Is Islam a Religion of Peace? It Depends on Which Book(s) You Read

The rise of radical Islam in recent decades and the carnage caused by groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram have prompted many to make sweeping claims about the “true” nature of Islam. Conflicting voices argue violently about the nature of violence in Islamic history. Some say that “jihadists” are not true Muslims, because Islam is really a religion of peace. Others (including the “jihadists”) claim they are simply obeying the clear commands in the Quran.

One of the clearest, more charitable, and concise contributions to this debate is Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, by the late Nabeel Qureshi. Nabeel Qureshi was raised as a devout Muslim who, after an anguished journey of discovery and the pursuit of truth, left Islam and became a Christian. One might automatically discount his opinion because of this bias. But, besides the simple fact that we all have biases, the question is really about what the sacred texts of Islam teach, and how to interpret them. Years of studying the facts and the evidence made Qureshi take the incredibly painful step of leaving Islam. However, this background is precisely what qualified him to write about jihad in Islam.Continue reading “Is Islam a Religion of Peace? It Depends on Which Book(s) You Read”

David Cook on Jihad

Studium et Liturgica

I’m really enjoying Professor David Cook’s (Rice University) book, Understanding Jihad. Prof. Cook is clearly knowledgeable, objective, and seems quite fair in his treatment. Nevertheless, he criticizes others for not being as honest or fair with the source material of Islam.  Cook presents extensive proof that militant jihad has been part of Islamic teaching and practice since the beginning.

“In conclusion, several important points need to be made about the ‘greater jihad’ [spiritual struggle]. The spiritual, internal jihad is the derivative form, and not the contrary.  This is clear from the absence of any mention of the ‘greater jihad’ in the earliest hadith books on the subject of jihad (it is entirely absent from the canonical collections and appears only in the genre of zuhd, asceticism, and then in comparatively later collections).  Nor does the ‘greater jihad’ find any mention in the later literature on jihad, except occasionally…

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Thank You, CCS!

For every teacher, the end of the school year brings joy and elation, along with a twinge of sadness. Another group of our students graduates and begins the next exciting chapter of their life. Another group of our students ends their time in our class and moves on to the next subject, the next grade, or another school. Students that we have come to love, admire, and appreciate will pass into another stage of life, and out of our daily lives. We will remain friends with some, acquaintances with others, and some are thrilled to get out of our classroom. We’ve poured our lives into these young adults and most of them have no idea of how hard we work, or how much they mean to us. So, at the end of each school year, our feelings are mixed. The students are filled with excitement and apathy–summer is so close they can almost reach out and grasp those long mornings of sleeping in and catching up on all the video gaming and Netflix-bingeing they’ve missed during the school year. We teachers are exhausted, disappointed for not making it further in our curriculum goals, and already thinking about how to do it better next year.Continue reading “Thank You, CCS!”

Radical Hospitality & Safe Families

When we talk to friends and family members about Safe Families, it always takes a while to explain what it is. Is is foster care? Is it adoption? Is it just free baby sitting? I think it’s difficult to explain because it doesn’t fit into any of our normal categories.

Safe Families is built around the idea of “radical hospitality.” But what does this mean? It’s kind of trendy for Christians to claim to be “radical.” Makes us sound serious, on fire for Jesus, and (let’s be honest) maybe a little superior to our less-radical friends. But “radical” is related from the Latin word radix, which means “root.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “radical” can be used as either a noun or an adjective.

As a noun, “radical” refers to someone “believing or expressing the belief that there should be great or extreme social, economic, or political change.” As an adjective, (describing something else) “radical” means “causing or being an example of great change; extreme.”

So, yes, in the Safe Families movement, we do believe that there should be “great or extreme” social and economic change. We also want to be agents of great and extreme change. But, how do we hope to accomplish this? Through hospitality[Read the rest …]

Paul’s Revolutionary Command to Slave-Holders

The Bible’s teaching on slavery is controversial, to say the least. This post will not attempt to untangle the knots and will only focus on one verse in the New Testament. Ephesians 6:9 is a good example of how understanding Biblical (Koine) Greek helps us understand the truly radical message of the Bible. Dr. Frederick J. Long comments:

“Another example where πρός signals a radical nearness is when Paul commands masters to treat their slaves in the same way that he has directed the slaves to treat their masters (Eph 6:5-8). So, at Eph 6:9, Paul turns to address the masters.

Eph 6:9a Καί οἱ κύριοι, τὰ αὐτὰ ποιεῖτε πρὸς αὐτοὐς, …

And masters, do the same things to them, …

In the NT, this verb ‘to do’ never takes πρός to indicate and indirect object; but its use here helps communicate the ‘nearness’ and ‘friendly posture’ that Paul wanted believing Masters to show towards their slaves, by doing ‘the same things’ that Paul has commanded the slaves to do for their masters. This is revolutionary without inciting revolution. Although it is clear that Paul elsewhere urges a slave to be free if they can (1 Cor 7:21), nevertheless some persons preferred to stay in the slave-master relationship for a variety of reasons. But is is important to observe here that Paul calls for a transformation of the masters’ relationships towards their slaves,” (Frederick J. Long, Κοινὴ Γραμματική Koine Greek Grammar: A Beginning-Intermediate Greek Exegetical and Pragmatic Handbook, 123, emphasis mine).

Dr. Long’s textbook is one of the most thorough and helpful on the market. I’m working through it slowly and am learning something on every page!



Mystery Religions & Early Christianity

This is a follow-up to my article at Intellectual Takeout“The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Easter (Jesus of Nazareth’s Resurrection)”.

The Roman Empire of late antiquity was filled with a variety of religious groups and movements. Some of the more popular “mystery religions” included the Eleusinian mysteries (centered around the stories of Demeter and Persephone), Mithraism, the devotees of Isis and Osiris, the Dionysian mysteries, and the cult of the “Great Mother”–Cybele, and her consort Attis (see Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content, 66-70). Although certain similarities did exist between the “mystery religions” and early Christianity, the differences are stark. Not only that–the differences highlight features of Christianity that ultimately made it a more compelling movement in the first century A.D. The noted historian Everett Ferguson summarizes some of the key differences.

Historical research on this topic is complicated by the fact that, “Early researchers tended to make generalizations without regard to methodological problems. There was a tendency to interpret one cult by another and so construct a general ‘mystery theology’ or common ‘mystery religion.’ Not uncommonly this was done by (unconsciously) starting with Christian ideas, using these to interpret data about the mysteries, and then finding the mysteries as the source of the Christian ideas” (Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 279).Continue reading “Mystery Religions & Early Christianity”

Pagan Influence on Easter?

The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Easter (Jesus of Nazareth’s Resurrection)

You may not get any chocolate bunnies this Easter, but you’re bound to stumble across an article or meme suggesting that the story of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead is just a reincarnation of some pagan myth. Whether it’s Ishtar, Osiris, or Attis, these claims are tantalizing but devoid of scholarly content–much like the sugar rush of the chocolate bunny, with its deficit of actual nourishment. [Read the rest at Intellectual Takeout]



“Cell Phones, Silence & Solitude: Finding Stillness in a Noisy World”

“Whether or not it draws on new scientific research, technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science.” ~ Paul Goodman

During my sixteen years in the classroom, I’ve witnessed the unbelievably rapid transformation of mobile phone technology.

At one point, I overheard a brutally honest conversation between a group of senior boys. They felt the constant urge to text, check their texts, and interact on social media. What quickly became obvious is that they were scared of solitude. By their own admission, they literally could not stand to be alone with their own thoughts. I felt honored that they felt safe enough to share this information, but it was somewhat disturbing to hear admissions of such dependency on technology. These young men craved external stimuli and felt alone and empty without it. [Read the rest at Intellectual Takeout]