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Burning Books

A great deal of controversy has been stirred up during this past week over a Pentecostal preacher in Florida who planned to burn copies of the Quran, which is the book of the Muslim faith.  The intent of this plan was to make a demonstration against Islam on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorists attacks.  The controversy has provoked President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and General David Petraeus to appeal to this preacher not to carry out his plan.  The entire U.S. media is reporting on this story, and thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan have burned the U.S. flag in protest.  Several other individuals and churches have said they will also burn the Quran at various places around the country, but it is unknown how many will actually follow through with the plan as I write this on September 10, 2010.

On the surface, the idea of burning the Quran may seem to have some merit and even a Scriptural basis.  Those of us who are Christians believe that Islam is a false religion that rejects Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  We also believe that the Quran is a book of false doctrine and false prophecy, so perhaps it seems like a good idea to burn copies of it.  Maybe we think that there is a precedent for such action in Acts 19:19, where it is recorded that many people in Ephesus brought their books of magic and burned them in response to the gospel of Christ.

However, a deeper consideration of this plan reveals that burning the Quran is not the way for Christians to promote the cause of Christ.  We are to be governed by the principle given in Romans 12:18 – "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”  Burning a book that is considered holy to the Muslims does not make peace with them, but rather it provokes them to anger and perhaps even further violence.  Instead, the appeal of Christ should be made with peace, gentleness, and kindness.  Notice 2Timothy 2:24-26:

"The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”

These instructions do not in any way condone the overblown tactics of book burning or other similar approaches.

As we see in the example from Ephesus, the idea of burning books is nothing new.  An ancient example is that of King Jehoiakim of Judah (609-598 B.C.), who burned the scroll containing God’s words that were given to the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 36:2-3, 21-25).  A very recent example is that of the U.S. military, which confiscated and burned Bibles that were translated into the Afghan languages for fear that Afghan Muslims would harm American soldiers if those Bibles were circulated.  Of course, many books other than Bibles have been burned throughout history on the basis of religious, moral, immoral, political, and other motivations.  The practice has been so common historically that there are even technical terms for it (biblioclasm and libricide).

The truth is that burning books has no positive effect unless it is done by the owners of the books themselves.  Notice again the example of the Ephesians in Acts 19:19 – "And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.”  This event was meaningful because it was the penitent magicians who forsook their evil practices and destroyed their own evil books at a great expense to themselves.  It was not the burning of the books that was important, but it was the changing of their hearts in conversion to Christ.  Christians do not emulate this example by burning copies of the Quran, but rather by converting Muslims to Christ through the gospel and convincing them to give up their false ways by their own choice.

Honestly, I sympathize with the emotion that is behind the movement to burn copies of the Quran, but we must constrain those emotions in the ways of Christ.  I understand that there are times when Christians become angry and frustrated by those who do not love our Lord, but I also understand that "the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:20).  Confiscating and destroying all of the books, magazines, videos, and recordings that oppose Christ will not convert anyone.  Instead, let us abstain from consuming the ungodly messages of such media ourselves, and let us convince others to do the same by reasoning with them through the gospel and showing them examples of Christ-likeness.  If we change their hearts, then they will change their ways.  This is the way of our Lord.

Stacey E. Durham




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