Muslims' Common Questions About Christianity
80- Is the Gospel a book or four different books?
Muslims have the idea that "the Gospel" (Injil) is a book which God has been pleased to send down to Jesus. But to Jesus' first disciples, and to the Christian Church, "the Gospel" is not a book; it is above all "Good News"; it is the proclamation of God's wonderful intervention in the world of men, for our salvation.
"The Gospel" is that the Lord God wished to reveal Himself to us in Mercy and Love; He wishes to bind us to Himself in a relation of dependance, trust and loyalty. He wants us to know Him as Father, to be joyful in living lives that are pleasing to Him, to have hearts filled with His peace. He does not want us to tremble in fear like a slave before his master. He wants us to love Him, and to serve Him willingly and gladly because we like to please Him.
"The Gospel" is that Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Messiah came from God to reveal God's nature and to initiate this relationship between God and man. Jesus is the living testimony to the Love of God; He is the expression of God's love for man. "The Gospel" is in brief the proclamation of God's love revealed in Jesus the Messiah.
We also say that the New Testament contains four "gospels"; these are four narratives which tell the story of the Lord Jesus from different points of view. It is therefore necessary to distinguish between the Gospel (which is the good news of what Jesus means for mankind), and the gospels (which are books describing Jesus' life and teaching).
81- What is the Bible?
Muslims are inclined to regard the Qur'an and the Bible as essentially similar books. The Muslim takes the Qur'an to be a book written directly by God, of which the original text exists eternally in heaven, and each word was transmitted by the angel to Muhammad. So he is led to expect that the Bible should be more or less the same thing to the Christians--a heavenly book similarly written by God and brought down to a prophet. Then he is surprised to learn that the Bible was written by so many different people over so long a period of time.
In fact, the Bible is a "library" made up of 66 different books, which have been gathered together over the centuries and only gradually came to form the one volume which we call the "Bible". These various writings are "inspired by God", not in the sense that an angel brought them down from heaven, not in the sense that the writers were necessarily speaking in a trance--but they are inspired in the sense that God directed the whole thought and experience of the writers, so that they might give a true revelation. And through all these writings there is one consistent theme--the revelation of how God cares for mankind.
Immediately after the creation God calls to Adam, "Where are you?", and from then on God continues to call us. The Bible tells how God reveals to us equally HIS LAW (through the Ten Commandments, and other more temporary commands), HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS (in allowing His own people, the Children of Israel, to be beaten by their enemies and exiled, so that they might be led to repent of their sins), and HIS MERCY (in bringing them back from exile and forgiving their sins)…..and above all the Bible tells how God gave to His people their last and greatest chance, in confronting them with His Love in Jesus Christ.
In the thought of the Bible, the supreme WORD OF GOD is Jesus Christ; but by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit every page of the Bible can "speak" to us, and become a "Word" which God addresses personally to us.
82- How could Jesus be the Son of God? Can God Take a Wife?
The Bible never for one moment speaks of God taking a wife, and all Christian belief is based on the testimony of the Bible. In Christian preaching there is not the least suggestion of a sexual relationship between God and any one of His creatures. When the New Testament calls Jesus "the Son of God", this does not for a moment mean that God begot a child through a woman, as men beget their children.
The title must be understood along with all the other names given to Jesus in the Bible; Jesus is also called the servant of God, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Lord, the Saviour, the new Adam, the Mediator, the High Priest, etc. We notice that Jesus did not normally make use of the title "Son of God" in His public preaching and teaching; it was rather in intimate conversation and in prayer that He revealed Himself as "the Son of God". Closely linked with this title are the many passages where Jesus referred to God as "my Father" and to Himself as "the Son" (e.g. Luke 23; 34 & 46; Matthew 11:27; Mark 13:32; John 5:19-24; 17:1).
The title indicates, above all, the extremely close relationship between Jesus and God. He is not merely someone "sent by God"; He has a unique knowledge of God, there is between Him and God an intimacy so profound that it becomes an actual identity of thought and action. Jesus completely and perfectly carries out the will of God, to the point where we must say that He has been endowed with absolute authority by God. Therefore, according to the New Testament, to obey Jesus is to obey the One who sent Him; to reject Jesus is to reject the One who sent Him; to believe in Jesus is not to believe in another Lord beside God--it is to believe in God through Jesus (John 5:23; and 12:44).
Further, according to the gospels, there can be no true knowledge of God outside of Jesus Christ; the unity of Jesus with God is such that one can say, metaphorically, "Jesus Christ is God's face turned towards mankind".
83- According to the Qur'an Jesus did not die on the Cross. How is this?
(cf. Q. 23 & 78) The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written some 550 years before the time of Muhammad, and contain the testimony of men who were disciples of Jesus, who lived at His side, who actually saw and touched Him. Some of these disciples were present in person at His crucifixion; in view of this, it is virtually impossible to cast any doubt on the evidence of the gospels, when these are considered without prejudice. In contrast, in the time of Muhammad the Bible was only just being translated into Arabic, and it is probable that Muhammad could have had no direct acquaintance with it. Instead, he heard stories about Jesus and the prophets derived from legendary writings; and these legends were influenced by the theological prejudices of some heretical Christians of the time. For example, some heretics believed that Jesus was not really man, but a kind of spirit who could not suffer pain and death; and long before the time of Muhammad, this "prejudice" gave rise to the legend that it was someone else resembling Jesus who was crucified. But the story (like the different story of the Ahmadis) is purely imaginary, and has no historical basis.
To satisfy yourself about the historical accuracy of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, you have only to study the text of the gospels, which give detailed eye-witness accounts of what happened.
84- Why do you speak of three gods? Is not God One and Indivisible?
Before any explanation, the best thing is to quote some Bible texts which emphasise the Christian belief in One God. First, from the Old Testament:
--the first of the Ten Commandments, "I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods beside me"--Exodus 30: 2-3;
--through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord declares, "Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no saviour. I am God, and also henceforth I am He"--Isaiah 43:10-13;
--The Psalmist ends one of his prayers with the words, "Let them know that thou alone, whose name is the Lord, art the Most High over all the earth"--Psalm 83:18;
--and some verses from the New Testament; the Lord Jesus repeats and confirms words from the Old Testament, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One"--Mark 12:29;
--the apostle Paul declares, "there is no god but One"--1 Corinthians 8:4;
--and in another letter he adds, "(there is) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all, and in all"--Ephesians 4:5-6.
This last verse is of special importance; it shows that God is not infinitely far off, like some great king living shut up in his palace, uninterested in the daily life and experience of the common people. The God of the Bible is a living God, full of sympathy for the least of His creatures, calling to them and coming to meet them. This God is "above all, through (or among) all, and in all"; He is the Holy One, the Creator--God, above all, the Father; He comes to mankind to demonstrate His justice and His forgiveness--God, among all, in Jesus Christ; He is at work in the hearts of men, in the Church and in the world--God, in all, by the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul writes frequently of God the Father, of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Romans 15:15-16 and 30; 2 Corinthians 1: 21-22 and 13:14)--in each case, equally, he is indicating the reality of the One Living God, without whose mercy no man could stand!
To illustrate these three ways in which God exists and acts, consider a certain Abraham Mgoki, who is a mechanic at Garousa; he is also the husband of Madame Mgoki, and again he is a member of the Evangelical Church. He may be in the workshop repairing cars, he may be at home with his wife, he may be at prayer in the church--he is always one and the same Mr. Abraham Mgoki. He is at once mechanic, father of his family and member of his church, yet always the same man.
That is of course a very simple illustration, which must not be applied literally, and which does not claim to explain the mystery of the thrice Holy God.
85- What is the purpose of religious pictures and images in Christianity?Are they supposed to represent God? Is it possible to make a picture of God?
No picture can represent God; no man has ever seen God, for no created being could look upon his Creator and survive. However, there are drawings and printed pictures which help us to understand the Gospel, and to realise what Jesus Christ taught and revealed to us; such pictures are especially useful in telling the story of Jesus to those who cannot read. You will see, for example, representations of the Virgin Mary, Jesus as a child, or Jesus with His disciples, or Jesus going up to Golgotha to be crucified--all these are merely pictures to help us imagine and understand the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Such images can never for a single moment be regarded by the Christian as objects of worship--which would be idolatry. Yet we must realise that the introduction of images or pictures into Christian Churches is often a stumbling-block to the muslim, and we should take great care not to give any impression that we are worshipping them.
86- Is Christianity a religion of the Europeans?
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew; that is, He belonged to an Asian tribe closely related to the Syrians and the Arabs. It was not until some 15 years after Jesus' death that the Gospel first reached Europe; and long before Christianity was established in Northern Europe there were already large and important Christian communities in North Africa. Church history tells of many first-rate Christian thinkers who were Africans. At the present time there are millions of Christians all round the world who are not white men. We should therefore oppose vigorously this false impression that Christianity belongs to the Europeans.
87- Who killed Jesus?
At first sight the gospels seem to say that it was the Jewish authorities of the time who caused Jesus to be arrested and killed, with the agreement of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. In fact however a careful reading of the gospels will show that these Jews act4ed as each one of us would have acted in their place; they represented us. If we had been there we should have applauded and willingly helped in the Crucifixion of Jesus!
It is the sin of each one of us which killed Jesus. In a thousand ways we violate God's gracious will; we cannot bear to have this Man of perfect obedience showing up our disobedience. Who killed Jesus? You did, and I did, each one of us!
88- What do you mean by saying "Jesus Christ died for us"?
The expression means that all men are sinners, condemned by God's righteous judgement; that Jesus Christ was made like us in every respect, except that He never sinned; and He took our place in the judgement. He took our place on the Cross, He died for us so that by His death we might receive forgiveness and grace; so that we who deserved to be condemned to death might rather enter on a new life, adopted as children of God. (cf. Q. 80).
89- What can man know of God's forgiveness? Isn't it only at the Last Day that God will forgive?
According to Islam, it is indeed only at the Last Day that God will reveal His judgement, and will reward everyone according to his works. But according to the New Testament, God has already revealed His judgement and His forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
God reveals His judgement in that Jesus, dying on the Cross, brings to light man's sinfulness. Every man, by his sin, deserves death and utter disgrace. But God ordained that Christ, in dying, should die in the place of sinful men. Therefore the Gospel according to John declares that Jesus takes away the sin of the world. He has taken man's sin upon Himself, so as to deliver man from eternal condemnation.
God reveals His forgiveness in Jesus Christ, in that if any man believes in Jesus, trusts Him as Saviour, and acknowledges himself a sinner for whom Christ died, such a man receives the forgiveness of God. When is this forgiveness received?--now, or only at the last day? God has been offering forgiveness in this way ever since the coming of Jesus Christ, but each man receives this gift at the moment when he trustingly accepts Jesus Christ into his heart as Saviour and Lord of his life. God's forgiveness is therefore a present reality which a man can receive today, so that from now on he can live in the peace of God and dedicated to God's service.
Let us emphasise: God's forgiveness has been given to us, once for all, in Jesus Christ who was lifted up on the Cross, in this world, in the year 33 A.D.
90- What is the Christian faith? (cf. Q.11)
The faith of a Christian may be summarised in these words: "Jesus Christ is Lord". He whom God sent, to die for my sin and to bring me new life and hope by His resurrection, He is henceforth and forever the Lord of my life. Today, and at the day of my death, He alone is my support, my hope, the source of my job. He is my Lord!
91- What does Prayer mean to the Christian?
Christian prayer is something distinct and different from other conceptions of prayer. It is distinct in that it is offered in the name of Jesus Christ; that is, the believer dares to approach God because God has first approached him in Jesus Christ, revealing in Jesus His love and His mercy. Man speaks to God because he knows that God loves him personally and seeks his good. We do not pray in order to "make use of God"; we pray in order that God may make use of us!--and that He may make us useful to our fellow-men.
So the Christian does not think of prayer as a matter of "reciting prayers", he thinks of it rather as a conversation with God. We hear God's word in the Bible, and we reply by our prayer and our everyday obedience. We do not think it essential to memorise a set form of words in a special language--our prayer is more like a child speaking to his father. Of course we must come to our Father with all reverence; as created beings, weak and sinful, we come humbly before our Creator, and dare simply to open our hearts and speak! In our prayer we express:
--our gratitude (our "thank you") for everything that each day brings, for all God's gifts--of health and material blessings as well as the love of friends;
--our penitence (our "forgive me") for all evil thoughts, for all actions which may have harmed someone;
--and our intercession (our "please") spreading out our wants before our Lord, as a child tells his father how he is and what he needs for his life and work.
92- Are we all worshipping the same God?
The Muslim takes it for granted that "we are all worshipping the same God", and he isn't aware of any problem about it. Muhammad said repeatedly that he was proclaiming the same God who had sent Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
But for followers of Jesus Christ, the question is much more complicated. The whole of the New Testament bears witness that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is unique and final. Jesus declared, "No one comes to the Father but by me": "no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him"; "I am the Way, and the truth, and the life". Also the apostles, speaking of the name of Jesus of Nazareth, declared, "there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved".
Now, what Jesus teaches about God, about His mercy, His patience, His forgiveness--can it really be compared with the teaching of the Qur'an?
The Christian is called to live as a child of God, with a deep inward confidence and trust in the Heavenly Father, and rejoicing in God's gift of forgiveness--is this quite similar to what the Muslim feels in the presence of his God? Certainly there is only one God, the Creator of us all--but the important thing is not merely to agree that one God exists, but to know what He is like, and how He deals with us; it is for that purpose that He has drawn near to us in Jesus Christ and, through the Cross, drawn us to Himself.
Certainly there is very much that we must respect in the Muslim faith, and there is no doubt that Muhammad was a man of courage, a great leader who turned millions from idolatry, one who had some knowledge of God. But it is hard for a Christian to go much further than this in his estimate of Islam. God's offer of salvation in Christ is so different from the idea of God in Islam.
In the presence of the Living God revealed in Jesus Christ, humbly, we pray for our Muslim brothers, and for ourselves, asking our Lord to grant that both may walk in the light. "I am the light of the world", says Jesus, "he who follows me will not walk in darkness".
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