After introducing this series of blog-posts on the Cross and the Crescent we have discussed what Islam is, where it may be found, wrong responses to Islam, and we have briefly examined misconceptions that Muslims and Christians have towards one another. Now we will focus on the commonalities that Islam and Christianity share. Timothy George begins chapter one of his book “Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?” with this:
“How would you characterize someone who believes in the literal, verbal inspiration of Scripture, who holds that Jesus is God’s virgin-born Messiah, that Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, bodily ascended into heaven, and will one day return to do battle with the antichrist and in the end truly reign on the earth? This person knows that Satan is alive and well on planet Earth, that angels and demons are real forces to be reckoned with, and that after death everyone on earth will go to one of two places – the burning fires of hell or the beautiful palaces of heaven. This individual does not believe in evolution, but believes that God created the world in six literal days. This person happens to be a tee-totaler, is strongly pro-life, and is committed to traditional family values. Women are highly regarded in the religious community to which this person belongs, but they do not function as preachers and leaders there. This person is also deeply patriotic, regards pacifism as weakness, deplores the separation of church and state, and believes that government (ideally) should enforce God’s will in every area of society.
Do you recognize this person as a strict, conservative, Bible-believing Christian? Well, maybe. But he or she might just as well be a devout, conscientious Muslim! More than any two religious traditions on earth, Christianity and Islam share both striking similarities and radical differences. Historically, the relationship between Christians and Muslims has been strained at best. All too frequently it has been marked by bloodshed and violence. But there is a verse in the Qur’an that presents a helpful perspective. This verse tells Muslims, “You will surely find that the nearest in affection to those who believe are the ones who say, ‘We are Christians’” (5:82).
The world’s second largest and fastest growing religion shares some similarities with Christianity, but they are only surface similarities. It’s worth noting that these commonalities are shared by Judaism as well.
Essentially, all religions are about the same thing: life’s brevity, death’s certainty, search for meaning in a life of pain and suffering, and the longings of the human heart. Of course, genuine, Biblical Christianity is not just another religion. We know from God’s Word that He has provided what no religion – including a hollow, ritualistic Christianity – is able to provide: eternal life, victory over death, purpose, and fulfillment. Only Christ’s finished work on the cross and resurrection from the grave is able to rescue fallen humanity from its sin. Still, there are some surface similarities between Christianity and its two Semitic cousins Islam and Judaism. All three originated in the Middle East, and each has a connection to the patriarch Abraham.
Besides that, each religion shares five characteristics.
All three affirm that God is the Creator who has made known His will to mankind. The idea of the samsara, the wheel of life, which is a key aspect of eastern religions, is rejected by all three. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam history is considered to be the story of God working out His purposes, and each have a defining moment in their history: the Exodus, the Incarnation/Resurrection (I don’t think those two may be separated), and the receiving of the Qur’an.
All three possess books held to be holy and inspired by God. Judaism’s book is what Christians refer to as the Old Testament, and of special importance is the Torah – the books of Moses (Genesis – Deuteronomy). Other important books to the Orthodox Jew are the Mishnah and the Talmud.
Of course, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments form the Christian’s Bible. (It must be noted that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox include more books.)
The Qur’an is Islam’s holy book. Each Muslim believes that every word was given to Muhammad by God, and he recited those words verbatim to his scribes. While a few similarities exist between the Bible and the Qur’an there are a vast number of crucial differences; not the least of which is the message communicated. Here are a few others:
- The Qur’an was revealed to one person over 23 years.
- The Bible was written (under divine inspiration) by many people in several languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek), over the course of about 1500 years.
- Muslims regard only the Arabic as from Allah.
- Christians strive to put the Bible in the language of the people.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share a passion for the oneness of God. Idolatry is a major heresy in all three religions. Paul describes conversion in 1 Thessalonians 1:9b, “how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”
When God speaks of Himself as a “jealous God” (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 32:16; 32:21; Joshua 24:19) it is not describing petulance. God alone is worthy of worship, and He will not share it with anyone or anything else. As Revelation 4:11 says, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
In Western society monotheism is no longer en vogue. Atheism, pan-theism, and poly-theism are seen as more enlightened or more natural viewpoints. Take for instance Gore Vidal’s opinion as stated in a lecture given at Harvard:
“I regard monotheism as the greatest disaster ever to befall the human race. I see no good in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam — good people, yes, but any religion based on a single… well, frenzied and virulent god, is not as useful to the human race as, say, Confucianism, which is not a religion but an ethical and educational system that has worked pretty well for twenty-five hundred years. So you see I am ecumenical in my dislike for the Book. But like it or not, the Book is there; and because of it people die; and the world is in danger.” (Harvard Lowell Lecture – 4/20/1992)
No doubt many evil things have been done in the name of God and Allah, but this destruction does not issue from a commitment to the one true God. Instead, it signifies a return to idols. Culture, kingdom, ethnicity, power, territory, and politics are valued more than God, and so atrocities are committed for them in God’s name. That’s idolatry.
Besides, genuine Christianity is much more than monotheism.
All three religions have a missionary theme, albeit Judaism has consistently lagged behind in this area. Evangelism, however, is not a New Testament invention. It is intertwined with the Old Testament narrative (Isaiah 11:10; 49:6; Deuteronomy 4:6; 32:43; Psalm 96; 117). In the New Testament, Christ not only commanded and empowered His church to “go” but He demonstrated the going with His own life. The Gospel is for every race, culture, and language group.
Islam is also evangelistic, and Muslim traders as well as soldiers carried Muhammad’s message to Europe, Africa, Asia, and now that message is being declared in this hemisphere.
And I do not mean in a Rick Warren sort of way. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all believe that God is the God of creation, history, and the final judgment. All of life is marching towards a grand finale in which they will play, according to their beliefs, a significant role.
For all the commonalities that exist between Christianity and Islam there are many irreducible, irreconcilable differences, and they may all be sectioned off into four categories. These four main areas of contention are: view of God, nature of Christ, view of man, and the nature and authority of the Bible. That will be the subject of next week’s post.