Saturday, March 18, 2006

Robertson, Graham, and Mohler: Islam and the Religions as Demonic

Last Friday evening on The O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly included a segment on recent statements on Islam by Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham. Both stated in so many words that Islam was a demonic and satanic religion. I expect these kinds of statements from Robertson, but I was a little surprised by Graham.

O'Reilly had Albert Mohler on the program during this segment to comment on the statements by Robertson and Graham. Mohler concurred with their assessment, and stated that it represented the Christian view for 2,000 years (but at least he did it with a broad evangelical smile).

The comments of these evangelical leaders are unfortunate for a variety of reasons. First, they have a view of Islam that fails to consider the complexity and diversity within the religion, such as the disagreement among Muslims over the meaning and place of jihad in Islam. James Beverley has referred to such diversity in Islam as the "two faces" of the religion, one emphasizing a more peaceful interpretation wherein jihad is understood as an inner struggle against evil, and the other interpretation endorsing violent acts against perceived enemies of Islam. This important nuancing is missing from Robertson, Graham, Mohler and other evangelical spokespersons.

Second, the idea that Islam is demonic and satanic represents the Christian view, not only of Islam but of all non-Christian religions, is also unfortunate. While many have dismissed the religions as demonic deceptions, and this may be the majority view among conservative evangelicals, it is not the only view. Other theological concepts have been put forward in developing a theology of religions, such as Justin Martyr's logos spermatikos, the "seed of reason" implanted in the human mind and heart by the Logos; sensus divinitatis, the natural awareness of divinity; and related to this, the imago Dei, a desire for experience with the Transcendent or Ultimate Immanent resulting from the human reflection of the divine nature.

In response to these statements by evangelical leaders I'd like to provide two closing thoughts. First, America's increasing religious pluralism, coupled with the continued culture clash through the war on terrorism, demonstrates the great need for the development of a sound theology of religions. As missiologist David Bosch stated, "the challenge of the even more important than that of secular ideologies... it is the theologia religionum which is the epitome of mission theology." A well developed theology of religions arrived at by fresh reflection on Scripture, cultures, and the religions is desperately needed if we are to move beyond the polarizing statements of popular evangelical spokespersons.

Second, evangelicals might consider the words of missiologist Henrik Kraemer before uttering their next public statements on Islam that are rebroadcast to an already fractured world where the West is perceived as anti-Islam and anti-Majority World. Kraemer stated that the only real point of contact between the missionary and the people was "the disposition and attitude of the missionary," and that "the way to live up to this rule is to have an untiring and genuine interest in the religion, the ideas, the sentiments, and the institutions" of a people and culture. We fall far short of Kraemer's ideal when we casually dismiss Islam and other religions as demonic.

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