Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Reaching Muslims (Part 2)

Confronting our differences

In his Areopagus speech in Athens, Paul describes his audience as δεισιδαίμων (Acts 17:22), rendered in English “superstitious” (KJV) or “religious” (NKJV). The fuller sense of the term characterizes those driven by a confused concept of God, producing sincere but misdirected religion – an apt description of the Islamic faith. The question of whether Allah of Islam is the same as the God of Bible requires a twofold answer: linguistically, yes (“Allah” is the Arabic term for “God”); theologically, no. The unitarian monotheism of Islam stands in stark contrast to the trinitarian monotheism of Christianity.
Unitarianism is an over-simplification of God; he is too big and too complex to be reduced to a single mathematical unit. It should come as no surprise that God’s human creation consists of relational beings, because our creator is a relational being. How can moral attributes exist apart from relationship? How can God be love if he is an absolute, unrelatable, solitary entity? Before creation, whom did God love? God as a unity of three divine Persons makes sense in the context of relationship.1 Further, God’s desire for relationship is ultimately demonstrated in the Incarnation (John 1:18).
Muslims are taught to deny “the three gods of Christianity,” but they have obviously been introduced to a distorted view of our faith. Have we failed to clearly communicate what we believe? The burden is ours to seek opportunities to provide accurate information. To Muslims, God’s oneness is his outstanding characteristic; he is transcendent, holy, set apart from creation. Islam’s rejection of the Incarnation is motivated by great respect for God’s holiness and honor; he is to be worshiped from a distance. Thus the God of the Qur’an is unknowable, declaring his will and his acts but not his character. Conversely, the God of the Bible has revealed himself and wants to be known (Jer. 9:23-24; 31:34), most clearly through his Son Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 14:7-9).
Because Islamic theology is trapped in the physical realm, it is commonly asked, “How can God have a Son?!” Nothing is more central to the Muslim faith than the absolute rejection of God having a Son,2 while nothing is more foundational to the Christian faith than confessing the Lord Jesus as the Son of God (John 20:30-31). Here is an opportunity to introduce the biblical doctrine of God’s spiritual nature (John 4:24). The God of the Bible is revealed according to his attributes of essence and is steadfast, faithful, and trustworthy. The God of the Qur’an is revealed according to his attributes of action, not his nature, so he appears to be capricious and arbitrary.
In Islam the idea of atonement is criticized, as emphasis is placed on works of righteousness in blind submission to the divine will (Islam means “submission,” and Muslim means “one who submits”). The Bible likewise emphasizes submission to the divine will (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:6; etc.), but provision has been made for when we fall short (Rom. 5:6-11; 6:1-4). Our Muslim friends need to know that the relational God of the Bible has invited us into a relationship with him (Rev. 21:3). This is not possible apart from a clear understanding and acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, with faithful adherence to his teachings (John 14:6; Rom. 5:10-11; 2 Cor. 5:18; 1 Pet. 3:18).

The Crux of the Matter

The Islamic confession of faith (Shahada) is as follows: “There is no true god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” Muslims have been taught that the prophecy recorded in Deut. 18:15-19, concerning the Prophet like Moses, refers to Mohammed rather than to Jesus Christ. Since they accept the book of Deuteronomy as God’s holy word, we need to sit down with them and study the passage together. The text reads as follows:
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ “And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.3
God is speaking through Moses, and contextually to whom is he speaking? In the preceding chapters and verses, the audience is explicitly identified as “Israel” no less than twenty-three times. The people of Israel are informed that the Prophet will arise “from your midst” (v. 15), a fact reiterated to Moses (v. 18). Since Mohammed descended from Abraham through Ishmael and not through Isaac–Jacob–Israel, this prophecy cannot be in reference to him.
     While the recorded words of Peter and Stephen affirm Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy (Acts 3:22; 7:37), Muslims typically do not accept their testimony. However, the words of Jesus himself are respected, and he declares, For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me” (John 5:46). Where did Moses write about Jesus if not Deut. 18:15-19? Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world’” (John 6:14). Our Muslim friends need to be reminded of God’s solemn warning: “whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him” (Deut. 18:19).
It is not sinful or blasphemous to accept God’s revelation of himself, and his revelation is personal … in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14). Christians do not turn a human teacher into God or associate Jesus with God; he was already associated with God. We do not attribute divine sonship to Jesus, he reveals God as Father – not in a physical sense but in a relational sense. We do not assign divine essence to Jesus, he is divine. We do not deify Christ, he is deity.4


With the Lord’s help, Muslims can be won to Christ. We start by seeing them as God sees them – precious souls created in his image for whom Jesus died. As we seek to obey God, which includes loving our fellow man, may we effectively encourage our Muslim neighbors to exchange their confession of Mohammed as God’s prophet for Jesus Christ as God’s Son.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 See Matt. 28:19; Mark 1:9-11; Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; etc.
     2 See J. Scott Horrell, “Son of God and Islam,” a paper presented at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (16 Nov. 2016), San Antonio, TX.
     3 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     4 Some of these thoughts are adapted from Wissam Al-Aethawi’s “Islam Series” at the 2017 FHU Lectureship, <Link>.

*This material was originally developed for the 2017 Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies Lectureship.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks Kevin, good reminder on what Christ like people should be doing.
    The Deuteronomy example is a real practical help.