Common ground between Christians and Muslims

  • Question from CM, United Kingdom

    I have a friend who is a Muslim. He prays more often than I do and we agree on a lot of topics such as the state of the world, the insanity of terrorism, the depravity of modern culture etc. We can even both talk about Jesus in a positive way except that obviously Mohammed is held in higher regard. With so much in common, why do I feel such an eternal gulf between us and yet feel unable to criticise a faith, which is so similar on many levels and yet fundamentally will lead this friend into damnation?

    In this post-modern world, it is very unfashionable to refer to the truth-claims of the different religions and yet those truth-claims are often a large factor in making a belief system. So, for example, without a claim to be God’s chosen people, Judaism becomes an interesting moral code. Without the superiority of the ‘ultimate revelation’ that is Qur’an, Islam becomes a hybrid development of primitive Christianity and Jewish legalism. Without the incredible claims surrounding the Incarnation, Christianity becomes following the example of a Jewish moral teacher.

    The main difference between Islam and Christianity is found in the peculiarly Christian concept of the Trinitarian God. The claim that Jesus is the “Son of God” is unsettlingl to a Muslim, because the Qur’anic view of God is absolutely monotheistic. Allah is the one God, above everything, source of everything else that exists. The Christian conception of God is markedly different. For a start there is the paradoxical statement ‘one God in three persons’ and the essential Unity of the Triune Godhead is a theological enigma that has yet to be satisfactorily defined despite two thousand years spent trying.

    But it is in this understanding of God that Christians and Muslims differ. ‘Islam’ means ‘submission’ – to submit to the will of Allah is thus the only moral claim on a human being’s life. There is no ‘good’ or ‘evil’ except for doing the will of God as revealed through the Qur’an and later interpretations of it. [This of course leads to the extremist tendency, which justifies terrorism as the ‘will of Allah’ and therefore ‘good’.] Salvation thus comes through submitting to the will of God and relying solely on God’s mercy to allow the individual into paradise.

    In contrast, the Trinitarian view reveals God as relational. The ‘coinherence’ (in Greek ‘perichoresis’) of the three persons, shows God, not as a distant, unknowable God, but as one who knows and can be known. God is thus interested in saving humanity for a purpose – to have a relationship with human beings. God enters human history as a ‘Father’ sending his ‘Son’ in the power of the ‘Spirit’. Thus all three persons are involved in the Incarnation and the very nature of God is revealed through the human life of Jesus Christ. Those who are saved are promised eternal life in true relationship with God as opposed to the Muslim promise of immortal life in a pleasure-filled version of earth.

    In many respects, given this crucial divergence in view, it is no wonder there is an ‘eternal gulf’ between Christians and Muslims. However, we must hold onto the hope that the God who seeks a restored relationship with all human beings will look favourably on those who try to live their lives in submission to him.

    Thanks for your question, CM. .

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