THEOLOGICAL AND APOLOGETICAL DIMENSIONS
OF MUSLIM EVANGELIZATION
One of the challenges facing those engaged in Muslim Evangelization is to initiate the development of what Harvie Conn has called "a new kind of apologetic for reaching Islam."1 For far too long evangelical missions have been limping along without an effective apologetic to Islam. Since the demise of the nineteenth century polemical method, known as "The Mohammedan Controversy," no significant Christian apologetical work for Muslims has been written.
The nineteenth century polemic, epitomized in, and inspired by, Karl Pfander's Balance of Truth,2 still followed very closely the theological method of Thomas Aquinas, who argued that, in dealing with Muslims and pagans who do not accept the authority of Scripture, "we must ... have recourse to the natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent."3 From the supposedly neutral standpoint of the natural reason, they undertook a rigorous comparison of Islam and Christianity so as to prove the "inferiority" of the former to the latter as concerns doctrine, morals, etc. The object of this vast polemical literature was to bring Islam "crashing to the ground" and to build from the rubble a new Christian edifice using selectively the "Partial Truths" of Islam, salvaged and cleansed of Islamic untruth.
When that literature was quietly withdrawn from the market about fifty years ago, the old polemical method had quietly undergone an inner transformation. In place of works for Muslims in their various languages, works were now published in English on how to reach Muslims and deal with their hang-ups.
In some circles, the theme was changed from "Bring Islam crashing to the ground" to "Fulfillment, not Destruction." However, the arguments used to cause Truth buds of Islam to flower into the full Christian truth suspiciously resembled those of the older polemicists, except for the aggressive attack of the latter. After all, what essential difference is there between the method of the natural reason and the fulfillment method; both build on some extra-biblical "common ground" of Truth available to the autonomous man, to which both sides are thought to give assent, and in fact, both of these themes are found in the earlier polemicists.
In this new situation, evangelicals, for the most part have concentrated on the positive presentation of the Gospel and avoided "the stale polemics of the past" except when pressed. In that case, they have judiciously used the old standard polemical works, or simply reworked their arguments (e.g. Pfander's Balance of Truth and Tisdall's Sources of Islam4 were recently reprinted in Arabic and English). Stymied by the sterility of the old polemics, many evangelicals seem to have concluded that all apologetics are out of place in Muslim evangelization.
The thesis of this paper is that what is really needed is the "new kind of apologetic," called for by Harvie Conn which "will address the whole man as covenant creature standing now in rebellion before God ..."5 Is not the real problem the polemical method which has been so widely used rather than apologetics per se? After having assumed the autonomy of man standing upon some "common ground" of Truth, how is it possible thereafter to call him to account for what he has done with God and His revelation? Furthermore, because the supposed neutrality of the natural reason is really a fiction, the old polemic has stimulated in Muslims a defensive reaction against unjust comparisons much more than repentance from sin and unbelief. While the positive presentation of the Gospel is certainly needed, its effectiveness will be minimal unless there is a vigorous challenge to Islam on the theological level. Such a confrontation on theological issues is necessary to undergird both the evangelization of Muslims and the contextualization of the new church and its theology.
Can we afford to vacate the intellectual arena in a day when Islam is mounting a polemical counter-attack? One of the Moroccan T.E.E. students recently made a strong plea for help in the area of apologetics in response to a questionnaire from the T.E.E. Center for North Africa. He concluded his plea thus: "I will never accept that the Center flee its duty under the pretext that it is only concerned with teaching the Bible and not with confronting other religions. Any country at war which does not have sufficient arms against those of another country is exposed to defeat; its army may even go over to the other side!"
In this study I shall attempt to measure the theological and apologetical dimensions of Muslim evangelization, and in doing so to indicate the general lines of the new kind of apologetic which I feel is needed. This paper was originally drafted about 1970 in the context of a project for producing Christian Education materials for the emerging churches of North Africa. It incorporates ideas and suggestions from others who helped in the project, but the author is alone responsible for its present form. The draft was set aside unrevised at that time while more urgent tasks were completed. The revised study is now presented in the hope that it will be a stimulus to the development of the new kind of apologetic to Islam called for.
As concerns apologetic method, I have completely broken with that of the old polemic and that of the newer fulfillment school, although some of their arguments and insights are still valid (e.g. Pfander's defense of the integrity of the Scriptures against the Muslims' charge of corruption.6) Rather than attempt a comparative study from a supposedly neutral standpoint I have sought to bring the judgment of Scripture directly to bear on Islamic doctrine and ideology. And instead of focusing on "common ground" in Qur'anic data which is supposedly capable of a "Christian" interpretation, I have sought to discern, beneath surface similarities, the Spirit (Ideology) of Islam which animates the Body (Islamic society). Contrary to popular misconceptions about such "common ground," the ideology of Islam runs counter to that of Biblical Christianity. The theological assumptions which underly this article can be termed evangelical and Reformed, in that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are held to possess infallible authority as the divinely inspired, inerrant and unique Word of God, and to be the final arbiter of the validity of every system of Biblical hermeneutics.
One final word about the key issue separating Islam and Christianity. The earlier polemicists considered this to be the question as to whether the Bible is the one true revelation or the Qur'an. While that is indeed a key issue, it is really part of a larger question and cannot be dealt with properly without reference to the larger context. I believe that the key issue is the question of the nature of God and how He relates to His creation; Islam and Christianity are, despite formal similarities, worlds apart on that question; practically all their other disagreements are but different aspects of that one basic difference of viewpoint. Hence my discussion starts with the Islamic doctrine of God.7
The subject matter is organized under the heading of the Islamic views on God, man and his relationship to God, Christ and Salvation, the Holy Spirit, Revelation and the Scriptures, Society and the Church, Angels and Satan, and finally Eschatology. Under each heading I focus first on the basic Islamic assumptions concerned, then on the points of conflict with the Biblical position, and finally on the consequences of the Islamic view and the general lines of a Biblical approach.
A. THE ISLAMIC VIEW OF GOD
- Basic Islamic Assumptions:
- God is Absolutely Other (or Transcendent). Islam holds that Allah is different from any created thing, including man, and holds Himself absolutely aloof from the realm of history. Transcendence (Tanzih) implies on the one hand that language used in describing God has no positive connotation whatsoever; there is absolutely no relationship (or analogy) between the connotation of a word when predicated of God and its connotation when predicated of men. For example, we cannot understand God's mercy by the analogy of mercy in man; God's mercy and that of man are completely dissimilar. Thus Islam has a negative theology; it cannot say what God is, but only what He is not. Transcendence also implies for the Muslim that God can never be really present in the world, or active in person, in the process of history; this would contradict His transcendence. He can only act upon the world from a distance by means of His creative word.8
- God is uniquely One (Tawhid). Islam insists on the absolute Oneness of God; it is unitarian in Theology. God is not differentiated in any sense of the term. As "The One" He is the "Causer of Causes" and source of "the Many." His oneness is completely different from creaturely "oneness," because of His absolute transcendence.9
- God relates to the World only by His creative Word. By His word, He created all things out of nothing. According to Asharite doctrine His creation is continous and not once for all. Indeed, He creates men's acts in their limbs as they do them. Thus, by His creative word He determines (taqdir) or brings to pass all of man's acts and his destiny which has been eternally "written down" (maktub). (Thus "creation," for Islam, includes the idea of "providence"). Finally, by "sending down" (tanzil) His eternal Word upon His prophets, He reveals to man what he needs to know, and He ratifies the prophets' message by signs. Their role is to transcribe it and announce it to men, victorious in His power and protection. All of this guarantees that God is absolutely transcendent and removed from His creation.10
- God is absolutely free, and unrestricted even in the realm of truth and morality. He is free to "abrogate" the truth or obligations of earlier revelations by subsequently revealed truths and obligations. He is free to judge the same act to be "good" in one circumstance and "evil" in another according to the situation, although in principle acts are "good" or "evil" according to whether they are commanded or forbidden in the Qur'an. The criteria by which God judges and assigns man his destiny are unknowable to man. He is free to forgive the sinner or to condemn him. He is free to do opposites as He pleases.11
- Points of conflict with the Biblical View.
- God is unknown and unknowable to man, both in this life and in the next. Apart from "tanzil" (sending down revelation) man can know nothing about God or His requirements of man. Transcendence, for Islam, means it is impossible to know anything positive about God. There is an uncrossable gulf between man and God which makes a personal knowledge of God a metaphysical impossibility.12 This conflicts with the Biblical teacbing that man has an intuitive knowledge of God and His law, and of his own guilt (Rom. 1 & 2), because he is made in God's image (general revelation). The Bible does teach a creator-creature distinction which will never be erased, but does not carry this to the extent of complete dissimilarity or unknowability. Islam makes this distinction to mean that God is completely unknowable to man.
- God is not Personal, or Spiritual. To the Muslim mind, the idea that God is a person (or spirit) collides with the doctrine of His transcendence. Personality would imply a likeness to man, and is therefore rejected.13
- God is not active in History, neither does He "come down" or enter History. The Incarnation is impossible as it contradicts the Islamic doctrine of "Absolute Transcendence." Neither can God be personally active and reveal Himself in the process of history as the Bible indicates. Transcendence requires that He work upon history by predestination (Taqdir) and that He "send down" revelation. The Islamic view of history is that history is not significant; it reveals nothing to us about God. This contrasts with the Biblical view which pictures God as being Immanent as well as Transcendent, working in history, howbeit in ways which man cannot fully fathom, "coming down" in person in Jesus Christ, and thus revealing Himself through history.14
- God is not Holy or Righteous in the sense of loathing and separating Himself from sin. In Islam, the moral attributes of holiness and righteousness are not applicable to God; this would imply likeness to man, and again would compromise God's transcendence. For Islam, God is only separated from man because He is totally different from Him, not because He is holy and man is sinful (a moral separation). Hence, man's separation from God which, according to the Bible, is abnormal and intended to be temporary, is considered by Islam to be normal, absolute and eternal.15
- God has no feelings or affections for any creature; He does not love or value man in the Biblical sense. Although His beautiful names include "the Compassionate, the Merciful," and "the Lover," etc., these attributes do not mean what they would mean when predicated of man. Were God to display emotions, this would make Him like men and would be a weakness. While He gives wealth and health to some, and poverty, starvation, hell, etc., to others, this represents a sovereign act of His will. He gains nothing from our obedience and loses nothing from our rebellion. All this, of course, contrasts with the Biblical view, which says that God "loves" mankind in the most absolute sense of the word. In the Biblical perspective, man's love is an imperfect analogy, marred by sin, of God's perfect and self-giving love.16
- God is not thought of as binding Himself by covenant to do certain things for man. This apparently would contradict His freedom to do "as He wills." The Bible, in contrast, declares Him to be a Covenant-making and Covenant-keeping God. He can be counted on to keep His covenant.17
- God is not Triune in nature. The doctrine of the Trinity contradicts the Islamic concept, of the Absolute Oneness of God. God is stripped (Tanzih) of personity and every knowable attribute to become an abstract metaphysical Unity; the concept of a Trinity in Unity is judged on rationalistic grounds to be impossible.
- Other relevant Islamic ideas and attitudes
- Muslims tend to understand religious language in a material and literal sense. This is because of their view of transcendence which assumes that things on earth or historical events (e.g. the institutions and history of God's people in the Old Testament) cannot be analogies or types of spiritual realities. The metaphorical use of language to symbolize spiritual realities is a procedure which is foreign to the Muslim way of thinking. They take everything literally and materialistically. Thus the doctrine of the Trinity is uniformly understood as tritheism, and the Biblical teaching that Christ is the Son of God is taken to mean a physical paternity after the manner of the grossest polytheistic conceptions of Deity. Even "Spirit" is understood by some to be a very fine invisible substance; consequently to say that "God is Spirit" suggests materiality - an impossibility. Whenever a concrete term is used metaphorically this must be specifically stated, and the typical value of the history of Ancient Israel must be explained carefully, if it is referred to at all.
- The Islamic view of Faith corresponds to its view of God. For the Muslim, God stands aloof above the world and is unknowable and nonpersonal. Hence faith involves simply an intellectual acceptance and verbal confession of truth, and action in accordance with the commands of the Islamic law. Faith is essentially equivalent to Islam, i.e. submission to the truth and obligations which God has "sent down." It means submitting to the true religion (Islam) and to the fate God has decreed for one's self; it does not involve entrusting or committing one's self to God as a person. It involves a vague hope in God's mercy upon condition of adherence to Islam. Since God is free and not covenantal, it does not have the idea of taking God at His Word to keep His promises. It is thus a mental acceptance of a concept of God rather than a moral response to a personal-moral Being, active in history, who can be known in a personal relationship (the Biblical view of faith).18
- Consequences of the Islamic View
- This view cuts man off from a personal relationship with, and knowledge of, God. Its view of transcendence makes such a relationship not only undesirable but also impossible in the nature of things.
- This view cuts man off from true rationality. Since God is unknown and unknowable, man has no transcendent point of reference by which to understand himself or the universe in which he lives. His existence has no meaning; it is impossible and useless for man to try to find any meaning. He need only submit to fate.
- Finally this view cuts man off from morality. Since God is absolutely free and unbound by moral absolutes, man has also no transcendent standard for morality. In sum, truth and morality are relativistic.
- A Biblical evaluation and approach:
- From the Biblical perspective, as elaborated in Romans 1 and 2, the Islamic doctrine of God represents a thoroughgoing repression of the Truth and the substitution of a false concept of God in its place.19 It thereby cuts the Muslim off from his God-given knowledge of God, God's law and his own guilt, although he possesses this knowledge by virtue of his very existence. The Biblical view of God is eliminated a priori; Islam makes the Creator-creature distinction and man's temporary separation from God because of sin into an absolute permanent separation, and then claims the Biblical view of God to be "against reason." Converts have generally assimilated this Islamic attitude and are affected by it. Our task in teaching them about God will therefore be to lay a solid basis for the Biblical doctrine of God. We must show in a simple way from the Scriptures if God appears to be so distant, unknowable and impersonal, and a Trinity in Unity impossible, it is because man has repressed the Truth about God and has substituted for it an untruth. We must highlight the truth that man knows about God intuitively but will not admit (i.e. general revelation) and take them on to the full Biblical teaching about God. The new Christian needs to be taught the Biblical teaching about God in such a way that he acknowledges and abandons any residual un-Biblical attitudes and is prepared effectively to present the Gospel to his Muslim neighhours.
B. THE ISLAMIC VIEW OF MAN AND HIS RELATION TO GOD
We have already touched upon this in the previous section but will now consider it in more detail.
- Basic Islamic Assumptions and Attitudes.
- Man is the high point of God's creation. God commanded the Angels to bow down before man (Qur'an 7:11) and made man His viceroy (Khalifa) on earth (2:30).20
- Man's relation to God is basically that of a servant "`abd" to his Master or Lord. This relationship is expressed by serving God, doing His commands and abstaining from His prohibitions. This kind of God/man relationship follows from the absolute transcendence of God. The conditions of this relationship are laid down in the religious law, or Shari`a.
- Man was created as he now is - good but "weak" (da`if) (4:32) and inconstant. While in the Garden, he "forgot" God's command, listened to Satan's advice, and consequently "fell" (physically) from the Garden to the earth. God's present distance (transcendence) would appear to be related to this "Fall" but it involves only a metaphysical distance and not a moral one. If man follow's God's guidance in this life, he will still regain the Garden in the hereafter, "if God wills" (2:35-38 and other verses).
- Man breaks his relationship with God by "unbelief" (kufr, godlessness), which includes "associating someone with God" (shirk), a transgression against His transcendence, and doing that which God has declared forbidden ("haram") or by not doing what He has declared obligatory ("fard") in the religious law. Popularly speaking, sin is forsaking what God has ordered, or doing what He has declared to be "haram." Man does this because he is weak, forgetful, ignorant; hence sin, at bottom, is just a "mistake," not depravity.21
- Man is endowed with 'natural religion': Allah has endowed man with a kind of innate knowledge or "disposition" (fitra) which corresponds to Islam (30:30). This disposition is neutral but can either be reinforced or thwarted by education. "Every child is born naturally disposed (i.e. to Islam); it is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Parsee" (a tradition). Islam therefore addresses its summons (da`wa) to man, calling him to return to that which is innate in him.22 It gives him all the knowledge he needs in the Religious Law.
- Points of conflict with the Christian View.
- Man is not made in the "Image of God," in the sense of the moral and spiritual likeness of God. The Islamic concept of man as God's khalifa, who exercises dominion over creation in His place, parallels the Imago Dei idea only in part. The idea that there should be some God-likeness in man runs strictly counter to Islam's doctrine of absolute transcedence. "There is nothing like unto Him" (42:11). It is inconceivable to the Muslim that man should through spiritual renewal "become partakes of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4) or be renewed after the image of God (Col. 3:10) and experience a personal relationship with Him.23
- Man is not sinful by nature, neither is he separated from God or under His wrath because of guilt. According to Islam, man's present state is not sinful; his "separation" is due to God's transcedence, not to a moral fall or to depravity. He is not helpless nor is he incapable of doing good works pleasing to God. Islam denies the Biblical concept of original sin.24
- Man's basic problem is ignorance, rather than sin. Although he has an innate natural religion, which represents for Muslims a kind of awareness of Deity, that is all man possesses innately. Islam does not recognize the innate knowledge man has of God's law or of his own sin. Man's problem is not basically moral but a lack of knowledge of God's law. This knowledge is supplied by the Qur'an, the absolute standard of Truth.
- Man does not need salvation from sin's guilt or power, since he is not a sinner by nature. He will need to be "saved" from hell when the judgment takes place at the last day, but this salvation is gained by following the right religious law, i.e. that of Islam. Man's basic need is for knowledge of the law, for sin is basically erring from the true religious law.
- Consequences of the Islamic view. Man's separation from God and his present condition are basically traced to God Himself and not to man, and are made normative. Man is considered to be capable of following the good, even though he is "weak." Relate this to the idea that no act or attitude is inherently sinful (e.g. lying, stealing, licentiousness), but is only sinful in circumstances in which it is declared to be "haram" (forbidden) in the religious law, while it may not be sinful in other circumstances. As a consequence, the voice of God in man's conscience is effectively stifled and Muslims tend to have very little consciousness of their sinfulness, depravity, guilt and helplessness to save themselves. In addition, by denying that man is made in the "Image of God," Muslims are cut off from desiring and establishing a personal relationship with God.
- A Biblical evaluation and approach. The Islamic doctrine of man is a corollary to its doctrine of God, and vividly demonstrates the mechanism of repression and substitution. By denying the moral nature of man's problem and by substituting for it a mere problem of cognition, it cuts off the Muslim from a consciousness of sin and of his need for salvation. Likewise, inquirers and converts are deeply affected and tempted by this refusal of society to face Truth. Our task is to unmask the sinful repression inherent in the Islamic doctrine of man,25 and to highlight God's purpose in creating man in His image. This lays the groundwork for a fruitful relationship with God.
C. THE ISLAMIC VIEW OF CHRIST AND SALVATION
- Basic Islamic Teachings
- The Islamic Doctrine of Christ. Christ was merely a human prophet who announced God's message, performed miracles "by God's permission," was saved by God from being crucified and was transported alive to heaven, from which he will return to embrace Islam and judge the world according to its tenets. (Suras 2:81,254; 3:37-52; 4:155-6,169; 5:19,50-51,76-79,112-117; 19:16-36; 23:52; 47:57-64; 57:26-27).26
- Islam's Concept of Salvation. In Islam the idea of salvation is expressed in the Arabic word `falah' which means "well-being," "welfare," "prosperity."27 The idea of `falah' is that salvation is accomplished within history in the Islamic nation or "Umma" (See also F.2. and H.2(b).) Salvation was accomplished by God's "sending down" His revelation and establishing His true religious community. It is granted to a person when he joins that community and lives according to the "religious law." Religious, political and social action is seen as God's saving work. Salvation is only consummated when, at the judgment, God forgives a man his sins on the basis of deeds he performed according to the law, and of his reliance on God.28
- Points of Contrast with the Biblical view.
- Islam's doctrine of Christ contradicts the Biblical record. It claims to believe in and honor Christ but it denies the two most important teachings of the Bible on Christ - His deity and His death.29
Denial of His deity: To the Muslim, the term "Son of God" implies physical paternity, which is blasphemy. Thus, Muslims consistently misinterpret the term to mean something which Christians never mean by it. The younger generation may not always object to the term "Son of God" but even then they generally understand it to denote nearness to God and greatness as a prophet rather than deity. Moreover, Islam's emphasis on the absolute unity of God makes it difficult for Muslims to grasp the idea that Christ and the Father are One, and yet have separate identities.
Denial of His death: Islam cannot conceive of a crucified Christ, for one of the most basic criteria of the true "Messenger" is that he is politically victorious in the institution of the true religion. Christ had to be politically victorious over the Jews to be proven God's "Messenger."
- The Islamic view of Faith opposes real trust in Christ. Islam has little idea of trust (or faith), in the Christian sense of the term: The inquirer from Islam will therefore likely understand "faith in Christ" to mean acceptance of His teachings and following them to the best of one's abilities, i.e. to change from one religious law to another. Faith is seen as doing rather than resting upon One who has done all.30
- The Islamic view of Repentance differs radically from the Biblical view. As an aspect of piety, apparently equivalent to "remorse," repentance seems to be a meritorious "good work." It carries nothing of the Biblical idea of loathing and turning from one's sin and throwing one's self on the mercy of God for salvation. Since sin consists in mere forgetfulness, or acts of disobedience to the law of Islam, such as eating pork or drinking wine, but not in a sinful nature which proliferates sins (original sin), the Muslim conscience is dulled to a sense of sin. Being unconscious of his hopeless condition, the Muslim feels no need of repenting in the Biblical sense.31
- The Islamic view of Salvation likewise differs radically from that of the Bible. This is seen in the use of the word `falah' meaning "well-being" rather than the Arabic word `Khalas' meaning "payment" "deliverance" "liberation," the usual word used to express the Biblical idea of salvation, or `fada' which signifies "redemption." As we saw previously, Islam denies that man needs to be saved in the Biblical sense of salvation from sin's guilt or power. Hence, the key elements of the Biblical doctrine of salvation are excluded from the Islamic idea.
- Various Islamic concepts hinder Muslim inquirers from seeking a personal relationship with Christ as "sons of God." Islam views God as being wholly other, and as such cannot be known or approached by man. In its concept of paradise, the Qur'an places the emphasis on material comfort and sensual pleasure rather than on fellowship with God, unbroken by sin. The place of man as "servant" (not son) is to honor God by acts of worship, and obey His laws, but not to enjoy fellowship with Him. The idea of seeking and maintaining personal fellowship with God is completely foreign to Islam. Muslims may speak of having a relationship to God but they do not mean by this a relationship between persons. This kind of relationship is not possible, for God to them is not person (spirit). Sufis may seem to approach such a relationship in their efforts to experience the "Divine presence," but their goal is to experience a kind of union with God in which the worshipper is absorbed into God, no longer to exist as a separate entity. This goal of absorption (Ar = fana') is just as foreign and inimical to the Gospel message as is orthodox Islam.
- Consequences of the Islamic View. These concepts and attitudes place a great stumbling block in the way of Muslims who would entrust themselves to Christ as Lord and Saviour. Even when a person is converted he is greatly affected by these presuppositions and attitudes which are unconsciously assimilated from the culture.
The Islamic refusal to accept the possibility of Christ's deity and of the Incarnation, and its depersonalization of the meaning of faith and repentance, derive directly from its insistence on the absolute transcendence of God, and is another consequence of Islam's effort to "hold under the truth" of God.
The Islamic denial of the crucifixion derives directly from a this-worldly view of the "kingdom of God" and of salvation. The kind of "kingdom" which God's Messengers are sent to establish is understood to be a religio-political community (Umma) which works out its own salvation by action according to the law. This is why they feel that the true prophet must be politically victorious. Muslims deny the crucifixion because they understand the kingdom Christ came to establish in terms of the community their prophet established.
The Islamic doctrines of salvation by works and of absolute predestination conflict with one another and hinder the development of assurance of salvation in the heart of the new believer. If one's works must be weighed in the balances at the last judgment how can one know whether or not he is saved prior to that time? And if God saves whom He will and condemns whom He will, how can one know if he is saved, for God's will is inscrutable.
- The Biblical evaluation and approach. Our basic task, then, must be to show how the Islamic rejection of Christ constitutes basically an attempt to suppress the truth about God, a flight from the God of the Bible. Likewise we must show that the Kingdom which Christ came to establish is spiritual, and the salvation He brought to us involves a moral, spiritual, physical and cosmic transformation. Seen in this light, Christ's crucifixion is not really a defeat (although from the worldly political standpoint it may seem to be such) but rather the first tactical step toward a cosmic victory over sin, death and Satan by His resurrection from the dead. When this has been thoroughly grasped, the ground is prepared for genuine repentance of sin and genuine faith in Christ.
D. THE ISLAMIC VIEW OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
- Islamic Ideas on the Holy Spirit. The Qur'an speaks of "the Spirit," and even the "Holy Spirit" (ruh al-quds, 2:87) and the "Faithful Spirit" (al-ruh al-amin, 26:193). At the creation, Allah breathed into Adam His Spirit (15:29). Jesus is referred to as "a Spirit from Allah" (4:171), and so Muslims frequently call him "the Spirit of Allah." However, almost without exception Muslims identify "the Holy Spirit" and "the Faithful Spirit" with Gabriel, the Angel of revelation. When the Qur'an states that Jesus, Muhammad, and others, were strengthened by the Holy Spirit, it is clearly referring to the Angel Gabriel in the process of revelation. Thus the "Holy Spirit" spoken of in the Bible is unknown in Islam (John 14:19).32 There may be a parallel between these Islamic ideas and several references in the New Testament to angels as agents of revelation (Gal. 3:19, Heb. 2:2) but these are not central to the New Testament doctrine of revelation, and may be simply a reflection of a doctrine of Judaism.
- Other Islamic Ideas which Conflict with the Biblical View.
- The Muslims concept of God conflicts with the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit (cf. A. above). (i) The concept of the absolute unity of God precludes the possibility of the Holy Spirit being God. (ii) The personality of the Holy Spirit, and indeed the possibility of knowing God in a personal way through the indwelling Holy Spirit, is incompatible with the Muslim's concept of Allah's absolute transcendence.
- The Muslims view of man also conflicts with the Biblical teaching. Since man is weak, but not depraved, he does not need the Holy Spirit's work of regenerating, sanctifying and guiding, or producing the fruits of righteousness. He sees no need to become a new creation. He can pull himself up by his own bootstraps. Following the true religious law is sufficient for perfecting man.
Since man is a servant (`abd) of Allah, he does not look for a close communion with God through the Spirit of adoption. The very idea that the Spirit indwells the believer is incompatible with Islamic ideology. Far be it from Allah that we should be associated with Him as children, or that He should make His abode in our hearts. Only the Sufis (mystics) aim at union with God, but for them this is achieved by man's striving upward and not by the coming down of the Holy Spirit to dwell in their hearts.
- The Islamic claim to find a prophecy of Muhammad in Jesus' Teaching on the Holy Spirit. The Qur'an states that Jesus prophesied the coming of another "Messenger" whose name is "The Praised One" (Ar = "Ahmad" - 61:6). The name Ahmad is said to be one of Muhammad's names. Muslim polemicists have frequently claimed to find this prophecy still intact in the "Comforter" passages in John's Gospel (14:16,26, etc.). The usual argument is that the word "paraklétos" (Advocate, comforter) found in the present Greek texts has been corrupted from the original reading "périklytos" (famous, glorious, roughly equivalent to Ahmad) in the original Greek text. And in any case, some say, even if the word "paraklétos" were original, it would still refer to Muhammad. The lack of any concrete manuscript evidence whatsoever to prove this view does not seem to bother them.33
- Consequences and Conclusions. Various teachings of the Qur'an and the Islamic concepts of God and of man converge to hinder an understanding of the Biblical teaching on the Holy Spirit. In the early days of a new Christian's conversion these may cause some misunderstanding.
However, when a person admits his need of redemption and of the new birth and comes to Christ, the main obstacle to understanding the Biblical teaching on the Holy Spirit have been overcome. The Christian worker should lay the ground work for the Muslim's conversion by dealing with his presuppositions which lie behind his rejection of the Biblical teaching. As the teaching on the Holy Spirit is then presented in a positive way, its distinction from these Islamic teachings will be clear. The most convincing proof of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is a Christian who is himself filled with the Spirit.
E. THE ISLAMIC VIEW OF REVELATION AND THE SCRIPTURES
- Basic Islamic Presuppositions and Teachings
- The Process of Revelation is that of Tanzil ("Sending down"): God "sends down" information and commands to His prophets for mankind. He does this by "wahy": the angel Gabriel comes down and whispers or "suggests" the information to the prophet. The revealed Scripture also is called "Tanzil"; it is heavenly and eternal in origin, not earthly.
- The Nature of Scripture: Scripture is of the nature of religious law (shari`a): it comprises information as to what man is to believe and do in order to please God and thus secure his well-being in this life and in the hereafter.
- Messengers and Inspired Books. God sent down successive revelations on successive prophets. The "Taurat" (Torah) of Moses, the "Zabur" (Psalms) of David, and the "Injil" of Jesus are mentioned in the Qur'an as being three of these revealed books. Note that the first two terms correspond loosely to two parts of the three-fold Hebrew division of the O.T. - the Law, Prophets, and Books (or Psalms), the "Prophets," being omitted, whereas the term Injil represents to Muslims a book transmitted by Jesus rather than one about Him. Apologists often use these Qur'anic terms in speaking of the Old and New Testaments.
- Muslims believe that each Messenger and his book is superseded (or "abrogated") and replaced by the succeeding prophet and his book, except for Muhammad, who was the "seal" or last of the Prophets. Jesus superseded Moses, and was in turn superseded and replaced by Muhammad and the Qur'an. Note that the Qur'an itself never speaks of the previous Books being abrogated. There, "abrogation," (Ar = "naskh") applies only to Qur'anic verses which are said to abrogate other verses (cf. 2:106). Many polemists have tried to argue from this that abrogation was never meant to apply to the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures. This argument is questionable. While the Qur'an never explicitly says that these are abrogated, it does teach abrogation as a principle and it accords to Muhammad and his book the very highest place in the succession of Scriptures, calling him "the seal of the prophets" (33:40). Hence it would be fair to say that the intent to supplant the Scriptures is implicit in the Qur'an.
- The Qur'an summarizes (collects) and replaces all the previous books. It is the final and perfect revelation. (This idea too is implicit in the claims of the Qur'an). The form of the Qur'an (rhymed prose supposedly written by an illiterate prophet) is perhaps stressed more than the content. Its literary excellence is said to make it a "miracle" and constitutes proof that it was "sent down" directly from God. It is a literary miracle in the line of the nature miracles of Moses and the healing miracles of Jesus.
- Because the Bible frequently conflicts with many Qur'anic conceptions, details and teachings, Muslims claim further that the present Biblical text has been "corrupted" (changed) from the original, and is no longer reliable (e.g. prophecies of Muhammad have been deleted). Moreover, its form and style do not coincide with what it should theoretically be as "Tanzil." (e.g. Much of it reads like history - O.T. historical books, Gospels, Acts - and not Tanzil).34
- Points of Conflict with the Biblical View.
- The concepts of revelation in Islam and in Christianity differ radically, although both Islam and Evangelical Christianity speak of revelation as being verbal and conceptual. These differences stem ultimately from their differing conceptions of God and of His relation to the world. In the Islamic view, which sees God as being absolutely transcendent and non-personal, the only kind of revelation possible is the vertical movement "from above" of transcendent information, "down" to the level of man. We might term this view "Transcendental Revelation" (of Law). Practically speaking, Islam does not make a distinction between "revelation" and "inspiration"; in fact, Muslims generally use the two terms interchangeably. The idea that God should reveal Himself is not found in Islam; that would contradict His transcendence. Indeed, Muslims vehemently deny that God reveals Himself.35
In contrast, the Evangelical view, derived from Scripture, is that God is personally active from within history, and so much so that, at a particular point in history, God "became flesh" in the person of Jesus Christ. History, then, is the first medium of God's self-revelation. The second such medium is language. Evangelical theology distinguishes two phases in the revelation process: there is first the divine action from within history, and especially in the Incarnation, and then there is the inspiration of holy men inerrantly to record and interpret these events in the Scriptures. This inscripturization of revelation does not involve a vertical "sending down," but takes place entirely within the horizontal realm of history, although its source and cause transcends history. The Bible, then, is revelation for the Evangelical, but not in the sense of Tanzil. Rather, it is revelation in the sense that it is the Holy Spirit inspired record and explanation of God's self-revelatory acts in history. Indeed, historical revelation and Scriptural revelation are inseparable and one. To set it off from Transcendental Revelation, we might term this view "Historical-Inspirational Revelation." These two concepts of revelation differ radically both as to the nature of revelation as well as concerning the revelation process.36
- Terms used in the Bible are used by Islam with a radically different meaning (e.g. prayer, sin, righteousness, etc.) Biblical events, and stories of Biblical personages are related in the Qur'an with unbiblical apocryphal additions and corruptions.
- Major Bible doctrines are misinterpreted and emphatically denied, e.g. the Trinity, the deity and death of Christ.
- An Islamic hermeneutic of the Scriptures. In response to the old method which sought to read Christian meanings into Qur'anic verses having a "Christian potential," Muslim writers have developed an Islamic hermeneutic of the Bible; they interpret the Scriptures from an Islamic perspective and make use of statements of modern Bible critics, as needed, to set aside Biblical statements they cannot reinterpret Islamically.37
- The Muslim feels no need to read the Bible because he feels he has the complete and final truth which contains all that is of value in the Bible. If he should read it, he compares and judges it by what he finds in the Qur'an. A new Christian will generally approach the Bible taking with him Islamic assumptions and what he has learned from the Qur'an. Sometimes he will be consciously troubled by the contrast. Often, however, he will unconsciously impose Islamic meaning onto Biblical terms and teachings. He may have problems with the form of the Bible - for example, its casualness or the personality of a writer evident in some passages.
- The Biblical approach. In leading new Christians to a sound attitude toward, and understanding of, the Bible, the missionary should lay a good foundation in communicating the Biblical view of God first, and then present the Biblical teachings on the Bible, at the same time consciously divesting their minds of misleading and false Islamic conceptions. The Bible is not "tanzil" - another religious law - but, being inspired, it is God's self-revelation. Moreover, no one can be saved by keeping any religious law. The N.T. does not abrogate the Old Testament, but completes it by telling us about the Christ who was announced in the O.T., and who alone makes it understandable. Because they give the complete story of redemption, the Old and New Testaments are the complete and final word of God, our infallible rule of faith and practice.
As concerns our apologetic, may it not be argued that the transcendental or non-historical nature of Tanzil renders it incapable of authentification. All arguments that Muslims use to prove that the Qur'an is true revelation are circular arguments; they assume what they try to prove. This renders suspect the authenticity of Tanzil revelation. By contrast, is not the historical nature of the Biblical revelation its strong point? True, this renders it subject to historical criticism and the "vicissitudes of history," and makes the apologetic task much more complex and difficult. But at the same time, the very fact that the Biblical revelation is inextricably tied to history, along with the convincing witness of the Holy Spirit, is that which makes the Scriptures self-authenticating.
F. THE ISLAMIC VIEW OF SOCIETY AND THE CHURCH
- Basic Islam Concepts.
- The ideal of the Islamic "Umma" (Religious Community). In Islam the religious community is considered to be religio-political in nature ("Umma" = nation, community), and tied to a particular cultural tradition and language. In this scheme, Muslims comprise an Islamic "Umma," which is a religio-political (or theocratic) community, founded and governed according to the Shari`a (Islamic law). Religious affiliation, in the Muslim's mind, is therefore essentially equivalent to nationality, and to political and cultural affiliation. Although the Islamic world is actually broken up into a number of independent Islamic states, the concept of One Islamic Umma (roughly equivalent to "the Arabic Umma") is still seen as a vivid ideal to be attained, if not a semi-reality. Therefore, other religious groups such as "Christians" and "Jews" are also treated as religio-political communities. To achieve the ideal of an Islamic state governed by Islamic law, the Jewish and Christian minorities in Islamic lands were constituted as separate "Millets" within the State, i.e. communities whose members only enjoy a second-rate citizenship status as "ahl al-dhimma" (people of the obligation), and exercised limited self-government under their religious leaders. This structure is implicit to the thinking of all Muslims concerning converts from Islam and Christian churches in Muslim lands, even when they have Western type constitutions.38
- The Islamic concept of the superiority of the Umma which is ruled according to Islamic religious law. Muslims feel that when the Islamic law is applied in a nation it elevates that nation above others. This is because right thinking and right acting (as defined in the law) are thought to purify the individual's moral character, i.e. they have a kind of sacramental value in that they confer Divine grace or merit to the individual. Religious, political and social action according to the religious law involves the community in God's saving acts within history. Thus the nation governed according to the Shari`a is thought to be superior to other communities, because no other religion has such a well-calculated law.39
- Points of conflict with the Biblical view of Society and the Church.
- Muslims think of Christianity as intending also to be such an exclusive religio-political community (identified with Western "Christian" countries). The Biblical idea of the church is completely foreign to their thinking. In the Bible, the church is seen as an apolitical, supracultural, spiritual, eschatological fellowship, acting somewhat as a leaven upon society, but never being, or attempting to become, identified with society. However, Islam's false concept of the Church has all too often been strengthened by Christians and missionaries of the past, who too readily identified Christianity with Western civilization, and by those in modern times who conceive of the church as a kind of institution of world revolution to bring in social justice, rather than as being basically spiritual and eschatological in nature. As with Islam, this modernistic view of the church, propagated by some theologians and missionaries, is based on an un-Biblical optimistic view of man.
- Muslims think of the church as being inferior to Islam since it has no religious law comparable to the Shari`a as a basis for society.
- Muslims interpret Christian practices in the same magical way as they interpret Muslim practices. The rites of Baptism and the Lord's Supper are considered as kinds of sacramental acts which turn one into a Christian. Some tend to view the Lord's Prayer as a kind of "password" which one repeats to become a Christian, much as one repeats the "Shahada" to become Muslim.
- Conclusions and Christian approach. Here again we see in the Islamic ideal of the "Umma" another facet of Islam's effort to "hold under the truth" of man's sinfulness; in order to maintain its identity it cannot admit the truth that works performed according to law have never been able to elevate man's nature one whit. Such a conception of the relation between faith and culture raises expectations which no religious community is able to fulfill, and finally leads to further illusions and injustices. These conceptions have made it particularly difficult for indigenous Christian churches of converts from Islam to take root in Islamic society and maintain a normal healthy relationship to that society. Islam's concept of the Umma has led it unjustly to isolate Christians into ghetto societies.
Our task, therefore, is to show that just as there is no religious law which can make perfect, there is no perfect society; all need redemption. We must therefore show from the Scriptures that God never intended to create such a superior religio-political society on earth, for there never has been and never will be a perfect society until Christ intervenes at His second coming. As concerns the church, His purpose is to create an apolitical, supracultural fellowship of believers in Christ, who have repented and have been reconciled to God by faith in Christ and been renewed inwardly by the Holy Spirit. Only in this repentance, reconciliation and regeneration of individuals is there hope for a fruitful and profound improvement in human relations in society. However, perfect justice will only be established on earth by Christ at His second coming. Therefore while Christians may, yea must, continue to work to transform the unjust structures of society and promote peace, they must not nurture any illusions that their efforts will effect any radical change; that will only come when Christ intervenes at His second advent.
G. ISLAMIC VIEWS ON ANGELS AND SATAN
- Basic Islamic Beliefs and Practices
- The Muslim lives in an environment of supernatural beings and powers which are situated between Allah and man in the hierarchy of being.
- Angels are viewed much as in the Bible, which describes them as ministering to believers (Heb 2:14). However, the Islamic doctrine of angels is highly elaborated; many angels are named and their functions described. (e.g. 2:97,98,102; 35:1; 82:10-12).
- Muslims fear Shaitan, or Iblis (Satan), the wicked angel who opposes God and whispers evil suggestions in men's hearts. They also fear Shayatin (demons or evil spirits) and djinn, spirit beings between angels and men. The pious Muslim's basic way of opposing them is to say "I take refuge in Allah" and to repeat the name of Allah (dhikr). This act represents a reliance on a "magic formula," repeated to ward off evil powers, rather than a faith appeal for divine power for victory. (cf. 15:26-43; 114:1-6)
- Many Muslims fear the "evil eye" (a belief that some people have eyes with a magical power to harm others). To obtain supernatural powers, or gain power over others, many resort to sorcery - a kind of magical act using power gained from the assistance, or control, of evil spirits.
- Consequences and Conclusions. Deprived of the immediate presence and help of God by the Islamic doctrine of absolute transcendence, Muslims see themselves at the mercy of supernatural beings and powers which they know to be present all around them. Although they repeat "I take refuge in Allah" and repeat the name "Allah," they have no consciousness of a divine power available to them which can make them victorious over these evil forces around them. Many get involved in sorcery, even though Islam officially forbids it. In this situation, our great responsibility is to make known the Biblical teaching that Christ conquered Satan and all the forces of evil in His death and resurrection, that in Christ's power the Christian is able to overcome these evil forces (Satan, sorcery, etc.) and that he must therefore "resist Satan" in the name of Christ.
H. THE ISLAMIC VIEW OF ESCHATOLOGY
- Basic Islamic Concepts
- The signs preceding the Last Day: It is believed that before that day the Anti-Christ (Dajjal) will appear and faith will decay. Then `Isa (Jesus) will return, kill Anti-Christ and re-establish faith (Islam).
- The Resurrection: At the first blast of the trumpet all living things will die, after an interval the second blast will bring all to life before the judgment place (Sura 39:68).
- The Judgment: Allah will question each individual; each is judged by what is in his book, his good deeds being literally weighed against his bad deeds; those who have done good according to the law pass over "the bridge" (sirat); those who have done evil fall off the bridge into the fire."
- The Garden (al-Janna), heaven, represents essentially the Garden of Eden from which Adam "fell" (cf. B.1(c)), a physical sensual paradise. There, the believers enjoy an eternal extension of the physical existence of this life.
- Hell, the "Fire" (al-Nar, Jehannam), represents an extension and amplification of all the worst physical horrors imaginable in this life. There the unbelievers will suffer physically forever. While believers may fall into the fire, they will be delivered through Muhammad's intercession and go to the garden.
- Points of conflict with the Biblical View
- The Second Coming of Christ is reduced in importance to correspond to the Muslim view of Christ. Christ, rather than being the key figure, is but a "sign" of the end. In the Bible, Christ's coming represents the unveiling of Deity, whose glorious intervention in history alone will establish eternal justice and righteousness, In the Islamic view, true justice and righteousness comes in when and where in this life the Islamic religious law is fully applied; an apocalyptic divine intervention is, therefore, not needed.
- The Resurrection and Heaven are likewise viewed differently in Islam than in the Bible. In the Bible, the resurrection of the redeemed involves a moral as well as a physical transformation; the work of salvation, or redemption, is consummated when the redeemed one receives a transformed body, free of sin and corruption, and lives forever with Christ. This is part of the Christian's hope and expectation. In Islam this expectation of a transformed existence is notably absent. Islam's view of man does not admit man's need for redemption from sin (cf. B.2(c)); moreover it believes that man's basic need is met sufficiently by the application of the religious law in the community. Therefore the radical transformation described in the Bible is not anticipated; Heaven for the Muslim is basically the same kind of life as this one, except that it is eternal.
- The ideas concerning Judgment also differ considerably. In Islam, men are judged according to their works and are assigned to heaven or hell according to whether their good deeds or their evil deeds predominate. This accords with the Islamic view of man which sees him as capable of earning merit. According to the Bible, when men are judged by their works, they are inevitably condemned - none are pardoned - for when judging on the basis of works God requires perfect obedience. Man's only hope lies in repenting and accepting the redemption God offers in Christ, and in receiving the "down payment" of that redemption already in this life; only by facing his judge beforehand, can he bypass the last judgment.
- Consequences and Conclusions
It is clear that these Islamic ideas concerning the hereafter are closely related to the Islamic view of man and of religion. Because of Islam's refusal to admit the truth about man and about God, it does not envisage the need for divine intervention and for the radical renewal of man (regeneration and resurrection to incorruptibility). The Muslim is lulled into complacency, has no assurance of the hereafter, and rejects Christ.
The Christian convert unconsciously inherits many of these assumptions. Our task, therefore, is to ground him in the truth about man revealed in the Bible, and lead him to look to Christ as man's only hope, not only for his personal salvation, but also for bringing in universal justice and righteousness.
CONCLUSION: In sum, in the light of the Scriptures, Islam represents a thoroughgoing repression of the knowledge man has, via general revelation, of God, of His requirements of man, and of man's guilt and his impotence to save himself. Along with repression, Islam has also denied or radically reinterpreted many themes of Biblical revelation, and has substituted for the Truth a humanistic ideology which affirms the absolute transcendence of Deity, and proclaims a Transcendental Revelation claiming to perfect man and society. This calls for a new apologetic which will lovingly expose this rebellion against God for what it really is, in the context of the proclamation of the good news of the grace of God which has been revealed to us in Jesus, Who is both Christ and Lord.
Upper Darby, Pennsylvania
Originally published in
Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Spring 1980),
pp. 335-366, and subsequently in the book, Discipleship in
Islamic Society, by Samuel P. Schlorff (Marseille, ERB, 1981, pages
13-39), obtainable from Middle East Resources, P.O. Box 96, Upper Darby,
PA 19082. Reproduced by permission of Middle East Resources.
Articles by Sam Schlorff.
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