Ecumenical & Interfaith, Muslim Ministry
Five Approaches to the Qur'an by Christians
May 24, 2015
Updated March 8, 2018
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Work of the devil? Work of the Triune God? Work of angels? Work of humans? Touchable? Untouchable? Genius in its composition? A disordered work of fiction? These are no new questions for the Christian who would approach the sacred text which Muslims describe as "noble" "unchanged" "final" and "superseding all previous revelations." Ever since 788 AD, when the Anonymous Apology also called On The Triune Nature of the One God, the first recorded response in Arabic — the essential language of Islam — by a Christian to a Muslim, at least five different approaches can be observed. Each of them has its strong defenders, but in the final analysis, we will make five recommendations which derive from the text of the Holy Bible and from a Biblical Christian worldview.
At the Lausanne Mini-Consultation on Reaching Muslims held in Pattaya, Thailand in 1980 it was decided to compose a response to various opinions on the use of the Qur'an. Likely this was an offshoot of a ground swell in mission's thinking that used phrases like "find the Christian potential of the Qur'an" [Kenneth Cragg], that through Muhammad "God has spoken to mankind" [Hans Kung], "we thus regard the faith of Islam as an imperfect form of Christianity, plainly it requires to be reformed rather than subverted" [Isaac Taylor] and it "is of first importance to try to find a positive attitude towards Muhammad and the Qurʾān, that is, one which acknowledges and admires whatever is true and admirable in them" [Montgomery Watt]. Largely these were a complete pendulum swing reaction to attitudes up to about 1940 which were for the most part extremely critical of the Qur'an, to the point of calling it the written "doctrines of demons."
The consultation developed a list of responses and they are quoted directly below. Additionally a further meeting in Nicosia, Cyprus in 1995 complemented these findings.To a large extent both are taken up in David Emmanuel Singh of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies 2011 book called Jesus and the Incarnation. At this juncture in history, it must be noted, as well, that there is a groundswell of atheistic thinking in Arabic speaking countries, and for these people, the Qur'an has no authority.
The five responses:
After a preamble concerning both the "should one use the Qur'an" and then if so, "how should it be used" the 1980 committee acknowledged that this is a "controversial issue" said to be held in five ways by Christians who "have the same understanding of the authority and inspiration of the Bible." Whether that last phrase is true, will be investigated shortly. To quote directly:
(a) The Qur’an should never be used in discussion with the Muslim, because using it implies that we accept it as inspired, and are putting it on the same level as the Bible.
(b) The Qur’an should be studied, but only to help us to know and appreciate what Muslims believe, and to enable us to learn Muslim terminology.
(c) The Qur’an should be used against itself, to demonstrate that it is self-contradictory. Such a polemic use of the Qur’an will show its weakness and create a hunger for something better.
(d) The Qur’an should be used as a starting point; e.g., the many verses that speak about Jesus and other biblical characters can be used to point to the biblical version of these same stories.
(e) The Qur’an can be used as a source of truth. Our recognition of all the truths which the Qur’an does contain makes the Muslim much less defensive and more open to read the New Testament. Since the Muslim has been told that the Bible has been corrupted, it is an enormous step forward for him even to read the Bible alongside the Qur’an. This view can be supported by a study of the ways in which biblical writers handle non-biblical material—e.g., Jesus’ use of apocryphal writings of the inter-testamental period; Paul’s quotations from Greek poets and his use of words like musterion (mystery).
The critical question is whether any or all of these approaches can be supported by a Biblical Christian worldview, and by an orthodox view of Christian revelation and inspiration, and also a Biblical Christian view of the sacred texts of other religions. Some references for further reading are below as this is only an introduction to the subject. To help sort through the options, let us look at a number of word-pictures used to describe the use of the Qur'an.
1. Bridges — the Qur'an can be a bridge to the Bible [e.g. the CAMEL method of evangelism]
2. One part of three or four — the Qur'an, Hebrew Testament [sometimes divided into the Pentateuch and the Psalms] and the New Testament all form one revelation [e.g. Anton Wessels' The Torah, the Gospel, and the Qurʾān. Three Books, Two Cities, One Tale and radical contextualizers who take Q. 9:111 literally: ..." It is a promise in truth which is binding on Him in the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel) and the Quran."]
3. Stepping-stones — the Qur'an can be a stepping stone to the Bible [e.g. Don McCurry's Stepping Stones to Eternity: Jesus from the Quran to the Bible?]
4. The seed and the plant or the faint light and the fuller light — the Qur'an contains seeds of the Gospel which can flourish only in the right conditions, or the Qur'an has "flickers of truth" or it is like a crescent moon of reflected light with darkness in the center [e.g. the CAMEL method uses he 'flickers of truth' image, and Lausanne 1995 uses the moon imagery]
5. Common ground — the assertion is made that there is "common ground" or even a "common word" (c.f. Q.3:64) between the Qur'an and the Bible. The accent is on common meanings that can be derived from common terminology. [e.g. The Common Ground Conference, or the Common Word initiative].
In a nutshell each of these pictures is trying to describe the phenomenon of continuity and discontinuity of the Qur'an and the Bible. Number 2 and 5 would stress continuity almost completely, and number three would stress discontinuity more strongly.
Five Biblical givens:
Five recommendations for use of the Qur'an:
The Christian's orthodox view of Biblical revelation and inspiration, contrary to the Lausanne document of 1980 is not universally held by all Christians. It will and must shape the approach to using the Qur'an. There is no possibility that one can simultaneously say as Hans Kung did, that through Muhammad "God spoke to mankind" [somehow implying the Biblical revelation of the Triune God speaking "in Son"--Hebrews 1:1-2] and at the same time say that the only true revelation of the Triune God is found in the Biblical Scriptures. The law of non-contradiction will simply not permit it.
What is noteworthy about the Anonymous Apology and Kamil's use of the Qur'an is that they were both completely saturated with the Biblical Christian worldview, yet had taken the time to be acquainted enough with the Qur'anic material to establish the continuity of communication between humans all in the image of God, yet to establish strong discontinuity between the Islamic worldview and the Christian worldview, as opposed to merging their belief systems.
For further reading:
1. Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, "Lausanne Occasional Paper 13: Report of the Consultation on World Evangelization; Mini-Consultation on Reaching Muslims" [Pattaya, Thailand from 16-27 June 1980], On-line: http://www.lausanne.org/content/lop/lop-13
2. Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, "Ministry in Islamic Contexts: Lausanne Occasional Paper 28" [Nicosia, Cypress from 3-8 December 1995]
3. David Emmanuel Singh. Jesus and the Incarnation. Regnum Books International, 2011, especially pages 204-207.
4. Bassam M. Madany, "The Missiology of Kamil Abdul Messiah: A Syrian Convert from Islam to Christianity" On-line: www.answering-islam.org/authors/madany/kamil_jessup.html
See also his chapter "From Faith to Unbelief" about the phenomenon of atheism http://www.unashamedofthegospel.org/chapter13.cfm
5. The Anonymous Apology [=Defence of the Gospel] from M. D. Gibson ed. An Arabic Version of the Acts of the Apostles and the Seven Catholic Epistles. From an eighth or ninth century ms. in the convent of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. With a treatise on the Triune Nature of God with translation ... (London : C. J. Clay & Son, 1899) Online: https://archive.org/details/arabicversionofa00gibs
6. Mark N. Swanson, "Beyond Prooftexting : Approaches to the Qurʼān in Some Early Arabic Christian Apologies," Muslim World, 88 no 3-4 (Jl-O 1998), pp. 297-31.
7. Carl Henry's "On Finding Christ in Nonbiblical Religions" is a very useful theological response to the assertion that Christ is in seed form in the religions of the world, just waiting for the right conditions to come along. In his God, revelation, and authority. Originally published: Waco, Tex. : Word Books, c1976-c1983. (6:360-369). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
8. Daniel Strange. For Their Rock Is Not As Our Rock: An Evangelical Theology of Religions. (Zondervan, 2015). For an interview with the author see: On-line
9. Samuel P. Schlorff, "The hermeneutical crisis in Muslim evangelization," Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 3 (July 1980) Schlorff gives an overview and the history of the idea of Qur'anic bridging from Roman Catholic, main-line Protestant, and Evangelical vantage points. Schlorff wisely points out that attributing too much authority to the Qur'an can cause an "authority conflict" for Muslim inquirers and converts. He states: "
The fact is that commitment to Christ inevitably involves commitment to the authority of the Bible. When a Muslim inquirer is confronted with the claims of Christ through the Scriptures, he is faced with a choice: he must either commit himself to the Bible and the biblical view of Christ, and forsake the Qur'an, or commit himself to the Qur'an and the Qur'anic view of Christ and reject the Scriptures. Even when the Muslim is initially led to the Scriptures and to Christ through his own study of the Qur'anic witness to Christ, the choice is still clear-cut; he is unambiguously confronted with a supernatural Christ only in the Scriptures, so if he would follow this Christ, it must be through the Scriptures.
However, when Christians try to lead Muslims down the ambiguous path of the Qur'anic witness to Christ, they only inject ambivalence into the picture.
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