Wittenberg & Mecca

Wittenberg & MeccaReformation 2009, Volume XVIII, Number 4Table of Contents

(Introduction by Adam Francisco)

No matter how much the media sugarcoats it or others dismiss it as a passing trend, careful Christian ana­lysts view the resurgence of Islam as a major challenge to Christianity. Much attention has been given to the startling demographic trends in western Europe and the political ramifi­cations associated with it, but, interestingly, little attention has been given to its theological implications. In fact, most are con­tent to see Islam as just another private system of belief.

Some Christian theologians have even gone so far as to assert that there is a common theological platform that Christians and Muslims share (see, for example, www.yale.edu/faith/acw/acw.htm).

This could not be further from the truth. Islam's opposition to the gospel is multilateral. Theologically, it denounces the core confession of the church - that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God - as an abominable and damnable doctrine. Polemi­cally, it endeavors to discredit Christianity by denying the his­torical crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Politically, culturally, and legally it strives to advance the cause of Islam in secular space using a variety of means to achieve the goal of total Islamization.

This may sound like hyperbole, but consider Islam's history. Immediately after the death of Muhammad (570-632), who re­portedly summed up the goal of Islam as the struggle to bring about the conversion of the world, Muslim armies began a pro­gram of expansion into territories to the north, east, and west of the Arabian peninsula. This happened rapidly, within a century or so, and the result was that Christians (and other non-Mus­lims) found their lands occupied and eventually governed by Muslim forces. The gradual result was that Christianity in the Mediterranean rim all but disappeared by the end of the eighth century. Subsequent centuries saw the movement of Islam in an eastward direction, as the center of the Muslim world shifted from Medina to Damascus in 661 and then to Baghdad in 750. It remained there until 1258, when after more than a century of conflict with a variety of imperial contenders it finally made its way to Constantinople in 1453.

In Luther's day Islam penetrated central Europe. Following the conquest of Belgrade in 1521, the Ottoman Turks pushed their western border up into Hungary. By 1529 they were poised to take Vienna with hopes of assaulting Germany sometime thereafter. Fortunately they were unsuccessful. Otherwise the history of Europe and Christianity would have turned out very differently. Luther himself feared this when he wrote in his Widmungsbrief (1540) if history was not winding down, as he thought, the world might "go Muhammadan" (WADB 11II: 381). Despite his eschatological hopes, though, Luther did not recommend apathy or retreat from the multiple challenges facing the church. At the same time that he wrote this, he also commented in a preface to a Latin translation of the Qur'an:

None of this should be thought of lightly, particularly by those of us who teach in the church. We ought to fight against the armies of the devil everywhere. Just how many various enemies have we seen in our own age? Papal defenders of idolatry, Jews, a mul­titude of Anabaptist monstrosities, the party of Servetus [that is, Unitarians], and others. And now we must prepare ourselves against Muhammad. But what are we able to say about things of which we are ignorant? It is, therefore, useful for those who are experienced to read the writings of the enemy in order to refute accurately, to damage and destroy them so that teachers in the church might be capable of correcting anyone and equipping our people with substantive arguments [for the faith] (WA 53: 572).

Interestingly, the ferocious advance of Islam in the 1520s and early 1540s simmered down by the middle of the sixteenth century. As the economic center of the world shifted out of the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic, the Ottomans simply could not compete with the west. Politically, all the turmoil associated with "the terror of the Turks," (as one Lutheran hymnal put it) dwindled - with one exception. They were able to muster enough strength to assault Vienna once again in the fall of 1683, but, while they experienced some initial success, the tide turned on September 11 of that year. The Turks were forced to retreat. This was a pivotal event, for in a way it marks the last gasp of Is­lamic imperialism. While still a matter of speculation, it seems that September 11, 2001 was chosen for a reason: to signal to the west that Islam was back.

We no longer live in the days of empires. The shape of the Muslim world is much different than it was in former centuries, but one cannot deny that Islam is again poised - and has been for several decades - to make a mark globally. Christians need to be aware of the ramifications in both the left and right hand kingdoms. Because much of what the various media report is political, this issue of Logia focuses primarily on the theologi­cal. You will find articles written by pastors, missionaries, and scholars of Islam, all with the goal of informing readers of some of the challenges posed to Christianity by Islam.

Adam S. Francisco Guest Editor, LOGIA, Volume 18, Number 4


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