BLOG: Theological barriers to the gospel

This article is part of our series, ‘Barriers to the gospel’, where we explore a few areas of concern that Muslims have about Christianity and how we can respond to them.

We rejoice that God is drawing many Muslim people to Himself from across the Arab world and beyond. But despite this, there are billions of people who remain unconvinced of the Christian message and reject Jesus’ identity. So why don’t Muslims come to faith in Jesus? What is it that presents a barrier to the gospel? Where are the stumbling blocks?

In this opening article, we briefly look at three theological barriers – points where Christian beliefs are so contrasting with the Islamic worldview that it is hard for Muslims to accept them.

Islam’s belief in the corruption of the Bible

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the perfectly preserved word of God, eternally existing in heaven and given word-for-word to the prophet Muhammad, then recorded and compiled by his early followers. It is held to be unchanged from that time.

The Qur’an mentions previous books given by Allah to humanity, including the Torah, Psalms and Gospel. However, it is clear that the Bible disagrees fundamentally with the Qur’an on some key beliefs. In response, it is taught in Islam that the Bible has been corrupted and that the Qur’an is, by contrast, perfectly preserved and accurately summarises what was previously taught.

The issue with this objection is that the evidence shows that the Bible is remarkably well preserved. There exists an amazing number of manuscripts, some of which go back to just a few decades after the original texts were written, with complete copies of the Bible from the fourth century. Even when minor textual variants are seen between manuscripts, these do not affect key Christian doctrines that Islam rejects. The Qur’an’s claim is one from ideology, not evidence.

The divinity of Christ and the Trinity

The most significant contradiction between Islam and Christianity is the identity of Jesus Christ. Even though Jesus is a very highly revered prophet in Islam, the belief that Jesus is divine is rejected in the strongest terms. As in Christianity, idolatry, known as Shirk in Islam, is a severe sin.

There can be a lot of misunderstanding in this area, and it is important to articulate clearly to our Muslim friends what Christians actually believe. The term ‘Son of God’ is particularly problematic and needs to be explained carefully. We of course do not believe that Jesus is the biological offspring of God – as if a Roman demi-god – though He was conceived on earth miraculously by the Holy Spirit. Unpacking the Bible’s support of the incarnation and the Trinity requires us to be good students of Scripture and of doctrine. If we don’t know why we believe what we do, how will we explain it to others?

The cross

Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 1 that the cross seems like foolishness to those that reject its message. For Muslims this is certainly true, as they claim that Jesus never died on the cross, but it was only made to appear that way. A key concern for Islam is to protect the honour of its prophets; the Qur’an’s depictions of figures of the faith are much more sympathetic than the Bible, often omitting their sins and failures. In a similar way, Jesus’ death is perceived as a disgrace that God would not have allowed to occur. The Qur’an is ambiguous as to how this happened, so Muslims often claim that He was swapped for another person, or that He ‘swooned’ and woke up later. Likewise, Jesus’ death is not seen to have been necessary for the forgiveness of sins.

This claim is an issue in a couple of ways. Firstly, it suggests that God deliberately deceived those witnessing the crucifixion, including the followers of Jesus. The Church was founded then on this supposedly false belief. Another problem is the belief that Jesus’ death was unnecessary. From a Christian perspective, this does not adequately address the severity of sin or the holiness of God. No amount of works would ever be enough to bring salvation, only the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.

In our next article, we will consider how Muslim perceptions of Christians can be a stumbling block.


For more specific answers to these questions and more, check out the Hicham series.

Take a look at recommended resources on mission and Islam, to learn more.

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