Posted by Rob Courtney on November 28, 2017
This book has been fascinating to me. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and it helped to clear up somethings I misunderstood, as well as enlightened me about many things of which I was simply unaware. I hope it did the same for you. I suspect it may have been a good lesson, not just in Islam, but also in Christian theology. I hope that learning what "christology" or "eschatology" mean, or some about the early conflicts surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity has been helpful to you.
It's fascinating to me to think about what the Church must have been like in the first four centuries when there was no Bible. We often think that Christian theology is cut and dried, and that the New Testament certainly made it all apparent to the Church from the very start. The canon of scripture wasn't set until the fifth century. What the Church had by the second century was a set of documents that were being used in various communities, and circulating around for a couple of hundred years. There also wasn't a settled doctrine of the Trinity or the two natures of Christ--that wasn't settled definitively until 451. During those first centuries there were (as Akyol points out) Christianities rather than one Christianity.
Think about that for a moment: over 400 years. It's kind of amazing when you think about it that this diverse movement of Jesus-followers was ever able to come together. The Roman empire under Constantine, who ordered the first ecumenical council at Nicea in 325 (yes, the ecumenical councils of the early church were assembled by the emperor, not a "pope" or other ecclesiastical official), is really what was able to help provide unity and direction to the fledgling Church. Until then Christianity was a diverse and divided movement.
What emerged from those early councils was orthodox Christianity as we know it, and the establishment of the only two true dogma of our Creedal faith: the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. Violation of those doctrines is what puts one outside of the orthodox Christian conversation. That's why Episcopalians would said we're a Creedal church rather than a doctrinal church like the Roman Catholics. The only two doctrines we would call dogma (doctrines that if broken do inherent damage to the gospel) are the doctrines spelled out in the Nicene and Apostle's Creeds: namely, the doctrine of the Trinity and of the divine and human natures.
There are, however, many people we would call Christians who do not subscribe to these doctrines. The Mormons, Unitarian Universalists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists--none of these denominations subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity. Oneness or "Jesus-only" Pentecostals also do not subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity, but would affirm Jesus' divinity. Did you know that the word "Trinity" appears nowhere in the Bible? The Trinitarian-formula (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) certainly does, but "Trinity" is nowhere explicitly said or spelled-out. A diversity of Christianities, then, still exists in today's world. Could it be that many of these expressions of faith in Jesus might have more in common with Islam than their adherents realize?
As I reached the final chapters a couple of things occurred to me. First, I think ending the book by thinking about Jesus' second coming is a perfect way for us to enter into Advent. Akyol quotes the Egyptian Muslim scholar Muhammad Abduh as saying, "The descent of Jesus and his ruling on earth can be interpreted as the dominance of his spirit and his enigmatic message to people" (p. 192). What a wonderful way of thinking about what Advent and Christmas could mean for the world if we lived them out "not only with our lips but in our lives" after Dec. 25.
While that perspective is inspiring, Akyol also tells of disturbing interpretations of the Qur'an's teaching about Jesus' second coming and the end-times. For instance, Akyol writes, "Reports about ISIS show that the group wanted to capture certain parts of Syria, in order to fulfill the 'end of times' prophecies about them and to hasten the coming of Mahdi and the descent of Jesus" (p. 191). I'm reminded of many Christian fundamentalists who believe that the creation of the modern state of Israel is part of a Christian "end times" script found in Daniel and Revelation. Many of them also believe that the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem must be moved or even destroyed so that the Jewish Temple can be rebuilt and the return of Jesus can be hastened. This may sound far-fetched, but there are many Christians who believe this and pray for it regularly. If you'd like to know more, I highly recommend reading Barbara Rossing's The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. I believe it's important for us as Christians to be aware of such false teachings that exist within our own faith, and to be on guard against them.
This leads to the second thing that occurred to me when I finished reading. In the aftermath of terrorist attacks by Muslims, we often hear people say, "Why don't more Muslims speak up?" This book is a great example of that happening. It seemed to me that Akyol may have written this book more for his fellow Muslims than for us. In the last chapter he seems to be speaking directly to them. In a way, I felt I was looking over someone's shoulder and reading words not entirely meant for me. I was glad to see him encouraging his fellow Muslims toward a more reformed faith. I recognize at the same time that those are more his words to say than ours, and, as I mentioned in a earlier reflection, it's our job to support him and other reformers in their efforts, as well as to tell others about what we've read. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people who want to live peaceful lives just like we do. I challenge you to go and Google "muslims against ISIS" and see what pops up. Also, visit https://muslimscondemn.com/ and see how many stories there are about Muslims condemning acts of terrorism. I wonder why we don't see these kinds of stories more prominently featured?
Tags: book study, islam, islamic jesus
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