On September 11, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL was slated to hold its much publicized “Burn a Koran Day”. (This post was made prior to Saturday. Even if the event did not happen as scheduled, I believe the article’s conclusions still stand.)
Dr. Terry Jones, and his congregation of about 50, set out to commemorate the attacks of 9/11 by publicly incinerating a copy of the Islamic scriptures on their self-proclaimed holiday. According to Jones, this is a way “to honor the victims…and stand up against the evils of Islam.” Jones encouraged US Christians to join him. He claimed that this was being done in a manner reminiscent of the bonfire recorded in Acts 19 when former sorcerers burned their magic books after coming to Christ.
For all the coverage this event has received, I think a few issues need to be raised. The controversies surrounding Jones and this event are too many to count.
First of all….
…Jones made plans to hold the burning despite being denied a bonfire permit by the city. His defiance is contrary to the teachings of Romans 13.
Third, Jones claims that “God told him to do this.” I remember another time in history when God was blamed by Christian people for their anti-Islamic actions. It’s called The Crusades. What was done then was shameful. Jones’ actions are likewise. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t like the rising influence of Islam. I even agree with Jones that Islam, and every false religion, is of the devil. But this is not an excuse for mixing patriotism, religious zeal, and outright insolence.
Harsh situations deserve harsh comments. So, here goes: “Burn a Koran Day” is not only foolish and irresponsible but it is, most of all, unbiblical. Here’s why.
1.In general, book burning in history has been counterproductive.
Much to the angst of those doing the burning (or banning), censored materials very often become popular materials. The Rolling Stones were banned from the airwaves in the 1960’s and guess what happened? They soon topped the rock charts for the next decade.
Consider, also, Martin Luther. The Roman church burned piles of Luther’s works. Instead of erasing his books from history they quickly became bestsellers. The more they tried to shove Luther off the stage, the more they actually forced him into the spotlight. If Jones’ idea catches on, it will, inevitably, do the same. Fan the flames which burn books and you will fan people’s curiosity, sympathy, and interest in the forbidden pages. For this reason, “Burn a Koran Day” is foolish.
2. Burning the Koran in America may jeopardize Americans living in Islamic states.
Jones claims to be doing his Koran burning to defend and preserve the American way of life. However, he has ignored the pleas of the very Americans who are being put in harm’s way by his actions. Gen. David Petraeus told the AP that this event would likely incite violence against U.S. troops. Petraeus’ fears have, in some ways, already come true. In Indonesia, thousands rallied at the US embassy in Jakarta protesting the event. Days later, in Afghanistan, thousands more Muslims rallied to burn a suited Terry Jones doll in effigy. The days following the “Burn A Koran Day” may prove even worse in these, and other, Islamic states.
While Petraeus’ concerns were primarily for our American troops, we should also include our missionaries as well. If Terry Jones wants to stand up for the American way of life, he would be better served by echoing the principles within the First Amendment to the Constitution. Jones’ actions do not help the American way of life nor the lives of Americans abroad. For this reason, “Burn a Koran Day” is irresponsible.
3. The bonfire of Acts 19 is descriptive. It is not prescriptive.
Jones’ supposed biblical justification from Acts 19 presents a wonderful opportunity for all us to learn a lesson in basic hermeneutics (i.e. how to interpret the Bible). Generally speaking, there are two types of Bible passages: prescriptive ones (explaining what should happen) and descriptive ones (explaining what did happen). When churches confuse these two, they often wind up practicing such things as washing feet, handlings snakes, or “speaking in tongues.”
Some passages of the Bible are prescriptive. We also call these regulative or normative. We should seek to apply these verses of Scripture as the normal Christian practice. Among others, these include the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Supper, the 10 Commandments, and the Great Commission. These are clear, regular and prescribed teachings from the Bible that all Christians everywhere should seek to do.
Other verses, however, are merely descriptive. Very often, people, places, and events in the stories of Scripture are like the set dressing of a play. The set dressing provides the background in front of which the main story unfolds. The Bible is filled with such unique details like the parting of the Red Sea, the feeding of the 5,000, as well as the visions and trances of Ezekiel, Peter, and John. These events do not prescribe what must happen, they merely describe what did happen. John Stott has written, “What is described in Scripture as having happened to others is not necessarily intended for us…” The bonfire of Acts 19 was just such an event.
If Dr. Jones wants to learn from the book of Acts what Christians should do with the writings of other faiths, he should look to Acts 17 instead of Acts 19. There, in Acts 17:22-34 (spec. vs. 28), Paul does that very thing.
While seeking to reach the religious people of Mars Hill, Paul quoted from the pages of pagan poetry to show common ground with his audience. By respecting, knowing, and even using their own honored texts, Paul was able to win a hearing to preach. Rather than burning the Koran, Jones would be better served to read it and develop an articulate understanding of their faith, followed by a sound, biblical apologetic. For this reason, “Burn a Koran Day” is unbiblical.
Granted, Terry Jones is on the fringe of Christianity. That’s a fine distinction that we understand but one that most of the world will not.
The church must be careful about blurring the lines between having an offensive message and having offensive messengers. We need the former. We could use a lot less of the latter.