James McConnell, a 78-year-old pastor in Belfast, was arrested and is being tried for making “grossly offensive” remarks against Islam, in violation of the UK’s 2003 Communications Act. Pastor McConnell preached in a sermon, “Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic”. Describing the god of Islam, he said, “The Muslim god is a heathen deity. Allah is a cruel deity. Allah is a demon deity.” A video of his sermon may be viewed at http://www.nowtheendbegins.com/preacher-james-mcconnell-jailed-for-preaching-against-islam/
[Update: On January 15th a verdict of not guilty on all counts was announced. Pastor McConnell “re-iterated his intention was not to offend individual Muslims but to preach against the doctrines of that religion, and he thanked all those who had supported him during these months.” http://www.jamesmcconnell.org/blog/a-victory-for-free-speech-and-the-gospel/]
In my previous article I did not agree with the statement that Allah is Satan. However, I do agree with Pastor McConnell that Islam is satanic and that Allah is a demon deity. It is remarkable to me that making such a statement has become a crime, even in western nations steeped in traditions of freedom of expression. The Bible and the Christian faith are both foundational to Western Civilization and ubiquitous in its development. But now in some countries, the public proclamation of Biblical truth claims is a crime because it is offensive to Muslims. And in Islamic nations this type of offense can rise to the level of blasphemy, which is punishable by death under Sharia law.
Muslims are offended by Christianity and Christians are offended by Islam. But while Christians seek to win (voluntary) believers by spreading the gospel (“make disciples of every nation”), Muslims seek to win a holy war (jihad) for a world “peace” in which all believers are Muslim (whether voluntarily or by force). Considering each claims to represent the truth, it is inevitable that adherents to one belief system will be offended by the other. But remaining and living in that offended state of mind only perpetuates destructive emotions, taking people from offense to anger to antipathy to hatred and finally to violence. This is exactly what a “holy war” is.
Moderate Muslims will tell you they have no desire to force their beliefs on anyone, and if that is the case, I applaud them. But the holy books of Islam tell a different story. Equally, some will point out historical examples of Christians forcing various peoples to convert. But such coercion is not justified by Biblical authority. The bottom line is that the only rational way to compare Christianity to Islam is by looking at how their theologies differ, according to their respective holy books.
So, what I want to do here is to briefly compare two belief systems, two theologies, two traditions. Rather than getting into military and political considerations, such as Islamic terrorism, refugees from the middle east and issues of religious freedom, for now, let’s just look at theological differences. There is a gulf of ignorance separating Christians from Muslims. Understanding can help bridge that gulf.
Theology is the study of God. The central issue of theology is defining the essence of God’s identity. What is he like? What is his nature? What is his character? In other words, “Who is God?”
Christian theologians and Islamic theologians come up with different answers to these questions, based on their conflicting source materials. The primary source for Christian theologians, are the holy Scriptures, commonly called the Bible, while the primary source for Islamic theologians are the writings and sayings of Muhammad — the Koran and the Hadith. Comparing these source materials is critical to understanding the theological differences between Christian and Islamic God concepts.
The Bible consists of 66 “books” assembled from different times and places, originally recorded in three different languages: Ancient Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Some books began in the oral tradition — passages spoken by memory and passed from one generation to the next — while other books began as written documents from the hands of a variety of writers over a period of about 1,500 years, culminating in the New Testament, written in the first century AD.
A Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament or Tanakh) was done in the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC (Septuagint). and a translation of both Old and New testaments into Latin was done in the fourth century AD (Vulgate). But the most reliable modern translations today, rendered into almost every human language, are produced by the scholarly study and comparison of tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts in the original languages.
John Warwick Montgomery says that “to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament,” (page 40 of Evidence That Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell). Compare this attitude toward documents of classical antiquity with a quote from Robert Spenser’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades): “Muslims call the age before any country adopted Islam the time of jahiliyya, or ignorance. Naipaul explains that ‘the time before Islam is a time of blackness: that is part of Muslim theology. History has to serve theology.’”
Bible believers consider the holy Scriptures (the Bible) to be God’s inspired revelation to man — words breathed to us from the mouth of God, recorded by men, and painstakingly preserved, rendering them still accurate and reliable today. We believe the Bible history, that Israel was chosen to be God’s people, and that he directly established the ancient Jewish religion through Moses. But Islam teaches that the Hebrew Bible, in which the history of Israel is recorded, is “corrupted” and unreliable, and that all the patriarchs from Abraham on were actually Muslims.
This is why, despite the fact that Islam was founded 600 years after Christianity and some 2,000 years after Judaism, Muslims disregard the history of those religions, choosing not only to believe their own revisionist version, but destroying ancient artifacts and closing off archeological sites from scientific study. They simply declare all pre-Islamic history as ignorant, and destroy all evidence to the contrary.
The primary source material for Islamic theologians comes almost exclusively from Muhammad who lived from 570 to 632 AD. His title is, “the messenger of God” (not “a” messenger of God), meaning it is not shared with any others. The Koran was written by him and the Hadith is a record of things he said. There is some violent disagreement between sects (most notably the Sunnis and Shiites) as to which is the correct collection of sayings that make up the Hadith. But their differences are primarily political, stemming from disagreements about Muhammad, rather than the nature of Allah.
While the Christian gospel has been taught throughout the world and understood in many different languages and in many different cultures, it is significant that Islam maintains an almost universal reliance upon pronouncements of Imams in the context of the Arabic language and culture for the “proper” understanding of the Koran and Hadith. On balance, these texts are more closely tied to Arabic culture than the biblical text is tied to its ancient semitic cultures.
The biblical message is more direct, more universal and more culturally diverse. While Bible believers point with confidence to Scripture, believing it is the revelation of God’s truth that can be understood by anyone who seeks it, Islamic dogma is more dependent upon the approved interpretations of Muslim religious leaders, than on the actual texts of the Koran or Hadith. A prominent example is that despite the fact that the holy book of Islam repeatedly urges the faithful to “kill the infidel”, Muslim apologists insist it doesn’t say that or mean that. More on that later.
There are some similarities in the Roman Catholic Church, where “sacred church tradition” is accorded authority in addition to that of Scripture. There is also the liberal position in some churches today that Scripture is not literally authoritative, but that it only gives us “guidelines”. Self-identifying Christians who adhere to this position very likely aren’t concerned over differences between YHWH of the Bible and Islam’s Allah because they consider them no more significant than variations in religious guidelines. Those who do not view Scripture as authoritative are comfortable making the assumption that we really don’t know for sure who God is, so anyone’s guess is acceptable. They would say, “We all are trying to follow the same God”.
The non-authoritative view of Scripture considers “fundamentalists” to be wrong in claiming the verbal plenary inerrancy of Scripture. In other words, there are two views of Scripture. I come from the position that what is written in the Bible is the absolute and sufficient truth about God, which he has revealed to us. But those who do not hold to the inerrancy of Scripture paint theology as something less dependent on what is written and more a product of their own suppositions.
In Acts 17:11, the Berean Jews are memorialized as being “more noble” because upon hearing Paul and Silas preach, they “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” They didn’t simply believe what Paul and Silas said. They compared their message to what was written in the Hebrew Scriptures, which they knew to be true. This position on Biblical truth is a threat to the Muslim faith, and therefore offends them.
The Christian idea of tolerance has helped to keep relationships civil between different schools of doctrine from one denomination to another. Christians are encouraged to question, write, teach and discuss matters of faith — even on controversial issues. We believe in learning and openly discussing faith issues in “the marketplace of ideas” because it stimulates spiritual growth and makes us more productive believers. But in Islam, questioning the authority of religious teachers can be considered heresy or even blasphemy.
There are liberals (moderates) and fundamentalists (radicals) in both Christianity and Islam. Liberal Christians are soft on the Bible. Their main religious concern is “doing good” and “being nice” according to their own standards, and staying politically correct. But biblical Christians believe that God speaks directly and personally to them through his word, so they specifically try to obey God. Most Muslims are more prone to accept what their Imams say as authoritative. Radical Muslims take the Koran seriously when it says to kill the infidel.
Bottom line, everyone needs to ask what their religion’s authority is. Is it some human authority or is it God’s authority? I certainly see no reason to believe in a religion whose highest authority is human wisdom. But if God himself is our authority, then what has he revealed? How has he revealed it? To whom has he revealed it? To a chosen few or to everyone? Does God’s revelation require a middle man or an interpreter? Can God’s message to one conflict with his message to another? How do we examine the authority for what we believe about God?
In John 17:17 Jesus, praying to the Father, said, “Your word is truth”. When Jesus was taken before Pilate (John 18:37) he said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate dismissed him rhetorically, saying, “What is truth?”, leaving without waiting for an answer.
The truth of Christian theology is pivotal. Either Jesus Christ is who he said he is, or one religious description of God is as good as any other. The gospel of salvation in Christ is either the truth or it’s not. There cannot be more than one truth. The relativity of many truths is equal to no absolute truth at all. The message of Islam is totally incompatible with the gospel of salvation in Christ. These two opposed messages cannot come from one and the same God.
1 Corinthians 1:18 tells us, “…the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” And a few verses later (verse 23) it adds, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to gentiles.” The gospel is foolish to unbelievers and a particular stumbling block to the Jews, through whom God’s gift of salvation was given. The truth of Christianity is also offensive to them.
The ways various societies choose to deal with this “offensiveness” can be quite irrational. Remember, we are talking about how people deal with theological differences. Historically, in the West we have relied on freedom of speech, allowing everyone to express their religious beliefs openly, with the idea that everyone has the opportunity and responsibility to weigh the options and decide for themselves what to believe. The history of Islam is not just filled with, and characterized by the violent oppression of those who do not accept Islamic theology, but their so-called “holy books” actually instruct them to deal cruelly and ruthlessly with infidels.
While you may find historical events in which Christians were similarly cruel and ruthless, no such instructions were given to them from the holy Scriptures. They were acting on their own, not according to God’s word. But all of the brutal attacks done by Islamic terrorists find their basis in and can be traced to instructions in the Koran and Hadith http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/023-violence.htm. In short, while Christians fight with the word of truth, Muslims fight with the sword.
We now live in a time when expressing what we believe — even if it is the truth — may be considered a crime. This has a crushing effect on the free exchange of information, specifically on the instructions of Jesus for Christians to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). We believe that sharing the gospel is a good thing: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15). But we don’t force our faith on others. Becoming a believer requires the free, willful act of receiving Jesus.
In Christianity we are taught that Christ has given us both free will and freedom (Romans 10:13; Galatians 5:1). That freedom means we can be honest and authentic as we live our lives in faith. The Christian faith is not one of strict religious performance, but of living in real and loving relationships with God and man. God says, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). He knows us because he made us (Psalm 139:13). And because he loves us (Colossians 3:12) he wants us to know him (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
It is exactly this loving relationship, based on the mercy of God, that allows us the freedom to honestly question the things of God without rebelling against him. That is why Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” This freedom of religion is not comprehended by Islam, which wields its authority with an iron hand. Muslims must totally submit to their religious authorities.
Their legalistic attitude is substantially different from the Biblical concept of submitting to authorities in Romans 13, in which those in authority have an accountability before God. If they abuse their authority, those under them have no obligation to submit to them. It will be remembered that the history of ancient Israel is full of examples of the people being punished for the evil policies of their kings.
Human authority has no right to compel anyone to adhere to immoral, unrighteous or otherwise sinful standards of behavior. Because God ordains government, the government must be constrained to rule according to God’s standards. In the Biblical world view, that means the government is obliged to protect the right of a preacher to say Allah is not the God of the Bible.
But in the Islamic world view, preaching anything against Allah or Muhammad is blasphemy, punishable by death. I find it particularly fascinating that some people refuse to acknowledge the fact that the choice between Jesus and Allah is a life or death proposition. This is the illegal message Pastor James McConnell preached — a message the enemy does not want heard because it is truth.
In the next installment I will examine how our understanding is dependent upon our language.