What makes for a peaceful religion?
Is a religion peaceful because the majority of its adherents believe in the idea of peace and being peaceful? Is it peaceful if you can find some peaceful verses in the religion’s sacred text or its other revered writings?
What about if the religion contains violence in its holy book? Does it cease to be peaceful? What if a group of its followers are committing or once committed violence in the name of God sometime in its history? What then?
Does that make it inherently violent?
My primary point in this article is not to try and make a case that Islam is not peaceful. I do not believe all Muslims are terrorists or violent extremists. On the contrary, most Muslims are peaceful, as are the majority of Christians. This should be obvious to every sensible person.
Instead, I would like us to reflect on the real source of religious belief and practice within Christianity, renewing our commitment to the Prince of Peace.
The source is how you determine if the religion is truly peaceful.
While I do want us to think about the real source of Islamic faith, and whether or not Muhammad clearly and consistently exemplified a peaceful religion, my aim with this article is to help both conservative and progressive Christians avoid the current cultural extremes in being followers of Christ and bearers of the truth who are called to love their Muslim neighbors.
I submit that we do not need to fear Muslims, nor should we pretend that Jesus and Muhammad are the same. They are not. Therefore, I want to encourage Christians not to echo politically correct tripe or gloss over the truth about our differences, feeling that we must do this in order to best love Muslims.
So, what makes for a peaceful religion?
I’d like to briefly address this question by first applying it to my own faith. Is Christianity a peaceful religion? How do I answer that question? How do you? And then I’d like us to think about how it should equally apply to Islam.
Finally, I’ll end with some ways I think Christians should respond in light of the conclusions I’ve drawn. Please keep in mind that this post is a brief reflection of my own personal study and current thinking on the subject.
The Prince of Peace
What is the source of the Christian religion?
If you say “the Bible” then it’s possible that you might not agree with what I’m about to say. Yes, I believe in the inspiration and the authority of the Bible, but I do so because of and in the way of Christ–the Word made flesh (Jn 1:1-14).
Let’s be clear. The source of the Christian faith is Christ himself.
That is why we call ourselves “Christ-ians” or followers of Christ. We love the Scriptures because they point the way to Christ, but we’re not following a book, we’re following Jesus. As I’ve said before, the highest view of the Scriptures is not the one that seeks to make an idol of the Bible (biblicism), but the one that allows the biblical text to exalt Christ as the living Word over all creation.
The Word became flesh. He lived, died, and was resurrected.
So, our enemies can spit on or even burn our book, but it doesn’t incite us to do violence. Yeah, it may hurt our feelings a bit, but the One we worship is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father. You can scoff at his name, but you can’t kill him anymore. He has risen and will raise all those who accept him and follow him as the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25).
This Messiah we worship is the Prince of Peace who taught us to love our enemies and never use violence (Matt 5:38-48) Why? It’s not just because violence begets violence, but because that is what God is really like. The NT is clear that Jesus is the exact representation of his being (Heb 1:1-3).
I don’t believe in peace and praying for my enemies because I think it’s a good idea, or because it is the liberal or progressive-hipster thing to do these days. I believe it because Jesus told me if I want to follow him I must take up my cross and walk his road (Lk 9:23). It doesn’t need to make sense to me, nor does it need to be popular or politically correct. I obey because Jesus said so.
Our King and his Kingdom win by dying, not by killing.
So I don’t try to save my life by proof-texting Jesus in some pathetic attempt to justify violence, or even violent self-defense. When Jesus disarmed Peter with his rebuke to put away his sword, he disarmed me and every other Christian that professes “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9), i.e. Caesar and the NRA are not.
Taking up your cross means first putting down the sword.
But what about the violence in the Old Testament? That’s usually where people go when they want to justify “Christian” nationalism and violence, or an atheist wants to be critical of the Bible. Didn’t God command violence in the OT?
If you’re interested, I’ve written about my views of the Scriptures and how I understand what is going on in the OT in a post called How I View Christ & the Scriptures. But the short of it is this… that was then, this is now.
Disciples of Jesus have been given a new covenant (testament) through his broken body and shed blood on the cross–the ultimate instrument of violence. The old has gone, the new has come. There is a clear division in our Bible so we don’t miss this. Yet some still fail to see the real significance of Christ’s coming.
The death of Jesus brought an end to belief in a tribal warrior God.
Violence in the OT is bound by its historical context within the narrative of Israel. There are no commands to do violence or promote it within the words of Jesus. On the contrary, we have a peaceful Jesus consistently showing us and telling us to do good to those who hate us. True sheep listen to the Shepherd.
If you accept that Jesus is what God looks like and has always looked like, then it not only requires that you read the OT with that in view, but it means that you also accept that any violence done after Jesus (which started about 200 years after Christ with the emperor Constantine) is in direct violation to the life and teachings of Jesus–the source of the Christian religion.
If you want to know if a religion is peaceful, you look to its leader. When it comes to Christ, the leader of the church, there is no shifting of his person or exceptions in his call to peace. None whatsoever.
He is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8).
Jesus was peaceful. Therefore, true Christianity will always look like Jesus.
The Cross & the Crescent
So, what about Muhammad & the Quran? Is Islam peaceful?
I readily acknowledge that the majority of Muslims are peaceful people, but what about Muhammad? Can we say with confidence that Muhammad was a man of peace? If the leader and prophet Muhammad was not a peaceful person, what does this say about Islam? Can peaceful Muslims trust a violent Muhammad? This is an honest question for the honest person.
And it is a key point of civil conversation when evangelizing Muslims.
If the leader called for both peace and violence, which is clearly the case in the Quran and in Islamic history, who gets to speak for Islam? If Muhammad is the prophet and final revelation of Allah, on what grounds and on whose authority does one get to say at the heart of Islamic doctrine is a peaceful religion?
I have read the Quran. Have you? If you haven’t, you should.
A major difference between the New Testament and the Quran is that the NT is written from multiple authors within a few decades of each other. Jesus didn’t pen a single word, but instead the apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tell us about Jesus and invite us to accept him and follow his teachings.
The Quran on the other hand comes entirely in Arabic from Muhammad as dictated by the angel Gabriel over a period of 23 years, from Islam’s peaceful beginnings in Mecca to the violent militarism of Muhammad in Medina.
There are no “Old and New Testament” divisions within the Quran, none that are obvious to the lay reader, that indicate what teachings of Allah via Muhammad are in effect. I’m no Islamic scholar, but this is definitely why we are seeing the radical differences of interpretation within Islam.
So which Muhammad is reflective of true Islam?
I don’t see how the 100+ violent verses are annulled (e.g. Suras 2:216; 8:12; 9:111). They read as standing commands, not bound by their historical context. And that is of course why Islamic terrorists are saying Muhammad’s final revelation from Allah (God) is in effect. It’s the Islam of Medina.
This is much more than a matter of “twisting” verses in the Quran.
Former terrorists and Islamic scholars have been testifying to this problem, despite the backlash of our so-called “tolerant” pluralistic culture where we are certain every religion is obviously peaceful at its core.
Could it be a combination of this glaring problem with Muhammad and the rise of ISIS that is resulting in mass conversions of Muslims to Jesus?
If God is working like never before to bring Muslims to a saving knowledge of Jesus, why would we turn away refugees out of fear? Also, how does it help when progressives overreact to anti-Muslim bigotry by saying that our theology and history of violence are pretty much the same?
Not only is it not helpful, it simply isn’t true to history or the context.
We need to be clear. This isn’t just about differences of Quranic interpretation, as if Christianity has the same problem with the Bible. It is about the historical figure of Muhammad, the source of Islam, calling for both peace and violence.
What do peaceful Muslims do with this conflicting portrait of Muhammad and his commands to do violence? I’ve yet to hear of a coherent Quranic hermeneutic of peace like the Christocentric one set forth by Jesus in the Bible.
Until then, I will love Muslims as Christ loves me, but I can’t reconcile the prophet Muhammad, a man of war bent on conquest, to a peaceful Islam.
The Christian Response
How then should followers of Jesus respond?
- Affirm the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ.
Christians need to remember that the source of our faith is Christ himself. However you sort through the violence of the Old Testament, the peaceful and non-violent Jesus supersedes it as God’s final Word.
- Speak up and out about the true source of our faith.
It’s time for all followers of Christ to lovingly challenge the distorted perspectives of the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham who are shaped more by the Bill of Rights than the Jesus of the NT.
- Get educated and informed about the Quran.
Buy a copy, read it, and learn about the differing perspectives of Islam. Notice its similarities and differences with your own faith. Listen to Muslims and converts to Christianity talk about the Quran.
- Learn about the faith of your Muslim neighbor.
It’s easy to fear and disdain those you don’t know or understand. Seek out inroads with your Muslim neighbors. Befriend them. Invite them over for dinner or connect via social media. Jesus would and he’d like it.
- Lovingly rebuke anti-Muslim rhetoric from the fearful.
Our only opinion about Muslims, peaceful or violent, should be that God loved them so much that he gave his Son for their salvation. We dare not promote or allow hateful speech/acts against those made in God’s image.
- Live the life that comes from the Prince of Peace.
We live in a tumultuous time right now. Look how it presents us with opportunities to display the peace that surpasses all understanding. Be that peaceful presence. Seek to live the life God’s peace brings.
- Remember we do not battle against flesh and blood.
Prayer is our warfare. Prayer shapes our worldview and enables us to love our neighbor and our enemies. Tap into the power that pushes back on spiritual evil and releases the Kingdom. And pray without ceasing.
Suggested Reading & Resources:
- Christian. Muslim. Friend. by David Shenk
- The Early Church on Killing by Ronald Sider
- The Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd
- Islam & Terrorism by Mark A. Gabriel
- Jesus and the Jihadis by Craig Evans & Jeremiah Johnston
- ISIS, Islam, and Jesus (The Meeting House Sermon Series)
D.D. Flowers, 2015.