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‘A Common Word’ in the News

All Monotheisms Are Not Alike

How the Apostles’ Creed can sharpen our dialogue with Muslims.

Last year 138 Muslim leaders released A Common Word Between Us and You,
a promising statement to the Christian world stressing common ground
between the two great missionary faiths. Christians responded publicly
by gathering with Muslims and Jews at Yale University this past July
for dialogue, a good part of which was devoted to affirming the
similarities between the great Abrahamic faiths.

Despite a strong Trinitarian statement at Yale from pastor Leith Anderson,
and the realization of many of the Christian participants how wide the
gulf is between Christianity and Islam on a host of issues, some
evangelical leaders, including John Piper and Al Mohler, worry that in such conversations vital Christian doctrines about God can become blurred. Rick Love of Frontiers, for example, says Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Really?

Despite undeniable similarities, all monotheisms are
not alike. Love notes that many Muslims who later become followers of
Christ say that they worshiped the true God all along, but only with
partial knowledge. Certainly God can reveal himself to Muslims however
he chooses, but Islam does not lead lost sinners to God. Only Jesus
does.

Yes, we should speak gently and respectfully, but if we
truly love Muslims, we must tell them the truth as God has revealed it.
Scholar of Islam Kenneth Cragg noted, “As long as Christ is Christ, and
the church knows both itself and him, there will be a mission to
Islam.” I agree.

How can we engage in conversation and still stick to our theological guns? I propose employing the Apostles’ Creed—a
time-tested and easily digestible template of basic Christianity—to
remind ourselves how much our beliefs differ from Muslims’.

• I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

While Muslims and Christians both ascribe omnipotence
to the Creator, only in Christianity is he revealed as Father.
“Christians,” Timothy George has noted, “predicate something essential
and irreducible about God that no Muslim can accept: We call him our heavenly Father.”

• I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary …

Although our Muslim friends revere Jesus (calling him Isa)
and believe he was born of a virgin and is coming again, they deny his
divinity, saying he is one of many prophets. But Christians see him as
the second person of the Godhead, in a community of love from all
eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is not just a
theological disagreement. The deity of Christ is the sine qua non
of Christian theology and mission. There is no salvation if Christ is
not truly God and truly man. “No one who denies the Son has the
Father,” the disciple whom Jesus loved stated categorically. “Whoever
acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”

• … suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.

Most Muslims believe Jesus only appeared to
die on the cross. They reason that God would never allow his prophet to
suffer such ignominy. But Christianity holds that Christ’s crucifixion,
which is foolishness to Jew, Greek, and Muslim, atones for sin and
offers peace with God. “And being found in appearance as a man,” Paul
said, “he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a
cross!”

• On the third day he rose again; he ascended
into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will
come to judge the living and the dead.

Muslims deny the Resurrection and certainly don’t
believe that Isa can stand in God’s place as judge. But Christians do,
affirming Paul’s confession that “every knee should bow” to Jesus, “the
name that is above every name.”

• I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints …

Muslims also believe the Holy Spirit supported the ministry of Isa, but, being strict unitarians, they deny the Spirit’s deity.

• … the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Muslims have no assurance of salvation. According to
Muslim scholar Abul A’la Maududi, “Man will stand by himself—helpless
and alone—to render his account, and awake the pronouncement of
judgment, which shall be in the power of God alone.” This produces
fear. Such fear should be alien to Christians, however, who believe
that Christ intercedes for us, having entered the Most Holy Place, thus
ensuring our firm hope: “I write these things to you who believe in the
name of the Son of God,” says John, “so that you may know that you have
eternal life.”

Let the dialogue continue, but with the Apostles’ Creed in hand.

Amen.


Editor’s Note: Rick Love, the former international
director of Frontiers, has contacted CT to say that this article quotes
him out of context and makes it look like he does not agree with Stan
Guthrie’s thesis (“when in fact I do agree with his thesis”). Although
Love did write of Christians and Muslims that “we both worship the one
true God,” he also wrote in the same context that “our views of God
differ primarily regarding the Fatherhood of God, the Trinity, and
especially regarding the life, teaching, death and resurrection of
Jesus Christ.” He also wrote that the Muslim “view of God falls short
of His perfections and beauty as described in the Bible.” According to
Love, he models his approach to Muslims on Paul’s approach to the
Athenians who worshiped the Unknown God. (See Acts 17, where Paul
proposes to tell the Athenians more about the God they worship in
ignorance rather than telling them that they worship a false god.)

 

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