A Fierce Faith: What I Have in Common With ISIS

Did the title capture your attention? Good. Allow me to explain. Recently, I participated in an interesting discussion on Facebook, related to a post about my calling as a pastor. When you receive over 100 “likes” for a post that isn’t cute pictures of your kids, it gives you pause.

In the online discussion, I shared how many friends often surprise me with their worldview. They think going into pastoral ministry is a dead-end boring journey. Why would I want to nurture a private social club consumed with morality, for oneself and others? My point in the post was that my calling in ministry is anything but that. However, it reminded me that, in fact, one’s view of religion shapes their understanding of the purpose of the church, its leaders, its programs, worship, mission and more.

(So how does this relate to the brutal and exploitative behavior of ISIS? Keep reading.)

I find many people, even Christians, unknowingly cling to a view of the church shaped by Enlightenment thinking. The Enlightenment movement in the 17th and 18th century worked to free society, philosophy, education, and more from the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, and other Protestant movements then underway. Enlightenment thinkers first began to suggest that religion was a private exercise and not for the public square. Since religion was not based on the tools of scientific inquiry for discerning truth, it certainly had no role in shaping a society that was now ‘enlightened’.

Scholar Michael Goheen writes, “From the Enlightenment onward, the church’s role in Western culture contracted steadily until it functioned merely as culture’s chaplain, caring for the religious needs of individuals and giving private instruction in matters of morality. But it no longer exercised cultural influence on grand scale.”*

The reaction I get from others on my call as a pastor is an Enlightenment reaction, not a Biblical perspective of the Church and her mission.

Contemplating the true nature of pastoral ministry within the greater mission of Christ’s Church, it dawned on me: my mission has some surprising similarities to that of ISIS.

First, we both hold a confession of faith that is “a directing force that forms all cultural life.”* ISIS has clear expectations for education, the role of women, and the economy that feed its extreme Islamic society of terror. My faith, as well, carries a comprehensive worldview that appropriates spheres of order in which business, education, social services, philanthropy, government and the arts point to the Kingdom of God promised in Revelation 20-22.

Second, both ISIS and I have a desire to see all of humanity profess a confession that leads both to eternal salvation and purpose in this life.

Finally, both ISIS and I have a confidence of confession that competes with other worldviews and even, dare I type it in sophisticated society, refutes other views claiming them to be false.

Now, hopefully you have continued to read and not thrown this Columns in the trash or called a few elders suggesting, “Someone have a talk with that boy…” There are more, plenty more ways I differ from ISIS than can even be listed here.

To be clear, ISIS is an evil, cowardly, and dangerous corruption of Islam that is murdering, raping, and destroying the lives of thousands. We differ tremendously in that my faith leans on the words of my founder, Jesus, who directs us to use the tools of love, service, humility and rationality rather than weapons, brutality, and coercion. Moreover, my faith makes room for debate and dialogue with people of other faiths and worldviews, undergirded by a conviction that all truth is God’s truth. Therefore, the truth of the Bible and the church teaching welcomes engagement with other ideas.

My faith holds an egalitarian appreciation for all God’s children, no matter their faith confession. All the beauty, diversity, and uniqueness humanity has to offer is built in the image of God inherent to each person. My faith recognizes, unlike the narrow and dangerous fundamentalism of ISIS, that God wins people over to His story and the work of Jesus Christ through the gentle wooing of the Holy Spirit and witness of the church rather than brute force or theocracy.

However, I draw this distinction to emphasize the way in which Christians in the West must return to a Biblical call and role for the Church. As Michael Goheen elegant states, “Surely it is time for the Western church to assess critically the modern, secular worldview with its roots in the Enlightenment – and then repent of its own complicity in this worldview and return to the biblical story that gives it its true identity.”*

As Christians we see our mission as far more comprehensive than our Enlightenment-based society may sometimes expect, want or allow. Therefore, we educate our children in SHINE with this worldview; we work to develop a Center for Faith and Work which helps people place their vocational work within God’s redemptive purpose for all Creation; we serve the homeless at Compassion Corner and break down racial barriers with our brothers and sisters on Mercy Drive. Ours is not a tepid or tame faith, as much as our culture may want us to be.

The mission that we, as Christians, are working day in and day out to see fulfilled is in Revelation, where sin is vanquished, justice and peace reign, and Christ is worshipped in the fullness we and nature have to offer. Yeah, I want to be part of that, and I am.

*A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story, Baker Academic, 2011.

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