In this episode, Kurt speaks with Andy Bannister, Director of Solas Centre for Public Christianity, on the topic of Islam. They talk about the basic tenets of that worldview, some of the “cracks” or difficulties it has, and strategies for how to talk to your Muslim neighbor.
Listen to “Episode 63: Islam” on Spreaker.
Be sure to check out Solas’ website here: https://www.solas-cpc.org/wp/
Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, too!
Andy’s latest book is The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or: the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill, where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s so great to be with you here today. We’re going to be talking about the topic of Islam and for those of you who haven’t had the chance to listen to the Worldview series themed episodes, I want to encourage you to go back to, oh I forget the episode number that it was, but we did a worldview series episode on Islam where we interviewed a Muslim and talked about the basic tenets of that worldview and today we’re going to be refreshing ourselves on what the basic tenets are, but we’re also going to be exploring some difficulties that encounter the Islamic worldview, a.k.a., what are some of the objections or concerns that we might have toward it? Also, we’ll be thinking about some strategies for how we can talk to our Muslim neighbor, because that’s also an important feature in how we do Islamic apologetics and evangelism and our guest today is very well-versed in this topic and let me say, before we get to introducing him and getting into our conversation, let me say too, it was last week, I think shortly after the show that I had received the news through social media or confirmed the news that Nabeel Qureshi who was a former Muslim and a Christian apologist, he’d been working with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, that he passed away after losing his battle to stomach cancer. Very sad, what has happened. Dr. Ravi Zacharias gave a very moving message at Nabeel’s memorial service. I had the opportunity to meet Nabeel a couple of times over the past few years, though I know he might not have remembered me given all the various people that he was seeing and meeting during his years of Christian ministry. Nevertheless, the apologetic field, kingdom workers, have lost a loved one and he will surely be missed and so we wanted to designate this episode to his memory and in his honor, to talk about that. I know that reaching Muslims in sort of the third category that we’re talking about today, strategies in talking to our Muslim neighbor, that was definitely something that Nabeel was passionate for, having himself come out of that worldview.
Let me mention here a few updates for you. A couple things, one, Veracity Hill fundraiser. We’ve been talking about now for a few weeks. We had to take a couple weeks off due to some other more pressing issues like Hurricane Harvey and whatnot. Let me give you a brief update. I’ve messaged a number of people. I intend to message more people. We are at 11.25% of the way there. We’re trying to raise $800 per month in support for this show, for a number of reasons. I won’t take the time here to list those reasons again, but those reasons are available on the website. If you want to go to VeracityHill.com/patron, you can learn more about the allocation of the funds for what we’re doing here at the podcast, so there’s that. Secondly, mark November 3-4 on your calendars because the annual Defenders Media conference is coming here again to the Western suburbs of Chicago. We’ll have more details for you forthcoming, but mark it off on your calendars. Thirdly, I did a text poll this week through Veracity Hill. It was the first time I did a text poll. I want to thank those that participated in the poll.If you don’t already belong or a part of that texting plan it’s totally free. Just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888 and you’ll join the plan there. I did a poll and we actually had a tie for the topic today between atheism and Islam and I thought, well in honor of Nabeel let’s do Islam. Lo and behold, the guest today, this provides a great segue. Our guest today, Dr. Andy Bannister, has a Ph.D. in Islamic studies and he is the director of the Solas Center For Public Christianity and also a speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Dr. Bannister. Thanks so much for joining us on our show today.
Andy: It’s fantastic to be with you today. Thank you so much for having me on.
Kurt: Of course. Of course. Before we get into the topic today, first, tell us a little bit about the organization that you run, Solas.
Andy: Yes. I kind of wear two hats, Kurt. I am actually, about 1/3 of my time with RZIM, so you know, very glad that you gave that sort of shoutout to Nabeel. Not only have we lost an amazing apologist, many of us who knew him well lost a great friend. He and I were in the ministry together. I knew him before he joined up with Ravi, just incredible really. I think the thing that struck me so much, I loved that way you introduced the show, is Nabeel just had this combination, this incredible intellect, but this huge passion for Muslims. It’s probably because he had family members who are still Muslims, but also just because he just saw that need to reach out with compassion and grace, not just bang people around the head with arguments so he’ll be missed. He was a good friend, but the other part of my time, yeah, I run an organization called the Solas Center for Public Christianity. That’s based in Scotland in the U.K. I’ve been there for about a year. I was with Ravi’s organization in Canada and then we had two weekends and we decided it was time to come back home, be near his family, and that’s trying to do a similar kind of stuff to what RZIM is doing. Apologetics and evangelism that engages the head, the mind, and the heart[NP1] , really up north of the U.K. There’s a lot of good stuff happening in sort of London where the capital, but the further out you get, I guess a bit like the USA. The further out you get from the big centers of everything, there’s less going on, but a huge need. So in my part of Scotland, there are lots of Muslims, so it’s being great. All the skill that I was able to develop working in a big city like Toronto and coming from a big city like London I could put into practice on a daily basis.
Kurt: Yeah. Right. You speak with a funny accent so where are you from originally?
Andy: Yeah. When I travel around North America I like teasing audiences and when people would say, “What a strange accent”, I say, “But everyone speaks like this in Nebraska.” I’m originally from London. It’s a British accent. The same kind of accent that Jesus probably had. We think the English accent[NP2] . I was just going to say actually I forgot to mention, if people want to find our more, the website for us is solas/cpc.org., but they can find it all over Facebook and so forth.
Kurt: You’ve got that speaking and teaching ministry and let me say too, you guys put out some great videos so, high-quality, well-done videos. I can appreciate that.
Andy: Although I have been told I have the perfect face for radio.
Kurt: Don’t we all? Don’t we all? Great. Yeah. I want to encourage listeners, you to go check out Solas on social media and check out their website as well. They really do put out great content, great short snippets. Andy, you yourself sort of put together 3-4 minute videos on topics.
Andy: That’s right. The people who come to visit us at our work page or Facebook page. We started this, we’ve actually tried it out at RZIM is where we developed it, but then we’re trying it now in the U.K. where we do this video series called short answers, and we take a topic or a question, a challenge to the faith, and we try to give a, not just 3-4 minute answer, because people have short attention spans, we also try to answer in a way that engages where people are at. Those videos are designed to be the kind of thing you can share with friends, neighbors, colleagues, we know that we have lots of churches, lots of youth groups using them, even schools using them, they’re getting into all kinds of places. So yeah. Thank you for the shoutout. Be great for people to check that out.
Kurt: Great. And we’ll provide some links as well on our website.
Andy: Very kind of you. Thank you.
Kurt: Yep. Now let’s move into the main thrust of the topic today. We want to discuss the worldview, the religion of Islam, and Andy, give us maybe a five minute refresher on some of the basic tenets of Islam.
Andy: One of the interesting things Kurt, that I’ve always found fascinating in the twenty years of so I’ve been studying Islam, is there is obviously a fair amount in common to those listening to us who are Christians, but also there are some significant differences, and they often revolve around the same things. One of the things we have to be very careful of as Christians is our Muslim friends use the same words as we do, but often need quite different things by them, so in order to give a kind of whistlestop introduction to what Muslims believe, the easiest way to do that is to look at the kind of classical creeds of Islam, and according to those, to be a Muslim you have to believe in five things. You have to believe in God. You have to believe in angels. You have to believe in prophets. You have to believe in Scripture, and you have to believe in the day of judgment. What’s interesting is when you listen to that list as a Christian, you go, “Oh. Wow. I kind of believe in those things.” but when you push it a little bit further you realize there are huge differences. So for example, take the understanding of God in Islam. As you read the Koran and you look at the teaching of Muhammad, the founder of Islam, you see the god who’s described there. He’s one god and he’s all-powerful and God is the creator, but he’s also a god who is distant, he’s a god who’s remote, he’s a god who to use a theological word, he’s transcendent. He’s not a god who’s close and personal. In contrast, the God of the Bible, who is all of those things, but is also a God who is with us and close and present. The God of the Bible is a God who isn’t just up there reigning on His throne. He’s a God who steps into history in the person of Jesus. He’s a God who walks and talks in the garden with Adam and Eve and so on. All over the Bible, we see God stepping into history. The god of Islam is quite different. Quite austere. Because of that, that flows into another thing that’s very important to understanding what we think about Islam. There’s no relationship possible between humand beings and God, at least in classical Islam, because of that distance, because God is far away. Of course, you can’t have a relationship with somebody who isn’t willing to make himself known. When I’m teaching this to students, a good analogy would be, for those of you who are listening to the show are single. If you’re walking down the street and you look across the road and you see the most beautiful example of humanity or the most handsome example of the opposite sex walking along the sidewalk that you’ve ever seen, and you desparately try to find our more about this person because you’ve fallen madly and deeply in love and you discover to your horror, they only come out once a year out of their apartment, they’re desparately shy, they only ever come out once for meetings of the Agoraphobics Anonymous Society, and those are closed-door meetings, and of course, no relationship would be possible with such a person. I say the same is true of God. If God doesn’t actually reveal Himself to us and make Himself known, then you can’t have any kind of relationship and that’s true in Islam. In fact, the only relationship the Koran knows of between human beings and God is one of master and servant. Allah is the master. We are the servants. We are the slaves, and he is to be obeyed and feared and respected, but nothing more, and of course, in contrast, Jesus famously said if you remember, “I no longer call you servants, but I call you friends.” Huge difference there.
Then one final difference. We could push into more and maybe we will as the conversation goes, but one other huge difference that I think is helpful to understand is every religion, every worldview, every belief system, basically aims to answer questions about reality, and there are different ways of dividing those up and analyzing them, but a very common way of looking at belief systems is every worldview, every belief, every religion has to answer these kinds of questions. What’s wrong with the world? What’s the solution? What’s gone wrong with the world and what’s the solution? And of course, Christianity says what’s gone wrong with the world is what the Bible calls sin. We’re not just people who do wrong. Actually, our nature has become corrupted through the failure of Adam and Eve in the garden rippling out from there. So it’s actually a kind of radical diagnosis, a radical cure rather for that radical diagnosis, and of course, what it needs is as the Christian story unfolds in the Scriptures, no amount of good deeds are good enough to cover that problem. It actually needs God to come in the person of Jesus and go to the cross on our behalf. Now Islam, tries to answer those questions, but it takes a very different approach. Islam says the problem with humanity is just forgetfulness. We forget things. What’s the solution? Moral commands is the solution. If you read the Koran, time and time again, that’s what you’re given. Moral commands. Moral commands. With the idea being obey them and keep the laws and work hard enough, earn enough merit, earn enough good favor, and on the day of judgment hope that your good deeds will outweigh your bad deeds. That understanding of what sin is, what’s wrong, is so different and so radical, I always say to Christians, when you’re talking to Muslim friends, find a way to begin getting into these questions because unless you recognize the difference there, you’ll talk past one another, but the analogy I often use with Muslims is to say, Look. The problem is right, you and I can’t keep the law, and if you want to doubt that, I didn’t have any doubts of that beforehand, but suddenly since becoming a parent, I’ve seen this illustrated. I have a two and a half year-old son, and he’s not interested in touching the pan on the stove until you tell him, “Stay away from the stove.” and then he can’t keep away from that. I think that’s the standard human story actually. When there’s a commandment, that’s when we tend to…
Kurt: The temptation is there.
Andy: Temptation is there and so in Islam, the problem is trying to solve the problem of human sinfulness with more moral commands is rather like seeing a person drowning in a swimming pool and saying, “Hang on. I’ll get you a bucket of water,” and then throwing some more in there, Our problem is not lack of moral commands. The problem is we can’t keep the ones that we have.
Kurt: That’s right.
Andy: So the question is how do you deal with that human brokenness. That…[NP3] at the cross.
Kurt: So for the Muslim, it’s really humans are born on a clean slate, almost as if we’re just like Adam and Eve. Is that right?
Andy: It’s interesting you say that Kurt. Yes, on the one hand, the Koran is very clear about that. Most Muslims will tell you that they believe in original sin, but a couple interesting things flow from this. The Koran does say that no one can bear the sin of another. No sinbearer can bear the sin of another. That’s an interesting statement, of course, because it opens up the idea that one who was not the bearer of His own sin, might be able too, and so the Koran even while pushing back on original sin and rejecting the idea of atonement has that hint, but Adam and Eve are interesting because Adam and Eve, the story of Adam and Eve being created in the Garden of Eden and sinning is there in the Koran, but when you read the Koran there are some differences and there’s a very significant difference in where the Koran locates the story. The story in the Koran is located in Paradise. Adam and Eve in Sura 7 and other places where that story is told in the Koran are not cast out of the Garden when they sin. They’re cast down from the Garden. Allah in verse says to them “Get down from here to the Earth which will be a place of trial and testing for you.” Of course, that raises a huge problem for my Muslim friends. I’ve had this conversation over the years with many Muslims. Even if Islam were true and you keep the commandments and you obey them and you get to the Day of Judgment and Allah smiles on you with favor and says, “Come in, well done, good and faithful servant,” and there you are. You’re in Paradise. It’s wonderful. There are the fruit trees and the rivers of wine and the virgins. All the things the Koran talks about.
Kurt: Can’t forget those!
Andy: On day four you do something stupid. I don’t know. You get Allah in a bad mood and you swear or something, and what’s happened? You’ve sinned in Paradise and of course there can’t be sin in Paradise and so the result is going to be you’re going to be cast out and whenever I say that to Muslims I usually get the retort of “You can’t sin in Paradise.” I go, “Yes, you can, because Adam and Eve sinned in Paradise and were cast out.” So even if you got to Heaven, how could you be sure you stayed there, and if the Muslim friend you’re talking to is on the border and says, “The same thing applies to you. You get there through this Jesus stuff and you sin in Heaven” and that gets you an opportunity to say, “How?” That’s another thing that’s significantly different to Christianity and Islam and that’s what the Bible calls sanctification, and that’s that when you become a Christian as the Bible teaches time and time again. God doesn’t just forgive us and leave us as we are. He puts the Holy Spirit within us, that downpayment, that deposit of what’s to come, that begins the process of transforming me, transforming you, into that image and likeness of Jesus as Paul says in Philippians. He who began a good work will continue it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus. In other words, the Kurt, the Andy, who will walk and talk with Jesus in the new Heavens and new Earth won’t be Andy 1.0 or Kurt, 1.0, they will be the upgrade. While in Islam, there is only human being 1.0, with all our foibles and mess-ups and hang-ups and brokenness, so there’s no ultimate hope in Islam.
Kurt: So tell me, I know this is a concern that I often have for various worldviews and religions. What do you do with Jesus? What do Muslims believe or really I should say more what does Islam teach about who Jesus was?
Andy: The way you frame that question is helpful Kurt, in terms of, you’re interested in what every worldview does. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years and it sounds like you’ve made the same observation. Right? You really can’t get around the kind of Jesus problem, and I like putting it that way, because here you’ve got this guy who most people respect, most people are quite drawn to Jesus. Those who hate religion and everything about God will say surprising things about Jesus like the late Christopher Hitchens, some very positive Jesus, but then the problems comes of course, Jesus makes astonishing claims. He says things like, “Before Abraham was, I am.” He claims to forgive sins, but do things that only God could do in Second Temple Judaism and the list goes on and on and on. This hugely inflated sense of His own identity which leads you to some awkward conclusions really. Either He was who He was saying He was or you’ve got to do something else with Him. Sometimes our atheist friends, I think a few of the ones on the wacky end of the spectrum will leap into things like Jesus mythicism, because that’s a great way of dealing with Him. He never existed.
Kurt: Poof! He just didn’t exist! Yeah!
Andy: Don’t just look at the historical evidence[NP4] . Well Islam, actually does something I think as bad which is in the Koran what we see is an attempt to cut Jesus down the size. He’s just another prophet, not the Son of God, not the second person of the Trinity, not God incarnate, any of those. Just another prophet in the line of prophets that stretches all the way to Adam right the way through history to Muhammad and he ends that line and there’s no difference between him and any of the others. The Koran stresses that time and time again. These are all the prophets. We made no distinction between them. If that was all that He was, we’d go, “Okay. That’s fairly easy. I see what the Koran’s doing here. It’s just trying to drag Jesus down and erase any distinctives so that leaves room for Muhammad, but the Koran also makes some extremely lofty claims as well. It calls Him the Messiah, that He bears the title Messiah in the Koran, even though the Koran doesn’t know what that word means. The Koran says that Jesus was a Word from Allah, that He was a spirit from Allah, and so it goes on and so there’s this tension in the Koran. I like to use that with Muslims. Begin asking questions really and say what was it about Jesus. He’s unique really among the Koranic prophets. He’s also mentioned many times. About 90 verses deal with Him whereas Muhammad is only mentioned by name about four times. What’s going on there? And then the final problem for Muslims I think as well is, of course, the center of the Jesus story was the resurrection. I find this interesting. You can even build this point if it’s engaging with atheists. Were it not for the claim of the resurrection, Christianity would have died a death as another failed Messianic cult. Right? His followers shortly after His death claimed that He was risen from the dead. Now if you believe like you and I do that that’s true and I think there’s great historical evidence for that, so be it, but even our atheist friends have to recognize the first Christians claimed this. I don’t know any skeptic that thinks the Christians actually believed,,,[NP5] .well here the Koran comes along and in chapter 4:157, denies that Jesus was crucified, but then there’s a gaping silence about the resurrection and basically, as you read the Koran you’re forced to the conclusion, whoever wrote this didn’t actually know what the central claims of Christianity were. If that’s, because it is the work of Muhammad who was a seventh century Beduoin arab who had very little contact with Christians, probably more with Jews, okay. We can explain that. If this is supposed to be written by God, the source of all knowledge and all wisdom and all power, then what was going on? Was Allah having an off-day? Did Gabriel lose those kinds of verses as he brought them down from Heaven? Something like this. There is some explaining to do, and so I think Jesus is this very interesting figure in the Koran. I think as you push into the Jesus question, I think the cracks in Islam begin opening up and it’s very very interesting, you mention him at the start, we talked about Nabeel, right? His testimony, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, he had that powerful encounter and began to understand who Jesus was, that the Islam he’d been raised in began to first go brittle and then crack and then shatter and so it wasn’t a sense of a new understanding of God so much as initially discovering who Jesus was, falling in love with who Jesus was, and having His eyes opened. I think this is a great differentiator.
Kurt: Great. Great. Andy. I know we’re already starting to explore some of the cracks if you will of Islam and I want to explore more, but we’ve got to take a short break here, so when we return we’ll talk about some of those cracks or difficulties with the Islamic worldview, and also, what are some strategies for how we can talk to our Muslim neighbors, so stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Alright. Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. I am here talking about the religion of Islam with Dr. Andy Bannister. He has his PhD in Islamic Studies. He is the director of Solas Center for Public Christianity and a speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Andy, I know we didn’t clue you in about one of the segments of our show and I think that’s because we think you would just excel at this and this is
Kurt: For first time guests, we do a round of what are called rapid questions where you’ve got one minute to answer as many questions as you can.
Andy: Terrible, because at RZIM we are known for not doing short answers, but I do a video series called short answers, so we’ll give it a go.
Kurt: Okay. They are totally random sorts of questions. Of course, listeners of the show know typically what sort of questions I ask here.
Andy: Bear in mind I’m…[NP6] to get through them.
Kurt: I’ll tell you what. Before we start the countdown clock here, let me tell you this. It’s funny you mention you’re British. One of the questions here is “If you were a baseball pitch, which one would you be?” When we had Os Guinness on, I asked him “If you were a cricket pitch, which one would you be.” Talk about a cultural barrier. When he gave the answer, I was like, “What is that?” He referred to a stadium, so apparently, a cricket pitch is a stadium whereas a baseball pitch is the type of ball, if it’s a curveball, fastball, being thrown in baseball.
Andy: That’s right. I was going to say I was getting lost with where you’re going there. You’re absolutely right. A pitch is throwing it. But then this bear in mind, I always like to say that cricket is like baseball, but with history and culture.
Kurt: Ouch. Well, at least.
Andy: Phone lines are melting.
Kurt: At least here in Chicago we do have a history of success here now. The Chicago Cubs winning the World Series of course.
Andy: I wouldn’t dream of saying a word. Not a word.
Kurt: And to the dismay of many people, I still believe that baseball is America’s national pastime. A classic game, a classic sport. At any rate.
Andy: I’m not gonna say a word. I’m not gonna say a word.
Kurt: Okay. Let me get the countdown clock going here and we’ll roll into Rapid Questions. Andy. Are you ready?
Andy: I am. Bring it on.
Kurt: Alright. Here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Andy: Clothing store of choice? River Island.
Kurt: Taco Bell or
Kurt: What school did
you go to?
Andy: London School of Theology.
Kurt: What song is playing on your radio these days?
Andy: Something by U2. I forget what.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Kurt: What is your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Andy: Favorite holiday. Somewhere warm.
Kurt: What’s your most hated sports franchise?
Andy: Anything involving soccer. I’m not a soccer fan, so Manchester United maybe.
Kurt: Favorite movie?
Andy: Favorite movie. Star Wars Episode IV, the first of the original ones.
Kurt: Have you ever planked?
Andy: Have I ever what?
Kurt: Planked? You know, planking.
Andy; I have no idea what that is. It’s a cultural thing.
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: What’s the one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you’re stranded on an island?
Andy: A satellite radio?
Kurt: Hokey Pokey, electric slide, or the Macarena?
Andy: Again, no idea. Pass.
Kurt: No idea. Okay. Alright. Now let’s see. The planking one? Yes. I’d be happy to…
Andy: Planking one.
Kurt: Be happy to give you some cultural education here.
Andy: What is planking? Is that one where you lie flat in streets in public places?
Kurt: Yes. That’s it exactly!
Andy: I’ve heard of it. Wait a minute.
Kurt: I guess that’s becoming outdated now. I guess we should ask people some other social trend. I don’t even know what the trend is these days anymore.
Andy: A few years ago it was extreme ironing. I think that was more people taking ironing boards to various strange places.
Kurt: Then there was the mannequin challenge. Remember the mannequin challenge?
Andy: No. I remember the ice bucket challenge. What was the mannequin challenge?
Kurt: So the mannequin challenge was when you have would like 20+ stay frozen and someone with their cell phone records a video and walks through so they all look like mannequins and they’re just standing still.
Andy: It’s great to see what passes for entertainment in your part of the world.
Kurt: Surely you must have social creations that seemingly come out of nowhere.
Kurt: You’re like “Riiight.”
Andy: Okay. Yes. This is why the internet was invented. What did we do before…[NP8] but there we are.
Kurt: That’s right. That’s right. Okay. Well, Andy thanks for playing that round of Rapid Questions.
Andy: It was great fun. Enjoyed that.
Kurt: Good. Good.
Andy: My life is now complete.
Kurt: We’ve got a couple comments here on the livestream. Let me just read these before we get back to our discussion. Phil says, “Listening to the velvety voice of Mr…[NP9] in La Mirada California.” Phil. Thank you for tuning in. We have William here who’s watching from the Philippines. I’m glad that you could join us today.
Andy: Hello, William!
Kurt: My wife has also tuned in. She says, “The thing now is something about the ground being lava.” Oh. Right. Apparently, this is like a childhood game. The floor is made of lava and you’ve got to quickly hop on a couch or something like that.
Andy: Oh. Right. Okay.
Kurt: Maybe that one’s coming back. Marlin here is watching. He confirms this. The ground is lava in weird places. Maybe like a shop or something like that. Just sort of sporadic. Maybe a church. Maybe that’s what I’ll do on Sunday. Okay. Here we are. We’ve had loads of fun. Let’s get back to not having fun. I’m just kidding.
Andy: Let’s do serious stuff.
Kurt: We’re talking about Islam and during the first half of the show we sort of reviewed some of the basic tenets to what Islam teaches and then now we began to look at the cracks of that worldview, specifically by looking at the person of Jesus and who He was, the Jesus question, though I have a number of other questions, but before I get into those specific questions, let me first float you a more softball or broad question. Andy, what do you see are some of the biggest challenges to the Islamic worldview?
Andy: That’s a great question. I think largely two areas, Kurt. Islam stands, at least orthodox Islam stands on two pillars. Right? It stands on Muhammad and it stands on the Koran. If Muslims can’t trust the Koran, there’s a problem, and of course, if there’s some questions about Muhammad, there’s a problem. Those two things are bound up with each other actually, because ultimately the only reason that we know what we know or Muslims believe they know what they believe they know about the Koran is because of the testimony of Muhammad. Right? It’s not like the Gospels where we have multiple evidences and witnesses for the life of Jesus. Here’s Muhammad. He claims to witness this angelic encounter with Gabriel, but it’s only his word, a bit like Joseph Smith out there in the woods and so I think both of those things, and what’s happening now increasingly in the last few years, but something going on for awhile, I think there’s a lot of new historical-critical work that’s been done on Muhammad and the origins of Islam and some huge questions. There’s a lot of new work being done, for example, that’s beginning to show that the traditional story about Muhammad founding Islam in Mecca which everybody’s taken for granted. It looks like it may be the case that Islam actually began somewhere else, and so that’s causing all kinds of repercussions, and then on the Koran, a lot of work being done particularly in textual criticism.
Kurt: Yes. Especially the oral-formulaic study of the Koran. Right?
Andy: Yes. The guy who wrote that book. I think he had a few things worth saying. But here’s the thing right? Just on that alone, Christians have always, so many Christian scholars, have always been aware that we have textual variants for the text of the Bible, and many people like Bart Ehrman have come along and made a great song and dance about it, but Christians have always known this and have never shied away from that. You can go read the church fathers and see them engaging with this stuff and to go actually, the more you study that, it gives you confidence in the Scriptures because you have to do the hard work, but it gives you the confidence. Islam, on the other hand has always tried to bury that information, largely because the understanding of Scripture is different. Scripture believe that God breathed His spirit through the human authors with the result that the words on the page are both the divine product and a human product in some kind of wonderful way, and so in the sense that there are some of these questions around the Bible doesn’t actually faze us. Islam, on the other hand, has always taught that the Koran is written by God Himself with no human involvement. Every letter, dot for dot, letter for letter, exactly the same as the original preserved on tablets of stone eternally there in Heaven next to Allah. If you believe that about your Scripture, the moment that you could show any sort of human features in the text, there’s a problem, and the moment you have any question about, say, textual variants and what the text might say at any point, you have a problem. The last few years there’s been some spectacularly good work done on textual criticism by a number of scholars around the world. I think it’s becoming more and more apparent just how much interference there was in the text of the Koran early on. I’ve mentioned Bart Ehrman, that critic of Christianity. I’ve had several people say that his thesis about textual corruption of the New Testament, which really has been I think well answered for the Bible, actually applies more to Islam in terms of the way that there was a real early attempt by the Muslim leadership to control the text.
Kurt: So let’s get into a specific example. I mean maybe take it a little different. So the caliph Uthman.
Andy: That’s right.
Kurt: There was a book burning of sorts. Right? Tell me about that.
Andy: That’s right. Since you’ve led me nicely into that. Basically, when Muhammad dies in 632 A.D. Islam was then led by a group of men called the caliphs and they were the ones largely responsible for leading and shaping the Muslim community after Muhammad. During the reign of the third caliphs, so we’re talking not very long after Muhammad at all, we discover a problem arose and so in the 640’s, a third caliph is there on the throne and he receives reports about the Muslim soldiers up in the battlefields, up in Syria where the Muslims armies are advancing the Muslim empire, are beginning to argue about what the Koran says. One of his generals actually comes to him and says “Oh chief of the believers. Save this people before they differ, they argue about the Scriptures as the Jews and Christians did before them.” What Uthman does then is very interesting. He puts out this order to the four corners of the Muslim empire. He orders that every manuscript, either completely or part manuscripts of the Koran, are to be brought to him. He has a scribe write out one authoritative version of the Koran. Four copies are then made of that which are then sent out across the Muslim empire, and then the other manuscripts, the original manuscripts, are all burnt. Again, this is not a critical scholar writing this. We find this story right there in the Muslim histories in what are called the Hadith. So very early on we have this, this attempt to control the text of the Koran, to get nervous about differences and to try to reinforce this founding myth about the Koran as this perfect unchanging eternal book. It looks like that’s not the case, and then my own work which you nicely gave a call out to early on, Oral-Formulaic work. Basically, my PhD looked at and the book that came out of it, looked at how the Koran was put together and the Koran comes from a time before writing. In fact, one of the very early apologetics I ran into was Muslim friends saying to me, “The Koran is a wonderful work of literature. Muhammad was illiterate. Therefore, we have a miracle.” That sounds convincing until you do a slight bit of study and you discover we have lots of work literature that come from times before writing. The founding works of Western literature, the poems by the great poet Homer, the Greek guy, not the little yellow guy on the Simpsons, wrote two poems, long poems called the Iliad and the Odyssey. Very, very, very important works of literature. But we know they come from before writing, before he was early enough that writing hadn’t been invented. How did he do that? Well, it turns out there were methods and techniques you could use as an oral performer to construct what you were saying live in front of an audience, whether you were preaching or reciting extemporaneously, and the great thinkers without going into detail now, those methods you could use as an oral person, when the text is eventually written down, they leave their marks on the text and by doing close literary analysis we can look for these kinds of features that tell you the text was composed orally in front of an audience. Those features are all over Homer’s work, the Iliad and the Odyssey. We’ve found them in hundreds of oral traditions and lo and behold, they’re there in the Koran.
Andy: The Koran looks like it’s the product of an illiterate oral performer sometime around the 7th century A.D. As historians, this doesn’t surprise us at all. For Orthodox Islam, pretty problematic.
Kurt: One of the, I guess I should say, other methods that I like to go down when we’re exploring the truth claims here is, and you referenced it earlier, in terms of Muhammad or his disciples source of what Christianity was…
Kurt: You had likely talked they were more in touch with Jewish people than…[NP10] Christians and maybe the types of Christians that they were exposed to weren’t necessarily orthodox Christians. I think some of this comes forward from the Koran’s misunderstanding of the Trinity, for instance.
Kurt: Which poses that the Trinity is God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Mother, Mary. Christians have never believed that. We don’t make those claims, but one of the interesting oral traditions that they received is what we see, and correct me if I’m mistaken Andy, on the Infancy Gospel of James, which is a Gnostic text and describes details about Jesus and His birth and that He was speaking as a babe, tell me a little bit more about that and how we might think, “Well, they got information from non-Christian sources, even writing on Christianity.”
Andy: Good questions. I thank you. Kurt, just pretty quickly on that matter of the Trinity, because actually, that’s hugely important. That comes from Sura 5:116 of the Koran where we have this idea that the Trinity is Jesus, Mary, and God. What’s interesting, I’ve had Muslims say, because obviously that’s clearly not what Christians believe, I’ve had Muslims say there was sort of minor Christian sect active there in Arabia that Muhammad was referring to and that’s very interesting because a great comeback there is to go, “Hang on a minute. If I wrote a textbook that claimed to be the definitive guide to Islam and I said that the understanding of Islam is what ISIS had is what every Muslim believed”, I would say to my Muslim friends, “You’d get rightly upset that I’ve taken a minority view, a view of a tiny minority group, and applied it. You’d show my ignorance, but hang on a minute. The Koran has done exactly this and it’s supposed to be written by God. Was Allah not able to sort of gently point out to Muhammad, ‘No. The mainstream view is this and by the way, it’s wrong.’ ” Again, it looks like it’s timebound, but on the infancy material you mentioned, yes. In the centuries following the writing of the New Testament, a number of what came to be called Apocryphal Gospels were written, and those for different reasons. Sometimes there were sort of heterodox groups that were trying to put their own version around. Sometimes they were just written by pious well-meaning Christians who particularly wanted to fill in the gaps and if you think about it, the New Testament tells us about the birth of Jesus and we have that one little window in Luke into when Jesus was twelve years old in the temple. Other than that, nothing until He’s thirty. Of course, that’s a wide open opportunity to go “Well let’s tell the story.”
Kurt: Let’s fill it in!
Andy: As some Christian groups felt they should. What’s interesting is those stories begin circulating widely in the centuries following and they’re quite popular, and then sometime around about the fifth century A.D., a document that has come to be termed the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, puts a lot of these stories together in the kind of cultural milieu around where Muhammad would have been. Copies have turned up. What’s interesting, two things are interesting. Firstly is that the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy quotes these legendary stories and it also quotes the Gospels and whenever the Arabic writer of the Gospel of the Infancy quotes the Gospels, he quotes word for word, literally, you can line it up with the Greek, and see it word for word. When he quotes those apocryphal stories, he paraphrases and quotes them quite loosely. I wrote a work a few years ago which I argued that’s because the person who wrote that document knew the difference between pious stories that are nice for entertaining the faithful and actual Scripture in the same way that a preacher on a Sunday morning may tell a joke that he’s held before more fluently, but if he’s quoting the Scriptures he’ll make sure he gets right, but Muhammad doesn’t know the difference, but one other thing that’s really important here for listeners, Kurt, sometimes, Christians, we can talk as if we’re implying that Muhammad was aware of these documents and copied. Again, Arabia at the time was an oral culture. You can line the stories in the Koran like next to the Arabic Gospel, next to the Infancy Gospel of James, and there’s no word for word alignment. The story’s the same, but it’s not clearly being picked up word for word and so what it looks like is happening is in the Arabia of Muhammad’s day, all of these religious stories and ideals and fairy tales, they’re all circulating around. Everyone knows them. It’s the talk of the marketplace. A good story back then like today has good traction and Muhammad comes along, sees this great pool of tradition and thinks, “I’m going to fish from this and use this as I build this new religion of Islam”, because basically, I think to understand how Muhammad was operating, he has this passion for his people. He loved his people, loved the arabs, as a proud patriot, and he looked at all these other civilizations all around him and went, “Well, they’re much greater than ours. What is it the Arabs haven’t got? Wait a minute. They haven’t got a religion. The Persians have got Zoroastrianism. The Byzantines have got Christianity. What the Arabs need is a religion. I’m going to give them one.” But when he goes fishing for these pieces, of course he doesn’t know what’s from where. That explains why the Koran jumbles it up. It also explain why the Koran jumbles chronology up. You can read the Koran and you’d have no idea that there’s 1,500 years between Moses and Jesus. The Koran jams them all in together because Muhammad doesn’t have that framework. He doesn’t explain why the Koran does things like call Jesus the Messiah. Muhammad has no idea what that word means, but he’s heard the Christians say that Jesus is and he’s heard the Jews deny that Jesus is. He says, “Okay. So Messiah is the word we use.” Muhammad is like a man who’s found all these bits of building blocks. He’s found an old ruined Scottish castle, many where I live, and he’s come along and he’s got all these bits of stone and he’s gone and built something different out of them. It’s creative and it’s interesting and it’s a fascinating thing to study, but it bears no correlation either to where it’s come from or to the historical events and certainly not to the real living flesh and blood Jesus of Nazareth.
Kurt: Yeah. Right. Those definitely would be some concerns when we’re evaluating the truth claims of a worldview and I also want to encourage the listener to think about those methods and issues for other religions as well, not just Islam. We really need to get to who is this Jesus guy and how do we know? That’s really what it’s about. Now, Andy, I do want to ask you this with the time that we have left today.
Kurt: What do you think are some fruitful ways, winsome ways, to engage in discussion with our Muslim neighbors?
Andy: That’s a great question, Kurt. I’m glad we’re ending it there becuase for Christians who are listening to this, if the take away is listening to this is fantastic, Islam is false, Christianity is true, we failed, because at the end of the day it’s not about proving them wrong and us right. It’s about introducing people to Jesus and the life-transforming encounter there. So I’d say in terms of Muslims, I think the first thing for Christians listening to this is prayerfully ask yourself the question “Where are the Muslims that you could get to know?” Maybe there aren’t Muslims nearby, but I suspect for a lot of people listening who are in a medium sized town or city in much of North America now, it’s like Europe. There are Muslims around. If there are Muslims at your workplace, your neighborhoods, your schools, school games, or the convenience store, take the opportunity to build friendships, because it begins with friendships. You don’t walk up and go, “You’re a Muslim. You’re wrong.” It’s going to get you nowhere. But what about saying, “Are you a Muslim by any chance?” and when they say they are say, “That’s really interesting. Tell me. I’ve never talked to a Muslim before. What do you believe?” Start by asking them about their faith, because you more do that, the more willing they’ll be to ask questions about yours. Start by listening. Start by building friendships and then in all that you do, try and find ways to bring it back to Jesus. Given the world that we live in with so many of the political issues going on, it’s so easy to get sucked into politics, because we’re nervous about the Middle East or perhaps we’re nervous about domestic terrorism, whatever it is. Push those things aside and concentrate remind yourself, “My job is to be winsome and as 1 Peter 3:15 says, to show the reason for the hope that I have, but with gentleness and respect. Build friendship, lead people to Jesus, because ultimately in terms of those bigger issues, the only solution to the problem of radical Islam, is radical Christianity. Politics is certainly not the solution.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s right. Let me also add one little thing too, Andy, to what you said there. Don’t be afraid to talk to Muslims about religion. They like to talk about it. It’s something that they appreciate and I think they would have a higher respect for you if you were to talk about religion with them and of course, engage with them in polite conversation to learn about their beliefs, but then when you have the opportunity to share what you believe, I think they’re going to respect you for who you are and what you believe instead of someone who is a nominal Christian and doesn’t really act like it. I have found at least in my experience that Muslims, they have that appreciation for people that are religious generally speaking and so that’s a point of common ground between you and it’s a good opportunity to approach someone and to have that conversation. Good. Andy. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, for again reminding us here about the basic tenets of Islam, but also exploring some of the difficulties, the cracks as you said in the worldview and concerns that we should have in assessing these truth claims so thanks so much for coming on the show. Dr. Andy Bannister, and we will be sure to put some of those links out to Solas and RZIM and your social media stuff as well. Again, you’ve got some great videos. Thanks for your work.
Andy: Fantastic. Well, Kurt, it’s been fantastic talking to you. Great to be on the show and thanks once again for having me.
Kurt: Great. And his latest book for those that are interested is on atheism. It’s The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist. It’s a very humorous engagement, looking at the truth claims or the philosophical claims that atheism poses. I read it cover to cover and I would highly recommend it. It’s a very easy read. You feel like you’re having a conversation with Andy so it’s a great work.
Andy; That’s very kind of you. The check’s in the mail.
Kurt: You’re a funny man, funny man. Of course, the wit is there in the book as well. Thanks, Andy. Take care. God bless you.
Andy; Bye now.
Kurt: Bye. Alright, now it’s with great pleasure that I click this button.
Kurt: I like the little breath at the end, Chris, there. Aaaah. We’ve got a piece of the mail bag. This question comes from Phil. He writes, “Saw someone with the Message Bible and heard some negative things about that translation. I looked up some discussions online and compared verses and see some very very odd translations. How does one come to know what they’re reading has been toyed with too much and how different is that from say, NKJV or NIV. This person has two different translations, but reads them both the same and implements or feels very often to speak in terms of verbiage that the Message Bible uses or translates.”
Phil. That’s a great astute observation and a great question. Let me finish today’s episode by briefly talking about translation philosophy. Here what we’re dealing with is the issue of how do we take the message, and I don’t mean there the translation, the message of the gospel, the good news, which is written in an ancient language, and how do we bring that to a people that live 2,000 years later. I wnat to ask you to remove yourself from the English language and think about it is as if you wanted to communicate the Gospel to a native Amazonian tribe. What ways would you communicate the Gospel and to translate the Bible into their language? That’s what English translators deal with when they’re thinking about that, and so there’s a spectrum for this. There’s what’s called, generally speaking, a word-for-word, or a literal equivalent, which is the attempt to take the words as close as possible to their meaning. There’s also on the other end what’s called the dynamic equivalent, which attempts to apply the meaning of the original language in ways that are easier to understand in the contemporary language. Let me give you a fine example of this. In the English language, the seat or the place of our emotions is not the brain, despite the chemical reactions that occur when we perceive certain events and then we have a reaction to that. The seat of the emotions in the English language is the heart, but in some cultures, the seat of the emotion is not the heart. It’s the stomach. So if you were to translate the word heart in Greek, kardia, and you were to take that into another language, you wouldn’t want to use, the English heart, right? Or the equivalent of a heart in the language. You would want to discover what they understand is the seat of the emotions and use that word. That would be a dynamic equivalent. Now there can be issues when you get too much on the dynamic side, you begin to worry about interpretation, because the meaning of the original text, if you’re trying to get the meaning of the original text and interpreters are trying to draw that out, they’re giving their interpretation of the meaning, and so even on the literal side you have a little bit of that, but you don’t have as much to worry about. You still have to explore the question, “What is the meaning?” but you don’t have that worry as much as you do with dynamic equivalent translations. Now let me say this, dynamic equivalent translations can sometimes be very beneficial, for, say, a new Christian, who hasn’t learned Christianese or Christian verbiage. I would highly recommend either the NLT, the New Living Translation, for a baby Christian, someone who was never raised in the church, or maybe someone who was raised in the church, but has come back to the faith, I would recommend the NIV, because some of that language would still be there. For those of us who have studied the text a bit, we tend to prefer the more literal word-for-word, that would be an ESV, RSV, NASB, those sorts of translations. Now The Message isn’t so much a translation inasmuch as it’s almost a paraphrase because Eugene Peterson has taken upon himself to give his interpretation int common parlance and I think maybe you’re right to point out we should have concerns here and some of it might depend upon what your intention with the text is. Is your intention with the text to explore the historical criticism behind the ancient language? If that’s your concern, do not read The Message. If you’re looking for a work that can almost serve as a devotional of sorts, perhaps The Message would work for that, but keep in mind that it is a paraphrasing, very free translation of the original text. I hope that answers your question there regarding the translation issues. If not, please do feel free to follow up and I’d be happy to explore that issue further. That does it for the show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons. We’re looking for your support as well, if you’re not yet a patron. That’s someone who just donates a few bucks a month to our cause, $5 a month, $10 or $20 a month. If you want to learn how you can become a patron, head on over to our website veracityhill.com/patron, where you can learn more about that and I’m also grateful for the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I also want to give a shoutout to the tech team today, Chris, thanks so much for all that you do, and to our special very guest, Andy Bannister, I appreciate the conversation that I had with him, and I hope that you were enlightened as well as we were thinking through some of these issues today and so finally I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
[NP1]Unclear at 6:30
[NP2]7:25. Couldn’t hear over laughter
[NP4]19:35. Can’t understand
[NP8]Unclear at 31:00
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