ISLAM AND THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION
Islam came to the world in the seventh century through the Prophet Mohammed. Although it borrowed heavily from the Judeo-Christian religions, it looked more to Judaism than Christianity in a number of important ways. First, it thought Christianity to be polytheistic with its emphasis on the Trinity, an emphasis not found in Judaism. Second, it sought to create a theocratic state, not unlike the Old Testament theocracy created on Mount Sinai. You see this desire in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Iran, where militant Muslims seek to enforce Islam on the state.
Third, Islam emphasizes “jihad,” a religious duty imposed on Muslims to spread Islam by waging war. In one sense this emphasis is more akin to Christianity with its missionary enterprise than to Old Testament Israel which had no such mandate. But the part I wish to accent is Old Testament Israel’s use of war to conquer and spread. Although Christians are commissioned to “go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” the New Testament disavows any use of the sword. The gospel conquers by the power of the Spirit rather than violence.
Fourth, Islam, like Judaism, does not consider the doctrine of election central in its theology. In the Old Testament you find oblique references to election in the form of the sovereign omnipotence of God: “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other, I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'”
The word “election,” and its derivatives, appears numerous times in the Old Testament, but in- reference to the nation more than to individuals. And when referencing individuals, it has to do with their temporal state, such as God choosing David to be king, rather than with their eternal state.
OLD TESTAMENT ISRAEL
God called the Hebrews to form a covenant community and avoid any significant contact with aliens. On occasion, non-Hebrews became part of Israel, but only after embracing the Law and becoming part of the believing community. For example, some of the most serious difficulties that Israel encounters with God results from their intermarriage with gentiles.
Whether this forced isolation had anything to do with the doctrine of election is a matter of conjecture. However, just as with Old Testament Israel, the New Testament believer gauges the amount of influence he permits the world to have on him by the degree he believes in the doctrine of election. We can clearly see the link between the strength of a person’s view of election and his feeling the need to separate from all manner of corrupting influences.
Confidence in God’s gracious election gives freedom to associate with unbelievers in a hostile environment. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane:
‘I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.’2
Because salvation is a free gift of God bestowed on those He elects, a polluted environment cannot keep His own from Him; many of us were saved out of terrible depravity.
If you do not believe in God’s sovereign election, you will be timid and hesitant reaching out to the lost for fear of being adversely influenced. The doctrine of election, emphasized in most of the New Testament literature, forms a strategic link with the believer’s call to live in a corrupted society as “salt and light”3 The evil influences of the world will not jeopardize your salvation.
It may prove helpful to remember that this New Testament concept of election is inextricably connected with grace; they ate the head and tail of the same coin. I suppose you can have election without grace, in the sense that God can elect a person to hell, but you cannot have grace without election. Paul links these two in passages such as: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”4
Terrorism against the United States, for the most part, comes as a reaction of Islam against the corrupting influences of our country. Akbar S. Ahmed, a Pakistani scholar residing at the University of Cambridge, England, wrote an article for At Century’s End entitled, “Media Mongols at the Gates of Baghdad.”5 In his article he explained that the wrath of Islam is directed toward the ubiquitous U.S. media. For example, CNN, he said, reaches to the most remote parts of Afghanistan; all one needs is a generator and a TV. With satellites beaming television signals to all parts of the world, otherwise innocent people sit under the decadent influence of re-runs such as “Dallas.” This corrupting of their culture causes Muslims to respond with acts of terrorism.
With Islam building their society using the Old Testament model, combined with their Old Testament application of ‘an eye for an eye,” you can see why they feel the need for a pure environment and lash out when threatened.
3cf. Matthew 5:13-14
5Gardels, Nathan P., editor, At Century’s End, ALTI Publishing, La Jolla, California, 1996
Then add the election ingredient, which means that fidelity to the Cause, in the final analysis, rests with the individual, and it becomes clear why Islam feels they can proselytize by the sword, while feeling that their flock can be easily proselytized.
For this reason Christian missionary activity among Muslims is fiercely resisted. Even churches existing in countries like Iran and Egypt are proscribed from sharing the gospel with Muslims. A great deal of Christian persecution in the world today takes place in Islamic cultures.
Many in academia say we are entering a postmodern era as the twentieth century comes to a close. Briefly, postmodern thought includes the belief that there are no absolutes and the refutation of dogmatism. Man is the measure of all things (not a new thought), and the only relevant truth is how the individual feels at any given moment. Reality itself becomes a social construct. For example, the destruction of the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis in 1972 becomes a paradigm for postmodernism.6
The modem worldview constructs rationally designed systems in which human beings find it impossible to live. This paradigm applies not so much to housing projects as to philosophical systems and ways of life… The new secular solution, however, is not only to blow modernism to smithereens but to explode all stable forms, including Christianity.
Instead of erecting some other structure on the rubble, secular postmodernism concentrates on the explosion. The effort to help poor people by giving them a temple of modernism to live in did prove futile. While it may have been appropriate to dynamite modernism, most postmodern theorists refuse to provide a more habitable alternative. The low-income inhabitants of the Pruitt-lgoe housing project no longer have to live in a sterile, inhuman structure. Under postmodern ways of thinking, now they can be homeless.7
Philosophy such as this produces the rot that causes the Muslim to revolt. The New Testament sees the gospel reaching out to the lost in a hostile society. Islam sees culture and religion perfectly blending in a theocratic society. Thus the Muslim concludes that the rot found in a ‘Christian” culture is the product of what is wrong with the gospel; postmodernism portrays the failure of Christianity.
A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW
How should the followers of Christ respond to the virulent attacks of Islam on the one hand and postmodernism on the other? Should we seek to protect ourselves, and if so, how should we go about it? Some advocate retreating to protected havens of thought where we can control what is taught. Others see the solution offensively, by becoming socially and politically involved in reclaiming our great republic in the name of Christ.
Jesus said, ‘ My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.’8
The author of Hebrews, regarding those men and women God called great, said,
“These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”9 Although we live as “strangers and exiles” in a hostile world, we are called to confront the world with the claims of Christ.
The sword is not available to Christ’s disciples. Nowhere in the New Testament do you find God calling upon His people to convert others through violence. We are not even admonished to defend ourselves, but are as “sheep among wolves.”10 We go in the power of the Holy Spirit, confident that God will use us as He sees fit as He builds His church.
For this reason the Christian “competes” in the arena of hostile ideas; the battle is spiritual rather than physical or intellectual. Paul said, “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”11 When the infidel does not bow the knee to Allah, the Muslim treats him harshly, while the Christian loves him, understanding that unless God takes the scales from his eyes he cannot see.
The doctrine of election is central to the mission of the church. Dead people cannot accept Christ unless the Holy Spirit makes them alive.12 This does not eliminate human responsibility, but it does call attention to the fact that the power is in the message rather than the messenger. Muslims can build mosques in the United States while Christians cannot build churches in Afghanistan. And for good reason. The battle is not ours, but the Lord’s. The work is God’s, not ours; we are His ambassadors.
Trusting in His Sovereignty,
6 The Pruitt-Igoe development, completed in 1956, became an infamous example of postwar federal public housing. Disrepair, vandalism, and crime doomed the project, even after pouring more than $5 million into trying to cure the problems. The government began to demolish it in 1972.
7 Veith, Gene Edward, Jr., Postmodern Times. A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, Crossway Books, Wheaton ILL., 1994, pp. 39-40
8 John 18:36
9 Hebrews 11:13
10 Matthew 10:16
11 11Corinthians 4:4
12 cf. Ephesians 2:1