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What Makes For A Peaceful Religion?

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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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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:

D.D. Flowers, 2015.

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Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (7 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

In the previous installment, I made the case that Jesus was both loving and intolerant. Jesus regularly made truth-claims (theological, philosophical, moral, etc.). These exclusive claims naturally placed competing worldviews outside the realm of divinely revealed truth (Jn 14:6).

I also stated that Jesus saw certain thoughts, actions, and behaviors as sinful. His response was to love sinners out of their sinful bondage.

God’s love operates out of truth, not despite the truth.

You can’t have real love without an objective standard of truth by which love operates. There is no love without truth. And there is no truth without love. They are inseparable. Jesus ministered with this mindset.

I began this blog series by laying out seven provocative statements that would serve to summarize the radical life and teachings of Jesus. My desire has been that the follower of Christ would rethink what it means to be a disciple, and that the skeptic would open up their heart and mind to the beauty of the Kingdom of God that Jesus displayed in his life and ministry.

In this final installment, I will bring together all of the material covered in this seven-part series, and show how the many pieces form a cohesive portrait of a new humanity revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.

 7. Jesus Revealed the New Way to be Human

Jesus was (and is) the only begotten Son of God. He was sent from the Father to show the world the truth about God, to save us from our sins, and to reveal the Father’s will for all of creation (Jn 3:16; 6:38; Col 1:15; Heb 1:3).

“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.” Jesus, John 6:38 NLT

The will of God for Jesus was first and foremost to live perpetually by the Father’s divine LIFE (Jn 10:38; 14:10-12). Everything we see from Jesus on the earth is what it looks like when God reigns in a human being.

According to Jesus, if you want to be fully human you will…

  • Love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mk 12:29-31);
  • Love your neighbor and enemy (Matt 5:38-48; Jn 13:34-35);
  • Do unto others what you’d have them do unto you (Matt 7:12);
  • Uphold justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt 5:7; Lk 11:42);
  • Abhor physical violence (Matt 5:39; 26:52);
  • Be peacemakers in the world (Matt 5:9);
  • Freely forgive and not judge others (Matt 18:21-22; Lk 6:37);
  • Bless the poor and needy, visit prisoners (Lk 6:20; Matt 25:36);
  • Practice true righteousness (Matt 5:6; 6:1-4);
  • Heal the sick and drive out demons (Matt 10:8);
  • Seek unity and reconciliation (Matt 18:15-20; Jn 17:20-23);
  • Pray “Thy Kingdom come” in everything (Matt 6:5-13);
  • Not worry about life and material stuff (Matt 6:25);
  • Seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt 6:33).

Jesus revealed the new way to be human. This radical new life, in the face of the old world system, eventually led to his death on the cross. But God vindicated the life and ministry of Jesus by raising him from the dead.

“For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” Paul, Romans 6:4 NLT

Jesus was the firstborn of God’s new creation (Rom 8:29). He is the beginning of a new humanity. For he calls out to the world to be reborn.

“Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Spirit will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”  C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Herein lies the greatest threat the Kingdom revolution poses to the world.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ continues to further the Kingdom, amidst the forces of darkness in this fallen world, through his called-out community of faithful followers, known as the ekkelsia (church).

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul, Ephesians 3:10-11 NIV

The mission of Messiah Jesus was to do the will of the Father in bringing about God’s good purposes for creation—right in the middle of this present evil age! The resurrection of Jesus is evidence of God’s future breaking into our present. God’s new world was launched in Christ.

Jesus brought Israel’s story to her climax, and now he is reigning through the church. In order to follow Jesus, you must give up on the world system and commit to God’s Kingdom revolution at work through the church.

You have to leave the old world and the old life behind.

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Jesus, Mark 8:35 NIV

Our hope in Christ is that he will return in the future to consummate heaven and earth. In the meantime, his followers are called to further the Kingdom by the power of the Spirit, and increase the new humanity upon the earth.

Listen to the invitation that Jesus has extended to us:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus, Matthew 16:24 NIV

Will you follow him?

If the world hates you for following Jesus, remember that it hated him first.

You’re not alone. There is a growing Kingdom revolution that can’t be stopped, not even by death itself. For Christ has overcome the world.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus, John 16:33 NIV

Viva La Revolution!

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


How Worship of the American Flag Changed Everything

This fourth of July will be significant for me in several ways. It was this week seven years ago that my personal journey of discovery into a flag-less Kingdom of Christ collided with the religious powers of Christendom. What unfolded was the result of a patriotic service that would not soon be forgotten.

I grew up a Southern Baptist and served in three churches as student pastor in Texas. In the last few years leading up to my departure from vocational ministry in the Baptist church, I had been slowly embracing Anabaptism—a vision of a non-violent, love-doesn’t-stop-at-the border sort of Jesus.

In fact, I had just spent weeks teaching over the Sermon on the Mount to our youth, college students, and adult companions in our ministry. And then came the annual fourth of July service.

While I was a bit more willing to prophetically clear the temple in those days, I had decided it was wise to begin my vacation the day before this event so as not to disrupt or be a distraction by my refusal to participate in the celebration of America and the worship of the flag, something I couldn’t do in good conscience. I was for sure it was for the best.

Little did I know that there were others whom I had been teaching that would go to the service but choose not to participate in what they felt was idolatry. I didn’t learn of it until the following Sunday when I was asked by an elderly deacon in the foyer, “What’s this we hear about you teaching our youth not to say the pledge.” I was dumbfounded.

Apparently when the flag was marched down the middle of the aisle, several students and adults didn’t turn to pledge. They didn’t sing the patriotic songs, nor did they pray the nationalistic prayers.

And it seems that others noticed a small prayer group outside the church building that were praying against the event.

What followed over the next couple of months was a series of meetings with parents, deacons, and the pastor. I could no longer keep my personal views to myself. It was out in the open. And they had questions.

What had I been teaching that their students would want to put aside their former pursuits to go into missions, love all people regardless of nationality, and not waste their life on worldly gain?

They were discovering a radical discipleship. And I was becoming an Anabaptist and just didn’t know it.

The truth is that these students and adults were drawing conclusions based on a simple reading of the Gospels. And we had all come to realize that this was unacceptable for this Baptist church in rural America.

Saying no to flag worship dethrones the American Jesus and it exposes our cultural Christianity.

There would be no discussion. No debate.

We asked, “What if Jesus had physically walked in the building while you were doing those things?” One prominent member said, “Well, we of course would have stopped what we were doing and worshipped him.” Say what?

And the one retort I’ll never forget, “David, where in love your enemies does it say not to kill them.” I couldn’t believe it.

Parents were angry and confused. Church leaders had run out of patience trying to understand my perspective. For whatever reason, they wouldn’t or couldn’t hear it, or even tolerate it.

I was apparently such a threat that I had to sign a document saying I would never set foot on church grounds again. I was so deeply hurt by this that I wept at my desk in front of the deacon who had been sent to me.

When I resigned in September 2006, I announced that I was leaving to pastor a church. That was my true intent. But I was unaware of the time of wilderness, recovery, and reconstruction that awaited us.

I worked odd jobs and taught in a Christian school the last five years. And looking back it’s become clear that the last seven years has been a time of spiritual formation. I’m thankful for it. I see the Lord at work.

God’s love has used it to prepare me for what is ahead.

Had it not been for the worship of the flag that day, I might not have recognized how radical Christ’s call is to those who choose to follow him, and how counter-culture the Gospel-for-all-nations is to those who have made their home in the world.

I would not be the same person that I am today without this experience seven years ago. It has forever shaped my character and my path.

And that’s how worship of the American flag changed everything.

Viva La Revolution!

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

UPDATE: This 4th of July marks 10 years since this event.


Q&A with Pastor Greg Boyd, Part II

Greg Boyd is co-founder of Woodland Hills Church, an evangelical fellowship in St. Paul. He is also president of ReKnew.org. Greg is a pastor, theologian, and author of more than a dozen academic and popular books.

I asked Greg if he would share his Kingdom vision with my readers. He was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about his ministry at Woodland Hills and talk about his upcoming books.

Did you read Q&A with Pastor Greg Boyd, Part I?

This is the second installment in a three-part interview. Enjoy!

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Greg, speaking of violence, you’re currently working on a big book project called, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Reinterpreting Divine Violence in Light of the Cross (IVP).  That’s a provocative title!

What’s the thesis of the book?

Greg:  I’d like to address your question in a round about way.

Throughout Church history theologians have made a lot of use of the concept of divine accommodation. Whenever they came upon passages that seemed “unworthy” of God, they surmised that God was condescending to communicate at a level that we finite, fallen people could understand.

The main criteria these theologians employed to discern when God was accommodating himself was “the classical view of God” — that is, the view that God is above time, change, movement, passions and being affected by anything outside himself.

With this presupposed view of God, of course, most of the Bible had to be viewed as an accommodation, since the God of the Bible moves with humans through time, interacts with them, responds to them, changes his plans in response to them, is affected by what they do and experiences deep emotions in relationship with them.

I am largely opposed to this view of accommodation, since I don’t espouse this view of God. But what I find particularly interesting is that, for all their talk of divine accommodation, after Augustine, theologians never struggled with portraits of God acting violently or engaging in violence.

This despite the fact that traditional theologians have always confessed that Jesus is the definitive revelation of God, and despite the fact that enemy-loving non-violence is at the center of his teaching and example.

If ever we were going to apply the concept of accommodation, I would think it would be to portraits of God that seem to contradict what we learn about God in Christ.

What I am doing in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is essentially claiming that we should read the entire Bible through the lens of the cross and that, when we do, we can discern that God is accommodating the limited and fallen worldviews of the people he’s dealing with when he allows himself to be depicted as engaging in or commanding violence.

More specifically…

I’m arguing that the cross reveals what God is truly like and thus what God has always been like.

Since God entered our fallen humanity and bore our sin on Calvary, taking on the appearance of one who was much less beautiful than God actually is, we should read the OT looking for other ways in which God entered the humanity of his people, bore their sin, and took on appearances that were far more ugly than what God is actually like.

So I’m basically arguing that all the violent divine portraits in Scripture are examples of divine accommodation and are harbingers of God’s ultimate accommodation on Calvary.

Now, the book is presently over 600 pages, and I’m quite a ways from being finished!  So there is obviously a whole lot more going on than what I could communicate here. But this is the most basic idea.

What motivated you to write this book?

Greg:  I am writing this book primarily because I have for decades been bothered by the radical difference between the God who gives his life for enemies on Calvary, on the one hand, and the God who commands his followers to “show no mercy” and slaughter “everything that breathes,” on the other.

The more clearly I’ve seen the centrality of loving enemies and non-violence in Jesus’ life and message, the more troubling these violent portraits of God in the OT have become.

I believe the whole Bible is divinely inspired, so I can’t simply reject these violent portraits as many liberal theologians do. Yet, I can’t with integrity deny that these violent divine portraits seem to contradict what I learn about God in Christ.

In fact, inasmuch as Jesus taught that ALL Scripture points to him (e.g. Jn 5:39-45), the problem is not just to show how the genocidal portrait of God is CONSISTENT with the God revealed in Christ, but to show how it and similar violent portraits actually POINTS TO Jesus!

About four years ago I decided it was time to stop all I was doing (I’ve had several book projects on hiatus for the last four years) and figure this out. But its not just for myself that I researched and wrote this book.

So what do you hope to accomplish?

It’s my impression that this is among the most pressing problems Christians today have, especially those who affirm the inspiration of the OT and yet grasp the centrality of non-violence in the teachings and example of Jesus.

And I’ve found its one of the main reasons many today won’t give the Christian faith serious consideration.

If I can provide a plausible way of explaining the brutally violent OT portraits of God and of showing how they point to the God revealed on Calvary, I believe I will have offered many people a great service.

Q&A with Pastor Greg Boyd, Part III

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NOTE: Greg plans to have a popular version of this book made available after the initial printing of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (IVP, 2013). I will be responding to these books after their publication.

In the meantime, listen to Greg’s sermon, God’s Shadow Activity and more of his thoughts at his website & blog.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


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