On Sunday, November 4, 1990, Dr. John H. Leith preached “Remembering the Protestant Reformation” at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey. He concluded the sermon with these words on “The Challenge of Islam”:
“The chief option to Christian faith in the decades that lie ahead is likely to be Islam. The challenge of Islam will radically change the way in which human life can be lived. The rise of Islam, no less than the demise of Marxism, exposes the inadequacy of the ideologies of the left in Western civilization.
“This was amply demonstrated in the Salman Rushdie affair when the liberal establishment, in Britain as well as in America, was paralyzed. The Rushdie affair called into question all the axioms and presuppositions of diversity and pluralism. When pluralism and diversity are contrasted with Islamic societies, the virtues of pluralism become apparent. Yet the confrontation of Islamic society also exposes the limits of pluralistic interpretations of human life in society.
“In Islam, we are confronted with people who are not only passionate about their economic and political convictions, but are also passionate about their religious faith. The Muslims have the motivation of those who are convinced that Allah wills it. (Max Weber once pointed out how the doctrine of predestination invigorated Western societies of Northern Europe and the United States.)
“We ought to recognize the profound truth in Weber’s observation today in the reality of the Islamic community. The recent “London manifesto” of the Islamic community made very clear that the Muslims in England have no intention of being assimilated into English society, as the liberal ethos has modified all other communities of faith.
“The communist movement and Marxist philosophy can be understood theologically as the judgment of God upon the social lethargy of Christian communities. By the same token, Christians may-and indeed ought to-understand the confrontation with Islam as God’s judgment upon the theological ambiguity and the anemic faith of many Christian communities.
“Islam may force Christian churches and theological institutions to place as high a value upon the theological message and upon the theological competence of pastors to explicate the word of God found in scripture as Islam does upon the passionate faith of its own communities.
“Reformation Day is once again highly relevant. The Reformation made clear that the church exists not upon human activity but upon what God has done. The church lives by the passionate proclamation of the message of God’s gracious acts for our salvation.
“The only thing essential for the church is the word of God. Pastors are important for the life of the church not because they are community goodwill activists, therapists, or civic club leaders, but because at 11:00 A.M. on Sunday, they interpret the scriptures with passionate integrity.”
John H. Leith, “Remembering the Protestant Reformation,” in Pilgrimage of a Presbyterian: Collected Shorter Writings, ed. Charles E. Raynal (Louisville, Kentucky: Geneva Press, 2001), 101-102.
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