Islam (part 1)

Conversation with William Lane Craig

Islam (part 2)

Conversation with William Lane Craig

Islam (part 3)

Conversation with William Lane Craig

Transcript Islam (Part 1)

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, on top of everybody’s mind these days is the subject of Islam. There are a bunch of reasons for that. The atrocities of 9/11, some of the prominence in the world, wars, and so forth. Now more than ever we seem to be more aware of Islam than in recent memory.

Dr. Craig: I think that we should not underestimate what George Bush Sr. called the change in the new world order that took place with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The central geopolitical reality used to be this opposition between the West – the democratic democracies – and then the Soviet bloc countries dominated by Marxism. The dissolution of the Soviet Union really, really did result in a new world order. What has happened in the aftermath of that is that it has resulted in the so-called clash of civilizations between the Muslim world and the democratic West. So that, I think, is also a contributing factor along with the obvious terrorist attacks and immigration into Western nations, especially in Europe like France and England and the Netherlands. This has all served to raise the profile of Islam in our day and age in a way that, gosh, just thirty years ago it wasn’t even on the radar screen.

Kevin Harris: It didn’t seem to be. We’ve discussed the New Atheism in some of our broadcasts. A lot of those books that are best-sellers these days are a reaction to the terrorist attacks and to Islam and saying, “This is what religion produces. That is why faith and religion need to be eradicated.”

Dr. Craig: Exactly. That is the difference with the New Atheism by the way. They are not content simply to remove religion from the public square like normal secularists think. But they want it eradicated from society all together. I fear what would happen if these people ever got into power because they would be ruthless in attempting to exterminate religious belief. A lot of this is prompted, as you say, by radical Islam and unfortunately we, as Christians, get lumped into the mix along with radical Muslims as part of the enemy to be exterminated.

Kevin Harris: As I look at the issue, Bill, it seems that there is the theological issue Christians would deal with and that is the difference in the denial of Jesus as who he claimed to be. But then there is also the political ramifications of their very strict enforcement of their laws and their hatred of the West. So we seem to have a two prong attack there. One political and one theological. Let’s deal with both.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, you are absolutely right. On the one hand there are the profound theological differences between our concepts of God as well as our concept of Christ, our doctrines of salvation, our doctrine of sin. All of those are different in Islam and Christianity. But then also on the political front you’ve got, for example, the fact that the U.S. is deeply aligned with the state of Israel and these Muslim nations are committed for the most part to the elimination of Israel or at least to being enemies with Israel. So that political reality has also poisoned relations between Muslims and Westerners.

Kevin Harris: What Westerners often try to do is to be real tolerant here and say, look, we are both worshiping the same God, we are just calling him different names.

Dr. Craig: I am just astonished at that. I remember shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York City, Secretary of State Colin Powell was interviewed and he said no great world religion espouses murder. And I thought, Secretary Powell, have you never read the ninth sura in the Qur’an where it enjoins ambush, attack, lying in wait for the unbelievers and exterminating them.[1] It was evident that for him it was just inconceivable that some great world religion wouldn’t hold to the same values that we hold dear and cherish. The fact is it is not one world. There really are different religions that have vastly different value systems than we in the West hold as a result of the influence of Christianity.[2]

Kevin Harris: The God of the Bible – the God of Jesus – and Allah seem to have different properties. What are some of these?

Dr. Craig: Yeah, and Muslims recognize that as well. A faithful Muslim would be just as offended as a conservative Christian in saying for example that God is the Father of Jesus Christ. I remember in the aftermath of 9/11 at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. one of the ministers began his prayer by saying “God of Abraham, God of Mohammed, Father of Jesus Christ.” And I thought to myself, that offends all the Muslims in the audience as well as Christians because for a Muslim to say that God is the Father of Jesus Christ is blasphemous. This is to commit the most heinous sin possible in Islam which is the sin called shirk which means associating something with God – putting something else on the same level as God. For the Muslim, God is without peer. He is incomparable. Therefore, to say that he has a Son is to demean God’s status as the incomparable, peerless one. So they condemn unequivocally anybody who believes that Jesus is God’s Son.

Kevin Harris: So immediately there is such an emotional resistance when there is a dialogue that takes place between Christians and Muslims. It is hard to overcome. To say that God is triune is so offensive and so radical to their sensibilities that it is difficult for them to hear anything else after you’ve said that.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I think you are right. I think it does touch deep nerves that create anger and resentment. So it is very difficult to dialogue about these things in a civil way.

Kevin Harris: Let me tell you what has been successful in my own experience. I’ll get your comments on it. I usually start out when I talk to some Muslim friends – and this actually keeps the emotional wall from coming up too quickly – I’ll say, “You know both you and I believe that there is one God. I believe it and you believe it. Now, we believe there is something else about God that we call the Trinity but we both believe (and I’ll reiterate) in one God.” That seems to calm things down a little bit and at least give me an opportunity to perhaps explain the Trinity within the oneness of God and so on. But at the same time, I try not to get bogged down on the Trinity. I try to get them to Jesus. But the Trinity is going to come up.

Dr. Craig: Sure. But I think you are right, Kevin – focus on Jesus. He is the stumbling block and he is the one I think that we need to draw them to. And to talk about what the Qur’an says about Jesus. It says that he was a great prophet. It even calls him the Messiah. He was born of a virgin, he did miracles, he’s coming again. So in all of these ways, Islam has an exalted view of Jesus but it doesn’t rise to divinity, obviously. So I think we can focus on Jesus and what we should not do is start attacking Mohammed as a person or calling Muslims terrorists or criticizing the religion in other ways. I think we can be positive and focus upon Jesus and who Jesus was and what he claimed and did. That is really where the whole issue should be – it should be on Christ.

Kevin Harris: Le’s sum that up then. If our Muslim friends ask us about the Trinity, we can give an answer like I just said. Try to establish something that is going to knock down the emotional wall – that we both believe in one God. That should settle some nerves. But then try to get it to Jesus as soon as we can because that will help facilitate later talk about the Trinity once we establish some of Jesus?

Dr. Craig: Yes, I think that is right. We shouldn’t forget that the Holy Spirit is at work here. The Holy Spirit came to glorify Christ and to draw men to him. So when we are talking about Christ, the Holy Spirit is also at work, I think, in drawing people to him. That is his role. So when we focus on Christ, I think we are right at the heart of the Gospel.

Kevin Harris: That is good. There seems to be what we would consider as liberal Muslims who really do want to see some unity among the West and the Islam world.

Dr. Craig: We want to encourage moderate Muslims, who are as you say, frankly, liberals with respect to their religion. People who adopt, I think, a very non-Islamic stance, namely that church and state should be separate – or mosque and state we might say. In orthodox Islam, they know nothing of the separation of church and state. Religion and state are all united under the dominance of the religion.[3] But in many Muslim states today, such as Egypt and Jordan and Turkey, you have a separation in effect of church and state and a government that is secular and the mosque operates independently of it. That is the kind of thing we want to keep encouraging and as you say keep growing. Because that will help to, I think, quell the fanaticism of the orthodox Muslim fundamentalists. But I must say that so long as the United States is aligned with Israel and continues to support Israel, I really am not hopeful that there is going to be an end to this conflict politically. I don’t think the U.S. can back away from Israel. It is a democracy – one of the few democracies in that area. I think we have every reason to continue to support Israel. It has been a great ally. As long as we do that, it is hard to see, frankly, that a whole lot of progress and good will is going to be generated.

Kevin Harris: At, you have some transcripts and some audio of debates with some prominent Muslim scholars. Give us a thumbnail of some of these debates. How have they gone and what are some of the issues that come up?

Dr. Craig: It has been such a tremendous privilege and excitement to be involved in these debates. By way of background, when I was doing my theological doctorate in Munich, I had to pick a couple of side areas on which to be examined. One of the side areas that I picked is Islam because I had been interested in medieval theology and philosophy so naturally I wanted to specialize more in Islamic thought. So I studied Islam extensively and was examined in it. At that time I never dreamt that someday I would be speaking and debating on this subject. But in the aftermath of 9/11, I had the opportunity to debate Muslim apologists like Jamal Badawi[4] and Shabir Ally[5] on Canadian and American university campuses. What I have found is the Muslim student associations on university campuses are extremely active in bringing in these Muslim speakers like Badawi and Ally to do Muslim evangelism and encourage the Muslim students there to hold to the faith. It is interesting. Their reaction or their approach is inevitably very rational. These Muslim apologists are strongly rational and apologetical in their approach to Islam and Christianity. Some of them know the Bible better than most Christians do, frankly. They quote chapter and verse from memory. They are familiar with the Jesus Seminar and other biblical critics and exploit the work of people like this. They will often like to say “even Christian scholars deny that Jesus ever said this” and then they will quote these liberal Jesus Seminar critics and so forth. So I have had the chance to debate these fellows. It has been very exciting to do so because what I find in dealing with them is that in talking with a Muslim it is very much like talking with a radical biblical critic. Because they basically say the same thing – that Jesus never really said these things, that these are later claims that were invented by the Christian church and put back on the lips of Jesus. So you are basically involved in the same apologetic to a Muslim that you are to one of these liberal critics. You want to use the so-called criteria of authenticity to try to show that certain sayings and events attributed to Jesus and the Gospels were in fact really said by him and therefore they cannot be regarded as later corruptions of the oral tradition. These claims were actually made by Jesus. Since the Muslim regards Jesus as a prophet who speaks for God, if he really said these things then they have to believe him. They have to believe what Jesus claimed about himself. So that is why I really like to focus on the claims of Christ and then of course on his resurrection.

Kevin Harris: As I understand, some of these debates have actually turned pretty emotional with the opponent. That just kind of shows that these are some emotional issues from time to time.

Dr. Craig: You know, most of them – almost all of them – were very calm, very civil. Shabir Ally, in particular, is a thorough gentleman. All the Christian apologists I know who have debated Shabir like this guy on a personal level. We call him by his first name – Shabir. He is very friendly. Everybody really, really likes him. He always conducts himself very well in these debates. Though he is slippery as an eel and very sly. He’s very wily. You gotta watch out for him or he’ll pick your pocket so to speak when you are not looking.[6]

But I was in a debate with Jamal Badawi at Texas A&M and to my surprise he just became unhinged. Particularly when I made the remark that – I didn’t think this would get under his skin – I made the remark that in the Qur’an it doesn’t actually say that Abraham sacrificed Ishmael on the altar. Muslims believe it was Ishmael not Isaac that Abraham laid on the altar to sacrifice at God’s command. In fact, when you read the Qur’an, that is not what it says. It says it is Isaac. I thought how odd that Islam believes this about Ishmael when in the Qur’an it says that it was Isaac. So I just happened to mention this in the debate and he just went off the charts. He began interrupting and speaking out of turn and protesting trying to explain this away and so forth. It was obvious that it touched a real nerve. I suppose because it strikes right at the heart of who you are as a Muslim that it is Ishmael that is the promised child and therefore it is they who are really the chosen people. I just had no idea that it would do that. For me, it was just an off the cuff remark but it really got to him.

Kevin Harris: It shows something. It shows how ingrained this is. You are attacking family heritage, you are attacking culture, you are attacking a religion and a way of life. Just like with a Christian, very deeply ingrained. In some ways, maybe Islam is even more of a cultural . . .

Dr. Craig: Absolutely. Because it is a whole way of life. I mean, for orthodox Islam, as I said, there is no separation of church and state. Everything is under the domination of the religion. The government, the banking system, social mores, education, everything has to be brought into submission to Allah. That is what Islam means – submission. A Muslim is one who is in submission in every area of his life. So in one sense Muslims have a lot to teach us as Christians about total submission to God. I think as Christians we are called upon – Romans 12:1-2 – to be totally sold out to God, body and soul laid on his altar as living sacrifices. In that sense we, I think, agree with the Muslim in this notion that we are to be in our lives personally totally submitted to God. But they extend it beyond the personal life to society as a whole. They are submitted to a quite different God. That is the problem.

Kevin Harris: The Christian will often say, “One of the evidences for the truth of Christianity is look how it spread after the crucifixion and resurrection.” The skeptic will come back and ask how you explain the spread of Islam and how popular that has become.

Dr. Craig: Right. And for that reason I don’t think that that is a good argument for Christianity. One could also point out Mormonism which has in the hundred or so years since Joseph Smith lived has spread to become really a new world religion. Mormonism is emerging as a new world religion in addition to Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and so forth. So the fact that Christianity spread quickly in the Mediterranean world and even beyond isn’t a good argument for its truth. I think the germ of truth in that argument is the following – and this is what I’ve used in my own work – what is to be explained about Christianity is not its rapid spread but its very origin. Christianity had its origin in the belief of these earliest disciples that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. Now that is a totally un-Jewish belief, not to say an outlandish belief. How do you explain the origin of that belief on the disciples’ part? I think when you look at the possible explanations – namely, it is a Christian retrojection, or it is from pagan mythology, or it is from Jewish influences – none of those provides a plausible explanation of why the disciples came to believe such an un-Jewish and outlandish thing as that God raised Jesus from the dead. So the very origin of the Christian movement cries out for some sort of an explanation in the fact of the resurrection itself. One could use a similar argument for Islam – given the origin of Islam in the mid-7th century AD, there must have been some historical events that brought it about. I think that is quite true. There must have been a historical Mohammed who probably had some kind of a vision of God, who was offended by polytheism, and began to proclaim that there is only one true God. So that is right. I think it applies in both cases. You have to have a historically adequate cause to explain the sudden origin of a movement that is quite different from anything that preceded it.

Kevin Harris: One of the differences between the spread of Christianity and the spread of Islam seems to be the sword.[7]

Dr. Craig: Well, yeah, that’s true I guess.

Kevin Harris: You want to mention that?

Dr. Craig: Yeah, that’s worth mentioning isn’t it? Christianity during the first three centuries of its existence was this tiny persecuted religion that often was punctuated by horrible martyrdoms. Its growth was watered by the blood of these martyrs. By contrast, Islam was spread by military conquest. Just two years after the death of Mohammed the Arabian forces invaded Persia and brought it into submission. Then Syria fell a year or so later. Then Jerusalem fell. And after that Egypt. Then these Islamic armies swept right across North Africa all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. So it was by conquest that Islam was spread and this is part of the doctrine of Islam. As I mentioned earlier, in the ninth chapter of the Qur’an, it enjoins violence against pagans in order to bring them into submission and even violence against the so-called people of the book, that is to say Jews and Christians, until they are brought into submission, too. Islam, Kevin, divides the whole world into two camps. One is called the Dar al-Islam and the other is called the Dar al-Harb. That means the House of Submission – those are the lands or nations that are brought into submission to Islam, and the other is called the House of War. Those are the lands that have not yet been brought into submission to Islam. This perception of the world as in these two camps – the House of Submission, the House of War – speaks volumes about the nature of Islam and its command to bring the world by force if necessary into submission to Allah.

Kevin Harris: In summation Dr. Craig, we don’t worship the same God, we don’t agree theologically on the nature of God, but we want to try to get Jesus front and center and his claims when we deal with Islam?

Dr. Craig: That is exactly right. Paul, in preaching the Gospel, said, “I determined to know nothing among you except for Jesus Christ and him crucified.”[8] Just as that was folly to Gentiles and a stumbling block to Jews, it is also the stumbling block for Muslims as well. Therefore, like Paul, we need to point our hearers when they are Muslims to the person of Christ.

Kevin Harris: Our question of the day, Dr. Craig: are Christianity and science compatible?

Dr. Craig: I am persuaded that they are compatible. Certainly there are areas of conflict that do arise from time to time but I think that in the course of time these conflicts will be resolved. So, in various areas that I’ve worked on – such as relativity theory and cosmology – there I think one sees that a religious perspective on these issues can shed real light on science. I think that religion can learn from science and I think that science can learn from religion. So there are a number of ways in which these two interact with each other that can be helpful.

Kevin Harris: Science is not the only way to gain knowledge. Many people think that that is the case.

Dr. Craig: That is a really good point. No, I think that is not science, that is scientism – the view that only through scientific exploration can knowledge be gained. That itself is not a scientific claim. That is a philosophical claim. So it would be self-defeating if it were made. The very claim that you can only know truth through science isn’t a scientifically provable claim. So it would be self-defeating. There are other avenues to truth besides science and there are other types of knowledge besides scientific knowledge such as: mathematical knowledge, logical knowledge, ethical knowledge, aesthetic knowledge, metaphysical knowledge; even many scientific truths cannot be proven scientifically. So while science is one avenue to truth, and perhaps the best way to find out truth about the empirical world, nevertheless there are lots of truth that is not scientifically accessible that we can know by other means.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, there is a fear of science even among people who think that science is the only way to truth. It shows up in science fiction movies. That is that science, or the advance of science and scientific discoveries, can be used against man.

Dr. Craig: This is because science is ethically neutral. You cannot discover moral values in a test tube. So, science is amoral – that is not to say it is immoral, it is amoral. It is simply morally neutral. So the same scientific discovery that can be used to fuel nuclear reactors and light a city can be used to make a bomb that could destroy that city. That is why we must not simply leave science unchecked by ethical considerations. We cannot allow science to just do whatever is scientifically possible. There needs, I think, to be ethical and moral considerations upon what we allow science to do.[9]

[1] “When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful” (Qur’an 9:5).

[2] 5:09

[3] 10:06

[4] To listen to this debate, see (accessed November 15, 2013).

[5] To listen to this debate, see (accessed November 15, 2013).

[6] 15:02

[7] 20:06

[8] cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2

[9] Total Running Time: 25:40 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)

Transcript Islam (Part 2)

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, in speaking of Islam, there are profound political differences and profound theological differences. So we have problems in two major and very emotional areas. As I understand Sharia Law, it doesn’t allow much freedom to non-Muslims who are under Muslim control. So were they to take over, we can kiss our religious freedom good bye.

Dr. Craig: I think there is a lot of truth to that. In countries that were under Islamic control, Christians and Jews were permitted to exist and practice their religion but they were called dhimmi – they were persons who were rather second class citizens. They were subservient. So they certainly were denied certain rights. That is true in, for example, Muslim Spain when they controlled the Iberian Peninsula as well as in other countries such as Syria where there were significant Christian congregations. This subservience of other religions to Islam is a simple fact of history and you are absolutely right that were they to take over control, our freedoms would be significantly curtailed.

Kevin Harris: Am I to understand there is even a tax imposed on the non-Muslim?

Dr. Craig: Yeah, that is absolutely right. There is a sort of alms tax that the dhimmi had to pay that would substitute in a sense for their converting to Islam. If you convert, then you don’t have to pay the tax.

Kevin Harris: A good benefit there.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, all sorts of incentives.

Kevin Harris: The violence that we’ve seen among terrorists – the beheadings – that have just so disturbed the nation. Suddenly we can, for the first time in history, have access to actual videos of these things. That is kind of a cyberterrorism in one way in that you are so disquieted by those images and by that murder being captured and then spread where millions of people – teenagers, children – see it. Is there something within the genesis of Islam that facilitates that kind of violence?

Dr. Craig: I, myself, have not viewed and would not view these sorts of videos. I think that would be inappropriate. But I think it certainly is true that within Islam itself there is an injunction to use violence in the propagation of the faith. Jihad is not simply a moral or spiritual struggle, it is also a military struggle to bring all the world into submission to Islam. I’ve been told by folks who work with Muslims who are familiar with Muslim culture and so forth that these beheadings are actually done in the way in which an animal would be sacrificed. It is a kind of ritual offering to slit the throats of these victims in this way. So this is a sort of religious act that is being performed when these people are sacrificed as it were.

Kevin Harris: I want to touch on that for just a moment. I did not watch those beheadings either that were so prominent on the internet. Millions of people did. Teenagers gathered at one another’s homes and watched them. Radio stations played the audio. One of the reasons that I didn’t succumb to the curiosity or even for investigational purposes is that the radio stations around the building where I work were playing the audio from those beheadings until they finally got enough complaints that they stopped. But I heard them, Bill. And it disturbed me profoundly, hearing the audio. So I certainly wasn’t going to add fuel to the fire by going deeper into the horror of that by viewing it for a morbid reason. But you said it was inappropriate.

Dr. Craig: I think that is right. As a Christian, we are to avoid evil. We are to think on those things that are lovely, true, good, and up-building. To yield to this sort of macabre curiosity is to yield to our lower nature really, Kevin. It is to indulge in a kind of voyeurism that is, I think, very sinister and really wicked. It is not the better part of our nature. So I think for the Christian we need to exercise discipline here as you did and say I am not going to let my curiosity get the better of me and compel me to do things that wouldn’t be up-building to me as a Christian.[1]

Kevin Harris: It would be sufficient to be aware of it without going ahead and then indulging in it or wallowing in it.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. You don’t have to experience it yourself to be aware that this has happened and be aware of what was done. You know, it is the same principle that I don’t go and see slasher movies where people are having their limbs cut off with chainsaws and things of that sort. There is no reason that I, as a Christian, want to fill my mind with this kind of thing. Even pretend, even fake – when it is just fake blood and makeup – much less a real beheading as in this case.

Kevin Harris: What I hear you saying is that when the Muslim is engaging in violence and violent acts, he is being fairly consistent with Islam and with the Qur’an. If the critic were to point to Christianity and say, yea, but look at the Crusades and the Inquisition and look at the violence done in the name of Christ and in the name of God, there is violence there. I hear you saying that the former would be consistent with the teaching, Christianity engaging in violence would be inconsistent with the teaching.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. Jesus would not have engaged in violence as a means of evangelism, or in the use of violence to conquer other people. You always have to go back to Jesus and say, “What would he have done?” Would he have been a guard at Auschwitz. Would he have participated in the Crusades and sacked Byzantium? I think the answer is just evidently no. By contrast, would Muhammad have done these things? Well, yes, he did do these things! He was a caravan raider and participated in campaigns of violence and war, and not just defensive ones either as Muslims might sometimes claim. When he died, he died with plans on the table for attacks upon neighboring nations. After his death, his successors carried out those attacks successfully. So, whereas violence is consistent with Islam and the example and teaching of Muhammad, it is inconsistent with Christianity and the example and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. That is the huge difference.

Kevin Harris: There seems to be a difference between some of the suras as well – the early suras and the later suras. Some Muslim scholars point out that at first Muhammad wanted to do it the peaceful way. Let’s all get together and by the way I’m right and this is the nature of God and polytheism is wrong. When that wasn’t as readily received as he had hoped, then he went another route.

Dr. Craig: That is absolutely right. What we need to understand is that the Qur’an is not a unified volume. This is a book that is a compilation of materials that was written over quite a long stretch of time. So they reflect different historical realities. When Muhammad began, he was a persecuted prophet of monotheism living in Mecca in a rampantly polytheistic culture. The early Muhammad was a pretty great guy in terms of what he was proclaiming – that there is only one God and that all these false gods are untrue and so forth. One can be very sympathetic with him. In fact, while he was in the persecuted minority, he was very friendly toward the people of the Book – that is to say people who believed in the Bible, Jews and Christians. It is those passages in the Qur’an – passages from that period of Muhammad’s life – that are cited by moderate Muslims to show that the attitude of Islam toward other religions, Christianity and Judaism in particular, is very peaceful and conciliatory and so forth. That is absolutely correct at that early period of Muhammad’s life. But after he moved to Medina where he gained political and military power, then the persecuted minority prophet of monotheism turned into the political machine operative and manipulator and became ruthless and began to persecute the Jews, to kill them, and ultimately issued these commands to bring pagans into submission by violence and even to attack the people of the Book.

Kevin Harris: And that is reflected in the ninth sura.

Dr. Craig: That’s right, in the ninth sura, which is some of the latest, or last, material that was written in the Qur’an.

Kevin Harris: Beleaguer them, lie in wait for them.

Dr. Craig: Ambush them where ever you find them.[2]

Kevin Harris: Muhammad also seemed to have disdain for a version of the Trinity that was circulating at the time. That is he thought that Mary was a part of the Trinity and so it seems like the genesis of Islam is attacking the wrong Trinity.

Dr. Craig: Right. That is also extremely interesting. Muhammad apparently never had any first hand acquaintance with the New Testament. He was getting all of this secondarily by word of mouth.[3] He apparently thought that because Christians at that time were referring to Mary as the Mother of God, as Catholics and Orthodox do today – Mary the Mother of God –, he thought that the doctrine of the Trinity meant that God the Father copulated with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and that Jesus was the offspring of their union. So the Trinity was composed of God the Father, Mary the Mother of God, and Jesus the Son of God. Well, of course he regarded such a doctrine as blasphemous and sacrilegious. But this is a doctrine that no sane Christian would hold to. So in fact it is a caricature of Christianity that is rejected in the Qur’an.

Kevin Harris: So let’s contrast then the Muslim concept of God and the Christian’s New Testament concept of God. One is a very strict monotheism – only one God. Then the God of the Bible is one God but he is a Trinity.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I would say that both of them are strict monotheisms. They are both committed to the existence of one and only one God. We must not yield to the Muslim claim that we believe in three gods. That is simply not true. We both agree that there is only one God. The difference between Christianity and Islam with respect to God is not monotheism, it is unitarianism. Muslims, or Islam, is a form of unitarianism which says that there is only one person who is God. Whereas Christianity is trinitarian – it believes there are three persons who are God. So the real debate isn’t about monotheism but it is about whether unitarianism is the true concept of God.

Kevin Harris: Which makes more sense philosophically do you think? A unitarian God or a triune God when we think of things like eternity and the attributes of God?

Dr. Craig: On the one hand I think that there is undoubtedly a kind of appeal to unitarianism in that it seems simpler to just say that there is one person that God is. I think that makes unitarianism appealing. On the other hand, I think when you contemplate, as you said, the attributes of God, we have some pretty persuasive reasons to think that God is not simply one person. One of the things I’m thinking about here is that God is essentially all-loving. It is essential to the very nature of God to be all-loving because love is a moral perfection and God is a morally perfect being. If God is all-loving, then whom does he love if this is essential to him? Well, it can’t be just created beings because created beings don’t exist essentially. Creation is a freely willed act of God, not something he had to do. So there are possible worlds – by that I mean it is possible logically to conceive of God existing alone with no creation; he chose not to create at all. In such an empty universe so to speak God would still be essentially all-loving. Even in this world in which God has created persons whom he loves, nevertheless, those persons haven’t been around all the time. They are finite in their existence. A certain number of years ago there were no human beings yet. So it cannot be that created persons are the persons whom God loves essentially. If God is essentially all-loving, then whom is it that he loves? Well, it seems to me there must be a plurality of persons within God himself. It is the very nature of love to give one’s self away – to give one’s self to the other. If God is just a single person indulged in self-love, this would be contrary to the nature of love. It would just be a kind of narcissism. But if God is a trinity of persons, then there is this giving away of ones self in love to the other that goes on between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from eternity. So I think that when you think about the nature of God as self-giving love, that that gives powerful grounds for thinking that God is not just a single person in love with himself but that God is a trinity of persons.

Kevin Harris: That makes a lot of sense. The nature of love itself – it is reciprocal as well as something that you give.

Dr. Craig: That is true, too. You receive love and so that would also imply a plurality of persons.

Kevin Harris: The God of Islam seems to be rather arbitrary in his decisions. We don’t find that in the God of the Bible. What are the differences there in that arbitrary, capricious nature?

Dr. Craig: It seems to me, Kevin, that what is going on here is in Islam God’s attribute of being omnipotent, or all-mighty, or all-powerful, trumps everything else.[4] That is the way I understand it. In Christianity, we believe that God has a number of essential attributes such as love, holiness, justice, omnipotence, omnipresence, eternity, necessity. All of these are essential attributes of God, none of them can be compromised. They cannot be suppressed one for the sake of another. They are all essential to God and cannot be denied. But in Islam, it is quite different. It seems that in Islam, God being all-powerful or all-mighty trumps everything, even his own moral character. So in Islam, God can deceive people. He can lie to them. He can do things that are morally wrong, even contrary to his own nature, because he is all-powerful. So this results in a sort of arbitrary, capricious God whose shear power knows no bounds, not even the bounds of his own character. So for a Muslim, it is possible that on the Judgment Day, God could say to everybody, “Ah! So you thought that by saying the confession that I am the only God and Muhammad is my prophet that I would save you? Well, it was all a trick. You are all going to hell. In fact, I’m going to save all the Jews instead of you Muslims.” And he would send all the Muslims to hell. That is entirely within God’s prerogative and power on Islam. So there is absolutely nothing to constrain God from just shear arbitrary caprice. It is a sheer will to power.

Kevin Harris: Muslims realize that. They actually treat God and acknowledge God in that way.

Dr. Craig: Oh yeah.

Kevin Harris: They even acknowledge that if you fly your plane into a building in the ultimate martyrdom, you are still not guaranteed.

Dr. Craig: No, there is no guarantee in Islam of salvation because, as I say, at the last minute God could decide simply to damn you or anybody no matter what he has said before because he is not bound by his own word or character.

Kevin Harris: How is that not representational of the Christian God?

Dr. Craig: In Christianity we have the notion that God is essentially loving, he is essentially fair, he is essentially truthful. To say something is essential, in case our listeners don’t understand that, that means it is necessarily so. He cannot go against his own moral character of being loving, fair, truthful, and so forth. So it is impossible for God to do these things. Now that is not because there is some constraint outside of God, but it is because his own character is such that it determines the way he will act.

Kevin Harris: One of the most telling things about Islam is that they don’t regard God as “Father” and Christianity does. Of the 99 names for God in Islam, none denote “Father.” Yet, Jesus said that we should call him Father. Do Muslims not regard God has “Father?”

Dr. Craig: I have never heard God referred to in that way. Now, I don’t know Muslim traditions – the so-called Hadith – well enough to know whether or not it would appear there. But if Jesus could not call God Father, could not be the Son of God, then it would certainly seem impossible for us to do so because that would be to commit shirk again – to put yourself on a plane where you are somehow comparable to God. So God for the Muslim is wholly other. He is quite removed and distant and other than we are. I remember once sharing with a Muslim about God’s love for us and I thought this would appeal to him – to think that God really loves us. And he said for him as a Muslim the thought was just absurd. It would be like my loving ants – in having a love relationship with ants. That is how removed God is from us as people for him except even infinitely more so. So there isn’t that sort of personal relationship with God as your heavenly Father.

Kevin Harris: More like a master-slave, employer-employee?

Dr. Craig: I think that would be appropriate because the notion of Islam is submission. It is this sort of unquestioned, total submission to God as your master. So master-slave wouldn’t be an inappropriate analogy so long as you don’t think of the master as being a cruel master. Islam thinks that God is all-compassionate and all-loving to Muslims; to those who are submitted to him he will be compassionate, merciful, and so forth.

Kevin Harris: How would Allah view non-Muslims?

Dr. Craig: This was one of the most remarkable things that I discovered when I first began to read the Qur’an years ago. I began to notice over and over again in the Qur’an, it says whom God does not love. God does not love unbelievers. God does not love sinners. God does not love the stiff-necked.[5] God does not love the reprobate. Over and over again it described whom God does not love. It was very clear that according to the Qur’an, God has no love for non-Muslims. He has no love for unbelievers. The promise of the Qur’an is that if you come to God, submit to him, make the confession, obey him, and live as a life of a Muslim, then God will give you love. If you live up to his standard, then he will love you. In other words, God only loves those who love him first. It struck me how contrary this is to the teaching of Jesus. Jesus said if you only love those who love you, what more are you doing than others? Don’t even the pagans do the same? And the tax collectors do the same?[6] The love of Allah in the Qur’an rises no higher than the love that Jesus said even pagans and tax collectors exhibit. The God of the Bible – the God of the New Testament – is a God who loves sinners. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners he died for us.[7] God so loved the world that he gave – the New Testament says. This is I think one of the most startlingly contrasts between the Qur’an and the New Testament. The Qur’an teaches that God only loves those who are Muslims who come to him and love him first whereas the New Testament says God loves sinners so much that he sent his Son to die for them.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, our question of the day: Mark Twain said that faith is believing in what you know ain’t so. What is a good working definition of faith?

Dr. Craig: I think Martin Luther analyzed faith very well into three essential components. First is faith as understanding. In order to believe something, you must first understand what it means. Second would be assent when you agree – “yes, that is true.” The third element of faith would be trust or commitment; where you come to place your trust in something or someone because you have assented to its truth. All three of those elements would be involved in faith in the fullest sense.

Kevin Harris: Would that apply as well to faith in the Christian sense?

Dr. Craig: Oh, yes, I think quite definitely. For example, faith in Christ. First you need to understand the message of the Gospel, then you need to not only understand it, you’d need to assent to it. You do believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for your sins and who rose from the dead. But it is not enough just to believe those truths. You need then to make a commitment of your life to him as savior and Lord in order to be related to him by saving faith. So saving faith is not just intellectual assent, it is also that whole soul commitment of the heart to the person whom you believe to be the truth.[8]

[1] 5:12

[2] cf. Qur’an 9:5 where it says “And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. . . .”

[3] 10:04

[4] 15:06

[5] 20:03

[6] cf. Matthew 5:46-47

[7] cf. Romans 5:8

[8] Total Running Time: 23:14 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)

Transcript Islam (Part 3)

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, we’ve talked about some of the political clashes among Westerners and Islam. We’ve been also concentrating on very crucial theological differences that just cause walls to often come up in dialogue between Christians and Muslims. A couple of those things are really prominent. One is the nature of God and the Trinity. The other is who Jesus is – his divinity.

Dr. Craig: With respect to the nature of God, the most fundamental issue would be the difference between unitarianism and trinitarianism. Islam is a form of unitarianism that says there is one person that God is. On Christianity, by contrast, we believe that there are three persons that God is. In addition to that, there are certain attributes of God, I think, that are quite different in Islam and Christianity. For example, in Christianity God is conceived to be all-loving and morally perfect whereas in Islam God is not all-loving, he only loves Muslims – those who are submitted to him. So with respect to God, there is both differences with regard to unitarianism versus trinitarianism as well as with regard to some of his attributes.

Kevin Harris: It is very offensive for our Muslim friends to consider God as being in some way triune. Let’s discuss the Trinity for just a moment. How is God only one God but there are three persons who are the one God?

Dr. Craig: As I understand the Trinity, we want to say that there are three centers of self-consciousness in God. By that I mean there are three persons who can say “I think that.” Just as in my being there is one center of self-consciousness that I call “I, me, myself,” in God there are three centers of self-consciousness. We call them the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit because of the different roles that they play in the plan of salvation. It is the Father who sends the Son to be incarnate. It is the Holy Spirit who in the church age ministers in the place of the Son and equips the church and empowers her for Christian life and work. So they have different roles in the economy of salvation. This is sometimes called the economic Trinity which would be the different roles played by these three persons in the plan of salvation. But in terms of the Trinity itself these are three co-equal persons who are all omnipotent, omniscience, omnipresent, eternal, have all of the superlative attributes of God and therefore are God.

Kevin Harris: So there are three persons who are the one God. Because something isn’t easy to understand, does that make it false?

Dr. Craig: Not at all.

Kevin Harris: That is a loaded question, I know.

Dr. Craig: Sure, of course. You have to demonstrate some sort of logical incoherence in the doctrine of the Trinity. But I don’t think there is any such logical incoherence. The doctrine of the Trinity is not the incoherent doctrine that three gods are somehow one God. Or that three persons are somehow one person. Rather, it is that there are three persons in the one God.

Kevin Harris: And that is not contradictory.

Dr. Craig: No, that is not in any way contradictory. When you understand that what the Qur’an rejects is not that doctrine of the Trinity but a caricature of it – namely that the Trinity is composed of God the Father, Mary the Mother of God, and their offspring Jesus – then I don’t see that the Muslim really has any substantive objection to the doctrine of the Trinity. It is not as though we are placing something on God’s level that is not God, which would be sacrilege or blasphemy to associate something that is not God with God himself. We are not doing that. We are saying rather within the Godhead itself there is a plurality. There are three centers of self-consciousness in God.

Kevin Harris: The skeptic will often try to attack the genesis, or the origin, of the doctrine of the Trinity and say, “Aw, come on. Somebody came up with that at some council.” How did we discover or determine the doctrine of the Trinity?

Dr. Craig: I did a Masters Degree in church history and the history of Christian thought and I can say pretty confidently that that skeptical representation is just ignorance of church history.[1] What the Council of Nicaea did was simply ratify what the church had believed right from New Testament times; namely, that Jesus Christ is God. He is equal to the Father. You find that in the New Testament itself. Not only are the attributes of deity predicated of Jesus in the New Testament and not only is Jesus called Lord which translates the Greek word for Yahweh – the name of God in the Old Testament. But in certain places in the New Testament, Jesus is actually explicitly called God. For example, in John 20 where Thomas falls at Jesus’ feet and says “My Lord and my God.” There are other confessions like that as well. So right from the New Testament, Jesus is called God and thought to be co-equal with the Father. It was only when certain persons began to deny this doctrine that the church rose up and said “We need to make an official declaration that these people are heretics and this is in fact incompatible with Christianity.” That is why the Council of Nicaea formulated and ratified the Nicene Creed, so as to make very clear that anyone who denied this doctrine was denying fundamental Christian truth. So we are not dependent upon later councils or formulations. We can go right to the New Testament and find there, I think, the affirmation of the deity of Christ.

Kevin Harris: When we get to the deity of Christ, this is also very offensive to our Muslim friends because they believe that that is the blasphemy of shirk?

Dr. Craig: Yes, to associate something with God. Again, I would say that would only be that if you thought Jesus was merely human. But of course that is not the Christian doctrine. The view of Jesus is that he is God incarnate. That is to say, God in the flesh. Therefore, Christ is truly God as well as truly human. That is the affirmation of the Nicene Creed – he is both. He is truly God and truly man.

Kevin Harris: We have a big fancy term for that – the hypostatic union.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I think it is a good term. The idea of a hypostasis in Greek – hypo means “under” like in, say, for example a hypodermic needle. Hypodermic means under the skin. “Dermic” like dermatology – that’s the skin. So hypodermic is under the skin. So this means “under.” Then stasis is the Greek word for “stand.” So a hypostasis is something that “stands under” – it is the Greek equivalent really of the Latin word “substance.” A substance is “sub” (under) and “stance” (stand). So a hypostasis or substance is something that stands under and bears properties. It is a property bearer. So when we say that in Christ there are two natures in one substance what we mean is that there is one property bearer who has both divine properties and human properties. He has all the properties that go to make up a divine nature and he has all the properties that go to make up a human nature. So this hypostasis or individual is a property bearer that has a divine and a human nature and is therefore truly human and truly divine. So the idea of the hypostatic union is that these two are united in one person.

Kevin Harris: Two natures in one person.

Dr. Craig: Right. A rational hypostasis is a person. A hypostasis is in a sense an individual – a property bearer. A rational hypostasis is what we would call a person.

Kevin Harris: When I hear dialogues between Muslims and Christians, the issue comes up of the divinity of Christ quite often. If he were God then who was he praying to in the garden? Who was he crying out to from the cross, which we will get into in just a moment? And why did he not know all things and so forth?

Dr. Craig: It has been said that doing Muslim evangelism is a crash course in Christian doctrine. I think that is quite right. Muslims don’t understand the doctrine of the two natures of Christ. So they think that in proving that Christ had these human attributes like limited knowledge, praying to God the Father, growing in moral perfection, being weak and physically exhausted, even being limited in time and space – Christians agree with all of those because we think Jesus was truly human. He had a truly human nature. That doesn’t prove that he didn’t also have a truly divine nature in addition to that.[2] So the Christian is unmoved by all of these proof texts that the Muslim brings from the Gospels to show that Jesus was a limited human in all these ways because we recognize that. What the Muslim doesn’t understand is that we believe that Christ had two natures. So in addition to these human properties he also had properties like omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and so forth.

Kevin Harris: Paul seems to shed some real light on this in his second chapter of his letter to the Philippians. He talks about Jesus, who being in the very nature of God, did not grasp after that equality with God but became a servant. He became obedient. It was like he limited his rights as God and perhaps allowed them to be, what? Veiled?

Dr. Craig: I think that would be fair. What we don’t want to say is that he gave up his divine attributes. Because if he gave up his essential divine properties he would cease to be God and that would not be the doctrine of the incarnation which is that Jesus is simultaneously God and man, not that he was first God, and then became man, and then became God again so that he was sequentially God and man. The doctrine of the incarnation is that Jesus is simultaneously God and man. But certainly in this state of emptying that Paul talks about – this state of humiliation – Christ did not draw upon and display all of his divine attributes openly. As you say, he was ignorant of certain facts like the date of the second coming. I think he actually knew those insofar as he was divine, but insofar as he had a human conscious life he didn’t have that knowledge at his disposal. This was, as you say, veiled or restrained in some way.

Kevin Harris: It would be incoherent to say that Jesus somehow emptied himself of divinity because God is not something that can be emptied.

Dr. Craig: That’s right. It would be like saying God could cease to exist, which is logically impossible because God is a necessary and eternal being. So it is logically impossible for God to cease to be God. Therefore, the notion that Jesus somehow gave up his divinity when he became man is a pagan idea, frankly. It is similar to Zeus in Greco-Roman mythology turning himself into a swan or turning himself into a bull for a temporary period of time. That kind of metamorphosis is really a pagan idea that is completely foreign to the Christian doctrine of the incarnation.

Kevin Harris: We need to chase the incarnation here for just a moment. Awesome, wonderful doctrine of the Bible. Incarnation. Let’s spell some of the things out there for it, Bill, because often we find ourselves talking about what it is not as well as what it is.

Dr. Craig: Right. I think that the proper way to think of the incarnation is not as some kind of subtraction. It is not as though the second person of the Trinity subtracted, or gave up, some of his attributes and turned himself into a human being. That is a completely foreign idea to Christianity. The way to think of the incarnation is as a matter of addition. In addition to the divine nature that he already had, the second person of the Trinity took on a human nature as well. So that now, instead of one nature which was divine, he had two natures – one of which was divine that he had from eternity and a human nature which he assumed at the moment of the virginal conception in Mary’s womb.

Kevin Harris: So not the subtraction of deity but the addition of humanity.

Dr. Craig: Right.

Kevin Harris: Did you come up with that Bill?

Dr. Craig: I don’t think so [laughter]. That’s just good orthodox doctrine.

Kevin Harris: OK. The incarnation wasn’t like a possession – God possessed a human. It seems to go beyond that.

Dr. Craig: That is a very good point. In the doctrine of, say, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we believe that God lives within Christians. That he indwells us. Or in demon possession, we think of a spiritual being that has taken control of the body of some other person. But the union of Christ with his human nature is much more intimate than that. It is not a mere, as you say, possession or indwelling of God in the man Jesus of Nazareth. No, we want to say the person who was Jesus – that person had two natures. One a human nature and one a divine nature. So you have a divine person with a human nature and a divine nature.

Kevin Harris: Even after the resurrection and his ascension, as Jesus is at the right hand of the Father now and when we see him one day at his second coming, is he still going to be that God-man? Is he still going to be that incarnation, that two natures?

Dr. Craig: Yes, that is one of the intriguing things about Christianity.[3] I think the doctrine of the resurrection and the ascension of Christ show that the possession of a human nature was not merely a temporary thing that the second person of the Trinity did for thirty years in order to secure our salvation and then gave up. Rather, the resurrection and ascension of Christ show that the incarnation is a permanent state of the second person of the Trinity. It is an affirmation, I think, of human being, of the worth of human being. And of the worth of the material world as well, that the second person of the Trinity should take on this sort of a material existence and take it on into eternity for ever.

Kevin Harris: So when Jesus prayed to the Father and he obeyed the Father and he listened to the Father and so on, he is doing that as a man.

Dr. Craig: That is right. We see in the Gospels the humanity of Christ on display. It is only occasionally that glimpses of his divinity will come through. For example, in the transfiguration or in moments of clairvoyant knowledge or perhaps miracles. But for the most part you see the man Jesus walking about Palestine, teaching people to obey God the Father, praying to God himself, suffering, dying. It is the humanity of Jesus that tends to be on display there in the Gospels.

Kevin Harris: How do Muslims view the crucifixion of Christ?

Dr. Craig: This is one of the, I think, most tremendous ironies of Islam. Of all the facts about Jesus to deny they pick the one fact which is the most indisputable fact about Jesus of Nazareth that is acknowledged by every historical scholar today; namely, his crucifixion. According to the Qur’an, Jesus was not crucified. This was a lie. It says that it only seemed to the Jews that they had crucified him. Later Muslim tradition interpreted this to mean that somebody else was made to look like Jesus and was crucified in his place. Some Muslim traditions say it was Judas Iscariot that God had somehow changed his appearance so that he looked like Jesus and he was crucified in the place of Jesus. Jesus was assumed into heaven so that he was never crucified. So Islam wants to spare Jesus the humiliation and the suffering and the death of the crucifixion. It denies the passion of the Christ in effect. As I say, it is ironic that it should do that because this is the one fact about Jesus of Nazareth that everybody who studies Jesus acknowledges.

Kevin Harris: So the crucifixion and the resurrection are just out the window when it comes to Islam.

Dr. Craig: That is right. Obviously, if Jesus didn’t die on the cross, then he wasn’t raised from the dead either. So they deny the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus which of course are central to Christian belief. I think you begin to see how different Islam is from Christianity because that means there is no atonement for sin. There is no substitutionary death on our behalf. There is no resurrection of Christ to vindicate his atoning sacrifice. So this means the doctrine of salvation in Islam and Christianity is completely different because Christ doesn’t give his life for us as a sacrificial offering to God because they deny the fact of the crucifixion.

Kevin Harris: Wrapping up today, Bill, it appears a good response to our Muslim friends not only to be loving but also a defense of the resurrection of Jesus might go a long way.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I think that when we focus on the resurrection we are not only at the heart of the Gospel but you are also on very solid historical ground because, as I say, the vast, vast majority of New Testament scholars – not evangelicals, not conservatives – but the mainstream of New Testament scholarship agrees that Jesus of Nazareth was executed by Roman authority, by crucifixion, around Passover time. That thereafter he was given an honorable burial in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea – remember, the Sanhedrin. Thereafter, his tomb was discovered empty by a group of his women followers. That various groups and individuals then experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. And that the earliest disciples, despite every predisposition to the contrary, came to believe suddenly and sincerely that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Those facts, I think, go to undergird the belief that Jesus died and was raised by God from the dead and therefore Christianity is true and Islam is in fact false.

Kevin Harris: Our question of the day, Dr. Craig: if God knows what we need before we pray, then why pray?[4]

Dr. Craig: So that we will get what we need. Right? I mean, that’s the idea. He knows what you need before you ask him but you have got to ask him. Therefore, prayer, I think, moves the hands of God. God will do things in answer to prayer that he would not have done had we not prayed. Now, that doesn’t mean that we change God’s mind. Maybe that is what is behind the question here. Prayer doesn’t change God’s mind because he knows what you need before you ask him and he knows that you will pray. But prayer has an effect in the sense that were we not to pray then God would not have moved in the way that he will.

Kevin Harris: It seems like we participate with God in prayer. It is a way for him to allow us to participate with him in some way.

Dr. Craig: Very much so. It really means that we cooperate with God in bringing about certain events and effects in the world.

Kevin Harris: I can’t see God changing his mind. There is some biblical descriptions that seem to indicate that he changed his mind. How are we to understand those?

Dr. Craig: I think they need to be read in the broader context where the Scriptures say that God knows the end of the beginning. He knows the words that I am going to speak even before they are on my tongue. He prophesied the future. In these accounts, I think we need to understand that the Bible is largely a storybook. It is a story of narratives. These narratives are told from the human point of view. Therefore they have all the color and the vivacity of the storyteller’s art. So they will portray God as repenting on something or is asking questions like “I am going to go down to Sodom and see if the report that I have heard is really true.” Well, that is just a kind of human storyteller’s approach to God that isn’t meant to be theologically picked apart and criticized.

Kevin Harris: Are they just literary tools to tell the narrative?

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I think that is right. It is just a way of telling a colorful and lively story about man’s interaction with God and it is told from the human point of view. That is all.[5]

[1] 5:02

[2] 10:00

[3] 15:00

[4] 19:56

[5] Total Running Time: 22:32 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)