Metanarratives and Faith: Is America Islam? Christian? A Critique of Acts 17 Apologetics on YouTube… (Part 2)

In part 1, I offered some critique to David Wood’s allegiance to story. Having embraced the metanarratives  of America, he proposes that the laws of America somehow fit into the the story of the Bible. Within this argumentation is the assumption that the U.S. is Christian, and that the American Government is somehow unfaithful to its own story for its sociopolitical actions.  It must also be restated here that I find Davids message spun with the fear as we find in big media, while sowing seeds of discord. Although I haven’t stated it yet, the message of this video (and what seems that of his other online content, further evidenced by some of his fans/followers comments) and its tone, context, etc. are not offered in the way that I understand following Jesus would look like. In fact, this conversation itself would have never happened this way. The whole practice and method is abrasive at best. I would not myself be posting this, had it not been fodder for a public foil for another who shares an orientation towards Jesus with David, but with a completely different understanding of what living that out means.

The Koran in Context

At around the 8.00 mark, David begins reading from the Koran. It describes the supremacy of Allah, and that Islam will be made the religion over religions to the disgust of infidel’s. To be sure that we don’t miss out on the true meaning of the line he reads, he summarizes verses following this reading which instruct fighting/killing of the unfaithful, the sub-human quality of the unfaithful, judgement to unbelievers, etc.

Perhaps David is quite good with his Koran, understanding it in context and all of its complexity, theology, etc. Perhaps again, some of the contributors at their blog Answering Muslims are from Muslim background themselves. However, I would offer that its problematic to “read this in context” without first telling us what context is mean being referred to by this. Literary context? Historical context? Cultural context? Literary structural context (as in what verses are around the key text read to inform understanding)?

It seems its the latter, for there is no other introduction or explanation offered for other types of contextual information. This kind of contextual reading is quite helpful to keep one from pretexing a literary verse. Interpretation of meaning, then, can at least in part be kept on task to a writers intent of meaning. Because its the one that is most accessible to the everyday person reading a holy text, it also receives more weight than others as an authoritarian manner of reading.

The others are most significant as well. For example, if we do not know the Historical context of what was going on it the writers life, we could arrive at a much different meaning than the text was written. Was the writer a woman? Slave? The writers country under occupation? This information is accessible for most of us, just maybe a bit harder to find or more work than most of us want to invest. However, cultural context is nearly impossible for us to know given what little information might be gained from history. (And since history is written from only one perspective -often from that of power- it leaves little for accuracy.) That makes a cultural understanding, in all the nuances and memes of a society’s way of life, unattainable. So too, for how that shaped the words of the writer, and how meaning is interpreted across cultures.

As a last statement, because Islam is culturally -of what is deemed- Middle Eastern in geopolitical terms, David’s authority as a Koran scholar is suspect. There’s a great deal of cultural meaning, characteristics, and life that cultural Muslims share with one another that David simply cannot know or incarnate. His lenses for understanding are western, American, and from what little I gather, are likely from a modern/rational/systemic epistemology. The way David thinks, and an Egyptian Muslim are separated by a chasm of the manner the brain maps information, experience, affect, etc. His ability, therefore, to offer an culturally understood Koran reading are quite low.

The Bible in Context

Of course, the Bible is also subject to our cultural reading. Likewise, our contextual understanding spans different areas, each requiring some attention for us to better understand the writers message. What’s surprising to me, is that David fails to reference places in the Bible that mirror the statements found in the Koran. For starters, Israel was God’s -YWHW’s- chosen people, “set apart” (the Hebrew translation of our “holy”). They were special as well. Shall we start with the Ten Commandments, as to the supremacy of God, above all others?

 EX 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

EX 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

EX 20:7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

There are stark statements of guilt, sin carrying over, etc. for not fulfilling these. (Please note: I am not offering these as a literal reading of the text, whereas I find them true as I discuss them here. The theology and context of these texts are too robust for my simple exercise. This is a counter proof-texting of the Bible I believe David may have provided, my attempt to make a point.)

What of YHWH’s character as it refers to killing others who don’t conform or believe? When Israel marched around Jericho, did anyone survive in the city? The whole mission in acquiring the promised land was to ask first, and kill the uncompliant to YHWH. (The Hebrew word is something like irrevocably destroy.) And what of Elijah and the competing false prophets before the altars of their god’s? Were they spared by YHWH?

1KI 18:40 Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.

Stories and Culture

David and the Acts 17 Apologetics organization are not practicing good theology. If in fact they are holding Allah and Islam to standards of supremacy and judgement, than their narrative of the Bible must be recognized for containing the same things. And if David and Acts 17 offer the care to reading the Bible in context, than perhaps that should be exercised in the Koran. Again, I live room for that from David, but either his communication or his intent to leave it out leave his point lacking, and therefore questionable. Again, his methods do not reflect my understanding of loving actions that Jesus lived out.

Culturally, the contextual reading of both the Bible and the Koran are very likely out of our reach. At least in the sense of having a full, robust understanding of the writers intent. It is impossible to know, and we will read any text through our culture. In my humble opinion, we must practice knowing ourselves and our cultural lenses, reading, interpreting, and researching the texts as well as we can. We must let the understanding come from God, while holding loosely our own beliefs, lest we turn them into Truths that turn from faith into ideology.

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~ by Brian Shope on June 24, 2011.

3 Responses to “Metanarratives and Faith: Is America Islam? Christian? A Critique of Acts 17 Apologetics on YouTube… (Part 2)”

  1. to be sure, individuals did survive in the conquest of jericho. rahab the prostitute and her entire family survived. that said, nowhere do the israelites actually make war on other nations because these do not believe in YHWH unlike in Islam where war is enjoined in order to convert other nations. in my opinion, the difference is in fact quite clear but it was nice to read from your blog all the same.

    • Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment, methodus. True that; Rahab and fam did indeed survive. It was a point I left out in part for assumed readership, and the unique nature of their survival. It was contractual with the Israelites, whereas no one else survived the carnage that day. It was execeptional, so much so that in some ways it only reinforces my literary point of comparison with David Wood and company’s -what I see as- poor contextualization.

      As to your counter that YHWH doesn’t actually make war on nations to convert, I would disagree. In Deut. 31.1-8, he promises the Israelites not only his presence in entering the promised land, but “He will destroy these nations before you, and take possession of their land.” This happens chronogically just before Joshua’s reception of Moses’ leadership mantle, and subsequent cross of the Jordan. In Exodus 19.1-4, the newly freed community of Israel is given the promise that they are “a chosen people, a nation of priests, and will be a preisthood to all that nations” (paraphrased). The march to and through the Holy/Promised land was in part to fulfill YHWH’s mission to draw the world to himself. In fact, these are part of the historical contextual cues from the Bible of the fall of Jericho and Promised Land march.

      To say that he wasn’t about killing to fulfill his conversion of other nations is a problematic part of the faith -the ethics of YHWH- no matter how one looks at it. It’s one of the parts of my faith story I struggle with; I’d be surprised if it isn’t a similar struggle for most Muslims and Allah. However, in this example, if YHWH isn’t giving over the nations and promised land as part of his own mission to be reconciled to the world (via the Hebrew community in this story), then it would seem that Jericho and the promised land is a divinely backed, bloody, heartless land grab. At least, given his statement to Joshua in Deut.

      How do you read the death of all the people in the promised land history if its not part of God’s mission to draw people to himself?

  2. Thanks for the reply. As far as I understand it, the land was given to the Israelites not because those other nations did not worship YHWH but rather because of the sins of those nations (Deut. 9:4-5). The battles that the Israelites fought had nothing to do with religion (in the respect that the goal was to bring the other nations under the banner of Judaism) unlike in the case of Islam. True, the fact that the Jews came to possess the land in question in the manner which they did was indeed part of God’s salvific plan but nowhere did he enjoin them to do battle in order to convert other nations. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” and if a tenant has shown himself to be unruly, it is certainly within God’s power to expel them from his property. Once again the distinction here is that the bible is quite specific in who the Israelites had to wage war on (Amalikites, Jebusites etc.) and for what reason (the sins of these people) while the Qur’an is quite vague on who must be battled (unbelievers, but isn’t this term far too general?) and for what reason (to turn them to the religion of Islam). I find myself having no problem with this. God doesn’t engage in wars of religion but will indeed punish and put an end to evil. Just as he did in the flood and as he has done during the conquest of the promised land. (incidentally, we find the practise of the Muslim deity once more killing in the name of religion when one looks at the Islamic account of the flood. I somewhat touch on the matter here:

    http://godomnipotent.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/vicarious-punishment-and-the-imputation-of-sin/

    killing a people in the name of religion is ingrained within the system of Islam when you will not find the same within the Bible)

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