Sunday, 20 May 2018

Answering Sami Zaatari on the Pharisaic Accusation that Christ Claimed Deity

Were the Pharisees correct to infer from Jesus’ bold statements that he was claiming to be God? According to sound exegesis of the 1st century texts, yes. According to a Muslim apologist whose 7th century Arabian tradition does not allow for Christ’s deity, no. In his article, The Jewish Accusations, Sami Zaatari argues one should not appeal to New Testament texts where the Pharisees charge Jesus with claiming to be God as an argument for Christ’s deity. Zaatari briefly looked at John 10:29-33, but should have also included John 5:16-18 since there the Pharisees charge Jesus with making himself God as well.
Were the Pharisees too Incompetent and Deceptive to know what Jesus was Saying?
Instead of offering a deep a meaningful discussion on such texts in order to ascertain whether or not the context dictates the Pharisees were inferring correctly based on Christ’s words and deeds, Zaatari’s approach is to argue that since Jesus elsewhere calls the Pharisees liars, hypocrites, sons of the devil, murderers, those who do not follow God’s commands, and those who follow extra-biblical traditions instead of the Word of God (Mk 7:5-9; Jn 8:44), it therefore follows the Pharisees were unreliable and thus definitely incorrect in their assessment that Jesus was claiming deity. Zaatari asserts,
“Well as in any other case, whenever a witness makes a claim, the first thing you do is check if the witness is even competent enough to be trusted. So are these certain Jews even to be trusted in the first place? ... according to Jesus his accusers are hypocrites, they do not follow their Torah, rather they throw it away, and use their own man made traditions. So it is quite clear that these accusers are not competent enough to be trusted, nor is their speech to be taken as evidence”
Thus, this criticism needs to be addressed since there are biblical and logical problems with it. Then afterwards we will refute Zaatari’s sloppy handling of John 10:29-33 and also explain John 5:17-18.
Although Jesus correctly identifies the Pharisees as deceptive hypocrites who set aside God’s Word based on their conduct and discussions with Him, did that mean for Jesus that it was impossible for them to get anything right or to infer anything correctly in regard to Jesus’ words and deeds or connected theological issues? According to the same 1st century material the answer must be given in the negative.
Jesus granted their general ability to explain and apply the Law of Moses correctly in Matthew 23:2-3 when he says “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat (v. 2).” This is significant since Christ is speaking in light of the fact that “synagogues had a stone seat at the front where the authoritative teacher, usually a grammateus (‘teacher of the law’), sat.”(1) Jesus then told the people to “observe whatever they [Scribes and Pharisees] tell you (v. 3)” which presupposes their general ability to correctly teach the Law. Thus, according to Christ they were not always incorrect about everything theologically related, though it was said they did not practice what they preached (v. 3b). This refutes Zaatari since, with regard to the Pharisees’ charge that Jesus claimed deity, he asks, “And these are the people whom the Christians want us to believe?! I don't think so” as though the position of Christ comports with Zaatari’s refusal to admit they could be right about certain things.
On this same note, it should be made clear that although Jesus castigates the Scribes and Pharisees as liars in certain texts etc., he was not hesitant to say when they got something right. For example, in Mark 12:30-34 Jesus explains the two most important commands: loving God and loving your neighbour (vv. 30-31). Then v. 32 says “And the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher.” This demonstrates the Scribe was able to understand Jesus correctly and know his theological statements were true. Yet, Zaatari argues as though these people were completely untrustworthy as theological witnesses and could not have gotten anything right insofar as interpreting Jesus’ statements and deeds is concerned. Thus Zaatari claims, “it is quite clear that these accusers are not competent enough to be trusted.” However, v. 32 clearly shows this Scribe was competent enough to realize Jesus’ teaching was correct. This is why v. 34 says “when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” Not only was this Scribe not incompetent, he actually answered wisely or intelligently (NASB) according to Christ.
Moreover, although Nicodemus the Pharisee was not able to understand everything Jesus said to him in John 3:1-15, he did on the other hand correctly understand Jesus’ teachings to prove He was in union with God the Father and not working of his own accord: “This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him’” (John 3:2). Notice, Nicodemus said “we know” demonstrating other Pharisees were also able to infer correctly concerning Christ’s teachings that He was in union with God the Father and not a renegade false teacher, though many assumed the opposite.
Therefore, according to the same New Testament material Zaatari appealed to which shows the Pharisees and Scribes were inclined to lie and engage in error, we see it was in fact possible for them to infer correctly from Jesus’ statements and interpret him in a valid sense at times. Hence, Zaatari is not justified in arguing they could not have been correct in their observations as to what Jesus’ teachings about himself proved in regard to who exactly He was claiming to be in John 10:26-36.
Logical Problems with Zaatari’s Argument
Now, with respect to the logical problem with Zaatari’s approach, it needs to be stressed that just because someone is prone to lie or be inclined to error, that does not mean they can not be right about anything. It does not mean everything they say should be automatically discounted. Their claims should be judged based on evidence. It is the logical fallacy of the inappropriate generalization to argue that just because the Pharisees were prone to lie, therefore their statements about Jesus and their understandings of his words and deeds must all be wrong. That is an illogical position to take. I personally view Zaatari and his Muslim colleagues as liars but that does not mean I would say everything they say is wrong. If, by chance, Zaatari said something on doctrine or morals which comported with biblical revelation, then he would be right; though he is in error regularly and has repeatedly been exposed to deliberately lie in his attempts to discredit the Bible, as one can easily see from our many rebuttals to his argumentshere.
We demonstrated that according to Jesus and the New Testament witness, the Pharisees and Scribes were able to correctly infer things at times and were not completely incompetent. So now the decisive factor in determining the truth of this issue is whether or not exegesis of the relevant texts validates their charge that Jesus was claiming to be God, or if proper exegesis refutes their charge and shows they were wrong.
Exegesis of John 5:16-18; 10:26-36 Proves the Pharisees’ Correctness on this Matter
John 10:26-36
In his essay Zaatari only quoted and interacted with John 10:29-36. However, to really understand the text one must not start at v. 29, but must examine vv. 26-36:
26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30I and the Father are one.” 31The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.32Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:26-36).
The first question is: Were the Pharisees correctly interpreting what Jesus said in vv. 26-30 which immediately led them to pick up stones in v. 31 and say Jesus was making Himself God in v. 33? If in vv. 26-30 Jesus said something indicating He was God, that means the Pharisees were right to say he was claiming deity in v. 33. Close examination of those verses shows Jesus was applying Old Testament texts about YHWH to Himself demonstrating He is the God of the Old Testament. Thus, in this case the Pharisees were correct in their assessment.
Themes in vv. 26-29 such as Jesus having sheep, sheep hearing Jesus’ voice, sheep following Christ, Jesus giving His sheep life, and no one snatching the sheep out of Jesus’ hand are lifted directly from Old Testament texts concerning YHWH and His sheep. Hence, Jesus was showing He is the God of the Old Testament. Such Old Testament texts include:
“5The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 6Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! 7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, 8do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness” (Psalm 95:5-8).
“‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).
2There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.6The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Samuel 2:2, 6)
13Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” 14Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “For your sake I send to Babylon and bring them all down as fugitives, even the Chaldeans, in the ships in which they rejoice” (Isaiah 43:13).
Hence, in vv. 31, 33 the Pharisees correctly realized Jesus was applying these Old Testament texts about YHWH to himself and rightfully stated He was making Himself God by doing so. Jesus adds to this Old Testament application by then declaring that He is one with the Father (v. 30). D. A. Carson’s comments are noteworthy:
“If ... Jesus’ will is exhaustively one with his Father’s will, some kind of metaphysical unity is presupposed, even if not articulated. Though the focus is on the common commitment of Father and Son to display protective power toward what they commonly own (17:10), John’s development of Christology to this point demands that some more essential unity be presupposed, quite in line with the first verse of the Gospel. Even from a structural point of view, this verse constitutes a ‘shattering statement’ (Lindards, BFG, p. 52), the climax to this part of the chapter, every bit as much as ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ forms a climax to ch. 8. The Jews had asked for a plain statement that would clarify whether or not he was the Messiah. He gave them far more, and the response was the same as in 5:18; 8:59.”(2)
Thus, according to the overall context and structural considerations, Jesus was claiming deity when saying He was one with the Father.
Now, the second question is: Is Zaatari correct in his assessment of vv. 33-36 that “Jesus does not accept their accusation [of claiming deity], rather he rejects their accusation”? He presents two arguments here. The first is Jesus allegedly corrects the Pharisees by identifying Himself as the Son of God in v. 36 which Zaatari claims “does not make you God, rather it made you a servant of God.” Hence, Zaatari posits Jesus denied their charge of claiming to be God and declared Himself a servant of God instead. Second, Zaatari argues Jesus’ quotation of Psalms 82:6 (“I said, you are gods”) shows Jesus rejected He was God Almighty.
However, he is reading things into the text when he asserts Jesus’ use of the title Son of God in v. 36 is a corrective to their accusation that He was claiming to be God. He also errs when claiming Jesus’ use of Psalms 82:6 somehow shows He did not believe He was YHWH. The actual meaning of this text leaves no room for Zaatari’s opinions as we will see.
Jesus’ point in vv. 34-36 is that if these Jews are going to fault Him for claiming to be the Son of God (as they did in 5:17-19 already), claiming to be one with the Father, and applying Old Testament YHWH texts to Himself, then they are inconsistent. Why? Because if it is blasphemous for Jesus to teach His divine sonship involving metaphysical unity with the Father, when Jesus was actually “consecrated and sent into the world” (presupposing pre-existence and unique unity with the Father), then surely these Jews are guilty of hypocrisy by this logic. For, men in Psalms 82:6 are called “gods” and “sons of the Most High” when they are neither metaphysically one with God the Father (deity), nor consecrated and sent into the world by the Father (pre-existent). Hence, Jesus was mocking them and their futile conclusion that He was a blasphemer when really He came from heaven and had the Father’s support. They, on the other hand, were hypocritical since they had no problem identifying mere mortal Israelite judges aselohim and sons of the Most High.
Far from denying deity, Jesus was simply showing their double standards and demonstrating how ignorant their charge of blasphemy really was. As noted, Jesus in v. 36 affirmed His pre-existence (by saying the Father set Him apart and sent Him into the world) and unique sonship (a divine Old Testament office different from your average “sons of God;” see Prov. 30:3-4; Isa. 9:6 cf. John 5:18); never rejecting their correct inference in v. 33 that He was making Himself God. Therefore, Zaatari is way off base when he claims, “he rejects their accusation.” There is nothing indicating that at all once the context is understood. That has to be read in. This is clear and so Merrill C. Tenney stated,
“Had Jesus not meant to convey a claim to deity, he undoubtedly would have protested the action of these Jews by declaring they had misunderstood him. On the contrary, Jesus introduced an a fortiori argument from the Psalms to strengthen his statement. Psalms 82:6 represents God as addressing a group of beings whom he calls ‘gods’ (Heb.Elohim) and ‘sons of the Most High.’ If, then, these terms could be applied to ordinary mortals or even angels, how could Jesus be accused of blasphemy when he applied them to himself whom the Father set apart and sent into the world on a special mission?”(3).
Confirming our point is A. W. Pink who noted:
“The meaning and force of our Lord’s argument is obvious. If, in a book which you admit to be of Divine authority, and all whose expressions are perfectly faultless, men which have received a Divine communication to administer justice to the people of God are called ‘gods’ and sons of the Highest; is it not absurd to bring against One who has a higher commission than they (One who had been sanctified and sent by the Father), and who presented far more evidence of His commission, a charge of blasphemy, because he calls Himself ‘the Son of God’?”(4).
Jesus was not saying that His title “Son of God” was on the same level as those in Psalms 82:6, he was simply showing that since they had a similar title they should likewise be condemned according to the faulty logic employed by the Pharisees. For more information on the uniqueness of Jesus’ title and position as Son of God see here.
Now, Zaatari’s concluding claim is that the Pharisees lied about Jesus asserting deity so that they could have Him executed. However, we refuted that by explaining Jesus never denied they were correct to infer He was claiming deity in John 10:26-36. He in fact affirms His deity very strongly in the context by applying Old Testament texts about YHWH directly to Himself and then affirming His oneness with the Father in a climactic way in v. 30, as well as His pre-existent sonship in v. 36.
Also, after applying those Old Testament texts to Himself and claiming to be one with the Father in vv. 26-30, the Pharisees immediately picked up stones in v. 31. This fits with our view which says they were genuinely offended and convinced He was blaspheming and claiming deity. This does not fit with Zaatari’s idea that “they began to create lies against Jesus, so they could use these lies as an excuse to murder him.” Their speedy grabbing of stones after Jesus’ bold claims is not the same thing as “creating lies against Jesus.” Again, their quick reaction shows they were not using lies as an excuse to Murder Him here, but were actually persuaded that He wasequating Himself with God, and they wanted to murder Him because of it.
John 5:16-18
Moreover, it is not the desire of John to convey the idea that the Jews were incorrect to think Jesus was claiming deity. We know this is the case because of John 5:16-18 which has a similar charge from the Jews. Zaatari failed to interact with this important text in his essay:
16And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’ 18This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:16-18).
Notice when v. 18 says “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” that this is John’s commentary on the situation. Why then did the Jews want to kill Jesus according to John? Was it not because they genuinely and correctly thought he was making Himself equal with God? John himself is affirming Jesus was, as a matter of fact, making Himself equal to God by identifying Himself as God’s Son; and that this is the reason the Jews wanted to kill him. He does not say they incorrectly or deceptively said he was making Himself equal with God as to get Jesus executed based on lies. So why would John in other places then switch his position and say the Pharisees lied by claiming Jesus was making Himself God, as Zaatari posits?
John affirms they were correct in their claim that He was asserting deity. This is because the Jewish persecution of Jesus for working on the Sabbath like His Father is recognition of the fact that Jesus was claiming to be on the level of God who alone sustains creation on the Sabbath (i.e., works on the Sabbath). As Andreas J. Köstenberger remarks,
“The consensus among Jewish rabbis was that God does indeed work constantly, but that this does not amount to him breaking the Sabbath. Since the entire universe is his domain, he cannot be charged with transporting an object from one domain to another; and God lifts nothing to a height greater than himself”(5).
By saying both He and the Father can work on the Sabbath, He was asserting that He is on the level with the One who constantly works due to upholding the universe. Christ’s deity was clearly affirmed and recognized by the Jews and John in regard to this point.
But, again, the question for Zaatari is: If John, as he argues, wished to convey the idea that the Jews were lying about Jesus claiming to be God so as to have him executed based on something they made up, why does this same author say, as a matter of fact, that the Jews wanted to kill Jesus because he really was making Himself equal with God (v. 18)? The reality is the Jews actually did believe Jesus was blaspheming and hence that is one of the reasons they wanted to have him executed. It is not the author’s intention for people to come away with the false opinion that the Pharisees deceptively and incorrectly charged Jesus with claiming to be God. Thus, Zaatari needs to rethink his specious argument.

Christ has risen, He is Lord!

1.) D. A. Carson, Matthew, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, vol. 8, [Zondervan, 1984],  p. 471-472
2.) D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, [Wm B. Eerdmans, 1991], p. 395
3.) Merrill C. Tenney, John, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, [Zondervan, 1981], p. 113
4.) Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John: Three Volumes Complete and Unabridged in One, [Zondervan, 1975], pp. 556-557
5.) Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 2004], p. 185


Christ’s Deity in Light of not Knowing the Day & Hour of His Return

By Keith Thompson

A very common text Muslims and other non-Trinitarian groups distort in order to attempt to undermine the deity of Jesus is Matthew 24:36:
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only (Matthew 24:36 cf. Mark 13:32).
The argument is that Christ is a mere human/prophet because not knowing something is an immediate disqualification of deity, allegedly. For, they argue, it is impossible for God to not know something. However, there are at least five points which call this common approach into question. 
First, it is vital to note that contra the Islamic teaching on Jesus being a mere human/prophet, He is actually being exalted above all men (“no one”) and angelic beings (“not even the angels”) in this text. The necessary deduction due to Christ chronologically coming after these two classes of beings is that Christ is above them ontologically. Just like angels are ontologically greater than humans presently, Christ is ontologically greater and more exalted than both angels and humans. Hence, this verse actually demonstrates Christ’s deity when examined closely. He is not presented as some prophet equal to other prophets and humans (S. 5:75), which is the Islamic picture.
Second, His identification of himself as “the Son” in the context of differentiating Himself from humanity and the angels 1) refutes Islam’s denial of Jesus’ sonship and the Father’s fatherhood; and 2) shows His unique divine relationship with the Father. That is, Jesus stresses His Son-ship while contrasting himself with all creation then and so affirms that His Son-ship is utterly unique and reflective of His divine superiority to all creation. Thus, in light of that context, it will not work to say Jesus is a Son just like other creatures are God’s sons in the Bible (a common Islamic assertion). Jesus shows that His Son-ship transcends those kinds of identifications and separates Him from all creation.
Third, according to the standards of the biblical writers, Jesus not knowing the final day and hour no more disqualifies Him from deity than Revelation 19:12’s mention of only Jesus knowing the name written on Him disqualifies the deity of the Father and Holy Spirit. It says, “His [Jesus’] eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written on him that no one knows but himself” (Revelation 19:12). Those of the 7th century Arabian tradition must, if they want to understand the biblical material, make it their task to understand the thought of the 1st century Jewish tradition.
Fourth, Zechariah 14:1-7 shows Jesus did know, in His full divine consciousness, the final day, though temporarily relinquishing this knowledge in his waking human consciousness during his first advent:
Behold, a day is coming for the Lord when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you. 2For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. 3Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. 4In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. 5You will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him! 6In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. 7For it will be a unique day which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light (Zechariah 14:1-7).
In this text the day of the Lord is referenced (the second coming of Christ). We are told YHWH will stand on the Mount of Olives and split it upon His advent (v. 4), and that this Lord’s day is known to YHWH (v. 7). However, Acts 1:11-12 proves that it is Jesus who will come on the Lord’s Day and stand on the Mount of Olives:
11They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’ 12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away (Acts 1:11-12).
Since Jesus is the LORD mentioned in Zechariah 14:4 who stands on the Mount of Olives on the Lord’s Day as Acts 1:11-12 establishes, He is by implication likewise the LORD who knows the unique day in v. 7. Thus, Christ does know the day of His return in His full divine consciousness, contra the false understanding of the Muslims who misuse Matthew 24:36.
Fifth, Matthew’s witness to the omniscience of Christ renders the Muslim handling of 24:36 specious as well. One could raise examples such as Jesus knowing the thoughts of men (Matthew 9:4; 12:25) and knowing who was unrepentant in regards to entire villages (Matthew 11:21-23).
In conclusion, we see once again that although an objection against Christ’s deity can on the surface appear to undermine the Trinitarian position, once careful consideration is given to the totality of Scripture the problem dissolves. Christ, in his waking human consciousness chose not to exercise His omniscience on this issue, just as he chose not to exercise His omnipotence at times. But in his full divine consciousness the day was known to Him. As New Testament scholar Robert Gundry notes:
Theologically, we may say that just as Jesus did not exercise his omnipotence except to further the kingdom (cf. his refusal to make stones into bread), so he did not exercise his omniscience except to further the kingdom. To have known and made known the exact time of his coming would have damaged the work of the kingdom by encouraging carelessness during the interim. What Jesus could have done because he was divine did not predetermine what he did do as also a man. The incarnation did not destroy divine potencies, but it did limit actualities (Robert Horton Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994], p. 492).

Further discussion on this Bible passage is found in these articles:

Numbers 33:55-56 > Jeremiah 1:17 > Jonah > Acts 1:8

During the last 10 days of September radical Muslims killed 250 people and injured 350 in three seemingly 'unrelated' attacks in Kenya, Pakistan and Nigeria. During the same week, it so 'happened' world leaders attended a Global Counter-Terrorism Forum – the fourth such high level forum in the last few years. Reflecting on these horrific events, Raymond Ibrahim, a leading researcher of persecution, connected the dots in a brilliant article, Nigeria: Where Jihad and Christian Persecution Run Rampant.
One week after these events the cover story of the Spectator highlighted anti-Christian persecution. Although this magazine is secular, it declared, “one doesn't need to be a Christian to see the defence of persecuted Christians as a towering priority.”
Six months earlier, three seasoned scholars published Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians affirming that, indeed, Christians are the single most persecuted group worldwide. Not only so, the writers say persecution is happening in Muslim majority nations on a scale that is “widespread, intense, and, ominously increasing."
What should we do?
First of all, we ought to pray and offer support to our suffering Christian brothers and sisters. There is, however, another question that weighs on my mind, “Is God trying to get our attention? Are these increasing terror attacks a wake up call?” I started glimpsing this a couple years ago and subsequent events have confirmed it. Please be patient as I connect the dots between the 5 passages in the title.
Connecting the dots
If you carefully read each passage you'll see what happens when God's people fail to obey him (fully). Obviously, in Jonah's case, it optimistic to say that he obeyed, even partially. At any rate, the main point is: Each story contains a warning (explicitly or implicitly) that there are dire consequences if we disobey.
In Numbers 33, Moses warned the Israelites, "But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides."
The dire consequence in Jeremiah chapter one involves terror. Look at verses 7,17 , "Do not be afraid of them... Do not be terrified by them or I will terrify you before them."
As for Jonah, the ship in which he stowed away was struck by a terrible storm. His disobedience brought him deep trouble, but it also imperilled the sailors who were with him! The storm was so severe that they were "terrified".
What about Acts 1:8 where Christ commanded us to take the Good News to the whole world? Does it mention any threat of dire consequence if his followers disobey? Not exactly, but if we look carefully, we see this principle is implicit as the story unfolds. For example, speaking of his responsibility to take the Gospel to the whole world, Paul said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:16) We see another hint of this in Acts 20:26-27, where Paul says, "I am innocent of the blood of all men for I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God." (compare Ezekiel chapter 3)
Furthermore, we gain another glimpse of a painful consequence in Acts 8:1 where we read, "a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem." Look at the wider context and you'll see that up to this point, the church had not taken the Gospel to Judea and Samaria – they had not fully obeyed the Lord. Interestingly, this persecution resulted in the Gospel being spread into the very two regions where Christ commanded them to go! It makes sense, therefore, to see this dire consequence – at least in part – as a disciplinary or corrective measure.*
Let us conclude with a thought provoking question, “Is the church, perhaps, experiencing "barbs" and "thorns" like the Israelites of long ago?” It is easy for us to criticize the Israelites for failing to fully obey the Lord. But what about ourselves? Will we humbly admit we've not shared the Good News as we ought, especially to the 1.6 billion Muslims -- the largest group of unreached people in our world?
This last year I have written several articles dealing (in one way or other) with terrorism and persecution. Most of them are written with Muslim readers in mind. They serve as appetizers or door openers to explore the Good News. And by God's grace, many people are reading them.
If you want to discuss this further or share a similar experience you may have had I'd love to here from you. You can email me here.
All Bible quotes are taken from the New International Version.

Endnote: Persecution & Divine Providence
* Isn't it amazing how God is able to work all things out for the good of his children? (Romans 8:28-29) This is illustrated in Acts 1:8 and 8:1 where God “great persecution” was a vital step in working out his good purpose, i.e. spreading the Gospel to Judea and Samaria. In modern times, we can also see a phenomenal spiritual harvest in spite of worsening persecution!
Dr David Garrison, reports in book, A Wind in the House of Islam, “Today, in more than 60 separate locations in at least 17 of the 49 countries where Islam holds sway, new communities of Muslim-background followers of Christ are emerging ... Each of these movements has seen at least 1,000 baptized believers and at least 100 new worshipping fellowships, all of whom have come to Christ over the past two decades. In some countries, the communities have grown to number tens of thousands of new Muslim-background followers of Christ."
Another article on persecution you may want to look at is entitled, Persecution: A Sign of the Times.



Wounds from a sincere friend are better ...

Let me tell you an amazing story about a friend, Ahmed, who is a devout Muslim. After 9 months of friendship a situation prompted me to step out of my comfort zone and show him 'tough love.' I gave him a loving reproof which was not easy to do. I felt prompted to do this because he confided in me a heartache involving a niece for whom he cared deeply. It so happened, a couple years earlier, he had been instrumental in arranging her marriage to a Muslim and now he was beating her. To make a long story short, she divorced him.
I prayed and struggled over whether to speak frankly knowing this would involve pointing a critical finger at Muhammad. I knew that Muslims hold Muhammad in highest esteem, believing him to be the most exemplary human who ever lived. They are very sensitive about him, as is evident from the worldwide outrage evoked by the Muhammad cartoons.
Eventually I plucked up courage and said, “It seems to me that Muhammad's teaching, as found in the Qur'an, gives Muslim husbands reason to excuse this kind of behaviour.” I pointed to a Qur'anic statement that endorses beating one's wife. (Surah 4:34) But nowhere did Jesus ever say anything remotely similar in the Injil, or elsewhere in the Bible.
I went on to recount two similar incidents in the life of Muhammad and Jesus, one involving a blind man and the other an adulteress. Both stories further exonerated (upheld) Christ as morally perfect, whereas, Muhammad fell short to put it mildly.*
How did Ahmed respond? To my amazement, the confrontation strengthened our friendship! As Solomon said, “Rebuke a wise man and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8, NIV)
Not only so, a week later, when I visited Ahmed he welcomed my suggestion to show the Jesus movie to his family! Several weeks after this, Ahmed and his family enjoyed a meal in my home. Once again, God's Word was vindicated, “Wisdom is shown to be right by her actions.”(Matthew 11:19)
If you want to read more details of this remarkable confrontation simply ask me and I will email you. You may also like to read my article, The Cornerstone: Muhammad or Jesus? which examines how Muhammad and Jesus both claimed to be the only cornerstone. Notice my aim is not to attack Muhammad or provoke Muslims, but simply to see who measures up and merits this title.
Some Christians may ask, “What exactly am I hoping to accomplish by telling this story?” Let me make it perfectly clear: my purpose is not to encourage Christians to go around hunting for opportunities to rebuke and refute Muslims (tactlessly). There is a place for refuting and reproving, but let's be sure we speak the truth in love.
Spur one another to love and good deeds
My experience of showing tough love to Ahmed calls to mind Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”
I trust that Christians reading Ahmed's story will be spurred to go out of their comfort zone. For some this means overcoming timidity and actively befriending Muslims, perhaps in small ways, like giving a smile and warm greeting. (Matthew 5:46-47) Others will be challenged to show love by sharing a reason for our hope, as it is written, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble.” (Psalm 107:2, ESV) 
Not only so, we all need to realize there is a place for a loving rebuke. In fact, we can actually be unloving if we withhold correction!
In closing, let me say that telling the truth – even gently – may require us to say something that hurts or wounds our friend. Two classic illustrations from Scripture are John 4:18, 22 and Acts 17. Notice that Paul's sermon didn't just use commonalities as a way of bridging to his audience, he also refuted their idolatry. In a similar way, Jesus not only showed a gracious attitude to the Samaritan woman by affirming certain commonalities, he also told her unpleasant truths, which in effect, wounded her feelings. It is important for us to empathize with her sense of ethnocentric, religious pride. We ought to ask, “How would this woman have felt when Jesus said, 'You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.'”? (NIV) We should also bear in mind that a few moments earlier Jesus had exposed the Samaritan woman's moral bankruptcy, albeit with gentleness. (cf. 2 Timothy 2:24-26)
If you have questions or comments please feel free to email me here
All Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.

Jesus gave personal attention to a blind man, when others were trying to push him aside. (Mark 10:46-52) Muhammad spurned a blind man who approached him while he was talking with leaders of the community. (Surah 80:1-4)
The second incident compares how Jesus and Muhammad dealt with an adulteress. Muhammad had her stoned to death but Jesus showed grace and forbearance, saying "Go and sin no more." (see Sahih Muslim Book 17, Number 4206, compare with John 8:1-11)

Not many days after my remarkable 'confrontation' with Ahmed, a Christian friend, who we'll call Andy, had a similar experience involving boldly correcting a Muslim. This encounter happened in the transit lounge of the Dubai airport where he was sitting next to an Arab (Osman) and struck up a conversation. After a few minutes talking about various things, such as careers etc, Osman shared how he works as a consulting engineer to oil companies. Andy said he was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Osman commented that Islam is the best religion, although he admitted he wasn't a good practising Muslim. He believed that all Muslims are going to paradise and that the Bible has been recopied, changed etc, etc.
Would Andy allow this lost man to continue under this cloud of deception? Would he pluck up the courage to bring the light of God's Word, even if it meant correcting him and refuting his erroneous beliefs?
Many Christians in this situation would hesitate because they've not established a sufficiently strong relationship or they've not won the right to be heard. But for Andy this was a one shot opportunity to impact a man who he might never see again!
Prompted by the Spirit, Andy boldly refuted Osman point by point, especially driving home the fact that not even Muhammad knew whether he or his followers would make it to paradise. (Surah 46:8-9) This was in stark contrast to the claims and teachings of Jesus Christ who knew he was going to paradise and promised his followers the same. (Luke 23:43)
It was soon evident that Osman was out if his depth. Andy challenged Osman on many other things too! ...
Much to Andy's surprise, Osman warmed to him, reaching out and embracing him like a long lost brother – not once but twice. He said, "I've never met someone like you before. You are telling me things that nobody has told me before. I never talk to strangers at airports but something made me talk to you." I told him it was no coincidence but a divine appointment and he agreed.
Osman said he would love to continue the discussion and encouraged Andy to visit him in Spain where he lives with his family. In his excitement Osman even offered to pay for Andy's flights. Andy has since emailed Osman and is praying for more opportunities to explain God's Word.


Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? (Part 5) By Silas

We asked and investigated the question, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” and to answer the question accurately these points were established:
1.      defined “same” as being identical, not merely similar
2.      identified the faiths’ Scriptures as the primary sources of data
3.      examined those Scriptures and compared & contrasted the Gods’ characteristics in three different topics or categories:

   1) Their commands and plans for Their followers
   2) Their statements regarding Jesus as the Son of God
   3) Their relationships with Their followers

In all three we found either opposite or significantly different results.
Based upon the Scriptural data and the historical evidence the only logical and consistent answer that can be given is that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.  These Gods have acted and spoken in contradiction.  It is these opposites, in command, in statement, and in nature that are grounds for rejecting the proposal that we worship the same God.  They are not one and the same Person or Divinity.   “A” cannot be “non-A.”  Islam’s Allah is not the same as Christianity’s Allah.  They are not the same God!
Muslims may believe that they worship the same God.  However the Quran’s description of Allah’s attributes and characteristics are distinct and different from the Bible’s description of God.  While both refer to a One All-Powerful Creator-God their portrayals and characterizations of that God contradict each other.

Recently I’ve talked with a good friend who has a theological degree about the respect his degree commands.  He is very involved in philosophical and theological discussions with agnostics and atheists and his work has yielded fruit!  However, he’s told me that many of the people he encounters, religious or secular, discount the value of a theological degree.  They view it as of little benefit, “why are you wasting your time and money on that?”  Yet he feels that theology is one of the most powerful domains today because it deals with morality and philosophy of life and affects the lives of some 7 billion people.  Yet today’s theologians, like Rodney Dangerfield, “get no respect!”
I was unaware and surprised by those dismissive perspectives.  I was puzzled:  “Why are theologians dismissed so readily today?”  In times past theologians affected man and culture powerfully.  Today, outside of religious circles, a degree in theology is seen as useful as a degree in sociology.  I can hear the Simpson’s character Nelson mocking and laughing at them:  “Ha ha!”
This question, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God” has been addressed by various Christian theologians.  You’ll find a wide variety of articles on the web.  Some answered with a simple and firm “yes” or “no” answer.  On the other hand some Christian theologians argue that a simple “yes” or “no” answer cannot be given, while even others have answered both “yes” and “no”!  Either they are the same God, the one and the same Divine Essence, the one and the same Divine Person, or they are not.
If three scientists were asked to determine two unidentified materials they would investigate and examine them by using various physical and chemical tests and then analyze the data.  Afterwards they would draw a conclusion.  Would you expect the scientists to say:
            “Yes, they’re the same because they both have similar physical properties.”
            “No, they’re not the same.  They have different chemical compositions of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, iron, gallium, chlorine, etc., and different strengths, melting points, luster, densities, etc.  They have similarities but are different materials.”?
Suppose a sports magazine commissioned a professional English sports writer to write an article proving that American football and English football are, or are not, the same.  What type of an article would be expected in terms of comparison, contrast, examination, and evaluation?  Wouldn’t the sports magazine and its readers expect to read an accurate and detailed answer that compared facets of both games and drew a firm conclusion?  What would the reaction be if after a few generalized paragraphs he wrote, “Sure, they’ve both sports and both are called Football, both played on a big field, and both use a large ball, so they must be the same.”

Two books written recently address the question if Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God:
1.  Do we Worship the Same God? which features a selection of previously published articles that affirm we worship the same God.  It is edited by Miroslav Volf.
2.  Do Jews, Christians, & Muslims Worship the Same God? with articles written by theologians Neusner, Levine, Chilton, and Cornell, and an epilogue written by Marty Martin.  (I’ll refer to this book as “Neusner’s book”).
Additionally, a third book by James White which briefly discusses whether or not we worship the same God bears mention:
3.  What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an touches on this subject.

The first two books contain articles written by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim perspectives.  They are not asking if both faiths worship God rather they are asking if they worship the “same” God.  My focus is on the Christian-themed responses and it’s important to know their reasoning and arguments for confirming we do worship the same God.  They should be considered, examined, and critiqued.  It is defining and dealing with “same” that theologians struggle and stumble.
Volf is previously on record as believing and proclaiming that we worship the same God and no doubt he chose articles that support his viewpoint.  Volf’s book focuses on the question at hand but a secondary goal of his is to lay groundwork for mutual respect, discussion, and living together peaceably.  The Christian-based articles are written by Christoph Schwöbel and Amy Plantinga-Pauw.
Neusner’s book features fewer but better articles in terms of analysis and they highlight the challenges and differences between the faiths.  Theologian Bruce Chilton presents the Christian point of view.
White’s book focuses upon the errors and inconsistencies within the Quran and White covers the aspect of “same God?” because Muslims believe that God inspired the Quran and view it as Scripture.

Volf’s Book
Volf’s articles start by reviewing aspects of Christian faith and mention the theological divide between the faiths.  Subsequently the authors play a  theological “get out of jail free” card and conclude in one way or another that we do indeed worship the same God, “albeit differently”.  This get out of jail free card is used by many theologians from different faiths.  This card is actually a reflection of the “Three Blind Men and the Elephant” story.  Each theologian admits stark theological differences, but those differences, those different understandings, are due to their possessing a partial understanding of God.  The card exploits God’s unknowable vastness and allows for the overlooking of key contradictions.  It says, “Yes, there are theological contradictions but might there be some aspect of God of which we are unaware that would reconcile these apparent contradictions?”  This card trumps or overrides the contradictions.
Volf’s introduction hits the nail’s head when discussing the theological ramifications of the question:
The dispute is about the divine identity:  Do Muslims and Christians pray to two different deities so that, given that both are strict monotheists, one group prays to a false god and are therefore idolaters whereas the other prays to a true God?  (p.viii)

Volf then plays the get out of jail free card quickly:
Many Christians through the centuries, saints and undisputed great teachers, have believed that Muslims worship the same God as they do – the same God, though differently understood, of course.  (pp.viii, iv)
That argument allows for a synthesis of the Bible and the Quran.  I doubt any of those theologians would come out and state that but that is where their logic leads.  The blind man who examined the tail could also examine the tusk and say, “Yes! This is also true of the One Elephant!”  Why then couldn’t a Christian who accepts that doctrine say, “Let’s take the best parts out of the Bible and Quran and mix them to our mutual benefit?”

Christoph Schwöbel
Schwöbel begins with a review of the Catholic church’s Nostra Aetate which is defined as the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.”  He covers what the Nostra Aetate says about Hindus and Buddhists then moves on to what it says about Muslims.
Schwöbel states that through the ages Christians have said that Muslims and Christians “believe and confess One God, “albeit in different ways.”” 
With respect to Nostra Aetate he addresses the question at hand:
Does Nostra Aetate state that Christians and Muslims worship and believe in the same God?  I think one could only say that Nostra Aetate states that Christians and Muslims worship the one and only God because there is only one God who is the origin and goal of the whole of humankind.  There is thus an identity of reference, more precisely an identity of the referent (the object of the reference) in the way Christians and Muslims understand God.  (p.6)

I appreciate Schwöbel’s clarification, “identity of reference,” because he draws a distinction between worshiping and referring to a God and worshiping the same God.
Schwöbel moves to discussing perspective.  In a thoughtful argument Schwöbel addresses perspectives that could be used to discuss the question of whether or not we worship the same God.  He sets the discussion groundwork and uses the same approach I used:  “p and not-p cannot have the same truth value.”  (p.7)
From there he discusses the trinity and presents his summation of Martin Luther’s view, i.e. that Muslims “have” the same God as Christians, (because there is only one God – again this is the “identity of reference”), but are not in right standing with God and do not have a correct understand of Him.  Schwöbel then takes Luther’s statements and asserts that Luther believed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  Schwöbel then fashions the next step in his argument:
How should Christians approach the other religions if they take Luther’s view seriously – that they have the same God but that they do not know it?  If all God’s creatures have the same God, it seems impossible to limit the economy of salvation to the Christian church and leave the rest of the world to other powers.  Since the God who is revealed in his threefold divine self-giving is the God of “unutterable love” this must apply to the whole relationship of God to the world, although God can only be know where God makes Himself known. (pp.14, 15)

Schwöbel’s argument morphed into syncretism, based on a humanistic and philosophical approach to Christian theology, one that is NOT based on Christian Scripture.  He states that Christians cannot deny God is present in other religions (why not?), that our sin obscures our view or understanding of God, and draws an incredulous, non-Christian, conclusion:
Therefore Christians will expect to experience the same God in new ways also in the religions.  The only criterion they have for that is the gospel of Christ, as the way in which Christians believe God revealed himself.  The other religions are therefor for Christians neither a Godless zone, nor enemy territory.  Christians cannot see the existence of the religions as an operating accident in the history of salvation.  What the precise role of the religions is in God’s providence has remained hidden until now, but that they must have a role is clear from what Christians believe about the presence of the almighty creator to the whole of creation.  (p.14)

Schwöbel took the same “identity of reference” and turned that into same in Divinity.  The argument changed from “They worship a similar God” to “They worship the same God.”  I’m not so sure that Luther would appreciate what Schwöbel did with his argument.
Schwöbel presents various aspects of the Christian faith with a philosophical view towards perspectives, respect, dialog, and the common good.  He concludes with:
We have arrived at a curious conclusion.  From the Christian perspective it seems we have to say that Jews, Christians, and Muslims have the same God – and this statement would be underlined by Jews and Muslims from the perspective of their respective faiths.  However, they each would emphasize that the other do not worship or believe in this God in the same way, because God has been revealed to them, according to their self-understanding, in different ways – which, from each of the perspectives, create a real difference in worship and faith.  However, this difference would not seem to exclude that we live in the same world, interpreted from our different perspectives in which we have to act together for our common good.  (p.17)

Schwöbel’s construction of the Three blind men and the elephant story:  each faith has different perspectives (or revelations) of the same God and our concepts and modes of worship are different, but we worship one and the same God.  God’s vastness and our limitedness and sin allow for this One God to have revealed Himself differently to Muhammad and the Muslims.  Earlier Schwöbel stated that we needed to have a “p and not-p cannot have the same truth value” perspective in order to have a meaningful discussion.  However he either did not look deeply enough into Islam to determine if Allah were the same as God or he overlooked the p is not non-p and drew a politically correct conclusion.

Amy Plantinga-Pauw 
Pauw’s argument comes from a slightly different approach.  She is unsure of what criteria to use as a measuring stick, she does not know what grounds for judging “same” are sufficient, and throughout her article she remains in uncertainty.  She suggests that we need to “learn more” before making a judgment.  1400 years of Islamic theology should be sufficient for the task at hand.  The problem here is not one of missing data rather it is one of applying oneself to know the data.
Because she is unable to find criteria, i.e. “grounds” to base a judgment upon she uses theological beliefs common to both Christianity and Islam to affirm that we do worship the same God.  For example since both faiths believe that one God is the Creator of all, they therefore believe in and worship the same God.  She writes:
It is reasonable to argue about whether two people are praising the same movie.  In the case of God, however, I have every reason to believe that those who claim to be monotheists are worshipping the same God I am, even if their theologies diverge.  The alternative is not that they are worshiping a “different” creator of heaven and earth, but that they are idolaters, failing to worship the one God at all, worshipping instead some part of creaturely reality.  (p.39)

Pauw argues that because Muslims believe in one Creator God, then as fellow monotheists they worship the same God as the Christians.  What she is agreeing to is that both faiths have a similar understanding and identification that their God is the Creator.  Schwöbel brought out a similar point when using the Nostra Aetate and Luther’s writings.  Schwöbel differentiated between having the same “identity of reference,” and having the “same” God, Pauw does not.
On the other hand, Pauw states correctly that if the sharp theological differences allow the denial that these Gods are not the same God, then the alternative is that Muslims are “idolaters” who worship a false god.  However, she is uncertain and therefore unwilling to make that seemingly harsh judgment.  She errs on the side of what she considers to be “charitable” Christian allowance.
Similar to Schwöbel, Pauw counters those “irreducible theological differences” by playing the theological get out of jail free card:
However, the radical distinction between the one Creator and all creation posited by Jews, Christians, and Muslims paradoxically supports arguments that they worship the same God by indicating the impossibility of capturing God’s reality in our theological conceptualities. (p.40)

Pauw’s argument is another version of the Three Blind men and the Elephant:  God is too big to comprehend completely and therefore the theological differences may not necessarily mean that we worship different Gods.  Pauw is aware of the sharp theological differences but affirms we worship the same God because God is greater than our perceptions.  Her uncertainty due to God’s bigness allows her to play the theological get out of jail free card and she uses it to trump her recognition that p is not non-p.
Because God is not just “the biggest thing around,” large and irreducible differences in theological understanding do not automatically nullify the affirmation that the three traditions worship the same God.”  (p.40)
I can still appeal to creaturely finitude and divine otherness to argue that the large theological differences among us are not prima facie grounds for doubting that we worship the same God.  (p.41)

Just as Schwöbel asserts that our sin blinds us to knowing God in full, (p.14), so too Pauw argues that her uncertainty allows her to discount the contradictory statements that both Gods have stated which are recorded in their respective Scriptures.  God’s hidden presence and vastness create a theological uncertainty which allows Islam to be accepted as a legitimate faith that worships the same God that Christians worship.
Taking a deeper look at the quality of Pauw’s faith shows that her uncertainty is a significant factor.  She describes her Christianity as comprised of “seeing through a glass darkly,” (p. 40 - referencing 1 Corinthians 13:12), whereas the Apostle John’s Christianity was certain:  “… but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”  (John 20:31).  Within the Christian faith there are things which are certain and things which are not so certain.  Knowing that Jesus is the Son of God, His death and resurrection, His Divinity, are certain.  (Both Paul and John knew and were certain of that.)  Pauw is not so certain.
Opposing Pauw is Francis Schaeffer’s argument.  While we do not know God completely we can know limited and accurate details about Him.
Francis Schaeffer testified publically early in his Christian life:
"My name is Francis Schaeffer and I want to say that I know Jesus is the Son of God, and He is also my Savior."

and commenting on limited knowledge of God, Schaeffer later wrote:
It is an important principle to remember, in the contemporary interest in communication and in language study, that the biblical presentation is that though we do not have exhaustive truth, we have from the Bible what I term true truth. In this way we know true truth about God, true truth about man, and something truly about nature. Thus on the basis of the Scriptures, while we do not have exhaustive knowledge, we have true and unified knowledge.  (Francis A. Schaeffer, Escape From Reason, Ch. 2, p.21)

Like the apostle John, Schaeffer understood that God has spoken truth about Himself, mankind, and the world.  There is no uncertainty.  There is no second guessing because God has spoken clearly about Jesus being His Son.  Yet somehow, Pauw waits or allows for a future revelation, another deeper theological understanding, that will reconcile Allah’s, “Hell No! Jesus is NOT my Son!” with God’s “Hell Yes! Jesus is my beloved Son!” 
John knew Jesus, he knew His truth, and John was certain.  Francis Schaeffer knew Jesus and the truth and was certain.  Pauw believes but she does not know. 
As Pauw continues her argument she acknowledges it is weak:
It will be clear by now that the “grounds” I have provided for asserting that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God fall well short of a generally convincing argument.  I have addressed my argument to fellow Christians, insisting that our own theological convictions provide grounds for trusting the claims of Jews and Muslims to worship the “One God, maker of heaven and earth.” … I have instead tried to supply distinctively Christian grounds for resisting the domestication of the God we worship, and for trusting in a divine generosity that exceeds our own theological understanding. (p.43, 44)

She admits the differences but hopes that blind generosity accommodates Muslims.  This argument is not a Christian theological argument rather it is an irrational leap of faith.  God was not and is not generous towards idolatry.  Why should Christians compromise their faith?   
In addressing the book’s question, “Do We Worship the same God?” Pauw, like Schwöbel, do not quote a single verse from the Quran.  How do degreed theologians, writing articles that confirm that Christians worship the same God as the Muslims, fail to utilize a single Quranic verse?  How does Pauw fail to describe just one of the “sharp theological differences”?  How is a reader supposed to be convinced if the writer would not, or could not, engage the data?  You would not want this quality of work from your doctor, car mechanic, or home-builder would you?

Bruce Chilton
Dr. Bruce Chilton represents the Christian viewpoint in Neusner’s book.  Like Schwöbel and Pauw he does not perform actual comparison and analysis of the faiths.  While he does scholarly work on discussing Jesus as the Logos and the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the early Christians the book’s theme is avoided until the conclusion.  There he offers a few paragraphs.
He starts by stating the theological challenges in his Introduction:
To assert God’s sameness in the three Abrahamic religions may seem straightforward, following from God’s oneness; some version of that claim is often heard.  But exclusions of faith perspectives, both across theologies and within theological traditions, are considerable when the Abrahamic religions are privileged with this assumption.  (p.55)

Also, he states that the faith’s tenets are established by its writings:
Despite these complexities, the three Abrahamic traditions assert their faith in what they describe as one God in documents they hold as classic or canonical.  (p.56)

In Part 1 he expounds upon the relationship of the “Logos” to Jesus and presents a detailed view of the status of Jesus as the Logos.  Part 2 is a study on the active role the Holy Spirit played in the life of the early Christians.  How these Parts relate to the issue at hand is not developed.
Like Schwöbel and Pauw earlier Chilton touches on the “tolerance and mutual respect” theme.  He cites William Graham’s work which says in Muslim countries religious minorities (apart from polytheists) were treated with tolerance.  Graham and Chilton are unable to distinguish between oppression and tolerance.  Islam’s self-defined rule over non-Muslims is meant to be oppressive.  Quran 9:29 is not a command to tolerance, rather it a command to subject, kill, or oppress those that reject Islam’s god as their God.  This is what Islamic history shows us and what we see today in the Islamic world.  There is a correlation between the degree that a Muslim society is Islamic and the degree of oppression it levies against non-Muslims.  The more Islamic a Muslim society is the more it oppresses non-Muslims.  Let’s not call that form of oppression “tolerance.”  Just because the Christians and Jews were not outright killed or forced to convert to Islam does not mean we call that tolerance.  Would Muslims call it “tolerant” if they were treated the same way in the West?
Chilton addresses the “same” criteria from a different perspective than Pauw:
To declare that God is the “same” implicitly lays a claim to a superior definition of what makes for that sameness. … As an analytic category in the comparative study of religion and theology, “sameness” does not appear productive.  (p.82)

While the book’s theme is “same,” Chilton, demurs from addressing it robustly.  “Sameness” is productive when sincere Christians want to know if their God is the same as Islam’s Allah.  They want to understand the differences between the faiths.
Chilton’s last paragraph is a short statement on what should have been addressed fully:
Systematic comparison sometimes points to moments when one of the Abrahamic religions appears at odds with the other two.  Christianity’s Incarnation, Islam’s seal of prophecy, and Judaism’s eternal Israel are as unacceptable to their partners as they are nonnegotiable to faith as articulated in canonical and classic literatures.  Each partner can learn from the others, because they share categories of faith, even as they differ from one another in what is believed.  But precisely because they all lay claim to the one God of Abraham, contradiction must attend their interactions.  Each of the Abrahamic religions, while asserting that God is unique, also insists that its identification of God is uniquely true. That is why their God is one and not the same, and why believers need to acquire a taste for the fruits of difference.  (pp.82, 83)

“Sometimes… appears”?  There are many fundamental tenets in Islam and Christianity that are at odds.  These are not just “sometimes” contradictions rather they are employed full time.
Chilton notes the contradictions and states that the Gods are not the same, but somehow they are “One.”  Because Chilton does not make a strong and clear conclusion we are left wondering what exactly he is trying to say, or not say.  Indeed, even in the book’s epilogue M. Marty actually comments on the lack of clear conclusions:
Whoever might bring hopes that a panel such as this could come up with easy answer to the question has to see such hopes dashed…. Disdain will be the response of others who came to this book with sure answers to the question.  (p131)

“Disdain” may be too strong a word, but disappointment is not.  I don’t know why Chilton was unwilling to write a stronger, more clear, conclusion.  I enjoyed his chapter most of all.  His work in Part I and Part II was detailed and a true pleasure to read.  I wish he had delivered a more developed conclusion.

Earlier I mentioned the perceived uselessness of a theology degree and how it is looked down upon.  I am troubled that so many theologians in the West are more concerned with a humanistic approach instead of a Christian approach to theological questions.  Perhaps I’m naïve but I’ve always expected Christian theologians to, you know, take a stand for Christ and the word of God.  If they are not standing upon God’s word what are they standing upon?  What are they standing for? 
Part of the reason a theological degree is de-valued today is because so many of today’s theologians have nothing to say.  There is nothing strong in their work or their statements and the quality of their work is embarrassing.
Some of the articles I’ve read show today’s “Christian” theologians addressing this question from a mere academic perspective. It is an intellectual puzzle to be investigated, discussed, and then answered.  The God they analyze is a dead god existing in a nice, tidy and cute box.  They dissect him and present him as they choose and answer based upon their personal desires and viewpoints.  Their god has no power and no life force; he doesn’t matter.  They worship a dead angel.

James White
James White takes a more serious approach to the subject of Islam and is accurate and forthright in his analysis.  On pages 70 through 72 he addresses the question directly.  He notes that the Quran affirms Christians and Muslims worship the same God and distinguishes between pure and correct worship versus tainted and incorrect worship:
So it seems beyond question that the Qur’an is saying People of the Book and Muslims do worship the same God.
The Qur’an is saying that though we are all talking about the same God, only the Muslims enlightened by His final revelation, are worshiping that one God with purity (tawhid).  The Jews, by rejecting Muhammad, and the Christians, by exalting and worshiping Jesus, have left the straight path of true worship.  (p.71)
On a very general level, the Qur’an’s clear answer to “Are Christians, Muslims, and Jews talking about the same God?” is yes, “our God and your God is One.”

White then goes into the details that comprise the faiths and addresses the Quran’s naïve position:
But this is far too simplistic, and most well-read Muslims recognize it.  For Christians, the deity of Jesus, the eternal relationship of the Father and the Son, and the personality and deity of the Spirit are not side issues that can be relegated to the realm of “excesses.”  These define the object of our worship; they define our relationship to God.  In light of this, while the referent of God may be similar, it cannot be seriously maintained that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
To deny the witness of the incarnation and the resurrection is to deny the entirety of the Christian faith.  For this reason we maintain, together with the thoughtful Muslim, that if worship is an act of truth, then Muslims and Christians are not worshiping the same object.  We do not worship the same God.  (p.72)

James White understands the question and provides an accurate and clear answer.  The other theologians, not so much.  (That is a shame and embarrassment for Christendom in the West.)  While the Quran affirms we all worship the One and only God, the devil in the details, prove otherwise.  The Quran’s error here is caught by informed Muslims and they struggle with addressing its inconsistencies.
The early Christians knew Jesus is the Son of God and many died for believing in Him.  Many of today’s theologians can’t even take a stand being cowed by political correctness or frozen in uncertainty.

God’s pronouncements against idolatry
Some of my comments are critical.  But when compared to what God has both stated and done with respect to idolaters, I might come off as soft.  If both Gods are the same God then perhaps it would be understandable for Christians to syncretize Islamic worship with Christian worship.  “It’s the same God, so why would He care how we worshipped Him if we are worshipping Him in an acceptable manner?”  However if the Gods are different then the worship of the false god is akin to idolatry.  This type of blending occurred throughout Israel’s history and time and time again Yahweh condemned and punished this syncretizing of Judaism with other faiths’ worship.  Tragically, this is occurring in Christianity today via “Insider Movements” and other similar types of efforts that syncretize Christianity with Islam. 
The Biblical Scriptures that address this topic at its root are blunt and harsh and I’ve compiled a few from the Old and New Testaments.  The statements and commands are strict and uncompromising.  God punished idolatry severely.  My compilation caused me to examine my own heart against anything that would usurp Christ’s rule in my life.  Take these Scriptures at face value and let them speak more loudly to you than my words.
1) The very first commandment God gave to the Israelites forbids idolatry:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  “You shall have no other gods before Me.   (Exodus 20:2, 3)
2)  Jesus’ commandments parallel that:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:36-40)

The first commandment given to Moses prohibited idolatry.  The first commandment Jesus quotes also prohibits idolatry.
3)  God commanded that the Israelites put idolaters to death:
“If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the Lord your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, by transgressing His covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, which I have not commanded, and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly. Behold, if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to death.  (Deuteronomy 17:2-5).
4)  Paul warns Christians against idolatry and states that the pagans who worship idols are worshipping demons.
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?  (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).
5)  John thought the issue important enough to include it as his final statement in his letter: 
Little children, guard yourselves from idols.  (1 John, 5:21).
Of all of the things John could warn against, he warns against idolatry.  Why?  The New International Commentary on the New Testament addresses this:
If what John has just said is true, it is of the utmost urgency that his readers should avoid anything that would lead them astray from this God who has revealed himself in Jesus.  So, for the last time, John addresses himself to his readers and warns them:  “keep yourselves from idols.”  … Having emphasized that Jesus is the true God, John warns against being misled into the worship of any other alleged manifestation or representation of God. … The adoption of false gods or conceptions of God is usually associated with sin.  John urges his readers to have nothing to do with false ideas of God and the sins that go with them.  Today, it is fashionable to imagine that religion and morality are separable and independent; one can be good and righteous without belief in Jesus as the Son of God.  John would remind us that apart from Jesus Christ there is no real understanding of the truth and no power to live according to the truth.  But Jesus Christ is the true God and the way to eternal life.1

Finally, idolaters are described in the last book of the Bible as not being allowed to enter heaven:  
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.  (Rev. 21:8). 
Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.  (Rev. 22:15).

In light of the above Scriptures we can conclude that the worship of a false god is a severe sin and has severe consequences. Paul discusses idolatry and says that those involved with idols are involved with demons.  John writes that idolaters will not enter heaven.  God commanded idolaters to be put to death and He will sentence them to hell.  Whether you like it, or don’t like it, that is exactly what the Bible states.

I’ve answered the question “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” strongly because in the light of Christian weakness and confusion I wanted a Scriptural position known.  I wanted to speak boldly and plainly because this question strikes me as of the utmost importance within God’s values and strictures.  My answer is not a put down of Islam’s God.  Just as apples are similar to but different from oranges so also Islam’s God is similar to, but also contradictory to, Christianity’s God.  A “One Creator” God who says the opposite of what another “One Creator” God says cannot be the same God.
In “Make My Life a Prayer” Keith Green sings:
Make my life a prayer to You
I wanna do what You want me to
No empty words and no white lies
No token prayers no compromise

Keith Green understood the sin of compromising our faith and he sang against it.  Compromising faith fails to honor Christ, His divinity, or His sacrifice. 
Elijah challenged the Israelites to make up their minds and choose between serving the Lord or serving Baal:
Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”  1 Kings 18:21

Elijah’s challenge is appropriate here for the Christians who believe or want to believe that Allah and God are the same God.  While there are some theological similarities there are many more crucial differences.  Christians cannot serve two masters.  Acknowledging Allah as being the same Deity as God acknowledges two valid but contradictory systems of faith.  Like the Israelites of Elijah’s time weak-minded Christians need to make a choice, get in or get out. 
As for me, I will not accept the invitation to bow down to Allah.  I challenge Christians to distinguish between a god who says “Jesus is NOT the Son of God!” and a God who says, “Thou are my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
I know firsthand how devout and disciplined Muslims can be.  So were the priests of Baal:
… Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. …So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. 1 King 18:26-29

You will find devout, honest, self-sacrificing and disciplined followers in all faiths.  Admirable traits do not equate to God’s Word.  In both the Old and New Testaments devout people worshipped, prayed to, and praised false gods wholeheartedly.  No Old or New Testament saint said anything as ridiculous as, “God’s faithfulness allows us to accept worship of that false god as worship of the same God.” No, that error was rejected and condemned!
Brethren, I challenge you, open your Bibles and do your own study on God’s view of idolatry.  My study shows me that He condemns it harshly.  Why should Christians degrade their own faith?  A little leaven leavens the whole loaf.  Teaching that Allah and God are the same God is feeding the body of Christ spiritual poison.
I know whom I have believed and I know Him who is true and I am in Him who is true, in His beloved Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

(Back to Part 1)


 Marshall, I. Howard. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978. p. 255, 256.
[First published: 5 November 2013]