ISIS, Holy War, and Apologetics

The current campaign of ISIS, the jihadist Islamic rampage in Iraq and Syria, occasions a lot of interest in, and comparisons to, the military campaigns of Israel against the Canaanites and other ancient people groups. Some Muslims are quick to indicate that Christians lack the ethical capital to critique ISIS since the Christian faith, according to its ancient narrative, exhibits a military-violent dimension approximating ethnic genocide.

Our apologetic is neither to deny the violent and bloody warfare of the Israelites nor to indicate regret and embarrassment about it, but to situate it in the trajectory of God's redemptive purposes in history. Put differently, Israel's military campaigns were inextricably embedded in "the old creation" whose kingdom weaponry consisted of sword and spear and whose apostates were executed.

The notion here is not simply that God accommodated and inhabited the cultural furniture of the Ancient Near East to secure his purposes such that Israel advanced in the same way that any nation in the ANE did--namely, through something approximating genocidal warfare. It is, rather, that the world prior to Jesus was a world of bloodshed resulting from human sin, which sin Jesus came to conquer and which bloodshed Jesus came to end.

Whereas the Israelites conducted their kingdom campaigns in an old economy of bloodshed that anticipated, if not yearned for, the coming Messiah, jihadist Muslims are perpetuating this old economy in defiance of the Messiah who came.

Through the complex of his death and resurrection, Jesus has inaugurated a new creation with a different economy, a different military, and different weaponry. Our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the powers of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil (Eph.6:12) and therefore we do not fight with the weapons of the world (2 Cor.10:4); we fight with the weaponry of word, sacrament, prayer, and worship.

From its dietary restrictions to its circumcision rituals to its purity washings to its fasting seasons to its notions of civil religion and civil law to its preoccupation with real estate, Islam (in especially its jihadist manifestations) is inextricably entangled in the "old creation" worldview, for which very reason it has multiple affinities to Old Testament Israel.

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