In a disturbing new development in interfaith dialogue, an increasing number of liberal (mainly Protestant) Christian scholars are placing the Koran on the same level as the Bible and regarding it as a source of authentic “Christology”. They seem happy to accept uncritically the Koranic view that Isa (as Jesus is known in the Koran) is only a human being, earthly and mortal, to whom no divine qualities can be attributed. Isa in the Koran is exclusively a servant and a prophet of Allah who was neither crucified nor glorified. Inexplicably, it is this Isa, rather than the Jesus of the New Testament, that these scholars are willing to regard as the real Jesus Christ.
They completely disregard the following facts: a) that Mohammed and the Koran came six centuries after Jesus, b) that Christianity rejects both the prophethood of Mohammed and the revelatory character of the Koran,
c) that the views expressed in the Koran are closer to the Gnostic Apocrypha than to the canonical Gospels, and d) that Isa has more in common with the Manichean Jesus than the Jesus of Nazareth whose life, death, resurrection and divinity are detailed in the Gospels and confirmed by the early Christian creeds.
The main example of such scholars in Europe is the German Protestant pastor Martin Bauschke, who in turn relies on the pluralistic, liberal ideas of the British philosopher John Hick. To Bauschke, the Islamic creed “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger” precludes any claim to Jesus’ divinity. This fits perfectly with the Islamic belief that Jesus is only one of a whole chain of prophets, beginning with Adam and ending with Mohammed (“the seal of prophets”). Bauschke and company also deny that God is triune and (again in line with Islamic tradition) they preclude other fundamental Christian doctrines such as the incarnation and redemption. They argue that Isa (a name that constitutes a linguistic puzzle, by the way) is the original Jesus who has been recovered by the Koran after having been distorted by Paul and other New Testament writers, along with the early councils and theologians of the Church.
Bauschke considers both the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and the Koran as inspired writing, though they both lack any Passion tale. But to Bauschke and others like him, the cross and the resurrection do not necessarily belong to Christology, thereby making their own “Christology” a point of agreement between themselves and their Muslim counterparts in dialogue. To both sides, the innumerable designations of the Son of God in the New Testament are understood in a metaphorical rather than a metaphysical sense. They are “adoptionist” rather than actual, and the high Christology of the early writers allegedly divorced Hellenistic Christianity from its Jewish and Semitic roots.
So what does the Koran say about Isa exactly? It actually reveres him as a sinless prophet, a messenger of Allah, a moral preacher and a performer of miracles. It even affirms his virgin birth and his eventual return to earth (though as a Musim). But there is a repeated denial of his divinity and a fierce protestation that the title “Son of God” is blasphemous (having been given a physical and sexual interpretation). Islam actually emerged out of Mohammed’s conflict with the Christians and Jews of Arabia. The passages on Isa in both the Koran and the Hadith (a collection of the sayings of Mohammed) are part of a polemical attack on the Biblical truths concerning Jesus. In the Koran 5:12-16, both Christians and Jews are cursed for “distorting” their scriptures.
The followers of Jesus are attacked in the Koran for elevating him above the human level, implying that Jesus himself never claimed to be divine. The Koran also vehemently attacks the concept of the Trinity, understanding it wrongly as a tritheism, consisting of God, Jesus and Mary (See Koran 5:119). As for Jesus’ crucifixion, it is emphatically denied, implying that it would indicate defeat and humiliation both for one of God’s prophets as well as for God himself. Thus we read in 4:157/8 “They slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them…Allah took him up unto himself”. The suggestion is that God tricked the Jews into thinking that they crucified Jesus when, in fact, someone else was killed in his place. As for Allah “taking (Jesus) up unto himself”, some think it may be a vague reference to Jesus’ Ascension.
While Isa is portrayed by the Koran as a major prophet, alongside Abraham and Moses, he is not as great as Mohammed. Even though remarkable titles are applied to him, such as “Messiah”, “Son of Mary”, “God’s Messenger”, “a Word from God” and “a Spirit from God”, these never imply any divinity. Like Adam, Isa was a created being formed out of the dust of the earth (K 3:59). He received from God a book (the injil
or Gospel) and a law for his people (5:46), and he also foretold the coming of Mohammed (61:6).
As well as the Koran, Isa is mentioned in many hadiths (sayings of Mohammed). Out of these two major sources of Islam, there emerges a picture of Mohammed, which is far superior to that of Isa. It is Mohammed who is the perfect man, the God-given example to be imitated by the faithful. The veneration of Mohammed has reached new heights at present, particularly among radical Muslims who look up to him as their guide in jihad. He is also venerated by all pious Muslims, to whom he has become a Christ-like figure, for whose sake God created the world, the only real intercessor and mediator with Allah.
Although Isa is described in the Koran 43:59 as “no more than (God’s) servant”, a few verses later (v. 61), he is linked to the end of the world.
Picking up on this, the Hadith collections present Isa mainly as an eschatological figure who has an important role to play at the end of time. He will come down from heaven as a Muslim warrior in order to destroy both Christianity and Judaism and to establish Islam as the only religion on earth. His army will also destroy the Anti-Christ (dajjal
) and his forces (mainly Jews), being supported in battle by another eschatological figure called al-Mahdi (“the rightly-guided one”). In a great apocalyptic war to take place in Jerusalem, Isa and Mahdi will fight the Dajjal, will emerge victorious and will liberate Jerusalem from the Jews. The Muslims will then go on to conquer the rest of the world and establish the universal rule of Islam.
Needless to say, such a portrayal of Isa is very different from, and quite opposed to, that of Jesus Christ of the New Testament and Christian history. But, in the name of Christian-Muslim dialogue, an increasing number of so-called “Christian” scholars are willing to water down the Christian faith and choose Isa to be the authentic Jesus. In their eagerness to seek a common ground between the two faiths, or in order to appease the Muslim side, they are producing a new “Jesus” who is stripped of all his unique attributes: his deity, incarnation, passion, crucifixion, resurrection, redemptive mission and universal lordship; in other words, a Jesus that is unrecognisable to Christians but remarkably similar to the Isa of Islam.So what is left then is an un-Christian and un-ecclesiastical Jesus, a pious and ordinary preacher, but not the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the divine and universal Saviour of humankind, who is to be worshipped and adored. This is denying the very heart of the Christian faith and reintroducing the old heresy of Arianism, which caused so much damage to the Church in the past. Such stripping of Christianity of its essentials renders any Christian-Muslim dialogue extremely dangerous and utterly meaningless.