By Anthony Rogers
GPTS Class of 2018
Last month I had the privilege of lecturing to a couple hundred young men and women, from high school freshmen to college seniors, at the Biblical Worldview Student Conference in Johnson City, Tennessee.
BWSC is an exceptionally well-planned and well-executed yearly conference involving thirty hours of teaching on various issues from a Christian worldview perspective, as well as some opportunity for sports, free time activities, and fun with new friends made at the conference. The students are bright, godly, and zealous to see the word of God applied to all areas of their life and for the nations to have a saving knowledge of Christ and submit to His rule and reign.
The speakers this year also included Christopher Strevel, the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Bill Potter, an independent scholar, historian, and conference speaker, John Hodges, a conductor, composer, and the Founder and Director of the Center for Western Studies, and James Gardner, a popular lecturer for Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and for Canopy Ministries.
The lectures I gave were on Islam, a subject I have studied for the last 20 years and on which I write (q.v. Answering Islam and Answering Muslims) as well as debate (the most recent of which can be found here: Was Muhammad a True Prophet?). The following topics were covered:
- The Qur'an
- Sin and Salvation in Islam
- Evangelizing Muslims
The students showed more interest in knowing about Islam and how to engage Muslims with the Gospel than I had expected. I was very encouraged by their response and will continue to pray for how they will use what they learned as they seek, by the Spirit’s power, to see the knowledge of Christ cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
A very brief synopsis of each lecture follows:
In the first lecture it was shown that Muhammad violated every criteria for prophet-hood laid down by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:9-22 (e.g. can’t be from a pagan nation, must be an Israelite, has to be directly called by God, must speak in accord with previous revelation, can’t make false predictions), which runs contrary to the claim made by Muhammad in the Qur’an that his coming was predicted by Moses in the Torah (Q. 7:195; 61:6). It was also shown that Muhammad, according to the Islamic sources (e.g. Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah), received his prophetic “call” at the hands of a malevolent spirit who manhandled and choked him three times, almost causing him to pass out or even die. Muhammad himself initially thought he had been possessed at this time and even contemplated suicide. After overcoming his doubt and embracing the idea that he was a prophet, subsequent “revelations” that came to Muhammad over the course of 23 years were attended by the following circumstances:
- He would collapse or be thrown to the ground
- His eyes would roll back in his head
- He would convulse
- He would hear ear ringing in his ears
- He would moan like a camel
- He would foam at the mouth.
- His face would change colors
- He would perspire even when it was cold
In the second lecture, it was shown from both Muslim and non-Muslim sources that Allah was the generic name for the high god of the Arab pantheon whose special or peculiar name was Hubal, which means, “He is Baal” (cf. 1 Kings 18). Muhammad did away with the other deities and sought to present Allah, the special deity of his tribe and the high god of the Arabs, as the only god. He also taught that his god was the same god worshiped by Jews and Christians in spite of the fact that his putative deity is characterized by a barren unity or oneness that excludes all diversity, is supposedly transcendent and not also immanent, is a master and not a father, is fickle in his commands and arbitrary in dispensing justice, only loves those who first love him, swears by created things, prides himself on being the best of all deceivers, and even warns his own followers to fear his guile and craftiness.
In the third lecture, Islamic claims for the Qur’an were discussed, including the idea that the Qur’an is eternal and the idea that it is inimitable in its grammar, style, and eloquence. It was demonstrated that the Qur’an couldn't be eternal without violating Allah’s absolute unity; neither can it be a revelation from Allah if Allah is utterly transcendent and not also immanent. As well, the Qur’an is far from perfect in its grammar, style, and eloquence, containing as it does innumerable grammatical mistakes, an excessive number of unintelligible sentences, and other inequities that hardly qualify as eloquent. Arguments made by Muslims for the divine origin of the Qur’an were also explained and answered, such as the claim that the Qur’an contains insights into the nature and operation of the universe in advance of their discovery by modern science, and the idea that the Qur'an is a mathematical miracle.
Sin and Salvation
The fourth lecture took up the issue of sin and salvation in Islam. Here it was discovered that sin in Islam is a violation of Allah’s will, but since Allah’s commands are not rooted in his unchanging nature but always in an arbitrary fiat or act of will, such commands can change and often did change, at least while Muhammad was alive, for Allah’s commands often followed Muhammad’s desires (Muhammad’s child bride and favorite wife, Aisha, once remarked: “I see that your Lord hastens to satisfy your desires.” She said this after Muhammad revealed that he was in the right for desiring the wife, Zaynab, of his adopted son, Zaid, which led to Muhammad marrying Zaynab and to Allah abolishing adoption so that Muhammad’s marriage was legal.) It was also shown that Islam does not believe in original sin, or even that man is responsible for his choices since all human choices have been fatalistically decreed (the differences between Islamic fatalism and Biblical predestination were also laid out). Since man is not ultimately responsible for his choices, any sin could be forgiven willy-nilly, which means sin may also not be forgiven, and it is always up to Allah whether he will or will not forgive it. While the Qur’an speaks of a person’s faith and good works being necessary for salvation, it also speaks of the “scales of justice,” whereby a person’s good deeds are weighed against his bad deeds to see if the former are heavier than the latter. Since Allah can change the rules of the game, he can also tip the scales any way he wants. From this it follows that there can be no assurance of salvation for a Muslim; indeed, even Muhammad was not sure what Allah would do with him. Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s trusted companion and the first “rightly guided caliph,” said it best: “Even if I had one foot in paradise I would still fear Allah’s deception,” meaning, he would not be convinced that he was going to be accepted into paradise rather than plunged into perdition until he was all the way in, for Allah’s deception could overtake him at the last second. Islamic denials of federal headship, representation, atonement, etc. were also discussed, as well as many points of tension that arise from Muhammad’s contradictory teachings (e.g., the Qur’an says that no soul can bear the burden for another soul, but Muhammad also taught that Muslims will be given Jews and Christians on the day of judgment in order to offload their sin onto them, and that Jews and Christians will go to hell in the stead of Muslims.)
Finally, in the fifth lecture, reasons were given for why Christians should be interested in evangelizing Muslims, such as the command of Christ, the promise of blessing on our gospel labors, and even specific promises in the prophets that the nations will turn to the Lord, a number of which include specific references to the Arab nations. A considerable amount of time was also spent discussing the view of the Reformers that Islam was raised up by God as a scourge against the wicked and as a rod of discipline for the sins of His people (q.v. Isaiah 10:1-34, 36:1-22), which means that the church must repent of false doctrine, false worship, and disobedience to Christ’s commands if it is to see widespread gospel success among Muslims. The sobering words from Calvin on Isaiah 36 speak directly to the matter:
This insolence of ungodly men arises from their not understanding that God punishes the sins of men when they suffer any adversity. And first they go wrong in this respect that they institute a wicked and absurd comparison, “I have conquered that nation, and therefore I am better or stronger.” They do not perceive that they were appointed to be the executioners of God’s anger for the punishment of iniquities; for, although they say that they have received something from God, they do it hypocritically, and do not consider his will or his justice. They afterwards rise higher, for they venture to make a comparison between them and God himself, “I have conquered those over whom God presided, and therefore I have conquered God himself.
And here we see painted in a lively manner what was formerly expressed, — “Ah! Assyria, the rod of my indignation; but he thought not so.” (Isaiah 10:5).
In that passage God forewarned believers, that although Sennacherib, in blind madness, lifted himself up and attempted to overthrow all divine power, still they should continue to believe this doctrine, that he could do nothing more than what he was permitted by heaven to do. It is our duty to acknowledge that God inflicts punishment by the hand of wicked men, who may be regarded as the instruments of God’s anger; and therefore we ought to turn away our eyes from them, that we may look directly at God, by whom we are justly punished. If wicked men are more powerful, let us not think that the arm of God is broken, but let us consider that we do not deserve his assistance; for he arms enemies for our destruction, supplies them with vigor and with armies, drives them backwards and forwards whenever he thinks proper, and gives us up into their hands when we have turned away from him.
Accordingly, when the Turk [i.e. the Muslims –AR] now rises up haughtily against us, because he has already vanquished so great a multitude of Christians, we need not be alarmed on that account, as if the power of God were diminished, and as if he had not strength to deliver us. But we ought to consider in how many ways the inhabitants of Greece and of Asia provoked his anger, by the prevalence of every kind of base and shocking licentiousness in those countries, and by the dreadful superstitions and wickedness which abounded. On this account very severe chastisement was needed for restraining the crimes of those who made a false profession of the name of God. Hence came the prosperity of the Turk, and hence was it followed by a shockingly ruinous condition throughout the whole of the east. Yet we see him insolently raising his crest, laughing at our religion, and applauding his own in a strange manner; but still more does he applaud himself, and “sacrifice to his net” (Habakkuk 1:16), as we have already said of other infidels.
We ought, therefore, to direct our minds towards the judgments of God, that we may not think that the Turk acquired such extensive dominion by his own strength. But the Lord allowed him greater freedom, for the purpose of punishing the ungodliness and wickedness of men, and will at length restrain his insolence at the proper time. Now, although prosperity is a token of the blessing of God, yet we must not begin with it if we wish to form right views of God himself, as Mahometans and Papists infer from the victories which they have gained, that God is in some respects subject to their control. But when we have known the true God, blessings are added in the proper order to testify his grace and power.”