An Open Letter to Nicholas Kristof concerning his NYT OP-ED, “Jesus and Jihad”

July 17, 2004

Dear Mr. Kristof,

I am writing in response to your column “Jesus and Jihad” in the July 17, 2004 edition of the New York Times. I think your column is seriously misleading in a number of respects.

First, you indicate that the final judgment portrayed in the faith of Evangelical Christians somehow amounts to an “ethnic cleansing.” Evangelical Christian faith, of course, does not anticipate an ethnic cleansing at the end of time. The basis by which the Lord makes distinctions in the final judgment is not racial but moral. Evangelicals believe that all those who are joined to Christ by faith will be spared, and all those who are not joined to him will not be spared, irrespective of one’s race. It is not fair for you to portray Evangelical piety as tantamount to bigotry and genocide. You may think that is what our faith leads to, but that is simply not what we believe. As a matter of fact, we believe that God has determined to gather to Himself worshippers from every race on the earth: “with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10). We believe that God is glorified in the racial diversity of His people.

Second, Evangelicals differ from Islamic Jihadists in their view of how God metes out His judgment. The Islamic Jihadists believe that God will carry out his retribution on his enemies through faithful Muslims. This of course is the theological ground for Islamic extremist violence against “infidels.” Evangelicals do not believe that their mission is to carry out God’s retribution upon His enemies. On the contrary, we believe that vengeance is His, not ours. God will deal out His judgments when and where He sees fit. Do you know the words of St. Paul to the Romans? “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘ Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” We Evangelicals leave all retribution to God. We might die for our faith, but we won’t kill for it if we are to be faithful to our creed. God has called us to a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18), not a ministry of vengeance. We see that our mission is to call people to be reconciled to their Creator through Jesus Christ.

Third, your column portrays Evangelical belief in a final judgment of the wicked as the peculiar, parochial concern of American “fundamentalists.” But this idea is certainly a distortion of what distinguishes Evangelicals from other Christian sects. One does not have to be a Pretribulational Premillenniarian Christian (as Jenkins and LeHaye) to believe in a final judgment of all people. Conservative Evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics alike adhere to the truth contained in the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in . . . Jesus Christ . . . who . . . ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” The idea that Jesus Christ will one day return to earth to separate the sheep from the goats may be objectionable in many ears, but this tenet is certainly not the invention of American Evangelicals. This expectation is nothing less than historic Christian faith. When you deride this aspect of our faith, you are not just criticizing American Evangelicals, but all Christians who cherish the teachings of Jesus.

The Evangelical Gospel is inclusive of all peoples in that it offers to everyone, regardless of race, the opportunity to be reconciled to God and to avoid the wrath to come. We are all rebels and in need of the grace that comes only through Jesus Christ. My prayer is that you will come to savor this Gospel of Jesus Christ in all of its magnificent biblical contours. Thank you for your time.

Denny Burk
Professor of Biblical Studies
Criswell College
Dallas, Texas

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