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Here's my dialogue with Adnan Rashid from 2 December 2015. Unfortunately the video seems to have been lost but not the audio.

AUDIO

My opening talk is from 27:08-48:30 and then Adnan and I took questions from the audience before finally questioning one another.

With Adnan RashidI absolutely loved the evening. We were well hosted by the Postsmouth Uni Islamic Society who provided the refreshments. There were about equal numbers of Christians (from the Christian Union) and Muslims in the audience. At the end scores of Muslims personally requested John's Gospels. I drove home buzzing. When you talk to Muslims about the gospel you speak about the things that matter: Who is God? Who is Jesus? Is the Bible the word of God? What is salvation? How can I know I'm right with God?

My approach for the opening 20 minutes was to unpack John's Prologue a little bit (as a taster to encourage folks to keep reading John). In particular I explored Jesus as the divine "Word of God". If Jesus is the revelation of God then it is not a question of whether He passes the "divinity test" set by others.  Divinity is what we see in Jesus. And, as you read through John's Gospel, what an attractive divinity we see!

The first objection to this would naturally be: What about the Old Testament? But of course John is talking about the Old Testament. He is emphatically not saying that Jesus-the-Word is a New Testament novelty but an eternal reality - since the very "beginning."

Therefore I took time to demonstrate that Jesus is the divine Word of God from Genesis onwards. I think this is vital in Muslim evangelism. Whenever the Muslim is able (either tacitly or explicitly) to present the Trinity as a New Testament novelty they score a massive advantage. Whenever the Christian is able to demonstrate the Trinitarian Old Testament they make a devastating case. It really is that important.

Of course it's that important - it's essentially the question, "Is Jesus really "the Word of God" or is He merely the best Word of God, the seal of a series of improving words about God??" If we falter here then we have begun on the Arian trajectory that, historically, flowered with Islam.

For this reason I pointed people to these 24 Old Testament Scriptures that cannot be understood with a unitarian doctrine of God. Moses and the Prophets were emphatically not unitarians and their writings cannot be understood unitarianly.

A monadic doctrine of God is not primary historically, it is not simple philosophically/theologically and it cannot be basic methodologically. In short, Trinitarianism is not an offshoot of some more fundamental Unitarian understanding. Quite the reverse. Unitarianism is an heretical offshoot of Trinitarianism.

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Recently the question has been raised of whether Christians and non-Christians worship the same God. Many who say Yes have based their case on the Old Testament and/or the claim that, of course, we worship the same God as the Jews (e.g. Miroslav Volf and Bruce McCormack). The argument goes, if we're content to say that Christians and Jews worship the same God, then the door is open to say that those other monotheists - Muslims - also worship the same God.

It seems to me that many evangelicals are uncomfortable with this "same God" position, but they don't have a sufficiently Christ-centred, Trinitarian understanding of the Old Testament to be able to refute it. I'd urge them to revisit the issue of Christ in the Old Testament (perhaps start with this series of posts). This is not a needlessly divisive distraction but a crucial point about the basic nature of our God.

Look out in the next week or so for a podcast follow up (you are subscribed to The Evangelist's Podcast I hope??). I'll discuss the debate and some of these implications in greater depth. But before then, have a listen to the debate. And it might help if you saw the POWERPOINT SLIDES for my opening talk.

 

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The question is rarely phrased this way (largely because anyone who's read the Quran - Muslims especially - will tell you, Of course not. Allah emphatically denies it!). But people are again discussing the issue of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. So here are some thoughts I shared over at Between Two Worlds a few years ago on this post.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? If you pay attention to what both religions are saying it turns out to be incredibly offensive to say Yes - given how insistent both religions are about their respective theological claims.

Here are some points in no particular order:

1) Let's let Allah define himself:

"He does not beget nor is he begotten." (Sura 112)

The Quran defines the god of Islam explicitly as not the God of the Bible. Let's respect Muslims enough to let them define who their god is. He is not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We honour their faith by speaking of Allah as another god - that is how Allah defines himself. From our perspective we cannot speak of Allah as anything other than an idol - anything else fails to take Muslim faith on its own terms.

2) Can anyone really imagine the prophets addressing the Edomites, Philistines etc saying 'Yahweh is very much like Baal/Molech/Asherah'? Never!

The question for the nations is not 'Do you believe in God?' But 'What god do you believe in?' Whether you're evangelizing in north Africa or north America "God" cannot be assumed.  In fact "God" is the least obvious word in our evangelistic encounters.  How on earth do we get to a position where people make it the point of commonality!

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At this point a commenter replied that the 'Baal' analogies do not work because Allah is thought to be 'the transcendent Creator' and not simply a power within the world.  He claimed that a Muslim convert would have to repent of many beliefs but not his belief in 'God as infinite transcendent Creator.'

To this I replied...

3) We don't say "Baal is called 'Lord' and receives worship therefore no convert from Baalism needs to repent of their notions of Lorship or worship."  Of course they will have to repent of all of this.  So then why would anyone claim that a belief in the 'infinite transcendent Creator' is of a different order?  Fundamentally I see this as committing two errors.  It is to say...

A) 'Transcendent Creator' is more foundational to God's being than His triunity.

B) The Muslim means roughly the same as the Christian when speaking of the 'Transcendent Creator'

I strongly disagree with both.

A) i) If God is transcendent Creator you've made Him dependent on creation.

A) ii) It is a position that leads to Arianism. Athanasius complained that Arius' error was to conceive of God as Unoriginate and then to consider trinity. On this trajectory he could never affirm the homo-ousios of One whose being was 'ek tes ousia tw patri' (out of the being of the Father). Similarly if your conversation with a Muslim begins with some 'bedrock' notion of transcendence before introducing them to Jesus it will necessarily mean introducing them to one who is less than the transcendent one. You'll have shot yourself in the foot from the very beginning. Let's not define Jesus out of full deity before we've even begun. We therefore must not begin on the Arian trajectory of affirming transcendent Creator first - Jesus will not come out very well from such a starting point!

B) Only the God who exists as Himself in relations of otherness can actually have a relationship with creation in which we can know Him as transcendent. 'Transcendent Creator' is dependent on trinity (not the other way around). The Muslim account of transcendence is completely confused (as is every unitarian account). Allah is a prisoner of his 'transcendence' - by definition cut off from any relationship with it (whether transcendent or immanent).

'Transcendent Creator' is neither the foundational nor a shared understanding of the living God. And it's not desirable that it should be.

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At this point my interlocutor (rightly) suspected I was denying the possiblity of true philosophical reflection on divinity apart from Christian revelation.  He claimed I was being overly Barthian. I replied with these points...

4) In terms of theological method, "Christ alone" is not a Barthian novelty!  It's difficult to think of a more crucial verse in the history of the church for theological method than Matthew 11:27: "No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him."

To this let's add John 1:18; 14:6 and Colossians 1:15. To this let's add the continual Scriptural witness that we are blind, dead, enemies of God unable to know Him apart from His Word to us.  (e.g. Ps 14:2; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:21).  These plain and central truths cannot be evaded by crying 'Barthian'!

5) Nicea's "The Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth" was a deliberate and crucial choice of order. Triunity precedes creation. Of course it does - unless we want to define God as dependent upon creation.

6) Even Jews who have the Scriptures do not know the Father if they reject the Son. (cf ALL OF JOHN'S GOSPEL!)

7) To go over a previous point - there are tremendous Arian dangers of considering 'Creator' more foundational than trinity. Once you have assured your Muslim friend that she really does know God and that the God she knows is definitionally the infinite, transcendent Creator, do you really think you've helped her towards faith in Jesus of Nazareth? Have you not just given her every reason to reject divine honours (thus defined) being attributed to Christ. Won't she simply thank you for confirming her own doctrine of God which by definition precludes Jesus from being anything more than a prophet??

Athanasius rightly said 'the only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit is the one in which He is the starting point.'

The Rock upon which we build is nothing and no-one else but Christ.  Let's be clearer on this whether we're evangelizing Muslims or our friends in the pub.  They do not know God and besides - why would we want to confirm for them a sterile, non-relational doctrine of God in the first place?  Let's tell them, 'The god you had thought existed was not God - let me tell you about the living God who is unlike anything you've imagined.  His name is Jesus. Here is a God you can truly believe in!'

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I've been listening to a lot of Muslim - Christian debates. Here are three that have interested me recently - each of them with Dr Shabir Ally.

Firstly there's James White vs Shabir Ally on whether the earliest witnesses to Jesus confessed His deity:

White argues that the earliest sources unashamedly confess the deity of Christ - the "Carmen Christi" of Philippians 2, the "NT Shema" of 1 Corinthians 8 and Mark's Gospel speak of Jesus as Yahweh. Fascinatingly Shabir seems to concede as much, at least over the Philippians 2 material, but then claims that this must be a corruption of the earliest beliefs. Why? Because we know that the Jews were monotheists (which Shabir conflates time and again with "unitarians").

Shabir wriggles off the hook because he claims that the Old Testament is unitarian. If this is so then NT trinitarianism must be a corruption and the Quran must be correct in saying that the Christians have changed their book. His wriggling is very unconvincing, obviously, because the evidence James brings is without question the earliest. All Shabir can do is to claim that beneath the Scriptures there must lie an original unitarian faith in Jesus that gets developed in trinitarian ways over time. It's all a "just so story" but he gets away with it because he asserts that the OT is unitarian.

The second debate I watched recently was Jay Smith versus Shabir Ally. Watch Jay's 35 minute opening statement from 17:55 where he brings devastating critiques of the historicity of the Quran and its transmission:

Shabir responds with numerological hocus pocus from 53:45. As Dr Ally waxes lyrical about the number 19 in the Quran your jaw will hit the floor (but not in the way Dr Ally hopes). It's astonishing that this would be put forward in a serious debate and take up so much of Dr Ally's argument. Jay's historical critique of the Quran remains completely unanswered.

But still Shabir wriggles off the hook because, well, we all know that the NT must be corrupt? Why? Because it changes the doctrine of God from the OT.

Ok then, step forward Nabeel Qureshi. I loved this debate. Just listen to Nabeel's opening statement from 8:15.

Here Nabeel is hitting where it hurts. I love that he questions whether Tawhid (Islam's unitarianism) is the simple doctrine of God that Muslims claim. Actually Tawhid involves Muslims in all sorts of difficulties. If Allah is alone, how can he break free from the prison of his own transcendence to communicate with creatures. Some Muslims speak of the word of Allah existing with him in eternity which is really the only way you could have true revelation from Allah. Only if the Quran is an eternal communication could it communicate the eternal God. But of course as soon as you say that you are threatening Tawhid because you have something alongside Allah.

In Christian theology the eternal Word who is God from God is not a problem. He's the solution. Without Him God must be mute and we must be left in the dark. Nabeel was right to press Shabir on the question of the Quran's eternality, it goes to the heart of the Islamic doctrine of God and forces the Muslim to the horns of a dilemma. Either God does not have an eternal word and thus we cannot know that Allah is transcendent or he does have an eternal word and Tawhid is completely compromised.

More fundamentally though Nabeel establishes that the OT, in its own context and on its own terms, is not unitarian at all and could not be read unitarianly. This is where I have found evangelism to Muslims gaining most traction. When you show that Yahweh is face to face with Abraham and then rains down judgement from the-LORD-out-of-the-heavens (Genesis 18:1; 19:24) you show that Moses' doctrine of God is nothing like Mohammed's.

Have a watch and enjoy Nabeel's arguments. And if you want another couple dozen more OT Scriptures - see these 24 verses that cannot be read unitarianly in the Hebrew Bible. We simply do not see a progression from unitarianism to trinitarianism in the Bible or history. What we see in the Scriptures is a compound unity to God with three Persons who may take divine titles. We see this from Genesis 1 onwards. Unitarianism is not the pure origin, it is the much later corruption. This corruption began with the Rabbis reacting against the early Christians and continued with the heresy of Islam (much aided by pagan philosophy).

One thing I admire about Islam is its comprehensive view of history. For them Adam is a Muslim, so is Moses, so is Jesus - and they all taught Tawhid. The Christian view of history ought to be similarly consistent. Adam is a Christian, so is Moses, so are all true prophets - and they were all trinitarian. These are the arguments that truly fight fire with fire in Muslim-Christian debate and these are the truths that make sense of our Christian faith: triune from the beginning.

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Here's a talk I gave at the Plymouth University mission earlier this year.  It was entitled "Three in One, have Christians got God right?"  We invited the Islamic Society along, so it definitely had a Muslim audience in mind (though the talk is not exclusively pitched at that audience).

Here's the introduction...

Listen to two very different voices from very different times and places.  They have one thing in common - a deep dislike of the Doctrine of the Trinity:

The first is from Thomas Jefferson:

“When we shall have done away with the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since his day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples.”  Thomas Jefferson

The second is from the Quran:

Allah is one, he does not beget nor is he begotten and there is none like him.  Surah 112

Do not say ‘Three’  Surah 4:171

No son did Allah beget, nor is there any god along with Him: (if there were many gods), behold each god would have taken away what he had created and lorded it over the others!  Surah 23:91

Incredibly different times, places and cultures.  But a real unity on this issue - they find the Trinity incomprehensible, if not blasphemous.

But tonight I want to say that the Trinity is the only thing that will make sense of your world, yourself and of God himself.  You might think that the Trinity doesn't make sense.  I want to say that without the Trinity life doesn't make sense.

Let me begin by asking you a question, What do you think was there 'in the beginning'?...

Audio

Powerpoint Slides (these would be helpful if you want to listen, or if you want a quick view of the talk)

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Here is a Muslim street preacher defending an act of terror.  Don't bother listening to his tirade.  But at 6:40 tune in. Then you can hear the voice of a Christian woman passing by.  She says about Jesus: 'there is no other Lord... He is the Lord of all of you.'

The preacher responds: "Everyone ignore the flesh worshippers...  Let her go worship her flesh God."

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhHYiWCm8Gs&feature=player_embedded]

ht TheOldAdam

Christmas celebrates the Word becoming flesh.  The humanity of God.  God the Son becomes God our Brother.

Muslims insist on a transcendence to Allah that insures his inhumanity.  (Who can fail to see a link between the inhumanity of the god and the inhumanity of those acts done in his name!).  The very notion of the Creator becoming flesh is, for Muslims, blasphemy.  For us it is cause for worship.

In my sermon on John 1:14 this morning I tried a kind of response to this thinking:

The Muslim says that God is so transcendent He cannot become flesh.  The bible says the very opposite.  In the bible, the Creator Word of God is so transcendently, immensely, divinely, passionately loving that nothing would stop Him becoming flesh.

You see, if a king remains on the throne and never climbs down.  That’s one kind of greatness, I suppose.  But there’s another kind of greatness.  It’s the greatness of the King who climbs down, who humbles Himself, who condescends, who joins His people, and then who descends even further – to take the clothing of a slave, to serve His people, to suffer and fight and bleed and die for them.  That’s another kind of greatness entirely.  That is the transcendence of the Word who became flesh.

Just think of an adult who speaks to a toddler while towering over them.  And now think of one who stoops down to their level.  Or think of a homeless man lying drunk in the gutter.  One man gives advice from on high.  Another lies down in the gutter with him, speaking to him face to face.

We are in the gutter.  And Jesus joins us.  On our level.

As our carol said earlier:

Sacred Infant, all divine,

What a tender love was Thine,

Thus to come from highest bliss

Down to such a world as this!

Never has One so Mighty become so Meek.  That is the transcendence of the Almighty Word.  A transcendence that leads to incarnation.  Because His glory - the glory of the Only Begotten from the Father - is a glory of grace and truth.  And the incarnation is the very expression of this glory.

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Full sermon audio here.

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from The Big Picture (see also many other fascinating photos)

Yesterday marked the beginning of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim festival commemorating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son.  Muslims believe it was Ishmael who was nearly sacrificed.  But Genesis 22 is clear that Isaac, the child of promise, was the one to be sacrificed.   And he, the child of promise, was the one who Abraham received back from the dead.

The action took place on a mountain in the region of Moriah (Gen 22:2).  Mount Moriah was where the temple would later be built (2 Chron 3:1).  And so as they ascend this hill the father carries the tools of judgement - the fire and knife.  The son carries the wood.  He asks his father about the sacrifice.  "God Himself will provide the lamb" says Abraham.

On this occasion the Angel of the LORD intercepts the judgement. (v11ff)  He does so from heaven which is very odd for Him - usually He is more hands-on in His interactions.  But one day He would come in Person to this mountain.  And on that day He would intercept the judgement of the whole world.  He would be the Child of promise, the Seed of Abraham and the Lamb of sacrifice.  And on that day the Father would not spare His own Son but give Him up for us all.  (Rom 8:32).

In Genesis 22, a ram is provided as a substitute for Isaac (v13).  But of course, Abraham had prophesied that a lamb would be provided (v8).  And this prophecy was believed and proclaimed throughout the generations:

Abraham called that place "The LORD Will Provide".  And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."

The true substitutionary sacrifice, the true promised Son, the true Seed of Abraham would die as a Lamb on that mountain in the region of Jerusalem.

Islam celebrates father Abraham, Ishmael and the sacrifice that saved him.  But this is not the true Eid - the true sacrifice.  All of this points to the true Father who did not spare His Son.  To the true Child of Promise who was willing to lay down His life and to the true Sacrifice that was provided for all.

Here's Mike Reeves explaining it in 10 minutes - an excerpt from a longer talk. (Thanks to Dave Bish for editing).

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A video briefly existed here charting an alarming rate of decline in birth rates in the west combined with incredible Muslim birth and immigration rates. 

Apparently the statistics are absolutely unreliable.  See here.  Thanks to Daniel Blanche for pointing this out.

Sorry to spread the error. 

Anyway - it's still true to say that through immigration the unreached are reaching us.  Therefore:

Rejoice that the Lord is sending the mission field to us

Believe the gospel

Preach the gospel

Understand Islam

Take up your cross 

Have babies

Believe the gospel

Preach the gospel

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[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBUdRWjSxHI&eurl=http://web.me.com/paulblackham/Paul_Blackham/Articles/Entries/2009/3/11_Iraqi_Kurds_becoming_followers_of_Jesus_files/widget1_&feature=player_embedded]

Thanksgiving and prayer called for.  Wise as snakes, innocent as doves.

H/T Paul Blackham

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These are thoughts that I've been sharing over at Between Two Worlds on a post called Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammed?

My answer?  Of course not.  Here are some points in no particular order:

1) Let's let Allah define himself:

"He does not beget nor is he begotten." (Sura 112)

The Quran defines the god of Islam explicitly as not the God of the Bible. Let's respect Muslims enough to let them define who their god is. He is not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We honour their faith by speaking of Allah as another god - that is how Allah defines himself. From our perspective we cannot speak of Allah as anything other than an idol - anything else fails to take Muslim faith on its own terms.

2) Can anyone really imagine the prophets addressing the Edomites, Philistines etc saying 'Yahweh is very much like Baal/Molech/Asherah'??! Never!

The question for the nations is not 'Do you believe in God?' But 'What god do you believe in?' Whether you're evangelizing in north Africa or north America "God" cannot be assumed.  In fact "God" is the least obvious word in our evangelistic encounters.  How on earth do we get to a position where people make it the point of commonality!

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At this point a commenter replied that the 'Baal' analogies do not work because Allah is thought to be 'the transcendent Creator' and not simply a power within the world.  He claimed that a Muslim convert would have to repent of many beliefs but not his belief in 'God as infinite transcendent Creator.'

To this I replied...

3) We don't say "Baal is called 'Lord' and receives worship therefore no convert from Baalism needs to repent of their notions of Lorship or worship."  Of course they will have to repent of all of this.  So then why would anyone claim that a belief in the 'infinite transcendent Creator' is of a different order?  Fundamentally I see this as committing two errors.  It is to say...

A) 'Transcendent Creator' is more foundational to God's being than His triunity.

B) The Muslim means roughly the same as the Christian when speaking of the 'Transcendent Creator'

I strongly disagree with both.

A) i) If God is transcendent Creator you've made Him dependent on creation.

A) ii) It is a position that leads to Arianism. Athanasius complained that Arius' error was to conceive of God as Unoriginate and then to consider trinity. On this trajectory he could never affirm the homo-ousios of One whose being was 'ek tes ousia tw patri' (out of the being of the Father). Similarly if your conversation with a Muslim begins with some 'bedrock' notion of transcendence before introducing them to Jesus it will necessarily mean introducing them to one who is less than the transcendent one. You'll have shot yourself in the foot from the very beginning. Let's not define Jesus out of full deity before we've even begun. We therefore must not begin on the Arian trajectory of affirming transcendent Creator first - Jesus will not come out very well from such a starting point!

B) Only the God who exists as Himself in relations of otherness can actually have a relationship with creation in which we can know Him as transcendent. 'Transcendent Creator' is dependent on trinity (not the other way around). The Muslim account of transcendence is completely confused (as is every unitarian account). Allah is a prisoner of his 'transcendence' - by definition cut off from any relationship with it (whether transcendent or immanent).

'Transcendent Creator' is neither the foundational nor a shared understanding of the living God. And it's not desirable that it should be.

.

At this point my interlocutor (rightly) suspected I was denying the possiblity of true philosophical reflection on divinity apart from Christian revelation.  He claimed I was being overly Barthian ;-)   I replied with these points...

4) In terms of theological method, "Christ alone" is not a Barthian novelty!  It's difficult to think of a more crucial verse in the history of the church for theological method than Matthew 11:27: "No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him."

To this let's add John 1:18; 14:6 and Colossians 1:15. To this let's add the continual Scriptural witness that we are blind, dead, enemies of God unable to know Him apart from His Word to us.  (e.g. Ps 14:2; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:21).  These plain and central truths cannot be evaded by crying 'Barthian'!

5) Nicea's "The Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth" was a deliberate and crucial choice of order. Triunity precedes creation. Of course it does - unless we want to define God as dependent upon creation.

6) Even Jews who have the Scriptures do not know the Father if they reject the Son. (cf ALL OF JOHN'S GOSPEL!)

7) To go over a previous point - there are tremendous Arian dangers of considering 'Creator' more foundational than trinity. Once you have assured your Muslim friend that she really does know God and that the God she knows is definitionally the infinite, transcendent Creator, do you really think you've helped her towards faith in Jesus of Nazareth?? Have you not just given her every reason to reject divine honours (thus defined) being attributed to Christ. Won't she simply thank you for confirming her own doctrine of God which by definition precludes Jesus from being anything more than a prophet??

Athanasius rightly said 'the only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit is the one in which He is the starting point.'

The Rock upon which we build is nothing and no-one else but Christ.  Let's be clearer on this whether we're evangelizing Muslims or our friends in the pub.  They do not know God and besides - why would we want to confirm for them a sterile, non-relational doctrine of God in the first place??  Let's tell them, 'The god you had thought existed was not God - let me tell you about the living God who is unlike anything you've imagined.  His name is Jesus and He blows your god out of the water!'

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You want a very quick way of distinguishing Islam from Christianity?  Think of the cross.  The Muslim account of the cross exactly reverses the gracious work of Christ.

In Islam, the sinful man (Judas) is substituted for the righteous one (Jesus).  The Quran says it only appeared to be Jesus on the cross, another was substituted in His place.  The Hadith (Muslim writings that interpret the Quran) claim that the one substituted was Judas.  All this happened because justice demands the death of the bad man, not the good one.  It was necessary for the unjust to be punished and the just to escape.  This is the judgement of human religion.

Yet the truth is the exact opposite of this very human sentiment.  Instead, the righteous One (JESUS) was substituted for sinful man.  He swapped in for the guilty and died in their place.  He determined to be the Just One punished so that the unjust may escape.

He who knew no sin became sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)

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