Islam

A Brief Statement on Muslim Apologists

Paradox in Christian TheologyIt has been brought to my attention that some Muslim apologists have been citing my writings on theological paradox to support their arguments against the doctrine of the Trinity, especially in debate with Christian apologists. Since that’s directly contrary to my own views and arguments, I thought I should issue a statement to clear up any confusions.

In Part I of my book Paradox in Christian Theology, I argue that the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is paradoxical in the sense that it presents us with an apparent contradiction. However, I reject the conclusion that the Trinity is really contradictory. In Part II of the book, I develop and defend an epistemological account according to which (1) the doctrine of the Trinity is a merely apparent contradiction and (2) Christians can be rational in believing the doctrine, on the basis of divine revelation, despite its paradoxical nature.

It is true that I claim (in PCT and elsewhere) that there is currently no satisfactory solution to the so-called logical problem of the Trinity. (That’s why we find it paradoxical!) But it doesn’t follow that there cannot be a solution to the logical problem, or that the doctrine of the Trinity is illogical, incoherent, or nonsensical. In fact, since I deny that there are any true contradictions, I think there must be a solution to the logical problem, even if it turns out that that God alone can comprehend it. I don’t argue that we will never understand how the doctrine of the Trinity is logically consistent. Perhaps we will gain that understanding in the eschaton; I can’t rule that out. All I argue in my book is that there are good rational grounds for believing the doctrine of the Trinity even in the absence of a satisfactory solution to the logical problem. In other words, it’s rational for Christians to believe that there is a solution, even if we can’t specify that solution. (Compare: it’s rational for physicists to believe that there is a solution to the apparent conflict between relativity theory and quantum mechanics, even though no one has figured out that solution.)

All this to say, my book taken as a whole is a defense of rational belief in the Trinity. If you encounter Muslim apologists citing it against the doctrine of the Trinity, you should know that they are not representing my views and arguments responsibly. They’re citing my work selectively and not giving the full story and context. That’s rather like the critic who quotes some New Testament scholar saying “There have been tens of thousands of changes to the text!” without also mentioning that most of those changes are trivial and make no difference to the meaning of the text.

50% Off Ligonier Video Teaching Series

For this week only, you can save 50% on more than fifty video teaching series and study guides from Ligonier Ministries, including Exploring Islam by yours truly, The New Testament Canon by my colleague Dr. Michael Kruger, and Contentment by Melissa Kruger.

Ligonier’s video teaching series are excellent resources, especially for adult/teen Sunday school classes and small group studies, and the accompanying materials are very professionally produced. This is a fantastic offer, so don’t miss out!

Exploring Islam Teaching Series

Exploring IslamLast year Ligonier Ministries invited me to work with them to produce a new teaching series on Islam. The final product, Exploring Islam, is now available.

Here’s the description from the DVD cover:

Speaking the Truth in Love

What do Muslims believe? With so much diversity in the Muslim world, it is common for people to hold uninformed opinions about Islam. In Exploring Islam, Dr. James Anderson prepares Christians to better witness to their Muslim neighbors with gentleness and respect, as he surveys the central tenets, history, and practices of the Islamic religion. This is a series to stir confidence in the gospel and equip you to speak the truth in love to the Muslims in your community.

The series consists of ten 23-minute presentations:

  1. Why Study Islam?
  2. The Basics of Islam
  3. The Prophet Muhammad
  4. An Introduction to the Qur’an
  5. The Teachings of the Qur’an
  6. Authority in Islam
  7. Diversity in Islam
  8. Christianity & Islam
  9. Contending for Christianity
  10. Sharing the Gospel with Muslims

The first in the series (“Why Study Islam?”) can be viewed for free on the product page.

Apparently the DVDs include Spanish dubbing and closed captioning.

The series should be useful for adult Sunday schools, small groups, campus ministries, church youth groups, and high-school classes. I’m convinced it’s more important than ever before that Christians understand the challenge of Islam and are equipped to engage with Muslims in a well-informed, gospel-centered way. I hope this series will be a helpful resource to that end.

On a personal note, it was a real pleasure to work with Ligonier on this series and to spend time with their team. Their hospitality and professionalism is second to none.

No God but One: Allah or Jesus?

No God but OneMy review of Nabeel Qureshi’s book No God but One: Allah or Jesus? appeared in the September 2017 issue Reformed Faith & Practice. The review was written some time before Nabeel’s death, and, by unfortunate coincidence, it was published online on the day of his funeral. For that reason, I didn’t draw attention to it at the time. Still, I think it makes some important observations about current trends in evangelical apologetics, so I’m now highlighting the review here.

On Contradicting the Bible

Suppose Chris says, “Gordon is married,” and Malcolm says, “Gordon is a bachelor.” Has Malcolm contradicted Chris? It depends on whether Malcolm is referring to the same ‘Gordon’. If Malcolm is talking about some other ‘Gordon’, there’s no contradiction. Conversely, if you think Malcolm has contradicted Chris, you’re presupposing that they’re talking about the same ‘Gordon’.

Now suppose you think, as is plausible, that when the Quran says that God has no son (Q4:171; Q6:101) it’s contradicting the Bible (John 3:16, etc.). In that case, you’re presupposing that the Quran is referring to the same God as the Bible. Conversely, if you think the Quran is referring to a fictional, non-existent deity when it says that God has no son, you need to consider whether the Quran is actually contradicting the Bible in saying so (and if it is contradicting the Bible, how it is doing so). The same goes for other objectionable statements the Quran makes about God.

If you say the Quran is in fact referring to the God of the Bible (because it make false claims about the God of the Bible) are you thereby implying that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God”? Not necessarily. It all depends what you mean by “worship the same God”.

The Same God? A Plea for Precision

Triggered by recent events at an evangelical Christian college, there has been an explosion of discussion about whether Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” In my experience, most people think the answer to the question, “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” is very obvious. What’s fascinating, however, is that some of those people think the answer is obviously yes, while others think the answer is obviously no!

One immediate pitfall is the ambiguity in the word ‘same’. If someone says “John and Julie have the same phone,” that’s a different kind of statement than “John and Julie have the same father.” There are two phones, but only one father! Now consider this statement: “John and Julie read the same book.” How many books were there?

So the basic problem is this: the question “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” is ambiguous as it stands, and thus susceptible to different answers depending on exactly how one interprets the question. In reality, when people raise the question they often end up conflating a host of related but distinct questions, such as the following:

  • Do Christians and Muslims refer to the same Deity when they speak about ‘God’? In other words, do both groups refer to the one true God, the Creator of the universe? (A closely related question: Do the Bible and the Quran refer to the same Deity? Does the Quran make false assertions about the real God or does it make assertions about a fictional deity, analogous to ancient Greek claims about Zeus?)
  • Do Christians and Muslims believe in the same Deity, despite their (very significant) disagreements about the nature and character of God?
  • Is the worship of Christians and Muslims directed towards the same Deity? If it is, does it follow that Christian worship and Muslim worship are equally acceptable to God?
  • Do Christians and Muslims conceive of God in the same way when they worship? (A closely related question: Do the Bible and the Quran depict God in the same way?)
  • If Christians and Muslims don’t conceive of God in the same way, do they conceive of God in a sufficiently similar way? (That in turn invites the question: sufficient for what?)
  • Can both Christians and Muslims be said to know God? If so, exactly what kind of knowledge are we talking about here? Purely intellectual knowledge? Personal relational knowledge? Saving knowledge?
  • If Christians and Muslims do share some common knowledge of God, does it follow that both groups respond appropriately to that knowledge?

This list of questions isn’t meant to be exhaustive, only illustrative. And equivalent questions can be asked of Christians and Jews, Christians and Hindus, Christians and Mormons, and so forth.

A Model Christian-Muslim Discussion

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.)

Where Are the Muslim Doctors and Nurses?

For a couple of years now, I’ve taught a course entitled Christian Encounter with Islam. One of the major themes of the course, as you might expect, is the contrast between the Christian worldview and its distinctive view of God, and the Islamic worldview and its distinctive view of God. In light of that contrast I was particularly struck by the following section (pp. 220-22) from the recently published book Dispatches From the Front, a missions travelogue by Tim Keesee. (Pay close attention to the third paragraph.) …

One Good Burn Deserves Another

Needless to say, the Koran-burning stunt (apparently now abandoned, thankfully) was a phenomenally stupid idea. But does anybody know the Arabic for “double standards”?