By Rick Bailey
Having provided an overview of past and current views of the Crusades, where do evangelicals fit in this picture? Specifically, how are evangelicals talking to Muslims about the Crusades? I do not know of any academic studies on such a specific question, so of necessity, much of what follows is going to be more editorial in nature. With that in mind, some random searches online have suggested to me that today’s evangelical reactions are similar to those of the general culture, with positive and negative views of the Crusades represented. Yet there is one significant difference. The positive view of the Crusades—that what the Crusaders did was a good thing—appears to receive more focus, relative to the broader culture, than the negative view. This appears to receive support from several studies showing that evangelicals have more negative views of Muslims than other Americans.
And evangelical literature, like the literature in the broader culture, is burdened with deep problems of historical accuracy, as described in Part 1 of this article. It is important to recognize that this is not a problem with minor details, but with fundamental understandings. Continuing to get history wrong will, I think, result in significant negative consequences. For those who do not have the time to read a whole book, I suggest reading an article by Thomas Madden, entitled: “Inventing the Crusades”. Madden also has several very informative lectures online that cover much of the same ground.
Based upon this very damaging picture Madden paints of our current understanding of the Crusades, my first suggestion for how evangelicals should talk to Muslims about the Crusades is that they should talk about the Crusades with historical accuracy. If this one step is taken, many other beneficial changes will naturally follow. For those who argue the positive view of the Crusades, the consequences of limiting themselves to accurate history will be mixed. The new scholarship provides strong support for their contention that it was a just cause to go and fight the Seljuk Muslims who had invaded Byzantine lands. But the new scholarship also tells us that the Crusaders were motivated by a need for personal forgiveness of their sins through receiving an indulgence from the Pope by doing a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. No evangelical can endorse this.
And for those who use the negative view of the Crusades, the actual history of the Crusades may leave them with nothing to talk about at all. At a very minimum, the question of what evangelicals are apologizing for will need a totally different answer. The Crusaders did not try to convert Muslims to Christianity either by sword, or word. Their use of force was focused on very different things, like opening and maintaining safe pilgrimage routes to Jerusalem. Is this something evangelicals want to apologize for?
Beyond history, there are other problems with evangelical arguments about the Crusades. For those who argue the positive view of the Crusades, the way they defend the Crusaders’ rights to attack the Seljuk Turks leaves everyone feeling more divided, angry, and mistrusting of each other. What, I would ask those who are writing these arguments, is your goal? As evangelicals, are you not commanded to bring the good news about salvation through Jesus Christ to Muslims? How much good are you doing if your apologetic material makes Christians more afraid of talking to Muslims, and deepens Muslim’s concerns that evangelicals are interested in using Crusader tactics to force them to leave Islam? Just the other day, a Muslim cleric told me that some of this Christian material is used by jihadist type groups as a recruiting tool. Is this what evangelicals are trying to achieve?
And lest those who are focused on apologizing for the Crusades feel this criticism does not apply to them, according to one of those lectures by Madden, the apologies of Christians are also used by Arab Nationalists and Jihadists to justify their agendas. Yes, some Muslims are very happy to hear Christians apologize for the Crusades, but are Muslims hearing the same message that Christians think they are communicating? After hearing these apologies, I think many Muslims are ending up even more convinced that Islam is right and Muslims have no need to listen to the gospel message. Based upon these observations, my second suggestion for how to talk to Muslims about the Crusades is that evangelicals should show far more concern for the actual consequences of their words.
It is possible that after adjustments are made for both historical inaccuracies, and the consequences of what is said, that the present positive and negative arguments about the Crusades will not survive at all. If this should happen, what should replace them? One possibility is an argument that mixes the few useful materials that remain from both arguments into a new single argument. This might include an apology to Muslims, but for something different than what is being apologized for now, along with a justification for responding to the Seljuk Turks’ attacks upon Christians. The justification should not extend to the original Muslim invasions of the Middle East. By the time of the Crusades, Muslims had been in Palestine for almost 500 years.
Another new apologetic approach might focus on completely distancing evangelicals from the Crusades. The Reformers of 500 years ago most certainly were against the Crusades and viewed them as an integral part of the whole papal system they were rejecting. We evangelicals do not believe in salvation by indulgences provided by the pope for completed pilgrimages any more than we believe in salvation through the methods taught by Islam. So why are we taking sides in this conflict? Neither side was furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whatever new approaches are taken, it is important to not make too much of the Crusades. The Crusades are not a central issue that is keeping Muslims from considering the gospel. I have heard dozens of ex-Muslims share their stories of how they found Christ. Beyond this, I have also read about a hundred testimonies in print. I cannot remember any of these accounts mentioning the Crusades as a significant barrier on their journey to Christ. But, if we keep talking about the Crusades in inaccurate and unconstructive ways, we may, inadvertently, turn them into a major barrier to finding Christ.
I also see in the Crusades an opportunity to introduce a focus on Islamic history as an evangelistic tool. I think, overall, Islamic history shows more promise than theological discussions do for opening Muslim minds and hearts to the gospel. An example of how this could be done would start by asking Muslims why the Crusaders were able to conquer Jerusalem during the First Crusade. The answer is that the Shiite Fatimid Arabs in Egypt were at war with the Sunni Seljuk Turks in Syria. Both groups could have stopped the Crusaders, but at the price of making themselves vulnerable to their more serious Muslim foes. Eventually, the Shiite Arabs lost to their Sunni Turkish Muslim rivals. Once this basic history is clear, the question that Muslims need to be asked is why it was—500 years after Islam gained political dominance in the region, and had developed and established sharia law—that Muslims were at war with each other? From here, far more useful discussions can be developed with Muslims about the true nature of God’s work in this world, and how the Jesus of the New Testament will solve them.
Finally, my concluding suggestion is that we evangelicals take Jesus more seriously when he said, “… take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). Let’s keep it about the gospel by keeping our eyes on Jesus. Let’s not give up “going” (Matt. 28:18-20) and helping our Muslim neighbors discover that the gospel message is good news for them.
 Here are a couple examples of the “negative” apologetic by Christians: http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_cru1.htm , https://www.answering-islam.org/crusades.html
 Here are a couple examples of the “positive” apologetic by Christians: https://christianheritagefellowship.com/the-crusades/ , https://www.answering-islam.org/Authors/Arlandson/crusades_timeline.htm
 A recent example of such a study is: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/july/pew-how-white-evangelicals-view-us-muslims-islam.html
 There are several lectures he has given that are on YouTube. These can be found by searching “Thomas Madden Crusades.”
 View from 108:45 through 109:30 on the lecture entitled “Thomas F. Madden, Ph D ~ The Crusades Then and Now” on YouTube, that was published August 8, 2014.
 Ibid. View from 39:50 through 41:30.