The specter of the "Christian terrorist" presented by the recent capture of accused bomber Eric Rudolph has raised again the old charge of the skeptic: "Why should we be surprised when Christians kill people? They've always done so. Church history itself is the best advertisement against the church."
Christianity's opponents love to use church-historical examples to "prove" that violence is inherent to the Christian church. The favorites are the Crusades and the Inquisitions. The critics ask: Don't such violent blots on the church prove Christians have never followed their Lord's loving, non-violent lead and obeyed the Commandment "Thou shalt not kill."
In his book The Case for Faith, pastor-apologist Lee Strobel records an interview he conducted with church historian John D. Woodbridge about the Crusades, the Inquisition, and other historical episodes that have provided the church's enemies with so much fodder. Woodbridge was careful to admit that even genuine Christians seeking to serve their Lord have proved capable of violent acts. But he insisted that this is neither within the spirit nor the practice of Christianity as it has been lived over the two millennia since Christ. Here is a quick summary of his responses, as reported by Strobel.
Strobel sets the scene with an eyewitness description of the First Crusade's first hours in Jerusalem. There, at the Temple of Solomon, "men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins." Added the triumphant eyewitness, "It was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of the unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies."
Of course, to Woodbridge, as to Strobel and to us, such horrors were anything but "just ...1