May 10, 2015
Why Christianity rather than Judaism or Islam?
Hello Dr. Craig,
I have always wondered about your claim that Christianity is the only true religion (based on historical evidence as you say). But how can you be so sure when Islamic and Jewish scholars claim the same claim?
As a former atheist and now an agnostic, the question of which religion to choose is essential. I'm very well acquainted with Islamic Theology and unlike your claim. Islam affirms that Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same god ("Allah" is not a special god for Muslims rather it's the term for god in Arabic).
So what is your position on Islam? (And I would really like to know from who do you get your information on Islamic theology).
I also would to invest some time in Christian theology, would kindly recommend some introductory books?
The short answer to your question of why Christianity rather than Islam or Judaism, Sultan, is Jesus of Nazareth. While Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the world’s three great monotheistic faiths, genetically related and so having much in common, what divides them is their account of Jesus. I think that neither Judaism nor Islam gives a satisfactory historical account of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.
My interest in Islamic thought was sparked by my study of the history of the so-called kalam cosmological argument, especially its development by medieval Muslim theologians like al-Ghazali. In fact, it was due to their contribution to the development of the argument that I dubbed this version of the argument, which goes back to the pre-Islamic Christian era, the kalam cosmological argument (“kalam” being, as perhaps you know, the Arabic term for Islamic doctrine). You can read about their contribution to this and other forms of the cosmological argument in my The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz (London: Macmillan, 1980).
My interest in Islam thus awakened, I chose Islam as one of my two side areas of specialization on which I was examined for my doctorate in theology at the University of Munich. Both the teachings of the Qur’an and the dogmatic history of Islamic theology became subjects of fascination for me. I never dreamt at that time that some day I would have the privilege of debating Muslim apologists in the U.S., Canada, and South Africa and lecturing on Islam and Christianity, not only in North America and Europe, but even at Muslim universities in Turkey and Tunisia.
While you’re certainly correct that “Allah” is just the Arabic word for God, being used even in the Arabic New Testament, it doesn’t follow, Sultan, from common vocabulary or words that Muslims and Christians have the same concept of God. No Muslim would concede that God is a Trinity of persons, as Christians believe, and, as you must know, the Qur’an condemns to hell those who claim that Jesus is God’s Son, as we Christians believe (V.70). Similarly, I have argued that the character of the God of the New Testament is fundamentally different from the character of the God of the Qur’an. The God of the New Testament loves unbelievers with a love that is unconditional and universal (Matthew 5.43-48), whereas the God of the Qur’an has no love for unbelievers but loves only those who are faithful Muslims (III.25; XIX. 95).
But the real Achilles Heel of Islam is its portrait of the historical Jesus. It is ironic that the Qur’an chooses to deny the best established fact about Jesus, namely, his crucifixion (IV.157). Not only is there not a single shred of evidence in favor of this remarkable hypothesis, but the evidence supporting Jesus’ crucifixion is, as Emory University New Testament scholar L. T. Johnson puts it, “overwhelming” (The Real Jesus [San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996], p. 125). Paula Frederickson, whose book From Jesus to Christ inspired the PBS special by the same name, declares, “The crucifixion is the strongest single fact we have about Jesus” (Society of Biblical Literature meeting, November 22, 1999). The crucifixion of Jesus is recognized even by the sceptical critics in the Jesus Seminar as--to quote Robert Funk--”one indisputable fact” (Jesus Seminar video).
When we think that the Qur’an was written by a man living in Arabia 600 years after Jesus with no independent source of information about him, it really isn’t so surprising that his view of Jesus was distorted. Whatever else one might say about Islam, its view of Jesus is erroneous, and so this religion cannot be true. There is good material on this site about Islam and Christianity; for example, www.reasonablefaith.org/who-is-the-real-jesus-the-jesus-of-the-bible-or-the-jesus-of-the-quran, www.reasonablefaith.org/media/craig-vs-ally-canada, www.reasonablefaith.org/media/craig-vs-badawi-university-of-illinois
As for Judaism, again I should say that the decisive consideration is Jesus’ claims to be the Jewish Messiah and his subsequent resurrection from the dead. Jewish scholars are coming to recognize the historical facts undergirding Jesus’ resurrection and are hard-pressed to explain those facts apart from the resurrection. Indeed, one of their number, the late Pinchas Lapide, whom I heard lecture at the University of Munich, declared himself convinced that the God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. He also thought that Jesus believed himself to be the Messiah. As Prof. Dr. Wolfhart Pannenberg, my Doktorvater, mused at the time, Lapide seemed strangely unable to connect the dots. If you’re interested in how a Jewish scholar responds to the evidence, take a look at my debate with Peter Zaas, Who Was Jesus?,ed. Craig Evans and Paul Copan [Louisville, Kent.: Westminster-John Knox Press, 2002]).
You ask, “How can you be so sure when Islamic and Jewish scholars claim the same claim?” Well, because they can’t explain the evidence concerning Jesus as well as Christianity. I’d invite you just to look at the resources I mentioned and judge for yourself. For more on Christian theology, I suppose I’d recommend Bruce Milne’s Know the Truth, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, Il.: Inter-Varsity, 2009) or my own lectures on Christian doctrine at www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast .
 Qur’anic verses numbered according to the Arberry translation.