Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Beyond Mere Christianity - ''Sayings gospel'' (Source Q)

Beyond Mere Christianity  
Brandon Toropov
Darussalam Publishers and Distributors
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Table of Contents

ONE:Why ‘Mere’? I 11

TWO:What is ‘Q’? I 19

THREE:‘Natural Law’ I 33

FOUR:Jesus and the Magicians I 47

FIVE:The Problem of Illogicality I 59

SIX:The Mechanics of Salvation I 73

SEVEN:What about Paul? I 89

EIGHT: Context I 97

NINE:There Is No god but God I 115

APPENDIX  A:Q and the Qur’an (Textual  Note) I 119

APPENDIX  B:Common Questions I 133

APPENDIX  C:Note to Agnostics and Atheists I 136

 BEFORE EACH  chapter, there is a brief passage like this that tells you a little bit about my journey to Islam.

I came to Islam after three decades of restless dissatisfaction with conventional Christianity. Although I’ve read a lot of conversion stories since I embraced Islam in March of 2003,I haven’t found many that cited the Gospels as a point of entry to the Holy Qur’an. That is how it was for me.

If you are a Christian reading this book, please know that what follows is not meant disrespectfully, but is offered only in the service of a deep, shared love of the Messiah.

Why ‘Mere’?

 THE  DEEPEST  AND  BITTEREST  curse  of  ancient China, supposedly, was ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Those of us who have lived as Christians in the late twentieth and  early  twenty-first centuries have,  for reasons that may mystify us, found ourselves living in very   interesting   times   indeed.   In   recent   years, uneasiness  about  Islam  has  been  increasingly impossible to ignore in the United States, Europe, and Australia. In particular, one  hears  a great  deal  today about a‘war,’  ‘conflict,’  or  ‘clash’  between Islam  and Christianity. The  topic  is so  prominent in  the  media that many people assume that there is something irreconcilable between these  two approaches to God. It is not surprising, then, that so many  Christians of good will have concluded that Islam and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible.

Yet,  if,  by  ‘Christianity’,  we  mean  ‘that  which Jesus Christ  meant to convey  to his hearers’, I believe that  these  people of good  will may  well  be mistaken when they  tell  us  that  Islam  is  incompatible  with Christianity. What’s more,  I believe  we can now  make  the  case that the historically oldest Gospel verses reflecting the reported sayings of Jesus are entirely compatible with Islam.

This is a book  for Christians, and  about Islam.  These days,  anyone who  writes such  a book  should expect to face a skeptical audience, and that is just as well. Skepticism about important matters is healthy. What’s  more,  the  author of  a  book  like  this  one should probably expect only thoughtful Christians to accompany him to the end of the page, or, God willing, beyond. Only thoughtful people are willing  to examine their own religious assumptions closely.The thoughtful, skeptical Christian, then, is the audience for this  book.  That  you  have  read  even  this far  suggests that  you  are  a  thoughtful  Christian. So please   complete the  equation and  be  as  skeptical as you possibly can as you make  your  way  through these pages.

What, specifically, is there to be skeptical about? We  can  start  with  the  title.  The  book  is  called Beyond  Mere  Christianity  for  two  reasons.  First,  in response to  C.S.  Lewis’  influential 1952  work,  Mere Christianity, which  stands as a masterpiece of Christian apologetics and perpetuates, I believe, a long-standing betrayal of the ministry of Jesus.The second reason, perhaps less obvious, is that a case can be made, based  on current, responsible Gospel scholarship, that Jesus was calling his people to the Salvation that lies beyond the worship of the merely created, and that relies instead on the direct  worship of the Creator. I believe emphatically that this variety of direct  worship is Islam,  and  that  the  authentic words of Jesus emphatically invite  us to move  beyond what  is conventionally understood as Christianity for this Salvation, and  enter  with  no delay  the ‘house’ of Islam (to borrow a metaphor from Lewis). Which room we choose  to occupy  once we’re inside,  of course,  is up to us.If you’re a Christian, and you find that you are skeptical about these  points, then  we’re ready to move on.

The word ‘Islam’ means, simultaneously, ‘submission’ and  ‘peace’. This faith  demands in no uncertain terms that its adherents reject anything and everything that conflicts  with  obedience to God.  It does  not  mandate blind  obedience to any human authority. I believe  that  someone who  scrupulously follows this religion’s command of submission to God Alone is in fact adhering completely to the  authentic teachings of Jesus, at least to the degree that  they are reflected in the  surviving Gospels. I also believe this religion is precisely the same one he preached and practiced. Holding and  expressing this  view  has  led me into any  number of  interesting life  experiences, many   of which  involved  heated  discussions  with  Christians who  believed a) that  I had  no right  to describe myself any longer  as a follower of Jesus, and  b) that  Islam and Christianity have  far more  separating them  than  they have in common. This book challenges thoughtful Christians  to  consider  the  discussions  that  follow before coming  to a final conclusion on a) and b), above.

If you are a Christian, the idea that Jesus practiced the same    faith    that    today’s    news   broadcasts   hold responsible  for  so  many  of  the  world’s  problems probably seems far-fetched to you.

It certainly seemed far-fetched to me when I first encountered  it.  Yet  many  contemporary  Christians have  reached life-changing personal conclusions about the  Gospel  message  and  its  relation  to  Islam.  A prominent American sheikh,  Yusuf Estes, is an obvious example, and there  are many  others. The American television news magazines usually don’t share  the  stories  of these  converts to Islam  with the  world at  large,  and  their  motivations sometimes seem mysterious to non-Muslims who encounter them. From personal experience, though, I strongly suspect that  most  of these  people found themselves, at the end of the  day,  deeply concerned about the  consequences of calling Jesus ‘Lord’ without obeying his instructions—found themselves far more concerned about that command, in fact, than about any media coverage of geopolitical issues. So we changed our lives.

People like us do indeed exist in North America, Europe, and Australia. There are more of us than you may imagine. This  book  is  here  to  give  you  a  clear answer to the  question we  hear  over  and  over  again:‘Why?’Why would a Christian believer choose to embrace this faith, over all the other possible faith choices? Why pursue the one system of worship that most of today’s commentators agree is ‘at odds with Christianity’? Why leave the familiar congregations of friends, relatives, and members of the clergy — congregations whose concern and support sustained us for so long, and who would rejoice if we were only to renounce Islam and return to the way of life of which they approve? The   pages    that    follow,    aim   to   answer these questions.

Two  flawed understandings of  Islam  can  present a major  challenge for  anyone trying to  come  to  terms with  it. First  and  foremost is the  notion that  it is an anti-Christian faith. It is not. Christians often express profound surprise at  Islam’s  extraordinary reverence for  Jesus,  and  for  the  special  status that  Christians enjoy under traditional Islamic law. The second misconception is the  common notion that  Islam is rooted in violence.  Outsiders studying the actual   teachings of   the   faith   are   usually  caught unawares by  its  ceaseless  promotion  of  mercy  and forgiveness over violence  and revenge. Even if political upheavals, irresponsible media coverage, and the lunacy of religious extremists have sometimes combined to obscure these  two  core truths of Islam—as  a cloud  may  seem,  for a time,  to blot out the sun—they remain core truths nevertheless. I hope my  work  here  does  these  truths justice,  but  if it does not, the responsibility lies not with  Islam, but with  me.

 I was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1961.

My parents did not practice Christianity, but other relatives and friends did, and the teachings of Jesus Christ emerged early in my life as the ‘true north’ of my spiritual journey.

I was drawn to the Gospels at a young age–eleven–and I read them compulsively.

I still have the red King James Bible I bought as a child; my own handwritten note on the front page proclaims June 26, 1974, as the date I accepted Jesus as my personal savior.



What  is ‘Q’?

(Jesus) spoke out: ‘I am indeed a servant of God. He has given to me the Book and made me a Prophet. Wherever I go, His blessings follow me.’ (QUR’AN19:30)

 THERE IS, IN TERMS OF LITERAL CONTENT, little for a mainstream Christian to object to in the  passage from the   Qur’an  you  just  read.  Virtually  all  Christian theologies accept  Jesus’ role as Prophet, or Messenger of   God.   If   ‘Book’   means   an   authentic   Divine Revelation,  surely  no  Christian  would dispute  that Jesus received this. But  that  is the  content. The  context  is a different matter. The very fact that the words in question appear in the Qur’an, rather than in the Gospels, is enough to give many  people pause.

Most  contemporary Christians simply do  not  believe that  Jesus  was  a  practitioner  of  the  same  religion practiced by Muslims. To be more specific: Most Christians do not believe  that Jesus’ actual  mission and teachings, by  whatever name  we  may  choose  to  call them, would be recognizable to a contemporary Christian, or even to a fair-minded neutral observer, as those  of the Prophet Muhammad (PB UH). If you  were  to switch  on  a time  machine and  set out to test the matter, ninety-nine out of a hundred Christians would probably predict that your journey back through time would prove definitively that Jesus was not, in fact, a Muslim. The problem is that  most  of those  ninety-nine peo- ple would have a hard time describing, in even the vaguest terms,  what  a Muslim actually believes.

We don’t have  a time machine, of course,  and  perhaps it  would be  better   for  us  not  to  wish  for  one.  How many  of us would actually risk making such  a trip  for the  first  time,  risking the  possibility that  we  might never  return to the certainties of our present lives? It  might  be  safer  and  more  practical  to  plan  a different kind  of journey.  It might  be better—at least for  those  of us  who  are  not  particularly brave  about journeys—if   Jesus  could    gain   access   to   the   time machine and approach us.

Fortunately, we are in a position to ask Jesus to make just that kind  of journey through time for us. We  can  appeal  to  a  kind   of  ‘hard  evidence’—evidence,  at  any  rate,  that  should be  of  interest to thoughtful Christians. The evidence to which we can appeal, the journey Jesus makes  on our  behalf,  resides in  the  Gospels, in  words attributed to  Jesus  himself. We  can  evaluate  these   words on  their   own   merits. Then   we   can   compare  these   words  to   the   core principles of Islam.You will be reading, in this book, a number of New Testament scriptures. When  a passage like this  comes up,  it  will  appear  in  this  kind of  bold type,  and indented. Quotes of prominent Christians are in bold type,  italics and indented, while  passages from the Qur’an are in italics style and indented.

Now,  it is a common, and  probably a fair,  complaint from Christians that Muslims sometimes ‘pick and choose’ their way through the New Testament in discussions about Jesus. Some Muslims cite the Gospel of John one moment to prove some  prophecy or other, and  then,  the next moment, dismiss the sixteenth verse of  the  third  chapter  in  that  same  Gospel,  which describes  Jesus  as  the  only  begotten  Son  of  God. Similarly,  some Muslims appeal with  great  enthusiasm to St. Paul’s advice to women to cover their heads in public, but ignore the portions of his epistles that emphasize  Jesus’  role  as  the  sacrificial  Savior  of humanity. This  kind  of  flip-flopping  exasperates  the Christians and embarrasses Muslims, or ought to. Selective criticisms like these ignore  the question ‘How did  you  come  to  prefer  that  passage over  this  one?’ They are demeaning to people of any faith or tradition, because they suggest that religion is little more than a rhetorical game in which an opponent’s fundamental beliefs  can  be  uprooted  easily—if  only  one  knows what  to ignore.  No one, I think,  is convinced by these kinds  of arguments. Of course,  this  book  relies  to a certain  extent  on my  own  Biblical  interpretation and  arguments. But you should understand that, for the purposes of consistency,  historical  authenticity,  and  clarity,  this book is different from other Islamic assessments of the Gospels. This book relies primarily on a very narrowly defined group of verses,  verses  that are not to be found in the Gospel  of John or in any of the Epistles.  So when a thoughtful Christian asks,  ‘Why do you  prefer  verse X  over   verse   Y?’  the   answer  can   be  a  clear   one:

 ‘Because  responsible scholars believe  verse  X  to  be older  in derivation, and therefore more likely to be authentic.’

The verses in question, known as Q verses, are the passages many of today’s scholars believe to be the earliest surviving  expression  of  the  oral  tradition  of sayings attributed to Jesus. Make no mistake: This is your father’s (and grand- father’s, and great-grandfather’s) New Testament. Yet the focus  here  is on  Gospel  verses  that  were,  in all prob- ability,  compiled  long  before  the  text  surrounding them  was.

 The  remnants  of  a  lost,  but  identifiable,  ‘sayings gospel’ called  Q (from  the  German Quelle, or ‘source’) do appear in Matthew and Luke. What, you may ask,  was  a ‘sayings  gospel’?  This was, scholars believe, an ancient document consisting of   instructions attributed to   Jesus,   ‘sayings’   that generally lack narrative material. A sayings gospel would have carried material that eventually  found  its  way  into  the  Gospels  we  are familiar with—but a sayings gospel  would have  made no attempt to tell the life story of Jesus.

A little  background is in  order.
a)      The  Gospel  of Mark, most scholars believe, is the oldest extant Gospel.
b)      Intriguingly, Matthew and Luke depend on Mark for much,  but not all, of their material.
c)      (The Gospel  of John does  not  depend on  any  other  Gospel  in  a  textual sense; it is independent in a way that the other three Gospels are not. It is also compiled later.)
d)     When we remove the influence of Mark and look at what Matthew and Luke still have in common, we find dozens of obviously parallel verses in Matthew and Luke—verses that often give us nearly verbatim expressions of the same saying. Many scholars feel these parallel verses constitute clear   evidence  of   a   sayings  gospel  that  supplies Matthew and Luke with a substantial amount of their content. These parallel verses, known as the Q verses, appear  to  reflect  a  lost  manuscript  that  is  almost certainly older  than  even Mark’s Gospel.

This all sounds, perhaps, more complex than it actually is. The simplest explanation for the situation we are examining is  known as  the  Two  Source  Theory.  This theory holds that  the  authors of  Matthew and  Luke made use of two important written sources—Mark and the  lost  gospel   we  now  call  Q—in  developing their own accounts of the life of Jesus. Here is a simple  visual  summary of the Two Source Theory  on the next page, which  is not my creation; this theory is familiar to virtually all responsible contemporary Gospel textual scholars, and has been a topic of scholarly discussion for many  years. Now,  even  this  brief  summary of Q is enough to stir  up  any  number of intricate scholarly debates, and this  book  is not  meant to be about scholarly debates. You should know, however, that the analysis of the development of the Gospels you have  just read  reflects the   findings  of   some   of   the   most   accomplished researchers and scholars working in the field of New Testament textual studies. See  The  Complete  Gospels, edited by Robert J. Miller, HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.

‘Traditionalist’ Christian clergy and theologians are generally hostile  to  the  whole  idea  of Q. They  claim that students of Q are somehow eager to diminish the status of Jesus.  (Actually, we  are  only  eager  to  learn what  he is most likely to have said.) The hostility of these preachers and theologians to the proposition that Q was a source for Matthew and Luke is  often  palpable. Such a response may have something to do with the many challenges that the reconstructed text reflecting the (lost) Q manuscript represents to accepted Christian theology. One  part  of  this  challenge  that  has  been  little noticed by lay Christians up to this point—but feared, I suspect, by  orthodox Christian theologians—has to do with  Islam. It  is  the  observation,  difficult  to  avoid  for  any attentive student of comparative religion that  Q tends to  support the  most  important  elements  of  Islam’s conception of Jesus.

The   Q   scholarship suggests that the ways most Muslims have, down the centuries, envisioned the message, identity, and priorities of Jesus are, broadly speaking, historically correct.

Specifically,   Q  tends to  confirm   Islam’s  image of Jesus as a distinctly human Prophet. It tends to confirm  Islam’s depiction of the mission of Jesus as following the theological principles of the Qur’an.

It tends to confirm Islam’s rejection  of the  doctrine of the Trinity.

And   it  tends  to  confirm   Islam’s  claim   that   the surviving   scriptures   of    Christianity   have    been tampered with in a way meant to dilute an uncompromisingly rigorous monotheism.

This particular variety of monotheism, Islam has always insisted, was the driving force of all the great prophetic missions, including that of Jesus. This particular variety of monotheism allows for no such formulation as ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’.

These  connections between the  message of Islam  and the message of Q are my observations, not the observations of  the  textual scholars who  have  done such  meticulous work  over  the  years  identifying the early Gospel verses. Those scholars are writing about textual research. This book is about Jesus and Islam. You  may  agree  with  the  evidence offered  in  the pages that  follow. You may disagree. In  the  end,  it doesn’t  really  matter how  popular or  unpopular the analysis offered  here proves to be. What matters is that thoughtful Christians have  the opportunity to evaluate it fairly and make  their own decisions.

What  exactly  do  I mean  when I maintain that  Jesus called his people ‘to Islam’? Let me put  it as clearly  as I can. I believe  that  Jesus was, as a matter of historical probability, calling his listeners to a faith  system whose guiding principle is that  the  Creator, not  the  created, must  be worshipped and  obeyed. It is a corollary of this  belief  that  God’s will, not human will, should be done  on earth. I   believe   later   manipulations   subverted   that teaching and pointed the religion of Jesus toward the principle  of   sacrificial   atonement  for   the   sins   of mankind. I believe  that  the  Q  verses  of the  Gospels tend  to confirm  these beliefs of mine.

Occasionally, people wonder if it is possible to ‘boil down’   the complex   textual   issues   raised   by   Q scholarship to a single  sentence. Here  is the  sentence I’ve come up with:

 Today’s best New  Testament experts believe  that some  Gospel   verses   appear to  present a  more historically accurate picture of Jesus  than  other Gospel verses do.
That is to say, today’s scholarship identifies certain passages—the  Q  passages—as  not  only  instructive, but historically is more relevant than other passages. Yet most Christians are totally  unaware of this research, or of its momentous implications.If you were to tell the members of any Christian congregation of  the  existence   of  such  verses  J and then  ask  them  what  they  believe  the  earliest layer  of Gospel  verses  teaches  J most  of them  would answer that  the  earliest  verses  must  somehow  emphasize Jesus’ status as the only begotten Son of God. And yet they would be mistaken. Of course, reasonable people may disagree on the age and authenticity of the sayings that form the center piece of this book. Everyone must agree, though, that the words in question  do  appear in  the  Gospels found in  every Bible,  and  are  binding on  every  Christian. And for anyone who is truly committed to the task of following the words of Jesus, that should be enough. To learn more about why so many scholars are so insistent now about the early  dating of the passages in question, see Appendix A. For now, please understand that  this book puts  forward a very narrow ‘slice’ of the New   Testament,  and   emphasizes  the   sayings  that appear within that  slice.  As  you  evaluate that  ‘slice’, bear  in  mind  that  the  most  accomplished  Biblical scholars of our day—none of them Muslims, by the way—regard the Q verses  in Matthew and  Luke as the closest we are ever going to get to the teachings of the historical   Jesus,   barring   the   discovery   of   some previously unknown ancient text.

 Some people who hear my reasons for believing as I do react with great anger,  and many  of these angry people attempt to discredit the scholarship behind Q. They are missing the point. Whether the Q theory is persuasive to you depends on your interpretation of the evidence. Yet even if you reject all the work of all the Q scholars, this book may nevertheless be of interest to you,  assuming two  and only two facts:
First, that you are a thoughtful Christian capable of making   decisions   for   yourself   about   important matters (such as whether or not Jesus preached publicly about his own sacrifice for the sins of mankind).
And  second, that  you  do not reject the Gospel verses in question. This  second  point  is  extremely  important,  and worth emphasizing.

Even if one were to disagree vehemently with  the  scholars on  the  dating of the  Q verses,   one   would  have   a  very   hard  time   indeed disputing their presence in the New  Testament. They  are  there,  whether or not  one  accepts  Q as a source for the Gospels, and whether or not they are convenient to contemporary Christian theology. It is possible, of course, that some people may feel uncomfortable with the whole idea of certain Gospel passages being older or more authoritative than other Gospel  passages.

If it is easier  to  think  of the  verses that  appear in the pages  that  follow  as simply coming from certain portions of the Bible—portions that the author happens to prefer  over  other  portions—that is just as well. There is nothing ‘new’ here.  There is only an attempt to refocus, or perhaps focus for the first time, on something very old, on some vitally important parts of Jesus’ message. If you consider the study of the Gospels to be an important part of your spiritual life, I hope you will consider continuing on to the next chapter. If, on  the other  hand,  you  believe  that  what  we  find  in  the Gospels does not  have  any  bearing on  your spiritual life, you may want  to stop here.

For most of my adolescence I studied the Christian scriptures on my own, and I did so obsessively.

When I say I read the scriptures obsessively, I mean that I was drawn to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John like a magnet.

There are plenty of notes and highlights in that old Bible of mine in Psalms, in Ecclesiastes, in Proverbs—but most of the notes and underlining are in the Gospels. But I sensed, even at an early age, that there were some internal problems with the texts I loved so dearly.


‘Natural Law’

‘So, whosoever accepts guidance, it is only for his own self, and whosoever goes astray, he goes astray only to his (own) loss.’ (QUR’AN 39:41)
‘And whomsoever God wills to guide, He opens his  breast  to  submission,  and  whomsoever  He wills to send astray,  He makes his breast closed and constricted, as if he is climbing up to the sky. Thus God puts the wrath on those who believe not.’ (QUR’AN, 6:125)
HOW  DO  HUMAN  BEINGS  determine  for  themselves what  is right  and  what  is wrong? What  is that  process and how does it operate? There are Christian scholars and theologians who teach as Christian doctrine the principle that humanity itself instills a basic, enduring, and predictable moral sense in human communities. This moral sense, we are told, is God’s consistent, impossible-to-ignore standard of  behavior, a  standard that  is  always clear  to  the human  community.  For instance,  C.S.  Lewis,  the author of Mere Christianity, and the most celebrated modern  Christian  writer  in  English,  insists  on  this view.

Even  a tyrant, we  are  told,  consistently ‘knows  right from wrong’ (regardless of whether he chooses to acknowledge the distinction to himself).  We know  this; the argument goes, because the tyrant will attempt to present at least the appearance of virtue to the outside world. This  understanding of right  and  wrong action may  be something a person employs selectively, but, we are told, it is reliable. Even   a   hypocrite,   the   theory   holds,   has   a fundamental sense  of  propriety. Hypocrites claim  to act by one set of standards (because they know these standards are  right,  or regarded as such),  but  actually act by a different set of standards (which  they know  to be wrong).Even a sadistic person, we hear, will, after having crushed   a   helpless   victim   to   steal   away   some advantage, claim that the action was justified, or ‘fair’, given  the situation he or she faced.

If   there   are   exceptions  to   this   notion  of   an enduring, fundamentally human moral sense, we are told, it is only because of the rare individual who lacks any ability  to perceive right  or wrong, or any ability  to ‘fake’ that  perception. Such a person, the  theory goes, is nothing more  than  an anomaly, a chance  result  like that which  shows up on the far end of a bell curve.  Just as  the  occasional person  may  be  color-blind or  may have trouble singing in the proper key, there may be a statistically insignificant number of people born who lack this fundamental, consistent human ability to distinguish right  from  wrong. Such  ‘amoral’  people are, supposedly, something like genetic aberrations— freaks of nature. Yet human beings as a group, we are assured, have a distinct, enduring, and consistent capacity to distinguish right  from wrong.

 This  inherent  ability  to  tell  right  from  wrong  is sometimes referred to as ‘Natural Law’, or the ‘Law of Human   Nature’.   The   phrase   suggests   a   static, predictable  moral  standard (or  law)  that  is,  though often  ignored, consistent and  predictable (or  natural) for  the  overwhelming majority  of real  human beings like you and me.This  doctrine has  become   an  important pillar   of what  we now  call mainstream Christian theology. God has set a clear, consistent standard of right  and  wrong that humanity, if it does not always obey, definitely understands without any problem. Islam  regards  this  notion  as  incomplete.  Jesus Christ  regards it as incomplete too,  and  you  will  see why in a moment.

Islam envisions each human being as possessing a) free will, and  b) a soul  that  knows what  is good  for it and what  is  bad  for  it,  a  soul  that  God  has  inspired to advise us to choose  the  good.  Some people, however, use  free  will  in  such a way as to make  themselves increasingly deaf  to the  soul’s advice.  And  this  is the part,  a Muslim might  argue, that Lewis leaves out.Lewis ignores the possibility that when human be- ings  make  choices,  those  choices  will  either  degrade the soul or purify it.Islam  holds  that  people  who  consciously  make choices  that  support  the  soul’s  inherent longing for righteousness are dynamically brought toward the moral  clarity  God  intended for them,  becoming more and   more   certain   about  what   is  right   and   what   is wrong.

On  the  other  hand,  people  who  consciously  make choices  that  oppose their  own  souls’  inherent longing for righteousness do violence to their own souls. They imagine  themselves  safe  from  God’s  plan,  immune from accountability to Him. And this is folly.So. God knows all and understands all; God has also granted humankind free will. We are  left, as the  result of our own  choices, with  a steadily improving or stead- ily deteriorating ability to distinguish right from wrong. Submission  to  the  Will  of  the  One  God,  Islam holds, improves the ability to distinguish good choices from bad ones. Resistance to the Will of the One God degrades this ability.  A firm, obstinate, long-term policy of resistance to the Will of the One God leads one to worship one’s own desires first and foremost, and to abandon even  the  charade of moral  authority. This is true catastrophe. Our ability to distinguish right from wrong, Islam holds,  is not consistent and  predictable, but  variable. This ability to distinguish right from wrong is part of God’s  Plan,  of course,  but  from  our  point  of view  it depends upon our own choices and thoughts.

If  we  persist in  the  delusion of  self-sufficiency and independence  from   God,   Islam   tells  us,  we   will eventually be engulfed by our own delusion, and those delusions will  eventually take  over  our  lives  and  our very ability  to reason. If we persist in worshipping our own desires as though they were  god—thereby ignoring God—a  truly horrifying thing   happens. Those desires become   the rulers of our lives.

 This whole process, Islam insists, is dynamic. We are constantly  in   motion.  The   question is,   in   which direction? A tyrant, an alcoholic,  a drug addict, a serial  killer, or anyone else in an advanced stage of self-absorption and  self-worship will eventually cease even  to pretend that  he  or  she  is under any  obligation to  distinguish right  from  wrong. Such  a person will  eventually cease to believe that such distinctions are important. These people, Muslims believe, advance themselves toward their own doom. Once again: the question is one of movement. It is as if someone were asking us, ‘Where are you going?’ and then helping us to travel in what-ever direction   we    ourselves   identified.   There    is    a destination of darkness, darkness that accumulates as the  direct   result   of  a  personal choice  to  embrace it. Think  of Adolf  Hitler,  who  was  not  merely unstable, but   increasingly  unstable  as  the  Second   World   War ground on. In his final days, Hitler  railed  even  against the German people he once claimed to have been the Master   Race.  What   greater perversion  of  his   own ‘standards’ can we imagine? Or think of the late-stage John  Belushi,  whose beastly  behavior near  the  end  of his life shocked even  the Hollywood of the early 1980s (a community not easily shocked). Belushi, in his final months, terrified some  very  jaded  people, some  of whom had known him for many  years.People  with  such  ‘moral standards’ do  not  inherit them  at birth;  they  earn them,  usually through years  of patient, persistent, soul-destroying effort. People who reach  this  bleak  and  horrifying  point  reach  it,  not because they  have  a genetic  flaw  akin  to  that  which imparts color-blindness or  a  bad  ear  for  pitch,  but because they choose,  over and  over again,  to go astray. And the choosing becomes easier with  each choice. Aleister Crowley, the self-proclaimed Satanist, embraced a world-view in  which  ‘do  what  thou  wilt shall  be the  law  of the  land’.  Surely  he  was  not  born with   such   beliefs.  Surely   he  had   to  strive   to  attain them.

 This idea of striving is quite important. Some kind of striving  is  seen,  in  Islam,  as  a  constant  feature  of human  nature.  One   is  either   striving  toward  the purification  of one’s  own  soul,  or  striving toward its degradation. To persist in the former is true  victory;  to persist in the latter  is the ultimate defeat. And  this,  the  oldest  Gospel  verses  suggest, is the understanding  of   human  moral    vision   that   Jesus wishes us to have.

‘And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased;  and  he  that  shall humble himself shall be exalted.’ (MATTHEW  23:12)
If  we  are  honest with  ourselves, we  will admit the challenging nature  of  a  verse  such  as  this  one.  The Bible tells us that  we are reading the words of Jesus J but  somehow the  words do  not  seem  to  match  up easily with what  we may have been taught about Jesus. In fact, this is the kind of verse we may have read dozens,  hundreds  of  times  without  really  ‘getting’ what  it  is  trying  to  say.  There  are  many  Gospel passages like this,  passages we  are  likely  to rush  past or  ‘file’  for  future study if we  can’t instantly apply them  to our lives. What if we were to linger over a verse like this for awhile?

 Is it possible Jesus is saying  to us that  a moral view that relies on the promotion of selfish, narrow interests will lead, in predictable measure, to spiritual loss? Is it possible Jesus wants us to understand that a moral view  that  rejects  selfish  obsession will lead,  just as predictably, to spiritual gain? Perhaps Jesus is warning us to beware of the kind of  striving that  is  based  on  self-absorption, on self- promotion, on self-obsession.
Elsewhere, Jesus tells us to keep  our  eyes open  to the light,  that  we  may  gain  more   light.  This  is  another ‘difficult’  saying.   Please  take  a  moment to  read the words below  closely  and  prayerfully J even  if you have  read  them  many  times  in  the  past.  It’s  possible that,  like me, you  read  them  dozens of times  without quite  grasping what  they meant.

 ‘The  light of  the  body is  the  eye:  therefore when thine eye is single, thy  whole body also is full  of light; but  when thine eye is evil,  thy body also is full  of darkness. Take  heed there- fore  that  the  light which is  in  thee  be  not darkness.’ (Luke  11:34-35)

 Again,  we  must  be  willing  to  sit  quietly for  a while with passages like this one. We cannot speed-read such words. We have  to come  to them  on their  own  terms and  be willing  to take  our  time  in considering them. Some  teachings are  meant to  be  contemplated for  a while. Once  we  have  slowed down enough to  sit  with these  words, once  we  have  asked  God  for  guidance, we may feel them  entering us at a depth. Having stopped to listen  carefully to these  words, we may conclude that they have something to do with moral perception, with determining what  is right in our lives and what  is wrong in our lives. Aren’t  these  words really  telling  us  that  moral  vi- sion, like moral blindness, perpetuates and strengthens itself? Notice the words: ‘flooded with light.’ In these sayings, Jesus  seems  to  be  telling  us  that  those  who strive  hard  for  righteousness  will  have  not  just  a reward, but a cumulative reward. By the same token,  he tells us that  those  who strive  in the other  direction will have not just a penalty, but a cumulative penalty that pushes them  into a ‘negative zone.’ He is talking about a dynamic process, about a soul in motion.

 We may  eventually conclude that  these  words are all about our ability  to listen to the promptings of our own soul. Again—you may  find  that  you  agree  with  this  interpretation;  you  may  find  that  you  disagree with  it. The only  mistake, I think,  lies in letting  empty force of habit cheat  us out  of the  chance  for a direct  encounter with  the teachings of Jesus Christ. Consider yet  another ‘difficult’  passage from  the Gospels.
‘For I say unto you, That  unto every  one which hath shall be  given;  and  from  him  that  hath not,  even   that   he  hath shall be  taken away from  him.’ (LUKE 19:26)

As a matter of practical experience, this passage makes no sense. I have no apples—two apples must be taken from  me.  How  can  one  take  something away  from  a person who has nothing? Yet  when we  consider the  idea  of  the  soul that knows what  is good  for it and  what  is bad  for it, the soul  that  we  listen  to  ever  more  closely  or  deafen ourselves to ever more  obstinately, is the saying  really that  puzzling? These  words may  well  make  the  only possible sense J the ultimate sense. This important verse,  when we compare it to those we have  examined already, may become  a little clearer to us. If we sit with  it for a time, it may begin  to speak to  us.  And  what  it  says  could  sound something like this: Our choices magnify themselves. When we listen to our souls and strive to acquire favor with God, we are granted more of His favor. When we strive in the other direction, we dig ourselves into a hole.

Jesus  tells  us  in  other  sayings that  it  is  what  we sustain in our heart,  ultimately, that makes  true success possible for human beings.  Consider these words.

‘For  where your   treasure is,  there will   your heart be also.’ (MATTHEW  6:21)

‘A  good  man  out  of  the  good  treasure of  his heart bringeth forth that  which is  good;  and an evil man  out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that   which is  evil:  for  of  the abundance of  the  heart his  mouth speaketh.’ (LUKE 6:45)
It is as though Jesus were  asking  us: What are you doing with your heart? How are you investing it? Are you using it to build up a surplus, or to bring about a deficit in your life? Where are you going? He also tells us, as though with  a nod  and  a wink, of the woman who conceals  leaven  in fifty measures of flour. How  it grows for her! May  I ask you  to take  just a moment right  now  to pray  to God  for guidance in discerning the real mean- ing of the important verses  you have  read  in this chap- ter?  Perhaps you  should do  so  before  you  continue with  the next chapter of this book. If the words in question were my words, I would understand and respect your decision to decline this request of mine to pray for guidance. But if Jesus said these  words, as the  Bible tells us is the  case, then  it is surely fitting for us to ask our Creator for His help in understanding these teachings. After all: Why would Jesus have said these things if we  were   not  meant to  understand them   and   apply them  in our lives?
I CAN  so clearly remember reading the account in the 22nd chapter of Luke where Jesus withdrew from the disciples, prayed, and returned to find them fast asleep.

Who, I wondered, could have possibly observed him praying ... and then related the incident so that it eventually could be included in the Gospel of Luke? There’s another passage in the Gospels where Jesus supposedly includes the words ‘let him who reads understand’ in one of his spoken discourses, which seemed odd to me. And there was yet another spot where the New Testament author assured first-century Christians that their generation would see the second coming of the Messiah—a passage I found difficult to square with modern Christian doctrine. These and other queries about the New Testament arose while Iwas still quite young, certainly before I was fifteen. Had someone manipulated the Gospels? If so, who? And why?

 I ‘filed’ my questions for later, and decided that the real problem was that I was not part of a vigorous Christian faith community.

                                                                     Part 2 of documentary

Jesus  and  the Magicians

 ‘It is not (possible) for any human being to whom God has given the Book and wisdom and prophethood to say to the people: ‘Be my worshippers rather than God’s.’ On the contrary (he would say):‘Be devoted worshippers of your Lord, because you are teaching the Book, and you are studying it.’ Nor would he order you to take angels and Prophets for lords. Would he order you to disbelieve after you have submitted to God’s will?’ (QUR’AN 3:79-80)
WHO  WAS JESUS? Or—if we prefer  the present tense, as many  do—who is he? What  would Jesus have  told  us two  millennia ago, what  would he tell us today, about his ministry, his mission, his objectives, his identity? These  are  fateful  questions, questions that  challenge us.
 If  the  Christian writer C.S.  Lewis  and  the  other mainstream  scholars and  theologians of  Christianity are correct,  Jesus would say to us, ‘I am God Incarnate, the second person of the Trinity.’Lewis  supports this  view  of Jesus  with  words to this effect: ‘Two thousand years ago, a man appeared among the  Jews  claiming to  be  God,  a  man  whose words and deeds profoundly unsettled the religious authorities of his day, and whose mission continues to unsettle  all  of  mankind.  In  evaluating  this  man’s career, there are only two possibilities for us. We may consider him  a lunatic, or  we  may  consider him  the Son of God. There  is no middle ground. And  who  will maintain that Jesus was a lunatic?’Now, I must be honest and admit that this line of argument has irritated me for many  years J because it reminds me so much  of a magician’s performance.
Magicians, when they  wish  to  make  it  appear to  a paying audience that they have supernatural powers, often employ a series of careful misdirections: an unexpected flare  from  some  flash  powder, a  pretty lady  in a revealing gown,  a loud  noise  from  offstage, even  something as  simple  as  a  gesture or  a  word. Magicians employ these  misdirections, not for the sake of simple  showmanship, but with a purpose, and while holding a subtle  goal in mind.Consider, for instance, the case of a card magician. The  aim  is  to  distract  an  audience member who  has been  called  up  onto  the  stage  for just  a moment, just long enough to manipulate the deck, and  then  to move quickly  enough to  convince her  that  she  has  freely chosen  a  card  on  her  own.  In  fact,  however,  the magician has ‘forced’ a predetermined card on her.This is the magician’s principle of misdirection. Lewis engages in very similar  sleight-of-hand withhis  ‘lunatic-or-Son-of-God’  argument, which   appears in his book Mere Christianity.Of course,  there  is no thoughtful, spiritually awareperson—Christian or otherwise—who can read the Gospels with  an  open  mind and  an  open  heart,  and come  away  from  that  experience convinced that  Jesus was a lunatic. And so the believer finds herself  holding a ‘card’ that  she did  not choose,  a ‘card’ that  has been forced  upon her, a ‘card’ that  informs her that  Jesus is the  only  begotten Son of God,  the  human component of the Trinity—as (she is assured) he himself  claims  to be.The   thoughtful  Christians,  however,  must   be prepared to appeal to the most authentic words of the Gospels to determine the truth or falsehood of such matters.

Once we resolve  that much  firmly in our hearts, we may find that we really are brave enough to pose the question for ourselves: Who is Jesus? Does he say, ‘I am the only begotten Son of God and the  second person of  the  Trinity’?  If we  examine this fateful question carefully, we reach an extraordinary conclusion. We  may  look  through the  Gospels for  as long  as  we  please,  but  we  will  have  a very  difficult time indeed locating any verse in which  Jesus says this.
Now, Islam teaches that Jesus Christ forcefully rejected claims that  he was divine. Most mainstream Christians who disagree with the teachings of Islam do so because of its emphatic insistence on this point. We  certainly have  a  right  to  be  skeptical about Islam’s claims about this issue. It is only fair for us to demand evidence from the Gospels, and  not  from  any other  source,  before we conclude that Jesus rejected  the divine role that  so many  believe  he was born to play in human affairs. So  the  question becomes: Can we  find even one Gospel passage that plausibly suggests Jesus rejected today’s prevailing understanding of his mission? Can we find a verse  that shows him denying that he was the divine incarnation of God, the second person of the Trinity?

If we cannot find such a verse,  then  the  discussion is over. Islam has failed  to support its claims. If we can find  such  a  verse,  we  are  perhaps obliged to  look  a little more  closely at what  Islam has to say about Jesus.We have, I think, both the right and the duty to determine whether or not Lewis, as he spreads out his deck  of cards  for  us,  is trying to distract us  with  his lunacy-or-divinity argument—and if  he  is,  what  he might  be trying to distract us from. Misdirection is fine for entertainment, but it has, we must admit, no place when   it    comes    to    the    important   business   of determining one’s own path  to salvation.
Well. What  could Lewis be eager  to direct  our attention away  from? Perhaps from  Gospel  passages like  this  one  J in which  Jesus explicitly denies any claim on divinity:

 ‘And  when he  was  gone  forth into  the  way, there came  one  running, and  kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that  I may  inherit eternal life?  And  Jesus  said unto him,  Why  callest thou me good?  There is none good  but  one,  that  is, God.’ (MARK 10:17-18)

If Jesus was God, why in the world would he say something like this? Did he somehow forget that he himself  was God when he uttered these  words? (A side note—I had  a discussion with  a woman who  assured me  that  this  passage in  Mark  was  not  really  in  the Gospels, and  who  refused to believe  that  it appeared there  until  I gave  her  the  chapter and  verse  number and she looked it up for herself!)Have  we ever gone to church and  heard a homily or sermon exclusively devoted to Mark 10:18?If our answer is ‘no,’ perhaps it is fair to ask why thatis  so  J and  to  ask  what   other   Gospel   passages our magician may be attempting to distract our attention from. Perhaps the  magician would prefer   to  distract us from the italicized words that appear in the following Gospel  passage J words with which  Jesus makes  clear that  all of the truly  faithful are (metaphorically speaking) Children of God:

‘But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that  curse  you, do good  to them that  hate you, and  pray  for them which despitefully use you,  and   persecute you,  that   ye  may  be  the children of your  Father which is in heaven: for he  maketh his  sun  to rise  on  the  evil  and  on the  good,  and  sendeth rain  on the  just  and  on the unjust.’ (MATTHEW  5:44-45)

Or  perhaps the  magician is  eager  to  distract us from  Gospel  passages like  this  one  J in which  Jesus draws our attention away from reverence of him, and towards obedience to God Alone:

‘And it came  to pass,  as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and  said  unto him,  Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But  he  said,   Yea  rather, blessed are they  that  hear  the  word of God,  and  keep it.’ (LUKE 11:27-28)

 Or perhaps we are meant to be distracted from this Gospel  passage J in which  Jesus reminds us that  it is God Alone who forgives sinners:

‘Then  his  lord,  after  that  he  had  called him, said  unto him,  O  thou wicked servant, I for- gave  thee  all that  debt, because thou desiredst me. Shouldest not thou also have had  compas-sion  on  thy  fellow servant, even as I had  pity on  thee?  And  his  lord  was wroth, and  deliv- ered  him  to the  tormentors, till  he should pay all  that  was  due  unto him.  So  likewise shall my  heavenly Father do  also  unto you,  if  ye from   your   hearts  forgive not   every   one   his brother their trespasses.’ (MATTHEW  18:32-35)

 In this parable, does Jesus say that he himself will deliver us  over  to  the  torturers if we  do  not  forgive those  who  wrong us,  after  we  ourselves have  been forgiven?Or   does   he   say   that   his   heavenly  Father—ourheavenly Father!—will deliver us over  to the torturers if we choose to persist in this hypocrisy? We are entitled to ask: Is this heavenly Father he speaks of the same as, or different than, the Father referenced elsewhere as the  Father  of all the  faithful, the One who  causes  the sun  to rise and  the rain  to fall on all of us?

To be sure, all these passages appear in the New Testament, and  they  are  all easy  enough to look  up and  consult. But  if  you  have  ever  tried  to  engage members of the clergy in a discussion of these passages (as I have),  you will find that  a very interesting thing takes  place when you try to talk about these passages. St. Paul keeps  popping up.You may begin by talking about the words of Jesus, but somehow you will always end up talking about the words of St. Paul. And this, I submit, is misdirection.
The faith  Jesus preached was  not  Paulism, and  no amount of legerdemain can possibly alter this fact.

We should not have  to ask for any special  permission to focus  on  the  authentic words of Jesus,  and  only on the  authentic words of Jesus. And  if we are willing  to focus only on the authentic words of Jesus, we may eventually conclude that  they  paint a picture of Jesus as a human Prophet, a picture that is startlingly similar to the picture offered  in the Qur’an. Christians  around  the  world  repeat  the  Lord’s Prayer faithfully every  day,  attributing its  exquisite words to  Jesus  himself.  We  are  entitled to  ask:  Does this  prayer  require  the  faithful  to  appeal  to  Jesus himself? To the Trinity? To the Holy Spirit? Or does it require the faithful to appeal to ‘our Father’?We are entitled to ask: To whom was Jesus praying when he  spoke  these  words? Himself? Certainly not! And  it is not  ‘my Father’ that  Jesus  appeals to J but‘our Father.’ And  we  are  entitled  to  ask:  Why  was  he  even speaking these words, if he himself  was God?

In  the  end,  our  own  honest answer to  the  question ‘Who  is Jesus?’  need  not  be  much  more  elaborate or sophisticated than  a simple  ‘I don’t  know.’  That  may very  well  be  the  best  answer as  we  make  our  way through the Gospels. It’s certainly not an answer to be ashamed of: ‘I don’t know.’ And it is far better than answering as though the question we were facing were actually ‘Who does St. Paul say Jesus is?’The only answer that  is worthy of shame, when we are  asked  ‘Who  is Jesus?’  is the  one  that  elevates the force  of our  own  habit  over  the  actual  words of the Gospel. We may well face grave difficulties if we con- sciously choose to answer this question out of force of habit  when we know  better.C.S. Lewis  and  the  theologians of  what   is  today known as  mainstream Christianity may  want  us  to answer that  question out  of force  of habit,  of course. They have their reasons. They have made their own choices.  And  they  have  arranged the  deck  as they  see fit.Whether   we   accept   the   card   that   has   been extended, and  then  tell ourselves that  we have  chosen it freely, however, is up to us.

 At eighteen, I headed East for college and entered the Roman Catholic Church. In college, I met a beautiful and compassionate Catholic girl who was to become the great love and support of my life; she was not particularly religious, but she appreciated how important these matters were to me, and so she supported me in my beliefs. I do a great injustice to her seemingly limitless resources of strength, support, and love by compressing the beginning of our relationship into a few sentences here.

I asked the campus priest—a sweet and pious man— about some of the Gospel material that had given me trouble, but he became uncomfortable and changed the subject. On another occasion, I remember telling him that I was focusing closely on the Gospel of John because that Gospel was (as I thought then) a first- person account of the events in question.

 Again, he stammered and changed the subject and did not want to discuss the merits of one Gospel over another; he simply insisted that all four were important and that I should study all of them.

This was a telling conversation, and a fateful one, as it turned out.

The Problem of Illogicality

 ‘Beware!  Sincere  true   obedience is  due  to  God alone!’ (QUR’AN 39:3)

 IS GOD ILLOGICAL when it comes to dealing with humanity? When  pressed to explain some  hard-to-grasp point of  mainstream Christian doctrine—
a)      what the  Trinity means, for instance, or
b)      whether Jesus really  promised his followers that he would return to them during their lifetimes,  or  
c)      why  an  omnipotent God  should require the sacrifice  of a human being  before  delivering salvation to repentant sinners—some people have offered a particular, distinctive kind  of  answer. And  their  an-swer has to do with  illogicality. Human logic, the argument goes, can never  expect to grasp divine logic—and this certainly seems  hard to dispute. Yet the argument does not end there.

Mainstream Christian teachings—such as the Trinitarian formulation of Father,  Son, and Holy Spirit—are com- plex  and  counterintuitive, we  are  told,  because  God Himself has, for His own reasons, created a reality  that is strange, mysterious, and unpredictable. So it should not surprise us when His religion is strange, mysterious, and unpredictable. Therefore, when we  come  across  a component of the  Christian faith  that  seems  to us  to contradict our own  instinct, experience, or  common sense,  we  must train ourselves to step back and accept this apparent illogicality as evidence of God’s handiwork.

When a thoughtful person ponders this explanation, he or she may at first wonder whether it is being offered seriously. But C.S. Lewis, the most respected Christian writer   of   the   twentieth   century,   was   a   famous proponent of this view, and he certainly meant it seriously. In   his   book   Mere   Christianity,   Lewis   briskly dismisses the complaints of those who find orthodox explanations of Christianity unsatisfying ‘because simplicity is  so  beautiful, etc.’  Then,  Lewis  suggests that  such  skeptical people have  simply failed  to notice the true nature of things. ‘Besides being complicated,’ Lewis writes, ‘reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It  is  not  neat,  not  obvious, not  what   you  expect  J Reality,  in  fact,  is  usually something you  could   not have  guessed. That  is  one  of  the  reasons I  believe Christianity.  It  is  a  religion  you  could  not  have guessed.’ [C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: HarperCollins Edition 2001), p. 41]Those  are  important words, and  I hope  you  will consider them  very closely. Lewis  really  does  want  his  hearers to join him  in believing that any theological principle that appears disorganized, unclear, inconsistent, inaccurate, or logically indefensible is a reflection of the mysterious reality  that  surrounds us  J and  thus  a reflection of God. Lewis was—and is—not alone in this belief.Yet he does  not  continue his  claim  by saying  that the more illogical and unpredictable a doctrine is, the better it reflects God. Why he shouldn’t continue in this way, though, is not easy to say.

Please  understand:  When  he  makes  this  argument, Lewis  is  not  advancing some  radical claim  that  he himself has invented. He is outlining a classic position of mainstream Christianity.

Suppose we  were  to  say  to  a  dozen traditional theologians that  the  doctrine of the  Trinity  is hard for us to understand, and hard for us to explain to others. Suppose we were to ask those theologians for help in understanding and explaining the Trinity. Each and every one of them  would explain to us, using  some formulation or other, that the very illogicality of  the doctrine is what identifies it as ‘mysterious’ as Godlike.Consider  the  Catholic  Encyclopedia’s  terse response to this all-important question. It says of the Trinity: ‘A dogma so mysterious presupposes a Divine revelation.’  (The Catholic  Encyclopedia, 1912, Vol. 15, page  47)And that, apparently, is that! Well,   suppose  we   were   to   press   the   matter? Suppose  we  were  to  demand to  know,  from  those dozen traditional theologians, why three Gods are an essential component of a religion that  aims  to  obey the First Commandment (which forbids worshipping anything  other   than  God)?  Suppose we   were   to demand some clearer understanding of why the Trinity should be so closely connected to the mission of Jesus? What should we expect to be told? Here is what the Baltimore Catechism tells us:‘It is there,  and  that  is all. We see it and  believe it, though we  do  not  understand it.  So if were fuse    to    believe    everything   we    do    not understand, we shall soon believe very little and make  ourselves  ridiculous.’  (Baltimore Catechism, 2004, Catholic.net; Lesson 3: On the Unity  and Trinity  of God, Question 31)I   am   afraid    we   must    expect   to   be   ordered—sometimes more tactfully than others, but always on essentially the same  terms—ordered to believe  whatever we  do  not  understand about the  Trinity,  and  to stop asking  inconvenient questions.This,  we  must  understand, is the  final  message of the  theologians:  not  to dig  too  deeply into  the  matter, not to inquire after details too closely. The theologians, if we press them, will say something along the following lines to us: ‘This   whole   issue   is   a   mystery.   God   is mysterious, and  so is the world He has created, and  so  is  His  Triune   nature. So please   don’t keep asking this question, because you are not entitled to a clear answer to it. The simple  fact that  the  dogma is beyond our  comprehension will have to do.’ If  my  version  of  the  theologian’s  ‘subtext’  here sounds exaggerated to you,  rest assured that  it is only the tone  that  has been  heightened. The logical content of what you just read is in fact the official response to questions that countless millions of Christians have been taught not to ask, among them:

 ‘What is the historical origin  of the Trinity?’
‘Why must  we believe  in a Trinity,  rather than,  say, a Unity—or a Duology or a Quadrology?’

 ‘Where in the Bible does  Jesus mention the Trinity by that name?’

 If you doubt what I am saying,  all that  is necessary for you to verify  is for you to ask your  pastor or priest the questions I have just posed. Take careful note of the answers you receive, and then determine for yourself whether they conform to the outlines suggested in this chapter. At the end of the day, I believe you will find that you have been told, in one way or another, that the Trinity and its origin is a mystery, and that you must believe in it because it is a mystery. You  will  also  find  that  you  have  been  told, directly or indirectly, to stop  asking  what  verse  in the Bible demonstrates Jesus’ familiarity with the specific word ‘Trinity’. The answers you hear may be long.  They may be short.  They may be polite.  They may be brusque. But they will, I believe, match the patterns set out here.

 So that  is what  we  read  and  hear  a great  deal  about when we examine the difficult questions of Christianity:

its ‘mysteries’. At this  point,  we  must,  I submit, have the   courage  to   examine  another  under-examined ‘mystery’ about the Christian faith J and, what  is more, we must  summon the  courage to take  upon ourselves the responsibility for its resolution. The ‘mystery’ is this: Do the words of Jesus support Lewis and the others on this matter of illogicality and incomprehensibility somehow mysteriously  reflecting  God?  Or  do  the words of Jesus contradict him on this point? If we summon the courage to ask those questions, we may just discover that  something important has in fact been  overlooked in  the  discussion. Because  the  Jesus we encounter in the most ancient Gospel passages, for some  strange reason, makes   a  point   of  emphasizing how accessible the Divine  message is meant to be.

‘Ask_it will be given to you. Seek_you will find. Knock_it will be opened for you.’ (LUKE11:9)

 ‘Let the one who  has ears listen!’ (LUKE 14:35)
‘Get behind me, Satan: for it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God,  and  Him  only shalt thou serve.‘ (LUKE 4:8)

‘You, (God),   have   hidden these things from the  wise  and  the  learned C but  revealed them to the untutored.’ (LUKE 10:21)
‘You scholarly experts_damn you! You have hidden the key of knowledge. You yourself haven’t entered, and   you have   stood in the way of those who  want to get in.’ (LUKE 11:52)

Are  these  verses  really  the  words of a man  who  believes that the core religious principles of his faith are divine because they are hard to understand? Are these really the words of a man who is preaching that God is both three  and one simultaneously? Are  these  really  the  words of a man  who  believes his mission is rooted in mystery? How can we possibly reconcile these verses with Lewis’ description of Christianity—as ‘a religion you could not have guessed’? What is unguessable or mysterious about these words? The verses  seem to me to suggest quite  the contrary of Lewis’  suggestion:  that  Jesus  is trying to get  us  to pay  attention  to  something  of  fundamental importance, something singular and utterly impossible to  ignore.  This  ‘something’  is, at  least,  impossible to ignore  for those  who  open  their  eyes, open  their  ears,  humble their hearts, and avoid anything remotely resembling spiritual arrogance, as he instructs. There are, as we have seen, two paths.

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ (MATTHEW  5:3)

 ‘Woe unto you that laugh now!  for ye shall mourn and  weep.’ (LUKE 6:25)
His   command  to   us   is   not   that   we   believe, obediently,  something  we  could  not  have  guessed. Instead, he challenges us to choose which path we are going to walk:  that which   leads  to  the  Kingdom of God, or that which  leads  to weeping and grieving.

Islam   holds    that   God   Himself  is   beyond  human comprehension. Islam insists that His revelations could very easily consume a lifetime’s study. But the central facts of the  believer’s relationship with  God—that He is unambiguously One, that he demands heartfelt repentance and obedience from human beings,  that He alone  is worthy of worship—are, in Islam, so simple  as to defy misrepresentation. The accessibility of these  essential facts to a humble heart  is, in the early Gospel  verses  as in Islam, a given.

The willingness of a ‘great thinker’ to respond to the Divine message is another question. God, we are told in  Q,  has  hidden  knowledge from  those  who  claim high  status and  wisdom J and  has granted His guidance to ‘the untutored.’
If we look closely at the early Gospel passages, we will have a difficult time persuading ourselves that Jesus’ aim is to preach something mysterious, difficult, or illogical.  Yet Lewis and the others insist that the true faith is mysterious, difficult, and illogical—something ‘you could  not have guessed.’ Jesus    warns   people   frankly   to    repent   their disobedience to the One God:

‘Woe unto you, Chorazin! Woe unto you, Bethsaida!  For  if  the  mighty works that  had been done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they  would have  repented long  ago, sitting in  sackcloth and  ashes. But  it  will  be better for  Tyre   and   Sidon at  the   judgment than it will  be for you.’ (LUKE 10:13)

He warns people to fear God alone:
‘And I tell you, my friends: Don’t be afraid of people who  kill  the  body, and  after  that  have no  more  that  they  can  do.  But  I will  tell  you the  person you  ought to  fear!  Fear  the  one who,  after  He has killed, has the power to cast into  hell.  Yes;  I  am  telling you,  fear  Him!’ (LUKE 12:5)

He  warns people to stop  worshipping that  which has been created:
‘Lay  not  up  for  yourselves  treasures  upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and  steal.  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust  doth corrupt, and  where thieves do not break through nor steal.’ (MATTHEW  6:19-20)

He  insists,  with  peculiar  intensity,  that  people should make  every  possible  effort  to  attend to  the business of fulfilling the  will of the Creator while there is still time to do so:

‘Jesus said  unto him,  No man,  having put  his hand to  the  plough, and  looking back,  is  fit for the kingdom of God.’ (LUKE 9:62)

Not once, however, does Jesus warn people, as C.S. Lewis does,  to repent their  failure  to embrace the doc- trine of the Trinity.

Now,  these  sayings of Jesus are simple,  and  momentous, instructions. But they are not mysteries, and nothing an honest man or woman who could do them can possibly turn them into mysteries. And  this  is where Lewis  and  the others lead us astray. Indeed, for those people who would formulate mysteries where none  actually exist, the Jesus we hear in the earliest verses of the Gospel has nothing but contempt.

‘You scholarly experts_damn you! You have hidden the key of knowledge. You yourself haven’t  entered, and   you  have   stood in  the way of those who  want to get in.’ (LUKE 11:52)

That sweet campus priest eventually married my girlfriend and me, and we settled in suburban Massachusetts. We each moved ahead professionally and became grownups. We had three beautiful children. And I kept reading and rereading the Bible. I was drawn, as ever, to the sayings about the lamp and the eye, the Prodigal Son, the Beatitudes, the importance of prayer, and so many others—but I had steadily more serious intellectual problems with the surrounding  ‘architecture’ of the New Testament, particularly with the Apostle Paul.

 Was it Christianity I was following? Or was it Paulism?

 In the mid-1990s, my wife and I both became deeply disenchanted with the Catholic Church,in part because of a truly terrible priest who gavevery little attention to the spiritual needs of his community. We later learned that he had been covering up for a child abuser.



The Mechanics of Salvation

‘God will bring all things (to view), whether they are as small as a mustard seed or (high) in the heavens or (buried deep) in the earth. God is well aware of all things, to their tiniest details.’ (QUR’AN 31:16)

IN THE BIBLE I bought for myself when I decided to accept  Jesus Christ  as my personal savior  back in 1974 (I was thirteen), there is written, in my young hand, a slogan  I may  have  heard from  a pulpit in those  days, or read  in a tract somewhere. It reads:‘Jesus  didn’t  come  to help  you  get  it together. He came to get it together for you.’Whoever came  up  with  it,  the  basic  idea  is  still valid  for  most  Christians, even  if the  tone  feels  a bit dated now.  This saying  is, in fact, the essence  of main-stream  Christianity.  Certainly  it  is  the   essence   ofLewis’ Christianity.The  basic  idea  behind  the  saying  is  that  the mechanics of salvation are extremely simple, featuring only one ‘moving part’, acceptance of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as savior. This is what I believed as an adolescent, and  this  is  what  the  majority  in contemporary Christianity believe  today. Here   are   just   a   few   examples  of   prominent Christians  through  the   centuries  who   have   said precisely the same thing,  using  different words:

 ‘But God  demonstrates His  own  love  for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’—ST. PAUL (ROMANS 5:8)
‘Jesus, whom  I know  as my Redeemer, cannot be less than God.’—ST. ATHANASIUS
‘As Man alone,  Jesus could not have saved  us; as God alone,  he would not; Incarnate, he could and did.’—MALCOLM  MUGGERIDGE
‘I  have  a  great need  for  Christ;  I have  a great Christ for my need.’

These  are  just  a few  of the  hundreds of examples one could  supply of this type  of teaching. It is the core of contemporary Christian doctrine. Now  if salvation really  is this  simple—if it really does   have   only   one   moving  part—then  there   is certainly a huge advantage for the Christians who are saved in this  way.  They  can  leave  (as it were)  all the driving to Jesus. The  thoughtful  Christian, however, is  entitled to ask a question about all this. This person is entitled to ask whether Jesus himself embraced the view that  he did not come to help us ‘get it together,’ but rather to ‘get it together for us.’

It can be quite difficult to ask such a question, either privately or  in  public.  Force  of habit  and  social  con- formity can be such very strong forces! Most Christians have been conditioned—perhaps from their parents, perhaps  from  years  of  observing  how  churchgoing people  behave, perhaps from  a  combination of  the two—not  to ask such questions. We may even have been conditioned to believe that posing such questions would make  us ‘bad Christians’.

 Yet we have to ask these questions. And  here  is why: If we withdraw obediently when someone discourages  us  from  exploring  what  Jesus  actually taught about human salvation—and if we then live our lives  under this  code  of obedient withdrawal, then  I am afraid Christianity as a creed is pretty much meaningless for us.  This  variety of ‘Christianity’  asks us  to  accept  Jesus  as  a  Savior,  as  a  Son  of  the Omnipotent,  All-Knowing  God,  but  forbids  us  to compare his actual  teachings with  those  of the religion that bears his name. Now,  if this  is not  a perversion of Jesus’  mission, then nothing is a perversion of that mission. After  all,  these  are  teachings  that  must,  by  the faith’s own  definition, be divine in nature! Surely  we are entitled, and obliged, to study them very closely indeed. So please  J if you consider nothing else that I have suggested  in  this  book,  please   J please   do  take  a moment  to  consider  the  following  two  sentences closely  before  proceeding any  further. What  we  are about to discuss here are the preserved teachings of Jesus Christ on the subject of human salvation—not the teachings  of  St.  Paul,  or  St.  Thomas  Aquinas,  or Thomas  à  Kempis,  or  Malcolm  Muggeridge, or  the Pope, or Franklin Graham. The teachings of Jesus, by definition, must matter to Christians.

 Consider. What if we were to find something in the earliest, most historically relevant teachings of Jesus that showed us clearly how he envisioned the mechanics of salvation? If we  were  to encounter such  information, what   would our  attitude toward the  opinions of  St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, Thomas à Kempis,  the Pope, Malcolm  Muggeridge, or Franklin Graham have  to be? For a true  Christian, the answer is obvious. What those men all had to say about salvation would simply have to wait for a moment. All of them,  every  single  one,  would have  to wait while  we listened to Jesus.Anyone  who  believes  otherwise  simply  cannot claim to be a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word.So: Did  Jesus  embrace  the  view  that  he  did  not come to ‘help us get it together,’ but rather to ‘get it together for us’?

‘Enter  ye  in  at  the  strait gate:  for  wide is the gate,  and  broad is the  way,  that  leadeth to de-struction,  and   many  there  be   which  go  in there at. Because strait is the  gate,  and  narrow is  the  way,  which leadeth unto life,  and  few there be that  find it.’ (MATTHEW  7:13-14)

 If Jesus  did  advocate what  I wrote  in the  front  of my Bible, the view that he came to ‘get it together for us,’ it is odd  that  he  should place  such  heavy  emphasis, as Islam  does,  on the  fateful  consequences of the  choices we make as individuals as we travel  the road  of our  life. It is these  choices, he assures us, which  will determine our salvation. It is simply not possible for any intelligent person to misinterpret his meaning here. After  we  read  these  words, a  question appears. What, specifically, is ‘narrow’ about the act of accepting Jesus Christ  as one’s personal savior? Isn’t  the  act  of accepting Jesus  Christ  as  savior  a comparatively  simple,   straightforward  decision, one that  has been  engaged in by hundreds upon hundreds of  millions of  people down the  centuries? What  is difficult or rare about that choice? Why  does  Jesus  agree  with  the  doctrines of Islam by telling  us  that  the  path  to destruction is wide  and easy to travel, but the path to salvation is much more challenging? Once Jesus has ‘gotten it together’ for us, and   we   have   accepted  him   as   our   savior,   is  the
 traveling  of  this   narrow  path   he  speaks  of  still  a requirement for salvation? If so, doesn’t that mean the mechanics of salvation may  be different than  we might  at first have  believed, that it may have more  than  one moving part? If not, why does Jesus mention this path at all?

 ‘When the  unclean spirit is gone  out of a man, he  walketh through dry  places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into  my  house from  whence I came  out;  and when he  is come,  he  findeth it empty, swept, and  garnished.  Then  goeth  he,  and  taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than  himself, and  they  enter  in  and  dwell there:  and  the  last  state  of that  man  is worse than the first.’ (MATTHEW  12:43-45)

 If Jesus  did  embrace the  view  that  he  came  to ‘get  it together for us,’ it is hard to understand why he is so keen  for us to grasp, as Islam  is keen  for us to grasp, the  vital  importance  of  our  maintaining a  constant guard  against negative forces.  These,  it  is  clear,  are forces  that  may  rush  into  the  mind and  soul  of even someone who has sincerely repented and believed.Once  Jesus  has  ‘gotten  it together for us,’  and  we have  accepted him  as  our  savior,  we  are,  apparently, still subject  to being  defiled by these  forces—in  a way that  leaves  our  last state  worst  than  our  first, and  our very souls in grave  peril.If our  ‘last  state’  is worse  than  our  ‘first,’  we  are clearly headed for Hell. Doesn’t that  mean  that  the  mechanics of salvation may  be different than  we might  at first have  believed, and may have more  than  one moving part? If salvation has  only  one  moving part,  why does Jesus mention this danger at all?

‘Not  everyone who  says  to  me,  ‘Lord,  Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven_only the one   who    does    the   will    of   my   Father  in heaven.’ (MATTHEW  7:21)
This  is  an  odd  teaching indeed for  a  religion built around  the  principle  of  acknowledging  that  Jesus Christ  is Lord. If Jesus  did  embrace the  view  that  his role  was  to ‘get it together for us,’ it is hard to see why  he would tell  us,  in  the  plainest possible  words, that  simply appealing to him  as lord  is, on its own,  not enough to win  us  salvation. And   exactly  how   different is  this kind of appeal, which Jesus clearly regards as insufficient,  from  the  act  of  proclaiming him  one’s personal savior? Once  Jesus  has  gotten it  together for  us,  and  we have accepted him as our savior, is his command to perform the will of God in order to attain salvation still binding upon us?If we  fail to do the  will of his Father  in heaven, is our salvation imperiled?If it is, doesn’t that mean that the mechanics of salvation may be different than we might at first have believed, and have more  than  one moving part?If it isn’t, why does Jesus mention this requirement, and not mention, at a time when it would be perfectly appropriate to do  so, his  own  soul-saving role  as the only begotten Son of God? Why does he choose instead to emphasize so very strongly the necessity of obeying the will of Almighty God?

 The central  reality  of Christianity, we  are  told,  is that Jesus Christ died to redeem humanity, thereby giving those  who  believe  in  him  a  fresh  start  with  the  Al- mighty.

Suppose we  were  to  ask:  Why  should we  need  a fresh  start  in  the  first  place?  C.S. Lewis,  and  a great many  who  agree  with  him,  would offer  this  answer: ‘Humanity has fallen from grace and is, as a result, inherently sinful.   The  only  thing   that  can  reverse such a fall is the blood  of Jesus Christ.’ If they are right,  then  we have  found the answer to the all-important question of eternal salvation. If they are right, we have encountered a momentous and important piece of information, certainly a piece of information that should be of interest to every human being on earth. If they  are right,  we have  a responsibility to try to share  this information, this Good News, with every member of the human family. Before  we  accept  such  a  responsibility, however, we  have  the  right,  and  the  duty, to ask  the  question that  is somehow always neglected:  Do the words that the Gospels attribute to Jesus support this theory?
‘Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art  in the  way  with him;  lest  at any  time the  ad-versary deliver thee  to  the  judge, and the  judge de-liver thee  to the officer, and  thou be  cast  into  prison. Verily I  say  unto thee, Thou shalt by  no  means come  out  thence, till thou   hast    paid   the    ut-termost   farthing.’(MATTHEW  5:25-26)

Can  this parable of Jesus, so rarely  taught or analyzed in church congregations, be understood as anything other  than  a parable of salvation and damnation? Can ‘prison’ represent anything other  than  Hell? Can the ‘judge’ represent anyone other  than  God? Can  the  ‘adversary’ who  may  hand us over  to the judge  ‘at any moment’ be anything other  than  our own inevitable death? Is  it  really   the  blood   of  the  crucified Jesus  that saves us while  we are on our way to court? Or  J is  what   saves  us  our  own choice to come to terms with the adversary? In   this   parable  of  Jesus,   salvation  lies   in   our decision  to   acknowledge  the   reality   of   our   own impending death, our willingness to ‘settle’ our case before  the  judge  renders a  binding decision that  we know   we  will  not  enjoy.  What  saves  us  is  our  own eagerness to  ‘pay  up’  by  repenting and  doing good deeds in  this  life,  thus  avoiding punishment in  the next. What  saves  us is our own  conclusion that  we had better  accept  the  ‘terms’ we  are  being  offered,  submit to  the  hard facts  of the  situation, and  strike  the  best deal we can before we get to ‘court’.

 This  pragmatic submission to  the  Reality  of  the situation we  all face  is, as it turns out, the guiding theological principle of Islam. And it is, to the careful reader of  Q,  Jesus’  guiding theological principle, as well.We have  a right,  and  a duty, to ask: Where,  within this  parable, are  we  told  of the  atoning action  of the blood  of the Son of God?We have  a right,  and  a duty, to ask: If Jesus shared a  parable of  salvation with  us,  and  left  out  the  part about his  own  sacrifice  for  mankind, is the  problem with  Jesus J or is the  problem with  our  theory of his sacrifice for mankind?
We   cannot  seriously  maintain  that   it   is  simple ‘coincidence’  that  Jesus  fails  to  mention the  atoning action  of the  blood  of the  Son of God  in any  of these sayings. Nor  can  we  regard as ‘coincidence’  the  stark  and disorienting fact that not a single word promoting the theology of redemption in Christ’s sacrifice appears in any of the most ancient Gospel  verses. Instead, in  Q, we  hear  Jesus  rebuking Satan  when Satan tests him by referring to him as God’s son. In Q, we hear  Jesus forecasting the doom of people who  listen  to his instructions for living  and  fail to take action  on  them.  If he  meant to  forecast  the  doom of those  who  fail  to  accept  his  sacrifice  for  mankind, surely  he would have done  so! In Q, we hear Jesus refer to himself as the Son of Adam—not at all the same thing as being the only begotten Son of God. These facts cannot be accidents. They cannot be coincidences. They cannot be happen stance. The early evidence is quite clear. Notions of Jesus’ sacrifice and his  ransom for  all mankind of a human being who was God Incarnate simply were not part of the earliest Gospel. These concepts were added later, long after the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry.

If  we  read  the  earliest  Gospel  verses  with  both  a functioning heart and a functioning mind, we cannot honestly say to ourselves that  Jesus really  saw his own mission as that of ‘getting it together for us.’ We must instead conclude that he was much more interested in finding ways to get us to guard against evil—to get us to choose to turn over and over again to God—to get us to commit ourselves to discerning and submitting to God’s will—to get us to listen to our own soul’s advice—to get us to purify ourselves under the guidance of  Almighty God—to  get  us  to  repent our sins before we are brought before the Judge.

‘Without Jesus’ sacrificial death,’ a contemporary American pastor preached recently, ‘there would be no Christianity.’His  words echo  the  sentiments of C.S. Lewis  and the vast majority of Christian clergy and theologians. If Chadwell and  all the  rest  of these  people are  correct, then   the  clear  Gospel   instructions for  salvation that you have  read  in this chapter—instructions have  noth- ing whatsoever to do with Jesus’ sacrificial death— presumably belong  to some  other  faith.  If the  experts insist  that  these  teachings have  no place  in Christian- ity, then  they  may  be sure  that  these  teachings are en- tirely in keeping with  Islam. If we are true Christians, we must accept as authoritative   what    Jesus    actually   taught   about salvation.And  if  we  are  truly  interested  in  what  Jesus actually  taught  on  this  subject,  we  cannot  escape noticing that  his  message is a  great  deal  like—is,  in fact, identical to—what Islam teaches.

Eventually I found it necessary to immerse myself ina faith community. I joined, and became active in the local Protestant denomination, a Congregational Church.

 I led Sunday School classes for children, and briefly taught a Gospel class on the Parables for the adults. In the Sunday School classes for the kids, I stayed right with the curriculum I had been given; but in the adult class, I tried to challenge the participants to confront certain parables directly, without filtering everything through the Apostle Paul. We had interesting discussions, but I sensed some resistance, and I didn’t try to teach an adult class again. My wife eventually joined my church.(She is a member there today.)


What  about Paul?

‘For  all  have  sinned,  and  come  short of  the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’—THE APOSTLE PAUL (ROMANS 4:23-24)

‘Giving  thanks unto the Father,  which  hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of  the saints in  light, who  hath  delivered us from  the power   of  darkness, and  hath trans* lated us into the kingdom of his dear Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.’—THE APOSTLE PAUL (COLOSSIANS 1:12-14)

 WHEN  I  DISCUSS  Jesus  with  mainstream  Christians, some  questions tend  to come  up  again  and  again.  The most   common questions  sound  something  like  this:

‘What about St. Paul? What about all the other great Christian thinkers and theologians and scholars who have labored down the centuries and developed great systems of thought and great systems of philosophy around  accepted  Christian  theology?  Doesn’t  their work revolve around the idea of Jesus being the only begotten Son  of  God  and  the  sacrifice  for  mankind? Aren’t you ignoring them?’Not  at  all.  It  is  quite  impossible to ignore  Paul, because he is a gifted rhetorician and a theologian of extraordinary and enduring influence. It is equally impossible,  however,  for  a  thoughtful  Christian  to obey Paul if Paul is at odds  with  Jesus. Mainstream  Christianity, following Paul,  does  in fact tell us that  there  is a Natural Law (also known as a Moral  Law)—an  inherent law of wrong and  right  that the vast majority of human beings can perceive plainly, and  that  they want,  deep  down, to follow. Mainstream Christianity tells us that there is a Law reflecting the Divine,  a Law  that  humans cannot possibly expect  to obey  properly without the  sacrifice  of  the  Lamb  of God.  It  is  because  we  are  sinful,  because  we  cannot expect  to fulfill the demands upon us, we are told, that we  come  short  of  the  glory  of  God.  This  is  Paul’s position,   and   the   position   at   which   mainstream Christian theology begins. Yet  even   though  we   understand  what   Paul   is saying,  we must  also understand what  Jesus is saying.

Jesus  has,  as  we  have  seen  in  Chapter Three,  a much deeper and richer conception of human moral perception   than    Paul    and    the    other    Christian theologians do. Jesus explicitly rejects, as we have seen in Chapter Five,  his  own  claims  on  divinity.  He  is  clearly  a prophet (that  is,  a  messenger from  God);  he  is  not himself  God, and he says so.Jesus  maintains, as  we  have  seen  in  Chapter Six, that  complete submission to  the  will  of  God,  before death overtakes us and we are held accountable for our sins, is the criterion for salvation.And  we  may  rest  assured that  whether we  are ready now or not to admit this fact to ourselves, or dis- cuss it with  others, we will ultimately be held account- able for what  we know,  and  what  we choose  to ignore, about the teachings of Jesus.

So let us suppose that  Paul  tells us—just  as C.S. Lewis and  a thousand other  great  Christian thinkers tell us— that  you and  I can never,  no matter how  hard we may try,  live  up  to  the  demands of the  Natural Law  that God has placed within our hearts.Let  us  suppose that   Paul  and   a  thousand other great  thinkers tell us  that  God  Himself became  a hu-

 man  being  in order to make  it possible for us to have those  demands met on our behalf. Even  if Paul  and  a thousand other  great  thinkers warn us  that  we  are  lost  if we  do  not  conform our minds to their notions of salvation J Even  if Paul  and  the  others insist  on all of this, weare bound to listen to Jesus.
Jesus overrules Paul, and there simply cannot be any dispute on this point  J except  from people who  reject Jesus.  This  fact  has  been  systematically  ignored— and/or   purposefully   obscured—for   two   thousand years.  So I hope  you  will  forgive  me  for  repeating it here.What  Paul  and  the  others say  to  us  is intriguing and  (potentially) very  important. However, if we  do not grant Jesus Christ the final word on matters of ul- timate importance, we must  take a moment to ask our- selves  exactly  what  kind  of Christians we  are.  Do we follow men? Or do we follow Christ?

It  is  imperative that  we  make  a  conscious effort  to compare the  world view  that  Jesus  presents with  the world view  that  Paul  and  the  others present. We can- not  assume that   the  two  world views   are  identical simply because we have been raised to believe they are identical. In fact, they are not identical.The  mere  fact  that  our  fathers, mothers, grand- mothers, and  grandfathers (and  anyone else who came before  them)  believed something to be the  case  does not make  it so. Jesus and  Paul  do in fact offer very dif- ferent  world views,  even  if our  parents and  grandpar- ents did not notice this.And if the world view of Paul is in conflict with the world view  of Jesus J then  Jesus must  be granted pri- ority, whether or not that priority is popular.

‘(Jesus)  said  to  him,  ‘What  is  written in  the Law? How  do you  read  it?’ And  he answering said,  ‘You shall love  the  Lord  your  God  with all  your   heart, and   with all  your   soul,   and with all your  strength, and  with all your  mind; and  your  neighbor as yourself.’ And  he said  to him,  ‘You  have  answered correctly:  do  this, and  you shall live.’ (LUKE 10:26-28)

Imagine Paul  to be correct.  Suppose the  love  of God, love so strong that  it amounts to complete submission, is not  enough to secure  salvation. Suppose there  were another requirement for spiritual success  than  the one mentioned in the Gospel  passage above.Imagine that  salvation did demand ‘the  redemp- tion  that  is in  Christ Jesus’  (ROMANS  4:24), ‘redemp- tion through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.’ (COLOSSIANS 1:14)Imagine salvation did require God Himself to take human form  and  shed  His  blood  in  order to  forgive our sins and make  eternal life possible for us.Why in the world would Jesus, when answering his questioner in the passage above, fail to mention this fact?Jesus  makes   it  abundantly clear:  the  young man has answered correctly!If the  young man  had  not answered correctly, andhad  left out  the  part  about the  blood  and  the  sacrifice and  God taking human form J would Jesus have said,‘You have  answered correctly: do  this  and  you  shalllive’?

So. What about Paul?The  problem is  not,  cannot be,  that  Jesus  is  not listening closely enough to Paul.The problem must  therefore be that  Paul  is not lis-tening closely enough to Jesus.

The more research I put into the subject of the early history of the Gospels, the more I found myself thinking of that conversation about the Gospelof John with my priest. I realized that what he had been unwilling or unable to tell me was thatthe author(s) of the Gospel of John had been lying. This was manifestly not an eyewitness account, though it claimed to be.
I was in a strange situation. I was certainly enjoying the fellowship  of the Christians at my church, who were all committed and prayerful people.Being part of a religious community was important to me. Yet I had deep intellectual misgivingsabout the supposed historicity of the Gospel narratives.What’s more, I was, more and more undeniably, getting a starkly different message from the Gospel sayings of Jesus than that which my fellow Christians were apparently getting.

There came a point at which I was fascinated by the apparent intersection of the Christian mystic tradition and that of the Sufis and the Zen Buddhists. And I had even written on such matters. But there seemed to be noone at my church who shared my zeal for these issues.

In particular, I was interested in the research being done that indicated that the oldest strata of the Gospels reflected an extremely early source known as Q, and that each of the individual sayings of Jesus within it needed to be evaluated on its own merits, and not as part of the narrative material that surrounded it. The narrative material, I learned— material accounted for, among other things, the crucifixion narratives that form the core of conventional Christian theology—was in fact added many years later. I started focusing much more closely on these verses, and using them as a criterion by which to evaluate those parts of the New Testament that had for years seemed cold and foreign to me.


‘My Lord! Relieve my mind, and make my task easy for me, and untie my tongue, that they may under- stand what I say.’ (QUR’AN 20:25-28)

 ‘YOU  HAVE  NOT,’ IT  MAY  BE  OBJECTED, ‘given us the context  of all these sayings. You have only quoted very short passages of scripture. You are deliberately omit- ting key portions of the Gospel message in order to mislead people.’ This is another common reaction from Christians to the points I have raised here.In fact, it may be the most common justification for turning  away  from  the  approach  discussed  in  this book. The argument is that  one Gospel  verse  is simply not  complete without connection to,  or  comparison with,  another Gospel  verse.
It  is  extremely  important  for  us  to  understand, then, that this argument arises from a deeply flawed understanding of the way the Gospels were written.

The  best  (non-Muslim!)  Biblical scholars in the  world now agree: Before there was a story of Jesus, there were Gospels. The  best  (non-Muslim!)  Biblical  scholars  in  the world now  agree  that  the  individual Gospel  sayings I am citing here must stand, and be interpreted, independently.The original sayings of Jesus were  not ‘hard-wired’ to other  verses,  as we may  have  been taught, and  they are  certainly not  ‘hard-wired’  to the  later  writings of the Apostle Paul.

It is not necessary for you to take my word on the matter to resolve this extremely important issue for yourself. We are  talking about a central  finding of modern New  Testament  research.  We  are  talking  about  a finding that is quite clear for anyone willing to take a moment appeal  to  the  scholarship J and  not  even recent scholarship, but the scholarship of six or seven decades ago.  We  are  talking, at  this  point,  not  about whether Islam agrees with Christianity, but about the objective facts of contemporary textual analysis of the Gospels. Here is the proof.

•   ‘It is one of the points made by recent  criticism that  the characteristic method of Gospel  compi- lation  was  just  this  artless  collocation of origi- nally  independent units,  and  that  the  more  ef- fort after continuity there  is, the more advanced is the stage of development from the original tradition.’—’A New Gospel,’ C.H. Dodd, Bulle- tin  of the John Rylands Library (1936), reprinted in New Testament Studies, (Scribners, New  York,1956), p. 12-52.

The more comprehensible the narrative is—the further removed the  Gospel  passage in question is from the original tradition, from the ‘originally independent’ units.  The more  artful  the narrative is, the less authentic a given  account is likely to be.So if someone insists that we must ‘interpret’ (for instance) Jesus’ description of the requirements of salvation  in   Matthew  5:25-26   by   first   reminding ourselves that such a verse cannot be ‘understood properly’ without recourse to some other  Gospel  verse or story J

J that  person is_from  the  viewpoint of modern scholarship_simply mistaken. Actually, we must begin by asking ourselves what such a passage means when viewed as a single unit. We cannot assume that  it was  originally composed as part of some larger  narrative whole.  It was not.
To make  this  point  in  public  is to  be  considered, in some quarters, a ‘bad Christian’. Yet  is  it  really   ‘good  Christianity’  to  ignore   the painstaking Biblical scholarship of the past century? Surely  one  does  not  become  a  ‘better’  Christian by obediently closing  one’s eyes to facts when ordered to do so.We now  know  that  we draw closer to the historical Jesus when we evaluate ancient Gospel sayings independently,   without   the   benefit   of   narrative continuity J because that  is how  they  were  originally collected. Rather  than  pretend this important fact does not exist, we must use this fact to gain a greater understanding of the original Gospel  message.
Whether it is popular for us to say so or not,  whether our  priest  or  pastor wants to admit it in  front  of the congregation  or   not,   whether   raising  the   fact   is convenient to  our  loved  ones  or  not,  the  very  first Gospels were  collections of Jesus’ sayings. They  were not stories. These  early  Gospels  largely  avoided  storytelling. They simply reported what  Jesus said at various points during his ministry. Early believers remembered individual  sayings of  or  brief  exchanges with  Jesus, and  shared them  with  each other  in conversation, then memorized   them.   This   oral   tradition   eventually became  a written tradition. As thoughtful Christians, we should, of course, be interested in what  Jesus actually said.  I hope  you  will agree  that  if someone claims  to be a Christian, but  is not interested in what Jesus said, that is a very strange variety of Christianity indeed! And  so  we  should be  interested in  determining which sayings were in fact contained in those earliest Gospels.

The creation of the later Gospels—including Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—was not, as we may have been taught, a matter of someone ‘starting from scratch’ or writing under the  spontaneous ‘inspiration’ of God. Rather,  these  traditional Gospels came  about through the careful  drawing together and amplifying of various existing    traditions.   The    individual   sayings   were  gathered into  discourses, and,  eventually, surrounded by narrative material—by a story. This means that, when we consider the authenticity of the  various Gospel  sayings in Q, the  smallest possible unit   of  the   text   is  often   the   most   important.  The ‘explanatory’  or  ‘story’  material that  may  surround that  small  unit  of  text,  when  it  shows  up  in  the traditional Gospels we have today, is, by definition, somewhat suspicious. Why? Because all the narrative material within the Gospels is, by definition, of later origin  than  the brief sayings that  were  memorized and transmitted orally by the first believers.

Even  if it is difficult to do,  we  must  learn  to look past the ‘story’ of the Gospels, and focus intently on the individual   sayings   themselves,   if    we    wish    to understand Jesus’ actual  mission. We have, however, been taught by religious authorities for most of our lives to accept the narrative material  that  surrounds  a  Gospel  saying  as undisputable truth, or even as historical reality. If a certain  passage says  that  Jesus  said  such  and  such  in order to explain thus and so, then that (we have been taught) is how  it  must  have  taken  place.  But  if God gave   us  the   Gospels,  as  He  did,   He  also  gave   us minds—and we  should hold  as  self-evident that  He wants us to use both of them.
Once  we  look  past  the  narratives,  we  may  focus directly on what  remains of the memorized versions of the  early  individual sayings of Jesus.  Refusing to  do this is not a sign of faith, but rather a sign of obedience, and the two are not identical. Fortunately, the earliest versions of these sayings appear to  have  been  preserved  for  us  in  Q.  How accurately they  have  been  preserved, we  will  never know.  But  they  are  there.  And  they  are  earlier  than what  surrounds them.That is why I have only quoted very short Gospel passages in  this  book,  and  avoided cross-referencing them  to other  Gospel  passages.
At this point,  I often hear  the following: ‘What you say about the  scholarship and  the  textual development of the  Gospels seems  interesting. But  still  somehow, I cannot escape  the  feeling  that  the  texts  in  questions have been man handled.’ And  this is true.  They do appear to have  been man- handled. But it is not modern scholars who  have  been doing the manhandling.

 To  explain what  I  mean,  I  must  give  you some background information J and  apologize in advance to you. I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity in my life to study the world’s religions fairly  closely.  Some  historical patterns in  the development of religious culture are impossible to ignore,  and I am about to share  a few of them  with  you now—but I want  to say ahead of my time that  it is not my  intention to  denigrate anyone’s  faith  or  to  attack any  person’s  conception of God.  My intent is only  to call attention to the  simple  facts  of history, facts  that may  be  confirmed  by  consulting  any  good encyclopedia or responsible textbook on comparative religion. If we  study these  facts,  we  may  be  able  to come   to   some   conclusions   about   how   the   real manhandling of the message of Jesus took place. Consider that J 

•   Many faith movements from before Christianity promoted the idea  that  the suffering and  death of someone else makes  salvation possible.•  Long before Jesus, the god Attis, in Phrygia (contemporary  Turkey)  was  regarded  as  the only  begotten son  of  God  and  the  savior  of mankind. On March 24th of each year, he supposedly bled  to death at the  foot  of a pine tree. His blood  was believed to bring  forth  new life from  the  earth.  Each spring,  his worshippers celebrated his triumphant  rising from the dead.•   Long before Jesus, the god Abonis of Syria was regarded  by  his  followers  as  having  died  to attain redemption for all mankind. Each spring, his worshippers celebrated his triumphant  rising  from the dead.•   Long  before  Jesus,  followers of  the  Egyptian god Osiris celebrated, each spring, his triumphant rising  from  the  dead.  They also celebrated his birthday—on December 29th.•   Long before  Jesus, the Greek  demigod Dionysius was regarded as the son of Zeus. His followers celebrated his triumphant  rising from the dead at the   spring   equinox.   His   Roman   incarnation, Bacchus, had a familiar birthday: December 25th.•   Long  before  Jesus,  followers  of  Mithra,  the Persian sun-god, celebrated his birthday on December 25th. Their religious rituals included a Eucharistic supper at which believers participated in Mithra’s divine nature by means of a holy meal of bread and wine.
C.S. Lewis  makes  (understandably) brief reference to these  traditions in Mere Christianity.  He  does  so as part  of a sweeping historical survey of human religious experience. Rather  than  offer  his readers the  specificsof these faith systems—specifics that I have just shared with you—Lewis tells us that these movements were precursor faiths  to  Christianity:  rough drafts, if  you will,  of  humanity’s  eventual attempt to  bring  itself closer to the (as-yet-unborn) Jesus Christ.This is either supreme intellectual laziness or deliberate  deception.  And  Lewis’s  was  not  a  lazy mind.So   let   us   acknowledge  the   facts.   The   paganconstituencies played a major role not only in the development of the Gospels, but also in the later theological doctrines, rituals, and sensibilities of the Christian   Church.   These   influences   betrayed   the original message of Jesus. The influences of those pagan groups, fortunately, appear  to  be  entirely  absent  from  the  early  Gospel passages we  find in Q.  And  that  is why  I pay  such close   attention   to   them,   and   to   the   rigorously monotheistic  pattern  of  worship  they  outline—and why I believe  you should, too.
We  have  been  looking at  the  ‘context’  supplied by human religious history before Jesus. Religious history after Jesus’ ministry, however, is just as revealing. This, too, is a source  of ‘context’. Of particular importance is this fact:
The   doctrine  of   the   Trinity   was   formally imposed upon Christianity over three  centuries after the birth of Jesus, by the Roman Emperor Constantine.
At the Council of Nicea in 325 came the first formal approval  of  the  doctrine  that  God  was  ‘triune’  in nature, a move that paved the way for the ruthless persecution of those who rejected this doctrine. The Council  was  summoned by  the  Emperor, and  not  by any religious figure  within the Christian community, a fact that sheds  some insight on the political importance of this event. Constantine did not invent the Trinity, but he had some  distinctly earthbound reasons for  backing the three-in-one formulation, chief  among them  unity  in his kingdom. As one resource puts  it:
 ‘As it exists today the doctrine (of the Trinity) developed  over  the  centuries  as  a  result  of many  controversies J These controversies were for  most  purposes settled at  the  Ecumenical Councils, whose creeds  affirm  the  doctrine of the Trinity.  Constantine the Great,  (who  called) the  first  council  in  325  AD,  arguably  had political motives for  settling the  issue,  rather than  religious reasons.’[Source: Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org)]

 Those   groups who dared to disagree  with the emperor’s  formulation were  quickly  labeled heretics and, eventually, exiled or eradicated.
What kind  of man  was this Constantine, this ruler  who played such a fateful  role in the global development of Christianity?  I am  afraid  the  image  he  presents in history is not  a particularly flattering one J if we are willing to look beyond the careful euphemisms of his traditional biographers. Constantine was a genocidal tyrant who used violence  on the  large  and small scale  to pursue his (sometimes mysterious) objectives.  He  murdered his own  son and  wife for reasons no one has been  able to piece together; he slaughtered literally thousands of political   opponents;   he    was   known   to   be   an enthusiastic fire worshipper. And  he was baptized as a Christian only on his deathbed. And yet, regardless of how deeply his own personal commitment to the faith went (or didn’t), this ruthless, pragmatic, and possibly sociopathic head  of state  was,  after  Christ  himself  and the Apostle Paul, probably the most  influential man  in the history of the faith.This fact is worthy of close consideration by every follower of Jesus.

The  case  can  be  made, in  fact,  that  Constantine outranks both Jesus and Paul in influence. It is Constantine’s  Nicene   formulation of  the  Trinity  that has governed, in a determining way, most Christian theology for the past seventeen centuries. Many people today act as though this  historical reality  is as natural an outgrowth of the mission of Jesus as the rain falling and the grass growing. It is not.Anyone  who  maintains  that  the  Gospels  them- selves support Constantine’s brand of orthodoxy must confront an awkward question: How  are we to account for the fact that no one preached the Nicene formulation before the time of Constantine?No  responsible historian of  Christianity disputes the  stark  and  enduring changes in Christian theology that took place in the centuries following Jesus.These changes did  not spring from thin air. Rather,they culminated in Constantine’s council.  They carried distinct  political  benefits  for  the  Emperor‘s  regime. And   they   are   simply  impossible   for   a   modern, thoughtful Christian to come to terms with without accepting at least the possibility of apostasy—that is, formal  betrayal of the theology Jesus himself  followed, the  theology of  total  submission to  the  One  Creator God.

The remarkable thing is that so much of that original theology is still evident in the earliest Gospel verses. Look at the teachings we find  in Q ... and  ask yourself how closely they match  the ‘context’ of Constantine. In Q, Jesus warns us to fear only the judgment of a single God:

 ‘And I say unto you  my friends, Be not  afraid of them that  kill  the  body, and  after  that  have no more  that  they  can do. But I will  forewarn you  whom ye shall fear: Fear him,  which after he  hath killed hath power to  cast  into  hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.’ (LUKE 12:4-5)

 This is identical to the  Islamic  principle known asTaqwa. Compare:
‘To Him  belongs all that  is in the  heavens and the  earth.   God’s  retribution is  severe.  Should you then have fear of anyone other than God?’ (QUR’AN 16:52)

 In  Q,  Jesus warns humanity plainly that earthly advantages and pleasures should not be the goal of our lives:
‘But woe unto you that  are rich! for ye have  re- ceived your   consolation. Woe  unto you  that are  full!  for  ye  shall hunger. Woe  unto you that  laugh now! for ye shall mourn and  weep.’ (LUKE 6:24-5)

 This  is identical to Islam’s  warning that  we  must not be fooled by the allures of Dunya, or earthly life. Compare:

 ‘The  desire  to  have  increase of worldly gains has preoccupied you so much (that you have neglected the obligation of remembering God)— until you come to your graves! You shall know. You  shall  certainly  know  (about  the  conse- quences of your  deeds). You will certainly have the knowledge of your  deeds beyond all doubt. You will be shown hell, and you will see it with your own eyes. Then, on that day, you shall be questioned   about   the   bounties   (of   God).’ (QUR’AN 102:1-8)

Perhaps just as revealing, Q teaches nothing whatsoever  of  the  Crucifixion,  or  of  the  sacrificial nature of the mission of Jesus ... an intriguing omissionindeAendd!consider the following chilling  words:

 ‘And  I  say  unto you,  that   many shall come from   the  east  and   west,   and   shall sit  downwith  Abraham and   Isaac   and   Jacob   in   the kingdom of  heaven. But  those who  believe they  own  the  kingdom of heaven shall be cast out  into  the  outer darkness. There shall be weeping and   gnashing of  teeth.’  (MATTHEW8:11-12)

There  is context  J and  there  is betrayal. Each  of us must  decide for ourselves which  is which.Those of us who are unwilling to accept the pagan remnants of Constantine as the permanent foundation of our  religious faith  may,  as our  detractors claim, not be ‘real Christians’.Then again  J one never  knows. We may be.
The more I looked at the Q sayings, the more impossible it became for me to reconcile the notionof the Trinity with that which seemed most authentic to me in the Gospels. I found myself face-to-face with some very difficult questions:

•   Where in the Gospels did Jesus use the word‘Trinity’?•   If Jesus was God, as the doctrine of the Trinity claims, why did he worship God?•   If Jesus was God, as the doctrine of the Trinity claims, to whom was he praying, and why?

 The more I tried to ignore these questions, the more they haunted me.
 In November of 2002,I began to read a translation of the Qur’an. I had never read an English translation of the entire text of the Qur’an before. I had only read summaries of the Qur’an written by non-Muslims.(And very misleading summaries at that.)
 Words do not adequately describe the extraordinary effect that this book had on me. Suffice to say that the very same magnetism that had drawn me to the Gospels at the age of eleven was present in a new and deeply imperative form. This book was telling me, just as I could tell Jesus had been telling me, about matters of ultimate concern.
The Qur’an was offering authoritative guidance and compelling responses to the questions I had been asking for years about the Gospels.

 The Qur’an drew me to its message because it powerfully and relentlessly confirmedthe sayings of Jesus that I felt in my heart had to be authentic. I knew as a fact that somethinghad been changed in the Gospels.I knew too that that something had been left intact in the text of the Qur’an.


‘There is no god but  God’

‘To Him  belongs all that  is in the  heavens and the  earth.   God’s  retribution is  severe.  Should you then have fear of anyone other than God?’ (QUR’AN 16:52)

A MUSLIM  IS, literally, one  who  submits to the  will of the One God.

 Today,  a Muslim is someone who  is willing  to say, of his or her own  free will, ‘I believe  that  there  is no god but  God,  and  that  Muhammad (PBUH) is  the  messenger of God.’Adherents of  Islam  do  not  view  Muhammad (PB UH), or any other  prophet, as divine. They believe  Jesus was aprophet  of  God,   not   God   incarnate.  They   believe Muhammad (PBUH) was a prophet of God, not God incarnate. They do, however, view the Qur’an, the text that was revealed to Muhammad (PBUH), as divine in nature.This  may  seem  at first  to be a difficult claim.  Yet you should know  that, if you agree  with  Jesus when he tells  us  that  God  knows everything that  is  in  every human heart,  and  is aware of everything we  think  or plan  or do J 

‘For there is nothing covered, that  shall not be revealed;   neither   hid,   that   shall   not   be known.’ (LUKE 12:2)

 C then you already agree with the Qur’an.

 If you  agree  with  Jesus  when he  tells  us  humans will  be  held  accountable after  death for  their  deeds, and  that  those  whose  evil  deeds are  heavy  in  the balance  will  meet  a  fate  very  different than  of  the righteous J
‘A  good  tree  cannot  bring  forth  evil  fruit, neither can  a  corrupt tree  bring forth good fruit. Every  tree  that  bringeth not  forth good fruit is  hewn down, and  cast  into  the  fire.’ (MATTHEW  7:18-19)

 C then you already agree  with  the Qur’an.
If  you  agree  with  Jesus  when he  rejects  Satan’s attempt to call him  ‘Son of God’ and  forcefully insists that ‘there is no god but God’ J

 ‘And  Jesus  answered and  said  unto him,  Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God,  and  him  only shalt thou serve.’ (LUKE 4:8)

 J then you already agree  with  the Qur’an.
These are the basic principles of Islam. If you still believe that Jesus’ mission is incompatible with Islam, then  you  may  want  to consider reading the Qur’an J to  determine for  yourself whether or  not  it  conflicts with  the teachings of Jesus.Muslims have no difficulty whatsoever celebrating Jesus  as  a great  Prophet;  his  insistence on  the  points you just read  are, we believe,  not footnotes to a sacrifi- cial rite,  but  the  main  thrust of the  true  faith.  Look at them  again.We can hide nothing from God.We  will  be  judged  on  our  thoughts, words, and deeds in  the  life  to  come,  and  there  will  be  conse- quences for our choices in this life.We are obliged to worship God Alone.

 Do you believe  that there  is no god but God? Most  Christians I  talk  to  will  intuitively answer ‘yes’—because  it  is  very  difficult indeed  to  imagine Jesus giving  any other  answer. There remains only the question of whether you believe   Muhammad (PB UH), like   Jesus,   to   have   been   a messenger of God. Jesus told us: ‘By their fruits shall you know them.’ The ‘fruit’ of Muhammad (PB UH)’s mission was  and  is  the Qur’an.  I have  been  telling  you,  in  this  book,  about some of the many areas where the Qur’an matches up seamlessly with the historical mission of Jesus. But it would be a mistake to take  my  word, or the  word of any human being, on a matter of this importance. A great reformer once said: ‘We all have to do our own believing, because we will all have to do our own dying.’  For  my  part,  I  became  a  Muslim  because  I knew  I had  to do my own  believing, not anyone else’s. I became  a Muslim because Jesus  insisted that  it was not enough merely to say ‘Lord, Lord,’ but far more important to do as he instructed. Do    as    he    instructs.   Evaluate   the    fruits    of Muhammad (PB UH)’s  mission for  yourself. Read  the  Qur’an. And make  your  own decision.


Q and  the Qur’an(Textual  Note)

 MANY  MODERN   SCHOLARS  believe  that  what  matches up  between the  Gospels of Matthew and  Luke  (once the earlier  Gospel  of Mark’s influence is removed) is so frequently in  agreement that  it  suggests a  common source. This hypothetical common source,  designated Q, is believed to be even  older  than  the Gospel  of Mark,  on which Matthew and Luke also clearly rely. The final version of  Gospel  of  John  dates  from  approximately100 years after the birth of Jesus, and has no connection to Q.The remnants of this early Gospel, imperfectly re- constructed by extracting parallel passages from Mat- thew and Luke, provide our best perspective on the ministry of the historical Jesus.

 The following excerpt is, I think, a responsible overview of modern Q scholarship. It is reproduced by permission.

THE SAYINGS GOSPEL Q(Q) comprises a hypothetical collection of Jesus’ sayings, hypothesized in accordance with the two-source hypothesis to be a source of  the Gospels of  Matthew and Luke. The symbol Q comes from the first letter of the German word for source, Quelle. The two-source hypothesis forms the most widely accepted solution to the synoptic problem, which posits that Matthew and Luke drew on two written  sources, as shown by textual correspondences between their works. The Gospel of Mark forms one source, and Q the other. The existence of Q follows from the argument that Matthew and Luke show independence in the double tradition (the material that Matthew and Luke shared that does not appear in Mark). Accordingly, the literary connection in the double tradition is explained by an indirect relationship, namely, through use of a common source or sources. Arguments for Luke’s and Matthew’s independence include: Matthew and Luke have different contexts for the double tradition material. It is argued that it is easier to explain Luke’s  ‘artistically  inferior’  arrangement  of  the  double tradition  into more primitive contexts within his Gospel as due to not knowing Matthew.The form of the material sometimes appears more primitive in Matthew but at other times more primitive in Luke. Independence is likely in light of  the non-use of the other’s non-Markan tradition, especially in the infancy, genealogical, and resurrection accounts. Doublets. Sometimes it appears that doublets in Matthew  and Luke have one half that  comes from Mark and the other half from some common source, i.e., Q. Even if  Matthew and Luke are independent, the Q hypothesis states that they used a common document. Arguments for Q being a written document include: Exactness in Wording. Sometimes the exactness in wording is striking. For example: Matt. 6:24 = Luke 16:13 (27/28 Greek words). Matt.  7:7-8 = Luke 11:9-10 (24/24Greek words).There  is  commonality  in   order  between  the  twoSermons on/at the Mount.The presence of  doublets, where Matthew and Luke sometimes present two versions of a similar saying, but in different contexts. Doublets often serve as a sign of two written sources.Certain themes, such as the Deuteronomistic view of history, are more prominent in Q than in either Matthew or Luke individually.
  —Source: Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org)

Modern reconstructions of Q make for important and fascinating reading for anyone interested in Jesus’ message; one  text  of the  hypothetical Gospel  appears in Robert J. Miller’s The Complete Gospels (HarperSan- Francisco,  1994.) Reading this  book  is not  meant to be a substitute for  reading Q.  The  following parallel passages of  Q and  the Qur’an will, however, give a good  sense of Q’s remarkable compatibility with Islamic theology—a compatibility that  cannot, I think  be dismissed as coin- cidence,  and that has not, I think,  been widely noticed.I do  not  believe  that  Q  is  the  infallible   Word  of God, but I do believe  it is an important step forward in Biblical scholarship of which all Christians should be aware. Most of the passages cited in this book are from Q.  (Mark  10:18  is  an  exception  to  this.)  All  the  Q passages I have  referenced are  cited  below,  followed by parallel passages in the Qur’an. Consider reading each Gospel passage out loud, and then reading the complementary teaching from the Qur’an. Do the passages sound as  though they  are  issuing from  the same  Source  J or  from  wholly different religious traditions?

‘The  light of  the  body is  the  eye:  therefore when thine eye is single, thy  whole body also is full  of light; but  when thine eye is evil,  thy body also is full  of darkness. Take  heed there- fore  that  the  light which is  in  thee  be  not darkness.’ (LUKE 11:34-35)
‘Clear proofs  have  come to you from your  Lord to open  your  eyes—so  whosoever sees, will do so  for  the  good  of  himself,  and  whosoever blinds himself, will do so against himself.’ (QUR’AN 6:104)

 ‘For I say unto you, That  unto every  one which hath shall be  given;  and  from  him  that  hath not,  even   that   he  hath shall be  taken away from  him.’ (LUKE 19:26)

 ‘Whoever  brings   a  good  deed   shall  have  ten times the like thereof to his credit,  and whoever brings  an evil deed   shall  have  only the recom- pense of the like thereof, and they will not be wronged.’ (QUR’AN 6:160)

 ‘For where your   treasure is,  there will   your heart be also.’ (MATTHEW  6:21)

 ‘As for whoever has exceeded the limits and preferred the life of this world, surely  his abode will be the Fire (in the hereafter); and as for whoever has  feared   to  stand before  his  Lord and restrained the desires of his self, surely his abode  will  be  the  Garden (in  the  hereafter). (QUR’AN 79:39-40)

‘A  good  man  out  of  the  good  treasure of  his heart bringeth forth that  which is  good;  and an evil man  out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.’ (LUKE 6:45)
‘From  the  land  that  is clean  and  good,  by  the will of its Cherisher, springs up produce, (rich) after  its  kind:  but  from  the  land   that  is  bad, springs up nothing but that  which  is niggardly: thus  do  we  explain the  Signs  (by various sym- bols) to those  who are grateful.’ (QUR’AN 7:58)

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ (MATTHEW  5:3)

‘Salãmun ‘Alaikum (peace be upon you) for that you persevered in patience! Excellent indeed is the final home!’ (QUR’AN, 13:24)
‘Woe  unto you  that   laugh now!  for  ye  shall mourn and  weep.’ (LUKE 6:25)

 ‘So let  them  laugh a little  and  (they  will)  cry much   as  a  recompense of  what   they  used   to earn (by committing sins).’ (QUR’AN 9:82)

 ‘And I say unto you  my friends, Be not  afraid of them that  kill  the  body, and  after  that  have no more  that  they  can do. But I will  forewarn you  whom ye shall fear: Fear him,  which after he  hath killed hath power to  cast  into   hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.’ (LUKE 12:4-5)
‘To Him  belongs all that  is in the  heavens and (all that is in) the earth and perpetual sincere obedience is (due)  to Him.  Will you  then  fear any other  than  God?’ (QUR’AN, 16:52)

 ‘Lay  not  up  for  yourselves  treasures  upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and  steal.  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor  rust  doth corrupt, and  where thieves do not break through nor steal.’ (MATTHEW  6:19-20)

 ‘O my people! Truly, this life of the world is nothing but a (quick passing) enjoyment, and verily, the Hereafter that is the home that will remain forever. Whosoever does an evil deed, will not be requited except  the like thereof, and whosoever  does  a  righteous  deed,  whether male  or female  and  is a true  believer, such  will enter  Paradise, where they  will  be  provided therein (with all things in abundance) without limit.’ (QUR’AN, 40:39-40)

‘Jesus said  unto him,  No man,  having put  his hand to  the  plough, and  looking back,  is  fit for the kingdom of God.’ (LUKE 9:62)
‘Wavering between belief and  disbelief! Belonging neither to this nor to that! Whom  God allows  to go astray, you have  no ability  to find a way  for him.’ (QUR’AN, 4:143)

‘But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that  curse  you, do good  to them that  hate you, and  pray  for them which despitefully use you,  and   persecute you,  that   ye  may  be  the children of your  Father which is in heaven: for he  maketh his  sun  to rise  on  the  evil  and  on the  good,  and  sendeth rain  on the  just  and  on the unjust.’ (MATTHEW  5:44-45)
‘Repel the evil deed of another with your good deeds. You  will  see  that  the  one  with  whom you had enmity will become your close friend.’ (QUR’AN 41:34)

‘And it came  to pass,  as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and  said  unto him,  Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But  he  said,   Yea  rather, blessed are  they  that  hear  the  word of God,  and  keep it.’(LUKE 11:27-28)
‘It  is  not  (possible)  for  any  human being  to whom God  has  given  the  Book  and  Wisdom and Prophethood to say to the people: ‘Be my worshippers rather than  God’s.’  On  the  con- trary  (he would say): ‘Be devoted worshippers of  your  Lord,  because  you  are  teaching  the Book, and  you  are  studying it.’  Nor  would he order you to take angels  and Prophets for lords. Would he  order you  to  disbelieve  after  you have  submitted to  God’s  will?’  (QUR’AN  3:79-80) 

‘Or what man  is there of you, whom if his son ask  bread, will  he  give  him  a stone? Or  if he ask  a fish,  will  he  give  him  a serpent? If  ye then, being evil,  know how  to give  good  gifts unto  your  children,  how  much  more  shall your  Father  which  is  in  heaven  give  good things to them that  ask him?’ (Matthew 7:9-11)

 ‘How  many   creatures exist  that  do  not  carry their provisions along  with  them! God provides for them  just as he provides for you.’ (QUR’AN29:60)

 ‘Then  his  lord,  after  that  he  had  called him, said  unto  him,  O  thou  wicked  servant,  I forgave  thee   all   that   debt,  because  thou desiredst me.  Shouldest not   thou also  have had  compassion on thy  fellowservant, even  as I had  pity  on  thee?  And  his  lord  was  wroth, and  delivered him  to  the  tormentors, till  he should pay  all  that  was  due  unto him.  So likewise  shall  my  heavenly  Father  do  also unto you,  if  ye  from  your  hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.’ (MATTHEW  18:32-35)
‘... Let them pardon and turn away (overlook faults); What! Do you not wish that God should forgive  you?  And  God  is  Oft-Forgiving, All- Merciful.’ (QUR’AN 24:22)

‘Enter  ye  in  at  the  strait gate:  for  wide is the gate,  and  broad is  the  way,  that  leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait is the  gate,  and  narrow  is  the  way,  which leadeth unto life,  and  few there be that  find it.’ (Matthew 7:13-14)

 ‘And  (have  we  not)  shown him  the  two  high- ways? Yet he does not pursue the uphill path. What  will  tell  you  what  the  uphill path  is?’ (QUR’AN 90:10-12)

 ‘When the  unclean spirit is gone  out of a man, he  walketh through dry  places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into  my  house from  whence I came  out;  and when he  is come,  he  findeth it empty, swept, and  garnished.’ (MATTHEW  12:43-44)

 ‘Say: I seek refuge in the Lord of mankind, the King of mankind, the God of mankind, from the evil of the Sneaking Whisperer who whispers in the hearts of mankindJ’ (QUR’AN 114:1-5)

‘Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art  in the  way  with him;  lest  at any  time the  adversary deliver thee  to  the  judge, and the  judge deliver thee  to the  officer, and  thou be  cast  into   prison.  Verily I  say  unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.’ (MATTHEW  5:25-26)
‘To whomsoever then  the admonition has come from  his  Lord,  then  he  desists, he  shall  have what  has  already passed (as a profit),  and  his affair  is  in the  hands of Allah; and whoever returns (to  it)  — these  are  the  inmates of the fire; they shall abide  in it.’ (QUR’AN 2:275)

‘For there is nothing covered, that  shall not  be revealed;   neither   hid,   that   shall   not   be known.’ (LUKE 12:2)

 ‘He knows very well whatever they conceal or reveal  even  when they  cover  themselves with their garments. God certainly knows the inner- most (secrets)  of the hearts.’ (QUR’AN 11:5)

 ‘And  Jesus  answered and  said  unto him,  Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the  Lord thy God,  and  him  only shalt thou serve.’ (LUKE 4:8)

 ‘Children of Adam, did  We not  command you not  to  worship  Satan?  He  was  your  sworn enemy. Did  We not  command you  to worship Me, and tell you that this is the straight path?’ (QUR’AN 36:60-61)
‘O  People   of  the  Book!  Do  not  exaggerate in your  religion  nor  utter  anything  concerning God except  the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary,  was  only  a messenger of God,  and  His word which  He  conveyed unto  Mary,  and  a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and say not ‘Three’—Cease! (It is) better for you!—God is only One God. Far is it removed from  His  Transcendent Majesty  that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And God is sufficient as Defender.’ (QUR’AN 4:171)



Common Questions

Do Muslims accept Jesus Christ?

 THEY DO ACCEPT  and revere him as a Prophet of ex- tremely high  rank,  and  as one  of the  most  important figures  in human history. They  do  not  regard him  as the only begotten Son of God.No person who rejects Jesus Christ  can be properly called  a  Muslim.  Practitioners  of  the  Religion  are obliged to accept,  and  show  deference and  respect to the mission of Jesus Christ—just as they are obliged to accept, and show  deference and respect to the missions of  Abraham, Joseph,  Moses,  Lot,  and other  familiar Prophets of  the  Bible.  The  lives  and  experiences of these  remarkable men (and, interestingly, of the Virgin Mary) are set out in great  detail  in the Qur’an.
Do Muslims accept the Bible?

Muslims believe, and have held as a matter of faith for many  centuries, that the text of the Christians Bible, including the four ‘official’ Gospels, was corrupted over the centuries by short-sighted human beings  who had their eyes set on temporal gains (such as political or social influence).This is also the view of the best modern scholars of the Biblical texts. In the various texts of the Gospels alone—texts that are, by the way, written in Greek, and not in the Aramaic that was actually spoken by Jesus—there are over three  thousand textual dis-agreements, and clear evidence of extensive alteration by many  hands over a period of many  years. Muslims regard the Qur’an as the unaltered Word of the Living God. They do not place the Bible in this category.

 Does the Qur’an condone or encourage violence against innocent people?

 No. It expressly forbids such actions.  It also expressly forbids suicide. Disobeying its instructions on either  of these points is a grave  sin that exposes one’s soul to the prospect of eternal hellfire.

  Did the Prophet Muhammad (PB UH) teach hatred or intoler-ance?
No. He taught precisely the contrary. A famous saying of his is: ‘There shall be no harm  for harm,  no revenge for revenge.’ He may be the only political figure  in his- tory who, on assuming the role of emperor, proceeded to grant general amnesty to factions  that he knew  full well had plotted his assassination. He also vigorously protected the religious rights  of non-Muslim groups under his protection.

 Why don’t Muslims excommunicate people who seem to violate (or seem to advocate the violation of) these teachings?
There is nothing to excommunicate them  from. There is no hierarchy or mediator within the Religion; believers are individually accountable for their own decisions to obey, or to disregard, God’s instructions.


Note  to Atheists and  Agnostics

Every responsible voyager across unknown territory has to establish a contingency route  of some kind. Suppose you were scaling  a mountain no one had ever climbed—you would have to develop a primary strat- egy, and then a secondary strategy for reaching your destination in case of miscalculation, unforeseen circumstances, or simple  bad luck.So. You have never  died  before. What is your backup plan?


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