The Fiddler on the Roof

Caraboska's Theoblog

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Allah: A Christian Response
Praise the Lord. This is a reply to this post. My associations with Muslims have led me to agree with Volf that the line is not to be drawn according to labels, but according to content. For me, the question of whether we truly believe in justification by grace through faith, whether we are or are not trying to earn our salvation by our works, is much more important than I had supposed before I engaged with Muslims and the Qur'an.

See, the Bible claims that salvation comes from God alone. God alone is God, and apart from God there is no other Savior. God has revealed, God has saved, God has proclaimed - God and not another. I have come to understand that any person therefore who is in any way trying to earn their salvation via good works is, in that measure, worshiping not God, but their own deeds. Themselves, in other words.

Lest anyone misunderstand, good deeds are necessary. They are God's will for our lives. The question is whether they are a cause or an effect of salvation. So really, in a sense, the question is one's motivation for doing good deeds. And I would say that in the measure a person is motivated by anything except God - for example, a desire to avoid punishment (hell) or to earn a reward (heaven) - the person is worshiping not God, but his/her own desires.

There are many who identify as Christians, and many who identify as Muslims, who are unfortunately trying to earn their salvation by good deeds, who are doing their good deeds with an eye to the concepts of reward and punishment. There is no place for that in love. So that if we want to claim that we love God with all our heart, soul and strength, if we want to be obedient to God's will, we will banish this idea of reward and punishment from our motivations.

If you look very carefully, you can find the notion of salvation by grace through faith in the Qur'an. You can find the notion of good deeds being acceptable only if they are done for God alone, not with any eye to reward or punishment. If you look REALLY carefully and read the Qur'an without reference to so-called 'Islamic tradition' - as a so-called 'Qur'anist' or 'Qur'an-aloner' - you might even find that there is a concept of an authorized intercessor, that Jesus really did die before going to heaven, and that when He comes back, no Jew will die before coming to believe in Him.

You might even figure out that the Qur'an's problem is with the idea of God the Father being the Messiah, not even with the Messiah being God. The point being that while Jesus inhabited a human body, walked this earth and even died a physical death, the Divine Being did not cease to exist outside space and time where God has always existed. But it's all so carefully hidden that it would be nearly impossible to find it if you weren't reading the Qur'an through a Biblical lens. I admit to being curious why that might be. Though there is much talk in the Qur'an about signs to be found in Creation for thinking people, I do not see the Qur'an speaking of itself in this manner. But for the Qur'an to be a book of truth, this state of affairs would have to exist for the same reasons that Jesus spoke in parables - so that only those who were meant to understand would do so.

Although then again, it is not a whole lot easier to get beyond the notions of punishment and reward in the Bible. And even if we do, the notion of substitutionary redemption opens Christians up to a problem that is largely absent from the Islamic sphere, as far as I have seen. Nearly every public Christian testimony answers the question 'What has God done for me?' rather than 'Which religion have I found to give the most honor to God?' We could argue that the Christian concept of redemption outlined in the Bible does indeed for many people obscure the true worship of God and only God. That people who identify as Christians are often worshiping not God, but rather God's benefits, blessings. Their own desires. Themselves, in short. It is indeed very difficult to be a Christian without doing this, especially if is part of a faith community where this redemption story is a fixed, central part of the worship services.

I am pessimistic about the ability of most Christians and most Muslims to be able to find sufficient common ground, because very few in either 'camp' are on the same page about what it really means to truly worship only one God. As a Christian, I understand the Muslim view as a challenge to think about that very deeply. It is a very lonely path to travel, because the person who undertakes it will soon find themselves at odds with nearly everyone, including those from their own faith tradition. And particularly for Christians, for whom the concept of fellowship and community is in principle very important, it's very hard. We have to draw the line between treasuring community and fellowship and worshiping it. We have to draw our lines in very different places from what we are accustomed to - above all, within ourselves.

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In the Quran Jesus was not crucified or killed. He died a natural death.

And he did not go to Heaven. He was only raised a degree. Jesus is now dead in the earth.

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