Oliver North, a combat-decorated Marine, recently interviewed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, concerning strategies for defeating ISIS. General Dunford said that there are six elements needed: deny them sanctuary, build our allies to capacity to secure their borders, cut off resources, and foreign fighters. His final point was that we must “undermine the credibility of their narrative.” It is the last of these elements to which I want to draw your attention.
Everyone lives with some view of the world; of reality. Worldviews are comprised of three elements. First are signs or symbols. The ancient Israelite nation had circumcision and the Temple, for example. In America, our flag is a symbol. Think back to the emotions that stir in you when you see a flag-shrouded coffin being escorted by uniformed military people as it is removed from a plane—a common sight on the nightly news. In Washington, D.C., we have statues and monuments. These are symbols that represent things important to Americans.
Another element to consider are the actions (praxis) of any one people or culture. Israel, for example, had the Sabbath and three prominent annual feasts that brought the men of Israel to Jerusalem. In America, we celebrate President’s Day in February, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Easter and Christmas. These celebrations tell us much about our worldview—although it looks like multiculturalism is changing these practices in America.
The third element to look for are the stories told and lived by. The ancient Greeks had Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey, books filled with stories that formed their imagination. Israel told and retold the stories preserved in Scripture: the story of creation, of the Fall, and stories of ancient Israel. In America, we tell stories of Paul Revere, George Washington, and of Abraham Lincoln. A scholar of the American Constitution was once asked, “How do we make patriots of our children?” His answer was, “Tell them stories,” the stories of heroism and patriotism in American history.
So, symbols, actions (praxis), and stories are indicators of a culture’s worldview. Again, it is the third of these three elements—stories—to which I want to direct your attention. General Dunford argued that in order to defeat ISIS we must “undermine the credibility of their narrative.” It is their narrative that shapes their imagination. It is the narrative by which they attempt to make sense of the world. It dictates their answers to questions like, “What is wrong with the world?” and “What is the solution?”
I am no expert in the worldview that fuels the ISIS agenda, but I have heard it involves wooing their enemies to a particular city in order to prompt the onset of their version of Armageddon.
The only way to undermine the credibility of their narrative is to replace it with a better narrative. The “better narrative” is the Gospel. If Peter’s sermon on Pentecost is any indication, the heart of the Gospel centers on God’s Son being crucified, raised up, and exalted at God’s right hand. Peter concludes his sermon saying, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
This is the message we should present to our Muslim friends. If we could undermine the credibility of their narrative with the Gospel narrative, there would be no need for sanctuaries, secure borders, or for cutting off resources. (I have proposed a big “if”.)
This may sound overly optimistic, but it is the only real solution to this particular problem, and the only people equipped to do this is us. It would transform arch enemies into brothers and sisters. It would be an answer to our prayer for God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.
The narrative that fashions the imagination of ISIS is not the only narrative whose credibility needs to be undermined. Any narrative that runs contrary to the gospel narrative needs to be undermined. Paul’s writes: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8)? The more familiar we are with the Gospel, the better equipped we will be to undermine the credibility of any other narrative. How familiar are you with the Gospel narrative. Is it possible that even you need to have the credibility of your own narrative challenged?
(Editorial note: If you would like to explore the idea of worldview, I recommend the book The New Testament and the People of God, by N. T. Wright. It is a big book, but worth the time.)