Critique of Islamic Theology

QUESTION: Critique of Islamic Theology

ANSWER:

Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, it has become increasingly common to hear that “Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God,” even from government leaders. But to claim that these three monotheistic faiths worship the same God is misleading. For example, even if they worship the same God, does each religion teach the same basic things about that God? In point of fact, careful examination uncovers significant theological differences.

One major difference between Muslim and Christian theology is found in their respective views on the nature of God. While we affirm that only one God exists (monotheism), we also affirm that this one God has revealed Himself as triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Muslims deny the doctrine of the Trinity, viewing it as the greatest of sins (Jews also reject the Trinity).1 Unfortunately, many Muslims are quite confused about the doctrine of the Trinity. This is probably due to how the Qur’an misrepresents it. A careful reading of Sura 5:119 (cited above) reveals how the Qur’an defines the Trinity as essentially polytheistic, that is, affirming the existence of more than one true God.

Because these misrepresentations are encased in the Qur’an, and Muslims attribute absolute authority to the Qur’an, despite our appeals to Scripture2 and our explanations of the doctrine, it is extremely difficult to persuade Muslims that Christianity is unwaveringly and unqualifiedly monotheistic.

Islamic Theology – Nature of Jesus Christ
Regarding Jesus’ death on a cross, Muslims find repugnant the idea that God would allow one of His holy prophets to die such an ignominious death. Yet both the Bible (e.g., 2 Chronicles 36:16; Matthew 5:12; 23:31; Acts 7:52) and the Qur’an (4:155) testify that the prophets often faced persecution and terrible deaths. In addition, the Bible presents the crucifixion not as an illustration of the weakness of God or Christ, but rather as an expression of His power (1 Corinthians 1:18). Indeed, it was Jesus’ desire to lay down His life (John 10:14–18) in fulfillment of God’s promises (Matthew 26:53–54; Isaiah 53). Without this submission of His will, no one could have killed Him (Matthew 26:54; John 10:18). Jesus’ resurrection from the dead illustrates that He is the Son of God (Romans 1:4) and has power over death (1 Corinthians 15:23–26).

One of the most profound Islamic claims is that Islam fulfills Christianity as Christianity fulfills Old Testament religion. This can be seen in the Muslim view that all the prophets taught Islam, each in succession, with Muhammad being the final and ultimate prophet. Yet if one religion is to fulfill another, there must be significant continuity between the two. In other words, essential elements of the first must not be denied by the second; there must be continuity of essence, though not necessarily of form. It is here that the Islamic claim to have fulfilled Christianity faces the greatest difficulties.

We already noted some commonalities between Islam, Christianity, and Old Testament Judaism—that there is only one God; that He created the universe; that He is sovereign, that He is our judge; that He is maximally powerful; that He interacts with His creation; that He has spoken to humanity through messengers; and that He inscripturated His message in holy books.

Even with such substantial agreements, several distinct differences exist. Here we will address only the issue of revelation, as the infallibility and authority of Scripture are foundational to Christianity.

Islamic Theology – The Old and New Testaments
Muslims hold that the biblical prophets of the Old and New Testaments originally taught Islam, though Muslims are forced to deny the reliability of the Old and New Testament scriptures as they stand today for the simple reason that the Bible does not teach Islam. Yet, they have never successfully shown that the Bible is corrupted.

In contrast to Muslim criticism, the New Testament affirms the entire Old Testament as inspired by God, even providing wisdom for salvation through Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14–17). The Old Testament prophets are acknowledged to have been inspired (1 Peter 1:21; cf. 2 Samuel 23:2). Furthermore, both the Old and New Testaments contain divine declarations that God’s Word will not pass away (Isaiah 40:6–8; 1 Peter 1:24–25). Jesus confirmed the truthfulness of the Old Testament in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7, especially 5:17–18) and elsewhere (Luke 16:31; 24:27; John 10:35; 17:17).3 This is significant because we have portions of Old Testament texts, dating to and before the first century ad, which illustrate that the texts we have are substantially the same as those Jesus and Paul had. Thus Muslims cannot prove that the Old Testament was corrupted and cleansed of Islamic teachings sometime after Jesus’ death.4 We are compelled to ask our Muslims acquaintances, “If God can sustain the Qur’an throughout the ages, can He not sustain the biblical texts?” The evidence shows that He has preserved His Word.5

In addition to these straightforward statements regarding the Word of God, throughout the New Testament we find regular appeals to the Old Testament as the source and confirmation of Christianity. For example, consider some of the numerous affirmations and teachings of the apostle Paul in the book of Romans.6

Paul both introduces and concludes his letter to the Romans by noting how the gospel he proclaims stems from the Old Testament (1:1–2; 16:25–27; see Galatians 3:6–8). Paul also noted that the law and the prophets testified to the heart of the gospel—the righteousness of God (3:21). He taught that his ministry and message of Christ confirmed God’s promises to the Patriarchs: “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy” (15:8–9a).

Even though some of his contemporaries charged Paul with being unlawful (Romans 3:8; see 6:1, 15), he denied their accusations: “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (3:31). He even viewed himself and his congregations as accountable to the Old Testament scriptures, noting that they have a continuing validity for the Church as the people of God. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (15:4; cf. 4:23–24 and 1 Corinthians 10:1ff). Paul’s dependence upon the Old Testament is amply verified by the many explicit quotations he culled from the law, the writings, and the prophets (3:10–18; 10:5–21; 15:8–12), as well as his innumerable allusions to the Old Testament.7

Notes:

Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 We recommend the works of Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: General and Historical Objections (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2000); Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000); and idem, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003).

2 E.g. Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; Isaiah 44:6–8; 43:10–11; 1 Corinthians 8:5–6; Ephesians 4:4–6.

3 See John W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984).

4 See Walter Kaiser, Are the Old Testament Documents Reliable and Relevant? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).

5 See Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, rev. ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986).

6 Some critics, including Muslims, assert that the teachings of the apostle Paul are different than the teachings of Jesus. In response, see David Wenham, Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), David Wenham, Paul and Jesus: The True Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002).

7 Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 630–642; Ben Witherington, Paul’s Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph (Nashville, TN: Westminster/John Knox, 1994); and the relevant discussions in Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New, Gregory K. Beale, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996).

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