Thomas Jefferson, serving as the ambassador to France, and John Adams, ambassador to Britain, met in London with Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, the Dey of Tripoli’s ambassador to Britain, attempting to negotiate a peace treaty with the Islamic world of their time. Jefferson and Adams argued in vain that the United States was not at war with Islam. The following is from a March 28, 1786 letter addressed to John Jay, Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the Continental Congress, and signed by Adams and Jefferson. It concerned their conversation with the Tripoli ambassador:
We took the liberty to make some enquiries concerning the ground of their pretentions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury, and observed that we considered all mankind our friends who had done us no wrong, nor had given us any provocation.
The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman [archaic word for Muslim] who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise. (( The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America from the Signing of the Definite Treaty of Peace 10__th September, 1783, to the Adoption of the Constitution, March 4, 1789, 3 vols. [City of Washington: Blair and Rives, 1837] 1:604–605 ))
Unless a nation submits to Islam—whether that nation was an aggressor or not—that nation was by definition at war with Islam. Islam means “submission.” A non-aggressing nation is still at war with Islam as long as it hasn’t embraced Islam. Islam’s goal is to conquer the world, either by the submission of one’s will or by Allah’s sword. (( Robert Spencer, The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2006) and Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam – and the Crusades [Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2005] ))
When President Jefferson refused to increase the tribute demanded by the Islamists, Tripoli declared war on the United States. A United States navy squadron, under Commander Edward Preble, blockaded Tripoli from 1803 to 1805. After rebel soldiers from Tripoli, led by United States Marines, captured the city of Derna, the Pasha of Tripoli signed a treaty promising to exact no more tribute. (( Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History [New York: Sentinel/Penguin Random House, 2015] ))
As expected, there are many Christians today who believe that the rise of Islamic persecution of Christians is a sign that we are living in the last days. What’s happening to Christians around the world at the hands of Islamists is horrific, but it’s not new. There’s a history of Islamic persecution of Christians that goes back centuries. Philip Jenkins presents us with a brief look into the war that Islam has had with Christians:
Through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Turks dominated most of the southeastern quadrant of Europe, and in 1683, they came very close to capturing Vienna, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. As Hilaire Belloc noted, “Less than 100 years before the American War of Independence a Mohammedan army was threatening to overrun and destroy Christian civilization, and would have done so if the catholic King of Poland had not destroyed the army outside of Vienna.” (( Philip Jenkins, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis [New York: Oxford University Press, 2007], 106. ))
Many thousands of Christians were enslaved, however. Muslims occupied “the role of aggressors and slave-masters. Balkan Christian populations remained under heavy-handed Turkish oppression until modern times, suffering a brutal occupation that can legitimately be compared to later European experiences under the Nazis and Communists.” (( Jenkins, God’s Continent, 106. ))
This very brief history should dispel any notion that our fight with Islamic extremism is something new and a sign of the last days. It’s not. In fact, the fight with Islam goes back nearly 1500 years, and throughout that history prophecy writers have viewed Islam in its many incarnations as a prophetic end-time villain signaling the near return of Jesus in one of the five “rapture” positions (( The five “rapture” positions are defined in terms of when Jesus returns to take the church off the earth in relation to a future seven-year “great tribulation” period that supposedly is the final week in Daniel’s “seventy weeks” (Dan. 9:24–27): before (pre), after (post), in the middle of (mid), partially, or just before God pours his wrath out on unbelievers (pre-wrath). )) or in the Second Coming itself.
There is no doubt that Islam has designs on conquering the world. What’s held it at bay for many centuries is a fully robust Christianity that has advanced civilization. When Christianity is embraced as the “light of the world,” secularism and religious cults like Islam fade in the bright light of a full-orbed Christian worldview. When Christians retreat from the world, it allows evil to migrate into areas where it was once dispelled (Matt. 12:22–29).
The advance of Islam in our day has taken place because of a weakened Christianity. Religion, like nature, abhors a vacuum. G.K. Chesterton observed that when people cease to believe in God they do not end up believing in nothing, they end up believing in anything, no matter how absurd.
The danger for Christians today is that they are being told, and many are believing, that the reemergence of aggressive Islam is a sign of the end. Rather, Christians should see Islam and anti-Christianism as indicators that Christianity has adopted a false gospel of dualism and escapism. When the world seems to be on the brink of destruction, prophecy books fly off the presses faster than people can read them assuring the people of God that this time the end really is near.
A few years ago I received a letter from someone who claimed that it is impossible to transform society in any meaningful way since “the world is being run by Satan.” Like many Christians today, the letter writer is a believer in an end-time scenario that demands the return of Jesus in our generation to take us out of this world. Until that happens, don’t look for and do not expect to be successful at any type of long-term societal transformation. While she agrees “that each of us can make a contribution to the quality of life on this planet, we will never ‘transform society.’ If we could, God wouldn’t have said that He would have to do it. He’s sending His Son to vanquish the wicked.”
In the meantime, like so many who are caught up in this type of “prophetic inevitability” thinking, there’s not much Christians can or should do. Too many Christians are caught between “This World Is Not My Home” and “This Is My Father’s World.” Which is it? In reality, it’s the latter. That’s why we are taught to pray that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 5:10). Since all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus (Matt. 28:18–20), how can Satan be running this world? Satan is a single creature with limited power. (( Jay E. Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 126–127. ))
The problem isn’t Satan; it’s us (James 1:13–16). Satan was described to the Corinthians as the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4). Older translations translated the Greek word aion as “world.” The more accurate translation is “age.” Satan was and is no more a god than a person’s belly is a god (Phil 3:19). Satan was and is no more a god than Herod was a god (Acts 12:21–24).
Many people don’t realize that Christianity gave rise to the best in art, science, music, literature, education, economic theory, publishing, and much of the western world’s legal system. Christians for the most part were not dualistic. They believed God is sovereign over everything, including this world. This truth helps explain, for example, why “real science arose only once: in Europe. . . . In contrast with the dominant religious and philosophical doctrines in the non-Christian world, Christians developed science because they believed it could be done, and should be done.” (( Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005), 14. ))
The following example of “prophetic inevitability” thinking is extreme, but even more moderate examples end up having an impact on Christians and how they view this world and what can be accomplished this side of heaven:
“Do you realize if we start feeding hungry people things won’t get worse, and if things don’t get worse, Jesus won’t come?” interrupted a coed during a Futures Inter-term I recently conducted at a northwest Christian college. Her tone of voice and her serious expression revealed she was utterly sincere. And unfortunately I have discovered the coed’s question doesn’t reflect an isolated viewpoint. Rather, it betrays a widespread misunderstanding of biblical eschatology . . . that seems to permeate much contemporary Christian consciousness. I believe this misunderstanding of God’s intentions for the human future is seriously undermining the effectiveness of the people of God in carrying out his mission in a world of need . . . The response of the (student) . . . reflects what I call the Great Escape View of the future. So much of the popular prophetic literature has focused our attention morbidly on the dire, the dreadful, and the destruction of all that is. (( Tom Sine, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy: You Can Make a Difference in Tomorrow’s Troubled World (Waco, TX: Word, 1981), 69 ))
As extreme as this example is, this type of thinking prevails more than one would think. Jan Markell is a believer in an end-time scenario that demands the return of Jesus in our generation to rescue us from inevitable doom. Until that happens, do not look for and do not expect to be successful at any type of long-term societal transformation. In fact, to participate in this type of work Markell tells her audience is “delusional” and will keep “people out of heaven.” We are most fortunate that there were enough people centuries ago who were not hoodwinked by an eschatological claim like hers. What would Christians who follow Markell’s end-time worldview be saying and doing today if they were faced with calls to abolish the slave trade and build long-lasting productive cultures? (( Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003) and Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011). )) Markell uses 2 Timothy 3:13 to support her end-time claims:
There is no Biblical support for this belief, for the Bible teaches just the opposite. In the end of days, bad things will wax worse and worse until the world calls out for a savior.
Second Timothy 3:13 actually says, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (KJV). For twenty centuries, billions of people have called out to Jesus to be their savior and have gone on to do marvelous things in God’s name. It says nothing about “until the world calls out for a savior.” Earlier in the same chapter, Paul told Timothy that these evil people “will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, as also that of those two [Jannes and Jambres] came to be” (v. 8). While the ungodly self-destruct, Timothy was to “continue in the things” he had “learned and become convinced of” (v. 14). Providentially, the history of the church is the history of men and women following Paul’s instructions and not the speculations of people like Markell.
Jan Markell also described the world as a “sinking Titanic.” The description of this world as a floundering ship about to meet a deep end was made famous, as Joel McDurmon reports, ((Joel McDurmon, “Do You Polish the Brass on a Sinking Ship?” (Jan. 13, 2016) )) by “1950’s radio preacher J. Vernon McGee [1904–1988] who warned his listeners with the rhetorical question, ‘Do you polish brass on a sinking ship?’” (( Quoted in Gary North, Rapture Fever: Why Dispensationalism is Paralyzed (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1993), 100 ))
In a similar way, popular Bible teacher and pastor John MacArthur argues that “‘Reclaiming’ the culture is a pointless, futile exercise.” (( John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Vanishing Conscience: Drawing the Line in a No-Fault, Guilt-Free World (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1994), 12. ))
And Markell, McGee, and MacArthur used the fruits of a Christian worldview to proclaim their message of an inevitable demise.
Why bother with the future when it’s about to sink like the Titanic? If McGee used the sinking ship analogy in the 1950s and tens of millions of Christians followed his warning, then there’s the distinct possibility that his message has had an impact on where we are as a nation today.
Am I dismissing how bad things are in our culture? I am not. But no matter how bad things seem, there is always hope when the gospel of Jesus Christ is taken seriously and His Word is applied broadly.
For example, Josef Tson, who suffered under Communism in the 1970s, succinctly captures the importance of eschatology—the biblical doctrine of the future—during a time of what seemed like certain destruction for him and his nation. Tson, a Christian leader in the former Communist country of Romania, was challenged in 1977 by a friend to help set up an organization that would expose Communism. Pastor Tson’s response was startling given the oppressive regime that dominated his country at that time. He assured his Christian friend of the following:
Communism is an experiment that has failed. It wasn’t able to fulfill any of its promises and nobody believes in it any more. Because of this, it will one day collapse on its own. Now, why should I fight something that is finished? I believe that our task is a different one. When communism collapses, somebody has to be there to rebuild society! I believe our job as Christian teachers is to train leaders so that they will be ready and capable to rebuild our society on a Christian basis.
Who could conceive of such a future scenario given the seemingly indestructible nature and advance of Communism? For many it seemed like the claimed inevitability of apocalyptic doom. Pastor Tson’s friend challenged him by claiming that “Communism will triumph all over the world, because that is the movement of the Antichrist. And when the communists take over in the United States, they will then kill all the Christians. We have only one job to do: to alert the world and make ready to die.”
Eventually, both men were forced to leave Romania. Pastor Tson started a training program for Christian leaders who remained in Romania. His friend, as Pastor Tson tells the story, “has not done anything for Romania. He simply waited for the final triumph of communism and the annihilation of Christianity.”
Contrary to his friend’s expectations, neither event came to pass.
The Communist regime in Romania fell, and President Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were captured, tried, and found guilty of genocide. They were executed on December 25, 1989. The remaining Communists were swept from power in later elections. Pastor Tson trained more than a thousand people all over Romania. Today, as he tells it, these people are the leaders in churches in evangelical denominations and in key Christian ministries. Who could have imagined such a development? Certainly not prophecy writers who had assured Christians that Communism was the then inevitable end-time movement to usher in the antichrist.
Pastor Tson understood that eschatology matters: “You see, the way you look to the future determines your planning and your actions. It is the way you understand the times that determines what you are going to do.” (( Josef Tson, “The Cornerstone at the Crossroads,” Wheaton Alumni (August/September 1991), 6–7. ))
The newspaper and news sources in general can be depressing reading these days. No matter who wins the next election, America and the world are in for uncertain times. Instead of ruminating over the negative possibilities, Christians should see all of what will be coming as opportunities. It was in uncertain times that Jesus entered the world. Israel was a captive nation with no political power. The church was birthed when Rome controlled nations from Great Britain to the northern coast of Africa and everything in between. The newly formed Church went about doing its job to bring the gospel to the nations. In time, Rome collapsed under its own fragile moral center, and the Church expanded, setting the moral agenda for the then-known world that is still impacting our world.
The preceding was the Introduction from Gary DeMar’s newest book, The End Times and the Islamic AntiChrist: Newspaper Exegesis, Prophecy Pundits, and the End-Time Islamic Mahdi.
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