“It is as well to admit when your enemies are onto something.” So wrote Douglas Murray in his essay in the May issue of the British magazine Standpoint. While Murray’s point was on the broad theme of the West’s move to secularization, I was most arrested by Murray’s point about the growth of Islam—and I think there are some things there we Christians ought to pay attention to.
By the growth of Islam, I am not here talking about demography, although there is much to consider there. Reports indicate that the global future is religious, not secular, but that religious element includes a massive Islamic population. The world’s tomorrow is heavily Islamic, even if, as I believe, the world’s day after tomorrow is the kingdom of God. By the growth of Islam, I am also not referring to the paramilitary conquests of radical Islamic groups—such as those driving ancient Christian communities out of Iraq. No, today I’d like to consider the stories of those Westerners who convert to Islam.
Murray notes that he is struck by accounts of those who convert to Islam because of how similar they are to each other. He writes they go something along the lines of this: “I had reached X age (often the twenties or early thirties) and I was in a nightclub and I just thought, ‘Life must be about more than this.’”
Murray continues: “Almost nothing in our culture says, ‘But of course this is not all.’ Instead the voice of our culture just says, ‘repeat, repeat.’ In the absence of such a voice, they search, and they discover Islam.”
But why do these seekers choose Islam, and not something else? Why not, for instance, Christianity?
“Partly it is because most branches of mainstream Christianity have lost the confidence to proselytize,” Murray concludes. “Partly it is the trickle-down effect of the fact that Islamic traditions have not yet been so affected by historical criticism and scholarship.”
These points are, I believe, critical to the future of the church. The issue is precisely what Murray identifies—a question of confidence.
The old mainstream of liberal Protestant churches, such as those in Western Europe—as well as many sectors of European Catholicism—lack creedal confidence. In their rush to appeal to the cultured despisers of religion, these forms of previously Christian conviction have negotiated away the authority of Scripture and the supernatural core of the Christian faith. They have no transcendent Word from God to address those perennial questions of meaning and purpose—and guilt and shame. The cultured despisers recognize in these churches a commitment to the same authority they already know—science, progress, and human rationality. There is no need to pay attention, then, because there is not a claim to authority from the outside. There is no longer remaining a “Thus saith the Lord.”
Now, it is easy for those of us who are conservative evangelicals to recognize this sort of loss of confidence and to cluck our tongues. We, after all, still hold to the authority of Scripture. We have something to say. But Murray’s other point hits us too. Many sectors of Christianity, he says, have lost the confidence “to proselytize,” that is, to call persuasively for unbelievers to repent of sin and to believe the gospel.
This is not simply a problem for those who have lost the scriptural authority to evangelize—those, for instance, who embrace universalism or inclusivism or some other false teaching about the gospel. This is a problem for those who hold to the old-time religion, but who do not verbally share that faith. Confidence is precisely the issue. We don’t evangelize for the precisely same reasons the liberals apostatize—because we fear what unbelievers will think of us.
The unconfident Christian assumes that he or she must be an expert in philosophy and apologetics and history, to knock back every possible objection an unbeliever might have. The unconfident Christian cringes, afraid the unbeliever will think us to be backward or unsophisticated if we say things like, “Have you come to know Christ for the forgiveness of your sins?”
It’s not just that this lack of confidence prevents us from sharing the gospel; it’s also that this lack of confidence is readily apparent to the unbelieving around us. Why consider the claims of a resurrected Christ, if his followers are no more confident of his power from on high to carry out the last command he gave us before his ascension to the Father (Acts 1:7-8)? Our unbelieving neighbor can tell if we are afraid of him, or afraid of what the culture thinks of us. That is almost as much of an apologetic for a still-dead Christ as the liberal bishop who makes his case with German scholarship.
And the sad result is that this sort of unconfident Christianity leaves our neighbor, when the crisis hits in that nightclub, left in fear and despair and in the tyranny of a guilty conscience. Only a few will go to Islam, of course, but many more will just go on with the “repeat, repeat” nihilism of Western culture.
The answer is a church that is not afraid. The church should be unafraid to hold up a Bible and to say, “Thus saith the Lord.” And the church should be unafraid to look into the eye of a neighbor and say, “You must be born-again.” The church is unafraid because we know that Jesus of Nazareth isn’t dead anymore, and he wields from heaven the power of a gospel that raises the dead and tears down strongholds.
A faithful, evangelistic church will find that the culture often will laugh at us, or rail against us. Of course it does. Jesus told us that the Light of the world is painful; it exposes hidden sin and reminds of coming judgment. But the Light has come into the world and the darkness has not, will not, cannot overcome it. A fallen world groans around us. The stakes are too high to let the only ones with confidence to confront a secular culture be those carrying Korans.
Photo: By Rizwan Saghar, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.