I gobbled this book up on a recent flight overseas and was fascinated by its simple presentation of the key differences between Islam and Christianity, between the Quran and the Bible, and between Allah and the Triune God. It’s not a treatise that will convince any Muslim away from his faith, but as an introduction for Christians about the lesser-advertised points of Islam, it serves its purpose well. I’d like to simply summarize in my own words much of what I learned from this series of interviews between R.C. Sproul and Abdul Saleeb, beginning with the differences between Islam and Christianity, then moving on to some key aspects of Islam that must be noted, and then finally recording some of the advice Abdul Saleeb shares about how Christians can approach Muslims with the Gospel.
Regarding the differences between Islam and Christianity, they are extreme and foundational, and it’s shocking to me that anyone could suggest that Christians and Muslims “have more similarities than differences.” The only way this could be true is if doctrine played no role in religion at all! While both religions view themselves as the ultimate truth, Islam considers itself a grown-up, advanced, university-level religion when compared to either Judaism (elementary school) or Christianity (high school). When contrasted to the hope offered in the Christian Bible, however, Islam offers no assurance of salvation (John 20), no atonement and therefore no answer to their own guilt (Rom 5), no original sin (Gen 3), no knowledge of God (John 17), and no holiness of God (Isaiah 6). Islam describes salvation as works-based, though ultimately dependent upon the grace of God (Rom 10); it denies the deity, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 3, 1Corinthians 15); and it denies the Triune nature of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Gen 1). There is virtually no doctrinal agreement between the two religions, and even in this aspect of “religion” they differ, for while Islam is most definitely a religious system of works-based obedience to commands from an unknowable God, Christianity is a faith-based relationship with a personal, knowable God.
Secondly, I’d like to comment on a few key aspects of Islam that often get overlooked or, perhaps, purposefully ignored. First, while the pejorative term “fundamentalist” is used by our mainstream media to suggest the mental instability of any Protestant believer who actually holds to the validity of the Bible as written, the same term is used to describe only those militant Muslims who “misinterpret” the Quran. They reason that since “Islam” means “peace,” it must therefore be “a religion of peace”, and anyone who uses the Quran to justify violence must be taking the verses about slaughtering Jews and Christians out of context. In reality, however, fundamentalism is by definition orthodoxy, meaning that any Muslim who believes the Quran is God’s literal Word and any Christian who believes the Bible is God’s literal Word is a fundamentalist, an orthodox believer. Therefore, either the vast majority of Muslims across the world are fundamentalists who agree with the violence commanded in their Scripture, or they deny the validity of the Quran and are themselves infidels fit to be killed.
Why is this “either-or” statement true? To understand this, we must look at the true context of all the violent commands offered up in the Quran. Abdul Saleeb references several of the many statements both in the Quran and in the sayings of Muhammad published after the prophet’s death, and in doing so he notes that these commands to slaughter Jews and Christians and infidels bear no context: they are universal commands for all times and all places. This is an important point to note, for many critics will attack Christianity with similar claims of “a history of violence.” They’ll suggest that in the Old Testament, God also commanded violence and slaughter, though they fail to note that in each such instance, God spoke to a specific person at a specific time about a specific enemy who had spurned God’s mercy and patience long enough. In fact, God made similar pronouncements against Israel itself on many occasions when they had also turned from the One True God to idols!
Critics might also say that the Christian Church has a long history of violence against those who disagree with them, which is sadly true, yet not in the least in obedience to the teaching of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Crusades of yesteryear or the militant attacks by wacko “Christians” today were committed by those nominals who spurned the clear teachings of the Bible (both the Old and New Testaments) and opposed the character of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. These actions, whether ancient or contemporary, were and are unjustifiable according to Scripture and have no relationship to true Christianity. Muslims who disagree with their militant brothers cannot say this about the Quran or the teachings of Muhammad, for the more obedient they become to these universal commands, the more violently and domineering they must behave. Whereas true fundamentalism in Christianity brings freedom, true fundamentalism in Islam brings oppression—despite whatever revisionist history is being reported on cable news this week.
One final point regarding aspects of Islam that often get overlooked or ignored is the issue of secularization. Sproul and Saleeb discuss secularization in two parts. First is that many of America’s 7 million Muslims (at the time of publication in 2003) were secularized, nominal Muslims who had found freedom in the United States from their oppressive Islamic nations elsewhere. They were not the devoted fundamentalists who had accepted literal jihad against Jews and Christians and Americans in general, but rather the salvation-seeking nominals who were pursuing a personal, spiritual jihad against lust, idolatry, and sinful living. Many emotional responses by Americans to 9-11 were tragic, of course, with random attacks going out against Muslims, Sheikhs, and Arab-looking individuals by angry “patriots” on our very streets. This is no way to resolve our differences, and it’s perhaps the most un-Christian result to come out of the whole tragedy. Beyond this, there is a second form of secularization they discuss which must also be understood, the secularization that American media and entertainment has brought to the world in general. Many conservative nations in the Muslim world view the sinfulness of Hollywood and American entertainment as a direct spiritual attack from Satan, and who could argue with them? It’s little wonder our nation is considered “The Great Satan” by many in the Middle East for how we’ve destroyed morality and culture across the world! Just visit any nation today—Muslim or otherwise—and you’ll find that their children know more about Breaking Bad and Coca-Cola than they do their own history and local dishes, not to mention their core religious histories. It’s really quite a repugnant legacy we’ve built as a nation!
Sproul and Saleeb close their interviews with a brief but detailed discussion about what Christians can do to reach Muslims and what specifically many coverts from Islam have responded to in the Christian message. Saleeb mentions that love, prayer, and the Gospel are the strongest Christian “weapons” against Islam, and that we need humility and boldness when approaching any Muslim with the Gospel of Jesus. We must seek to convince but never coerce, for this is one of the great differences between our faiths. He also mentioned the importance of American Christians getting involved in the Human Rights issues of Muslim nations, especially considering those abuses made against Muslim converts to Christianity throughout the Muslim world. Finally, he references the four greatest points which have caused Muslims to respond to the Gospel of Christ: 1) the offer of assurance of salvation, 2) dreams and visions, 3) the love and intimacy of God as Father, 4) and The Person of Jesus Christ. As Christians look to the Spirit to draw these Muslims to Himself, we must be ready to provide them the things for which their spirits long the most.