James White and Adnan Rashid debate – part 1

James White and Adnan Rashid

The recent encounter between James White and Adnan Rashid on “Is the Cross necessary for salvation?” was predictable enough. Dr White did OK on the apologetics, and preached the Gospel beautifully at the end to his credit. But this was not a debate. Everything was so terribly polite, with lots of rather pointed comments about how respectful everything was (subtext: not like nasty Speaker’s Corner!) The cross examination was more like a polite exchange of views – hardly worthy of the name. An hour in (trying not to nod off) I was still waiting for things to get a bit more feisty, more passionate, more real. You can respect someone and still be confrontational, right? They seem to manage it at the  House of Commons and Channel 4 News well enough – even at Speaker’s Corner, that’s always our aim. Vigorous debate is much more honest and engaging, and my own experience of debating Adnan Rashid is that he can certainly handle it.

James White’s first objective was to “demonstrate the centrality of the Cross in divine revelation…beginning with the writings of the Apostles.” I wasn’t sure why he didn’t start with Jesus himself – the many times He predicts His death, Jesus statement in Mark that He would give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), the Last Supper. He dwelt on the fact (Acts 2:36) of the crucifixion rather than its necessity (Acts 4:12) . JW elaborated on Paul’s teaching  on the power of the Cross (1 Cor 1:17) to reconcile mankind to God (Ephesians 2,Colossians 1:19-20) and how the suffering of the Messiah is prophesied in the Old Testament (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53) as stated by Jesus himself (Luke 24:44). This seemed to be slightly off-topic, as the central issue is atonement, not the suffering of the Messiah or his identity – the Qur’an states Jesus is the Messiah, so that shouldn’t be an issue for Muslims (although it does open for them a big can of worms.) There was no mention  about the necessity of blood sacrifice in the Mosaic law, fulfilled in Christ and explained at length in the book Hebrews. Although he made some strong points about Jesus’ identity, it felt like he missed the main meat of the argument, which was a shame.

Adnan Rashid argued that only Paul taught salvation by faith in the Cross of Christ, but that the OT doesn’t teach the necessity of blood sacrifice. It does! Exodus 24:3, Leviticus 17:11 and Hebrews 9:22:

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Instead his argument relied heavily upon cherry-picked, de-contextualised verses and appeals to scholarship. He tried to turn every reference from the Gospels into either an authorship issue or a textual criticism issue, for example asking why does Luke omit Mark 10:45? (As Lydia McGrew argues in her excellent lecture, “sometimes a variant is just a variant,” and an ‘omission’ presupposes the author’s intention, when they just might have remembered things differently.) The Mosaic law, the Last Supper, Hebrews etc were all,again, conspicuous by their absence.  His most interesting argument was whether or not the Book of James teaches salvation by works, therefore contradicting  the letters of Paul?

James White should have recognised this for the clever tactic it was, rather than allow for side-tracking  with his ‘just-read-my-book’ answer. This rather pompous response doesn’t work in a debate situation; a failure  to give a simple answer comes across like you have something to hide. But there is a reasonable, simple answer to the Paul vs James objection, which  John Piper summarises very well:

When Paul teaches in Romans 4:5 that we are justified by faith alone, he means that the only thing that unites us to Christ for righteousness is dependence on Christ. When James says in James 2:24that we are not justified by faith alone he means that the faith which justifies does not remain alone. These two positions are not contradictory. Faith alone unites us to Christ for righteousness, and the faith that unites us to Christ for righteousness does not remain alone. It bears the fruit of love. It must do so or it is dead, demon, useless faith and does not justify.

This was James White’s response, but not very succinctly put. It was unfortunate the rebuttal and cross-examination time were unnecessarily dominated by this issue.

Otherwise, while James White did correct some of Adnan’s misapplication of verses quite skilfully, he bypassed others. For example he didn’t refute Adnan’s claim that Psalm 91 “says the Messiah will be saved.” This is the Psalm quoted by Satan during Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4: 5-7:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[a]

How does Jesus respond? By rebuking Satan for misquoting scripture!

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[b]

Why is Adnan using an argument from Satan on which to base his objection?

 In conclusion the debate (still not the right word for it) was fine, neither a triumph nor a disaster from an apologetics perspective; but the real disappointment  was how very one-sided it was. The Islamic perspective was mentioned only occasionally, let alone challenged. Statements like “Islam is consistent with the Old Testament”; “Islam teaches the law and you will be forgiven”; “simply repent and Allah will forgive you”; “we have been promised forgiveness as long as we die as Muslims” all slipped by unchecked. But check it we will – in our next post.

 

 

 

2018 – the year to speak out

Pope look how we are treated

I’m referring to two documents that were published in the last two weeks to do with Christians and their experience of Islam. One – Open Doors World Wide Watch list was not a surprise.  But it was the other item -an open letter from Catholic ex-Muslims to Pope Francis – that was the real rallying cry.

Because the WWW list is an annual, scheduled publication perhaps we’ve become immune to its shocking data. Like that fact 8 out of 10 of the world’s worst persecution for Christians are Islamic countries. They are not the only places Christians are persecuted, and atheist dictatorship North Korea is still number one: but the main reason Christians are persecuted globally is Islamic intolerance. And it’s getting worse – the top 11 countries are all now classified as places of “extreme” persection for the first time in the WWW list’s 26 year history.

That Islamic intolerance is the driving factor for global persecution of Christians isn’t news – this has been trending for years. And while church leaders, politicians, the Prince of Wales etc have spoken out against persecution per se, they’ve either been coy or in downright denial about who the persecutors are. Pope Francis is in the latter category – last year he got a gong from Cairo’s Al Azhar university for his “defense of Islam against the accusation of violence and terrorism.” With friends like these, who needs enemies?

And if you’ve wondered how Catholic ex-Muslims might feel about the Pontiff’s comments, then their letter to him makes their feelings brutally clear:

“Many of us ‬have tried to contact you, ‬on many occasions ‬and for several years, ‬and we have never received the slightest acknowledgement of our letters or requests for meetings. ‬You do not like to beat around the bush, ‬and neither do we, so allow us to say frankly that we do not understand your teaching about Islam, ‬as we read in paragraphs ‬252 ‬and ‬253 of‭ ‬Evangelii Gaudium,‭ ‬because it does not account for the fact‭ ‬that Islam came AFTER Christ,‭ and so ‬is, ‬and can only be, ‬‬an Antichrist‭ (‬see‭ ‬1‭ ‬Jn‭ ‬2.22‭)‬,‭ and one of the most dangerous because it presents itself as the fulfillment of Revelation (‬of which Jesus would have been only a prophet)‬. ‬If ‬Islam is a good religion in itself, ‬as you seem to teach, ‬why did we become Catholic? ‬Do not your words question the soundness of the choice we made ‬at the risk of our lives? ‬Islam prescribes death for apostates (‬Quran ‬4.89, ‬8.7-11)‬, ‬do you know? ”

The Pope, having previously stated that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” is then reprimanded for his failure to understand Islamic theology:

“In fact, ‬as long as Islam wants us to be its enemy, ‬we are, ‬and all our ‬protestations of friendship cannot change anything. ‬As a proper Antichrist, ‬Islam exists only as an enemy of all: “‬Between us and you there is enmity and hatred forever, until you believe in Allah alone!”‬ (Qur’an ‬60.4) ‬For the Qur’an, ‬Christians “‬are only impurity” (‬Quran ‬9.28)‬,” “‬the worst of Creation” (‬Qur’an ‬98.6)‬, ‬all condemned to Hell (‬Qur’an ‬4.48)‬, ‬so Allah must exterminate them (‬Quran ‬9.30)‬. ‬We must not be deceived by the Quranic verses deemed tolerant, ‬because they have all been repealed by the verse of the Sword (‬Quran ‬9.5)‬.”

And so on. See also Pamela Geller’s excellent article in a previous FB post for more details.

But it’s easy to criticise others for not doing enough. So, Christians, (preaching to myself too), why don’t we make 2018 the year when we not only obey the Biblical injunction to speak up for the oppressed, but clearly identify the ideological source of the oppression. This is what our ex-Muslim brothers and sisters, having converted often at huge personal cost, want us to do. As Martin Luther King put it, “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

You can read the letter in full and sign it here.

Justice for Zainab – but not Islamic justice

 

Zainab

Earlier this month, a 6 year old girl, Zainab, was abducted after attending a tuition centre near her home town of Kasur in Pakistan, then raped, killed and thrown on a rubbish heap. This appalling case has gone viral, along with a petition on change.org.

Citing another case of child rape in Iran, the petition is asking the Supreme Court of Pakistan to hang the culprits “in front of a large crowd, so that other potential rapists learn a lesson.” But it goes on:

“Also we want the punishment to be a little harsher. As Pakistan is an Islamic country, so the rapist should first be stoned until he breathes his last and then he should be hanged.”

As horrific and shocking as this case is, since when was justice best served through such barbaric punishment?  There is no doubt it is Islamic – Muhammad ordered the stoning of a rapist, as well as the stoning  of adulterers, and stonings are still common in some parts of the Islamic world. But stoning is execution by torture and goes against the UN declaration of human rights. As such it also violates change.org’s community guidelines on inciting violence (I flagged it.) And while in this case, change.org is hosting a campaign for this Islamic punishment to be enacted, it supported an appeal for clemency in another, in the case of grandfather Karl Andrew who was sentenced to 350 lashes in Saudi Arabia for being caught with home-made wine in his car. Thankfully, the sentence was never upheld. So much for the activist website’s consistency on human rights.

Does the man  who raped and tortured a little girl to death deserve death himself? Yes. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Should they be stoned to death? The mother in me says “do it.”

But thank God the UK justice system doesn’t revolve around my feelings. Thank God for its Christian foundations, in which “mercy triumphs over judgement.” Jesus stopped a stoning in its tracks  with a simple challenge to the crowd: “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:11 ). In so doing  he also overturned the Mosaic law on stoning.

Is Jesus, God made flesh, being inconsistent here? No. He is reminding us that ultimately, justice is His job, not the job of sinful human creatures. Paul reminds us in Romans 12:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord”.

Thank God that “he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).  How shocking that instead, God poured the wrath we all deserve out on His own Son on the Cross, and that Jesus hung there willingly. It is the only place we find justice and mercy – even for the most  horrific criminals. 

May Zainab indeed get justice. May her killers go to prison for the rest of their lives to think about what they’ve done. May the God who is familiar with suffering, comfort her family.  But may mercy triumph over judgement.

 

 

Iran and why “Christian theocracy” is unbiblical

Iranian protesters

When it comes to Iran, Donald Trump is right. This is something arch atheist Sam Harris and I agree on:

Trump's Iran tweet

The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran  is based on  the “one God” -Allah -and “his exclusive sovereignty and right to legislate, and the necessity of submission to his commands.” It is governed through “continuous leadership of the holy persons, possessing necessary qualifications, exercised on the basis of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.” So while Hassan Rouhani is the democratically elected President, it is the religious leadership – Ali Khameni and the mullahs – who wield the real power and influence.

Ray Takeyh from US think tank the Council on Foreign Relations writes

Iran’s conservatives are imbued with an ideology that views the essential purpose of the state as the realization of God’s will on Earth….Given such ideological inclinations, the hardliners are utterly contemptuous of democratic accountability and are unconcerned about their loss of popularity and widespread dissatisfaction with theocratic rule.”

Theocracy is not only justified, but the only legitimate form of government according to Islam. Sura 24:55 states

Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession [to authority] upon the earth just as He granted it to those before them and that He will surely establish for them [therein] their religion which He has preferred for them and that He will surely substitute for them, after their fear, security, [for] they worship Me, not associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that – then those are the defiantly disobedient.

How is this interpreted by Ibn Kathir, one of the most trusted and reliable Islamic commentators?

This is a promise from Allah to His Messenger that He would cause his Ummah to become successors on earth, i.e., they would become the leaders and rulers of mankind, through whom He would reform the world and to whom people would submit, so that they would have in exchange a safe security after their fear. This is what Allah did indeed do, may He be glorified and exalted, and to Him be praise and blessings. For He did not cause His Messenger to die until He had given him victory over Makkah, Khaybar, Bahrayn, all of the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen; and he took Jizyah from the Zoroastrians of Hajar and from some of the border lands of Syria; and he exchanged gifts with Heraclius the ruler of Byzantium, the ruler of Egypt and Alexandria, the Muqawqis, the kings of Oman and An-Najashi of Abyssinia, who had become king after Ashamah, may Allah have mercy on him and grant him honor.

Allah promises his faithful followers that they will be rulers on earth. So Islamic theocracies are desirable as a sign of the religion’s success. Ibn Kathir also gives Muhammad’s conquests of “Mecca, Khaybar, Bahrayn, all of the Arabian Penninsula and Yemen”  as an example of what success looks like. The Islamic Republic of Iran (although it denies expansionist ambitions) has spent millions of dollars fighting (directly or through its proxies) in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – at the expense of its own citizens’ welfare. These inferences aren’t lost on the protestors: “no more Islamic Republic” has been one of the chants.

Does Christian doctrine also support political theocracy? This is a big topic, but for the sake of brevity, here are three reasons from Jesus’ teachings why it doesn’t:

1. Because Jesus recognised responsibilities to the State, Christian or not

In Matthew 22 and Mark 12 Jesus talks about “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” There is plenty of debate about whether and to what degree Jesus is separating church and state in this illustration – but he is making this point clearly: that even a pagan Emperor is owed his due. Jesus affords even non-Christian government some legitimacy.

2.  Jesus doesn’t impose his divine rule on people who reject him.

Nor does Jesus resist when evil rulers subject Him to their authority. Note Jesus’ reaction to his arrest in John 18:36:

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Muhammad did impose his rule on unwilling subjects, as we see from Ibn Kathir’s commentary – “he took Jizyah [a humiliating tax imposed on non-Muslims] from the Zoroastrians of Hajar and from some of the border lands of Syria.”

3.  Because Jesus’ kingdom is a heavenly, not an earthly kingdom.

Jesus exhorts people to to “repent, because the kingdom of heaven is near!” (Matt 3:2). This phrase “kingdom of heaven” occurs 31 times in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus doesn’t mean ‘God has anointed me for political rule’, but uses this expression to imply his ministry is divine in origin. He is pointing to his divinity. Through repentance and faith in Jesus, we too can be part of this heavenly kingdom.

So how has the earthly Islamic caliphate fared? Historically, the success of Islamic theocracies has always been short-lived. Three out of four ‘rightly-guided Caliphs’ were killed in power struggles;  the Caliphate of Cordoba collapsed; the Ottoman Empire didn’t survive; the Taliban were ousted; Iran’s future as an Islamic Republic is uncertain.

But Jesus’ kingdom has never been limited by politics or geography. For now Jesus’ kingdom is where “two or three  gather in my name  – there I am also” (Matt 18:20). On his return, Jesus kingdom will be fully realised. Through the centuries, Christians have been thrown to the lions, beheaded, burnt at the stake, but none of this has stopped Christianity’s advance. And where in the world  is the church growing fastest?  Iran. Let’s pray for this nation.