OK, ready for a test? What’s the religion with the second-most adherents worldwide? (No peeking at the chart to the left!) If you guessed Islam, you’d by right. According to Wikipedia (citing the 2012 World Fact Book), 22% of the world’s population self-identifies as Muslim. Only Christians account for a bigger piece of the pie at 28%.
Question number 2: What is the holy book of Islam? If you answered the Qur’an (or Koran), you’re right again. But don’t start patting yourself on the back just yet. Chances are you know very little about the Qur’an. If we’re speaking of bald statistics that indicate half the earth’s population is either Christian or Muslim, it’s likely that many of those people are nominal believers. Think “Christmas” and “Easter” Christians—those folks who only darken the doors of a church on those two holidays because “that’s what we’ve always done.” Ask a nominal adult Christian a question about the Bible, and you’re likely to be more confident in your kid who seems to be picking up at least something from Sunday School and family devotions. I would venture to guess that there exist many nominal Muslims as well, people who don’t know much about the Qur’an. But it seems to me that in this shrinking global village that becomes more pluralistic with each passing decade that knowing what our Muslim neighbors believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, and salvation is important. Otherwise, how can we intelligently and sensitively share the gospel of Jesus with those who believe in a Jesus of sorts, but not the Jesus as he is revealed in the Bible. So where is a Christian to begin? I know I need help. And I’m sure you do too.
Enter James White (Director of Alpha & Omega Ministries), who has written an informative, helpful, and quite respectful book to help Christians understand the Qur’an, and to help Muslim understand key aspects of how the Qur’an claims to supersede and interpret the Bible. Years ago I used to listen to White’s webcast “The Dividing Line” (podcast available here). I got interested in his ministry after I read his book, The Potter’s Freedom, which was a Reformed response to the muddled predestination/freewill position of Norman Geisler’s book Chosen But Free. (On an autobiographical note, it was White whom God used to bring me out of general evangelicalism with its freewill theism into the stream of Reformed Calvinistic Christianity. So White holds a special place in my heart.) He’s a passionate, zealous, humorous, and debating kind of guy. In other words, he’s a bit of a Calvinist orthodoxy “champion”—the guy you root for in the ring to box the pants off his theological opponent. And boy does he put on a show! So when I first heard on his webcast that he was going to redirect his studies from defending Protestant Christian orthodoxy against Roman Catholic, Mormon, and Arminian apologists, toward a study and interaction with Islam, I thought he wouldn’t live much longer. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy. But James White’s style just seemed likely to gain a fatwa. If he didn’t handle himself with gentleness and respect (cf. 1 Peter 3:15; traits his opponents would probably not use to describe him), he would either end up kidnapped or sharing an apartment with Salmon Rushdie. But to my surprise, in this study on the Qur’an, White achieves that gentleness and respect in a gracious tone that will potentially further the dialog rather than squash it.
What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an is a study in comparison. For those who have bought the idea that both Christianity and Islam, as major monotheistic religions, are essentially paths to the same God, this book should put that idea to rest. The Trinitarian God of the Bible, and the God of Islam, are so different that anyone familiar with both would never suggest they are two names for one deity. White spends 11 chapters studying key texts in the Qur’an and compares them to fundamental differences with the Bible. Chapter titles include:
- The Qur’an and Muhammad of Mecca
- The Qur’an: A Brief Introduction
- Allah: Tawhid, Shirk, the Mithaq and the Fitra
- “Say Not Three”: The Qur’an and the Trinity
- Jesus in the Qur’an
- The Qur’an and the Cross
- The Scales: Salvation in the Qur’an
- Did the “People of the Book” Corrupt the Gospel?
- Prophecies of Muhammad in the Bible
- The Perfection of the Qur’an? Parallels and Sources
- The Perfection of the Qur’an? Transmission and Text
An indispensable glossary is included to assist the reader in understanding the many untranslated Arabic terms used in Islamic theology. The highlight of this book is chapter 7 where White plainly describes the vast difference between the Qur’an doctrine of salvation and the good news of salvation taught in the Bible. White compares the Qur’an and the Bible on such topics as (1) predestination and freewill; (2) forgiveness and God’s holy nature; and (3) atonement and justice. But White’s treatment of these themes is no dispassionate comparison. The gospel shines through, calling the Muslim to believe the Bible’s message of grace rather the Qur’an message of works.
Throughout this study, White shows he is uniquely qualified to dialog with our Muslim friends and neighbors. Over the past couple of decades, he has participated in 6 moderated public debates with various Muslim apologists (his total number of debates is more than 130). With this experience, he has gained the respect of one who listens, who studies, and who understands that truth claims necessarily highlight differences between competing systems of belief. White has studied the Qur’an, the Hadith (commentary tradition on the Qur’an), and modern Islamic writings in theology and apologetics. If you are a Christian who doesn’t know much about the Qur’an, then White’s book is probably the best place to start.