Thursday, September 9, 2010

Burning the Book of Eli

Rev. Terry Jones has made quite a name for himself in the news lately. Seems to be another bad rash of a shepherd in wolf's clothing. What is it with American protestant pastors and their media harlot obsessions? It's even debatable whether or not the Dove World Outreach Center even falls into general American Protestantism, which isn't saying a whole lot about either group. But there's no doubt about the frenzy stirred up by Rev. Jones' plot to destroy Islam by burning one Qur'an at a time on the 9th memorial of the events of September 11th, 2001.

So, tell me, what do you do with books you don't like?

"We burn them!"

And what do you burn apart from books?

"More books."

Ah, now it all makes sense. "Islam is of the devil", says Rev. Jones. Orthodox Christianity must, and indeed already has, condemned the teachings of Islam as false. This is why Christians confess creedal, doctrinal statements. The Lutheran Confessions, not to mention Luther, have a lot to say about the false teachings of Islam. But let's not confuse orthodox Christianity with the Ministry of Truth. Luther not only recommended that Christians read the Qur'an in order to prepare a ready defense against the truth of Christ's death and resurrection, but he also wrote a preface to the German edition. Christianity is not in the business of book burning. Just Like Luther was not in the business of iconoclasm. That was Carlstadt's tomfoolery which led to heresy. The Radical Reformation was no reformation at all. It was simply a regression to a new set of rules under a new papacy - the papacy of the individual. And it's just as deadly as the old papacy.
What does any of this have to do with one lone pastor in Gainesville who's all ablaze (pun intended) and ready to squeeze some lighter fluid igniting a pyre of Qur'ans? If he decides to go through with this little publicity stunt the Qur'an won't be the only thing burning. No, that's not an eschatological prediction of his whereabouts. Burning books is never a good idea. Many Christians boycotted Harry Potter when it came out. Some probably even torched a few just to make a statement. But the veracity of the Christian faith is not upheld or supported by burning books. The veracity of the Christian faith is found in the historicity and overwhelming evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity based upon the record of events in Jesus life and death. Overthrow Jesus' death and resurrection and you've won. If Christ is not raised then we of all men are most to be pitied. But, as St. Paul reminds us, Christ is raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15). Christians don't burn books. Big Brother (not the CBS show!) and the Hitlers and Stalins burn books. Leave that to the fascists. Because sooner or later it will be the Bible one the main menu at a local bonfire. The same arguments used by Rev. Jones to burn the Qur'an could be used by other religions, or even atheists, to burn the Scriptures. Just like the same arguments used to deny the Ground Zero Mosque because it is unwise, could be used to argue that Christian teaching is unwise. Especially when we start teaching about sin and death and forgiveness and Christ.

And now for something different. That's what happened in the background of the Book of Eli. A movie all about a book that no one in the movie really understood. Eli seems to have had the only copy of the Bible around after some kind of war broke out in which all the religious books were burned as a major part of the war. A war which led to this post-apocalyptic world of Denzel Washington's character, Eli. So much could have been said but so much was left unsaid. One man searched highways and wastelands for the Scriptures chasing for the one book that he thought would give him power and control over everyone else. It's the opiate of the masses right? And Eli for all his protection and study of the book only got as far as Rick Warren: "do good unto others and treat people well, that's about what I got out of it." And finally, when Eli finds his way to Alcatraz, the book ends up on a shelf next to all the other religious flavors of the centuries. You see, the Bible is just one narrative of many religious truths that help us on our journey. Ack, it pained me even to write that terribly post-modern drip of a sentence. But that's how our culture views it.

Burning books and religious "tolerance/diversity" are two sides of the same coin. Objective truth becomes relative. And ultimately the clear message of Christ Crucified for sinners becomes lost in the mix. This is distinctive. It is an exclusive message but it is given to all for all. Christianity rests on this message. Not upon the fires of books burned that we disagree with, but on the fire of God's wrath placed on His own Son. The proclamation of the Gospel will win. Put all the religions on trial in a court of academic ideas, debate and discourse and let the evidence speak for itself. The claims of Christianity are vindicated in Christ's death and resurrection, not by the ashes of those who so desperately need the Gospel.

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