The Islamic State and Islam

The Islamic State and Islam

In a fascinating and important article in The Atlantic, Graeme Wood instructs us on on What ISIS Really Wants. The importance of this article rests both in its venue of publication and in its content: it is perhaps the first MSM (main stream media) publication to assert unequivocally what ISIS (Islamic State in Syria; also IS, The Islamic State) is: “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic” (the italics are original).

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationary, and coins, “the prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

Of course, this acknowledgement stands in distinct contrast to the public declarations of President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron. And Obama’s attempts to rhetorically demean ISIS have come across to many as willfully childish, perhaps even betrays his ignorance of the nature and potential of ISIS. And Wood makes the case that this is so, that Obama has misunderstood ISIS (especially by conflating it with Al Qaeda), and thus has offered only ineffective actions.

Facebook’s New Community Standards? — No Beheading of Blasphemers

The recent horrific events in France have resulted in a tremendous wave of support for freedom of speech — even speech that may offend — as well as a comparable wave of disdain for anti-blasphemy laws and those who would threaten or enact violence.

Violence? Yes, as witnessed not only by the recent events in France, but in many such events over the last decades. And yet…and yet.

On 26 June 2013 I received the following note from Facebook gatekeepers.

Facebook - June 2013 - Behead blaphemers

I had reported the page, “Behead Those Who Disrespect Our Prophet P.B.U.H.,” as violating Facebook’s Community Standards. While the original report on my Support Dashboard no longer exists (as Facebook has now “revised” its decision), it used to say that they had reviewed my report and decided that the reported page’s content did not violate Facebook’s “Community Standards.”

What? What?! How in the world could such a page not be in violation of Facebook’s Community Standards?

I was deeply offended by this, though perhaps not terribly surprised. After all, so many social media gatekeepers appear to be self-serving ideologues who’d rather suppress speech that is contrary to their convictions (asserting that it promotes “a culture of violence”) than shut down pages that actually and overtly promote violence.

Facebook wouldn’t take down a page that actually called for people’s heads to be cut off? They must have lost their minds?! 

But the bloodshed of the innocent can bring clarity.

Last week’s horrific events in Paris appear to have pricked Facebook’s gatekeepers’ consciences just enough that they have “revised” their decision regarding my report of the page in question. Here is a screenshot of an email just received this afternoon.

Facebook - 12 Jan 2015 - behead blasphemers

Perhaps a modicum of sanity has emerged within the gatekeepers who examine complaints to see if material has violated their Community Standards.

It is, of course, a bit late to take such a stance, what with the moral high ground now muddied by the blood of Parisians.

Better late than never? I don’t know. Political convenience? Perhaps. It just is so very difficult to see how Facebook’s gatekeepers could have been so morally obtuse as not to see a page that actually intends to incite violence as in gross violation of their stated Community Standards.

To understand more about the relationship between Islam, Islamic Law (sharia), and violence, read “Liberty or Islamic Law.”

5 Quick Thoughts about Voting

There are five things that come to my mind when I think of citizens voting. Well, much more comes to mind, actually, though I’ll limit my thoughts here to five.

1. We should seek to be informed.

This does not mean that we obsess in the attempt to know everything about anything and everyone. It merely means that we don’t cease investigating, at least periodically, in order to have an increasingly informed opinion about the individuals, options, histories, and proposed or potential consequences on offer. And I believe some time should be invested not only in knowing the positions of those we deem to be the opposition; I believe we should seek actually to understand why they see the world the way they do, to consider the support they offer for their views, and to contemplate whether they might have some points to consider (a few, if not many). There is little virtue (if any) in simply being reactionary. 

Making the Good News (the Gospel)…News

This last Sunday I was honored to preach at our church, St. Leonard’s Church, here in Eynsham.

I was asked to preach on the gospel of Mark 1:14-20, which reads as follows:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The Time has come,” he said, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Now, by itself, this passage suggests that Jesus called these men to follow him without them anticipating any such call. However, I don’t think that is correct. Mark’s gospel presents us with a quick and episodic collection of vignettes without the more expansive material we might find in other gospels. This has led some to suppose and assert that the episodes above should be seen as exemplifying Jesus’s authority, his powerful call. While we have no need to diminish Jesus’s authority, I don’t think that is the point of the passage.

I’ll leave my thoughts for the sermon that is attached below. It is under 20 minutes in length. Perhaps you will find it instructive, encouraging, and motivating.

One regret remains in my mind: I wish I had taken a few minutes to expand on my thoughts about how we might overcome our fears about introducing others to our Savior Jesus. I mentioned that I have found four things to help me: preparation, prayer, practice, and patience. I suppose each of these could merit a sermon all by itself. Even so, I’ll leave off here and leave you with the sermon.

May you be blessed.

What is Marriage?

In typically superb form, Ryan T. Anderson here presents his case for marriage. The argument is long and large, requiring that attention be paid throughout. The presentation was made at the Stanford Anscombe Society amidst an audience comprised of the sympathetic and the suspicious. I recommend that you take an hour to listen. In fact, I’d recommend taking more than an hour since there is a hearty question and answer time that follows (in the second video below).

Now, about that pesky accusation of bigotry. Yes, you know, the charge that is comparable to being called a racist. It is a charge that assumes animus, even if or when there is none. It is perhaps the most common and quick charge that seeks to dismiss any position that does not affirm same-sex marriage. Sherif Girgis speaks to that charge at 48:30 in the presentation below. However, I would suggest watching his entire presentation.

I would be remise if I did not also recommend Sherif’s closing remarks, “The Way Forward.” These are worth hearing and pondering at some length as well.

Communicating Our Convictions

Greg Koukl, the president of Stand to Reason, has for many years now provided both hours of engaging radio commentary and a host of insightful articles. Greg is on the International Advisory Board for the Summit Oxford Study Centre (which I founded and currently direct), and he also is a friend.

Well over a decade ago Greg began speaking at Summit Ministriesstudent summer conferences. Personally, I was very pleased to have him on our faculty as his contributions were intelligent, clarifying, experienced, and mature. Greg is a careful thinker and speaker, conscious of which words are better to use and how best to use them. One learns not only from the content of his messages but also from the manner of his messaging.

The Power of Storytelling (1.1)

Robert McKee, in his book, Story: Substance, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, says the following about storytelling.

In 388 B.C. Plato urged the city fathers of Athens to exile all poets and storytellers. They were a threat to society, he argued. Writers deal with idea, but not in the open, rational manner of philosophers. Instead, they conceal their ideas inside the seductive emotions of art. Yet felt ideas, as Plato pointed out, are ideas nonetheless. Every effective story sends a charged idea out to us, in effect compelling the idea into us, so that we must believe. In fact, the persuasive power of story is so great that we may believe its meaning even if we find it morally repellent. Storytellers, Plato insisted, are dangerous people. He was right.

I imagine that along with poets and storytellers one could include actors and journalists and politicians. Regardless, there are several things to take from this.

For one, the power of story has been known and realized for a very long time. However, this is not to say that everyone realizes the power of story.

Also, because stories can convey what is the opposite of the good, the true, and the beautiful, we should be ever-conscious when we encounter stories, both those with presented with the explicit intent to persuade hearers of some conviction, as well as those that are not so explicit.

A third observation is that in our desire to persuade others of the truth, it behoves us to be able not only to present rational argument, and not only to embody the very truths we seek to convey, but also that we endeavor to couch what is good, what is true, what is beautiful, and what is just in compelling narratives.


On the next page McKee writes:

Robert George on Holding Fast to the Gospel

The following video contains remarks by Robert George on holding fast to the gospel. George is a Roman Catholic. I am just catholic. But this matters not at all. He is my brother in Christ. For that, I am grateful.

Robert George is a prophetic voice for this very moment in our cultural history. Listen to what our brother says. Hear, hear!

If you care to read his remarks, you may find a transcript here.

This video was trimmed by, a helpful little service!

Summit Oxford • 2014 Summer Term

Readings @ Summit Oxford • 2014 Summer Term

It undoubtedly is a truism that one can be wearied by the reading of many books. Perhaps even more so, the reading of many online articles, a bulk of blogs, frenzied Facebook statuses, hasty hashtags, and awful opinions. Even so, some publications actually can be enlightening and perhaps challenging. Some most certainly are fuel for our conversations at Summit Oxford.

Often I am asked about what we are reading in the Summit Oxford program. The list changes a bit from term to term. (Here is the list from Hilary term 2014. It is similar to what I’ve posted below.) New books are published, older ones seem less pressing or helpful, and there is ever a steady stream of articles and chapters on subjects that beg to be included. We do read a lot, mind you, most often approaching 2500 pages. (And our students read many times this number of pages for their Oxford tutorials. It is a good thing that we are so close to the world-class Bodleian Library.)

For the upcoming coming Summer Term (10 June – August 8), along with a selection of articles, essays, and other items, we are reading and discussing the nine texts below. I have listed them roughly in the order we will read them. I also have provided links to Amazon, if you care to purchase any of them.

Summit Oxford Study Centre -