Archive for July, 2010

Talking With A Muslim

July 19, 2010

The other night I got approached on IM by one of the Muslims from CodeCall.  He’s a nice guy, very intelligent, and had apparently been studying Muslim apologetics.  Over the course of four hours, we discussed some of the hardest challenges the Islamic world can offer against Christianity.  I attempted to provide appropriate responses, and think I did a good job.

It’s important to understand that I made a conscious choice to not attack Islam.  I was not, at first, sure why he was asking me the questions he was asking.  I can understand being confused by the story of Lot and his daughters having sex, for example.  I can understand that it is a shocking story, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  The point of the story was to explain the origin of the Ammonites and Moabites.

I found it interesting to discover, while discussing Lot, that the Muslim mindset towards holy books is that every single passage should have an immediate, obvious moral message being taught.  The Bible doesn’t always work that way.  There are several books in the Bible that are primarily history, a recording of events.  Genesis is a good example of this, as is Kings, Chronicles, etc.  It’s a direct result of the difference between how the Quran was written, and how the Bible was written.

Another issue that came up was the nature of Jesus as God’s son.  The nature of the questioning causes me to think that Muslims leap to the natural conclusion: that Christians think Jesus is somehow God’s biological son.  That, of course, is not what Christians believe.  It about a relationship, not biology.

An interesting claim made by Muslims is that the Quran is completely self-consistent.  This was brought up, along with a vague charge that the Bible is not.  At this point, I felt I was in more of a debate/evangelism effort on his part than a desire to learn about Christianity.  Since I am not particularly familiar with the Quran or any contradictions it may have had, I was in a poor position to produce them.  On the other hand, I didn’t need to.  God reminded me of a college course I took as a math major.

When I was in college, I took a course on geometry, in which we explored variations on Euclidean geometry.  Geometry on a sphere and geometry on a half-plane were the two major variants.  What we ended up with was three distinct sets of hypotheses, which resulted in three distinct, incompatible versions of geometry.  In one, the sum of the angles of a triangle is always more than 180 degrees.  In another, it’s always less than 180 degrees.  In the third, it’s always exactly 180 degrees.  Each geometry is completely self-consistent, but they cannot all describe the world around us.  In fact, NONE of them described the curvature of space-time.

Self-consistency is not the same as truth.  Self-consistency is only a prerequisite for truth.  It is a huge difference, and ended his efforts to expound on the remarkable self-consistency of the Quran.

Another point of discussion was how remarkable it was that an illiterate man (Muhammad) could rise in power to rule so many people.  I felt it was similar in nature to David’s rise from a shepard to King, or even Genghis Kahn’s conquest of most of Asia.

Finally, he started presenting passages from the Bible that could be interpreted as prophecies about Muhammad.  Around the third one, I realized where he was going and found has a lot of the same passages listed, but puts them in context to explain why they do not refer to Muhammad.

After four hours of discussion, we called it a night.  I hope I made him think about Christianity, and I’m sure he hopes I’ll consider Islam more.  Three books that helped me in the conversation are: Islam Revealed, A Christain Arab’s View of Islam, Paul Meets Muhammad, A Christian-Muslim Debate on the Resurrection, and A Biblical Point of View on Islam.  Having read these books, I was familiar with several of the major arguments in favor of Islam, and wasn’t thrown off balance.  While I couldn’t always recall the counter-arguments, I did know they existed.  I suspect that it will become important for Christians to know the differences between Islam and Christianity in the near future, and to have a ready defense for their faith in Christ.  If they don’t, they may well lose it.

Are You Getting Criticized?

July 11, 2010

I’ve been reading I Corinthians, II Corinthians, and Galatians recently, and noticed something in all three: Paul spent a LOT of time defending himself and his message from attacks.  Paul had a pretty simple message: to be a Christian, you need to put your faith in Christ.  Period.  Nothing else.  Nothing about baptism.  No dietary laws.  No circumcision and annual temple offering required.  Just Christ.

For some reason, some people didn’t like that message.  They wanted Gentile believers to become Jews, not just Christians.  It makes sense, given that Christianity started as an offshoot of Judaism, but it quickly became something else.

Paul also had to defend himself against charges that he was an unworthy teacher!  I know, Paul only wrote about half the new testament, but in his day he was accused of all kinds of things.  One was that he shouldn’t be listened to because he didn’t charge people for his teaching!  That’s like saying I would be a real math tutor if I charge $25/hour, but if I tutor someone in my church for free, I’m not a “real” tutor.

So what’s my point?  Simply this: Paul got a lot of grief as an apostle from people who didn’t like one aspect or another of his very simple message.  How much are you getting?  Note: Paul wasn’t getting criticized just by non-Christians, but also by people who professed to be Christians!  He was going for a purity of message that resulted in him pissing off almost EVERYBODY!

There is a movement in the United States in many circles to promote acceptance/tolerance of almost anything in the name of getting people saved.  This is a double-edged sword.  It has a point, but is dangerous.  As an example, the Bible clearly spells out that engaging in homosexual relations is a sin.  It also clearly spells out that lying is a sin.  When trying to lead someone to Christ, you don’t normally insist that a person stop telling any lies, and then get saved.  You use it as evidence of the need for salvation, and the Spirit’s work in their lives to reduce the amount of lies as evidence that the salvation was real.  The same is true of homosexuality: it is evidence of the need for salvation, but it is the Spirit’s job to work on the person to remove the sin from his/her life.  If a person professes to be a Christian, we are to confront that person with their sin in love, with the goal being for the person to confess and repent (stop doing) of it.

Some churches have decided that it is easier to get people saved if they don’t harp on not sinning.  The result is a church where it’s okay to lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, etc.  They then criticize traditional churches for being “mean” or “divisive” or “unwelcoming”.  The funny thing is, non-Christian organizations embrace these “churches”, but not the “mean” ones.

Paul got criticized for calling out people who put too many burdens on new believers, and for calling out sin in professing believers.  He got hit from both sides, being called legalistic, non-legalistic, unprofessional (for not taking money for preaching), and money-driven (for collecting money for Jerusalem).  He was buffeted from all sides from supposed friends and enemies.  This happened because he was driving for a very precise balance.  Are you?