Lecture 24: Islamic Apologetics Surveyed
Course: Introduction to Islam
Lecture: Islamic Apologetics Surveyed
Comparison of teachings of Christianity and Islam
Lecture #17, Apologetic Response to Islam part 4.
I have found there are basically four different ways that apologetics happens in the Muslim world and among Christians working there among Muslims. If you look at all of this material, everything from all four of the writings, the amazing thing is that they all tend to have common themes. They deal with it very differently. Some are confrontational, some are simplistic, some try to paint their point into a box through various ways. Some are sympathetic.
II. Common Themes in Apologetics
Essentially there are five issues that are dealt with over and over and over again in all of this literature and I have read a lot of it. There are tons I have not read, of course, because I don’t spend most of my time directly in this area, but I have read a lot of it. I would say that generally speaking, these five themes are there.
A. Misunderstandings Regarding Christianity by Muslims
This happens over and over again. There are some misunderstandings we discussed a lot already.
B. Attitudes toward the Qur’an and the Bible
A lot of time is spent in all of these writings on attitudes towards the Qur’an and the Bible.
Abrogation in the Qur’an (Surah 2:106). The idea of whether or not the Qur’an has abrogation in it comes up a lot. Does the Qur’an change over time? Does the Qur’an abrogate earlier verses? That is mentioned a lot.
Corruptions in Biblical transmission. Whether the Bible has been corrupted in transmission. This comes out on both sides of the argument.
C. Doctrine of God
Deficiencies in Islamic conceptions of holiness/monotheism vs. Trinitarian monotheism. All of these books address the issue of the doctrine of God in some way or another.
D. Christology and Muhammadology
These are constantly being discussed. What is the actual view of Muslims regarding the prophethood of Muhammed? What are the views of Christians regarding the deity of Christ? How is the deity of Christ related to the Godhead and to the Trinity? What are the beliefs regarding Christ’s death and resurrection? We have obviously explored all of this in this class.
Misunderstandings that Christians have regarding Muhammed’s life and actions and role in Islam. Trying to paint Muhammed as a devil or Satan or whatever, is done frequently in this material. Others more sympathetic are trying to say, “Could Muhammed have been sincere if sincerely wrong?”
E. Methodological Issues in Witnessing
There are a number of methodological issues which come up in these books: whether or not Muslims who witness to Christians should make use of the Bible; whether Christians witnessing to Muslims should use the Qur’an; use of words like “Allah, Isa, Injil, God, Jesus, Gospel” etc; whether we should use or not use the five pillars of Islam.
I have a wonderful book, a large booklet that someone has obviously cranked out in a missionary press. The title in bold letters, “Why Christians should not keep Ramadan.” Bold letters. The guy goes full-court press against the whole idea of what he perceives being a major concession to Muslims by continuing to fast. He is convinced that all it does is drag them into a legalistic pit and you have to separate Muslims from the five pillars. You have this kind of full-court press type thing about the five pillars. Other very serious books by Torrey and others saying the five pillars all come from Judaism, let’s reestablish them; and Rafique and others arguing along those lines.
My point in all of this is simply to say – and this class has tried to do this – if you are prepared to deal with these five issues. Number one, of course, gives a lot of cultural issues, which we dealt with more superficially, but are a fact on the ground. Numbers two through five, more serious theological issues which underlie things which flow into the culture, and other outward things. Then you can really engage in effective ministry because you will find, in discussing with Muslims, whether it be scholarly discussions or Muslims on the street, that these are the issues that come up over and over and over again.
If you are prepared to respond to these issues, you can respond to almost anything. In fact, I have a copy of Christy Wilson’s book, “Muslims and Christians
on the Emmaus Road. I love to read the place which I underlined and made a comment. He has this underlined and written in his own wonderful handwriting, “good quote.” So I can promise you, Christy Wilson thinks this is a good quote, and I do, too. This was made at the Pan Anglican Congress in England 1908 about the work. Interestingly, it was said by a man working among Muslims in Cairo. He makes this statement, ”Who shall gauge the debt we may have to confess to Islam if it proves finally to have compelled us to explore unknown depths of the riches of the revelation of the Triune God?”
To me, that is a powerful statement. Think of the debt that we actually owe to Muslims if we seriously engage in thinking about how to give the Gospel to
Muslims, if it causes us in this class to go back to the scriptures, to study the doctrine of revelation and Trinity and the doctrine of Christ more deeply. We
actually have been brought deeper into our own faith because of our desire to reach Muslims for the Gospel, because they are going to be forced to answer and deal with these issues. Unfortunately, many Christians have kind of a fuzzy view of the Trinity and all of this. If you work with Muslims, you have to firm all of this up. So this is actually a debt that we pay, that we will give.
Another example of this is kind of a miniature case study. This gives you a way, I think quite beautifully, Christians working with Muslims have gone back to the scripture for more help and assistance as this quote showed us. This is just one example of a marvelous little book that is put out by Gary Cockerill. There are actually two books on the Book of Hebrews, this is one of them. This uses the Book of Hebrews as a way to recreate the idea of pilgrimage and use the Book of Hebrews to present the Gospel to Muslims.
IV. Hebrews: A Handbook for Pilgrims to the Heavenly City
Book of Hebrews as a Model for Presenting the Gospel to a Muslim
If you remember, Hebrews was written primarily to those with a Jewish, not a Gentile, background. It was a group of nonconforming Jews. They do not see the rabbinical in their background, but more Essene, Qumran type Jews. The author is not so much bringing them out of Judaism per se, but trumping Judaism and showing how the Gospel fulfills Judaism without abrogating it. So Hebrews is not so much a denial of Judaism, but a demonstration of the true ramifications of Judaism, true Judaism.
It makes this book a very powerful book as a model for how to communicate across religious lines. The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were quasi Jew, quasi Christian. Are they going to persist and become full disciples of Christ, or drift back into Judaism apart from Christ? They are under pressure of persecution, they are spiritually immature. They are caught between this allegiance to Judaism, allegiance to Christ. This book brings out the whole continuity as well as the reality of Christ.
The relationship to Islam and Judaism is very important historically, as you know. The Jews and Arabs both have a common background to Abraham. They share similar culture and history. Islam emerges primarily in the context of Jewish beliefs and concerns, which motivated Muhammed. The Old Testament
scriptures, the Talmud, the midhrash, the Mishnah, all are found in the Qur’an.
There is a theological continuity between Jews and Muslims. The monotheism, obviously: “Hear O Israel, God is One.” Compare that with Surah 1:12 ayah 1; the angels in Revelation; the four archangels in Islam, two of which are Michael, Gabriel – very, very Jewish in their sound. The Old Testament prophets all pop up in the Qur’an, as you know. Eschatology, the Day of Judgment is in the Qur’an and the Old Testament. The whole idea of community, the umma in Islam. The whole theocracy is in Judaism and Islam. The whole idea of a legal codification of holiness is in Judaism. They do not have the Shariah law. Dietary laws, what is clean, what is unclean, it sounds remarkably Jewish to me, yet it is perfectly at home among the Muslims. The whole Messianism, idea, how history is culminated with the coming of the Messiah. Hebrews builds on all of these themes and transitioned these people from Judaism to the Gospel. Many people working with Muslims have found the Book of Hebrews to be a remarkable gift to us in working with Muslims.
I just received this book recently in the mail. This has not been published yet, but Gary Cockerill who wrote this book asked me to read it over and to give some feedback on it. I think this book will appear in print probably in a short time. In this book, “On the Road to Emmaus” has contributing authors and one of the authors is Dennis Green who writes a chapter entitled, “God Lines from Hebrews” for contextualization among Muslims. Here is another writer who has found Hebrews to be of particular importance.
If you actually ask, what are the deficiencies of the faith of the people in the Book of Hebrews? they are not convinced that Jesus really is the final authoritative mediator between God and man. Hello! That is exactly what Muslims say. They are not completely convinced of the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice. Well, Muslims are in the same boat. This comes back to the point that was made earlier about the sola fide, they are not completely accepting of the concept of the sola fide, faith alone. The people who received the Book of Hebrews are not entirely convinced of that apparently. So, Muslims have the same problem. The people who received the Book of Hebrews feel culturally alienated from Gentile Christianity. Well, so do the Muslims.
So if our goal is to erase these barriers and to ease the transition between Islam and the Christian faith, try to preserve their cultural identity wherever possible, perhaps effectively contextualizing the forms while establishing a clear link of sola fide, work with Christ. I think it is worth at least thinking about and he just gives you one way to outline it, but there are many other ways to look at it, how you take Hebrews and preach the Gospel using Muslim ideas and themes; a great way to preach and you will find it to be a help to you.
I want to share a quote which I got out of F.F. Bruce. I want to point out part of this quote. This is part of F.F. Bruce’s commentary on the Book of Hebrews.
Hebrews 9:25 gives access to God. He is dealing with, in the context of the people who received Hebrews, what he calls – I love this statement here – agonizing reappraisal. We will look at the quote in a second. What he is talking about is that the people who received this document, this book, were going through what he calls an “agonizing reappraisal of the delayed Parousia”, Jesus not coming back; therefore the Gospel is transitioning outside of the Jewish context. We cannot imagine the difficulty this was for early Christians to accept. What is the Gospel going to look like outside of Jewish garb? He has this marvelous statement. “Instead of a growing slack in the Christian fellowship, they have been encouraged” – this is from the text – “and so much more as you see the day drawing nigh.” It is plain from the closing verses of this chapter, towards the end of Hebrews, that the apparent postponement of the Parousia (the return of Christ) was having its effect on their minds; at least the sense of tension created by the knowledge that they were living in the end time was weakening. He is acknowledging that the people are realizing, “We may be in for the long haul here.” “….not only for them, but for their fellow Christians in many other places across the world (non-Jewish context), the necessity of coming to terms with the church’s continued existence in history as a community completely separated from Judaism, involved an agonizing reappraisal.” That is a remarkable statement.
The first generation of believers was passing away. A new generation was growing up. At this point in time, other shocks were in store for them. The rather sudden hostility of imperial power, destruction of Jerusalem, all of these things are going to happen down the road that makes it even worse. That is going to drive home the basic point that there is this agonizing reappraisal that occurs when people realize that the church is bursting out of these boundaries that we have defined ourselves once you really accept the cultural as well as linguistic translatability of the Gospel. The Bible is not just linguistically translatable, but culturally translatable. It is good news for the Salet, it is good news for the Americans, it is good news for the Palestinians, the Jews, Gentiles. It actually can involve a painful transition because we are so comfortable with our forms. We are so comfortable with the way we express Christianity. We have our own cultural things we are married to.
When we realize the separation of the Gospel from the things that we are so accustomed to, it can be very shocking. Yet, the beautiful thing is that as the
Gospel spreads and grows and as we hopefully will see more and more Muslim people groups turning to the Gospel, we are going to see aspects of the Gospel that we hitherto ourselves have not fully appreciated. We see this among Hindus and Buddhists who come to Christ. It actually is a wonderful experience for us.
It is perhaps not wise to say, “Christ will come back before the year is out, therefore we don’t really need to worry about this.” What happens when you
really start to think about that? I may live my life and die and Christ may still not yet have come back, once you really begin to accept that. I realize it is easy for us in the year 2000 compared to the first century, to come to this appraisal. Even today we have kind of an any-minute return piece that runs through us, that maybe all of this won’t be necessary, Christ will come back. My mother was a great believer in the rapture, the pre-tribulation rapture, that we will be swept away and we won’t have to worry about all of this. But what happens when you have the agonizing reappraisal and you realize that, wait a minute, what if my entire life is in front of me, and I’m going to die in a world that could still have a lot of Muslims in it, a lot Hindus, a lot of Buddhists; therefore I have a tremendous responsibility to pray and to work and to labor, trying to find a way to preach the Gospel because Christ apparently is going to wait until this job is done and the Gospel is preached among all people groups. We have to get on with this job. A new generation is coming up. We can’t just sit back and hope that this won’t be laid upon us. This task is laid upon us and we have to get on with it. That is the challenge I think of the whole course, is to recognize that challenge.
A. The Pilgrim Road, Hebrews 10:32-39
B. Called to be a Pilgrim, Hebrews 11:1-22
C. Enduring Suffering, Hebrews 11:23-40
D. Follow Your Guide, Hebrews 12:1-17
E. At the Mount of Mercy, Hebrews 12:18-29
F. Around the Ka’bah, Hebrews 1:1-2: 4
G. The First Pilgrim, Hebrews 2:5-18; 4:14-5:10
H. Pilgrims who failed, Hebrews 3:1-4: 13
I. Careless Pilgrims, Hebrews 5:1-6:12
J. The God of Pilgrimage, Hebrews 6:13-20
K. An Intercessor Before Day of Judgment, Hebrews 7:1-28
L. The Feast of Sacrifice, Hebrews 8:1-9: 28
M. The Christian Talbiya, Hebrews 10:1-18
N. Stoning the Devil, Hebrews 10:19-31
O. The Way of Ihram, Hebrews 13:1-25.
V. Spectrum of Church Planting Initiatives in the Islamic World
How we go about this missiologically is very, very different. We talked about the Western churches and how they have refused to do any contextualization. Rafique is on the other end what we call “Eastern Mosques” who try to retain the word “mosque.” Around the Muslim world there are many other groups, some that specifically won’t ever use the word “Jesus” but just the word “Musih” or Messiah. Others that use all Qur’anic words but are clearly referenced to Jesus, called the followers of Isa; that is, the community of Jesus; in other words, followers of Jesus. Clearly, they are obviously Christians. You would know anybody that uses the word “Isa” in their title, they are identifying with the Christian movement in some way. The other two call themselves Muslim or Musih.
So there are all kinds of variations of how far people are willing to contextualize the Gospel in terms of language and form and all of this. I think I made this clear earlier, but I want you to know that Rafique’s methodology is on this far end of the spectrum. You can appreciate that people have taken various steps from his perspective along the way.
The whole point is, we have to make some steps. The burden is upon us to communicate the Gospel. It is not upon “them” to hear it and to form themselves into something where they can hear the Gospel. We have the burden. We are the ones that Christ sent out to go to the ends of the earth and to disciple all nations. We have the responsibility to pray and to do this work.
Conclusion to the Course
I want to close with one story. Christy Wilson, among many things, was really committed to working with Muslims. He was born in Iran and he grew up in Iran. As a young boy he heard about next-door Afghanistan. Of course, no missionaries are allowed in Afghanistan. When he was asked as a little boy what he wanted to do when he grew up, he said, “I want to be a missionary” just like his dad was. They said, “Where do you want to go?” He said, “Afghanistan.” They said, “You can’t go there, they don’t allow missionaries there.” He said, “That is why I want to go there.” Typical Christy Wilson reasoning. He did go there. He went there as a tentmaker and he has become of course and was, a great leader in the area of tent making and as an English teacher. He ended up teaching English to the Crown Prince of Afghanistan. He had a tremendous ministry there for over twenty years.
In May of 1970, which is now over 30 years ago, they officially opened up the first and only church in the whole country of Afghanistan. This was a huge
accomplishment because it had never been done before and Christy Wilson by sheer persistence, which he had a lot of, and prayer – he was committed to
prayer – he talked the government into allowing him to build a church for the international community there. They built an international church, in fact a
couple. In fact, Dudley Woodberry who wrote this other book I mentioned, pastored that church whenever Christy was gone on sabbatical or whatever. But
Christy Wilson was the main pastor of the church and they built this beautiful church. People from all over the world gave money for the building of this church, a beautiful structure. They had open Christian worship happening in Afghanistan. If you know the history of Afghanistan, this is unbelievable.
The reason it happened is because Dr. Wilson worked very, very hard to do things to show them that Christians would be good for the country. He and his wife Betty started the first blind work for the whole country. Betty Wilson learned Braille and when the Crown Prince saw this young boy come before the King and was given a copy of the Qur’an, interestingly, and he was called upon to read the Qur’an, a blind person reading the Qur’an in Braille. The man could not believe it. He kept trying to fool him by instructing him, “Read here, read there.” He thought the guy had memorized it. He would switch around, and he would read it. When he realized this was a blind person who could actually read, he made an announcement to the whole country, “If you are blind, go to Dr. Wilson, he will teach you how to read.” They had hundreds of these blind children show up at their doorstep. Betty Wilson, who of course was with us for our dedication of our Christy Wilson Center, took these blind children and she spent years teaching them how to read. To this day, the leaders of the church in Afghanistan are blind people from her work there. It is amazing. These were those children years ago.
In 1970, they opened this church because they had a relationship with the government. Because of pressures from the Muslim fundamentalists, etc., they
finally were pressured to close this church down and destroy it. This was a real tragedy because this was a huge answer to prayer and they were very concerned about it. Christy Wilson was given forty-eight hours to leave the country. It was a horrible thing, which is why he came here, by the way from Afghanistan. He spent a year in Iran doing some study, but then he came here as a professor.
When they destroyed the church, the regime at that time was in its twenty-second year, a long regime in Afghanistan. Before they did the wrecking ball on
the church, one of the people in the church said that he was convinced that if you destroy this church, there will be a judgment of God. He went to the Crown Prince and he said to him, “If this church is destroyed, God, the Christian God, will overthrow your government.” Just like that. I would be scared to say that. He had a word from God, he said this is true.
They went ahead with it, they destroyed the church, they completely leveled it. In fact, as Christy Wilson tells the story, they brought in backhoes to dig down beneath the foundation. They thought, “You have already destroyed it, why are you digging this big hole?” It was because they had heard there is an underground church. They were looking for the underground church. There was not only a demolished building, but there was also this gaping hole there. They did not find the underground church. Christy Wilson said, “They couldn’t dig that one out.” The real underground church, Hallelujah! The night they completed the destruction of that church, a coup overthrew the whole government, the government was out of power, as it is to this day.
I don’t know how you feel, but I am convinced that that government was indeed out of power because they destroyed that church building. That says to me
something about the incredible commitment God has to seeing the Gospel planted among Muslims. Here is a king who says, “I’m going to destroy this church.” The Lord says, “No, you won’t. This day your soul is required of you.” Boom! He’s gone. Of course, the Muslims have invaded, the Taliban government has come to power, and all of these horrible things have happened. Afghanistan has never settled down since the day they destroyed that church. The government has never been stabilized. I think it says something about the priority of access to the Gospel. If you commit yourself in prayer and in many of your cases actually go and work among Muslims, God will bless you because I believe God is deeply committed. We know this through the Gospel, but also through history, he has commanded us to see people who have no access to the Gospel given access to the Gospel.
I think it is a great thing when people do that. We have a number of graduates who are now in Afghanistan and with teams working with the Gospel. I would say now about five or six of Gordon-Conwell graduates, because of Christy Wilson are there working today. There are still very few. I pray that many of you will go. As you probably know, every year we send an OMP (Overseas Missions Practicum) team to the heart of the Muslim world somewhere. We are committed to that. We spent the last two years in Istanbul, this year to Cairo, next year again to Istanbul, maybe even to Cairo or other places. But we will definitely continue doing that and I hope and pray that many of you will seriously, prayerfully consider giving your heart and your prayers to the Muslim world because you have a lot of advantage now. You know enough about Islam, at least the general structure. You know where to hang things and you could now have an effective ministry working with Muslims, both here in the US as well as abroad.