A Stormy Night in Seattle

   It turned out that the huge storm we sailed right into the middle of on Thursday (resulting in my adopting a new last name, “Green,” along with just about everyone else on board) swept on into Seattle before us and produced wind gusts near 80 mph, even knocking out power in some areas. And that was just the leading edge. A few hours before the debate began (or so I am told—I was a bit pre-occupied) the heavens opened and the rain began. Not your regular Seattle rain, according to Mike O’Fallon, but more like your Tampa style down-pour thunderstorm kind of rain. As a result, one hundred thirty folks who had purchased tickets were no-shows. That was a bit disappointing, but certainly understandable. I guess you could hear the thunder inside the ballroom but I was oblivious to it.
   In any case, the debate went on with a good crowd of folks, though not as many Islamic participants as we had hoped for. I will be going over the debate on the Dividing Line on Tuesday. I can’t guarantee that I’ll have audio that soon, but I will have my notes from the debate, and that would surely be enough to hit the high points. For now, I will summarize.
   I opened the debate with the assertion that the only reason a Muslim like Shabir Ally would deny that Jesus died upon the cross as a willing sacrifice for the sins of God’s people is due to 40 Arabic words, specifically, Surah 4:157. I quote from my opening statement:

   I am asserting that the reason Shabir Ally sits here this evening in denial of the thesis is due to these 40Arabic words, traceable, at their earliest, to the revision done of the Qur’anic texts ordered by Uthman and undertaken by a committee chosen by him sometime after the middle of the seventh century according to the tradition recorded in Al-Bukhari. There truly is no other reason. And what is more, though the Qur’an claims to be a clear book, written in the perspicuous Arabic tongue, the fact is this text is nowhere near clear, let alone perspicuous. Many have pointed out that if it were not for Surah 4:157, the Qur’an’s teachings in such texts as Surah 3:55 and 19:33, where the death of Jesus is mentioned, would be easily understood without prompting very obtuse explanations that require us to believe the text is referring to a future death of Jesus that has not even taken place as yet. What is more, the text as it is written is very unclear, prompting, as Shabir Ally himself has noted, any number of contradictory interpretations by Islamic scholars over the centuries. And what is truly amazing to me is this: when the Qur’an contradicts the Christian teaching of the deity of Christ, it does so repeatedly, and forcefully. We likewise find references to this in the hadith. But when it comes to this one single ayah, these 40 lonely Arabic words that pop into the Qur’an out of nowhere, we likewise cannot find any meaningful commentary on these words in the hadith literature. Think of it. Muslims for two hundred years could not think of any commentary by Muhammad on this ayah. And yet, I, as a Christian, am to believe these 40Arabic words, written over half a millennium after the Christ event, in a different language from far away are to be taken to be sufficient to overthrow the entirety of the New Testament and the testimony of eye witnesses and martyrs.

   I provided all sorts of evidence from the first hundred years after Christ—the New Testament, Christian writings such as Clement and Ignatius, and even Josephus and Tacitus—that demonstrated that there truly was no dispute about the fact that Jesus had died upon the cross. I likewise pointed out that the gnostic fantasies of the second century, so often the darlings of the modern “anything to debunk Christianity” academy of scholars, have little evidentiary weight. I emphasized to the Muslims who were listening (both last night, as well as in the future) that the evidence I was presenting is closer to the events of Christ’s life than almost anything the Muslim can document relating to Muhammad’s life and teachings. For example, quoting again from my opening statement,

   About 77 years after the crucifixion, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was traveling to Rome to die as a martyr. In the letters he wrote as he traveled are repetitive references to the cross and the death of Christ. Remember, this documentation is still about seventy years closer to the events of Jesus life than the best documentation that exists for any of the events in Muhammad’s life. Remember, hadith collections like Al-Bukhari date from over two centuries after the death of Muhammad, so Ignatius was three times closer to the sources than Al-Bukhari was.

   The concensus opinion of those with whom I spoke after the debate (hardly an unbiased group, obviously), was that Mr. Ally never even tried to mount a response to my presentation. In essence, at one point in cross-examination I asked Mr. Ally if he would not agree that all of the genuinely first century sources agree in proclaiming that Jesus died upon the cross, and he agreed that this is the case. Ally’s approach was to go back to his primary argument: he quotes from liberal “Christian” scholars (whether Roman Catholic, Open Theist, you name it) and hammers away on his attack upon the Bible. He even spent a tremendous amount of time, in cross-examination, closing statement, and audience questions, going back to the very same Synoptic issue about Jairus’ daughter that we discussed at Biola! A number of people were very disappointed that he wandered so far from the topic in that way.
   As I said, I will be going over the debate on the DL, so I will simply say that I felt it went very well, and I look forward to future debates with Shabir, and with other credible Islamic apologists.
   Let me hasten to add a tremendous word of thanks. I can’t begin to tell you how blessed I was by the group that was with me up in Seattle. We had a wonderful time on the cruise, and having the debate at the end truly was a blessing for the entire group. Here is a picture of just some of the folks who gathered late in the night after the debate in my hotel room to discuss the events of the evening, almost all of whom had gone on the cruise as well. These folks not only prayed and studied, they worked as well! Volunteers were helping Rich with the set up and doing security and helping folks find the ball room and all sorts of things. We could not have done it without them, to be sure! Rich tells me special thanks goes to Dave Hewitt who, when Rich was having some real set up struggles, threw himself into the work, doing difficult physical labor that was vital in getting things done. Many kudos to Dave Hewitt! I would like to mention Daniel Figueroa, aka Figgy (proud father of Figglet, our official 2007 Baby Cruiser), who likewise was a great help to me. We simply couldn’t do things this large and complicated without the help of God’s people.
   Likewise, I wish to say thank you to those who supported our ministry last week while we were gone, and after the distraction of another break-in as well. One gentleman in particular gave very sacrificially, and we thank the Lord for that.
   Finally, my special thanks to those involved in the debate itself. Here is a picture of the group from before the debate. I do thank Shabir Ally for flying to Seattle for the debate and for always conducting himself as a gentleman. I look forward to future debates. Thanks to Thor Tolo of KGNW Radio in Seattle who moderated the debate and did a great job. And of course, to the two guys who make it all happen: the indefatigable Mike O’Fallon of Sovereign Cruises who, along with dear little Cathy, make cruising enjoyable, and of course, the man behind it all, the guy who gets it all done, the fellow who gets you your orders and keeps this ministry going, and the disembodied voice on the DL who keeps me humble, Rich Pierce.