I recently had an opportunity to read Aaron D. Taylor’s book, Alone with a Jihadist. Now I was skeptical in the beginning, learning as I did that Mr. Taylor is a Pentecostal and someone I would normally define as a fundamentalist in his approach to scripture.
I have spoken out on many occasions about my reservations of the fundamentalist approach to scripture. Basically it comes to this: I don’t think literalism is at all sound from an exegetical point of view, but beyond that I pretty much think people have the right to believe as they wish. I draw the line when such beliefs are the basis for political action to impose that belief system upon me and others. Most fundamentalists I find do wish to impose a theocratic rule of law upon the American system of government and to this I object.
So, given that I didn’t expect I would care for what ever Mr. Taylor had to say.
I was wrong.
Oh certainly I don’t think that Taylor would disagree that he was raised and began his missionary work as a thoroughgoing fundamentalist with all the baggage I assign it. But something happened that changed his entire perspective.
He answered an ad and became involved in the making of a documentary which ultimately led to his having a one on one debate with a radical Islamist. During that conversation, the point was made to him that nowhere does Jesus set out a form of government that would be called “Christian”, whereas, Mohammed did, from his point of view set out a way of living that was godly. He argued that the Koran set out God’s law of human community, where the New Testament did not.
After a good deal of thought and much study, Mr. Taylor agrees. Jesus did not define a Godly government. He referred only to a heavenly kingdom. There is no government instituted by men (and all are) that can claim to be the government that God ordains as the Godly. No democracy, no socialist, no communist edifice can claim that it draws its structure from Jesus.
What Mr. Taylor finds though his long search is that Jesus had nothing good to say about governments at all. He considered them by definition flawed because they exerted power OVER people rather than raise people up to assist each other. He calls us to live “differently” in the manner of love and service to each other which is anathema to government which is always about obtaining and maintaining power over others. It always, inevitably leads to violence and war.
Taylor can find no evidence in the New Testament for violence toward another being sanctioned by Jesus. He explains how violence in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) is largely a stopgap measure allowed by God for a people who were unable to grasp the higher calling of pacifism.
I would argue, that in some respects Mr. Taylor’s exegesis of various passages is somewhat strained and still reflects a (what I might term naiveté) less than fully mature methodology vis-a-vis biblical meaning. Some of his arguments are based on a too-literal acceptance of the scriptural passages he uses, ( his belief that the OT references prefigure Jesus in various places as an example) but by and large I think he is correct in his conclusions.
He really provides a strong argument that as Christians we cannot participate in acts of violence on behest of our governments because we simply owe first allegiance to God, and God does not sanction the killing or harming of one child of His by another.
Quite simply, as Christians, we are called to pacifism. That does not mean that we don’t speak and act against injustice, indeed we do, but in the best traditions of Gandhi and King, who understood Jesus’ message correctly as one of non-violent resistance.
Aaron Taylor’s book is a surprise. And it is well worth your time to consider it. You may be convinced or simply (as I was) re-enforced in your belief that violence is not the way of the Cross. It is sacrifice to the idea of love and service that is The Way.
** I was sent this book free of charge for purposes of review. I have no other agreements with the provider other than to review and publish said review. All opinions are my own. This is in compliance with Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.