(Luther would be happy - a future blog that features his nailing of the 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door; tackles apologetic issues with Islam 5 days in a row.)
"Salvation in Islam" by Paul Williams – Intro to his debate with Steve Latham - (no longer available, as Paul Williams has deleted his entire blogs twice in the past few years.)
My response is in Blue.
Islam places great stress on God as a God of mercy and forgiveness whom the individual can approach directly without the need of any mediator or priest. God says in the Quran:
‘O My servants, who have transgressed against their souls. Do not despair of the mercy of God, for He forgives all sins, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.’
(39:53). From this understanding, which was shared by Jesus, flow certain critical observations regarding the later Christian view of the necessity of Jesus’ alleged vicarious atonement.
Jesus clearly taught about His future atonement on the cross – Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28; Luke 22:20; then after His resurrection - Luke 24:46-47. Repentance and God's mercy and forgiveness is also taught in parables - yet leaving out the exact words that you demand, is not a contradiction to the atonement. Your demand that every parable has to contain every teaching before the historical event of the cross is an unreasonable demand – it is like the same demand that Ahmed Deedat and Zakir Naik and many other Muslims make – that there has to be the exact words from Jesus’ mouth, “I am God; worship Me!” Who are you to demand that parables have to contain all future theological truth?
The Christian idea that guilt can be removed from a wrongdoer by someone else being punished instead is morally grotesque.
For someone who claims to be a former Christian and Evangelical – this is a very dangerous statement for your own soul. It means you never really understood your own sin nor the holiness of God; and now you trample on the grace of Christ demonstrated at the cross. Your turning from the grace and love of God and insulting that love means that you seem to be under the judgment of these verses: Hebrews 10:28-31. Your words that God's love (Romans 5:1-11) are "morally grotesque" are similar to the late atheist Christopher Hitchens' comments about it also.
Or if we say that God in the person of God the Son punished himself in order to be able to justly forgive sinners, we still have the absurdity of a moral law which God must satisfy by punishing the innocent in place of the guilty. As the medieval theologian St Anselm wrote in his work Why God Became Man (Cur Deus Homo), ‘it is a strange thing if God so delights in, or requires, the blood of the innocent, that he neither chooses, nor is able, to spare the guilty without the sacrifice of the innocent’.
I believe the basic fault of the Christian understanding of salvation is that it has no room for divine forgiveness.
God is clear that He forgives sin, based on His character and Holiness and satisfaction of His wrath, all throughout the Bible from beginning to end. You have no right to chop the Bible up and divide it and abuse it against itself.
After Adam and Eve sinned, God killed an animal to make skins for them to cover their shame and nakedness. Have you forgotten about Genesis 3? From that point on, the shedding of the blood of an innocent victim for the guilt of humans was instituted as a principle and covers the whole Bible narrative and does not have to be repeated in exact words all the time at your demand. The theme of God’s mercy and forgiveness based on the satisfaction of His holiness and justice in the substitution of an innocent victim (sheep, goats, rams, bulls, lambs, etc.) is continued in the almost sacrifice of Isaac, and the substitution of the ram in Genesis 22 (which Islam agrees with in principle in Qur’an 37:107 and has a major feast every year at the end of Hajj in order to commemorate this Scriptural event; yet distorts the meaning and significance of it; and changes some details also, teaching that it was Ishmael that was to be sacrificed. Genesis 22 is so much more older than Islam theology. Even the Qur'an actually never specifically names Ishmael in the context around the text in Surah 37:107, yet it does mention Isaac nearby); at the Passover in Exodus 12; the Levitical sacrifices (Leviticus chapters 1-7), the day of atonement in Leviticus 16-17; to the temple sacrifices in Solomon’s day (I Kings 8); to the prophesy of the Messiah to come (Daniel 9:24-27; Isaiah 53:1-12) – all point to God’s mercy and forgiveness and based on the satisfaction of His holiness and justice first.
For a forgiveness that has to be bought by the bearing of a just punishment, or the offering of a sacrifice, is not forgiveness, but merely an acknowledgement that a debt has been paid in full. The Cross is not a symbol of forgiveness at all: on the orthodox Christian view, it denotes the repayment of a debt, as the infinity of Original Sin is atoned for by the infinite sacrifice of God’s own temporary death. But what humanity really needs, as we look back over our long record of disobedience, is a model of true forgiveness by a God who does not calculate, who imposes no mean-spirited ‘economy of salvation’ worthy only of accountants and bookkeepers. As the Bible teaches: The letter killeth – the spirit giveth life.
Paul Bilal Williams calls the holiness and justice and character of the God of the Bible, “mean-spirited”! The letter of the law kills – yes – God’s holy law and judgment and holiness is going to kill you(in hell), unless you repent and receive God’s mercy and grace and love that was demonstrated at the cross in the atonement of Al Masih. The Spirit gives life = “only the Holy Spirit can change a sinful heart and give that person to power to obey the law". The attitude of the Pharisees is the Islamic way (Sharia) on this earth – heavy on force, rituals, hiding secret sins, and external punishments. Which system has more of “the letter of the law kills” ? in history and in today’s world? You misinterpret 2 Corinthians 3:6 – “servants of the new covenant” – Paul is saying the old covenant, which is the law of Moses, is total justice and holiness and does kill sinners; (which is sort of what you have in Islam with Sharia and the harsh punishments and why so many Muslims are longing to be free from the strict Sharia law societies that kill. Indeed, the law does kill. (That is why too many Muslims, not all, but way too many - just kill people whenever they feel like it - honor killings, Islamic terrorism - Islam is law with not much grace and not much love because it has no atonement or justice, as the truth does in Christ and His propitiatory atonement - Romans 3:25-26) The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23; cf. 3:23) But the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; Ezekiel 36:25-27) provides grace and power so that we can have forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit to change us so that we can actually obey the law of God, however imperfectly.
But in the authentic teaching of Jesus to be found in the synoptic gospels (that is the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke)
Interesting the inconsistency you use with the Synoptics, because they are all negative against the Pharisees, yet you affirm them (The Synoptic Gospels) when it suits your purpose. What criteria do you use for accepting the synoptics on some issues and then rejecting them on the issue of the Pharisees?
there is, in contrast, genuine divine forgiveness for those who truly repent. In the Lord’s Prayer we are taught to address God directly and to ask for forgiveness for our sins, expecting to receive this, the only condition being that we in turn forgive one another.
Of course Christians believe in repentance and God’s forgiveness, and we know about the basis for God’s forgiveness, in that He Himself first provided the sacrifice and shedding of blood of the animals to make skins for Adam and Eve. (Genesis chapter 3) It is you who are demanding exact words again in the Word of God, where God Himself clearly teaches on this issue in other places.
In Psalm 51, David’s amazing Psalm of true repentance, in verse 7, he said, “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” What is hyssop? It is the tree branch used as a brush for applying the blood of the lambs – for example on the doorposts in Exodus 12:22. David knows that God’s mercy and forgiveness is based on the sacrificial system and the holiness and justice of God being satisfied first. But he also knows that just presenting a sacrifice in a ritual without real inward repentance and guilt and sorrow over offending God, is not right either. (Psalm 51:16; Psalm 40:6; see also Matthew 9:13 and Hosea 6:6.) The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart” – Psalm 51:17 – when there is true repentance first, then one can offer sacrifices in the temple – Psalm 51: 19 – “Then, You will delight in righteous sacrifices . . . “ You use Matthew 9:13 and Hosea 6:6 and Psalm 40:6 a lot in your arguments against Christianity, but you are abusing the verses. Of course bare entering into the temple and paying money and offering a sacrifice without at the same time an inner brokenness over one’s sin and repentance is abhorrent to God, just as Pharisees hiding their secret sins in their hearts and saying ritual prayers, just as many Muslims do what the Pharisee did in Luke 18:9-14 – hiding sins while performing rituals.
There is no suggestion of the need for a mediator between ourselves and God or for an atoning death to enable God to forgive.
Not if you demand to force the words into the prayer 2000 years later, and also ignore everything else in the Bible; but the overall context of the Bible taught this, even alluded to in the prayer. The disciples of Jesus know of God’s character in the OT; and they know about the sacrificial system and God’s demand for holiness and justice. That is why the prayer starts with that, “May Your name be treated as holy” – see Leviticus 10:1-3; Deuteronomy 32:51; Numbers 20:12 and 14:11. Before asking for forgiveness, Jesus begins with God’s holy character and worship of Him and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 8:13)
One of the most famous of all Jesus’ parables is found in Luke’s gospel: the so-called parable of the prodigal son. It is a story about how God treats repentant sinners. Note that the father when he sees his repentant son returning home does not say ‘Because I am a just as well as a loving father, I cannot forgive him until someone has been duly punished for his sins’, but rather he had compassion, and ran and embraced him and welcomed him home. So God does not need a sacrifice in order to forgive anyone.
Not if you demand to force your own exact words into the parable, and ignore everything else in the Bible; but the Jews of Jesus’ day know about the sacrifice of the animals to provide covering for Adam and Eve; they know about Genesis 22; they know about Exodus 12, they know about Leviticus chapters 1-7 and 16-17; they know about the sacrifices in the temple (I Kings 8), etc. It was not necessary for Jesus to repeat the principle inside a parable in order to meet your demands for exact words 2000 years later!
As the English convert from Christianity to Islam Ruqaiyyah Maqsood wrote: ‘the split-second of turning from Christianity to Islam is the realisation of the truth of the parable of the Prodigal Son. In the parables, God is loving enough to forgive directly. That was the whole glory of the Judaism which Jesus upheld.’
Another example is to be found in Luke’s story of the tax collector and the Pharisee, the tax collector standing far off would not lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’. Jesus declared that this man went home justified before God. Jesus insisted that he came to bring sinners to a penitent acceptance of God’s mercy: ‘Go and learn what this means, he said, quoting God: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matt 9.13)
You don’t know how to exegete Luke 18:9-14 properly. The spirit of Islam is more like the spirit of the Pharisee who boasts of his rituals and prayers and tithing and fasting. That is what Islam teaches – that you be good enough and clean enough by washing and saying the right words in Arabic and doing the right rituals. You are also taught to hide your sins, especially secret and shameful sins – as your own article on “Veiling sins” and the quote from the Hadith that Hamza Yusuf quoted. (still waiting for that reference, by the way.)
When the tax-collector prays, “God be merciful to me the sinner!” – the word “be merciful” can also be translated “be propitious to me”and is the same basic root as the word for atonement and propitiation – the satisfaction of the wrath/anger/justice of God against sin. The cry for mercy is based on God’s propitiation. The word is used regarding Jesus’ atoning death on the cross – Romans 3:25-26; Hebrews 2:17; I John 2:2; I John 4:10. So right there in that parable is the deeper teaching of the atonement. Also, the use of the definite article “the sinner” shows that the tax-collector recognized he is a sinner by nature and deserves death and does not deserve mercy, and is consistent with the doctrine of original sin (Romans 5:12; Psalm 51:4-5; Genesis 6:5; Ephesians 2:1-3) but he also knows that God’s mercy is based on His providing an atonement, starting in Genesis 3 onward.
I will address Paul’s other points from Matthew 18 and other issues later, Lord willing.