My goal in writing a bit about Islam and the Gospel is not so much to criticize Islam as it is to help Christians to understand Christianity better. Those of you who have grown up “in the church” may not have thought much about the Christian faith — in the way that a fish doesn’t think much about water.
I write not as an expert on Islam, but rather, as a Christian pastor and theologian. My knowledge of Islam is based primarily on books and secondarily on interviews with various voices from the Islamic community. I have not spent any time in a mosque nor have I “hung out” with a local imam. I have sought to understand Islam academically rather than experientially, so I am always interested in hearing from people who have more direct experience of Islam.
In seeking to understand Islam, it is helpful for us to keep in mind that Islam is so diverse that many experts on Islam would prefer to talk about “Islams” rather than “Islam” or the “Islamic worlds” rather than “the Islamic world.” This point is well taken. There is a major division between Sunni Islam and Shiite Islam. There are also differences between Islam as it is practiced in Muslim majority countries and Muslim minority countries. Islam is expressed differently in different nations – for example — the Islam practiced in the Balkans is different from the Islam practiced in Pakistan. The tremendous diversity in Islam makes it hard for a person to get a coherent picture of what Islamic beliefs are “true Islam” and which beliefs are “false Islam.”
The one thing that all Muslims have in common is the belief that Muhammad is a prophet of God (Allah) who received the word of God (the Koran) through a divine revelation. The diversity of Islam is what comes after that revelation and in how that revelation is applied by various people in various settings. As I seek to offer a very limited and brief analysis of Islam and the gospel, I am not able to recount all of the complex historical and political intrigue surrounding the expansion of Islam. If you would like to learn more about the complexity of the movement I will recommend various books for further reading.
Here are some of the topics I hope to cover in upcoming posts on this topic:
- The Koran, the Bible, and a theology of Inspiration
- Jesus and Muhammad – a brief comparison
- Who is Jesus in Islamic Thought?
- The First 300 Years (comparison of the birth narratives of Christianity and Islam)
- Law, Religion, Grace, and the Gospel
- Heaven and Hell and how we get there
- Why do so many Islamic people seem to hate Jews, Christians, and Western Civilization?
- Why are there so many Arabic Muslim suicide bombers and so few Latino Catholic suicide bombers?
- Can we be critical of the global Jihadist movement and still love the Muslim next door?
- What can Christians learn from Muslims?
If you have other questions please leave a comment or send me an email and I will attempt to expand this list.
Recommended Reading (two or three books):
Understanding the Koran: A Quick Christian Guide to the Muslim Holy Book by Dr. Mateen Elass. I have met Mateen on several occasions and he presents a gracious and truthful analysis of the Koran from a Christian point of view. This book is helpful for people wanting to understand a bit more about the differences and similarities between Christianity and Islam and how to interact with Muslims on a more personal basis.
The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror by Dr. Bernard Lewis. This gives a more historical/political analysis of the expansion of Islam over 13 centuries and seeks to unpack the seething hatred in the Islamic world toward western values in general and toward the USA in particular.
Lewis writes as an historian rather than as a theologian and this book is less focused on personal responses and more focused on global trends.
I would also add that if you’ve already read the entire Bible you would probably find it helpful to read the Koran – or at least read a few sections of the book. It is fairly repetitive so if you read about 50 pages of it you will get the general idea of what’s on the other 500 pages. My hunch is that you will be so incredibly thankful for Jesus, the Bible, the gospel, the church, and the grace of God you will wonder how anyone would embrace anything else.
My recent reading on the topic includes (I would not necessarily recommend these – but I include them as sources for some of my analysis):
Arberry, Arthur J., translator. The Koran Interpreted: A Translation. 1996, paperback, 358 pp. ISBN: 0684825074.
Esposito, John L. and John O. Voll. Makers of Contemporary Islam. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 257 p
Armstrong, Karen, Islam: A Short History. New York: The Modern Library, 2002
Spencer, Robert, Not Peace but a Sword: The Great Chasm between Christianity and Islam. El Cajon, CA: Catholic Answers Inc.
Woodberry, J.Dudley, From Seed to Fruit: Global Trends, Fruitful Practices, and Emerging Issues among Muslims Pasadena CA: William Carry Library, 2008 426 pgs.
Smith, Huston, Islam: A Concise Introduction San Francisco: Harper Collins 2001