Gilchrist wager: Three essential issues between Christians and Muslims by Rudolph P Boshoff.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity again to visit with Uncle John Gilchrist and his lovely wife Aunty Rosemary. He told me about the re-release of a booklet he wrote years back for Muslim evangelism. The Booklet, ‘Our approach to Muslims’ entails various topics, and speaks solely about the Christian treatment of Muslims. The following quote is given in the booklet and I call it the Gilchrist wager. He writes:  

“The issue between Christians and Muslims has to be carefully defined – to the Muslims our challenge is: ‘Do you know God personally (the Father); have you been forgiven of all your sins (through the Son who died for us); and do you enjoy true fellowship with Him with all your heart, should and mind (through the Holy Spirit who is given to all who truly believe in the Son)?’[1]

He also repeated these points often as we were drinking our hot tea, and I thought this is essential in the discussion between Christians and Muslims. I have endeavored to break down his statement and relay it in a quick summary showing the essential differences between our two respective faiths.

 

  1. ‘Do you know God personally (the Father)’

Ibn Abbas relates that a bedouin came to the Messenger of Allah and said, “O Messenger of Allah! Teach me of the most unusual of knowledge!” He asked him, “What have you done with the peak of knowledge so that you now ask about its most unusual things?” The man asked him, “O Messenger of Allah! What is this peak of knowledge?” He said, “It is knowing Allah as He deserves to be known.” The bedouin then said, “And how can He be known as He ought to be?” The Messenger of Allah answered, “It is that you know Him as having no model, no peer, no antithesis, and that He is One and only: He is the One Who is Apparent yet Hidden, the First and the Last, having no peer nor a similitude; this is the true knowledge about Him.”[2] Allah is known as ‘Al-Aleem’ [All Knowing] but there is very little emphasis from Islam to know Allah intimately. The reason is simple, as Fadlou Shehadi shows in his book “Ghazali’s Unique Unknowable God” (Leiden: E. I. Brill, 1964 PG.21-22) that: “The end result of the knowledge of the ‘arifin’ [those who know] is their inability to know Him, and their knowledge is, in truth, that they do not know Him and that it is absolutely impossible for them to know Him.” 

Islamic scholar Al Faruqi says: “He [God] does not reveal Himself to anyone in any way. God reveals only His will. Remember one of the prophets asked God to reveal Himself and God told him, “No, it is not possible for Me to reveal Myself to anyone.” .. . This is God’s will and that is all we have, and we have it n perfection in the Qur’an. But Islam does not equate the Qur’an with the nature or essence of God. It is the Word of God, the Commandment of God, the Will of God. But God does not reveal Himself to anyone. Christians talk about the revelation of God Himself—by God and of God—but that is the great difference between Christianity and Islam. God is transcendent, and once you talk about self-revelation you have hierophancy and immanence, and then the transcendence of God is compromised. You may not have complete transcendence and self-revelation at the same time” (Christian Mission and Islamic Da’wah: Proceedings of the Chambesy Dialogue Consultation (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1982), 47-48.)

Yasin Jibouri mentions that “Accurately knowing Allah is the pillar whereupon Islam in it’s entirely hinges.[3] What we find in the Quran is that Allah is utterly unique and whatever you conceive him to be he is not (al-Shura 42.11). He is ‘with you wherever you are’ (al-Hadid 57.4) and ‘nearer’ to humans than their ‘jugular vein’ (Qaf 50.16). Even though the devotee is instructed to ascertain a certain revealed knowledge of Allah through his revealed names and attributes the ‘Creator/creature’ distinction still remains clearly defined. Sura al-Ikhlas (112.4) declares, “none is like unto Him [Allah].” Allah is therefore the transcendent One but also immanent in his prescribed attributes.[4]  The reality is that we can know Allah only through what He attributes to himself, but not as a personal deity that is fully known through His own personal self revelation. In the Christian revelation we see that there is an expressed reality that God the transcendent became immanent, not in His attributes but in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1, Col.1&2).

The very reality Jesus revealed was to know God as ‘Father’. Jesus prays; “Father, you are the One who is good. The world does not know you, but I know you. And these people know that you sent me. I showed them what you are like. And again I will show them what you are like. Then they will have the same love that you have for me. And I will live in them.” (John 17:25-26). Clearly, Jesus declares that He makes the infinite known. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Jesus (John 14:9). In fact, Jesus mentions “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12). At the heart of both Christianity and Islam there is the promise of identity, in Islam we are servants of Allah abd in Christianity we are seen as His very offspring.[5] Allah is a Father to no one (S.6.101, 19.35). Frederick Buechner wrote, “We are children, perhaps, at the very moment when we know that it is as children that God loves us – not because we have deserved his love and not in spite of our undeserving; not because we try and not because we recognize the futility of our trying; but simply because he has chosen to love us. We are children because he is our father; and all of our efforts, fruitful and fruitless, to do good, to speak truth, to understand, are the efforts of children who, for all their precocity, are children still in that before we loved him, he loved us, as children, through Jesus Christ our lord.”[6]  

 

  1. ‘have you been forgiven of all your sins (through the Son who died for us)’

From the Christian perspective, we can say that there is no salvation apart from the cross, (Matt. 26:28; Mark. 14:22-24; cf. 1 Cor. 1:18). The Quran mentions that the crucifixion was not the death of Christ, Surah Al Nisa (4.157) says; “And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.” Windrow Sweetman declares that Islam’s essential concern in Salvation is contrast with the escape from hell and therefore “divine fiat shall be declares in accordance with the eternal decrees, when the record of man’s life is complete and the world has come to an end. Everything, therefore, depends on the will of God, and the one who accepts Islam and acts accordingly to the five obligations can paradoxically claim in some sense to be in a state of salvation, while at the same time he cannot say whether he will be saved.” Sweetman explains further that “though not in itself salvation Islam is the means of salvation; through it man takes upon himself the burden (taklīf) to observe a way of life which is consonant with the expectation of the mercy of God.”[7]

In Islam, man inevitably is the measure of his own salvation where in Christianity it is reliant purely on God (Eph. 2:8-9). The Scriptures makes it clear that “But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him! For if, when we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom.5:8-11). As for sin “The choice of good and evil lies before every Muslim. He does not have to choose corruption. (Muslims do not believe, as most Christians do, that Adam and Eve’s choice affects us now. For Muslims, sin is not inherited from Adam. It is strictly the individual’s own choice to sin.)[8] Regarding the nature of man the Quran states that he is created weak, anxious, hasty, and ungrateful (S 4.28) but good deeds (Aamal-e-Hasna), belief (Iman), and at most the intercession of the Prophet (Shifa’ate-Nabi) could aid man in the pursuit of his own salvation.

The New Testament again emphasizes God’s initiative when Jesus declares, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luk.19:10). Numerous passages in the New Testament shows emphatically the work of God in that the Son gave Himself for us (Heb.10:12-14) and in His death he would bring forth an abundant harvest (Joh.11:50 & 12:24) therefore there is no more sacrifices needed (Heb.10:18,20). What is essential to Christianity is “trust Jesus Christ to take away our sins” (Rom.3:21-22) and therefore we are saved by faith in Christ and not by the good works that we do (Rom.3:28, 31). This does not mean that we live lives worthy of Him in full obedience to His Word abounding in fruitfulness (Joh.8:31, 13:35, 15:8). We are saved not by our own efforts but rather God’s mercy (Rom.5:15-19, Joh.10:9).

 

  1. ‘do you enjoy true fellowship with Him with all your heart, should and mind (through the Holy Spirit who is given to all who truly believe in the Son)’

Jesus reveals an intimacy we have with God when we call on Him as our ‘Abba’ Father (Matt.6:9) In Islam intimacy with God is something that is not essential and the highest proximate relationship in Islam is being a slave of Allah. For Christians (stemming from the previous section) we are made Son of God through our faith in Jesus Christ. The sure function of the Spirit of God is to bring us as Sons and Daughters into glory. The Scriptures say; “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery that returns you to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. And if we are children, then we are heirs: heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom.8:16-18). John (1:12-13) writes; “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” In fact, when we are adopted as Sons and daughters of God we are joint heirs with Christ and no longer slaves but children (Rom.8:16-17, Gal.4:7, Heb.12:3-11).

The Quran finds the concept of any kind as an offence. In fact, the Quran promises Allah’s curse on those who would dare say such a thing and Sura.9.30 says, “The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!”. The Quran further does not really understand the concept of Sonship in the Christian Scriptures and speaks of Sonship as a physically generated act of progeny (Surah’s 112.3, 6.100-101, 39.4, 19. 88-93, 19.35, and 23.91). The highest relationship for the Muslim is a slave of Allah. An Islamic site mentions, “Slavery is the key to sanctity. The title “slave” is the best of titles and it is because of this that the name of the Prophet (ص) was ‘Abdullah and on the night of ascension he asked Allah (awj) to grant him servanthood. The perfect man is the servant of Allah. He has all the manifestations of Divine Names. He is effaced in the Divine Essence.[9] In Christianity, even though we are called to be slaves of the will of God, we find ourselves utterly unable to only be slaves relationally (Ps.123:2, Rom.6:18, 1 Cor.7:22 and 1Pet.2:16).

Our Muslim friends need to understand that it is hard for a Christian who have grasped the importance of this position in Christ to let go of that privilege. It should also be understood that Christians are not given the right to be Sons and Daughters of the Most high by our efforts and religious duty, but scripture makes it clear that we are adopted by Him for His good purposes (Eph.1:4-5). When Christians look at the Muslim understanding of Allah’s love it shows us that Allah only loves those who does what He says (S. 3:31-32 & 30:43-45).

Conclusion:

In considering Gilchrist’s wager, we find that ultimately a question of religious superiority but rather a case of religious intimacy. For the Christian He can truly answer in the affirmative when He speaks about His understanding of His God in character and attributes. The God of the Bible acts consistently with the revelation of Jesus Christ and bids us to come to a full realization of His grace. Further, we are invited into a full revelation of who He is and stand accountable to the knowledge that we are in Him as Sons and Daughters of God. Hope you enjoyed this short article.

Blessings.

Rudolph P. Boshoff.  

 

Sources: 

[1] Our approach to Muslims Pg. 53-54.

[2] Allah: the Concept of God in Islam a Selection By Yasin Jibouri. Chapter 2 Section 1.

[3] Allah: the Concept of God in Islam a Selection By Yasin Jibouri. Chapter 2 Section 1.

[4] Study Quran 112.4 Pg.1580.

[5] The phrase “Son of God” or “Beget” does not imply that Jesus was the offspring of physical relations? The Bible actually says about the miraculous conception of Jesus without any sexual relations (Matt. 1:18—24; Luke 1:26-35). ” There are two Arabic words for “son” that must be distinguished. The word “walad” denotes a son born of sexual relations. Jesus is definitely not a son in this sense. However, there is another Arabic word for son, “ibn”, that can be used in a wider figurative or metaphorical sense. A traveler, for example, is spoken of as a “son of the road” (ibnussabil). It is in this wider sense that it makes sense to speak of Jesus as the “Son / “ibn” of God.” * (Saleeb/Geisler).

[6] The Magnificent Defeat. Pg. 135.

[7] Islam and Christian Theology. Pg.210.

[8] Phil Parshall, The Cross and the Crescent. Pg.120.

[9] https://www.al-islam.org/faith-and-reason-ayatullah-mahdi-hadavi-tehrani/question-5-being-allah-s-servant

 

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