Book Plunge: The Qur’an In Context

What do I think of Mark Robert Anderson’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Qur’an for many Christians is a very foreign book. Some people have tried to read it and yet have not made it past the second sura. The style of writing is different to most Christians and does not seem like an engaging work, but the reality is that Christians need to understand this work. Whatever you think of Islam, the Qur’an is the holy book of this faith and it has shaped the world greatly.

Anderson has written a book to help us in its text. Anderson urges us rightly to try to drop our preconceptions and approach the book seriously and seek to understand the way it was written, the why, and the historical context. Even if you don’t think it’s holy Scripture, the Qur’an still should be understood on its own terms. That requires work, just like understanding the Bible does. I have been a long opposition to people not bothering to study the historical context of the Bible and yet speaking on it. I say the same for the Qur’an.

Anderson goes through piece by piece and then compares what he finds to the Bible. There is no doubt on my part he wants to be as fair as he can to the Qur’an. He also addresses the question of if we worship the same God or not. I think we could say that we have that as our intention and I think that Anderson does argue that, but there can be no doubt the descriptions of Allah and YHWH are vastly different.

Anderson also wants us to study the world of 7th century Arabia. What was going on? What were Christians and Jews and pagans all saying? How did Muhammad approach this world?

Next comes a long look at the worldview of the Qur’an. What does it say about evil? What does it say about Adam? What must one do to be saved? All of these have marked differences and Anderson has many questions about whether the system in the Qur’an is really coherent or not.

Jesus is a big topic. The problem for the view of Jesus in the Qur’an is that it’s really downplaying. Very little is said about the ministry and teaching of Jesus. Much comes from non-canonical sources and its depiction of the Trinity is highly lacking. The Qur’an says Jesus is the Messiah, but divests this of any real meaning at all.

Amazingly, you can have many in-depth looks at the lives of other people in the Bible, but with Jesus, you get nothing like that. You don’t understand what His ministry was and why He came. It simply looks like Jesus is only there to point to Muhammad.

Ah yes, but what about the crucifixion? The Qur’an is clear on that and that’s that Jesus did not die on the cross. Anderson disputes that and I have to say he makes a highly highly compelling case. I have long thought that Islam denies that Jesus was crucified, and many Muslims do, but Anderson made a case that made me rethink if that’s what the original Qur’anic author intended and I dare say I will not be as strident until I find a better response to that claim. Anderson bases his claim on what he considers a better reading of that text in light of other texts he thinks are clearer. He contends that others are reading the clear texts in light of this one and changing those in ways that don’t fit.

Finally, he wraps things up by asking if we could say the Qur’an is the sequel to the Bible. The answer is decidedly, no. There are too many differences across the board. Still, we should strive to understand the Qur’an in its historical context to have better discussions with the Muslims we encounter.

Anderson’s book gives a lot of food for thought. He is kind and fair in his treatment and there is nothing here I can think of that would be seen as “Anti-Muslim” or dare I say it, Islamophobic. I look forward to even seeing what some Muslims think about the material in here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts

What do I think of Keith Small’s book published by Lexington Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

At an event recently, I was involved in a debate with Muslims who brought up claims about differences in the Bible and how this isn’t a problem with the Qur’an. On its face, I considered this a ridiculous claim. After all, any manuscript copied by hand from the ancient and medieval world will undergo some change. Still, I didn’t have a real source for that. That led me to searching for a book on the topic. (Yes. It is possible to go to a source for information besides Wikipedia.)

Keith Small’s book was the one I saw that looked like the one to get. After reading it, I think my prediction was correct. One interesting aspect is after reading it, you can’t tell where Small stands in a debate. Is he a Christian? Is he a Muslim? You don’t know. That’s how even-handed he is.

It doesn’t take long for the common Muslim claim to be put to rest. There are documents of the Qur’an all over the world in different museums that have differences in them. To be fair, a lot of what Small says is hard to understand without knowing the Arabic, which I do not know. What can be understood is that there are differences.

Small also points out that this was acknowledged by early Muslim scholars and Christian apologists responding to Islam would also mention some of the differences. Small doesn’t get into any of the possible theology behind this nor does he say anything about any possible ramifications for Islam. This would be a much more serious problem I think for Islam than for Christianity since the Qur’an is also said to be eternal if my understanding is correct.

Also, much of Christianity began with the written document first and then that document was handed down so the document became primary. The Qur’an was stated as a tradition many many times beforehand and then that tradition was handed down, but often it would have many of the changes, albeit minor, that came with oral tradition. We might not be able to speak about the original Qur’an. Instead, we could need to speak about original Qur’ans.

Interestingly, there are some major differences. Some saw the second Sura, the Cow, as it’s own book. Some copies don’t include some Suras. Some have extra Suras. While we can say that Muslims will point to Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11, Muslims have their own problems. Unfortunately, many of them will not realize this. Just as Christians have often not really interacted with the evidence of their position too many times, so it is that many Muslims have not done the same.

While I am a critic of Islam obviously, I do think that for the most part, it has likely been handed down fairly well much like any other ancient document, but there can be no support for the common myth of no variants whatsoever. Anyone wanting to study this issue should take advantage of Small’s book. It is sure to be a staple in this field for some time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: God Among Sages

What do I think of Ken Samples’s book published by Baker? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ken Samples has given the church a gift in giving us a guide to understanding other religions and not only what they believe, but good ways to interact with them. His work is meant to compare Jesus to other religious leaders. How is He similar? How is He different?

Samples takes a hard look at the other religions, but also a fair look. He points to beliefs that are exemplary in those religions. These are areas of common ground that can be agreed upon. We can often make a mistake when we study another religion where we say that everything it is wrong. This is quite likely not the case. It’s hard to think of a worldview where absolutely everything is wrong. (In fact, if we begin discussing evidence in objective reality, we at least agree that there is an objective reality.)

He also includes reading for those interested. If you want to go to the scholars of that religion themselves and the ones who hold to it, he goes there. If you want to know about Christians who have written on the topic, he also goes there. I think Samples’s treatment is quite fair. I cannot speak on accuracy per se as I am not a specialist in these religions, but he does not go out to make them look foolish.

When that is done, he will tell you about what to say when you talk to people who hold these worldviews. What kinds of questions can you ask? How can you handle their belief system respectfully? The book is also written with questions that make it appropriate for small groups. Naturally, while this is all good, I would also tell people that if you want to engage with someone in this worldview, try to read their holy book or books yourself as well. (I still remember the time when dialoguing with a Muslim when I asked if he had ever read the NT. His reply was “No. Have you ever read the Qur’an?” I was able to answer affirmatively.)

He starts as well with a defense of the deity of Christ and who He was. I thought this was a good section, but I would have liked to have seen a lot more from the other Gospels besides John. I fully uphold John of course, but many groups like Muslims and JWs have been trained to deal with explicit arguments. I like more the implicit arguments and the ones that are seen to be even earlier than John that show a high Christology.

There’s also a discussion about exclusivism vs. inclusivism at the end of the book. This is the section that I had the most difficulty with. I am not one who thinks that one has to explicitly know the name of Jesus to be saved. I don’t think Samples’s explanation for the Old Testament is really convincing. I think those in the Old Testament were saved by looking forward to the pre-incarnate Christ they did not know.

It’s also not because I have a low view of God and sin and a high view of man. I don’t. Aside from the work of the cross of Christ, no one is fit to be in right relationship with God. Samples goes to Romans 10 about people needing to hear the Gospel, and they do, but doesn’t Romans 10 right after 14-15 and 17 contain these verses?

18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:

“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.”

Where does that come from? It’s from Psalm 19. Psalm 19 is one of the messages about general revelation. What voice has gone to all the Earth? It is the voice of creation.

Thus, I’m not convinced that we must make a hard line case for exclusivism. Does that mean that people in other religions are saved or possibly saved? No. I think people devoutly following a false faith will be judged for that. However, I am entirely open to someone who knows that the belief system they are in is false and cannot hold up and yet is still seeking the true God. God could reach out to them through dreams, as seems to happen in the Muslim community or other means. There are more than enough missionary stories about missionaries showing up and people there saying something like “We have a tradition that says that one day people will show up with a book that will have the truth and you have fulfilled that today.”

I also don’t think the question of those who have never heard in Scripture is addressed for one reason. It doesn’t need to be. God is not interested in just answering our curiosity. He gave us our marching orders in the Great Commission. That is Plan A and He makes no mention of any Plan B. We could say that some could be saved even without our reaching them, but we have far more confidence if we just go and reach them ourselves.

Of course, this is an in-house debate among Christians. While I disagree with this part, the main reason we read the book is to learn about the other religions, and there I think we have a great guide. I fully encourage Christians reading this text and learning about other religions and how Jesus compares.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Answering Jihad

What do I think of Nabeel Qureshi’s book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to be clear at the start. I consider Nabeel Qureshi a friend. I’ve got to meet him in person many times and I highly admire him. I was also given this copy by Zondervan for review purposes. I hope to remove as much bias as possible.

That being said, I do want to say that at the start, Qureshi really does care for the Muslim people. He has told myself and others that for all he knows, there could be one like the Apostle Paul among the Muslims who will go on to become a great missionary so he’s always praying for them. Qureshi is equally against Muslim violence and violence against Muslims.

This is important in our day and age when we can look at a Muslim and immediately think of 9/11. We can give thanks for the Muslims out there that do condemn atrocities like 9/11. At the same time, it’s important to raise the question and ask if this violence is consistent with the history of Islam.

Qureshi covers the issues relating to the nature of Muhammad and the nature of the Koran. The work is quite thorough. If you do not know anything about Islam as you start to read the book, you will be able to still understand what is going on in the world today. Qureshi writes with scholarly rigor and at the same time, combines it with a pastoral heart.

The book is divided into three parts. The first answers questions on the origin of Jihad. What is Islam and what is Sharia and what is meant by Jihad? We also get a brief look at the history of Muhammad.

The next section deals with our own time. What does it mean when we speak today of Radical Islam. What about terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Horam? Is it possible that one day we could see a reformation in Islam that will make it a peaceful religion?

Of course, one could ask the question that was asked by Obama after some Muslim attacks. Don’t Christians have a history of warfare in the Crusades? Don’t they also have a history of warfare in the Old Testament? Do Muslims and Christians really worship the same God?

The book is excellent and each section can be read in a brief time and easily digested. If there was a concern that I did have, it would be that I think that Qureshi does condemn the Crusades too quickly and leans too close to pacifism for my taste. I think the Crusades largely started off as defensive wars for instance to help those in need. Of course, this does not mean that all that was done in the Crusades was right and much is to be condemned, but as it is problematic to say all of it was right, it would be just as much to say that all of it was wrong.

Still, I think this is an excellent book for understanding Islam and if there’s one thing we can all get from this, it would be Qureshi’s heart on the matter. He really does love Muslims. Maybe we could be better at reaching them if we had the same love for our enemies that Qureshi has.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus and the Jihadis

What do I think of Craig Evans and Jeremiah Johnston’s book published by Destiny Image? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

ISIS. Go back in time a few years ago and the most any of us would think of would likely be that Isis was the name of that Egyptian deity. Now ISIS is a household name, but we’re not thinking about an Egyptian deity. We’re thinking about an Islamic one. ISIS represents the Islamic State declaring war on the rest of the world with the desire to turn the world over to Islam. They are ready to die for Islam and not only that, but they are ready to see to it that you die for Islam as well. They are a group bent on your destruction and the sad reality is you probably don’t really realize how much of a threat they are.

Is this just a radical offshoot of Islam out of step with historical Islam? According to Evans and Johnston, no. In fact, if Muhammad were alive today, he would not only join ISIS, but he would in fact lead it. To show this, the authors go back in time and give a brief history of the origins of Judaism and Christianity and then compare that to Islam. On this journey, you will learn a good deal about the historical Jesus and especially the way that archaeology has impacted our understanding of the New Testament. This is important because the constant contrast in the book will be the person of Jesus with that of Muhammad and then the contrast of YHWH and Allah, the Bible and the Koran, etc.

The writers also give plenty of frightening statistics about the way that ISIS is growing. These people have a lot of money and they know how to use social media well. You no longer have to leave the comfort of your own home for ISIS to train you. Nope. You can live a normal life here in America and be training secretly in the comfort of your own home to be a Jihadist. This makes it extremely difficult to find out who is and who isn’t a threat to our security in America. Jihadists show no signs of stopping and indeed, they won’t stop until all the world is converted to Islam and as many of us have seen on the news, they don’t have any hesitation to kill you if they think you stand in their way.

This book has a fitting section also about Luther’s Koran at the end. Martin Luther in fact supported the man who wanted to print a copy of the Koran in the Latin of the people because Luther thought that every Christian needed to learn the Koran so they could know how to answer Islam. Luther said this even though he himself had never encountered a Muslim. If it was needed then, it is needed all the more today. One of the reasons Islam is spreading so much is that Muslims are more than willing to die for their faith. If only the day will come when Christians are as willing to live for Jesus as Muslims are willing to die for Allah.

I found this book to be extremely eye-opening and I hesitate to say more because you quite frankly need to read it yourself. We live in a culture where Christians are at war and most of us are walking around like it’s 9/10/2001.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Addendum: I was given a free copy of this book by Jeremiah Johnston for the purposes of review.