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When Samuel Huntington first published his “Clash of Civilizations?” article in Foreign Affairs in 1993, it was an attempt to map out the future lines of conflict in the wake of the collapse of the bi-polar world following the Cold War. In part this was a call to be mindful that just because the West seemed to have won did not mean that the threat of future conflict was over or that “history” had achieved its final Hegelian synthesis, as Francis Fukuyama had written. 1 Three years later the question mark in Huntington’s title was removed and he boldly argued that serious future conflicts were likely, but not primarily as a result of political or economic identity (for example, NATO vs. Warsaw Pact, communism vs. capitalism). Rather, the fault lines of conflict were due to cultural difference along the borders of what he identified as nine major civilizational units. According to Huntington, the primary driver of conflict would be Islam, and no phrase in the book generated more controversy than his statement that “Islam has bloody borders.” This claim was based on a number of factors, including historical precedent, demographic changes which have produced a surfeit of young men, and, most centrally, the essential nature of Islam itself. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and the wars in Afghanistan (and later Iraq) which followed, it certainly seemed to many that Huntington was right. This was the context in which the original Huntington Thesis Symposium at the 2002 Conference on Faith and History took place. While not discounting the reality of the terrorist threat, our original panel was largely a critique of Huntington’s work. All three presenters appreciated Huntington’s focus on religion and culture in international affairs, but expressed serious reservations about the over-simplifications inherent in his view of the world. My primary critique centered on four aspects of his treatment of Islam. 2 I noted that his thesis portrayed Islam as a monolithic whole and in particular hardly even noted the Sunni-Shi’a divide. Second, I argued that his portrayal of the history of Christian-Islamic relations as one of continual warfare was not only over-simplified, but wrong. I found his portrayal of Islam as by nature a violent religion (“Islam has bloody borders”) to be particularly egregious. Finally, I argued that his thesis could be not only misleading, but also dangerous because its prediction of future conflict could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Re-Evaluating Huntington

Taking another look at the Huntington Thesis and our panel presentations 15 years later, I am inclined simultaneously to agree with the general thrust of our critiques and also to be more charitable toward his overall argument, willing to recognize that simplification is a necessity in such macro-studies. I am also impressed by the thesis’ long shelf life and how influential it has been. The book itself continues to sell well, and last year ranked about 37,000 books higher than Fukuyama’s End of History on the Amazon bestseller list.

There are several reasons why Huntington continues to appear to have been right. The rise to power of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, currently led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, emphasizes a nationalism built in large part on certain streams within Hinduism. Russia is currently in its pro-West/anti-West pendulum swing strongly on the side of distinct-from-the-West. Vladimir Putin has emphasized Western decadence (especially Western legal protections for homosexuality) as cultural markers differentiating it from a bare-chested, manly Russia. China is currently undergoing an epochal shift from relative isolationism and a mentality of victimization in relation to the West toward the projection of strength, especially in Africa and along the ancient Silk Road. This new form of Chinese nationalism can be clearly seen in the 2018 Chinese Oscar submission for best foreign language film, Wolf Warrior II. 3 The film has become the highest-grossing movie of all time in China, and features the heroic humanitarian rescue of Chinese citizens from ruthless Western mercenaries during an African civil war. The film expresses in fictional format the reality that the first ever Chinese foreign naval base was opened in Djibouti in 2017 and that Chinese civilization has become globally engaged and aggressive since the end of the Cold War. 4

And, of course, there are continued conflicts related to the Islamic world. The ongoing war in Afghanistan is certainly a bloody wound, if not a bloody border. The same could be said of the trauma leading to the 2011 division of Sudan, the terrorist activity of Boko Haram in Nigeria, and others. The strongest evidence for the clash of civilizations thesis in the Islamic world, however, would be the rise of the Islamic State. A triumphant and expanding Islamic State would be an almost perfect manifestation of Huntington’s predictions. The Islamic State is an essentializing, monolithic entity characterized by extreme violence whose targets are not simply land and people but the destruction of all non-IS approved cultural artifacts. With these developments over the last 20 years, it is not surprising that the theme of civilizational challenge would continue to have significant influence or that it would provide a framework for several key advisors in the Trump administration. 5

Despite its explanatory power, however, many global conflicts during the last 25 years do not fit the “Clash of Civilizations” model. Several of the most important developments complicate the thesis, especially where the opposing sides are from the same Huntingtonian “civilization.” These would include the Syrian Civil War, the conflict in Yemen (in 2018 the world’s largest humanitarian crisis), the ongoing drug violence in Mexico (over the last few years this is the second worst conflict zone in the world), and Turkish-Kurdish clashes. The blurred civilizational lines between (among) opponents against the Islamic State is a particularly strong example. The destruction of the Islamic State as a territorial power was aided by the civilizational “West,” but accomplished through an alliance highly dependent on governmental support from Muslim-majority countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Most importantly in my opinion, Huntington’s failure to recognize the ongoing potential for conflict between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims seems to me to be a serious error, nor does it make sense in his overall argument to “solve” this problem by simply dividing the “Islamic Civilization” into a Sunni civilization and a Shi’a one. Conflict, even that where cultural markers are strongly influenced by religious identity, is simply too complex to fit into Huntington’s macro-model.

The “Clash of Civilizations,” Israel, and Eschatology

However, even if the primary thrust of Huntington’s thesis is not erroneous, it can still be dangerous. One of the main concerns expressed in our original panel was that the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis was dangerous because it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy for policy makers who subscribed to Huntington’s view of future conflict. This is particularly the case with governmental officials sensitive to evangelical Christian popular opinion concerning Israel and the Palestinians. For these evangelicals, even if they have never heard of the book “Clash of Civilizations,” Huntington’s general understanding of the world makes sense because it is congruent with a deep stream in Protestant thought that understands Islam in eschatological terms as an End Times enemy whose destruction was predicted in biblical prophecy. One of the reasons why Huntington’s thesis has had such staying power is due at least in part because of the resonances it has with these deep evangelical impulses.

President Trump has made it abundantly clear that his administration favors the Israeli government and sees the Palestinians as connected to terrorism. 6 He personally does not seem to recognize differences among different Palestinian groups or recognize that some Palestinians are from ancient Christian communities. In this he echoes the understanding of many evangelical Christian Zionists. The response to the announced move of the United States Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem fulfilled a deep desire and was extraordinarily popular among Trump’s evangelical base of supporters. It was not simply that this represented a decisive alignment of the United States government against Islam, but that it also connected to strong themes within evangelical eschatology. A revitalized Israel with Jerusalem as its capital (with eventually also a rebuilt temple) is considered by many to be essential plot points in the story of the Last Days. For these evangelicals, the (re)-identification of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel both substantiates this understanding of scripture, also well as hastens the coming of Christ.

This perspective is found not only among the fringes or limited to certain outliers. In a recent survey by Lifeway Research conducted September 2017, biblical prophecy was given as a primary reason why American evangelicals support Israel. 7 In answer to the question: “When you think of the modern rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948 and the re-gathering of millions of Jewish people to Israel,” 80% said these events were fulfillments of Bible prophecy related to the end of time and the return of Jesus Christ. And in terms of their support for the nation state of Israel, 52% stated as their primary reason “Israel is important for fulfilling biblical prophecy.” This was the third most popular response closely behind 63% who said that the Bible says God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people and 60% who stated that Israel is the historic Jewish homeland. Concomitant with support for Israel among these groups are a denigration of Islam and an emphasis on future military conflict with the Muslim world. Similar findings have been demonstrated by other studies. 8

The support for Israel as a result of these eschatological views has become so widespread that an alliance with evangelicals has become a feature of Israeli foreign policy. Despite the fact that the biblical prophecies concerning Israel to which these evangelicals refer often include the mass End Times conversion of the Jews, the State of Israel has come to embrace this odd relationship and even to express concern that younger evangelicals do not seem as committed to prophetic understandings of Israel. 9 The Israeli government has even attempted to encourage the same conservative Christian-Israeli alliance in evangelical-influenced Latin American governments, like Guatemala. The current president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, is a self-proclaimed evangelical, and his governmental support for the US embassy decision was rewarded by an invitation to Israel for a state visit and a public blessing by Benjamin Netanyahu.

In his essay “Biblical Prophecy and Foreign Policy,” historian Paul S. Boyer has pointed to the enormous power of certain eschatological views about Islam and Israel in shaping “believers’ worldview and thus, indirectly, in shaping US foreign policy and civic discourse.” 10 For many evangelicals, because the current political situation is so complex and discourse so politicized, much weight is put on biblical history and prophecy to provide a graspable, albeit breathtakingly simplistic, understanding.

However, in order to understand the depth of this tendency, it is important to recognize that the use of Islam in Christian understandings of the End Times is not a recent development due to the complex history surrounding the creation of the State of Israel, nor is it simply the creation of nineteenth-century premillennial dispensationalism or of twentieth-century Pentecostal apocalypticism. Rather, it has roots in distinctive Protestant approaches to Scripture beginning with the first generation of Reformers. It could be said that an eschatological understanding of Islam was built into the foundation of Protestantism.

For Martin Luther and his followers, as well as for many in early modern Great Britain, eschatology provided an important means of making sense of Islam by finding space for it within the biblical framework. They claimed that Islam, although arising after the Christian scriptures were written, was still referred to specifically in them. These references were not by name, but appeared symbolically in apocalyptic passages. For Martin Luther and others, Islam (understood as the Turks) was an important part of a Last Days drama that ended only at the final judgment, a drama that was unfolding in their own lifetimes.

Reformation Antecedents

Since the rise of Islam Christians had understood Islam in a variety of ways, including linking the “heretic” Muhammad with the Antichrist. Medieval prophecies predicted the rise of a great world emperor or an angelic pope who would lead Christendom in the invasion of Muslim lands and the destruction of Islam and usher in a period of peace and Christian supremacy. These prophecies emphasized human agency (of course, divinely empowered) and had only nebulous connections to the end of time. Political authorities and the papacy were well aware of their propaganda value and encouraged their dissemination.

In contrast, however, Protestant commitment to the doctrine of sola scriptura encouraged them to deemphasize non-Biblical prophecies and to locate references to Islam and the End Times within scripture. Early Protestants were not opposed to referencing non-biblical material, but biblical apocalyptic and the framework it provided was preeminent and trumped all other material. Luther and his circle saw the Bible as a total explanatory system, and certainly something as important as Islam must be found in its pages. 11 Another important factor was the historical coincidence that the apex of an aggressive Ottoman Empire occurred at the same time as the birth of Protestantism. During the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r.1520-1566) the Ottoman Empire reached its greatest geographical extent and the height of its military power. It was an easy step for early Protestants to locate the threatening Turks in apocalyptic passages of the bible that were linked to the Last Days. This, in combination with Luther’s “discovery” that the papacy was the Antichrist helped to delineate the role that they saw Islam playing in the eschaton.

Luther’s interpretation was novel. As early as the 8th century there was a tradition linking Islam with the Antichrist. Beatus of Liebana in his Commentary on the Apocalypse (between 776 and 786) explicitly claimed Muhammad to be the Antichrist, which may have been the first work ever to identify the Antichrist with a figure external to the Church. 12 But the situation is complex, as this connection was not universal through the Middle Ages. Furthermore, clear distinctions were not always made between “the beast” of Revelation and the Antichrist, and most depictions of the Antichrist were corporate rather than individual in nature. Oftentimes accusations of Antichrist were utilized for internal struggles, such as against anti-popes, heretics, or to mention one famous example, St. Bernard’s connection of Abelard with Antichrist. However, the linkage of Antichrist and Islam persisted, especially when the military threat was perceived to be serious. To cite one important example, in the Liber figuarum (c. 1300) attributed to Joachim of Fiore, the seven-headed dragon of Revelation 12 is illustrated and provided with captions over each head: Herod, Nero, Constantius, Muhammad, Mesemoth, Saladin, and the 7th to come, quoting from Daniel 7: “Another will rise after them and he will be more powerful than the previous ones.” 13 This portrayal of Muhammad/Islam as Antichrist is certainly confrontational, but not necessarily apocalyptic.

First-generation Protestant Reformers, particularly those associated with Luther, inherited the tradition of identifying Islam as the enemy, but modified it in critical ways. To begin with, Luther and his colleagues interpreted the book of Revelation to be a summary of Church history, most of which had already been lived out rather than in the future. They considered themselves to be living deep into the book, rapidly approaching chapter 20, and on the brink of Armageddon and the Last Judgment. Luther interpreted the millennial binding of the devil in Revelation 20 to be a past event. He stated that the 1,000 years was from the writing of the book of Revelation until the founding of the Turkish kingdom c.1300. (He did not think that the figures needed to be exact.) 14

Most importantly, Luther reserved the designation “Antichrist” for the institution of the papacy alone. Not only was this part of the official creed in Lutheranism after 1570 (embodied in the Formula of Concord), but it also became widespread throughout Protestantism. What then about the powerful, traditional connection between Antichrist and Islam? Roman Catholics continued to maintain the connection. 15 But for Luther and his colleagues, there was still a place for Islam in relation to the Antichrist, even if Muhammad was not himself the one. For Luther, Islam was a tool of the Antichrist, the “physical” means to achieve the ungodly spiritual ends of the Antichrist. Or put another way, the “physical” or corporal manifestation, as the compliment to the “spiritual” manifestation of the Antichrist in the papacy. 16 When Luther heard rumors that the Turks and the Pope had entered an alliance, it confirmed his suspicions: “Tunc venit mundus ad finem suum” [now the world comes to an end]. 17 At times this alliance was expressed as the “Western” Antichrist (the papacy) and the “Eastern” one (the Turks).

If Islam and the Turks were not the Antichrist, what other role could they play for early Protestants in the drama of the Last Days? One of the most important sources was found in the book of Daniel. In addition to Luther, his colleagues Philip Melanchthon and Justus Jonas also wrote interpretations of this book in relation to the Turks. 18 Since they believed they were actually experiencing the events prophesied in Daniel, Lutheran theologians thought it completely valid to mine the book for information on the contemporary situation concerning the Turks. The four beasts of chapter 7 were interpreted historically to represent the four kingdoms of Assyria-Babylon, Medo-Persia, the Greeks, and the Romans. 19 The ten horns represent the ten provinces of the Roman Empire: France, Italy, Spain, Africa, Germany, England, Hungary, Greece, Asia, and Egypt. The Turks entered the interpretation in verse 8: Muhammad and his faith was the little horn that arose in the midst of the ten horns. The eyes of the horn are Muhammad’s Koran odder gesetz [Qur’an or law] with which he rules. “In whose law there is no divine eye, but mere human reason without God’s word and spirit.” The mouth that speaks blasphemous things is Muhammad exalting himself over Christ. The statement that the little horn will oppress and rule over the saints was clearly true of the Turks: “For no people are more the enemies of the Turks than the Christians, the Turks fight against no one with such bloodthirstiness as against Christians.” That Luther considered the majority of the people conquered by the Turks not to be “real Christians” was no hindrance. Just a few true Christians in the military make the Turkish campaigns an oppression of the saints. Christian prisoners fulfilled the prophecy that the Turk will rule over the saints.

Despite its appearance, this exegesis of Daniel gave these early Lutherans a great deal of confidence. Daniel stated that the little horn uprooted only three of the ten horns. The Turks had already captured three “provinces”: Egypt, Africa, and Asia. According to scripture they would take no more territory; although they may be attacked, Hungary, Germany, and the rest of Europe were safe. 20 However, the primary reason that they were safe was because of divine rescue directly connected to the most important location where Luther found the Turks in Scripture: Gog and Magog.

In the late spring of 1530 Martin Luther was at the Coburg Fortress, as close to the action of the Diet of Augsburg as was deemed legally appropriate. Although he would rather have faced Emperor Charles V himself and helped in person to draft the Augsburg Confession, he kept himself busy by continuing to work on his translation of the Old Testament into German, currently in Jeremiah. However, he interrupted his serial progression to do a special translation of Ezekiel 38 and 39 which he supplied with an introduction and sent to Wittenberg for immediate publication as a separate pamphlet. 21 Luther was convinced that this passage of scripture referred specifically to the Ottoman Turks and was important enough in light of current events to warrant urgent publication. This was the first campaigning season after the failed Turkish siege of Vienna in 1529 and there was great concern that the Turks would be back stronger than ever. Luther hoped that a widespread knowledge of this Biblical prophecy would give comfort and confidence to a troubled Germany.

In his introduction, Luther made the argument that the Turks were the biblical Gog/Magog (for Luther, this pair of terms represented one entity) and uncharitably drew upon negative stereotypes of nomadic tent dwellers linking the Turks to the Tartars and the medieval legend of the “Red Jews.” 22 He then proceeded to provide keys for the symbolism of the two chapters and to link this passage with the book of Revelation. For Luther, the Old Testament and New Testament prophecies were in perfect harmony and pointed toward an epic final battle immediately preceding the last judgment, a battle that has subsequently been conflated with the one mentioned in Revelation 16:16 and commonly called the Battle of Armageddon.

Revelation 20 declares that after 1,000 years the devil will be loosed to make war on the saints. Luther believed that the devil’s last time of raging was the period of the Ottoman Empire. For early Protestantism, the connection of Islam and Armageddon was not dependent upon a commitment to premillennialism. In Revelation 20:7-10 Satan gathers Gog and Magog to besiege the city of God’s people, but they are destroyed by fire from heaven and cast into eternal damnation (20:7-10). This event is immediately followed by the Last Judgement. For Luther, an upcoming great battle with the Turks will mark the end of time.

In his introduction to the Ezekiel 38/39 pamphlet Luther specifically dealt with the meaning of the term “Israel” and the physical location of the final battle. Citing Daniel 9, Luther unequivocally stated that the Jews will never again be gathered together from the nations. Therefore any reference to “Israel” can be understood to refer to its successor in salvation history, the Church. This means that the “mountains of Israel” in the text could refer to any land in Christendom. Luther believed this to be enormously comforting to a people on the verge of invasion by what appeared to be an unstoppable force. Even though the Turks may attack the city of God (Vienna?), they will not succeed. Although Luther would not publicly declare an ad terminus date for Turkish power, he predicted that the Last Judgment would happen in the very near future. Privately he suggested c.1558 based upon his numerological interpretation of Daniel 7:25 (a time, two times, and half a time). 23

Some connections had been made between Islam and Christian eschatology prior to the Reformation, but different sources, a different understanding of the sequence of events, and a sense of eschatological immediacy made early Protestant positions distinctive from medieval and early modern Catholic understandings of prophecy concerning Islam. Luther’s identification of the Turks with Gog and Magog was novel, as was his contention that a massive conflict begun with an Islamic invasion of the “mountains of Israel” would be the final event in history before the Last Judgment.

It should be noted that during the Reformation, eschatology was not the only way of making sense of Islam, 24 nor was it prevalent across all branches of developing Protestantism. 25 For example, John Calvin had little interest in connecting Islam and eschatology or indeed in eschatology overall. Under the influence of Calvin, the Dutch and Swiss Reformed branch of Protestantism developed an intentionally anti-eschatological understanding of Islam.

Within orthodox Lutheran circles, however, these eschatological positions had a significant shelf life, lasting deep into the 17th century before being modified primarily as a result of changes in the power polarity between the Ottoman Empire and the West. The perceived threat, in conjunction with the significant heritage of Luther’s own eschatology, ensured that Lutherans continued to emphasize the role of Islam in their views of the End Times. Lutheran Orthodox theologians also continued Luther’s emphasis on the imminence of the Last Battle and the end of time. This can be seen, for example, in pastor Johann Thielemann, who stated explicitly that 1663 was the beginning of the last seven years of history and that all the prophecies of Revelation 20 would be fulfilled by 1670. 26 Johann Gerhard, one of the most important Lutheran Orthodox theologians, stated that there would be no significant geopolitical changes in the world from his time until Christ’s second coming when the “Turkish tyrant will be destroyed.” 27

This is not to say that there is nothing new in the Lutheran understanding of the Last Battle and Islam from Luther to the second siege of Vienna in 1683. In later Lutheranism some authors included xenophobic elements, warning their audiences against traitorous foreign merchants and gypsies. These are internal betrayers of Christians who inform Gog (the Turks) of what is happening. In addition, End Times conversions became more pronounced in the literature over the course of time. Andreas Musculus argued for a conversion of Jews as part of the Last Battle and Michael Büchenöder even speculated that some of the Turks would convert. 28 These Turkish converts would then in turn help to defeat the papal Antichrist.

In the late seventeenth century, however, there are two developments which seem to mark the advent of a new era in the role of Islam in the Lutheran apocalyptic imagination. First, beginning in the 1660s publications, there is evident a growing confidence in Christian European military action and human agency. Second, although Lutheran orthodox theologians worked hard to maintain a sense of eschatological immanency, the changing political context forced a reconsideration of the standard interpretation of prophetic texts linked to the Turks. For Luther and those who followed him, the Turks were critical evidence that they were living in the Last Days. However, after 1683 it became difficult to maintain the link between the Ottoman Empire and the end of time. After all, if the Turks really were Gog/Magog preparing for the final battle in Revelation 20, they would be destroyed by God while on the attack, not as a result of retreat and collapse. Until the mid-seventeenth century it was still plausible for Lutheran theologians to consider the Turks to be the “Eastern Antichrist” counterpart to the papal “Western Antichrist.” 29 However, after the Ottoman retreat following the failure of the second siege of Vienna, this theme faded away and increasingly Lutheran authors began to predict the soon collapse of Turkish power. 30

With these changes, it would seem that early Lutheran connections between the End Times and Islam would have ceased to be influential. However, central aspects of Luther’s approach had been taken up by segments of English Puritanism. As the year 1666 approached, several Protestant tracts were published in England that specifically linked the Turks to the events of the books of Daniel and Revelation in a manner similar to Luther. 31 Even as far away as North America, for example, Jonathan Edwards’ eschatology appears to be significantly influenced by Luther. 32 In sharp contrast to how Edwards characterized heathen pre-Christian religion, he was particularly vitriolic against Islam. The reason lies in his view of eschatology. He believed that Islam was one of the devil’s two forces stalking the Earth in the latter days. The Roman papacy and the Turks were twin Antichrists. Catholicism in the Western empire was the beast, Islam in Eastern empire was the false prophet, and heathenism was the kingdom of the dragon. All three of these were to be vanquished at the battle of Armageddon. According to Edwards, the Turks were the 200 million mounted troops who were released to kill a third of mankind by plagues of fire, smoke, and sulfur. One difference from Luther is that Edwards did not believe that the world was about to come to an end. He foresaw two and a half centuries of conflict to come and predicted that in the 20th century, Roman Catholicism and Islam would be the two most formidable religious forces still on the scene. 33 But the most important point is that like many Puritans, when Edwards looked at Islam through the lens of Scripture, he saw an eschatological enemy and the end of time.

Although the further development of this pattern of thinking is beyond the scope of this essay, it is important to note that an eschatological interpretation of Islam in American Christianity did not end with Jonathan Edwards. His writings, especially the History of the Work of Redemption (published posthumously in 1774), influenced early proto-dispensationalists. Perhaps most importantly, despite the shift from a postmillennial to a premillennial framework, J. N. Darby’s understanding of the role of Islam in eschatology echoed that of Luther and Edwards. For example, in notes to his Prophetic Map, Darby claimed that the Turks were the “King of the North” connected with Gog, and that Muslim descendants of Shem “will be judged as Antichrist, Gog and Magog, for coming against the Jews.” 34 From Darby and others, understandings of Islam such as these were taken into the Scofield Reference Bible, and beyond.


Through Luther’s writings on the Turks an eschatological interpretation of Islam was built into the very foundation of Protestantism. For many centuries eschatological responses to the Muslim world have been an important means of making sense of Islam by finding space for it within the biblical framework, especially for Bible-centered, prophetically-oriented Protestants. Although Roman Catholics continued to connect Muhammad and the Antichrist, Protestants of many confessions identified the Antichrist with the papacy. 35 This meant that the role that Islam played in the prophetic drama was shifted to those forces who were to besiege the “mountains of Israel” at the Last Battle.

When they are threatened by Islam, some Christians continue to see contemporary events forecast in the biblical prophecies of Daniel and Revelation in ways similar to Luther and those influenced by his interpretations. By making this claim, I do not mean that the role of Islam in Christian eschatology did not undergo development, or is exactly the same in Martin Luther as in Hal Lindsey, or that it is possible (or even helpful) to trace a direct line of transmission that would connect this unlikely pair. However, it seems to me that part of the staying power of Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis is that it resonates with this deeply rooted Protestant tendency found among the important political constituency of American evangelicals. Like with Luther, these evangelicals do not see coexistence as possible with this kind of cosmological enemy. Rather, they see God as directing events toward the ultimate eschatological confrontation and the absolute and final destruction of Islam.

I am convinced that understanding Islam in primarily apocalyptic terms does not seem to be congruent with the Christian calling to be the peacemakers who are called the “sons and daughters of God.” However, in order to push against this deeply rooted understanding, Christian leaders must find a way to re-envision Islam that is compelling enough biblically to challenge both the political and the eschatological versions of the “clash of civilizations.” And so, I am compelled to reaffirm the substance of my contribution to our original panel: Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis is still dangerous. And perhaps it is even more dangerous now in our current political climate, due to the simplistic way it can be used to marshal support for US foreign policy decisions by appealing to deep historical patterns of thought within conservative evangelical Christianity.

Cite this article
Gregory Miller, “Still Headed Toward Armageddon”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 48:3 , 256-268


  1. Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” Foreign Affairs 72.3 (Summer, 1993): 22-49 and The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (Simon and Schuster, 1996). Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press, 1992).
  2. Gregory J. Miller, “Toward Armageddon?,” Fides et Historia 36.2 (Summer/Fall 2004): 110-115.
  3. For a review see
  4. On the Djibouti base, see “A Thousand Golden Stars” in The Economist 424.9050 (7/22/2017): 35-36.
  5. At least in regard to “Radical Islam” it appears that Donald Trump continues to echo the language of these advisors, although some of those who used the language of “civilizational challenge,” including Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon, are no longer serving the administration. See Uri Friedman, “The Coming War on Radical Islam,” The Atlantic 11/29/2016 at and Evan Osnos “Making China Great Again,” The New Yorker 1/08/2018 at
  6. See Oren Liebermann, “Israel and Trump: United Against the World” at
  7. See “Evangelical Attitudes Towards Israel and the Peace Process” at http://lifewayresearch. com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Evangelical-Attitudes-Toward-Israel-Research-StudyReport.pdf.
  8. See for example Mohd Afandi Salleh and Hafiz Zakariya “The American Evangelical Christians and the U.S. Middle East Policy: A Case Study of the Christians United for Israel,” Intellectual Discourse 20.2 (2012): 139-163. CUFI, led by founder and national chairman John Hagee, is perhaps the largest evangelical organization dedicated to support of Israel and claims nearly 500,000 members. Salleh and Zakaria contend that while the leadership of CUFI and its lobbying efforts downplay eschatological themes, dispensational premillennialism is the most important underpinning religious belief of its rank-and-file members. It should be noted, however, that several Christian scholars and evangelical leaders are trying to disconnect Christian Zionism from dispensationalist premillennialism. For example, see Gerald R. McDermott, ed., The New Christian Zionism (IVP, 2016).
  9. See, for example, “The Long Uneasy Love Affair of Israel and U.S. Evangelicals May Have Peaked,” The Washington Post (1/28/2018) at https://www.washingtonpost. com/world/the-long-uneasy-love-affair-of-israel-and-us-evangelicals-may-havepeaked/2018/01/27/6d751bd0-0051-11e8-86b9-8908743c79dd_story.html?utm_ term=.6784b6581e27.
  10. Paul S. Boyer, “Biblical Prophecy and Foreign Policy,” in Quoting God: How Media Shape Ideas about Religion and Culture, ed. Claire Badaracco (Baylor University Press, 2005), 122.
  11. The same motivation prompts some American evangelicals to look for evidence of references to the United States in prophetic passages of Scripture. (Certainly something so important as the U.S. would not be left out of scripture, right?) Not surprisingly, they find the U.S. symbolically represented, often in regard to biblical imagery relating to eagles.
  12. Roberto Rusconi, “Antichrist and Antichrists,” in The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, Vol 2: Apocalypticism in Western History and Culture (New York: Continuum, 1998), 293.
  13. See Marjorie Reeves, Joachim of Fiore and the Prophetic Future (New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999).
  14. WA 48: 224.
  15. Hans Preuss, Die Vorstellungen vom Antichrist im späteren Mittelalter, bei Luther und in der konfessionellen Polemik : ein Beitrag zur Theologie Luthers und zur Geschichte der christlichen Frömmigkeit (Hinrichs, 1906), 260.
  16. In the Table Talk Luther is recorded as stating: “…papa est spiritus Antichristi, et Turca est caro Antichristi. Sie helffen beyde einander wurgen, hic corpore et gladio, ille doctrina et spiritu.” [The Pope is the spirit of the Antichrist and the Turk is the body of the anthichrist. They each help the other kill, the one physically with the sword, the other spiritually with doctrine.] WA Tischrede 1, 135 (#330 VD 134b).
  17. From the Table Talk concerning the eschatological ramifications of a papal-turkish alliance: “Ibi sedet papa in templo Dei. Quodsi Turca eo venit, zo ists als schlecht; zo ist nichts mer dahinden denn dies iudicii.” [The Pope sits in the Temple of God. But if the Turks comes to him, everything goes bad. Nothing remains thereafter but the Last Judgment.] WA TR 135, #332 VD 134b.
  18. Luther’s interpretation is found primarily in his 1530 Heerpredigt wider den Türken [Muster Sermon against the Turks] WA 30II: 149-198. Jonas and Melanchthon worked together to write Das siebend Capitel von des Türken, Wittenberg, 1530. See a2a.
  19. The following discussion is taken primarily from Heerpredigt, WA 30II: 165-171, although all Lutheran explanations of Daniel 7 basically concur.
  20. Luther, Heerpredigt, WA 30II: 171. Also, Jonas, Das siebende Capitel, c4a.
  21. This special printing was perhaps the first work he did at Coburg. WA 30II, 220-235. For more, see my introduction to Luther’s preface to the Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Ninth Chapters of Ezekiel, on Gog (1530) in the American Edition of Luther’s Works (LW) 59:277-284.
  22. See Colin Gow, The Red Jews: Antisemitism in an Apocalyptic Age, 1200-1600 (Brill, 1995).
  23. This was calculated from 1453 using “time =30 years” (Christ’s age), therefore 105 years. This would leave twenty years to go, but in a recorded Table Talk Luther emphasized that this was only a possible explanation. WA TR 904, #453.
  24. For example, Islam could be characterized as a Christian heresy. This was the primary early response of writers in the Eastern Mediterranean during the original Arab expansion (for example, John of Damascus). This understanding of Islam continued as a strand within Christian thinking through the Early Modern period and was supported by claims that Muhammad was a renegade bishop who, when denied the papacy, separated into his own sect. (In Dante’s Inferno both Muhammad and Ali are to be found in the circle of the schismatics.) Some disregarded chronology entirely and saw Islam as a kind of pre-Christian paganism. This allowed Islam to be placed within the confines of scripture, both Old and New Testaments. Early responses to Islam in the West followed this pattern. For example, the Venerable Bede seems to have treated the religion of the raiding Andalusian Muslims in the same way he did the Norse (and with equally little interest or regard). First Crusade rhetoric expanded upon the specific forms of this pagan worship. This strand, too, continued through the early modern period, often jostling uncomfortably next to the understanding of Islam as a Christian heresy. (In fact, this view has enjoyed a revival in some fundamentalist literature today that claims Allah is a pagan Arab moon deity.) See especially John Tolan, Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination (Columbia University Press, 2002).
  25. Robin Barnes, Prophecy and Gnosis: Apocalypticism in the Wake of the Lutheran Reformation (Stanford University Press, 1988), 277; J. Pannier, “Calvin et les Turcs,” Revue Histoire 62.3 (1937): 283ff.
  26. M. Johann Andrea Thielemann, Scrutinium Prophetico Gogiticum (Leipzig, 1664).
  27. Johann Gerhard, Loci Theologici, vol. 9, (Hinrichs), 88.
  28. Andreas Musculus, Vom Mesech und Kedar vom Gog und Magog (Eichorn, 1577), eviii(a), Michael Buechenroeder, Vaticinia et Presagia de Irruptione Gog & Magog in montes Israel (Neuenhahns, 1664), 49-51.
  29. For example, see Heinrich Ammersbach, Bedencken von den beyden grossen anti-christen Pabst und Tu(e)rcken (unknown, 1665).
  30. See, for example, Johann Henrich Voigt, Die Wachsende, Blu(e)hende, Verwelkende Tu(e)rcken (unknown: author, 1684), e4(a).
  31. See for example, Prophecies of Christopher Kotterus, Christiana Poniatovia, Nicholas Drabicius, three famous German prophets: foretelling forty years agoe this present invasion of the Turks into the Empire of Germany (London, 1664).
  32. The most important source for Edwards’ knowledge about Islam is the German reformed scholastic Johann Friedrich Stapfer in his five volume Institutiones theologiae polemicae (1743- 47).
  33. Gerald R. McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths (Oxford University Press, 2000).
  34. J. N. Darby, Collected Writings, Vol. 35: Notes and Comments, 192.
  35. See Preuss, 243.

Gregory Miller

Malone University
Gregory J. Miller is Associate Provost at Malone University.