When it comes to American Christians and Islam there tends to be three predominant camps that people find themselves in. One of these groups expresses itself with a kind of xenophobic nationalism which seeks to keep Muslims as far away from the American identity as possible. Another camp flows along with the progressive spirit of the age with all of its syncretistic and pluralistic impulses and wants to deny any true or substantial difference between the world’s two largest religions. All religious roads lead to God, right? Finally, there’s the side of just plain ignorance, where there is simply no intellectual understanding of how Islam and Christianity relate to each other and how they differ. If we truly want to love our neighbor, which most likely literally includes Muslims, then none of these are acceptable positions for the Christian to hold.
Ruled by Fear:
The first camp fails miserably at truly loving ones neighbor in any kind of sacrificial and Christianly way. It does not love the alien. It does not love the stranger. It is as far from the path of the Good Samaritan as can be imagined. Christians ought to love Muslims generously. This isn’t good advise, it’s absolutely what Jesus expects. Often, especially in the West, this will actually just result in some genuine friendships being made with some very kind people. To a very large degree, we are not risking all that much by following Christ’s command here, and its almost certain that the average Muslim is risking more in our current cultural air of tribalism and hostility than the average Christian is. Ours is not a hard cross to bear in this context.
But even if we entertain the fear mongering fever that infests too many of us for just a moment, what if it does cost us greatly? What if its all one great conspiracy to seize the West and take our county? Then, I fully believe that the call of Christ is simple, we are to continue to love them, whether neighbor or enemy. We are to go the extra mile even for our oppressors, we are to good even for evil, we are to remember that our highest loyalties and identities are as citizens to the heavenly city, and we must be subject to the heavenly call of risky love.
Broadly speaking, I believe the American Christian has failed to reflect even the most basic of expectations that our Lord has placed upon us to show to our Muslim neighbors. We have failed in hospitality, in charity, in word, and in deed. What drives this other than fear? For too long, us servants of the Cross have been far too motivated by reactionary fear rather than proactive love.
Against the Truth:
While it is important to hear this word of exhortation to love our Muslim neighbors, it is just as important not to fail to recognize the massive chasm that rests between Christianity and Islam. There is an unbridgeable span that exits between us, not in friendship, nor in love, but in Truth. For what divides us is the Cross. The core of the Christian religion hinges upon what happened on that old rugged cross. The Apostle Paul, having come out of Judaism and into Christianity fully recognized how mere-monotheistic consent is never enough to unit Jew and Muslim and Christian. The Apostle was completely aware of the implications of the Cross and Christ’s resurrection from it when he stated “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17).
The hinges of Christian belief rest on the reality of Christ having “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15: 3-4). If this was not true, if it did not happen in time, space, history, and in the flesh, if it be mere myth, or legend, or metaphor, or exaggeration, then Christianity is “worthless.” Not. Worth. A. Thing. Not worth our time, not worth our energy, not worth our hope, not worth another sentence.
But it’s even more than that, the Apostle Paul is relentless in describing this hypothetical reality, for if Christ has not been raised then all Christian preaching is futile, all Christian faith is vain, Christians are false witness against God, those who have died as Christians have perished, and we Christians are, more than any other humans, most of all to be pitied for our delusion (I Cor. 15:12-19).
But do we only see this level of passion in the Apostle Paul? for it is not rare to find those who will say it was Paul who created this version of Cross-hinging Christianity, not Jesus. We need look no further than Jesus’ rebuke of another Apostle, the rebuke of Peter found in the earliest written Gospel. For Jesus had no misperceptions of what He came to earth to accomplish. For, “He began to teach [the Apostles] that the of Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise from the dead” (Mark 8:31). As wasn’t always the case, He was even “stating the matter plainly” (8:32). Death and resurrection must happen.
How seriously did Jesus take His own words on this matter? We need look no further than the next two verses. For Peter, still not fully grasping all that Christ must do, began to rebuke Jesus for Jesus’ statements about needing to die and to rise. How does Jesus react? Nothing short of ferociously. In one of His harshest recorded rebukes He tells Peter to, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but on man’s.” It is the way of Jesus that leads to His own death and resurrection. It is the purpose of God for this to occur. It is the mission of Satan to be against it. For, Jesus must die and rise again. He said it Himself.
But did Jesus say it?
Before moving on, we need to briefly address an objection that typically arises at this juncture. Should we believe that Jesus actually said these words? This opens up a massive world of historical concerns and textual criticism, but I will note just two considerations for why we have every reason to assume these words are, at an absolute minimum, more authentic to Jesus than words found anywhere else in history.
First, let’s bring in a hostile witness, someone who hates Christianity that will still attest to the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John being the go to place for finding out about Jesus. The former Evangelical Christian and now critical skeptic Bart Ehram has stated that:
[The New Testament Gospels are] the oldest and best sources we have for knowing about the life of Jesus… [this is] the view of all serious historians of antiquity of every kind, from committed evangelical Christians to hardcore atheists.1
“That Jesus existed is held by virtually every [historical] expert on the planet.”2 No serious scholar, or even blogger, would admit otherwise if they desired to retain even the most modest measure of credibility. And, it is certain that the four Gospels held within the Christian Scriptures are the most reliable place to find what He said and did. If we want to know about Jesus, whether as believer or skeptic, that is our primary source. Even further, the Gospel of Mark is almost ubiquitously considered the earliest Gospel and therefore the least “disputable.”
Speaking of Mark though, are the Gospels generally untrustworthy as historical documents? Aren’t there sections that even Christians admit were additions to the text? Simply put, no to the first question and yes to the second. Without following this rabbit down the hole, the manuscript record for the Gospels is just embarrassing when compared to every other historical document in existence.3 Embarrassing for those other documents that is. This wealth of access to the text is even further highlighted by the fact that even “if all of the New Testament manuscripts were destroyed, the New Testament could still be reconstructed merely by the thirty-two thousand citations from early second- and third-century church fathers, who quote from all but eleven verses of the New Testament.4”
But none of this denies the fact that there are additions to the text present in most Bibles, which I’ve written on before. These additions are recognized by nearly all secular and Christian scholars. All but the most fundamentalist leaning scholars admit that sections such as Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 are not original to the text. Check your average Bible and it will have a citation over these texts stating just as much. Does that mean the entire Bible is unreliable? Of course not. The two sections I’ve just stated are by far the largest sections in question, and no important doctrine of the Church hinges upon any of the debated or added texts. It must be remembered, that the very fact that these additions can be determined adds credibility to the majority of the text that remains. If we have the tools among us to find the fake, this means that what remains is more likely to be authentic. More could be said, but it should already be clear that there is no way to disregard the fact that the New Testament gives us our best place for discovering who Jesus was and what Jesus said.
The Cross or the Prophet
Now, how does this all relate to Christianity, Islam, and our three American Christian camps of fear, pluralism, and ignorance? When we consider the words of Jesus and Paul as recorded in the Christian Scriptures, we ought to ask, what does the Quran have to say about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Must people will know that Muslims have a deep respect for Jesus. They view Him as a great prophet, consider Him the Messiah, and even affirm His virgin birth. Despite all this common ground, and while those items must still be affirmed by Christians, it is not where the fundamental hinges of the Christian religion have by set by Jesus and Paul. As we have established, the matter of first importance to the Christian faith is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:3-4). If we are to fairly consider if these two religious roads are compatible, we must look here. The Christian Scriptures could not be more plain, but what of the Quran? There we have equal perspicuity into the position held, though it is a polar opposite.
In Surah (chapter) 4.157 of the Quran, Muhammad explicitly states that Jesus Christ did not die, was not crucified, and by obvious implication, did not rise. The verse states:
And their saying, ‘indeed we killed the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, messenger of Allah.’ But they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it was made to appear so to them. And those who disagree about it are in doubt about it. There is not anything of knowledge in this for them except the pursuit of conjecture. They did not kill him, for certain…5
Roughly 600 years after Jesus stated that He must die and be raised, and after an entire religion sprang into existence attesting to the fact that that death and resurrection had occurred, Muhammad states that He was not killed. It is for certain. If that is true, then Christianity, by its own standards, is a worthless religion. If that was false, then Muhammad bore false testimony about the Messiah. There is no room for middle ground here. A side must be chosen, or both must be disregarded. We insult either religion to think or speak differently.6
What would it look like if Christians truly loved Muslims even at our own expense? What would it look like if we were a people ruled by love rather than fear? How many opportunities for bearing witness to Jesus Christ have needlessly been lost? How many could be gained?
What would it look like if we, whether Christian, Muslim, or Agnostic, could all agree that we truly disagree at a fundamental level? What would it look like to take a stand for our respective faiths, one which declares them worthless if anything other than True? How many of us truly know what we believe? How many of us know why?
What would it look like if we shared the passion of Paul for the truth of Christianity? What would it look like to get behind the purpose of God by glorying in the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son? I don’t know exactly what our eyes would behold if we embraced these calls, but I’m sure that it would be a sight worth seeing.
- Bart D. Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 102
- Bart Ehrman, Does Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 4
- See: Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010)
- Corey Miller, Lynn K. Wilder, Vince Eccles, and Latayne C. Scott, Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed Their Minds (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2017), 297
- Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus?: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam & Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 161
- For an excellent and concise treatment of this idea of respecting varying religions by recognizing their genuine, and rather obvious, differences, see: Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 47-58, Chapter 3: “How Can You Say There’s Only One True Faith?”