Tag Archives: Islam

Chris Sinkinson debates John Hick on religious pluralism and salvation

Two Rams butting heads: may the best ram win!
Two rams butting heads: may the best ram win!

Looks like Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable radio show found a pastor with a Ph.D in philosophy, and he can really whip some ass. And that’s a good thing, because he is taking on one of the two leading proponents of religious pluralism, in my opinion, (the other being Paul Knitter).

The players:

John Hick is a noted philosopher and theologian who is a proponent of a pluralist view of religion – that there is one light (God) but many lampshades (religious expressions).

Chris Sinkinson is a pastor and Bible tutor who has critiqued Hick’s work.  He says that pluralism empties Christianity of any content and in its own way disrespects other religions more than his own exclusivist stance.

The MP3 file is here. (Note: This link works)

Justin does a great job as moderator of this debate. He said what I was thinking of saying a number of times during the debate.

Anyway, here is my snarky summary. I creatively paraphrase some of the things that Hick says to make it more clear. And funny.

—-

Hick:
– had an experience looking at the buildings of other religions
– other religions have buildings, so all religions are equal
– I spent some time in the East, and met nice Eastern people
– since Eastern people are nice that means all religions are equal

Justin:
– isn’t Jesus’ claim to be the exclusive path to salvation offensive?

Sinkinson:
– all religions that are exclusive and have to deal with religious pluralism
– even John Hick writes polemically in favor of his own view
– even John Hick thinks that religions that are exclusive are false

Justin:
– what about the blind man and the elephant?
– the story seems to say that other people have a partial grasp?
– but the story-teller himself has the privileged view
– so isn’t the religious pluralist just as arrogant as exclusivists?

Hick:
– well, it’s not arrogant to claim to have the right answer
– Jesus never made the claim to be God incarnate
– Jesus never made the claim to be the exclusive path to God
– historians don’t think that John’s gospel is reliable because it is late
– the proclamation of exclusivity was added by evangelists much later

Sinkinson:
– the historians who doubt the high Christology are radical skeptics
– the mainstream of historical scholarship accepts a high Christology
– the EARLIEST history about Jesus has the highest Christology

Hick:
– the moderate scholars do think Jesus was divine but that he didn’t think he was divine
– the phrase “Son of God” was used to describe any remarkable person
– only later did the early church turn the generic term into “God the Son”

Sinkinson:
– there is reflection on Jesus’ identity and developments, but not invention
– Jesus and his followers were in trouble precisely for linking him to deity
– why else would Jesus get into trouble and get crucified?

Hick:
– the Romans crucified him because people were saying he was the Messiah
– but the Messiah was not identified as being divine, but political
– and that’s why the Romans crucified him

Justin:
– do you (Sinkinson) think that people in other religions can be saved?

Sinkinson:
– the traditional view is exclusivism
– the other world religions are logically contradictory with Christianity
– you have to respect their differences – they are not the same as Christianity
– exclusivists allow that people can be saved by responding to natural theology
– and there are also other cases where non-Christians are saved, like old testament saints and babies who die in infancy

Hick:
– but people’s religions are based on where they are born
– so it’s not fair for God to expect people to be saved in one religion only

Sinkinson:
– the plurality of religions grouped by location doesn’t make christianity false
– that would be the genetic fallacy – rejecting an idea because of its origin
– the real question to consider is whether it is true
– and even the objection assumes that God is a God of love, who should be fair
– but how do you know that God is loving? that is an exclusive view
– how can the “blob” ultimate of religious pluralism be “loving” and “fair”

Hick:
– the ultimate reality is loving or not loving depending on each person’s religion

Sinkinson:
– but some religions and theistic and some are atheistic
– how can those God exist and not exist?

Hick:
– God is beyond everyone’s understanding, except mine
– God is beyond all definitions, except mine
– God is beyond all human understanding, except mine
– i’m not contradicting myself, it’s a mystery! a mystery!
– as long as you don’t look to closely, they’re all the same!
– allow me to tell you about God, which no one can do but me

Justin:
– doesn’t your religious pluralism mean that Christianity is false?

Hick:
– well, Christianity can’t be true, because it disagrees with other religions
– Christianity can’t falsify other religions, that would be mean to them
– other religions are just as “profound” as Christianity – and that’s what matters – not whether a religion makes true claims
– some religions are older than Christianity, that means they can’t be disagreed with
– we can’t let Christianity be true, because then some people will feel bad
– if people feel bad, then they don’t like me and then I feel bad
– if there’s one thing I know about the unknowable ultimate reality, it’s that it wants me to be liked by lots of people

Sinkinson:
– your view seems to be agnosticism – that nothing can be known about the “ultimate real”
– if we can’t express in words what God is like, then why are you saying what God is like?

Hick:
– the indescribable ultimate is described (falsely, but interestingly) by various tradition

Sinkinson:
– does the “ultimate real” exist?

Hick:
– no

Justin:
– are all the exclusive religions wrong, and only you are right?

Hick:
– all propositions about God in all the religions are false
– the experience of being deluded and having feelings about your delusions is “valid” in all religions
– all religions are equally good ways to believe false things and to have feelings about your false beliefs
– only my propositions about God are true
– everyone who disagrees with me is wrong

Sinkinson:
– so all the propositions of all the religions are wrong
– but all the experiences and feelings are “right”

Hick:
– yes
– all propositions about God are humanly constructed, and so false
– except mine – mine are true!

Sinkinson:
– so everything distinctive about Christianity are literally false?

Hick:
– yes, Christian doctrines are all false
– because if they were true, other religions would be false, and they would feel bad
– and we can’t have that, because everyone has to like me
– only things that don’t offend people in other religions can be true

Sinkinson:
– so do we have to then treat all religions as non-propositional?

Hick:
– well just don’t ask people about the content of their beliefs
– just treat their religion as non-cognitive rituals, feelings and experiences
– don’t inquire too deeply into it, because all religions are all nonsense
– i’m very respectful and tolerant of different religions!

Sinkinson:
– but Muslims, for example, think their religion is making truth claims

Hick:
– but there can be tolerance as long as you treat religions as non-propositional nonsense

Sinkinson:
– um, I have a higher respect for religions than you do
– I actually consider that the claims of other religions could be true
– I think that other religions make truth claims and not nonsense claims

Hick:
– well they are all useful because they are all false
– I don’t emphasize beliefs, I emphasize living, experiences and feelings
– as long as everyone accepts my view and rejects their religion, we’ll all be tolerant

Justin:
– erm, isn’t that an exclusive claim?
– you’re trying to say that your view of what religion is is right, and everyone else is wrong

Hick:
– I’m not arrogant, I just think that all the religions of the worlds are false
– only my statements about religion are true – everyone else is wrong
– I’m tolerant, and Christians are arrogant

Justin:
– but you think Sinkinson’s view is wrong
– why should we accept your view and deny his view?

Hick:
– His view of salvation is false, and mine is true

Sinkinson:
– you use words with set meanings, but you mean completely different things
– when I say salvation, I mean deliverance from sins through Jesus

Hick:
– I get to decide what salvation means for everyone, you intolerant bigot

Sinkinson:
– but that word has a specific meaning that has held true in all of Christian history
– but what you mean by salvation is people having subjective delusions that are not true

Hick:
– I don’t like using the word salvation

Sinkinson:
– but you just used it!
– and you think that it is present in different world religions, but it isn’t

Hick:
– God is unknowable and indescribable
– God isn’t a wrathful God though
– and the Christian description of God is false
– Evangelical Christians are mean
– I had experiences with people of other faiths
– and these experiences taught me that religions that think that the universe is eternal are true
– as long as you reduce religion to behaviors and not truth, then religions are all good at producing behaviors
– if you just treat all religions as clothing fashion and food customs, they are all valid
– the main point of religion is for people to agree on cultural conventions and stick to them
– never mind the propositional statements of religions… who cares about truth? not me!
– but Christianity is definitely false

Sinkinson:
– the Judeo-Christian God is different – he reveals himself to humans
– he is distinct from the other religions
– he is personal, and is loving but also angry at sin

Hick:
– But God isn’t a person, and he isn’t a non-person
– I can’t say what he is – I’ll offend someone if I say anything at all!
– except Christians – I can offend them because they are arrogant bigots
– I’m also very spiritual – I meditate on my breathing

Sinkinson:
– you can’t assess a religion by the experiences that people have
– people who have weird experiences do all kinds of evil things
– so the real question has to be about truth – is the New Testament reliable?, etc.

William Lane Craig answers: why choose Christianity over Judaism or Islam?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson

This is the latest question on the Reasonable Faith Q&A section.

It says:

Hello Dr. Craig,

I have always wondered about your claim that Christianity is the only true religion (based on historical evidence as you say). But how can you be so sure when Islamic and Jewish scholars claim the same claim?

As a former atheist and now an agnostic, the question of which religion to choose is essential. I’m very well acquainted with Islamic Theology and unlike your claim. Islam affirms that Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same god (“Allah” is not a special god for Muslims rather it’s the term for god in Arabic).

So what is your position on Islam? (And I would really like to know from who do you get your information on Islamic theology).

I also would to invest some time in Christian theology, would kindly recommend some introductory books?

I think we are going to have to work from the historical Jesus to answer this one, and we won’t be able to use the New Testament as if it is the inspired Word of God. We’ll have to use it like a history book, and see what we can get from it using the ordinary rules for doing history on ancient documents.

Here’s the best part of Dr. Craig’s answer for Islam:

The short answer to your question of why Christianity rather than Islam or Judaism, Sultan, is Jesus of Nazareth. While Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the world’s three great monotheistic faiths, genetically related and so having much in common, what divides them is their account of Jesus. I think that neither Judaism nor Islam gives a satisfactory historical account of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.

[…]It is ironic that the Qur’an chooses to deny the best established fact about Jesus, namely, his crucifixion (IV.157). Not only is there not a single shred of evidence in favor of this remarkable hypothesis, but the evidence supporting Jesus’ crucifixion is, as Emory University New Testament scholar L. T. Johnson puts it, “overwhelming” (The Real Jesus [San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996], p. 125). Paula Frederickson, whose book From Jesus to Christ inspired the PBS special by the same name, declares, “The crucifixion is the strongest single fact we have about Jesus” (Society of Biblical Literature meeting, November 22, 1999). The crucifixion of Jesus is recognized even by the sceptical critics in the Jesus Seminar as–to quote Robert Funk–”one indisputable fact” (Jesus Seminar video).

When we think that the Qur’an was written by a man living in Arabia 600 years after Jesus with no independent source of information about him, it really isn’t so surprising that his view of Jesus was distorted. Whatever else one might say about Islam, its view of Jesus is erroneous, and so this religion cannot be true.

And the best part of Dr. Craig’s answer for Judaism:

As for Judaism, again I should say that the decisive consideration is Jesus’ claims to be the Jewish Messiah and his subsequent resurrection from the dead. Jewish scholars are coming to recognize the historical facts undergirding Jesus’ resurrection and are hard-pressed to explain those facts apart from the resurrection. Indeed, one of their number, the late Pinchas Lapide, whom I heard lecture at the University of Munich, declared himself convinced that the God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. He also thought that Jesus believed himself to be the Messiah.

The striking thing about this is that I know a Jewish guy who will debate historical Jesus with me, and he LOVES The Teaching Company (now called “The Great Courses”). I tell him that even the atheist Bart Ehrman is willing to give me the burial, the empty tomb and the post-mortem appearances of Jesus in his course on the historical Jesus for The Teaching Company. So if we are going to do some history, it’s going to be pretty awkward for the Jewish guy to come up with a hypothesis that can explain those 3 facts, not to mention the early proclamation of the first Christians that Jesus was the Messiah, even after he was executed in a shameful way. Even non-Christian sources report that. And their proclamation of the resurrection that didn’t win them any friends, let me tell you.

In the post, Dr. Craig recommended a book where he debates a Jewish New Testament scholar, edited by Paul Copan and Craig Evans. I asked my friend Eric Chabot about the book, and he said he had read it and it was “great”. So I bought it. I love debate books. I try to buy them all right away and then read them, since I like to read a fight. Somehow, this one had escaped my notice until now. If you’re interested in these issues, I recommend getting that book as well.

373 children were victims of UK Muslim sex trafficking gang

The UK Labour Party
The UK Labour Party

This is reported by the ultra-leftist BBC, so they are very politically correct.

They write:

As many as 373 children may have been targeted for sex by gangs of men in Oxfordshire in the last 16 years, a serious case review found.

The investigation came after a sadistic sex gang of seven men were jailed in 2013 for abusing six girls in Oxford, between 2004 and 2012.

Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council made “many errors” in that case and could have acted sooner.

A victim of the gang said the issue had been “swept under the carpet”.

Of the 373 cases, the council said about 50 victims were boys.

[…]The report also called for research into why a significant proportion of people convicted in these kind of cases are of “Pakistani and/or Muslim heritage”.

In the Oxford case, known as Operation Bullfinch, two of the men were of east African origin and five of Pakistani origin.

Part of the problem with dealing with problems caused by unrestricted immigration from Muslim countries (e.g. – gang raping, sex-trafficking, terrorism) is that the leftist political parties don’t dare take action for fear of offending Muslims.

You’ll recall that our own State Department and President have both made statements to the effect that Islamic terrorists are only committing acts of terrorism because they are poor. Presumably, they also think that poor Christians and Jews would do the same if they were poor. It has nothing at all to do with an anti-West culture that is rooted in radical Islam. The solution – according to the secular left – is to give them jobs.

Let’s take a look at the story of Jihad John to see how well that worked:

Jihadi John family’s 20 years on benefits: How it’s cost taxpayers up to £400k to house fanatic and his relatives in upmarket areas

  • Mohammed Emwazi’s family granted asylum in 1996 after leaving Kuwait
  • They have since lived in five homes, one of which was worth £450 per week
  • Neither his father Jasem, 51, nor mother Ghaneya worked while in Britain
  • Westminster City Council is still paying rent on family’s £600,000 flat
  • One landlord described the family as ‘parasites’ and ‘tenants from hell’
  • MPs blasted family for ‘abusing hospitality’ and say payouts are ‘disgrace’

Jihadi John and his asylum-seeking family have milked the British benefits system for 20 years, the Mail can reveal today.

Housing the Islamic State executioner and his relatives in affluent parts of London has cost taxpayers up to £400,000.

One landlord said Mohammed Emwazi’s family were ‘parasites’ and ‘tenants from hell’. Incredibly, they are still believed to be pocketing £40,000 a year in handouts despite there being no sign of them in Britain.

Emwazi’s father Jasem, who has six children, is back in his native Kuwait – the country he claimed he fled fearing for his life.

Westminster City Council is still paying the rent on the family’s £600,000 flat even though the rules say housing benefit should normally be stopped after 13 weeks.

[…]The Mail investigation can also reveal that:

  • The family fled Kuwait after the first Gulf War, claiming persecution because they were seen to favour the Iraqi invasion in 1990;
  • They claimed asylum in the UK and won refugee status in 1996;
  • Five years later they were made British citizens and then started travelling back to Kuwait;
  • The family have claimed hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefits in Britain since their arrival in the country and lived in homes costing £450 a week;
  • Emwazi’s father is now back working in Kuwait while the family continues to receive state assistance for the home in Queen’s Park.

The owner of a house in Little Venice where they lived for four years said Westminster City Council paid £450 a week in rent for the family – £23,400 a year.

Two more of the five owners of homes they have lived in have confirmed their rent was paid by the council or through a housing association.

Assuming the same £23,400-a-year cost, then the bill over 20 years is £468,000.

I think what the secular left really means by “give them jobs” is “give them money for doing nothing”, i.e. – welfare. Political correctness is an ideology for wealthy elites, but it’s not so good for the poor people who actually have to deal with the consequences of the bad policies.

Now if you ask the Labour Party, who created these generous immigration policies and welfare programs, about their policies, they will tell you that this is all working as designed. It’s a feature, not a bug. They feel very good about themselves, calling good evil, and evil good. They are very generous handing out money they didn’t work for to people who then use it to kill the people who worked for the money. This is morally good, according to the secular left.

If we are really going to get serious about the problem, maybe we need leaders who aren’t so politically correct.

Will Democrats blame global warming or the Crusades for the murder of 21 Christians?

Breitbart reports on a new video from Islamic State: (H/T Ari)

A newly released video by Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists showing the mass beheading of 21 Christians condemns the faith’s believers as “crusaders.”

“All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes, especially if you are fighting us all together,” a man on the video says with a North American English accent. “The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama Bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”

The five-minute video, which includes the caption, “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church,” shows Egyptian Coptic Christian men on their knees in orange jumpsuits having their heads severed by black-clad terrorists.

President Barack Obama has yet to comment on the mass beheading of Christians by Islamic State terrorists, since he was golfing on Sunday at a private golf course owned by billionaire Larry Ellison.

The release of the Islamic State’s Christian beheading video comes a week-and-a-half after Obama infuriated Christians by using the occasion of the National Prayer Breakfast to lecture Christians not to get on their “high horse” about Islamic State terrorists burning a caged Jordanian pilot because “during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

The Democrats also declined to specify that the victims of this attack were Christians. That’s the same thing he did when he described the Jewish victims of Islamic terrorism as “a bunch of folks” who were “randomly shot“. Radical Islam is not the problem that Democrats are trying to solve, you know. Obama likes to call this sort of thing “senseless violence” or “workplace violence” in order to avoid impugning radical Islam. The State Department is now saying that radical Islam’s root cause is that we don’t give them “job opportunities“.

Democrats would prefer to ignore radical Islamic terrorism and focus on the real threat.

CNS News explains:

Not radical Muslim terrorism, not an unsecured border, not an ever-growing federal debt that now exceeds $18 trillion, not the fact that 109 million live in households on federal welfare programs. These are not the greatest threats facing us today.

“No challenge–no challenge–poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” President Obama declared in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday night.

[…]President Obama then said that the U.S. military is saying that “climate change” is causing immediate risks to our national security–although he did not explain exactly what this meant or how the “Pentagon” had arrived at this conclusion.

“The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security,” said Obama. “We should act like it.”

Global warming alarmism really means increased regulation of business and consumer activity – that’s the greatest threat we face, according to Democrats. I think what we are seeing is a fundamental lack of seriousness on global security and foreign policy by the golfer-in-chief and his panel of cultural relativist advisors.

This article from the left-leaning Atlantic makes the point that ISIS/ISIL is very much Islamic:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

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, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail.

[…]Every academic I asked about the Islamic State’s ideology sent me to [Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel]. Of partial Lebanese descent, Haykel grew up in Lebanon and the United States, and when he talks through his Mephistophelian goatee, there is a hint of an unplaceable foreign accent.

According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

All Muslims acknowledge that Muhammad’s earliest conquests were not tidy affairs, and that the laws of war passed down in the Koran and in the narrations of the Prophet’s rule were calibrated to fit a turbulent and violent time. In Haykel’s estimation, the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition,” Haykel said. Islamic State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”

Democrats are not just unserious about radical Islam, but in Ukraine, too.

Please do read this column from Charles Krauthammer:

Take Russia. The only news out of Obama’s one-hour press conference with Angela Merkel this week was that he still can’t make up his mind whether to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons. The Russians have sent in T-80 tanks and Grad rocket launchers. We’ve sent in humanitarian aid that includes blankets, MREs and psychological counselors.

How complementary: The counselors do grief therapy for those on the receiving end of the T-80 tank fire. “I think the Ukrainian people can feel confident that we have stood by them,” said Obama at the news conference.

Indeed. And don’t forget the blankets. America was once the arsenal of democracy, notes Elliott Abrams. We are now its linen closet.

Why no anti-tank and other defensive weapons? Because we are afraid that arming the victim of aggression will anger the aggressor.

[…]This passivity — strategic, syntactical, ideological — is more than just a reaction to the perceived overreach of the Bush years. Or a fear of failure. Or bowing to the domestic left. It is, above all, rooted in Obama’s deep belief that we — America, Christians, the West — lack the moral authority to engage, to project, i.e., to lead.

I play wargames quite often, and in my experience I find that T-80s are very capable, especially against the Ukraine. The main armament is a very good 125 mm gun with an auto-loader, and unlike the M1A2 Abrams, it does have anti-tank guided missiles. It also has reactive armor, making it resistant to ordinary man-portable anti-tank weapon systems. Yes, it doesn’t have the fire control or speed of the Abrams, but it is a very good tank. It has a very nice low-profile turrent that is hard to hit with unguided anti-tank missiles, especially when it is hull-down.

You are not going to be able to take out one of these from the front with a grenade or a light anti-tank weapon. You will need specialized anti-tank capability, either a well-equipped tank, or a shoulder-fired ATGM (e.g. – Javelin) or a TOW ATGM. In short, we need to arm Ukraine if we expect them to be able to deter a force equipped with T-80 tanks. This is not even to mention what is needed for Ukraine to be able to deal with Russian close-air support helicopters (Mi-28 / Ka-50, etc.) and/or strike aircraft (Su-34).

We really need to think carefully about foreign policy when we vote in elections – weakness and indecisiveness emboldens aggressors. The price of cutting our military budget in favor of Obamacare, green energy, welfare and other crap is that we can no longer reach into hotspots all over the world and prevent small threats from growing into bigger ones. We lose our ability to deter aggression and stop wars before they happen.

Correcting four myths about the history of the Crusades

Crusader
Crusader

Here is an interesting article from First Principles Journal.

Intro:

The verdict seems unanimous. From presidential speeches to role-playing games, the crusades are depicted as a deplorably violent episode in which thuggish Westerners trundled off, unprovoked, to murder and pillage peace-loving, sophisticated Muslims, laying down patterns of outrageous oppression that would be repeated throughout subsequent history. In many corners of the Western world today, this view is too commonplace and apparently obvious even to be challenged.

But unanimity is not a guarantee of accuracy. What everyone “knows” about the crusades may not, in fact, be true. From the many popular notions about the crusades, let us pick four and see if they bear close examination.

The four myths:

  • Myth #1: The crusades represented an unprovoked attack by Western Christians on the Muslim world.
  • Myth #2: Western Christians went on crusade because their greed led them to plunder Muslims in order to get rich.
  • Myth #3: Crusaders were a cynical lot who did not really believe their own religious propaganda; rather, they had ulterior, materialistic motives.
  • Myth #4: The crusades taught Muslims to hate and attack Christians.

Here’s the most obvious thing you should know. The Crusades were defensive actions:

In a.d. 632, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, North Africa, Spain, France, Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were all Christian territories. Inside the boundaries of the Roman Empire, which was still fully functional in the eastern Mediterranean, orthodox Christianity was the official, and overwhelmingly majority, religion. Outside those boundaries were other large Christian communities—not necessarily orthodox and Catholic, but still Christian. Most of the Christian population of Persia, for example, was Nestorian. Certainly there were many Christian communities in Arabia.

By a.d. 732, a century later, Christians had lost Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa, Spain, most of Asia Minor, and southern France. Italy and her associated islands were under threat, and the islands would come under Muslim rule in the next century. The Christian communities of Arabia were entirely destroyed in or shortly after 633, when Jews and Christians alike were expelled from the peninsula.6 Those in Persia were under severe pressure. Two-thirds of the formerly Roman Christian world was now ruled by Muslims.

What had happened? Most people actually know the answer, if pressed—though for some reason they do not usually connect the answer with the crusades. The answer is the rise of Islam. Every one of the listed regions was taken, within the space of a hundred years, from Christian control by violence, in the course of military campaigns deliberately designed to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Islam’s neighbors. Nor did this conclude Islam’s program of conquest. The attacks continued, punctuated from time to time by Christian attempts to push back. Charlemagne blocked the Muslim advance in far western Europe in about a.d. 800, but Islamic forces simply shifted their focus and began to island-hop across from North Africa toward Italy and the French coast, attacking the Italian mainland by 837. A confused struggle for control of southern and central Italy continued for the rest of the ninth century and into the tenth. In the hundred years between 850 and 950, Benedictine monks were driven out of ancient monasteries, the Papal States were overrun, and Muslim pirate bases were established along the coast of northern Italy and southern France, from which attacks on the deep inland were launched. Desperate to protect victimized Christians, popes became involved in the tenth and early eleventh centuries in directing the defense of the territory around them.

If you asked me what are the two best books on the Crusades, I would answer God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Baylor professor Rodney Stark and The Concise History of the Crusades by Professor Thomas F. Madden. If you get this question a lot from atheists, then I recommend you pick these up. Anything by Rodney Stark is useful for Christians, in fact.