Friday, November 27, 2015

'Throwaway Lines'

When a politician
Says in a speech a thing
The people know he doesn’t mean,
Many call the lie a throwaway line
And let him be, for, so wise,
They have outgrown wrong and right.

When, just as heedless, men and women
Offer a prayer of thanks to God the King,
Whether long or short, thoughtful or hurried,
Before binge-eating
And binge-watching
And binge-buying,
They too have not simply
Thrown away some empty
Lines, but all their being.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Icons in the South

With the South’s double-mindedness on Christian art, which icons might speak to the souls of Southrons as they make timid steps towards the Orthodox Church?

As was said aforetime, given the mindfulness of the South towards the Savior, icons of Jesus Christ ought to surprise no one.

As well, because of the tradition of chivalry she has inherited, Dixie has always been a land where women, and particularly mothers, are held in high honor.  The Alabamian Alexander B. Meek is perhaps the poet par excellence of this longing of the South’s to venerate women.  Again and again, his poems praise women and mothers, speak of the beauty of Southern women, dwell on the yearning of the knightly man for his maiden.  His poems ‘My Mother’ and ‘A Soldier’s Love Dream’ (from Songs and Poems of the South, 1857, pgs. 115-7, 119-20) show forth this mindset very well:

‘My Mother’

My mother !—at that dear and sacred word,
What thoughts, deep-treasured in this breast, are stirr'd;
How speeds my heart back to long vanished hours,
When life was sunshine, o'er a path of flowers !—
When the young spirit, like an April bird,
Poured forth glad music, in each sinless word !
Boyhood's lost Eden, at that mention, beams.
Its curving sky,—its clear and laughing streams ;—
Its hopes, its pleasures—fancies and its fears,
Its wild ambitionings—its easy tears,
All—all arise, like stars at even-time.
And shed their softness on my manhood's prime !
I see each favorite spot, where then I roved,—
The foes I hated, and the friends I loved !
My morning sports, sweet, innocent and pure,—
My sunset rambles by the river's shore,
Like dreams, return,—and oh, more dear than these,
My night-time worship, at my mother's knees !—
When she, as low my faltering prayers I said,
Invoked heaven's blessings on her first-born's head!

Mother !—dear mother !—though my heart hath grown,
As manhood's will, by care, well nigh to stone,—
Though with a cold, indifferent eye, I gaze
On the fair scenes, that charmed my earlier days,—
And scarce a joy, that, flower-like, wreathed my heart.
In life's young morn, hath, in its noon, a part,—
Though the dear friends, I loved so fondly then.
Have left my side, or grown to cold-browed men,—
And I now mingle in life's fever-fray.
With little lingering of that better day,—
Yet still, my mother, unto thee my breast
Turns, as the ark-dove, to its only rest,
And finds its hopes, affections, feelings, there.
Mirrored in kindness, unestranged by care,—
Twines round thy bosom, as the vine that clings
Around the oak, from which its nurture springs,
And unto thee, its filial worship gives.
As e'er it will, whilst its pulsation lives,
With a devotion fonder, deeper far,
Than the rapt Chaldean pays his idol star !

Yes ! dearest mother !—though mine eyes have seen
Full many a brow, as fair as Paphia's queen,—
Though oft, bewildered, I have gazed on forms
Would madden seraphs, with their starry charms,—
And felt their influence o'er my feelings reign,
Like night's pale maiden, o'er the restless main,—
Yet still, my mother, I have never found
One who could claim affections so profound,—
So free from selfishness,—so pure and strong,—
As these, which ever unto thee belong.
Thy high, pale brow, —thy soft and tender eye,—
Thy gentle smile,—thy dear maternal sigh,—
Thy changeless love,—are dearer far, to me.
Than fame's bright baubles are, or e'er can be !
I would not give one kindly word of thine.
For all the music poured at Beauty's shrine !
And oh ! when life's last pulses cease to play,
And all its dreams, like eve-clouds, melt away,
Upon my heart, undimmed by time or care.
Thy name will stand, MY MOTHER ! —written there !

From ‘A Soldier’s Love Dream’

 . . .

And now, though mountains intervene,
And ocean spreads his waves between,—
Though toil and strife are 'round me here,
And " war's red banners flout the air, "—
I turn awhile from them away,
And dedicate to thee this lay,—
    To thee, whose young and sinless heart.
        Is Virtue's own peculiar shrine,—
    Where Love and Genius grace impart,
        And Beauty's lustres softly shine.
To thee,—my light,—my life,—my star !
Whose radiance glimmers from afar.
O'er mount, and plain and heaving sea.
And fills my breast with thoughts of thee !

With these sentiments etched within the hearts of Southerners, we may likewise expect to see icons of our Lord’s All Pure and Holy Mother in the South, whose life free of all blemishes and full of beautiful virtues made her worthy to become the living Tabernacle of God the Word.

Beyond our Lord and His Holy Mother, the whole tirfæst (glorious) host of saints from Dixie’s fatherlands in Western Europe and Africa waits to be discovered:  Anthony the Great and Pachomius the Great of Egypt, Ælfred the Great of England, Andrew the Holy Apostle (patron saint of Scotland), and so many others.

(St Pachomius receiving the Rule from an angel for organizing communal monastic life.  Icon from this site:

Paintings and pictures have long been used to remember and honor family, friends, and other praiseworthy men and women.  The South’s Heavenly Family - Christ our Lord and Master, the Holy Apostles and Prophets, and saints and angels of all kinds - now await their turn to receive honor and glory through the veneration of their icons in churches, homes, schools, businesses, senates, and so on.  How long, O Southron?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Iconoclasm and the South

The Christianity of the South is very much a child of John Calvin.  Nevertheless, in some ways, she has sensed the limitations of his system and tried to reach out beyond it.  Given this, together with what we have looked at before regarding Protestantism and its breaking of images, would icons find a welcoming home in Dixie?

First, it is worth looking at the Orthodox teaching on icons, especially in relation to John Calvin’s critique of them.  For this we turn to Gabe Martini’s essay ‘An Orthodox Response to John Calvin on Icons: Icons and Idolatry’:

 . . .

In response to these initial claims, Orthodox Christians have much to say.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus Christ is the image or “form” of God (εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ): “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15). While the Father and Spirit are both formless and invisible (1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 11:27; 1 John 4:20), the ὑπόστασις or person of the Son is revealed to us in the God-Man Jesus Christ: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18).

God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), as the prophetic Emmanuel indicates (Matt. 1:23). When we look at Christ, we see the Father, and Jesus Christ is the “exact counterpart of [the Father’s] person” (Heb. 1:3). This word translated by the EOB as “counterpart” is χαρακτὴρ, implying something like an image stamped into a wax seal. Through the Incarnation, God made himself known to us as a circumscribed, touchable, breathing person—a person that was born, grew old, ate and drank, suffered, was buried, and resurrected after three days.

So when Calvin and his followers claim that depicting God in any way detracts from his glory, we must only point to Christ, for it is in the person of Jesus Christ (most importantly, at least) that we see the face of God. When we praise, worship, and magnify Jesus Christ, we are offering praise, worship, and honor to the all-holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Similarly, when we pay honor to the image of the Son of God in icons, we are paying honor to the prototype—to Jesus Christ himself. And when we honor the Saints, we are honoring the God whose uncreated light shines through their halos. The uncreated light of the shimmering gold leaf as it reflects the light of our oil lamps and candles—symbolic of the faithfulness of God shining forth in their saintly and Christ-like lives (which is, incidentally, why Orthodox Christians pay such close attention to the lives of the Saints).

Calvin’s arguments on this point seemingly presuppose that the Incarnation never happened; that the dispensation of the new covenant has yet to take place, and that there has been no Emmanuel or “God with us,” a God we can hear, see with our own eyes, and touch (1 John 1:1). These sorts of arguments are fitting for a religion such as Islam, but they are not the Christian Gospel; the Gospel of God made flesh, dwelling among us for our salvation.

Also missing from this presentation is any mention of the times when God commands his people to relate to him through an intermediary such as the bronze serpent, a relic that even miraculously healed people of their infirmities (Num. 21:9).

The flaw in Calvin’s viewpoint rests not only in Christology, but also in anthropology (as the two are inextricably linked). Mankind is created “according to the image of God,” as in the Greek translation of Genesis—κατʼ εἰκόνα θεοῦ (Gen. 1:27). And that image of God is Christ. Being created in the image of Christ, human beings are oriented towards a teleological purpose of transformation according to God’s likeness in him. This is our destiny, and why we are created: To become like Christ; to become like God. To be anything less is to be less than fully human, as Christ is the true and final Adam (1 Cor. 15:45).

 . . .

Source:, posted 6 Dec. 2014, accessed 10 Nov. 2015

Elsewhere, on the subject of beauty, he says this:

 . . .

Before we even begin to think about how the sacred arts of the Orthodox Church bring light from above—and at the same time raise our hearts from below—it has to be asked: Is beauty what God requires—or even desires—of us?

This was a struggle equally for the disciples as it is for some today. They wonder why thousands of dollars are spent on gold-laden temples, adorned from floor-to-ceiling with the most beautiful frescoes and panel icons, filled daily with the aroma of expensive, fragrant incense. Should not this money be donated or given to the poor?

And yet, in the Gospel we read:

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table. But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. —Matthew 26:6–11

Not wanting to downplay giving to the poor, we must understand that the purpose of expensive adornment in the Church is not mere waste, excess, or vanity, but is rather the apocalyptic glory of God. In the sacred arts, whether architecture, iconography, or the careful craft of beeswax candle-making, the Church is anointing the Body of Christ. In her sacred beauty, the Church is carving out a space of heaven on the earth here below.

In iconography, the Church proclaims the changeless faith through the artful replication of changeless forms. Even in the midst of our modern abandonment of both Truth and Goodness (as Solzhenitsyn mentions above), the Beauty and faithfulness of the iconographic form refuses to be silenced; indeed, it cannot be. A craft dependent not on the genius of the artist or boundless imagination, iconography is an art homeless in both the Renaissance and the post-modern world. A picture speaks a thousand words, and the steadfast fidelity to the story in each icon testifies—in our chaotic and dysfunctional present—to the eternal and changeless One.

In saying that icons point to the eternal—to that very place—we are speaking to their role as ‘windows into heaven.’ The eternal as imaged by the transitory. As master iconographer Aidan Hart has put it:

Liturgical art and worship, when well executed, is a fragrance of paradise that beckons us to find its divine source.2

In early Christian theology, the communication of this ‘divine source’ with us creatures here below was identified with the divine Logos of God. On this, Andrew Louth notes:

God, as he communicates himself, does so as logos. This Greek word covers reason, meaning, communication—something that in popularized Stoic thought made the cosmos precisely kosmos, that is, ordered, harmonious, beautiful (kosmos is the root from which the modern word ‘cosmetic’ is derived). What Christians claimed about Christ could be put in this way: that in Christ we encounter the meaning of the universe, or better, the one who gives meaning to the cosmos.3

It only makes sense, then, that he who orders the universe itself would be a God of order; a God who ‘expresses himself’ with the aesthetic trinity of order, harmony, and beauty. And if these three qualities have a hierarchy from the divine Logos himself, then they are eternal. In other words, if our God is he who set the stars and galaxies in their place, then our God is also a God of beauty. And if beauty is ‘of God,’ then beauty itself has an eternality; a changeless form, much like our sacred icons.

From the very beginning, God’s people were oriented4 towards a worship that is “a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary” (Heb. 8:5). And in Christ, the ‘copy’ is both fulfilled and truly revealed.

This celestial hierarchy is at the heart of what it means to worship as Orthodox Christians. But beyond this, such an hierarchy of order and beauty is also at the heart of what it means to be truly human. In Christ, and in the sacred image, the eternal, changeless beauty is more fully revealed.

Beauty will save the world, not because beauty is something ‘extra,’ but because it is essential. It calls our spirit to heaven, and brings the eternal to the present.

If there is an identifiable ‘aesthetic’ of the Orthodox faith, it must begin and end with the express image of the Father; that is, with Jesus Christ, the divine Logos of God.

Source:  ‘The Beauty of Logos: Towards an Orthodox Aesthetic’,, posted 11 May 2014, accessed 17 Nov. 2015

The keys for understanding icons from these essays are a love for

-man in his fulness;
-fairhood (beauty); and

All of these the South embraced warmly prior to the War, and in some measure still does so.

-The South in years past and on into this our own day continues to be a place where Christ remains on the mind and in the mouth (which to her shame too often means that his Holy Name is used roughly and foully), though perhaps not always united with the souls and bodies of Dixiemen (Christ-haunted, even if not Christ-centred, to use Miss Flannery O’Connor’s wording). 

-Bringing man to the fulness of his stature has been a constant concern of Southerners from John Taylor of Caroline to Richard Weaver to Wendell Berry.

-The longing for and veneration of visual beauty, as we have noted before (‘A Clear-Eyed Look at the Old South’, posted 13 July 2015), was especially marked among the planter class, and also among men of letters like William Gilmore Simms and Sidney Lanier.

-The understanding of the creation as a sacrament, a mystery, in which we may behold the supernatural through the natural (as Andrew Lytle put it) is likewise a mainstay in Southern thought.

With such a foundation, one can imagine icons being welcomed into Southern life quite easily.  But John Calvin’s anti-Incarnational Godlore (theology) remains a serious stumbling block.  So many Protestant churches across the South still bear its imprint:  four bare walls and a sermon, as the saying goes.  If Southerners will seek the truth about their beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, however, and about the cosmic significance of His taking on human flesh, then perhaps one day soon it will be otherwise:

But again, the Orthodox objection to this artistic fundamentalism is in its denial of the Incarnation. If God could become truly man—being the very image of God—then true depictions of other images of God are not only possible, but also acceptable. Without image-making, there is no salvation. God fashioned an image according to his own for our salvation.

Source:  Martini, ‘An Orthodox Response’

Friday, November 13, 2015

Roman Catholicism and Islam

Father Stephen Freeman has spoken of some of the effects of Muslim thought on Roman Catholic theology and more in his aforementioned essay:

Most modern Christians are unaware of the contacts and debates between Christianity (particularly in the West) and Islam (particularly in Spain) during the Middle Ages. A great deal of the learning in early European Universities, especially in the model of scholasticism, owed much to the encounter with Islam scholasticism – this was especially so for the work with Aristotelean philosophy. Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars, such as Thomas Aquinas, Moses Maimonides, and Ibn Rushd (Averroes), are foundational for Medieval thought. (Averroes is sometimes called the “Founding Father of Western secularism“). But the rationalist movement represented by these schools had lasting effects in the Christian West – not all for the best.

And most know something of the wars between Catholics and Muslims (like the Crusades) over the hundredyears.

But given all that, there is a new wrinkle in Catholic-Muslim relations, an ecumenical wrinkle, which is driving us towards the one world religion of Antichrist.  Michael Snyder says this of the current Pope, Francis I:

What Pope Francis had to say at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan has received very little coverage by the mainstream media, but it was exceedingly significant.  The following is how he began his address

I would like to express two sentiments for my Muslim brothers and sisters: Firstly, my greetings as they celebrate the feast of sacrifice. I would have wished my greeting to be warmer. My sentiments of closeness, my sentiments of closeness in the face of tragedy. The tragedy that they suffered in Mecca.

In this moment, I give assurances of my prayers. I unite myself with you all. A prayer to almighty god, all merciful.

He did not choose those words by accident.  In Islam, Allah is known as “the all-merciful one”.  If you doubt this, just do a Google search.

And this is not the first time Pope Francis has used such language.  For instance, the following comes from remarks that he made during his very first ecumenical meeting as Pope…

I then greet and cordially thank you all, dear friends belonging to other religious traditions; first of all the Muslims, who worship the one God, living and merciful, and call upon Him in prayer, and all of you. I really appreciate your presence: in it I see a tangible sign of the will to grow in mutual esteem and cooperation for the common good of humanity.

The Catholic Church is aware of the importance of promoting friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – I wish to repeat this: promoting friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – it also attests the valuable work that the Pontifical Council for interreligious dialogue performs.

Pope Francis clearly believes that Christians and Muslims worship the exact same God.  And so that helps to explain why he authorized “Islamic prayers and readings from the Quran” at the Vatican for the first time ever back in 2014.

This identification of the Roman Catholic God with the God of Islam is not entirely new, however.  The participants at Vatican II and Pope John Paul II did much the same thing: 

Interreligious dialogue gathered momentum after the Second Vatican Council that dedicated to it a Declaration entitled Nostra Aetate which deals with non-Christian religions. This Declaration states: "Throughout history even to the present day, there is found among different peoples a certain awareness of a hidden power, which lies behind the course of nature and the events of human life. At times there is present even a recognition of a supreme being, or still more of a Father".35 However, it stops at Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam. Lacking time, I limit myself to saying a word about Islam and Judaism.

I. Islam

The Declaration Nostra Aetate says above all that "the Church has also a high regard for Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God's plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet; his virgin Mother they also honour, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting".

The Council goes even further and "pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values"."

A. Applying Vatican Council II

John Paul II has made it his duty to apply the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council. In 1988, he raised the Secretariat for Non-Christians, which Paul VI had created in 1964, to the rank of Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Pastor Bonus defines the competence of this Council in these terms: "The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue fosters and supervises relations with members and groups of non-Christian religions as well as with those who are in any way endowed with religious feeling" (n. 159).

In his Pastoral Visits, the Pope has always been eager to make contact with Muslim figures and groups. He has even visited Muslim Countries and been unsparing in his teaching through which he insists on the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Christians. Lastly, he has always behaved respectfully to Muslims. Nor has he ever failed to stress the common roots that originally linked Judaism and Christianity.

B. Messages at time of Ramadan

Since 1979, a year after entering his office as the common Father of all the faithful, John Paul II spoke to the Bishops of North Africa meeting in Rome at an ordinary Assembly in the spring. He said: "Christians and Muslims could take it upon themselves in today's world to bear a public witness of their faith in God the Creator and Master of history.  . . .”

Source:  Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, ‘Ecumenism in the Pontificate of John Paul II’,, 10 Dec. 2003, accessed 12 Nov. 2015

Those in the Souð who are weary of the make-it-up-as-you-go version of Christianity that Protestantism offers have been attracted by Roman Catholicism, and this is easy to understand.  It appears to offer a long, stable, uninterrupted tradition that could shelter them from the storms of Modernity.  But sadly the Roman Catholic Church itself is a distortion of the original and unchanging Faith of the Orthodox Church, introducing new teachings on the Holy Trinity (the Filioque), papal supremacy, purgatory, the Mother of God (the Immaculate Conception), and so on; and now adding to them, as we have just seen, a new teaching on the kinship of the Muslim and Roman Catholic Gods.

The South’s rest will only be found in the Orthodox Church, the Church of the first thousand years of Christian Europe’s history, the Church of our Holy Mothers and Fathers in the Faith - Sts Martin of Tours, Hilda of Whitby, Brigid of Kildare, Clement (Willibrord) of Germany, and so many glorious others.  May she hasten to them in that holy and fair Haven!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Islam and Protestantism: Part Second

Because of the influence of Islam on Protestantism that we wrote of aforetime, it should not be surprising to learn that Protestants imitated the Muslims in the hatred they showed towards holy images, relics, and so forth.  Below is part of an article that recounts the Reformation’s iconoclasm.  The reader is encouraged to visit the site itself for þe (the) whole essay and for the artwork that we left out that tells the sad story of Protestant-Muslim fellow-working in fordoing (destroying) sacred art and objects.

In a recent Times Literary Supplement, David Motadel reviewed James Noyes’s 2013 book The Politics of Iconoclasm: Religion, Violence and the Culture of Image-Breaking in Christianity and Islam. The review, and the associated scholarship, raises important questions about how we conceive of the Reformation, how we teach it, and, significantly, how we will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the event in 2017.
Motadel writes that,

“The prototype of all modern forms of iconoclasm [Noyes] found in Calvin’s Geneva and Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s Mecca. Sixteenth-century Geneva witnessed one of the most devastating waves of religious image-breaking in history. Incited by a group of charismatic theologians – among them John Calvin himself – mobs raged against objects associated with miracles, magic and the supernatural, destroying some of the city’s most precious pieces of Christian art. Invoking the Second Commandment, they denounced these works as idols, and as remnants of a rural, feudal and superstitious world, a world corrupted by Satan.”
Nor was Geneva unusual. In Basel in 1529, widespread iconoclastic riots destroyed virtually all the material tokens of traditional Catholic worship and devotion in the cathedral and the city’s leading churches. Even these German and Swiss manifestations were dwarfed by the devastating Storm of Images (Beeldenstorm) that swept over the Netherlands in 1566.
This movement was directed against any and all Catholic material symbols — against stained glass windows, statues of the Virgin and saints, holy medals and tokens.
Such stories of image-breaking (iconoclasm) are familiar enough to anyone who knows about the Reformation, and there are plenty of scholarly studies.
Recent works, though, highlight two features of the movement that often get underplayed:

1. Iconoclasm was central to the Reformation experience, not marginal, and not just a regrettable extravagance.

Historians of the Reformation tend to be bookish people interested in books, so they focus on aspects of literacy and translation, with the spread of the vernacular Bible as the centerpiece of the story. The idea of the Reformation as a “media revolution” is common enough.
Yes, we do read of outbreaks of destructive violence and iconoclasm, but these are usually presented as marginal excesses, or understandable instances of popular fury against church abuses. Once we get those unfortunate riots out of the way, we can get back to the main story of tracing the process of Bible translation.
That’s very misleading. For anyone living at the time, including educated elites, the iconoclasm was not just an incidental breakdown of law and order, it was the core of the whole movement, the necessary other side of the coin to the growth of literacy.  . . .

Source:  Philip Jenkins, ‘The Breaking of Images’, Patheos,, posted 23 July 2014, accessed 10 Nov. 2015

Friday, November 6, 2015

Islam and Protestantism: Part First

Many Protestants, for varying reasons, see Islam as one of their greatest enemies.  Two ensamples:

Albert Mohler (President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary):  ‘And, all things considered, Islam almost surely represents the greatest challenge to Christian evangelism of our times.’

Rev John Hagee:  ‘Ladies and gentlemen, America is at war with radical Islam . . . .  Jihad has come to America. If we lose the war to Islamic fascism, it will change the world as we know it.’

Đere (There) is some truth in those statements (along with some war propaganda).  But what Protestants do not seem to understand is that Islam helped shape Protestantism itself.  This is tremendously important for a people like the South, who have thought of themselves as ‘a fellowship of “the Book”’ (M. E. Bradford, ‘The Rhetoric for Continuing Revolution’, A Better Guide Than Reason, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1994, p. 190), and still do in large measure.  Father Stephen Freeman sheds light on this in his essay ‘Has Your Bible Become a Quran?’.  Here is how he opens it:

Those who engage in debates on a regular basis know that the argument itself can easily shape the points involved. This is another way of saying that some debates should be avoided entirely since merely getting involved in them can be the road to ruin. There are a number of Christian scholars (particularly among the Orthodox) who think that the classical debates between Christians and Muslims during the Middle Ages had just such disastrous results for Christian thinking.

Now when engaging in religious debates it is all too easy to agree to things that might make for later problems. It is possible, for example, to agree to a comparison of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament and the Book of the Quran. After all, Muslims have a holy book – Christians have a holy book. Why should we not debate whose holy book is better?

It is even possible to agree with the Muslim contention that Christians (and Jews) are “People of the Book.” Of course Muslims meant that Christians and Jews were people of an inferior book, but were somehow better than pagans. Again, it is possible, nevertheless, to let the matter ride and agree that Christians are “People of the Book.”

And it is also possible to give wide latitude to the Muslim claim that the most essential matter with regard to God is “Islam,” that is “submission.” After all, if God is the Lord of all creation, then how is submitting to Him, recognizing and accepting that He is God, not the most important thing?

But each of these proposals had disastrous results in the history of Christianity and may very well be the source of a number of modern distortions within the Christian faith.

Thus, at the outset I will state:

1.      The Bible is not the Christian Holy Book.
2.      Christians (and Jews) are not People of the Book.
3.      Submission to God is not a proper way to describe the Christian faith

Further, any and all of these claims, once accepted, lead to fundamental distortions of Christianity. An extreme way of saying this is that much of modern Christianity has been “Islamified.” Thinking critically about this is important – particularly in an era of renewed contact with Islam.

 . . .