Thursday, May 23, 2013

James R. White's, What Every Christian Needs To Know About the Qur'an - A critical review, part 2



I am into the 8th day of a cold that may be the worst I have every had; but, I am finally beginning to sense that it is nearing it's end. Apart from laryngitis, and some occasional stuffiness, I am starting to feel almost 'normal'. So, now that the headaches, constant drainage, and overall sinus pressure has vanished, I am now able to focus on posting again, resuming my review of Mr. White's, What Every Christian Needs To Know About the Qur'an. The first installment of this review was published back on May 9th, 2013 (link), and focused on the book's introduction; this second installment shall delve into chapter 6, "The Qur'an and the Cross".

Chapter 6 (pages 129-143) is the most disappointing of the book (IMO), and this, for a number of reasons: first, Mr. White has chosen to limit his polemic to but one of the interpretations that has been offered by Muslim commentators—the "substitution theory"; second, only one translation is offered—for a section of the Qur'an (Surah 4.156, 157 - some "forty Arabic words") which many scholars have deemed the most difficult to translate, that is troubling; third, only ONE Muslim source is referenced in the entire chapter; and fourth, apart from the ONE Muslim scholar cited, no other scholarly author of Islamic Studies (Muslim or non-Muslim) is referenced, not ONE (comparing Mr. White's with Dr. Lawson's references on this issue we get: 1 vs. 300+).

I have already published 4 previous threads on Surah 4.156, 157 (link). Some of the key points covered in those threads include: first, some Muslims are fully convinced that the Qur'an does NOT deny the crucifixion and physical death of Jesus Christ; second, interpretations offered by Muslims who do believe that the Qur'an denies the crucifixion and physical death of Jesus Christ are varied and often contradictory; and third, given the fact that other passages in the Qur'an clearly affirm the death of Jesus Christ (Mr. White lists 2 such passages in his book: Surahs 3:55; 19:33 - page 141), the interpretation that the Qur'an does NOT deny the crucifixion and physical death of Jesus Christ is by far the most internally consistent one.

Now, I think the question that needs to be asked is this: why does Mr. White totally neglect the more internally consist understanding of 4.156, 157 ? To be sure, the vast majority of modern day Muslims reject this interpretation, but then, the vast majority of modern day Muslims also reject the understanding that the corruption of the "Torah and the Gospel" spoken of in the Qur'an pertains to interpretation and not wholesale textual corruption—Mr. White defends the minority position on this issue (see chapter 8, pp. 165-192). So, while Mr. White vigorously defends one minority position, he totally ignores another; his reasons are unknown to me, but one issue comes to the fore: the issue of consistency.

Moving from Mr. White's polemic, to that of Muslim apologists, the question of why the majority of Muslim commentators have rejected the internally consistent interpretation of 4.156, 157 remains. Dr. Lawson touches on a number of possible reasons in his exhaustive book, The Crucifixion and the Qur'an, but one very interesting possibility was not included. I shall now present what may be the most telling reason why the majority of Muslim commentators have rejected the internally consistent interpretation of Surah 4.156, 157. The following is from al-Kindi's, Apology, as found in N.A. Newman's, Early Christian-Muslim Dialogue [a book I recommended to my readers back on Dec. 2, 2011 (link); a book referenced numerous times by Mr. White in his book (pp. 49, 57, 102, 103, 192, 278), but NOT for what follows]:

They say [Muslims] that during his lifetime [Muhammad's] he told them not to bury him when he died. He said that God would raise him to heaven, as Christ our Lord was raised, and that he was too dear to God to be left on earth more than three days. They cherished this hope, and when he died on Monday, the 12th night of the first Spring moth in the 63rd year of his age, after an illness of 14 days, they laid him out, believing he would be raised to heaven as he had said. But when the third day had come, corruption had already set in, and their hope failed. They despaired of his vain assurance, and buried him in the earth on the 4th day. (N.A. Newman's, Early Christian-Muslim Dialogue, p. 444.)

N.A. Newman, in chapter note #48, adds the following important data:

[48] Though there appear to be no Muslim sources for Muhammad ever saying that he would be resurrected as Jesus was on the third day, al-Kindi's accusation is not entirely without merit...Shahih Bukhari, The Virtues and Merits of the Companions of the Prophet, ch. 6, hadith 18, vol. 5, p. 13 shows 'Umar as saying that Muhammad was to be resurrected...if Muhammad had said that he was to be resurrected and then was not, this would have been reason enough for a fairly well organized cover-up on the part of Abu Bakr, 'Umar and even the rest of the community...In view of the many inconsistencies concerning the death of Muhammad, it is quite possible that there were Muslim hadith in al-Kindi's day which reported that he was to be resurrected in a manner similar to Jesus. Moreover, it appears that none of the later Muslim apologists even tried to respond to al-Kindi's charge, though they must certainly have known of it at least through al-Biruni. (Ibid.. pp. 528, 529)

Nothing of this in Mr. White's book, nothing concerning important Muslim figures who affirmed the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, nothing concerning Dr. Lawson's scholarly treatment—sure makes me wonder about the book's title...

More installments to follow, the Lord willing.


Grace and peace,

David


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Christianity Today: "What Can Christians Learn From the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries?"


I found the article, "What Can Christians Learn From the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries?", posted yesterday in the OPINION" section of Christianity Today (LINK), to be both interesting, and provocative. Note the following:
 
Mormonism pushes its kids harder and takes them farther than even the most ardent Protestant youth ministry. Can you imagine a youth group that challenged each of its teenagers to meet at 6 a.m. every day of the school year to learn about Christianity? That's exactly what Mormons do with their high-school students. We get excited if our teens gather around a pole at 7:15 a.m. to pray once a year.
 
When typical Christians graduate from high school, they grab their books and go off to a college dorm. When typical Mormons graduate from high school, they grab a bike pump and go on mission.
 
Those high expectations pay off. Young Mormons know what they believe and why they believe it. They've hammered out their theology on evangelical doorsteps. Their hearts and minds have been steeled and sealed into Mormon orthodoxy through their intense commitment.
 
Maybe that's why Mormons give more and work harder than their Christian peers. Maybe that's why the religion is expanding while a majority of former Christian youth-group attendees are fleeing the church.
 
My own personal experience growing up as a 4th generation Jehovah's Witness shares some similarities with the above. In my 'door-to-door' (i.e. missionary work) encounters (hundreds of hours), not once was my beliefs cogently/seriously challenged by ANYONE I met, let alone someone in their teens or early twenties. So, it comes as no surprise to me that Evangelical Christians are left 'scratching their heads' over such phenomenon.
 
 
Grace and peace,
 
David

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The current issue of Credo: "The Trinity & the Christian Life"



I was going to work on the second installment of my review of What Every Christian Needs To Know About The Qur'an today, but during some online browsing this morning, I found out that a new issue of Credo was recently published (April 2013 - LINK), and it's major theme is on the doctrine of the Trinity.

Much to my surprise, one of the featured articles is an interview with Dr. Stephen R. Holmes (pp. 48-51), the author the book, The Quest for the Trinity; a book I reviewed and recommended here at AF back on March 28, 2013 (LINK).

In addition to the Dr. Holmes' interview, I found the article, "The Mystery of the Trinity" (pp. 26-33), by Scott R. Swain, to be of some value, particularly his reflections on "Eternal Generation" (a doctrine denied by a number of Evangelical theologians - see THIS THEAD).

Though I cannot endorse all of the content of this issue of Credo, I still think it is worth one's time to read, and would be interested in the thoughts of those who have taken the time to do so.

ENJOY !!!


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, May 9, 2013

James R. White's, What Every Christian Needs To Know About the Qur'an - A critical review, part 1



In my May 3, 2013 post, I mentioned I had ordered the new book by James R. White, that Ken Temple had brought to my attention via a thread posted at Beggars All (link). I received the book a couple of days ago, and finished reading it yesterday. I was debating with myself over whether or not to blog on the book, but a couple of emails, and a phone conversation with a good friend, convinced me that I should do so, so here goes...

I shall begin with a few introductory items, before I get into the book itself. First (at the risk of self-promotion), I think I am reasonably qualified to offer a review of this book. I have been a student of the Qur'an and Islam for over a two decades now. I have obtained well over 700 books on the Qur'an and Islam to facilitate my studies (FYI: of the books and essays listed in the WECNTKATQ bibliography, I possess more that 85% of them), and I have interacted with numerous Muslims from various backgrounds/sects (e.g. Sunni, Shi'a, Sufi and Ismaili) via conferences, debates, lectures and developed friendships (one of which was an associate professor of Middle East Studies at Portland State Univ.). So, although I do not have any formal degrees in this area of study, I think I stand on safe ground when I say that I have acquired a knowledge of the Qur'an and Islam that exceeds most Christians.

Second, although some of the endorsements included within the book suggest that Mr. White has provided something unique and new for it's/his targeted audience, this simply is not the case; I was not able find anything of substance within its pages that has not been covered before. For example, Dr. Mateen Elass's, Understanding the Koran - A Quick Guide to the Muslim Holy Book (LINK), has so much in common with Mr. White's book, that I am more than a bit puzzled as to why Dr. Elass's book is not mentioned by him. (Dr. Elass is an ordained Presbyterian minister with an educational and personal background that qualifies him as few others to write on the subject—e.g. his father was a life-long Muslim, he lived for 1o years in Saudi Arabia, his doctorate is in New Testament Studies from a prestigious university, and he remains very active in Christian-Muslim dialogue.)

And third, the book's title suggests that "Every Christian" needs this book in order to "Know About the Qur'an"—a lofty premise for sure—but, those not familiar with Mr. White need to be aware that he personally places significant limits on those who are Christian in his mind; Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians need not open their wallets, for in Mr. White's paradigm, they are not Christian!!! (There are many, many more who claim to be Christian who are excluded by Mr. White, but if one limits his exclusions to just Catholic and Orthodox Christians, he has already eliminated well over 1 billion possible readers!)

Now, onto the review of the book and it's content. The book is a paperback, which is 5.5 x 8.5 inches; it has 311 pages, with 3/4 inch margins on each side; it has what appears to be a 12 pt. and 1 1/2 space typesetting for the main body of the text (for those who are bibliophiles like myself, they will immediately discern that the book's actual content is significantly reduced by the above print layout). There are 7 endorsements, and the main body of the text begins with the "Introduction" on page 9. (Note: chapter endnotes instead of footnotes are used.)

The "Introduction" opens with the following questions:

Why would a believing Christian write a book about the Qur'an? If he does, why should believing Christians read it? Shouldn't we go to the Muslims to learn about their own sacred book? (Page 9)

On the following page, Mr. White writes:

There is no substitute for original sources, to be sure. But haven't I now argued against reading this book by a Christian about the Muslim holy book?

An excellent point, followed by an excellent question. Let's see how Mr. White justifies the publishing of a book that "Every Christian" needs in order to "Know About the Qur'an". (Page 10)

The reality is that there are areas—one being Islam in general and the Qur'an in particular—in which the literature is so vast, and the terminology gap so large, that the resultant task is, or least seems, too daunting for even the most committed believer. While some of these works are intended for non-Muslims, most Christians who become desirous of learning of learning about Islamic beliefs and of reading the Qur'an find it necessary to obtain the help of fellow believers who already have been led to the deeper study of the field. This is especially true if one wishes to hear "the other side" of the story about the Qur'an, the one normally not included in Islamic sources, about the text's compilation, the differences among the early Islamic community, and so on. (Page 10)

The above 'apologia' provided for the publication of a book like WECNTKATQ reveals to the careful reader some very interesting details. First, one will notice that the priority placed on the "original sources" (by "original sources" I think Mr. White means works by authors who are faithful Muslims, including the Qur'an itself), has already shifted to, "'the other side' of the story about the Qur'an" (wow, that did not take long!). This 'shift' is evident in the bibliography of the book, in that less than 30 works are contained therein which could be construed as "original sources" (the bibliography seems to imply that "the literature" is not quite as "vast" as suggested).

Second, one should ask Mr. White if he would recommend the same approach to the Bible for the non-Christian who is seeking an objective understanding of it. A direct parallel case would be that of a faithful Jew who is seeking accurate knowledge of the New Testament, "about the text's compilation, the differences among the early [Christian] community, and so on." Keeping in mind that the literature concerning the New Testament and Christianity is "vast" and  "that the resultant task is, or least seems, too daunting for even the most committed believer", would Mr. White recommend to such a Jew that he/she should turn to a professional Jewish apologist like Rabbi Singer (LINK), who's ministry focuses on defending the Jewish faith against Christian apologetics/apologists (via books, lectures, debates, CDs, DVDs, etc.), rather than a dedicated Christian apologist/believer??? If Mr. White answers YES to the above question, then he is at least being consistent; however, if is answer is a NO, then we have before us a glaring double-standard.

Mr. White then offers the following qualifications:

This book's title is purposeful: I seek to focus on what Christians [i.e. conservative, Evangelical Christians] need to understand about the Qur'an's teachings particularly as it impacts our interactions with Muslims [i.e. conservative, fundamentalist, Sunni Muslims].

I submit that above is THE driving force behind the book; the book is not about giving it's reader "an exhaustive compendium of Qur'anic knowledge" (this is clearly stated by Mr. White himself: "It is not my intention to write an exhaustive compendium of Qur'anic knowledge", p. 11); nor is it about a balanced, objective look into the Qur'an: the book is polemical effort for a conservative, Evangelical Christian audience, written by a professional apologist, with it's primary goal being to undermine any claims about the Qur'an being an inspired text. As such, it takes it's place among many other such works (I own and have read over 2 dozen such contributions); being IMO, neither the worst, nor the best of the genre.

[Please note: It is not my intent to argue that such works have NO place within the conservative, Evangelical Christian community—the shear numbers of such works, and related websites, strongly suggests otherwise—rather, my intent is to identify the kind of work the reader has before them.]

In subsequent posts (the Lord willing), I hope to delve into the 'meat' of the book, with reflections that I believe will establish my above assertions beyond any reasonable doubt.


Grace and peace,

David  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dr. Gilles Emery's book, The Trinity



Back on April 12th (2013), I mentioned the above pictured book by Dr. Gilles Emery that I was then reading (link). I actually finished the book the next day, but have waited until now to publish a separate thread on it. [Various purchasing options: HERE.]

The following "Overview" from the Barnes&Noble website is a good introduction to the book:

Representing the highest quality of scholarship, Gilles Emery offers a much-anticipated introduction to Catholic doctrine on the Trinity. His extensive research combined with lucid prose provides readers a resource to better understand the foundations of Trinitarian reflection. The book is addressed to all who wish to benefit from an initiation to Trinitarian doctrine.

The path proposed by this introductory work comprises six steps. First the book indicates some liturgical and biblical ways for entering into Trinitarian faith. It then presents the revelation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament, by inviting the reader to reflect upon the signification of the word "God." Next it explores the confessions of Trinitarian faith, from the New Testament itself to the Creed of Constantinople, on which it offers a commentary. By emphasizing the Christian culture inherited from the fourth-century Fathers of the Church, the book presents the fundamental principles of Trinitarian doctrine, which find their summit in the Christian notion of "person."

On these foundations, the heart of the book is a synthetic exposition of the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in their divine being and mutual relations, and in their action for us. Finally, the last step takes up again the study of the creative and saving action of the Trinity: the book concludes with a doctrinal exposition of the "missions" of the Son and Holy Spirit, that is, the salvific sending of the Son and Holy Spirit that leads humankind to the contemplation of the Father.

Gilles Emery, a Dominican priest of the Swiss province of Preachers, is professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He is an elected member of the International Theological Commission and the author of several books, including The Trinitarian Theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Trinity, Church, and the Human Person. Matthew Levering, professor of theology at the University of Dayton, is author of several books, most recently Christ and the Catholic Priesthood and coeditor of Thomas Aquinas's Commentary on the Gospel of John.

"Gilles Emery's scholarship is impeccable. He presents clearly and elegantly a mainstream Trinitarian theology shaped by Aquinas, the Fathers of the Church, and the liturgy."—Gerald O'Collins, S.J., Emeritus Professor, Gregorian University (LINK)

Now, perhaps some of my readers are asking themselves why someone who has expressed concerns over the Augustinian/Latin/Western view of the Trinity is blogging about a book from that perspective: I am doing so because Dr. Emery has cogently addressed many of those concerns, especially the charge of 'neo-modalism'.

However, one difficulty still remains for me that was not covered in the book: the transition from God the Father being "the one God" of the Bible, early Church Fathers, and early Creeds, to the Trinity being the "the one God". IMO, this important change/development remains unresolved, which leaves for me the question: can it be resolved?


Grace and peace,

David

Friday, May 3, 2013

Jehovah's Witnesses - Some very recent, significant changes


Over the last few days I have had little time for the internet (guests over the weekend, followed by fantastic weather). Today, I finally did a bit of online browsing, finding a couple items of interest. First, I discovered (thanks to Ken Temple), that James R. White has written a new book on the Qur'an (link), which I ordered. Second, I downloaded the most recent issue of the Jehovah's Witnesses The Watchtower magazine (study edition): July 15, 2013 - pdf

As a former JW (4th generation), I have maintained an interest in the movement, keeping my extensive library of Watchtower literature up to date. For those who share this interest, the latest Watchtower issue is a must read, for it details some significant changes in JW thought. I was going to take the time to document those changes, but discovered online that a gent by the name of Doug Mason (another former JW), had already done so in the following 36 page, online pdf article:


Now, the changes that were made did not come as much of a 'surprise' to me, but the timing did, for over the weekend I had an interesting discussion with my oldest daughter concerning JW chronology/doctrine; more specifically, that in a very real sense, the movement had a "shelf-life", that their interpretation of the Bible and history (and certain aspects of their theology directly derived thereof) could not reasonably extend for more than another 20-30 years without some significant changes. So, I think most will understand why had a bit of a 'WOW' moment earlier today...


Grace and peace,

David