Tag Archives: Islam

One of a Kind

I met Jason in my second year of university.  He was in one of my English classes, often arriving early to talk with me about his religious questions.  One day, Jason was waiting with a common objection:  “Hey, aren’t all religions pretty much the same?  You’ve all got a god, you’ve got a holy book, you’ve got priests and stuff.  To me it all looks the same.  It probably wouldn’t make any difference if I was a Sikh or a Christian.  Seems to me you all worship the same god.”  When we encounter such an objection, we might be caught off-guard.  After all, many Christians aren’t that familiar with other religions.  So how do we go about giving an answer to people like Jason?

Christianity is Unique

Knowledge about other religions is often minimal among Christians.  We might know something about Judaism from the Bible, perhaps something about the major cults from our high school Bible classes, and maybe a few things about Islam because of its connection to world events of the last two decades.  But other than that, how much do you really know about Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism?

Furthermore, how do we show that all these religions are false and that only Christianity is the true religion?  You might do that by showing that the major religions contradict one another.  For example, Islam says that Jesus was merely a prophet, whereas Christianity teaches that Jesus was God come in the flesh for the rescue of sinners.  In certain circumstances, that method could have value, but it does require a bit of knowledge of all the individual religions.

There’s a better way.  This way doesn’t require as much study.  We can emphasize the positive point that Christianity is unique – unique in its central message and unique in how it explains the world in which we live.  Other religions, on the other hand, are actually all quite similar to each other in these respects.

The Message of Islam

Take Islam for example.  Faithful Muslims must adhere to the five pillars in order to be taken into paradise with Allah.  The five pillars of Islam are: profession of faith (shahada), prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm), and pilgrimage (hajj).  Even if these are followed, Allah may arbitrarily decide that the works you did were not enough and you may be consigned to hell.  This Islamic fatalism is what prevents any Muslim from having personal assurance of salvation – the only exception is for a martyr.  That contrasts with true Christianity which rejects salvation by works.  As Christians, we can also have the comfort of personal assurance.  Salvation is initiated by God and guaranteed by God (Romans 8:15-17).  Christians never have to second-guess their salvation.

The Message of Hinduism

Salvation in Hinduism doesn’t mean the same thing as in Christianity.  For a Hindu, to be saved is to be released from the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.  It means to become one with Brahman, the greatest of the many thousands of Hindu gods.  This “salvation” is achieved through one of three means:  1) through the knowledge that you are actually already God; 2) through worship of a particular deity (any one you choose); or 3) through following ceremonial rituals.  You can pick, but in any circumstance you’ll have to do something to achieve Hindu “salvation.”  It’s achieved by human works.  Hinduism isn’t unique in that way – it’s no different than Islam or Roman Catholicism, or for that matter, Judaism or Sikhism.  All of them exemplify religions focussed on human effort.

The Message of Biblical Christianity is Unique

Only Christianity teaches that God graciously provides salvation as a free gift.  All other religions teach that the way to God is through your own deeds.  In our witnessing to others, this is one of the only things we really need to know.  We need to know that Christianity is different – it’s the only religion which teaches that human beings can’t save themselves.  Human beings can’t save themselves because they’re wretched sinners both by conception and by action.  We’re incorrigible rebels against God.  Of ourselves, we’re bags of flesh which have assumed room temperature.  Nothing a corpse can do can save it from the grave.  Someone else must intervene.  That someone else is God through his Son Jesus and through the mighty work of the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, the cross is what makes Christianity unique.  The cross speaks of human weakness and inability — but at the same time of God’s divine power to save.  Regeneration is also what makes Christianity unique.  The Holy Spirit unilaterally comes to a cold dead heart of stone and miraculously turns it into a heart of flesh which believes.  In short, sovereign grace is what makes Christianity entirely unique!

But Wait, There’s More!

The story shouldn’t end there.  Unbelievers may be impressed with our answer to this point, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Not only is Christianity unique in its central message of sovereign grace, it’s also unique in other ways.  These are ways which demonstrate the foolishness of unbelief.  This is the clincher in our discussions with people like Jason.  We may have shown that Christianity is unique, but that doesn’t really in itself present a compelling reason for any unbeliever to throw down his weapons and surrender.  Christianity’s uniqueness, by itself, doesn’t demonstrate its truth.  If we can show that Christianity is the only way our world can be adequately explained, then the only thing which prevents the unbeliever from repenting and believing is his own hardness of heart.

It can be demonstrated that only Christianity can explain our world and the way it really is.  Take laws of morality for instance.  Muslims can’t adequately account for absolute laws of morality.  Why not?  Because Allah is capricious and arbitrary himself.  Allah’s character is not what defines right or wrong.  He is not absolute.  However, within the Christian worldview, we account for absolute laws of morality by looking to the absolute character and nature of the Triune God.  He never changes.  From age to age he remains the same.  So does his moral law, which reflects his character.  The Christian relies upon absolute laws of morality and can also justify or account for his reliance.  The Muslim may speak about laws of morality as being absolute and may behave accordingly, but he’s inconsistent at that point with his professed religion.  Though claiming to be wise, he will have been shown to be otherwise (Romans 1:22).

Only Christianity Can

This can be extended to every other non-Christian religion.  Only Christians can speak of a Triune God who is both absolute (transcendent) and personal (immanent).  There is no other like him (Micah 7:18).  Only such a God as ours can provide the basis for reality as we observe and experience it.  In Colossians 2:3, we find that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Christ.  In Acts 17:28 it says, “In him [the true God], we live and move and have our being.”  Only the God of the Bible can provide the foundations upon which rest the laws of logic, morality, mathematics, and science.  Christianity is true because it is impossible for it to be false.

Now when I argued this way all those years ago, I didn’t persuade Jason.  The last time I saw him he’d invented his own religion.  His heart wasn’t changed by the Holy Spirit.  However, I still think about him and pray for him.  I pray that God will one day bring the right moment with the right means and give him a miraculous heart transplant.  Our arguments are just tools in God’s hands and he works as he pleases with them.  Nevertheless, our calling is to be faithful and always ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us about our hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).  Let’s honour Christ the Lord as holy by always proclaiming the uniqueness of who he is, what he’s done, and what he’s given us.


Reeves: The Triune God vs. Allah

One of the things I appreciate about Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity is how he interacts with Islamic theology.  In a number of places in the book he demonstrates the poverty of the Islamic Allah.  The single-person Islamic god simply does not measure up to the Triune God revealed in the Bible.  Here’s a sample:

Onenness for the single-person God would mean sameness.  Alone for eternity without any beside him, why would he value others and their differences?  Think how it works out for Allah: under his influence, the once-diverse cultures of Nigeria, Persia, and Indonesia are made, deliberately and increasingly, the same.  Islam presents a complete way of life for individuals, nations, and cultures, binding them into one way of praying, one way of marrying, buying, fighting, relating — even, some would say, one way of eating and dressing.

Oneness for the triune God means unity.  As the Father is absolutely one with his Son, and yet is not his Son, so Jesus prays that believers might be one, but not that they might all be the same.  Created male and female, in the image of this God, and with many other good differences between us, we come together valuing the way the triune God has made us each unique.

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit…If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (1 Cor. 12:4, 17-20)

So it is not just that the Father, Son, and Spirit call us into fellowship with themselves; they share their heavenly harmony that there might be harmony on earth, that people of different genders, languages, hobbies and gifts might be one in peace and love; and that one day, with one heart and voice, we might cry: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10).  And that is what the family of God — by its very existence — makes known to the world: that the God of harmony is the hope for world peace; that he can and will unite enemies, rivals, and strangers into one loving family under his fatherly care.  (pp.103-104)


Book Review: What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an

What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an, James R. White.  Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2013.  Softcover, 311 pages.

More than ever, Christians need to be equipped to deal with the challenges posed by Islam.  We often live beside Muslims, work alongside them, and study with them.  It’s good to have helpful resources to inform our conversations with our Muslim neighbours.  Though it is now a couple of years old already, James White’s book on the Muslim sacred text is one of those valuable helps.

White is the author of numerous non-fiction books.  He’s well-known as an author, speaker, and debater.  Though it does not factor into this book at all, he is an elder in a Reformed Baptist church in Phoenix, Arizona.  He is the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, an organization with a focus on apologetics (done in a Reformed, presuppositional manner).

Rather than summarize everything in this book, let me just highlight two points which stood out for me.  One has to do with what the Qur’an says about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  In chapter 4, White points out that the Qur’an says Christians believe the Trinity to consist of Allah, Jesus, and Mary.  Christians are alleged to believe that Allah and Mary had relations to produce Jesus.  This is important because:

Everyone affected would affirm that by the early decades of the seventh century, God Himself would have a perfect knowledge of what the doctrine of the Trinity actually says.  And if that doctrine does not accurately represent His own self-revelation, He would be in the perfect position to refute its falsehoods with devastating precision.  But is this what we find in the Qur’an? (76)

The Qur’an doesn’t describe the Trinity correctly, and so the Qur’an can’t be taken seriously as a revelation from God.

In chapter 11, White has a penetrating discussion about the text of the Qur’an.  Muslims claim that it is a perfect, immutable text.  Of course, that’s contrasted with the text of the Bible which, they allege, has been mutilated by Jews and Christians.  White gives a couple of examples from Muslim writers. This is one of them:

Muslims and non-Muslims both agree that no change has ever occurred in the text of the Qur’an.  The above prophecy [Surah 15:9] for the eternal preservation and purity of the Qur’an came true not only for the text of the Qur’an, but also for the most minute details of its punctuation marks as well…It is a miracle of the Qur’an that no change has occurred in a single word, a single [letter of the] the alphabet, a single punctuation mark, or a single diacritical mark in the text of the Qur’an during the last fourteen centuries. (250)

White demonstrates that this claim is patently false.  He notes that “even widely published editions of the Qur’an contain information indicating variations in the very text” (272-273).

He cites Yusuf Ali’s edition with its note on Surah 33:6.  In The Hidden Origins of Islam (ed. by Karl-Heinz Ohlig and Gerd-R. Puin), there is an essay by Alba Fedeli on variant readings in early Qur’anic manuscripts.  It is simply not true that there is a single immaculate Qur’an text preserved from the time of Muhammad.

One question I wish White would have addressed is whether these claims are made in ignorance or deliberately to deceive.  There is a doctrine in Islam known as al-Taqqiya.  This teaching says it is permissible to lie in order to advance the cause of Islam.  This is one of the things making Islam such a threat to western civilization in general, and Christianity in particular.  How can you tell when a Muslim is lying about Islam?

I would recommend this book to anyone who has regular contact with Muslims.  Be aware though: most, if not all, of the points raised by White in the book have rebuttals by Muslim apologists somewhere online.  The rebuttals are weak, but if you are going to use White’s material in conversations it would be advisable to prepare yourself beforehand for what your Muslim neighbour may bring back in response.


Book Review: How to Defend the Faith

How to Defend the Faith: A Presuppositional Approach, Riley Fraas.  Thaddeus Publications, 2018.  Softcover, 133 pages, $8.99 USD.

I first became interested in apologetics as a university student some 25 years ago.  Back then, we didn’t have a lot of books written about the theory or practice of Reformed apologetics.  I should qualify that:  we didn’t have a lot of books by others besides Cornelius VanTil (who was a prolific writer in the field).  Since then, we have seen a good number of volumes by other authors such as Greg Bahnsen, Scott Oliphint, and John Frame.  However, most of these books lean more towards the theoretical.  There’s still little in print showing how to put it into practice.

In this little guide, Riley Fraas does give a bare-bones summary of the ideas behind Reformed (or presuppositional) apologetics.  However, readers interested in going deeper will have to go elsewhere.  According to the author, “The intent is that this handbook will be a useful resource for the Christian layperson to have at his fingertips, to answer almost every kind of objection effectively:  a segue to the gospel” (131).  How to Defend the Faith demonstrates the principles of Reformed apologetics through a series of imagined dialogues based on the author’s real-life experiences.

Fraas spends most of his time on the objections of atheism.  He teaches readers how to reply to the atheist who says, “I believe that the important thing is to be a good person and empathize with fellow human beings.  As long as you do that, no god is needed” (46).  Or the atheist who says, “Show me evidence for any god” (62).  Most Christians will be tempted to immediately start laying out various evidences, allowing the atheist to be the judge of the evidence.  Fraas shows a better way — but to find out that better way, you’ll have to read the book for yourself!

One of the helpful features of this book is the attention given to various false religions.  Not much work has been done in showing how Reformed apologetics responds to the claims of Judaism or Islam, the so-called Abrahamic faiths.  Fraas fills in that gap.   He also addresses Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, the Seventh-Day Adventists, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

When it comes to Islam, Fraas notes that one of Islam’s weak points is its theoretical affirmation that both the Old Testament and New Testament are valid, while at the same contradicting these writings.  The classic example is Islam’s insistence that God has no son.  Fraas argues that this internal inconsistency makes Islam rationally indefensible.  He is correct on that, but more should be said.  What he doesn’t say is that Muslims also claim that Jews and Christians have corrupted the writings of the Bible, and thus the current text of the OT and NT are unreliable.  This is what any Christian will face if he challenges a Muslim on this internal inconsistency in Islam.  In reply to that, Christians must challenge Muslims to prove their claim.  Where is the proof that Jews and Christians have corrupted these writings so that they’re unreliable?

This is a handy little book, especially for those who have already had some basic exposure to Reformed apologetics and are convinced of its elemental premises.  It gives the reader a good idea of how to biblically defend the faith and then also point our unbelieving conversation partners to the gospel.  It’s not just an enjoyable read from front to back; it’ll also be a great reference to keep coming back to when engaged in giving a reason for the hope that is in us.


A Case Against Islam

Islam image

I’ve just finished reading K. Scott Oliphint’s Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practices in Defense of our Faith.  It was a refreshing and in some ways innovative approach to Reformed apologetics following the general trajectory of Cornelius Van Til’s presuppositionalism.  One unique feature of the book is its presentation of several “dialogues” between a Reformed (“covenantal”) apologist and various forms of unbelief or wrong belief.  Wrong belief is what we find countered in chapter 7.  Oliphint demonstrates how Christians might respond to the apologetic challenge of Islam, both exposing its weak points and presenting a better way with Christianity.  I found especially his presentation of the weaknesses of Islamic theism to be compelling.  He argues that we need “show how the religious system of Islam cannot stand of its own rationalistic weight” (258).  I’d like to share the best part of the dialogue between Covenantal Apologist (CA) and the fictional Ishaq Muhammad (IM):

CA:  …if I have heard you correctly, Allah’s will does not in any way constrain him.  Allah does now, and will always do, whatever he wants to do.  And what he wants to do later could be the opposite of what he has revealed through Muhammad.  This is why you can have no guarantees with respect to Allah’s will, which is the sum and substance of Islamic religion.  Is that correct?

IM:  Yes, theoretically, that is correct.  He cannot be constrained because he transcends all.  But Muslims have hope that Allah will delight in our deeds and so bring us to heaven.

CA:  I understand.  But that hope is only an empty hope.  And, like your understanding of mystery, it has no basis in knowledge.  It is, as we like to say, a blind faith.  Since the Qur’an is a revelation of Allah’s will, what he wills to do in the end may be the opposite of his will revealed in the Qur’an.  Correct?

IM:  Yes.  Allah be praised.  That is correct.

CA:  Well, Ishaq, if that is true, then it just may be that what I believe and what you believe are the same thing, though you could never know that.

IM:  What?  This is blasphemy.  I do not believe that Allah is three gods; I do not believe that he has a son.  I reject all that you hold to be true.

CA:  Yes, I know.  I did not say that you believe what I believe.  What I said is that it may be the case that what you believe and what I believe are the same.  Allah is free to will such a thing.

You will have to admit, Ishaq, that Allah is free enough to decide and to will that he will bring all Christians to heaven and reject all Muslims.  You will also have to agree that he may determine to have a son.  He may, if he so wills, determine that Christian belief is to rewarded eternally and Muslim belief is to be condemned.  If this were true, would you say, ‘Allah be praised’?

This, it seems to me, is the only ‘reasonable’ conclusion to your own religion.  There is nothing in the transcendent necessity of Allah, since that necessity includes his absolute freedom (except, as I have said, not the freedom to relate to anything), that hinders him from accepting all Christians.  So it just may be, based on what you have told me, that Christianity is the true religion and Islam is not, at least from the perspective of Allah’s absolutely free will. (247-248)

This is definitely one of the best examples I’ve seen of Reformed apologetics applied to Islam.