So the two questions before us seem to be:
Actually I am being overly optimistic. Today the two sides rarely pose these two questions because to do so would assume that the issue is actually open for consideration. Those groups closed the discussion long ago and now unquestioningly declare their view as though it were fact.
I think a better approach would be to…
If “the Roll were called up yonder” today would our work on earth be done? COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. Lockdowns, failed businesses, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and church closures have some Christians in these parts wondering if we are already in the End Times. There is a lot to lament these days, but we must also ask what God wants to accomplish in the midst of such tough times…
Reza Aslan grew up in a nominally Muslim family in Northern California, and converted to Christianity at age thirteen. After two decades of rigorous research into the origins of Christianity he concluded he had previously been duped, and returned to Islam (xix). He now claims to be more devoted to Jesus than ever–a “committed disciple” (xx) of the “real Jesus”–not the “Jesus of faith.” Aslan thinks his portrait of Jesus, hidden behind layers of theology and centuries of interpretation, may in fact be more accurate than what the Gospels present (xxviii). His book is for the general audience with the express purpose of prying the historical Jesus away from the Christ of Christianity (120, 215-216).
Zealot shot to the top of the bestseller list due to a notorious interview on Fox News, where Lauren Green began by asking the author why a Muslim would write about Christianity’s founder. After that the discussion went downhill, recording the anchor’s ignorance (bias?) of Islam, and the author’s vigorous self-defense as scholar, who just happens to be a Muslim. Throughout the tense dialog, Aslan repeated his credentials three times: he has four degrees and is an “expert” in the history of religions. New Testament scholars would agree that he is a scholar on the history of religions, though not of early Christianity (his PhD is in sociology). But rather than question an author’s credentials, it is more helpful to discuss the contents of his work.
Having previously read the author’s No god but God, I was eager to purchase this book, but found it disturbing and unconvincing. It is poor scholarship in that the author confidently relies on outdated and untrustworthy sources. He does not seem interested in grappling with those who believe New Testament writers, like Luke, wrote with diligence and integrity. Finally, though some of the history is interesting, and the author engaging, there is little that resonates with how most Muslims see the prophet Jesus. Here, he is presented more like a failed Muhammad. A statement in the Introduction of Zealot seems to sum up the author’s own bias: “Scholars tend to see the Jesus they want to see.”
I recommend that believers of any faith when engaging believers of another faith, read the commentaries of the scholars of the other faith that help interpret or contextualize the scripture of the other faith. For example, regarding the Qur’an 2:191, a Christian might read the commentary of Ibn Kathir that contextualizes the verse to mean something quite different than the meaning given to it by the Christian reading the verse without the context and without access to the centuries of commentary around the verse.
Will contextualizing the verses solve the problem completely? Absolutely not. Why not? Because ignorant believers in a particular scripture often decontextualize or misinterpret a verse in their own holy book. Let’s look at some examples.
Have Christians at times treated the Bible to justify Jesus as the Lord of Wars more than the Prince of Peace because they read a verse such as Matthew 10:34 and believe that Jesus is advocating violence? Absolutely! This happened in the Crusades, which was actually a string of crusades, some launched by Muslims and others by Christians, each resorting to brutal violence. It was a horrible time in the history of both Christianity and Islam.
Have Muslims at times treated Muhammad as advocating violence without any constraints when convenient for Muslims? Absolutely! ISIS does it daily.
Even acknowledging these horrendous events in our histories doesn’t solve the problem because believers often get into a game of “your sin is worse than my sin,” “your transgressions are worse than our transgressions.” Or believers of different faiths often engage in the dubious logic of comparing the ideals of their faith against the realities witnessed in the lives of those of the other faith. I don’t find it morally sensitive or helpful to justify sin in any way.
Sinful people are often not interested in the truth but instead on misusing words of truth to justify sin rather than promote goodness.
Jesus warned us about this and directed us to remove the log in our own eye before addressing the speck in another’s eye.