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Cross or Crescent — Christianity and Islam

Part II of III

 The Jesus of Christianity and the Jesus of Islam

By REV. DAVID WITTEN

Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Danville

Aggressive affronts to Christianity are increasingly being couched in conspiracy theories. Take, for example, Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, “The Da Vinci Code”, where Sir Leigh Teabing tells Sophie Neveu that the Council of Nicaea (325 a.d.) voted on the divinity of Christ amongst other things. Sophie responds, “I don’t follow. His divinity?” “My dear,” Teahing declared, “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a moral prophet . . . . a great powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.”

This is a direct assault on the heart of Christianity. In one fell swoop the edifice upon which the whole Christian church stands — that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God (Matt. 16:13-18) — is declared a mere invention of the human imagination.

The notion that Christians invented the doctrine of Christ’s deity is not just the stuff of contemporary conspiracy theories or bad revisionist histories. It has long been a standard argument against Christianity waged by Muslim theologians. The most important and influential apologetic penned by Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) The Correct Response to those who Changed the Religion of the Messiah, clearly illustrates this. “The false religion of Christians,” it alleges, “is nothing but an innovated religion which they invented after the time of Christ and by which they changed the religion of Christ.” 

The Jesus of Islam, like Sir Leigh Teabing’s Jesus, is nothing more than a moral prophet endowed with supernatural gifts. To be sure, the Jesus of the Quran shares some superficial similarities with the Jesus of the Bible. For example, Jesus is born of a virgin also in the Quran. However, Jesus’ virgin birth is not to be understood as a sign of His divinity as it is in the Christian tradition. As Augustine, the fourth century bishop of Hippo, put it: “In eternity, Christ is begotten of his Father, without a mother; in time, Christ is born of a mother, without a father.”

“Do not go to extremes,” the Quran exhorts its readers, “Do not say anything of God but the truth. Jesus Christ, son of Mary, was simply a prophet of God . . . . So believe in God and his prophets and do not say: “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (Q 4:171)

We might ask what difference finally does it make? In Christian thought only God can save. If Jesus is only a prophet, a mere mortal, than we haven’t got a chance. The Quran rejects Jesus’ salvific work on the cross. According to the Quran, as the Jews conspired to have Jesus crucified God conspired against them. He had someone else crucified in his stead. Jesus was spared death and, like Enoch, taken to God. But he will return again on the Day of Judgment when he will testify against Christians by denying that he ever asserted he was divine and worthy of worship. In the Quran Jesus is not crucified, because, according to Muslims, God’s prophet cannot suffer a degrading, humiliating death. But in the Christian tradition it is precisely this degrading death that reconciles the world to God Himself.

The Jesus of Islam is not the Jesus of history, the one whose life and ministry was recorded by eyewitnesses. The Quran provides what amounts to a revisionist view of Jesus, and asserts, without any evidence, that Christians conspired to divinize him in the early history of the church. But the primary source documents testify otherwise. They record that Jesus declared himself to be the Son of God and rose from the dead showing that God had accepted his sacrifice for the sins of the world. Stories contrived in later centuries such as found in the seventh century Quran or 21st century Da Vinci Code cannot compete with the primary source historical evidence.

Some visitors to our church have wondered why we say the Nicene Creed in our church service. Creeds appear to them as dry, boring, and not relevant to their life. But we say the creed for the same reason that Peter gave his statement of faith. (Matt. 16:15-16) Jesus asks us to say who he is! And I don’t mind giving an answer.

Throughout 2017, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod will celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. We will eat salty pretzels and sing “ A Mighty Fortress” with gusto. Join us for our festivities throughout the year. Our first event will be Saturday, March 18 with Adam S. Francisco speaking on Understanding Islam from a Christian Perspective. Dr. Francisco is currently Professor of History and Political Thought at Concordia University, Irvine, CA. Look for more details.

Learn about the Lutheran faith. Join us for 9:30 a.m. Worship on Sundays at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 285 Hill n’ Dale. Contact Pastor Witten at (606) 365-8273. Or reach us through Facebook: facebook.com/oursaviordanvilleky/