Unfortunately, in the wake of this void comes Islam, which secularism can neither persuade nor resist. The predominant representation of the (reductionist) gospel we now see in the West is, I would argue, similarly ineffective. Through neglect, cultural accommodation, and historical indifference, the Christian faith in the West has been largely reduced to a few doctrines of self-interest. As the late Robert Webber so aptly points out:
The Christian faith was reduced to the problem of my sin, the work of Christ for me, the necessity of my conversion and the expectation of my faithfulness to live like a Christian. I was made the center of the story. I needed to invite Jesus into my life and my journey so he could walk with me and bless my life and my ministry (Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? [Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008], 25).
This in no way diminishes the personal nature of faith in Christ, nor one’s personal experience. However, the gospel story as delivered by the apostles is not centered on me as much as it is on God and His purposes in creation, humanity, and history. The gospel story encompasses creation, the fall, redemption, and re-creation, thus explaining where we’ve come from, why there is death and suffering, and what God, in His sovereignty and mercy, is doing to remedy this condition and restore His creation.
Our modern tendency is to focus only on “redemption” in terms that are almost entirely personal. However, God’s redemptive mission includes the whole of His creation in which Christ Jesus is making all things new. There is both a present and future hope in which those who are “new creations”—already participating in God’s re-creating activity—are called to extend this redemptive work. The gospel story is much bigger than just my personal justification.
The “good news” is first spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he writes, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7, ESV). Properly understood, the good news is the fact that the God who reigns—and whose reign has broken into the world through the Son—is undoing what sin has done to His creation. Jesus Christ, the King, is bringing peace, happiness, and salvation into the world. The gospel is the whole story of God’s creation, incarnation, and re-creation. This gospel is the only true and adequate contender to accurately explain the world and reality.
Islam also purports to explain the world—as do all worldviews—including a conception of economics, politics, and society. Islam attempts to explain and order everything, from religion and society to rules about food, clothing, and hygiene. It is here, however, that the fallacy of Islam is revealed in contrast to the freedom found in the greater gospel story of the world.
Islam rests on a desired reality: worldwide submission to Allah, which, it is argued, will only be realized when all the enemies of Islam have been subdued or put to death. The gospel rests on a now and not yet reality in which we can adequately account for the present evil, death, and suffering in the world, which has resulted from sin while also working to counter the effects of the fall through truth, justice, and love.
Where Islam seeks to subdue the world, the gospel rescues the world from its present sufferings. Where Islam seeks to order the activity of the world under a totalitarian and oppressive vision, the gospel liberates humanity from the bondage of sin and those attitudes that lead to division and oppression. Consider that “of the forty-six Muslim-majority nations in the world, only three [are] free” (Mark Steyn, America Alone [Washington, D.C.: Regenery, 2006] 16). Conversely, every nation into which the gospel has spread—having shaped the social consensus—has become free.
Where Islam seeks to control thought, the gospel encourages humanity to express their gifts in diverse in creative ways. Historian and journalist Serge Trifkovic observes, “Like all totalitarian ideologies, Islam has an inherent tendency to the closing of the mind. The spirit of critical inquiry essential to the growth of knowledge is completely alien to it. Western engineers, military officers, and doctors could train their Muslim students, but the latter never managed to give more than what was imparted to them” (Serge Trifkovic, “Decline without fall,” Chronicles of Culture, August 2006, 38).
Islam offers a god who is impersonal, unknowable, and uninvolved in the affairs of men. The gospel tells of an infinite and yet personal Triune God who is relational. God the Father is characterized by love, having experienced eternal relationship within the Trinity—a God who desires a relationship with humanity and, more importantly, a God who entered human history and suffered to restore the relationship once broken by a rebellious people.
Islam’s offer of eternal salvation is nebulous and uncertain, based on a person’s works and whether or not those works are found pleasing to Allah. Even Muhammad expressed doubts about his own salvation, writing, “Though I am the apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me” (Hadith 5:266). How much more insecure must the poor Muslim be whose works most assuredly must be less than those of the prophet Muhammad? By contrast, the gospel acknowledges our utter inability to earn God’s approval and instead places the hope and assurance of salvation firmly on the work of God the Son.
The only hope for the West in its struggle against radical Islam is what it has always been: the gospel. However it must be the true gospel, which includes its cosmic scope as well as the personal dimension, and not the reductionist version that is centered on me. It is the far grander story of what God has done and is doing in the world. It is this understanding that we must recover, and the one we are commanded to proclaim.
© 2008 S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the founder and President of the Center for Christ & Culture. Michael is the author of Uncompromised Faith, published by Navpress and scheduled for release January 2009. Michael's ministry is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.