Thabiti Anyabwile|2:34 am CT

One of the Most Significant Days in Church History: Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday

Today, January 13th, is celebrated around the Muslim world as the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. In the Muslim world the day is called “Mawlid.” The earliest roots of the celebration dates back to the 8th century when the birthplace of the prophet was turned into a place of prayer. Public celebrations date to the 12th century. The public introduction of the prophet’s birthday as a religious celebration was, in part, an attempt to counter Christian celebrations of the birth of Christ and to strengthen Muslim identity. Today Mawlid is celebrated in most of the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia being the most significant exception due to the influence of Wahhabi clerics and leaders.

Signs of its popularity can be found as close at hand as Siri:


But why regard Mawlid as a significant day in church history?

Well, quite simply, without the birth of Muhammad there would be no Islam. And, at this point in history, Islam represents one of the most significant religious challenges to the claims of Christianity. Not since Christianity’s earliest encounters with Judaism have Christians faced a religious and cultural identity as tight as Islam.

Vast areas of the world that were once home to Christianity are now solidly Islamic. Islam, a missionary religion like Christianity, reminds the Christian world that it can no longer take for granted its position as a world religion. Lands once boasting some of the world’s greatest churches now feature some of the world’s greatest mosques. Places where Christians once worshipped freely are now places where the profession of Christ might cost you your life. There are other Muslim lands where Christian minorities may worship freely. But some of those lands were places where Christians once comprised the majority. This is not to stir any panic about immigration or Muslim birth rates. Muslim children are made in the image of God like all children and persons. I believe people should be able to immigrate and freely move around God’s planet in accord with the laws of a given land (Rom. 13), and that God even determines our habitations with redemption in mind (Acts 17). I’m simply making the point that since the 7th century Islam has been successful at gaining and holding regions that once were largely open to the spread of the church.

Islam presents the most significant worldview challenge Christianity has faced in centuries. The simple claim that “God is one” challenges the Bible’s Trinitarian revelation of God. In its denial of the deity, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, Islam rejects the basic Christian understanding of redemption and redemptive history. Islam claims that Judaism is the elementary school, Christianity the high school, and Islam alone the university of religious understanding. In that claim is a certain view of religious history, asserting that the final word from God and the perfect prescription for human living is found in submission to Allah–not faith in Jesus Christ. That narrative subsumes Christianity as a local subplot and makes Jesus a prophet to the Jews only, belittling the Christian claim while simultaneously recasting it to serve the ends of Islam. The narrative privileges chronological lateness and anachronistically reads Islam back into biblical history, making it a powerful script in a world widely ignorant of history and theology.

Islam provokes fear in the hearts of a lot Christians. That should not be the case. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). The Christian response to neighbor–whether perceived as friend or foe–is love, not fear. Yet, far too many Christians are suspicious and fearful when they see the hijab or the long beard. A steady stream of Arab Muslim terrorists in blockbuster movies, repeated images of angry Muslim mobs or smoking towers waters the worst of human imagination and insecurity. Here’s the deal: You can’t love people you fear. And, more than that, we can’t obey our Lord’s command to love–with all its radical implications–if we give in to fear. Perhaps for the first time in Christian history, that fear paralyzes the church’s witness and tempts us like nothing else to forsake our missionary mandate–a mandate which itself is an expression of love.

Islam poses one of the toughest missiological challenges to Christianity since the Reformation. The Reformation, with its world-changing schism between Rome and Protestants, featured a contest over the definition of the gospel and the nature of the church. The Reformers, as the name suggests, sought a church reformed by the word of God. Their theological heirs, like the Puritans, carried forward that hope of seeing a people formed by and constantly reformed by God’s word. The missiological task was to get the word–the gospel–right and to live visibly by its commands and precepts. The strong Muslim objection to basic Christian doctrine and western lifestyles (so easily mistaken for Christianity because of the church’s worldliness) have made it difficult to pierce the veil over Muslim hearts. Islam’s recalcitrance in the face of Reformation-old formulations has forced a series of healthy and not-so-healthy missiological developments. We’ve seen debates over whether or how to translate fundamental Christian terms like “Son of God” and whether Muslims converted to Christ must break from Islamic culture and practices or may remain inside them. Many missionaries and aspiring missionaries puzzle over how much authority to give the Qur’an or whether to use it in Christian evangelism. Meanwhile, much of the church seems unaware that these discussions return us to fundamental issues involving the definition of the gospel, the nature of the church and the cost of Christian discipleship.

All of this is to say nothing of the considerable cultural, economic and military realities created in the wake of Islam’s historical spread. I say nothing of those things not because they’re unimportant, but because they’re not chiefly the Christian concern. Here, too, Islam tempts the church. It lures many to entanglements with civilian affairs when our battle is fought on an entirely different front with entirely different means. We are citizens of earthly kingdoms in which we have many responsibilities and privileges. But most fundamentally we are citizens of the heavenly kingdom, to which we owe far greater allegiance and honor. Which brings us to a final challenge:

Islam tests our faith in the Gospel. Are we really confident that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation? Are we unashamed of the gospel? When we face a religious and cultural worldview arrayed in opposition to nearly everything we believe, with rival claims about the nature of God, the way of salvation, and holy living, are we prepared to recommit ourselves to the foolishness of preaching and trust that real power resides in “weak” words?

We just celebrated the Incarnation of our Lord. Unlike our Muslim friends and neighbors, we do not believe this was the birth of just another human being or another prophet. We believe God the Son, the eternal Son of God, veiled His glory in human likeness. We believe it was necessary for Him to bear our likeness so that He could become for us both a perfect High Priest to represent us before God and to become the perfect Lamb of God to take away our sin. We believe He was born with a singular purpose: to glorify God the Father and to reveal the love of God toward sinners through His perfect life, His death as a sacrifice in our place, and His resurrection for the justification and eternal life of all those who repent of sin and believe in Him as Savior and God. We believe that this narrative, this truth, demonstrated in space-time history, has power to change the human heart and the course of the world and eternity.

This gospel has changed us and the many brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we worship and live. Do we believe it will change our Muslim friends and neighbors? Do we believe there’s a better birthday celebration for our Muslim neighbors to embrace than that of the prophet Muhammad? I do. And if they come to celebrate the birth of Christ in faith, they’ll come to celebrate their new birth. At which point, the birth of Jesus Christ becomes the most significant day in the history of Islam.





Thabiti Anyabwile|1:08 am CT

An Interview with James White about His Book, “What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an”

Sometimes there comes a book that changes the way we think and talk about a subject. That book generally pushes us into deeper fundamental understanding of a theme and helps us see from there the things we did not know or somehow missed. Such books stir fresh thought, fresh zeal, and renewed efforts to see and act in the world according to truth. We need a book to do that for us and to us because we’re so prone to settle into intellectual ruts and hand-me-down assumptions.

I think James White’s new book, What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an, is a book that changes the Christian understanding of Islam and its holy book. You can read an excerpt of the book here. I had the privilege of reading James’ book in manuscript and offering the following endorsement:

James White has given the thoughtful Christian a game-changer for Muslim-Christian dialogues about the Qur’an, the Bible, and our claims to truth. For too long, Christians have remained largely ignorant and even reluctant toward one of the world’s largest faiths. We no longer have reason for either ignorance or reluctance thanks to White. I know of no other introduction to the Qur’an and Islam that is as technically competent and easy to read as James White’s What Every Christian Should Know About the Qur’an. This book is my new go-to source and recommendation for anyone wanting a thorough introduction to the thought world of the Qur’an and the Muslims who revere it. For irenic, honest, charitable and careful discussion of the Qur’an, this is the best resource I know.

James deals extensively, charitably and clearly with the Qur’an itself. He’s not lobbing rhetorical grenades or wildly flinging accusations and half truths. He’s incisively investigating the history, theology, and transmission of the Qur’an in a way that’s accessible to any intelligent reader.

I had the privilege of sending James a few questions regarding the book. I hope you find this interview helpful and that you’re moved to buy and read this book.

1.       You write, “I believe the best, weightiest, most useful refutation is the establishment of the truth of the gospel” (p. 9). Some apologists appear to think all the other arguments are the “best refutation” of Islam. Why and how does the gospel best establish the truth and refute error?

Islam came after the Gospel (despite Islamic belief otherwise), and includes as part of its teachings the rejection of the heart of the Gospel itself (the Person of Christ, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and hence the exclusivity of Jesus the Messiah as the sole means of peace with God).  Hence, Islamic apologetics is first and foremost a “gospel” activity, and the goal of the Christian must always be to make sure the Gospel in all its glory and power and grace is made known to the Muslim who has almost never heard it with clarity.  Further, given the position of Islam as the “last” revelation, surely the argument is properly made that the Qur’an’s understanding of the faiths it seeks to correct or refute must be accurate, as God is said to be the author of the Qur’an.  But when we demonstrate error on the part of the Qur’an in reference to the Trinity, the deity of Christ, or the gospel, we are helping the Muslim to examine the claims of the Qur’an in an objective manner.

2.       Must Christians be experts in the Qur’an in order to engage their Muslim neighbors and friends about the faith?

If a believer were to be ministering in an Islamic country, or even in places such as Dearborn, Michigan, a knowledge of the Qur’an at a certain level would be necessary to be effective in the long run, to be sure.  The more we know about the presuppositions of those with whom we speak, about their worldview and language, the more effective communicators we will be.  One surely does not have to be an “expert” on the Qur’an to engage their Muslim neighbors, but just as having read the Book of Mormon is a great advantage in witness to a Mormon, being able to show the Muslim that you have respected them enough to gather some knowledge of the Qur’an is a tremendous advantage.  One of the great problems that exists between our communities is the fact that most Christians know very little about Islam and the Qur’an, and most Muslims know very little about Christianity and the Bible.  Both go on what they have “heard,” and that body of hear-say is normally far from accurate, and can be a great hindrance in any meaningful dialogue.

3.       Muslims believe the Qur’an is uncreated and eternal. What does that mean and why is it problematic for the Muslim?

Sunni Islam developed, over time, the concept of the eternality of the Qur’an (though it was a development that had opposition, and is not a part of Shiism).  They affirm that the Qur’an is uncreated and eternal.  There are many theological and philosophical problems with such a view, but the primary one about which Christians should know is this: if the Qur’an is eternal, and the very words of Allah, then the Muslim sees no reason to consider the development of thought in Muhammad’s life.  Hence, asking questions about the consistency of the Qur’an, whether it accurately represents others, etc., is not a part of the interpretive process for the average Muslim.  While looking at the context of, say, Paul’s letters to the Corinthians is a vital and illuminating element of biblical exegesis, such aspects are almost irrelevant to Qur’anic exegesis, at least amongst Muslims.  As a result, the interpretation of the Qur’an is primarily “stagnant,” limited to the conclusions reached by examination of the hadith literature centuries ago.  Likewise, the accuracy of the Qur’an’s statements about the Trinity are simply taken as a given by the average Muslim, which introduces all sorts of problems and complications to the witnessing situation.

4.       What are the “three pillars of Islamic denial” and how do they complicate our efforts to reach our Muslim neighbors and friends?

These are truly the major barriers we face when trying to communicate the gospel to Muslim friends and neighbors.  The first is not an explicit teaching of the Qur’an, actually, but it is nigh unto a universal belief of Muslims: that the Bible, Old and New Testaments, has been corrupted, changed, and is, therefore, in need of correction on the basis of the Qur’an.  Though there is a long and distinguished history of Muslims in history who did not believe this to be true, today it has become the common belief of almost every Muslim with whom we will speak.  The second barrier is that of the Qur’an’s teaching against the Trinity, or, at least, what the author of the Qur’an thought the Trinity was.  By warning against saying “three,” and by misunderstanding the relationship of the Father and the Son (the Qur’an presents these in very physical, literal terms), the Muslim is lead to a warped view of Christian belief.  This is then combined with the idea that the one sin Allah will never forgive is that of shirk, the association of anyone or anything with Allah.  Many Muslims believe Christians commit this sin in their worship of Jesus, and hence feel that we are inviting them to commit the only unforgivable sin in following Jesus!  Finally, the third barrier is found in the Qur’an’s unique denial, in a single verse comprising only forty Arabic words (Surah 4:157), of the historical reality of the crucifixion of Jesus.  If Jesus was not crucified, then there was no resurrection, no atonement, etc.

5.       You open chapter 4 by identifying a key question: “Does the Qur’an’s author show knowledge of the Trinity to where the criticisms offered are accurate and compelling?” How would you answer that question?

Most definitely not, and this is one of the primary reasons I reject the Qur’an as a divine revelation.  While the Old and New Testaments in the Bible are intimately related, the authors of the New showing intimate familiarity with the Old, the author of the Qur’an shows only a surface level, second-hand knowledge of the Bible in its entirety.  This results in gross misrepresentation of those Scriptures, and of the beliefs of the Christians especially.  I have often said to Muslims, “Putting aside the issue of whether the Trinity is right or wrong, is it not clear that in 632 AD (the year of Muhammad’s death and the completion of the revelation of the Qur’an) Allah knew in perfection what the doctrine of the Trinity was, and hence Allah could have provided a full and accurate refutation of it, had he desired to do so?”  But one will search in vain for any accurate representation of the Trinity, and will instead find the repeated assertion that when Christians say “three,” they are speaking of three gods, a form of polytheism.

6.       Does the Qur’an correctly understand Christianity? What does that tell us about the nature of the Qur’an?

As noted above, I believe this is one of the most important issues related to the Qur’an’s claims to a divine origin.  Given that there is a concerted effort in Surahs 3, 4, and 5 to respond to Christianity, and yet there is no coherent, consistent, or compelling argumentation provided, but instead a muddled, confused understanding is presented, it seems clear that the Qur’an is the product of a human mind, one concerned, to be sure, with maintaining monotheism, but one that does not realize that the Christian faith is fully monotheistic.  But a Qur’an that is representative of the understanding and thinking of Muhammad of Mecca is not the Qur’an presented by the vast majority of Islam.

7.       What do you think about the “Insider Movement” in predominantly Muslim contexts? Can you be a Muslim and a Christian? Does the “Insider movement” have legitimacy in either the Qur’an or the Bible?

Though I did not really address this subject in the book, it seems self-evident to me that such a concept, that of creating a Christianity where one is a secret disciple while maintaining an outward profession of Islamic faith, replacing prayers in one’s own mind to Allah with prayers to Jesus, etc., is not only utterly foreign to the biblical record (which addresses clearly the responsibility of being a disciple of Jesus in a hostile context) but even from an Islamic perspective is utterly without merit as well.  A believing Muslim would find such a concept pure deception and a heart-borne example of unbelief and even shirk,  and such would have little attraction to a believing Muslim, to be sure.

8.       We’ve heard so much about translation efforts that remove or footnote “Son of God” language in their translations. How would you evaluate such efforts? Do you think such efforts end up corrupting our text not realizing their text is corrupt?

The misguided effort of some to seek to avoid the offense that derives from the Qur’an’s own misunderstanding of the Christian faith is in reality a betrayal of not only the message of the Scriptures (and the wisdom of the Spirit) but of the martyrs who have suffered for the divine truth of the Sonship of Jesus.  One explains the meaning of the text and in that explanation vindicates biblical truth over against Islamic misunderstanding.  You do not attempt to avoid “offense” when that offense is based upon ignorance and error!

9.       You point out that the Qur’an stands against history. In what ways does the Qur’an stand against history and accepted standards of historical research?

One could address a few areas here, but the most compelling and obvious example is that of Surah 4:157, where the Qur’an, in forty Arabic words, sets itself against the combined testimony of all of history in denying the crucifixion of Jesus on a Roman cross under Pontius Pilate.  This single verse in the Qur’an, which mysteriously receives no attention in the hadith literature, and is never expanded upon or elucidated in the Qur’an itself, puts the Muslim holy text in direct opposition to the earliest historical sources that clearly and unanimously testify to the reality of the crucifixion.  Modern Islamic apologists, at a loss to overthrow this united testimony, are reduced to either abject skepticism about all historical documents (ignoring their own, of course), or to the desperate attempt to link the crucifixion with the resurrection and then, on naturalistic grounds, attacking the resurrection.

10.   Muslims often claim that the Bible has been corrupted in some way. But you examine the Qur’an’s transmission and reliability. Is the Qur’an free from errors, redactions, etc? Can we reasonably trust the Muslim claims about the Qur’an’s divine authorship?

The vast majority of Muslims are utterly unaware of the history of the transmission of their own text, just as the majority of Christians likewise suffer ignorance about the history of the Bible (a lamentable problem on both sides).  But there is far, far more information available about the transmission of especially the New Testament text than there is about the Qur’anic text, which is ironic, given the relatively younger age of the Qur’an.  But it is clear that the Qur’anic text did undergo recension under Uthman, even in the most conservative Islamic understanding.  Why was this needed?  The manuscripts tell us: there were competing traditions, in particular, the readings of Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, one of the four men Muhammad, in the hadith, pointed to as experts in the reading of the Qur’an.  We are not yet at a point to be able to sort out all the issues, as there is no “critical” edition of the Qur’an (unlike the New Testament), but work is proceeding, though very slowly.  I must confess some skepticism as to whether there will be sufficient basis for a fully critical text anytime in the near future.





Thabiti Anyabwile|1:41 am CT

Meeting Muslims and Islam: On Love and Discernment

Eboo Patel is the author of  Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice and the Promise of America and founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core.  He recently penned an opinion piece for CNN entitled “How Evangelicals Can Learn to Love Muslims.”  Caught my eye.  Patel marvels at the evangelical political embrace of conservative Roman Catholics, a group that just 60 years ago would have faced the same kind of suspicion and scrutiny that Mormon presidential candidates deal with.  In the piece, Patel describes Islam as “the new Catholicism.”  To make his point, Patel quotes no less an “evangelical” authority than Norman Vincent Peale:

“Our freedom, our religious freedom, is at stake if we elect a member of the Roman Catholic order as president of the United States,” Norman Vincent Peale told a conference of evangelical leaders in September 1960.

Materials handed out at the Peale conference claimed ‘Universal Roman Catholicism’ was both a religion and a political force whose doctrines were ultimately incompatible with the American ideals of freedom, equality and democracy.

Then Patel makes his analogy:

Replace “Roman Catholic” with “Muslim” and “Church hierarchy” with “caliphate” in those pronouncements and today we are witnessing a similar energy directed against a different faith community using largely the same categories.

In today’s parlance, Kennedy was part of a stealth jihad meant to replace the U.S. Constitution with sharia law and practicing taqqiyya to mask this dawa offensive.

As they believed about Catholicism then, many evangelicals now view the very nature of Islam as incompatible with American values. Evangelicals rate Muslims lower on a “‘favoribility” scale than any other religious group, according to “American Grace,” a book by scholars Robert Putnam and David Campbell.

Fear Not, Talk Much

Of course, Patel is correct to note American Evangelical skepticism about Islam.  There exists a great deal of fear about Muslims in general and Muslims in government in particular.  And to be sure, much of the fear rests squarely on the shoulders of muscular ignorance.  Our fear fuels a reactionism that not only destroys relationships and hurts people but also robs us of genuine opportunities to make Jesus known.  I wrote The Gospel for Muslims with this concern in mind.

And, it seems to me that the optimism fueling Mr. Patel’s article ought really to be considered and embraced instead of the fear that exists.  Patel highlights the effort of some evangelical pastors to broker inter-faith dialogues with Muslims.  I believe in such dialogues.  When we talk to one another we discover that people are people and sometimes there much in common.  Dialogue makes a lot of sense and tends to make a lot of friends when done well.  I’m grateful for the many Muslim friends the Lord has given me both in the U.S. and in the Middle East.  Christians, of all people, should excel at loving their neighbors.  Sounds like something Jesus once said.

Is Islam Liberal or Pluralistic?

But, there was, in my opinion, a serious flaw in Mr. Patel’s article.  Mr. Patel tends to think of Islam in philosophically liberal terms.  He conceives of an Islam that grows comfortably in pluralistic soil.  It’s a hopeful point of view, but I don’t know that history and contemporary politics bear it out.  Islam is a stubbornly pre-Enlightenment religion.  It boasts of its essentially unchanging nature–which is both a strength (for traditionalists and conservatives) and a weakness (for progressives and true liberals).  Islam continues to be a missionary religion (like Christianity) with the goal of bring Dar Al-Islam–the house of Islam–to every area of life everywhere Muslims live.  That, of course, brings us to Sharia, the codification of Islamic law, which one Muslim writer describes as ”the epitome of the true Islamic spirit, the most decisive expression of Islamic thought, the essential kernel of Islam.”[1]  Another Muslim writer says simply: “The Sharia is Islam’s constitution.”[2]  The main sources of sharia were the Qur’an, the sunna and hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), Islamic case law with its aversion to “innovation,” and some elements of culture and tradition.  On the face of it, we’d have to conclude that to the extent Muslims look to bring a society under sharia then to that extent it remains incompatible with the non-establishment and separation clauses.

If the issue is simply whether or not we’ll love our Muslim neighbor, then Patel rightly encourages us to actually talk with them and get to know them.  But if the issue is whether or not Muslims are accepted in American circles of political power, then question becomes: Is sharia compatible with American-styled Democracy?  Patel’s piece blurs these two very different discussions.  We may very well develop friendships and loving encounters with our Muslim neighbors–and we should.  But whether Islam as a political theory exists cozily with genuine Liberalism remains another matter.  American Christians need to think in not only loving terms about their Muslim neighbor but also in careful ways about Islam as a religion and political philosophy.

In my opinion (which won’t get you your favorite latte at Starbucks), Islam and sharia pose significant threats to American-styled political discourse and practice.  I say that not because I’m a zealot for preserving “western” values and civilization, or because I think any individual person from a Muslim background needs to be suspected or opposed.  I write this because I think most westerners continue to be uninformed and unsuspecting regarding the internal dynamics of Islam.  Pluralists and political liberals tend to respond not with knowledge of the faith and its import for political philosophies, but with obfuscating platitudes about “accepting everyone.”    The issue is not should we accept our Muslim neighbors and friends, but whether we should unknowingly slide toward a very different political and cultural vision of society and freedom.  Patel confuses these two things.  We need a more careful meeting of the minds.

In Piper’s Thinking. Loving. Doing., which was a transcript of this address in 2010, I suggested that Islam remains incompatible with pluralism for four reasons:

  1. Sharia, at best, is theocratic, and theonomistic at the very least.  If the sharia is the “constitution of Islam” then sharia offers a very different legal footing than American constitutional law.  American constitutional law grounds itself in natural law and individual liberty when the Declaration of Independence declares, “We hold these truth to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  But Islam declares that Allah rules all things and all societies must be brought under the rule of Islam.
  2. Because sharia leaves no room for modernization or flexibility in interpretation it leaves no room for healthy pluralism.  With the Islamic bias against “innovation” and “interpretation,” the Sharia remains largely locked into the body of rulings and ideas set within the first 300 years of the Muslim era (9th century).
  3. Because Sharia incorporates cultural consensus into law, the certain cultural practices enter into the legal framework of countries unaware.  In our context, when we refer to “cultural practices,” we do not necessarily associate such things with a particular religious practice.  So a person may participate in a cultural milieu without our necessarily making any religious assumptions about that practice at all.  But in Islam, culture is religion and religion is culture.  So to admit elements of sharia into the legal framework of any country like the United States under the guise of “cultural practice” or “multiculturalism” is to give ground to sharia and to establish a constitutional footing quite at odds with the assumptions the country was founded upon.  We cannot admit cultural practices into western law without opening the gate to all of Sharia.  Think, for example, about Muslim women in France wearing veils for driver’s license.  Most people think of the veil largely as a cultural preference or practice issue.  But the adorning of veils is as much about sharia and its legal requirements as it is about culture.  Protecting the wearing of veils begins the process of extending other sharia-inspired practices in Western societies.
  4. Advocacy for sharia sometimes reaches a point where it can no longer tolerate difference or accept minority status.  If Muslim communities come to define sharia as the only acceptable framework for living freely and worshipping freely as Muslims, then we can understand why substantial Muslim minorities in places like the Phillipines and Indonesia look to secede from the wider country to form separate Muslim states.  And if living under sharia becomes the only acceptable way to live, we understand why militarism and force become acceptable strategies for some people.  Such Muslims view aggressive advocacy and militarism as self-defense or acceptable jihad because their view of sharia does not include western-styled pluralism.

If I’m correct (and I’d be interested in your feedback), then there’s much to critically evaluate while we show ourselves loving.  Love doesn’t eliminate the need for discernment, and discernment should not stunt our love.


[1] Cesar E. Farah, Islam: Beliefs and Observances (New York: Barron’s, 2003), p. 201

[2] Ibid, p. 160.





Thabiti Anyabwile|2:38 pm CT

An Apologetic Duel in Poetry

Desiring God linked to these dueling videos from a young Muslim and a young Christian poet.  Apparently, the Muslim’s video launched first, and the Christian responded with the support of Alpha & Omega Ministries.  One thing should be abundantly clear from the videos: Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.  That should have been obvious, but sometimes people need it stated.  It’s creatively stated here:





Thabiti Anyabwile|11:22 pm CT

Read ‘em and Weep: More on “Insider Movements” and Bible Translation

Psalm 119:

129 Your statutes are wonderful;
therefore I obey them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.
131 I open my mouth and pant,
longing for your commands.
132 Turn to me and have mercy on me,
as you always do to those who love your name.
133 Direct my footsteps according to your word;
let no sin rule over me.
134 Redeem me from the oppression of men,
that I may obey your precepts.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant
and teach me your decrees.
136 Streams of tears flow from my eyes, 
   for your law is not obeyed.

When I watch this video and think of reading such translations as though being circulated with “Father,” “Son of God,” and other vital revelations of the character of God, I feel something akin to what the psalmist feels in v. 136.  I could weep over this tampering with God’s word and the harm such distortions do to the people of God and the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord.  This 5 minute video with Muslim background believers contending with “insider” movements tells the story poignantly.

The word of God should alter people; people should never alter the word of God–especially those people who claim to love the God of the word.

For those who might be interested, here is a link to a petition to Wycliffe, Frontiers, and SIL along with some fact sheets.  If you’re not the petition signing type, I hope you’re the petition making type.  I hope you’ll petition the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit for the preservation of His word so that those who need the word of life will have it and those who sacrificed their lives for it will be honored.





Thabiti Anyabwile|3:59 pm CT

Should We Drop “Son of God” in Bible Translations for the Sake of Reaching Muslims?

No.  Honestly, I can’t think of a more damaging action than the translation attempts some groups are making in predominantly Muslim countries.  Dropping the familial language “Son of God” or “God the Father”:

1. Undermines the perceived integrity and reliability of the Scriptures;

2. Robs the Church of centuries of theological reflection and meaning, including Trinitarian orthodoxy, Christology, and more;

3. Betrays the radical sacrifices that believers are making in these lands for these truths; and,

4. Tends toward a denial of the uniqueness of the gospel witness itself.

World Magazine’s current article, “The Battle for Accurate Bible Translation in Asia,” hits all the issues on the head.  I heartily commend it.  Here’s the opening paragraphs:

Fikret Bocek says that Turkish quince, a fruit like a pear, takes a long time to grow and ripen, but it’s delicious. Patience is key for good quince, he says, and also for the salvation of his fellow Turks, most of whom are Muslim like he once was.

Patience was key when the Turkish police arrested and imprisoned him for 10 days in 1988, when he was beaten, verbally abused, and tortured with electrical shocks. The police ordered Bocek, then a teenager and a new convert to Christianity, to recite the shahada, “There is no God but Allah.” Despite a crippling fear, he found he could not physically open his mouth to say it, which he attributes to divine intervention.

Patience, a fierce patience, was key in 2007 when a group of Muslims brutally murdered a close friend of his and two other Christians while they were meeting for a Bible study in Malatya, Turkey. The Muslims, who had pretended that they were interested in Christianity, disemboweled and then dismembered the three men in a two-hour torture session the killers filmed. They finally slit the Christians’ throats from ear to ear.

Bocek points to the naked pragmatism and concern for visible results driving these moves:

Bocek, 40, now a pastor and church planter in the coastal town of Izmir, Turkey, tells Western mission agencies to be more patient for faith to ripen in Muslims in his country, and not to alter key biblical phrases in translations for the sake of outreach. The phrase “Son of God” is offensive to Muslims because it seems to imply that God was a physical father to Jesus through a sexual union with Mary, so some translators have sought to find alternate terms to describe that relationship. “They get involved in these translations because they see that there is no fruit,” Bocek said. “We have results. But you have to be patient and take it really, really slow.” He and his fellow pastors address the offensive connotations of “Son of God” by explaining what it really means. “For centuries,” he said, “that’s the way it went.”

The entire article is well worth reading.  It includes responses from proponents of the translation approach.  But on balance, I think the piece nails the issues and reveals the great danger of tampering with the Lord’s revelation of himself in Scripture.






Thabiti Anyabwile|9:21 am CT

Muslim-Christian Dialogue Website

In God’s kindness, I’ve had the privilege of participating in four public Muslim-Christian Dialogues in the United Arab Emirates over the last six years. These have been wonderfully warm exchanges in a part of the world generally “closed” to such conversations.

2011 Dubai Muslim-Christian Dialogue – Trailer 2 from gdskc on Vimeo.

The corporate sponsors for the events have launched a new website committed to Christian-Muslim dialogue and understanding. The site features videos from the last three discussions and other resources they may interest you. I hope you’ll take a look and I hope it’ll be an encouragement to you. You can support this effort by purchasing a video or making a donation. Consider purchasing a couple of the DVDs to give to friends, your church or mosque, or to a local library.





Thabiti Anyabwile|9:56 am CT

Is Peace in the Middle East Possible?

Today, I’m heading to Dubai for two weeks of ministry among saints and friends there.  The main event while there will be the fourth Muslim-Christian Dialogue I’ve had opportunity to participate in.  These dialogues have become highlights in my life and ministry and a real example of how Muslims and Christians may carry on honest, intentional discussions without rancor and strife.

This year’s topic is “How Can We Find Forgiveness from a Holy God?”  Can there be a more important topic of discussion between people who profess to worship God?  Who can stand if God counts his sins against him?

I’ll have the privilege of discussing this question with Bassam Zawadi, a Muslim apologist who makes his home in Saudi Arabia.  Bassam was a moderator in one of the first dialogues and a very able discussant in the exchange two years ago.  I genuinely like Bassam, his passion, his honesty, and his kind demeanor.  This should be a rich discussion–and more than a discussion, a question that determines eternity for all people.

This opportunity also reminds me that in a region experience a lot of unrest there are places like Dubai where free conversations can be had in some measure and where genuine exchange can take place without violence.  At our last dialogue, we had participation from government officials in Dubai who were very enthusiastic about the discussion.  May the leadership of the government and university officials become a model for many other governments.

I’m always warmed by the hospitality I experience from the people of the U.A.E. and especially the hosts and sponsors of the event.  Speaking of which, businesses like Gulf Digital Solution, the event’s sponsor, are not only an economic blessing but also a real blessing to the quality of student and community life.  It should be a wonderful time of exchange and serious discussion of the most foundational question imaginable: “How can we find forgiveness from a holy God?”

Is peace in the Middle East possible?  Of course.  But like peace everywhere else, it depends on accepting the message of peace with God through the Prince of Peace.  Knowing that, we should commit ourselves to 1 Timothy 2:1-2–”I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone–for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

If the Lord gives you leave, please pray for our time in Dubai.  And you’re in the area, stop by and bring a friend.





Thabiti Anyabwile|7:22 am CT

How Can Christians Best Witness to Muslims?

That’s a question people frequently ask, and it’s a topic worthy of some pondering.  We want to see all the sons and daughters of Adam made in God’s image know the love and fellowship of God for which they were made.

While at the Ocean City Bible Conference, I had opportunity to sit down with Alex Crain at to discuss this and other questions related to Islam.  Over the next couple days, I’ll post some of those videos and others made with Phil Johnson and Paul Tripp.

I hope this short video offers some quick help.  And if you’ll forgive the shameless plug, you can find more thoughts on witnessing to Muslims in The Gospel for Muslims.

How Can Christians Best Witness to Muslims?





Thabiti Anyabwile|12:46 pm CT

They Reached Me First

I appreciated this post from Scott Moore (HT: Z).  It captures well the opportunity/dilemma that exists right next door to us.

I will never forget the serious look on Dr. Richard Pratt’s face one Monday night as he was expressing his number one fear for the next generation. It was not alcoholism, or disease. It was not liberalism, or the church’s view on women being ordained (or not) in ministry. He looked across the classroom and called all of us to take heed to the Islamic growth in America. One statistic I remember is that the census reported that by year 2025, one major metropolitan city, in America, will be predominately Muslim. I tucked that statistic away, and have not thought of it since…until yesterday.

The doorbell rang. As the dog barked, and as the kids proceeded to run around like chickens with their head cut off, I left Katie to the new baby and answered the door. I was not prepared for my visitors.

Read the rest.  This is the kind of experience I pray we’d be prepared for as God’s people.  I pray the Lord makes The Gospel for Muslims of some help in these opportunities.  Oh, Lord, make us zealous for your name and eager to share your live!