Complacency, conviction and the Christian response to ISIS in the West

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“I was one of you. I was a typical Canadian. I grew up on the hockey rink and spent my teenage years on stage playing guitar. I had no criminal record. I was a bright student and maintained a strong GPA in university. So how could one of your people end up in my place? And why is it that your own people are the ones turning against you at home? The answer is that we have accepted the true call of the prophets and messengers of God.”

That’s what John Maguire, a 24-year-old convert to Islam from Ottawa, Ontario, told the world in a video that appeared online in recent days, which you can watch below:

I’ve been sitting with this video, the related National Post article, and Maguire’s call to Muslims in the West since I learned of it on Sunday. “You either pack your bags, or prepare your explosive devices. You either purchase your airline ticket, or you sharpen your knife,” Maguire says in the video.

The rhetoric is powerful—and, of course, dangerous. Dangerous because there are, inevitably, people who will heed this call because of the conviction with which it is made. Make no mistake: regardless of how polished this piece of propaganda is, and how Maguire’s message is almost certainly scripted, there is conviction in what he says.

When he tells Muslims in Canada to sharpen their knives, he means it. When he tells us that people will be targeted indiscriminately, he means it.

Conviction is a dangerous thing for Canadians, because we have so few. We are people placated by socialism, with consciences dulled by secularism’s hollow values of personal happiness and the accumulation of wealth. Maguire rebelled against this, seeing these values for what they are: empty and hollow.

The problem is, he replaced them with something overtly evil.

But it’s also dangerous because of the people who will continue to try to dismiss such things as a mental illness on the part of Maguire or other young men like him who’ve converted to Islam and either fled Canada to join ISIS or taken up arms against the nation on native soil, as in the case of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Martin Couture-Rouleau.

But the problem is not mental illness, unless one is willing to honestly suggest that the thousands of men and women living in the Middle East who have joined ISIS and other terrorist organizations have exactly same identical mental illness. For that many people to manifest precisely the same symptoms in exactly the same fashion stretches credulity. No, it’s not a problem of mental illness. It is, as Albert Mohler pointed out in his analysis of this story, a worldview issue. The common denominator for all is Islam.

Now, don’t read me as saying all Muslims are terrorists or anything like that. I’m not. But what is attractive for many—and especially young people like Maguire—is its conviction:

  • There is a clear right and wrong.
  • There is no moral ambiguity.
  • There is a larger purpose to life.

But what Maguire and many like him have latched onto, whether you believe it to be an accurate reflection of Islamic teaching or not, is a lie. In the same way that many Canadians continue to latch onto their illusion of safety—after all, we’re so nice, and we have delicious maple syrup. Why would anyone want to hurt us?

Mohler turns Maguire’s call for Western Muslims to wake up back on Western Christians, and he is right to do so. We do need to wake up to the realities around us. So what does that look like?

I’d suggest three things:

Embrace our convictions. We believe that God gives us eternal life, not through the uncertain means of trying to merit it through our works and war, but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son who came to live on our behalf, and to take God’s wrath upon himself for us. And because of that, we can embrace our great purpose, which the Westminster Catechism states so well, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Fundamentally, if you do not believe this you are not a Christian, as I’m sure most (if not all) reading this would agree. At least not in any meaningful sense of the word.

Live by our convictions. But practically, too few of us actually live as if this is true. We have embraced what Luther called a theology of glory and abandoned a theology of the cross, spending ourselves on trivial things and seeking to make a name for ourselves, even as we claim to be doing so for the sake of the Lord. We run ourselves ragged and do not enjoy God’s rest. We are not people who are at peace. For this, we need to repent, and to learn to take seriously Christ’s words in Matthew 11:29, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Share our convictions. But we are not called to simply live by these convictions, but also to share them. The gospel message is humanity’s only hope for peace with God, and eternal joy. And all of humanity will stand before Jesus, either to enter into his kingdom or to be sentenced to hell. But we are not called to command people everywhere to submit or perish, using force and fear as our weapon, and rejoicing in the death of the wicked as, it seems, Maguire and ISIS do. Instead we plead with the lost, calling out, “Why will you die?!” We do so as those desperate to see the dying saved and adopted into God’s family.

 

In other words, we speak out of love. Love for God, and love for our neighbors.

And yet if we do not do this—if we prefer our comfortable life, if we think going to church on Sundays and giving to the poor is what God has in mind for us—we’ve missed the point. We must embrace our convictions. We must live by them. And we must share them—because if we don’t, we may be perpetrating a greater evil than any that ISIS can.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.