intro for anyone interested in 2K debates.


  15. Darryl, you wrote: Part of what I am asking is for Christian critics of Islam to worry also about Christians who oppose secularity not for the sake of Allah but Jahweh.

    I’m in agreement. But they are not entirely the same issue.

    For 35 years as one who is pro-life, I have made my case to others based not on the Bible or Christian values, but on Constitutional grounds and logical argumentation. I’m against school prayer. It’s oxymoronic. Heck, I’m even a little iffy on some types of prayer that take place in our church!

    But generalizations about Islam as anti-western or anti-secular don’t do justice to Muslims living in Dearborn or Istanbul.

    I wouldn’t say that my position is grounded in generalizations about Islam or its supposed anti-western/secular stance. I’m making a case that Islam has an orthodox understanding that goes back to its inception, despite examples like Turkey of the last 70 years (and that’s sadly changing). That orthodox understanding is “In Islam, religion, state, and culture form one entity.” That is the norm in its teaching. There is nothing explicitly anti-this or anti-that in Madan’s statement. But, if true, it tells us something important when orthodox Islamists are in ascendancy.

    How does holding that view not do justice to Muslims living in Dearborn? I would dare say that they would agree with its truth, but indeed want a different Islam than that. Far from lumping all together, I’m making what I see to be necessary distinctions. By the way I have a good friend, a Muslim, who lives in the Dearborn area. He would agree.


  16. Lewis Posted September 29, 2012 at 11:45 am “Inconsistency is the key. My neo-calvinist friends never take the “nothing is secular, everything is sacred” meme to it’s full conclusion. They have no problem borrowing from the secular speration of church and state to keep the state from interfering with their choice of praise band music or location of thief next accountability group.”

    Lewis, I’ve seen this theme numerous times on Dr. Hart’s message board.

    I simply do not know where people are getting the idea that being a “transformationist” or “culture warrior” or “neo-Calvinist” means throwing the regulative principle under the bus.

    Dr. Hart and I have real differences. They’re not minor. However, I strongly suspect we’re in substantial agreement on matters of worship. The same could be said for many, many others who affirm the regulative principle but disagree on application of Scripture to politics.

    Certainly we can name some prominent YRR churches which love praise bands, wild worship, accountability groups, etc. That may in fact typify the YRR movement. I’m quite aware that there are several well-known pastors who cross swords regularly with Dr. Hart on culture transformation issues whose churches have that kind of worship even if they’re not YRR in the full sense of the word.

    However, to say the YRRs exclusively or even predominantly represent Reformed people who believe that Christianity has political implications simply isn’t what I see at all. That is especially true if we want to use phrases like “neo-Calvinist.” That word usually has Kuyperian connotations, and conservative Dutchmen are nothing if not severe and strict in their view of proper worship.

    Also, the high-church liturgical stuff coming out of the CREC movement owes much more to medievalism than it does to a Reformed understanding of worship or to the “praise band” style of emotionalism than dominates modern worship.

    I just don’t see the connection between “culture transformationism” and praise bands that some want to make.


  17. Stewart,

    That’s what you get when it’s either King Jesus or king satan. Nobody wants to live in tension. Least of all a guy who finally opted out, and made himself Pope. Where’s that article on self-serving of the Lord’s Supper on Mars?! or Moscow for that matter.


  18. Re: Wilson – Underlying D.G.’s piece is a belief that Scripture does not warrant the kind of church-based political activism practiced by much of the Religious right, while the Koran does. Wilson acts like both books recommend it and only the Christian version is valid because Christianity is true and Islam is not. We are back to the argument of what Scripture says. I think the Scriptural arguments for the validity of church-based political activism are as weak as the arguments for postmillennialism, and it is maybe no coincidence that they seem to go hand-in-hand in the CREC.


  19. DTM, you might want to qualify your comments about Dutchmen, worship and politics if you throw the CRC and GKN into the mix. The “all is sacred” trope does eventually have its consequences.


  20. DTM, the co-incidence of neo-Calvinism and P&W can tend to be just that, a co-incidence and one that poses problems for its advocates. But that hardly diminishes the problem inherent to neo-Calvinism which, in its quest for cultural relevance and impact, tends to undermine the prioritization of the institutional church. Or as VanDrunen puts it (in “Always Reformed”):

    Another common characteristic of neo-Calvinism, amidst its diversity, is its dedication to putting the church in its place. That may seem unnecessarily pejorative, but I believe it is not unfair. What I mean is that neo-Calvinism, if it is united by anything, is united by a desire to promote Christian cultural engagement, the goodness of all lawful vocations, and a “kingdom vision” that includes but by no means is limited to the church. Conceptions of Christianity that are overly church-focused—and hence restricted in their kingdom vision—come in for special critique. Neo-Calvinism aims to convince believers that Christianity is about all of life and that their common occupations are just as holy and redeemable as their pastor’s work and their own worship on Sunday. Of course none of its proponents are anti-church and many of them are dedicated servants of the church. It seeks to elevate other institutions and activities rather than lower the church’s status, but the effect is still to ensure that the church does not have too prominent a place in the Christian life, for the sake of a holistic kingdom vision.

    So neo-Calvinist old timers may have a “severe and strict in their view of proper worship,” but their organic neo-Calvinism is to some extent working against their institutional devotions. The neo-P&W connection here in Little Geneva is fairly ubiquitous in the CRC world. But the URCs should remember that when they ceded they took plenty of the neo-Calvinism with them. The upshot is that even our confessional-RPW URC has the red revivalist hymnbook (yesteryear’s P&W) next to the blue Psalter, which makes the connection theory hard to deny.


  21. Dearborn, as an example of how Islam can live in peace? Really?

    Yes, Islam can sort of live in peace – where is is either forcefully suppressed (formerly in Turkey), still weak (but biding its time) as in Dearborn, European slums, etc., or still surrounded by a much larger majority that won’t (yet) stand for sharia.

    But already in Dearborn we have attempts to suppress free speech that criticizes their purported prophet.

    Dearborn is an example of a point on a curve. A curve along which places *move*.


  22. Dr. Hart, you raise a valid point about the CRC and GKN. As we both know, I am not unfamiliar with the CRC or GKN, both their present and their past.

    I do not want to defend the current practices of the CRC or of the present united church composed of the merged GKN and NHK. I do not believe their present worship practices can in any way be argued to be a consistent development from their once-confessional past. Their worship is aberrant today because their theology is aberrant.

    My original phrase referred to conservative Dutchmen — “That word usually has Kuyperian connotations, and conservative Dutchmen are nothing if not severe and strict in their view of proper worship.”

    I do think that ZRim has a better point, however. Today’s conservative URC in the United States (much less so in Canada) looks like the conservative RCA of two or three generations ago, attempting to accommodate American evangelicalism. We can make an argument for or against that, but I believe if it continues, it will lead the URCNA inexorably into the direction the PCA has taken.

    I do not believe that would be good.


  23. Darrell, but you’re not doing a little close inspection to ask whether Kuyperianism contributed to the defective theology and worship in the CRC and GKN. In my own days in the CRC, you couldn’t hear anyone talk about the five points. But a Reformed W-W was orthodoxy.


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