Islam, The Gospel, and Western Civilization (part one)

    

INTRODUCTION

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:

  1. The Koran, the Bible, and a theology of Inspiration
  2. Jesus and Muhammad – a brief comparison
  3. Who is Jesus in Islamic Thought?
  4. The First 300 Years (comparison of the birth narratives of Christianity and Islam)
  5. Law, Religion, Grace, and the Gospel
  6. Heaven and Hell and how we get there
  7. Why do so many Islamic people seem to hate Jews, Christians, and Western Civilization?
  8. Why are there so many Arabic Muslim suicide bombers and so few Latino Catholic suicide bombers?
  9. Can we be critical of the global Jihadist movement and still love the Muslim next door?
  10. 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.

Bibliography:

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

 

PCUSA Attempts to Redefine Marriage

Several members of Westminster have contacted me to ask if I will be forced to perform “marriage” between two men or two women after the change in our constitution which will go into effect this summer. I appreciate this concern. If you would like to read about the decision of the PCUSA you can read about it here:

http://customwire.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_REL_PRESBYTERIANS_GAY_MARRIAGE?SITE=CASDT&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2015-03-17-22-58-55

Here is my reply…

This change in the wording of the constitution of the PCUSA will not force pastors who object to perform so called “gay weddings” – though I suspect that is coming fairly soon — within 5 years at the most.  Yet even when it becomes ‘required’ by the PCUSA I think the denomination will be incapable of prosecuting any complaints which might be brought against those who refuse.

The elders of Westminster have always expressed their concern that their pastor never be forced to go against his conscience on matters like this – so I know I have their support and I appreciate it.  We know there are different opinions in our congregation about civil unions for people who understand themselves to be homosexual in orientation – however we have stated in various ways over the years that we do not believe the church should be used to perform services blessing such unions since they have no biblical or confessional foundation. (See below)

The Session of Westminster voted many years ago to withhold all funds from the PCUSA. We determined that we could not in good conscience collect offerings in the name of Christ and then use them to support controversial political causes which offend the consciences of those who gave them. We believe that offerings should be used only in projects and programs which have clear and solid support in Scripture.

Though we no longer send offerings to the national church, we have continued to remain connected to the (approximately 30) churches of the Presbytery of San Diego since this has served as a source of support for us in our local ministry efforts.  

If you would like me to take more time to explain the relationship between Westminster, the Presbytery of San Diego, and the national denomination known as the PCUSA, please submit comments. Thank you.  – Jim

 

The Definition of Marriage (Adopted by the Session of Westminster Presbyterian Church in October 2014 in response to actions of the General Assembly of the PCUSA)

It is the teaching of Scripture that humanity has been created male and female, and that this creative order is the one proper basis for the covenant of marriage. Jesus cites and authorizes this order when he quotes Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in relation to marriage: “From the beginning of creation ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ Thus, they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:7-8).

This same understanding governs the confessional tradition of the PCUSA. The Second Helvetic Confession (5.246), the Westminster Confession (6.131), and the Confession of 1967 (9.47) all expressly define marriage as a covenant before God between one man and one woman.

Based on the teachings of Scripture and our confessions, we resolve that the facilities of this church will not be used for same-sex “weddings” nor shall pastors associated with our church be authorized by this session to perform weddings of same-gender couples.