Thinking biblically about ISIS and what’s a caliphate anyway?

Tomorrow Western leaders will gather in Wales to consider what to do about a well- funded, media-saavy, ultra-violent group of terrorists that brainwash and recruit angry disillusioned young men from all over the world to travel to Iraq and Syria to form a caliphate. The terrorists call themselves ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). The Levant is a region of the Middle East, that includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and southern Turkey.
          Their goal is to first conquer these countries and then to dominate the rest of the world by birthing a world-wide caliphate. What's a caliphate? In Arabic that word means "succession" because this state would be led by the successor to Muhammad, the world's new supreme religious and political leader. ISIS/ISIL is a radicalized extreme form of Islam and, according to their plans, only Muslims faithful to their brand of Islam will survive ISIS's world "cleansing". Once accomplished, everyone will live under Sharia, a strict form of Islamic law. Echoes of Germany, Russia, and Japan in the last century. Power corrupts and ISIS/ISIL is drunk on it. ISIS/ISIL seems to have taken Westerners by surprise–but is God surprised? And how should Christians think about ISIS/ISIL?

Here's a brief overview of the origin of the conflict. It began with Abraham. God told Abraham to leave his home in Ur (southern Iraq today) and go to Canaan ( an area that roughly corresponds to the Levant). Before he left, God made a covenant with Abraham:

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will  bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all people on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:2,3)

Of course, to be the father of a great nation required children. But God did not give Abraham a child with his wife Sarah until she was past child-bearing years. Sarah grew impatient as she waited on God to fulfill His promise, so she took matters into her own hands and suggested her husband conceive a child with her maidservant, Hagar. The product of this union was Ishmael, the father of the Arab peoples. The Bible predicted:

He (Ishmael) will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him,
toward all his brothers. (Genesis 16:12)

After Sarah gave birth to their own child (Isaac), Sarah and Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away.  But God promised Hagar that her child would also be the seed of many peoples. This ancient conflict was born out of a decision to run ahead of God and has mushroomed into world-wide conflicts today.   
       How should we, as Christians, respond? The Bible says that God is moving history to His desired end, and that includes what's going on with ISIS/ISIL and their caliphate dreams. Since that is true, we must not panic or react in fear but instead continue to trust God and live by faith. Our mandate is to model the fruit of the Spirit, even in these potentially horrific situations.
        Living by faith may become more difficult in the days ahead because unbelievers may lump all faiths that seem exclusive together. Both Islam and Christianity fall into that category. Yet our response to people outside our faith is radically different. ISIS/ISIL hates and murders its enemies. We are challenged to love our enemies and to do them good. That's what Jesus did and that's what we must do. Peter instructed:

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.
Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you
to give the reason for the hope that you have.
But do this with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:13-15)

Peter's world was full of danger and his letter prepares us to live by faith where ever we are. Regardless, we are to respond with gentleness and respect in a world where that may be more and more difficult to do. And there are other issues to consider: just wars and defending the innocent. These are topics for another day. But remember that the ISIS/ISIL conflict resulted from one woman running ahead of God. So when fear threatens to overcome your heart, pick up your Bible, take it to heart, and then live it out.


Dr. Edwards is Assistant Professor of Christian Education (Specialization: Women's Studies) at Dallas Theological Seminary and holds degrees from Trinity University, DTS, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is the author of New Doors in Ministry to Women, A Fresh Model for Transforming Your Church, Campus, or Mission Field and Women's Retreats, A Creative Planning Guide. She has 30 years experience in Bible teaching, directing women's ministry, retreat and conference speaking, training teams and teachers, and writing curriculum. Married to David for 34 years, she especially enjoys extended family gatherings and romping with her four grandchildren.


  • lawson m lawson

    Propheticlly and laurettefull

    Awesome, couldn't have asked for a better direction to the catic turmoil  were are facing as individual christians.

  • Trace

    Islam’s peace with Christianity

    I just finished a Book every Christian who believes that Islam has peaceful intentions with Christian nations. CHRISTIANOPHOBIA by Shortt. The big take away from that book, is that more Christians were martyred for their faiths in the 20th century, then were martyred in the previous 19 centuries put together. Starting with the Turks genecide of Armenians before WWI, and throughout Africa, Indonesia, the Middle East, Christians are killed every day for being "apostates'. Churches are burned, or used as barns.  Sometimes, just the men are killed, and the women and children are maimed, raped, whatever. Whatever ISIS turns out to be, right now around the world, our Christian brothers and sisters are giving up their lives, rather than convert to Islam. Preachers are forced to watch their families killed and  tortured right before their eyes, because they wont convert to Islam. Not all Muslims are bad people—but unfortunately, Islamic societies produce a large contingency of this behavior. ITs been occuring around the world, for a long time. (Long before the establishment of Israel, or America's war with Iraq, or 9/11.)

    My question, and really visualize this, and give it consideration, is if they are willing to be tortured, rather than turn to Islam? Are they willing to watch their churches burnt to the ground, watch their children have their arms cut off, without attempts at revenge, instead praying for these people? I have been reading in CHRISTIANOPHOBIA about men and women around the world, who allow themselves to be killed, rather than convert. They have meek spirits, hearts of great compassion and forgiveness, and faith beyond question, so obviously a power far greater than what mankind naturally owns, is at work in these people.  Literally tens of millions of Christians were killed for their faiths, just for being Christian. Almost all of this, was due to Islam. Lets say ISIS, or something like this, takes over the world. Lets say Pakistan give them their Nukes, to use as they see fit. OR lets say ISIS steals one, makes one, whatever. How many nukes would it take, to conquer the world? OR most of it? How many of us, will be willing to lose everything, in order to keep Christ? How will we respond, if that happens?  We all pray for Christians around the world, who are under yoke of an Islamic government, and society.  May the communion of saints stand true, we all pray that its strenghted and protected. We pray for comfort for oppressed Christians everywhere, and that God grant us all deeper faith, greater love for humanity, and more compassion for our enemies.  God is love, and in a world of hatred, we can forget it too easily.  However, we are in the world, not of it. Thank God. We can all feel gratitute to the Holy Spirit, for our faith, for love that is strong, and that our wills may be just as strong.

  • Sue Edwards


    You've given us much to think about. What would we be willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Its a question I don't think we can answer until we are actually in the situation, but we can strengthen our faith to prepare in every way possible. Thanks for your insightful response.

  • Pauline Montgomery

    The right kind of fear leads to Wisdom – knowing what to do

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom Proverbs 1:7

    Thank you Sue, for your encouragement and reminder to not react out of fear. Through the years of serving the Lord I have found fear to be the number trigger for bad decisions. The fear of having no time, the fear of money, the fear of danger to our children, the fear that our marriage may fail, the fear that we don't have the adequate skills and knowledge to serve the Lord, the fear that people maynot like me, the fear that I am not smart enough, fear, fear, fear of all sorts. When we consider the decisions and reactions that stem from fear they are disasterous. Even Peter's denial of His Lord was out of fear. I have struggled with fear for many years. What helps me overcome fear is a reverential, healthy fear of the Lord. It truly helps me make a better decision and have a better reaction to my circumstances. Ten years ago when I came to DTS I remember how fearful I was about everything. I didn't attempt to even type up my assignments at first, I hand wrote them for my profs (I didn't know how to type, I didn't have a computer, using the library with all those people around terrified me). I was so fearful of all kinds of things, of course most people couldn't tell :). I still truggle with fear but since the Lord showed me this scripture and through Dr. Chisholm's class I understood the right kind of fear of the Lord. It brings prudence, right judgement, Biblical principles, God's order, God's will in any circumstance. It is a very complicated world. Christian values and principles are attacked from all sides. Christians are attacked. But God is in control and nothing has escaped Him. Thank you again for reminding us, "… when fear threatens to overcome your heart, pick up your Bible, take it to heart, and then live it out." The debilitating fear that often grips me causes me to trust my Savior more and know that He is always near and in spite of my fears I will do whatever He desires from me.

  • Blog author

    Beautifully expressed

    Pauline, your response speaks for so many of us if we let fear sidetrack us from following with a confident faith. I too have struggled to overcomes a number of fears in my life but have found the Lord so faithful as I trust Him–and have learned to fear Him in a healthy reverent way more than what others can do to me or think about me. Thanks for your words. Stay strong. Blessings.

  • Kent A.Turner

    Rapid changes happening in the world today.

    I believe that without a doubt, that the continuous advances by the Muslim community and ISIS could well be the 4 th. Beast referred to by Daniel.

    We have to watch for Israel to sign a 7 year peace accord. Therefore starting the final 7 years on earth, as we know it.

    It is imperative we work even harder to get everyone in before the Rapture. It seems some might be saved after that ,but it will be very difficult. And what is really scary is that if one should take the mark of the Beast( the 666 mentioned in Revelation)That persons name will be blotted out, erased from the "Lambs Book of Life.

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