Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Same God Heresy - Part 4: End of Days & Eschatology

Jesus is coming soon, but which Jesus?  — "The radically opposite end times teachings of Islam and Christianity rest on radically opposite views of Jesus."

End of Days & Eschatology

(Continued from Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

by Ralph H. Sidway

The “End of Days,” or Eschatology, also referred to as the Apocalypse, reveals much about Islam and Christianity, and the Same God Question. If you want to understand any belief system, look at what it teaches about Origin and Fulfillment, Beginning and End, about Ultimate Things.

Christian Anthropology and the Destiny of Man

Before getting into actual Eschatology, I suggest we look at a critical corollary, the question of Christian anthropology. Who and What is Man (and Woman)? Why were they created? What is their destiny? These are not philosophical or existential questions here, they are ultimate questions about our very existence. 

Significantly, Islam does not share this central view of Man's nature, of his being created in the image and likeness of God. In Islam, man is at best a slave, and is not to question Allah's will, even when Allah orders him to kill:

"Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not." — Koran 2:216 [1]

Christians believe Mankind is created in God's image and according to His likeness, per the creation passages in Genesis (Gen. 1:26-28, 5:1-4), but that Adam and Eve fell through disobedience and believing the serpent, who was trying to convince them to become gods without God. The import of the Creation story is summed up in Genesis 5:

In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created. And Adam… begot a son in his own likeness, after his image… (Gen 5:1-3)

Note that the sons of Adam after the Fall are according to Adam’s image, that is, his fallen image. The original image of God in which Man was fashioned has been ontologically altered, darkened, obscured, by the effects of sin and disobedience. The story of the Old Testament shows how mankind cannot by itself, and certainly not by observing the Law, attain to that Original Image in which Mankind was created at the Beginning.

This why the Word of God needed to become man, become like we are, in all ways except without sin. He was a real man, was tempted, suffered hunger, thirst, and ultimately was tortured and put to death. 

Thus it was necessary for the Word of God to become flesh in order to to free us from sin, death and the devil, to restore us to our destiny as children of God, to restore the divine image and likeness in us. Christians are to live this New Life, this Transfigured Life, imbued with the grace of God. Eternal Life begins right here, right now. And if we will grow in this Life, then we will become witnesses of Jesus and his resurrection, and "partakers of the divine nature." We receive this gift through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is why St Paul speaks of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” To the extent that we live in Christ, we can, in self-emptying love — like Jesus — hold out the Word of Life to those around us (including our Muslim neighbors).

The Return of Jesus in Christianity and Islam

Traditional Christians believe that this same risen and glorified Jesus will return at the end of this age to usher in his kingdom, after which the destiny of mankind as children of God will be fully revealed.

This is set forth in a simple way in the Nicene Creed: “He shall come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” What will this kingdom be like? John relates the vision given him in Revelation 21:

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God… Then He who sat on the throne said to me... “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son…”

Yet this is a great mystery, beyond our comprehension; we are reminded by the apostle Paul that “eye has not seen, nor ear heard…” 

Jesus himself likened the rewards for the faithful to be like a ruler who gives his servants money to trade with while he is on a long journey. When he returns, one has increased the gift tenfold, another five, another was a coward and lazy, and hid the money in the ground until his master’s return. To the ones who increased their gift, their master puts them in charge of “many things” (in Matthew 25; in Luke 19 it reads “cities”).  So there is a great reward but also further growth for the faithful.

Of course, much is made of the 72 virgins awaiting faithful Muslim men (guaranteed to those who die while waging jihad). [2]  In comparison, Jesus says about the age to come, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (MT 22:30). (Little more need be said of the Islamic belief, or I would be guilty of crass ridicule.)

Regarding the Second Coming, Islam also teaches that Jesus (the Muslim Prophet Isa) is to return, but this Muslim Jesus has quite a different purpose from the Christian one.

In the Islamic teaching, Isa will come to condemn the Christians’ misunderstanding of him as divine and to literally destroy Christianity and judge all non-Muslims; the Koran universally brands all unbelievers as “the vilest of creatures” (Sura 98:6). The Prophet Isa will be a “good Muslim,” and will direct his followers to the Mahdi, the Muslim messiah, before taking a subservient position somewhat behind the Mahdi:

Isa will “fight the people for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill the swine and abolish jizya” and establish the rule of Allah throughout the world (Hadith from Sunan Abu Dawud, Book of Battles, 37:4310). 

The Jews are likewise marked for destruction. Islam’s long history of anti-semitism finds full expression in the Koran itself, where Jews are described as being made into apes and swine (5:60, 2:65, 7:166), are eternally cursed (2:61, 3:112) and damned to hellfire (4:55, 5:29, 98:6, 58:14-19), unless they understand their faith and embrace Islam (3:113); the Islamic end times scenario is every bit as ruthless towards Jews as it is towards Christians, as this hadith demonstrates:

Mohammed said in his Hadith: “The Hour [Day of Resurrection] will not arrive until you fight the Jews, [until a Jew will hide behind a rock or tree] and the rock and the tree will say: Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!” (Sahih Muslim, 41:6985. This is a favorite among jihadists and zealous imams.)

This thread of Islamic invective against Christians and Jews is not some arcane theological reference shrouded in the mists of time and known only to Muslim jurists, imams and historians, but is rather active and woven into the daily prayers offered by pious Muslims all over the world. As we saw in Part 2 of this ‘Same God’ series, the first sura of the Koran, called al-Fatihah, ‘The Opening’, refers in its final two verses to the Christians and the Jews, condemning them for abandoning Islam and being “led astray.”

We might be inclined to simply ignore such koranic texts, were it not for the dozens of others which command Muslims to openly fight against Christians and Jews. When these commands are joined with eschatological promises, these jihad commands become especially powerful.

An Islamic Utopia?

Islam’s end times goals are not limited to the hereafter, but have a decidedly this-worldly imperative. Coupled with Islam’s anti-semitic and anti-Christian spirit is a relentless chiliastic/utopian orientation, similarly a strong element behind the Marxist/ Communist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Just as communism promised an earthly paradise of universal peace and social justice which would arise after the dictatorship of the proletariat had defeated the old modes of thought, religion and government, so Islam envisions a utopian future when Isa (Jesus) and the Mahdi will spread the rule of Allah throughout the world and all will have submitted to Islam. Only then will the jihad be completed, when the dar al-Harb (House of War) will have been finally overcome by the dar al-Islam (House of Islam).

In a dark aftermath to this Islamic triumph, ultimately the jizya tax itself will be abolished; there will no longer be allowed any religion but Islam. Submission to Islam or death will be the only two options. [3]

The Islamic eschatological vision in ‘The Opening’ of the Koran is, thus, clearly an anti-Christian and anti-Jewish theological pogrom, coded into Islam’s theological DNA, and has implicitly justified the eruption of horrendous atrocities against Jews and Christians over the centuries, such as the Turkish Muslim genocide against Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Christians of a century ago, during which at least 3.6 million Christians were killed by their Muslim neighbors. [4] 

Which brings us to the Islamic State and the new Muslim genocide against Christians in the early 21st century. 

The Islamic State and Eschatology

Driven by a renewed eschatological vision, ISIS is drawing tens of thousands of faithful Muslims from all around the globe (including supposedly well integrated, modernized Muslim men and women from Western secular democracies) to join its jihad against the dar al-Harb. It has been about a year now since Graeme Wood’s landmark article in The Atlantic, What ISIS Really Wants, described Islam’s eschatological imperative to a wider audience, using the words of ISIS recruiters themselves:

...Much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse. 
The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam… 
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic… The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam… 
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. 

A recent Pew Survey indicates between 63 million and 287 million Muslim supporters of the Islamic State Caliphate worldwide. It is ISIS’ zealous adherence to Islamic eschatology which draws them and inspires their loyalty as they labor and fight to advance the apocalypse and Islam’s ultimate victory.

Back to the Same God Question

In Part 2 of this series, I emphasized that we must look at who (or Who) is behind the Koran:

Because it is Allah speaking in and through the Koran, therefore Christian apologists for the Same God position cannot hide behind the relativistic, academic “different conceptions of God” curtain. That is ducking the question. Who is the “man behind the curtain?” Who is the BEING behind the revelation which makes those pronouncements? This is the dilemma of the Same God position. If the Koran is a revealed text, who is the WHO behind the text?

When it comes to Islamic eschatology and the ultimate goal of jihad, we see again the primacy of this question. Who is the source of Islam’s end times doctrine? As we have noted, Muslims claim to worship the Same God as Christians, but insist that Christians have gone astray, corrupted our scriptures, committed blasphemy, shirk, etc. William Kilpatrick, in an important recent article, Was Muhammad a False Prophet?, sums it up as follows:

Muhammad’s purpose in introducing Jesus into the Koran is to discredit the Christian claim that he is divine in order to enhance Muhammad’s claim to prophethood… Whatever Muhammad’s motivation, the fact is that the Jesus of the gospels and the Jesus of the Koran are irreconcilable. How can both revelations possibly be from the same God? If Christ is God, then the Koranic account is a false account and Muhammad is a false prophet.

We reach the same conclusion from comparing the radically opposite end times teachings of Islam and Christianity, which rest on the radically opposite views of Jesus. Such radically opposed eschatological goals, such radically different views of Jesus, could not issue forth from the same God.

An Arrow to its Target

Perhaps a metaphor might describe it best.

Christianity and Islam both claim to know the ultimate goal (God), and can instruct and guide the disciple in ordering their life so as to reach the goal, like an archer aiming at his target.

Yet everything Islam teaches about its target, its goal, is the complete opposite, radically opposed to, what the Christian faith teaches about its target.

Does it really make sense to say that the targets are really one and the same, it’s just that the two faiths have different views of the target?

Yet this cannot be. If a Christian followed the teachings of Islam, he would completely miss his target and eventually could no longer be called a Christian. Indeed, he would ultimately find himself committing jihad against his former fellow Christians.

Likewise, if a Muslim aimed at the Christian target, he would be seen a blasphemer in the eyes of Islam, and would be subject to Islam’s death penalty for apostasy.

Interestingly, the Greek word for “sin” most often used in the New Testament, hamartia, means “to miss the mark,” and describes well the phenomenon of sin: falling short, not being aimed properly at the target, failing to attain the goal.

There is a certain sense of hamartia — of “missing the mark” — in the word apostasy, which means a falling away, though apostasy indicates primarily a failure to stand within the truth, a failure to remain upright. Both these words can help us in warning Christians against well intentioned but misguided efforts to be too inclusive, too tolerant and politically correct when speaking of Islam and relating to Muslims.

When a Christian affirms the Same God position, he implicitly allies himself with Islam, even though the latter has a polar opposite target and goal. To return to the quote from Mark Durie which I cited at the beginning of Part 1 of this series:

[This ‘Same God’ message] provides the lynchpin of Muslims’ efforts to convert the ‘People of the Book’ to the faith of Muhammad. In addition, this belief, once accepted, can lead Christians to support Islamic perspectives in ways other than conversion. For example, embracing this Islamic doctrine wins a measure of respect and even support for Islam from Christians.

The Same God claim is an Islamic doctrine, not a Christian belief. Christians who affirm it are advancing the Islamic narrative, aiding Islamic dawah, and aligning with Islam’s eschatological goals. By affirming the Same God claim, they are tacitly affirming the Islamic view of Jesus, and are essentially saying they would rather side with Muslims than with Jesus at his return. 

Returning to the Epistemological Malady we identified in Part 1, most Christians have likely (1) not given the issue this much thought, and (2) don’t know what they think anyway. Many Christians who adopt the Same God position feel that to do otherwise is hateful, and they wish to stand in solidarity with their Muslim neighbors, whom they see as spiritual siblings. Such is the case with former Wheaton College Professor Larycia Hawkins, whose wearing a hijab and teaching the Same God heresy did us the service of bringing this issue to the fore.

But as I shall try to show in my concluding article, disavowing the Same God position not only does not mean one adopting a hateful position vis a vis Muslims, but when approached in the light of the Christian Gospel proclaims the ultimate solidarity, and expresses the most profound and self-sacrificial love, exactly the kind of love which can save people from a false god and false prophet.


[1] Not only does this verse establish that violence can be virtuous, but it also contradicts the myth that fighting is intended only in self-defense, since the audience was obviously not under attack at the time. From the Hadith, we know that this verse was narrated at a time that Muhammad was actually trying to motivate his people into raiding merchant caravans for loot. (Source: The Religion of Peace)

[2] Those Muslim men who perish killing the infidels for Allah are guaranteed paradise, where they will enjoy an eternity of conjugal bliss with seventy-two dark-eyed houris with breasts that never sag but are “swelling and firm,” (Koran 25:15-16) and where the men have the sexual power of a hundred men, even having “eternal erections.” (Srdja Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet, pp 63- 64.) For further background on this bizarre Islamic belief, see this article by Raymond Ibrahim, and this by Ibn Warraq.

[3] c.f., Islamic jurist Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 1368), The Reliance of the Traveller, A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, Nuh Ha Keller, translater, Amana Pub., 1997, p 603.

[4] This wider holocaust committed by the Muslim Turks against Armenian, Assyrian, Pontian, Anatolian and Greek Christians, spanned from 1894 to 1923, with an estimated 3.6 million killed, and countless more displaced.