Today in Missions class we did something truly remarkable…and truly unorthodox. Our teacher invited in a devout Muslim to engage in discussion. Honestly this was my first real engagement with a Muslim since my friend Azeem in high school. What transpired was truly helpful as we got to peer into the mind of a Muslim and how he thinks about the world and we also learned about the nature of Islam.
As he was sharing and answering questions I found myself able to see where these different world-views really bump up against each other, that is, where in our practical life that it makes a difference what you believe, if you live it out. With regard to Islam there are at least three major distinctions that came out of today’s conversation. The Nature of God (trinity), The Nature of Sin, and the identity of Jesus.
1. The Nature of God, The Trinity
I suppose this is a no-brainer. But Islam lives by the motto, “there is one God and Muhammad is is prophet.” A muslim would tell you that there are three great Abrahamic Faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and that they are all monotheistic. While there is some obvious truth to that, Christianity is more of the fulfillment of Judaism. That is, gentiles have been grafted into God’s covenant people via faith in Jesus’ work. Islam, in some ways seems to be a reaction to Christianity and specifically to the nature of the Trinity. It is a mystery, no doubt, how Christians believe God is one, yet three persons. But we must leave it at that, a mystery, by its very nature is unexplainable.
Islam, would also have no conception of the Holy Spirit and His work. Basically, in Islam, it is all up to the individual to decide, even so spurred on by education and the teachings of Islam. At least, in Reformed Christianity, turning to God and choosing him is only possible after the work of the Holy Spirit coming in an changing a persons heart. In Islam, you are left to just yourself, in Christianity God comes into your heart to save you and change you. You are never left to yourself.
One final element in the nature of God is his transcendence. In Islam, God is utterly unknowable in a personal way. There are 99 attributes of God, or names of God, some of which are justice, mercy and compassion. But there is no such personal relationship as there is in Christianity, where through the Son, we are made sons of God. Only a Christian can call God father, and know him in such a personal an intimate way. All others religions may know him as Creator, or Sovereign for example. But only in Christ are we said to be his children.
2. The Sin Nature
This is also a major difference between the two religions, and, in fact, Christianity may be the only religions that teaches the idea of not only original sin, but its consequence, total depravity. A muslim would teach that people are born pure and are only held accountable after they reach puberty and understand the rules. Christianity however, teach that from Adam’s sin on down to our present day that we are tainted with a sin nature, in that we sin by both nature and choice.
According to Christianity, we are all born into sin, and are unable to choose and love God and thus incapable of doing good, and eve if we do ‘good’ we are unable to do it with God honoring motivations and intentions. Now I realize, that this also is offensive to the secular mindset and so Islam may have some advantage there. But the beauty of Christianity is that we are sinful, and dark and evil, yet God’s grace through Jesus is all the more astounding and our change at regeneration and through the rest of our life all the more magnificent. But Islam does believe in a Judgment Day, which isn’t so acceptable in the secular mind, but your life is spent trying to do more good works than bad and banking on God’s mercy on you on the judgment day.
But for the Christian, God’s mercy and grace has already been given in Christ, by his perfect life (which by the way is the requirement), so we can live our life in full assurance of the blessings of the age to come. Islam, can offer no such assurance, only a hope.
3. Who Jesus is
Here is a really tricky one because if you were to ask a Muslim if he believes in Jesus he would say yes, of course he does. The real question is, “which Jesus do you believe in?” They do believe that Jesus was a prophet and he is highly honored as such, but they do not believe in the Jesus presented in the gospels. They do not believe that Jesus was the son of God, God incarnate, come to die for the sins of the world and rise for her justification. When pressed on what the gospels do teach, they would say that the Christians scriptures have been corrupted and attribute a lot of the confusion to Paul’s teaching. But when one looks into the nature of the scriptures, their creation, preservation and propagation, we find a different story. The gospels are reliable. And so the bottom line is that, though they say they believe in Jesus, it is not the same Jesus.
So it was very helpful to see some of these distinctions between our religions and make no mistake they make a difference in how you live your life. Granted that even as a Christian we struggle mightily with sin and truly loving people and loving God, but we can always look to the Cross and rest assured that we truly are his, because as Jesus uttered on the Cross…”it is finished.” We are able to live free lives, free from the fear of punishment and consequences of Sin that will come on the last day.