Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thinking Christianly about book burning

Last week a Jewish friend of mine called me up to ask my opinion of Terry Jones, the Florida man planning on holding a Koran burning on September 11th. He stated that if any Jew promised to perpetrate such an outrageous expression counter to free speech - especially religious free speech - Jews from around the world would descend upon him to silence and marginalize him for the sake of all Jews (who are against book burning of any kind).

I told my friend that I believed Terry Jones would not receive the same response from global Christians for a number of reasons. First, unfortunately, many professing believers agree with him that such displays are the means to stamp out Islam. Second, unfortunately, the Christian world has become so large and so fragmented that any semblance of unity in response to someone like Terry Jones is very unlikely. At the same time, I expressed my sorrow to my friend that Christians - if Terry Jones truly is one - would stage such a display of thoughtless militance.

Professor Carl Trueman gives a level-headed response when he writes:

"Has book burning ever done anything other than make the object of the fire more interesting and sought after, and make the perpetrators look like mindless reactionary vandals? The Reformation is a great example of this: the Catholics burned Luther's books and, hey presto!, they became bestsellers, and the Reformers had, at least for a while, the public sympathy that comes with being victims. That's censorship for you. The same kind of thing happened in the sixties with the Rolling Stones: ban them from the airwaves and suddenly they are top of the charts. Book burning is entirely counterproductive because it only ever achieves the opposite of that which it intends. Luther understood this -- when Prierias published his criticisms of Luther in 1518, Luther did not burn the book; he republished it with a new, witty preface and a refutation. He understood the subtleties of polemic in a way that left his opponents playing catch-up.

This Koran burning is childish; it will at best only draw attention to the book and fuel curiosity; at worst, it could jeopardise young people serving their country. Christians would be better served spending the time praying for the conversion of their Muslim neighbours and reaching out to them with love and with God's true word, rather than with a box of matches and acts of counterproductive immaturity."

It is hard to square Koran burning with the way of the Cross. It reminds one more of Nazi tactics to suppress German minorities than Christian mission to win the world for Christ. Fighting for the truth this side of the Cross must take constructive, not destructive, paths.

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