Pastor Chad's Itinarary

Monday, February 27, 2017

"The Nature of God Revealed: A Critical Doctrinal Difference Between Islam and Christianity" (pt.4)

The Knowability of God
            Another fundamental difference, which relates to the nature of God in Islam and Christianity is the ability to know God. God’s knowability is directly related to both His transcendence and immanence. Norman Geisler notes, “The literal meaning of the immanence of God is ‘to be within’ or ‘near’ in relation to God’s creation.”[1] Muslims believe Allah is transcendent to the point that his nature is unknowable, while the Christian believes God is transcendent, yet chooses to reveal Himself. God chooses to reveal Himself to his creation through the Trinity. Allah and God’s knowability again brings a sharp division between the Muslim and Christian.
Allah’s Immanence
            Can Allah be known? The Qur’an teaches Allah is so transcendent that he is even outside of his own creation, as it says that after creation he “…then established Himself above the Throne.”[2] Yet, as written earlier, the Qur’an describes Allah as being “closer to him than [his] jugular vein.”[3] These two verses in the Qur’an seem to contradict one another. Can Muslims know Allah in a personal, intimate, and relational way? This question is widely debated by both Muslim and Christian scholars alike when it comes to Allah’s knowability.
            For most of the Islamic community, the immanence of Allah is a foreign concept. Therefore, the immanence of Allah was never a point of contention among Muslims. This was due to the belief that Allah is one and not everywhere, as revealed in the hadiths when Muhammad asks a slave girl, “Where is Allah?” She replies, “Above the heavens.”[4] The Qur’an and hadiths rejects the notion of Allah’s immanence; however, there were some Muslims who began to accept the teaching of Allah’s immanence, as it related to Allah’s presence on earth. As A.J. Arberry points out, “Among Muslim people, a deranged sufi/mystic and so-called saint, al-Hallaaj (858-992 CE), openly declared that he and Allah were one.”[5] This claim by al-Hallaaj was entirely outside the boundaries of Islamic orthodoxy, since it declared God was within him, which would eventually lead to his execution for his profession of Allah’s immanence.
            Allah can be known only by submitting to and obeying his will revealed in the Qur’an—namely, the five pillars of Islam. Since the Qur’an denies “Allah as a father,”[6] he cannot be known in a personal or relational sense. Not only can he not be known relationally, but there is not even a possibility for knowing Allah since he is transcendent above his creation. The unity of Allah fails to allow for the Muslim to know him in an intimate and relational sense. Therefore, the Muslim must submit, obey, follow, the divine revelation of the Qur’an in order to be a good Muslim.
God Is Known
            The Christian faith believes that the God of the Bible makes Himself known, unlike the Islamic faith where Allah is transcendent and unknowable. Christians believe God subsists as three persons known as the Trinity. The Trinity allows the Christian not only to know the will of God, but also to know God in a relational sense. As Wayne Grudem points out, “If we are to know God at all, it is necessary that He reveal Himself to us.”[7] Grudem assumes that God can be known and desires to be known. The Bible reveals God’s desire for man to know Him when He said, “So God created man in his own image.”[8] The knowabilty of God comes from His nature and attribute of love. Thus, God’s transcendence does not limit Himself from His creation.
            The Bible claims, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The nature of God as love is revealed throughout the Bible and his creation. God’s love, revealed by creation, allows for one to know both His will and His nature. God’s love has been woven in the very fabric and essence of the Christian’s life by God through the Holy Spirit, allowing His creation to know Him. This is a major doctrinal difference between Islam and Christianity.
            Therefore, God of the Bible is both transcendent and immanent. He is above our ways, and yet reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:20). This is only possible because God has chosen to reveal himself by the Trinity. Christians not only have the ability to know the will of God, but also to know His nature. The manifestation of God in a Christian’s life is evident by an intrinsic desire to love and care for others. This comes from the experience of knowing God’s love, which can only be revealed to them by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Christian has a relationship with their Creator as a result of His love for His creation—a love that not only allows Him to reveal Himself, but also allows Him to give believers the revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ, through His work in atoning for their sins, as well as the impartation of eternal life given by the Holy Spirit.
            The reality is there are commonalities in both the Islamic and Christian faiths. Yet, at the same time, there are sharp differences too. As one who desires to reach the Muslim community with the good news of Jesus, they must focus on the common ground in the Muslims faith, such as the Torah (Law) and the Injeel (the gospel). By focusing on the similarities of their faiths we pray and trust this will open the door in sharing the gospel. As the Muslim denies the Trinity, the Christian embraces, Him trusts and relies on Him to open the Muslims heart, ears, and eyes to see and make the gospel effectual. This is where the Christian does not have to force or manipulate but simply share and trust the Holy Spirit to do the work only He can do.
            Christianity and Islam can masquerade themselves as being superficially similar since they believe in the worship of one God. However, when further investigated one finds there are vast doctrinal differences pertaining to God’s Oneness, transcendence, and knowability. These doctrinal differences are not minor points, but are vast distinctions in the reality of one knowing and understanding God. Therefore, to try and understand God’s oneness, transcendence, and immanence apart from the revealing work of the Trinity leaves one not knowing God or His nature whatsoever.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, concerns, or questions in the comment box below.. I will be posting another part in the next few days. Don't forget that you can subscribe to this blog by placing your e-mail address in the "follow by e-mail" location on the home page. 

                  [1] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, 527.
            [2] Surah Al-Adid 57:4.
            [3] Surah Qaf 50:16.
            [4] Sahih Muslim, Book of Masjid and Places for Salah, Book 8, no.537.
            [5] A.J. Arberry, Muslim Saints and Mystics, 304.
            [6] Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:18.
            [7] Grudem, Systematic Theology,
            [8] Genesis 1:27

Monday, February 20, 2017

"The Nature of God Revealed: The Critical Doctrinal Difference Between Islam and Christianity" (pt.3)

The Transcendence of God
            As there is a commonality and distinction between Islam and Christianity of God’s oneness, there is also a similar belief and distinction of God’s transcendence. God’s transcendence means, to exist above and independent from; to rise above, or to succeed. Abdulla Saeed expresses Allah’s transcendence as, “there is nothing like Him in creation.”[1] The word transcendent is used to describe an incommunicable attribute of God’s otherness, supremeness, and distinction from all of His creation. Although transcendence could be defined the same between the two religions, their understanding greatly differs.
Allah of the Qur’an
            The transcendence of Allah is one of the fundamental beliefs in Islam. According to the Qur’an 57:4, “It is He who created the heavens and earth in six days and then established Himself above the Throne.” Allah’s transcendence means he is above and beyond his creation. Allah is not surrounded by his creation, as he is above it, nor does he dwell within it. He is wholly distinct, independent, and superior over the entire universe. As the scholar At-Tawiah explains, “Allah is independent of the Throne and whatever is beneath it. He surrounds everything and is above it, and what He has created is incapable of surrounding Him.”[2] The Muslims belief of Allah’s transcendence insists his nature is unknowable and unapproachable.
            The Qur’an is the primary source for the Muslims understanding of Allah’s transcendence. It states, “It is Allah who created the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them in six days; then He established Himself above the Throne”[3] Allah is above the Throne sovereignly ruling and reigning separated from all of his creation. The Qur’an makes it clear that Allah is unlike his creation by his total separation of it. The reality of Allah’s transcendence causes one to ask: Can Allah be known?
            According to the Qur’an 17:9, “Indeed, this Qur’an guides to that which is most suitable and gives good tidings to the believers who do righteous deeds that they will have a great reward” Allah’s will has been revealed, but not his nature. Allah’s has revealed his will through the Qur’an and prophets. As one Islam scholar states, Allah’s will,
is all we have, and we have it in perfection in the Quran. But Islam does not equate the Quran with the nature or essence of God. It is the Word of God, the Commandment of God, the Will of God. But God does not reveal Himself to anyone."[4]
            Allah’s will has been revealed as to living a submissive and righteous life. At the same time, Allah’s transcendence does not mean he is not in control or aloof out in space. The Qur’an mentions of Allah’s presence with his people by stating, “And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein”[5] but does not mention interacting with his creation. Allah is the righteous judge who expects righteous obedience and total submission to his will, which was given to his prophet Muhammad in the Qur’an. 
God of the Bible
            The God of the Bible is presented as having the same attribute of transcendence as that of Allah in the Qur’an. God’s transcendence describes His relationship with the world. Transcendence is language used in the Bible describing God’s holiness or majesty. Like Allah the Bible reveals God as above, beyond, and separated from his creation in one sense. The Bible depicts God as incomprehensible when it says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”[6] Although God is incomprehensible the Bible never denies the knowability of God. This is a fundamental difference between the Christian and Muslim faith.
            In Christianity the transcendence of God does not limit His ability to make Himself known to the world. The God of the Bible glories in revealing not only His will but His very nature to His creation. John Frame points this out in His book, The Doctrine of God as theologians such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebisus, Augustine, and others viewed God’s transcendence as being “God is so far above us, so very different from anything on earth, that we can say nothing, at least positive, about him.”[7] This view of God’s transcendence can cause one to become skeptical of the Bible and God.
            The Bible never declares God’s transcendence as a barrier for knowing or speaking truth about Him. One of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith is the ability to know the transcendent God. As Frame states, “Scriptures never suggest that the human mind is incapable of knowing God or that human language is incapable of speaking truly about him.”[8]
            Unlike the Qur’an, which presents Allah, is a transcendent cosmic god who is not willing to interact personally with his world. The God of Bible is transcendent and yet reveals himself personally to His creation. This is where the Bible and Qur’an go their separate ways as it relates to God’s transcendence.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, concerns, or questions in the comment box below.. I will be posting another part in the next few days. Don't forget that you can subscribe to this blog by placing your e-mail address in the "follow by e-mail" location on the home page.  
           [1] Abdullah Saeed, Islam’s Thought An Introduction, 79.
            [3] Surah As-Sajdah 32:4.
            [4] Isma’il al-Faruqi, Christian Mission and Islamic Da`wah, 47-48.
            [5] Surah Qaf 50:16
            [6] Isaiah 55:8-9.
            [7] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, 110.
            [8] Ibid. 110.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"The Nature of God Revealed: The Critical Doctrinal Difference Between Islam and Christianity" (pt.2)

    Nabeel Qureshi's book No God But One: Allah or Jesus? is a very helpful read. Nabeel is a converted Muslim to Christianity as when he set forth studying the Trinity. I commend this book to you if you have a desire to learn more about the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity. Here a link to purchase the book:  "No God but One" Allah or Jesus?"

 This is the second post concerning God's nature revealed in the difference between Islam and Christianity. The post will focus on the Muslim and Christian understanding of monotheism. The Christian believes God reveals Himself through the Trinity, whereas the Muslim believes Allah reveals himself in their belief of Tawhid. I pray this post would help in understanding this fundamental difference in Christianity and Islam.

Christianity and the Trinity
            Though Islam and Christianity have some similarities, they are fundamentally different regarding God’s nature. One of the foundational beliefs in Christianity is that a person can know God, and in order to know God, a person must have a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Bible. Christians believe the God of the Bible has revealed Himself as One being, yet He is expressed in Three Persons known as the Trinity. Christians also believe that in order to know the God of the Bible, the Triune God must reveal Himself to that person in a real and personal way as Father, Son, and Spirit.
            However, the belief and understanding of the Trinity does not come without its controversy between the Muslim and Christian. One of the arguments Muslims make is that the Bible does not mention the Trinity, or that Christians worship three gods. Wayne Grudem responds to this argument by saying, “The word trinity means ‘tri-unity’ or ‘three-in-oness.’ It is used to summarize the teaching of Scripture that God is three persons yet one God.”[1] When the Christian refers to God as being revealed in Three Persons, they are not saying they are worshipping three gods as the Muslim would believe, but they are worshipping the very essence of God revealed in each person of the Godhead.
            Though the Oneness of God is a common belief between Muslims and Christians, the difference lies in the way God reveals Himself to each of them. The Bible declares throughout that God is One; for example, the shema states, “Hear, O, Israel: The Lord Our God, the LORD is one.”[2] This Bible verse is a primary verse in which the Muslim and Christian would agree on God’s Oneness. However, a closer examination of this verse in the original language one would detect that the word “one” is echad. Echad is often used in the Old Testament when referring to a composite of unity. Examples of the usage of echad in the Old Testament are found in Genesis 1:5, Numbers 13:23, and Ezekiel 37:17. Each one of these verses reveal a number of subjects contained in one unit. This is where the Muslim would disagree.
            Christians hold the position that there is a consistent teaching of God’s Oneness revealed in Three Persons throughout both the Old and New Testament. One of the most prominent verses in the New Testament used for the Trinity is found in Matthew 28:20. Matthew writes the words of Christ, which were given to His disciples, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matt.28:20). Jesus reveals to His disciples that they were to make disciples and then baptize those disciples in “the name” of God, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Nabeel Qureshi states, “All three persons in this verse share one name, because they are one being.”[3]
            The Christian’s belief in the Trinity is not confined to only these few Bible passages, for the Christian conviction and belief that God has revealed Himself in Three Persons stems from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:2. The Trinity is the Christian’s only reasoning in their ability to know the nature of God. The Christian is helpless and hopeless in knowing God unless God makes Himself knowable. Therefore, Christians believe the Trinity is the way God has revealed Himself to His people from the very beginning. The Trinity allows the Christian to know God and His attributes.

Muslims and Tawhid          
            The worship of Allah in Islam is referred to as Tawhid. Tawhid is the belief in the singular oneness of Allah and is the central affirmation of Islamic theology. Unlike the Christian’s belief that God is One and reveals Himself in Three Persons, Islamic teaching of the Tawhid, as David Thomas notes, decrees that “…God’s unity cannot be divided, or that as the absolute other he cannot be related to creatures. They are confronted as rivals to the teaching of the Qur'an, and refuted on that basis.”[4] The tawhid is where the initial monotheism agreement separates Muslims and Christians.
            Just as the Christian believes the Trinity because the Bible teaches it, the Muslim denies the Trinity due to the Qur’an. One of the clearest rejections of the Trinity, or at least to polytheism, is found in Qur’an 4:171 when it says, “And do not say, ‘Three;’ desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God…” In the beginning of this ayah (verse), the Qur’an is exhorting “the People of the Book” (Christians) to forsake adding to their worship of Allah. The Qur’an admonishes them to refrain from worshipping all other gods such as Jesus and Mary. Allah, Jesus, and Mary may have comprised the early Arabic Muslims’ understanding of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Jonathon Berkey reveals:
  Some reflection of this may be present in the Koran itself, which seems to suggest that some Arabs understood the Christian trinity to consist of God, Jesus, and Mary: ‘And when God said: ‘Oh Jesus, son of Mary, did you say to men, ‘Take me and my mother as gods next to Allah’? (5.116).[5]

            Christians would reject this understanding of the Trinity since the early church councils had already agreed on the teaching of the Trinity prior to Muhammad and the Qur’an. Regardless if the Qur’an was misinformed, Muslims rejected any notion of worship other than Allah.
Therefore, the oneness of Allah calls the follower of Allah to supreme allegiance and submission to him. The Qur’an 2:56 states:
None but Jews and Christians shall enter into paradise.' Such are their wishful fancies. Say: 'Let us have proof, if what you say is true.' No. He that surrenders himself to Allah and does what is right shall have his reward with his Lord.[6]

Muhammad’s mission was to bring back the pure worship (tawhid) of Allah to Mecca. Like Abraham, Muhammad had instructed the believers of Allah to worship him alone, as the Qur’an notes, “…He that surrenders himself to Allah and does what is right shall have his reward with his Lord.”[7] Maxime Rodinson argues, “In the same way, Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) tried to persuade his father and his people to give up the cult of idols. He was not listened to either, and had to emigrate because of the threats against him.”[8] Muhammad understood that his calling as a prophet was to turn the people back to the pure worship of Allah.
            The Muslim belief in tawhid comes from the authority of the Torah, Gospels, and the Qur’an. As Isaiah 45:21-24 declares the singularity of God as no other, the Muslim understands there is no other god but Allah, and he is due their worship. In fact, it is made evident in Qur’an 7:59 that Muslims understand the dire consequences for the worship of another when it states, “Indeed, We sent Nuh (Noah) to his people and he said: ‘O my people! Worship Allah! You have no other Ilah (God) but Him. Certainly, I fear for you the torment of a Great Day!’”[9] The Qur’an makes it clear that Muslims are required to worship Allah.
            Just as Christians believe in the Trinity due to their confidence of the Bible’s authority, Muslims deny the Trinity because they are confident in the authority of the Qur’an. It is one thing for an individual to say, I worship God or Allah, but it is another to say, “I know God or Allah.” Although both seem monotheistic, there is a vast difference within both religions. The answer lies in the reality of this: does Allah make himself know specifically and specially? Does the God of the Bible make Himself known specifically and specially? The answers to these questions will reveal the reality of knowing God’s nature.

Please feel free to share you thoughts, concerns, or questions. I will be posting part 2 in the next few days. Don't forget that you can subscribe to this blog by placing your e-mail address in the "follow by e-mail" location on the home page. 

            [1] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology, 226.
            [2] Deuteronomy 6:4. All Scripture will be cited from the English Standard Version unless otherwise stated.

            [3] Nabeel Qureshi, No God But One: Allah or Jesus?, 57.
            [4] David Thomas, The Bible in Early Muslim Anti-Christian Polemic Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 29.

            [5] Jonathon Berkey, The Formation of Islam, 46-47.
            [6] Surah Al-Baqarah 2:56
            [7] Surah Al-Baqarah 2:105-6
            [8] Maxime Rodinson, Muhammed 122.
[9] Al-A’raf 7:59.


Friday, February 10, 2017

"The Nature of God Revealed: A Critical Doctrinal Difference Between Islam and Christianity" (pt.1)

     I will begin a new series of blog posts over the next few weeks. They will pertain to a critical doctrinal difference between Islam and Christianity. The majority of Christians and Muslims fail to understand the fundamental differences when it comes to each one's faith. Therefore, my desire is to help us understand one of the most fundamental, as well as critical, issue that separates Islam and Christianity. The critical doctrinal issue I will focus upon will be the nature of God, more specifically the knowability of God in Islam versus Christianity. The ability to know God is a common doctrine in Christianity due to the fact that God chooses to make Himself known by special revelation through the Trinity. However, this is not the case in Islam. I pray you will read, critique, and ask questions concerning this fundamental difference when it comes to Islam and Christianity.

       For over six thousand years, humanity has been conflicted regarding how one should worship God. After the fall in Genesis 3, sin entered into the world, and then Genesis 4 revealed that Cain and Able desired to bring worthy sacrifices in their worship of God; however, God received one and rejected the other. This led to the murder of Able and the judgment of Cain. There have been worship wars ever since, and they still exist today. These worship wars are between religions that claim the exclusive rights on how they know and worship God.
            The last twelve hundred years have contained sharp controversy and conflict between the Muslim and Christian faiths. Muslims and Christians alike ascribe to the worship of the one true and living God, yet only one is truly correct. Christians believe they can know their God in a personal way, while Muslims believe they can only know Allah’s will since he does not reveal himself in a relational way. Therefore, this paper will attempt to expose the superficial similarities between the Allah of the Qur’an and the God of the Bible, as it relates to the knowability of God. The argument will be presented as following: first, by contrasting the Oneness of Allah and God; second, by investigating Qur’anic and Biblical texts concerning the transcendence of Allah and God; third, by presenting evidence for the contrast of Allah’s and God’s immanence; and fourth, personal application in the importance of the Trinity as it relates to evangelizing to Muslims.

The Oneness of God
            The Scriptures testify that there is only one true God. The belief in the one true God is known as monotheism [Greek: mono, one + theos, god]. The belief in more than one God is called polytheism [Greek: poly, many]. The Islamic and Christian faiths are monotheistic in the sense that they worship one god. God’s Oneness is a point of similarity between the Muslim and Christian, but it also presents a major doctrinal difference when it comes to God’s nature of knowability.

            Both religions have a core conviction that their worship consists of worshipping One God. The doctrine of God’s Oneness can be traced throughout both histories as stated in the Qur’an and in the Bible. The Oneness of God is a vital doctrine, even though neither camp would agree on each other’s view. So the question that should be asked is, if both religions agree on the Oneness of God, what is the major difference when it comes to Islam and Christianity’s view of God’s Oneness? The writer will offer similarities and differences concerning the Tawhid and the Trinity.

Please feel free to share you thoughts, concerns, or questions. I will be posting part 2 in the next few days. Don't forget that you can subscribe to this blog by placing your e-mail address in the "follow by e-mail" location on the home page.