Four Myths of the Crusades — That Every PCA Pastor Should Know

I had this buried on my dashboard because I wanted to be able to reference this article the next time that I heard someone making the claim that we Christians, and our Crusades, are the reason that Islam hates us so much. I never imagined that I would be using it in a response from a fellow pastor in my own denomination. As I read the article, my heart sank at the comment David Wallover made in his response to Carl Trueman. (I know, now there is a response to a response to Trueman’s original post, which you should read and his response to the responses.)

The two are arguing about those who believe the gospel transforms societies, the effectiveness of this belief and other things to boot. It is in his defense for transformationalism that Wallover makes this comment:

Nor should we forget the Crusades themselves, which we have to thank (in no small part) for the current ills with Islam.

I really had no problem with his response until then, because the argument itself is a “glass half-empty/half-full” debate. Since I’m a half-empty man, until my cup runneth over with the LORD, I was on Trueman’s side. But the comment above bothered me. Are there pastors in the PCA that so readily give lip service to the liberal diatribe on the Crusades and don’t know the truth? Can he not see the theological inconsistency in that statement?

What do I mean? I mean that the way the Crusades are presented in popular culture is that because of the Crusades, Islamist hate Christians and our country. This is an out-in-out lie of the devil, both theologically and historically and it pains me to see a fellow pastor jumping on board with those who use this lie to bash us, our faith and our history.

Let’s deal with history first, then theology second.

Paul F. Crawford has and excellent piece entitled Four Myths About the Crusades. For brevity, I will only post a shortened version here.

Myth #1: The crusades represented an unprovoked attack by Western Christians on the Muslim world.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and even a cursory chronological review makes that clear. In a.d. 632, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, North Africa, Spain, France, Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were all Christian territories. Inside the boundaries of the Roman Empire, which was still fully functional in the eastern Mediterranean, orthodox Christianity was the official, and overwhelmingly majority, religion. Outside those boundaries were other large Christian communities—not necessarily orthodox and Catholic, but still Christian. Most of the Christian population of Persia, for example, was Nestorian. Certainly there were many Christian communities in Arabia.

Myth #2: Western Christians went on crusade because their greed led them to plunder Muslims in order to get rich.

Again, not true. One version of Pope Urban II’s speech at Clermont in 1095 urging French warriors to embark on what would become known as the First Crusade does note that they might “make spoil of [the enemy’s] treasures,”8 but this was no more than an observation on the usual way of financing war in ancient and medieval society. And Fulcher of Chartres did write in the early twelfth century that those who had been poor in the West had become rich in the East as a result of their efforts on the First Crusade, obviously suggesting that others might do likewise.9 But Fulcher’s statement has to be read in its context, which was a chronic and eventually fatal shortage of manpower for the defense of the crusader states. Fulcher was not being entirely deceitful when he pointed out that one might become rich as a result of crusading. But he was not being entirely straightforward either, because for most participants, crusading was ruinously expensive.

Myth #3: Crusaders were a cynical lot who did not really believe their own religious propaganda; rather, they had ulterior, materialistic motives.

Myth #4: The crusades taught Muslims to hate and attack Christians.

Part of the answer to this myth may be found above, under Myth #1. Muslims had been attacking Christians for more than 450 years before Pope Urban declared the First Crusade. They needed no incentive to continue doing so. But there is a more complicated answer here, as well.

Up until quite recently, Muslims remembered the crusades as an instance in which they had beaten back a puny western Christian attack. An illuminating vignette is found in one of Lawrence of Arabia’s letters, describing a confrontation during post–World War I negotiations between the Frenchman Stéphen Pichon and Faisal al-Hashemi (later Faisal I of Iraq). Pichon presented a case for French interest in Syria going back to the crusades, which Faisal dismissed with a cutting remark: “But, pardon me, which of us won the crusades?”19

This was generally representative of the Muslim attitude toward the crusades before about World War I—that is, when Muslims bothered to remember them at all, which was not often. Most of the Arabic-language historical writing on the crusades before the mid-nineteenth century was produced by Arab Christians, not Muslims, and most of that was positive.20 There was no Arabic word for “crusades” until that period, either, and even then the coiners of the term were, again, Arab Christians. It had not seemed important to Muslims to distinguish the crusades from other conflicts between Christianity and Islam.21

Link: Read More here Here.

These truths of history show us what really happened concerning the Crusades. Islam does not hate us for the Crusades. As we see from point number four, they rarely regarded the Crusades as important prior to World War I.

They hate us because we are Christians, which means, we are part of the Light of the World. Jesus told us that men loved darkness because their deeds are evil. They want nothing to do with the light, or those of us who have His Spirit in us. To say that they hate us because of some event in history shows a lack of understanding for who we truly are in Christ. To focus on the historical myths for reasoning is to ignore the greater spiritual reality that is taking place between Muslims and Christians.

When we share the gospel with them, it confronts their beliefs in total. We are telling them that their prophet is a false prophet and does not lead them to paradise. We are telling them that their prayers to their false god bring them no righteousness at all. We are telling them that they are worshipping a false god all together. We are telling them that they are living a lie and that there is nothing they can do, in and of themselves, to earn a righteousness necessary to enter into God’s holy presence (which they know, and is why they never refer to the true God as “Father.”)

This is why they hate us. They cannot stand the truth of the gospel any more than the atheists can stand the truth of the gospel.

Warping history for some absurd reason does nothing to alleviate this greater problem. All we do when give into this warped view of history, is hold hands with our liberal and atheistic adversaries. Why on earth would we want to do that?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the LORD, we must know our history. To ignore what God has done in history, is to ignore the gospel itself, because our faith is a historical religion. No, I don’t expect us all to know everything we need to know. But let us continue to grow in our understanding of what God has done in history, so we will remember that He is still working in history today.

hattip: wintery knightwho added the following comment: “I think the Thomas F. Madden book and the Rodney Stark book are the two best books on the Crusades.” I’ve added the links for your ease.

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5 thoughts on “Four Myths of the Crusades — That Every PCA Pastor Should Know

  1. Pingback: Four Myths about the Crusades Everyone needs to know | GalacticSlackerHQ

  2. Over the years I have changed and shifted in terms of my views concerning the Crusades; I realize the popular narrative has many holes and sadly many Christians perpetuate the myths

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    1. Yes, I think we agree on that. Far too many are ready to hail the party line on the Crusades, never realizing, they are hailing the line of the wrong party, those who seek to silence Christians.

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  3. David Wallover

    Thank you for your post about Four Myths. I will look for that to read it. Just fyi, however, I wasn’t carrying water for liberalsm, at least that was not my intent. I haven’t drunk any Kool-Aid lately. I was simply observing that there are episodes in church history which are at the very least, an admixture of failure and success in the Christian aim of being “salt and light.” I agree with you that Muslims use the Crusades as a pretext, rather than as a justification for their hatred of Christians. Can we agree that withal the sincerity that many Christians of the time approached the Crusades, there were those who were less than sincere in their participation, who were likely mercenary in their motives? I think any understanding of human nature as sinful requires that inference. But! I don’t mean to quibble here. I take your point seriously and will look for that book. Again, thank you!

    And for the record, I really do admire Carl Trueman. I wasn’t being disingenuous. I respect him; but in this particular instance, I do think he went too far. That was basically the only point I was trying to make.

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    1. Hi David,
      I do see your respect for Carl. I take no issue with your disagreement with him. As I pointed out, the argument you two have is a glass-half empty argument. There are merits to both points. I just get tired of the Crusade card being thrown up and that is really the only issue I had with your discussion. I know you are probably thinking, “it was only one sentence!” So forgive me for being nitpicky. Yet, this was a great opportunity to advance the truth about the Crusades. And yes, I do understand the most of them were done more for political reasons than Christian reasons, probably all of them. But far too many want to taint the essence of Christ and Christianity on our heretics and misfits.

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