Recently I watched the two-part discussion between Dr. James White, President of Alpha & Omega Ministries, and Imam Muhammad Musri, President of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, which took place on March 21, 2015, at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.
If you’re looking for a good introduction to the defining issues between Christianity and Islam, and the arguments offered on either side, I highly recommend you take the time to watch the two videos below. Trust me: it will be 3½ hours very well spent. (Especially if you watch them while using an elliptical, as I did.)
Here are nine reasons why it was such a helpful and fruitful discussion:
- It covered both sides of the debate with equal time: “Is the Bible the Word of God?” and “Is the Quran the Word of God?”
- It wasn’t an interfaith love-in. Far from it. Neither participant tried to obscure the fundamental divide between Christianity and Islam when it comes to how God has revealed himself to us. They recognized that their encounter represented a clash of worldviews, only one of which could be vindicated in the end. No pink-and-fluffy pluralism in sight.
- Despite their deep disagreements, however, the participants were models of cordiality and respectfulness. No shouting. No insulting. No theatrics. No cheap debate tactics. Just a serious attempt to engage intellectually and to further the public understanding of both faiths.
- Both participants were sufficiently well-informed about “the other side” to make for a really productive exchange of arguments. Yet at the same time, each was clearly open to be corrected and to learn from the other.
- The discussion focused on the core issues at stake between Christianity and Islam rather than secondary issues (the Crusades, jihad, politics, the Middle East, etc.).
- I think Imam Musri was a well-chosen opponent for this sort of event: an educated, thoughtful, moderate (yet still theologically conservative), Westernized, Sunni Muslim. He represents the kind of mainstream Islam with which Christians in the West need to engage intellectually.
- As many readers will know, Dr. White is one of the leading Christian apologists and debaters of our day, with decades of study and experience under his belt, and his contributions to the dialogue reflect that expertise. If you listen attentively to his presentations and his interaction with Imam Musri, you’ll hear some of the best arguments against the claims of the Quran and in defense of the Bible.
- One of Imam Musri’s central arguments against the Bible came to this: “Christians can’t even agree on what the Bible is!” The Roman Catholics have their version of the Bible, the Eastern Orthodox have theirs, the Protestants have yet another, and so on. In contrast, he argued, there’s no dispute among Muslims about what constitutes the Quran. That the imam put such emphasis on this argument underscores just how important it is for Christians who interact with Muslims to be able to give a respectable defense of the biblical canon (i.e., which books we treat as divinely inspired, and why those particular books rather than others). That defense has to combine both theological and historical argumentation. I was therefore delighted to see Dr. White not only recommend Dr. Michael Kruger’s excellent two books on the New Testament canon, but also give copies of them to the imam! (I’d add that Muslims aren’t the only ones who think the issue of canon is something of an Achilles’ heel for us. Being equipped to defend the orthodox canon is no less important when engaging with Roman Catholics and Ehrman-inspired skeptics.)
- Imam Musri also provided a good illustration of how a well-informed Muslim will typically respond to criticisms of the Quran, in particular to physical evidence of variant manuscripts (which is at odds with the traditional view of the Quran’s perfect transmission). Quite revealing!
I’m sure other reasons will come to mind after I post this, but that’s enough for now. As I say, it was a very instructive and admirable exchange on multiple fronts.
Finally, this seems like a good opportunity to mention that Dr. White will be teaching apologetics as a guest lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, January 11-15. Registration is still open if you’re interested in attending the class! Dr. White will also be teaching a workshop on how Christians should engage with the issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage (details here).
Addendum: Dr. White sent me a note to say that he also recommends this 2011 debate with Abdullah Kunde as another good example of a respectful and instructive exchange between a Christian apologist and a Muslim apologist. (Back to the elliptical, then…)