Grace, Love and Fire: On the Burning of Books

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 4:15 AM

Up until a few short weeks ago, the name Terry Jones would have garnered blank stares from most quarters. Now, his back and forth plans to burn the Qur’an have elevated the obscure pastor into the most talked about clergyman of the season. Whether or not this burning or others like it actually proceed, those of us who claim to follow Christ must grapple with what people like Jones bring to the image of the Church and the Gospel.

It is clear that the majority of Christians oppose Qur’an burnings. Thankfully, condemnation of the plan has come from throughout Christendom, from the Vatican to the National Association of Evangelicals. These organizations have all sent an unambiguous message: the faith we hold from Scripture is not compatible with the hate-filled message conveyed by book burning.

Sadly, there remains a minority of Christians that demonstrate an anti-Muslim tenor that risks scandalizing the Gospel message. Hate and fear do nothing to further the mission of God, serving only to undermine attempts at proclaiming a message of grace. To avoid this becoming a stumbling block, the wider Christian community must continue to vocally reject this minority’s attempt to distort the Gospel of Grace.

The passage in Matthew’s Gospel commonly referred to as the “Great Commission” of Jesus commands Christians to spread the good news of God’s Kingdom to all peoples. Exactly how are we to convey the idea that we would love people to come to know Christ if we are busy demonizing the very people who do not know him?

Book burning as a demonstration of disagreement has never been a good way of helping people understand God’s love. In our day, it conjures images of the Inquisition or the Witch Hunts that remain ugly ghosts of centuries past. Qur’an burning further alienates many people from Christianity – and not just Muslims.

The heart of the problem is that we too often confuse tolerance and love with agreement. Once this confusion is accepted, many Christians accept vitriolic messages directed toward Muslims because they have been convinced that to do otherwise is to accept the Islamic claim to truth. A third way, apart from wholesale agreement or rancorous attack, must be preferred.

Christians should seek to offer constructive critiques that begin with points of commonality just as was modeled by the Apostle Paul in his interactions with the Athenians in Acts 17. Christian theology over the centuries has spoken of “Natural Theology,” the idea Paul discusses in the early chapters of his Epistle to the Romans that the very world points to its Creator and his love for people.

We can and should expect followers of Islam, and all other religions (not to mention the irreligious), have at least some common touchstones as fellow heirs to the Natural Theology that reveals God in the created world. Accepting that those we disagree with still share things in common with us allows dialogue, and by God’s grace, the seeds of faith in Christ.

No doubt many Christians who join in support of anti-Islamic rhetoric such as that issued by Jones do so out of a desire to protect a country they fear is under siege by Islam’s extremist elements. Wanting America to thrive is a noble goal, but it must never trump the Christian’s obligation to follow Scripture, including duty to show love to and pray for all people, even those who hate or persecute us.

Instead of viewing Muslims as opponents, the Bible asserts we ought to view them as people loved by God who are just as in need of a savior as we are.

Imagine if, instead of an “International Burn a Koran Day,” Christians staged an “International Pray for Muslims Day.” Prayer works better than hate every time.

Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business.

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Re: Grace, Love and Fire: On the Burning of Books

Just for discussion, I have a couple of points/questions:

  • Would it make any difference if the book being burned was the Book of Mormon? How about the Satanic Bible? If so, what is the difference and what makes the difference?

  • We hear stories of fetish burning and usually think of that as a good thing. What makes this different?

If one of the above is good and the Qur’an bad, what makes the difference and why?

Just some thoughts to ponder.

Posted by sjm - Sep 13, 2010 | 3:14 PM

Re: Grace, Love and Fire: On the Burning of Books

My one question is why is the portrayal of his book burning always portrayed as “hate-filled”?

And of course, connected with it, why is not the burning of the Bible portrayed the same way? It is policy that if a person flying to Saudi Arabia is found with a Bible, it is confiscated and destroyed (most likely by burning). This is most certainly hate motivated—hatred for the Bible and the God of the Bible, and most certainly disrespectful of Christians, their beliefs and their Bible. Why not the same condemnation?

The truth is, whether people like it or not, his plans have exposed a lot of lies the prop up the left and their supporters.

Posted by Jon Glass - Sep 13, 2010 | 7:06 PM

Re: Grace, Love and Fire: On the Burning of Books

I cannot think of any book burnings that I have heard of that did not run off of a mix of ignorance and hate. That said, the Qur’an is especially notable because burning it causes such extreme reactions. Precisely what benefit comes from this? If Christians’ duty is to make disciples, consider how many will be made because of this vs. how many will not be because of this. These sorts of actions scare more people away from the church than bring people in. And for what?

I do not like seeing people burn the Bible, but the problem with bringing that up is that it is trying to justify our actions on the account of others. It is trying to worry about our rights rather than how we are helping others. That is, it goes squarely against the mentality of Jesus: protecting our “rights” should not trump making disciples.

As related to fetish burning, hopefully that is a symbol of a converted person giving up something they already possessed. That is a lot different than acquiring something others hold as sacred solely for the purpose of burning it. If a converted Muslim wanted to burn a Qur’an that would be a different situation, it seems to me.

Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Sep 14, 2010 | 5:31 AM

Re: Grace, Love and Fire: On the Burning of Books

You did it again, Tim. You characterized it as a mixture of ignorance and hate. “Hate” is a very strong term, yet it’s tossed about with little regard for what it means! What do you mean by that word? Christ certainly considered it to mean that one wishes the object of his hate were dead. It is murder unfulfilled (at least as of yet.) It is a powerful emotion—and very, very personal. The burning of Korans can hardly be considered in the same vein without knowing the actual motives or motivations of the burner! You are making a powerful accusation without any grounds for it.

The real truth is you have resorted to emotional language, the result of which, any further discussion is extremely hampered, if not made impossible. You want dialog? Don’t use this language. Inflammatory language does not result in discussion.

The irony is that we are quick to use this sort of language for people to our right, but fear to use it towards those who are expressing themselves with the language of hate, and worse, following through on it! You admit that your main problem with his declaration of burning the Koran is the extreme reactions. Whose reactions I ask? People who like you? love you? People who don’t already hate you and wish to kill you? They aren’t my enemy! They aren’t your enemy! But they made themselves enemies nonetheless. Why? Because we are not like they! It doesn’t matter if we burn their scriptures or not! They are going to find some excuse to get violent in any case—that is their hatred, and they’ve expressed it in multitudinous ways already! Can you not see the irony in this?

What gets my goat is that it is ok—acceptable and even REQUIRED to pile on this Christian guy for wanting to burn some books, but we are not allowed to describe these people in honest terms? Truth is the only casualty here in this whole debate!

If you worry about offending people, what do you do with Christ’s actions in the Temple, when he cast out the money lenders, etc? How about when he told the revered religious leaders that they were whited sepulchres ? This is most certainly provocative! And his enemies would call it hate-speech!

The truth is, I find it sad that we are so quick to condemn Christians, yet so absolutely unwilling to speak truthfully about others—especially Muslims. Regardless of whether we like it or not, Islam is a violent religion. But we aren’t allowed to say that… Why?


Posted by Jon Glass - Sep 14, 2010 | 3:32 PM