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Facing the Islamic Challenge

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This article first appeared in Christian Research Journal, volume 36, number 04 (2013). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org/christian-research-journal/


SYNOPSISChristians are commanded to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). Because Muslims make up more than a fifth of the world’s population, obeying the Great Commission entails presenting the gospel to Muslims. Yet the message of Islam contradicts the teachings of Christ on several key doctrines, so Muslims understandably have important objections to Christianity. Nevertheless, because apologetics in America and Europe has placed far more emphasis on atheism than it has on Islam, many Christians know little about Islam and do not feel equipped to engage Muslims in dialogue. It should be encouraging to learn, however, that successfully defending the gospel against Muslim objections is a rather easy skill to develop.Islam requires Muslims to agree with Christian doctrine in ways that Muslims themselves are often unaware of. These points of obligatory theological agreement can be brought to the surface and used to undermine or block nearly all Muslim objections to the gospel. Moreover, due to Islam’s insistence on (a) belief in Jesus as a messenger of God and (b) belief in Christian Scripture as a revelation from God, Muslims have relatively few criticisms they can raise. Challenges to the historical reliability of the Gospels, the deity of Christ, the Incarnation, the justice of Jesus’ payment for sins, and the practical implications of Christian doctrine should therefore be viewed as excellent opportunities to share the gospel, rather than as threats to the gospel.Christian apologetics in the West frequently is geared toward refuting atheism and other skeptical positions. Believers who search for a philosophical or historical defense of the gospel will therefore find no shortage of books and videos on God’s existence, Jesus’ resurrection, and the problem of evil. Yet Christians are increasingly being confronted by an ideology that poses no objections to the existence of God or to the reality of miracles, one that sees no conflict between human suffering and the goodness of our Creator. I am referring, of course, to Islam.Muslims agree with Christians that the world is the productof an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good Being who has sent numerous prophets to mankind and who will eventually judge the world. Concerning Jesus, Muslims acknowledge that He was born of a virgin, that He performed numerous miracles, and that He is the Messiah. Despite such significant accord, however, the message of Islam attacks the very core of the gospel by denying Jesus’ sacrificial death and divine nature.

Christians who discuss the gospel with Muslims often make a crucial mistake: they answer a Muslim the same way they would answer an atheist who raised a similar objection. But Muslims are not atheists, and their reasons for criticizing the gospel are usually completely different from those of atheists. Moreover, Muslims have certain theological commitments that can actually help the Christian undermine criticisms. By familiarizing ourselves with a simple approach to dealing with Islamic challenges, we can clear away a good deal of rubble on our way to a careful presentation of Jesus’ message.

In this article, we will examine five common Muslim objections to Christianity. Since these are the standard talking points for Muslims when they hear the gospel, Christians have an excellent opportunity to prepare our responses before challenges are ever raised.

“THE GOSPEL HAS BEEN CORRUPTED”

One of Islam’s “Six Articles of Faith” requires Musl

ims to believe not only in the Qur’an, but also in the scriptures revealed prior to the Qur’an, including the Gospel given to Christians (where “Gospel” refers to a book, rather than to a message1). Nevertheless, since the Gospel contradicts Muhammad’s message on several fundamental doctrines, Muslims have been forced to claim that the Gospel has been corrupted. Any Christian who witnesses to Muslims will be told repeatedly that the scriptures we possess, while possibly retaining some truth, have been hopelessly altered.

Due to a strong emphasis on textual criticism in the Christian tradition, it is quite natural for apologists to defend the New Testament by pointing to early manuscripts. Yet when the charge of corruption comes from a Muslim, we must remember that the charge has nothing to do with manuscript evidence. Providing manuscript evidence to our Muslim friends will likely miss the true source of the objection—namely, the Gospel contradicting the Qur’an.

Imagine the surprise of a Muslim critic when we inform him that, in claiming the Gospel has been corrupted, Muslims themselves are contradicting the Qur’an! Contrary to popular Muslim assertions, the Qur’an affirms the inspiration, preservation, and authority of the Gospel we possess. By drawing the Muslim’s attention to the Qur’an’s position on Christian Scripture, we strike at the root of his objection and help him see the internal incoherence of Islam.

Inspiration of the Gospel

The Qur’an declares that the Gospel was revealed as “a guidance for the people”: “He has revealed to you the Book with truth, verifying that which is before it, and He revealed the Torah and the Gospel aforetime, a guidance for the people, and He sent the Qur’an” (3:3–4, Shakir2).