Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Predestination in Islam: A Reformed Critique
03/25/2007 - Colin SmithOver the last couple of blog entries, I have briefly examined the doctrine of Qadar, or Predestination, in Islam. In the first article, I defined the doctrine as taught in the Qur'an and the Hadith. Then, in the second, I presented Dr. Norman Geisler's critique of the doctrine from his Arminian viewpoint, and also offered an analysis of this approach, pointing out the problems I have with it. In this final installment, I will offer a critique of the doctrine of Qadar from a Reformed perspective, and demonstrate that it is not the idea of God having exhaustive sovereignty that is the problem with the Islamic view.
The Problem with Qadar
As I indicated last time, the idea of God's sovereignty over all creation, even to the final destination of one's eternal soul, is a Biblical concept, and I presented some passages that demonstrate this. To these could be added passages such as Romans 9, Acts 13:48, and Psalm 139, which further show that all things in life are under God's eternal decree, including salvation.
When someone such as Norman Geisler addresses this subject, given his predisposition to reject any notion of God's sovereignty that would appear to rob man of his free will, he tends to ignore a lot of the Biblical evidence for Predestination, and simply rejects the concept, using many of his well-worn Arminian counter-arguments. As we saw last time, however, many of these arguments fall flat because he is ignoring important passages that the astute Muslim could easily throw back at him, leaving him in a position of having to refute both Islamic and Biblical ideas of the sovereignty of God while trying to defend his Arminian position upon very shaky theological ground. In other words, Dr. Geisler's Arminianism blinds him to the fundamental problem with the Islamic doctrine of Qadar. It is not the fact that God is able to decree a man's path and predetermine his final destiny that is the major theological problem with the Islamic view; rather it is the fact that God appears to do this without any reason or motive for so doing. Why does God choose to send one man to Paradise and another to Hell? According to the Muslim, because He wants to. How can the Muslim be assured that God has not decreed that he will suffer in Hell at the end of his life? Ultimately, he can't. He can hope that any good he has done is as a result of God's intention to give him eternal Bliss, but he cannot know for sure that God might snatch that from him at the end. If there is no rhyme or reason to why a man goes to Heaven, why should there be one for sending a man to Hell?
There is a concept in Islam of man's "natural inclination," which is called fitrah. At birth, each person's fitrah is pure, free from erroneous ideas, and ready to take in sound teaching. However, soon after birth, this fitrah is corrupted by jinn (spirits that tend to lead a man to sin) and devils. God will intervene and protect and guide those He wishes to lead ultimately to Heaven, and simply leave the rest to be led astray by the jinn and the devils (though he guides the path of these people too, to make sure they don't suddenly decide to resist these temptations and seek out paths of righteousness contrary to His decree for their lives).
This idea of fitrah is clearly far removed from the Biblical idea of Original Sin. The Bible teaches that as a result of Adam's transgression in the Garden of Eden, sin entered the world and caused Adam and his progeny to experience spiritual death (Romans 5:12). As a result of this, every person is born with a natural inclination to sin (Romans 3:9-18). It is this natural inclination towards sin that results in every person being under God's just wrath, and subject to final and eternal punishment in Hell (Romans 1:18-32). So, rather than man being born in a neutral state that God either preserves or corrupts according to what final end He has decreed for that man, Biblically speaking, man is born in a corrupt state, subject to the full wrath of God against his sin, and dependent upon God's mercy in Christ to save him. ...
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Witnessing to Muslims--an Important Point to Remember
03/23/2007 - Colin SmithOn Thursday's Dividing Line, Dr. White made an important point that I would like to briefly underscore. He mentioned the fact that there are those who might fear witnessing to Muslims because they seem so set in their religion, and often appear to be very militant about their views. Islam is often portrayed as a "hard" religion to evangelize, and there is truth to the fact that since most Muslims are raised in their faith, there are family and societal pressures upon them to remain in the faith. However, we need to remember that before God there is no difference between a Muslim, a Mormon, a Buddhist, a Jehovah's Witness, a Roman Catholic, a Scientologist, an Atheist, or any other non-Christian religious group: they are all sinners in need of a Saviour. The devotees to each of them are trapped within a religious or philosophical system through which they cannot deal with their sinful condition, and they all, therefore, stand condemned before God on that basis.
It is true that conversion to Christianity is a much more life-threatening prospect for the Muslim than for most other groups, however, especially in the West that is not necessarily the case. We are blessed by God that (at least at the moment) our countries are not governed by Islamic Law, and so the dire consequences Muslim converts might face in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia would not necessarily apply. Yes, even in the West Muslims may still try to impose the penalties of Islamic Law against those who commit crimes against Islam (witness the recent ruckus over the cartoons of Muhammad, for example), but these attempts run contrary to Western laws, not in accordance with them.
Also remember that God is sovereign, and there is no heart too stoney that He cannot turn it to flesh. Salvation belongs to Him, and if He intends to bring the gift of repentance to someone, His work will not fail. He will use whatever means He sees fit (including your evangelistic efforts) to bring His people to a knowledge of Him, and these people come from "every tribe and language and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9), which includes the Middle East.
Predestination in Islam: Dr. Norman Geisler's Critique
03/23/2007 - Colin SmithIn the previous blog, we looked at what the Qur'an and the Hadith teach with regard to the doctrine of Predestination (Qadar), and we saw that the notion of God's absolute sovereignty is, indeed, supported there. Further, we saw that Islam teaches that God's decree extends to all creation and all that happens, even down to the final destination of each human soul; and God will so direct the paths of each man's life so that he will earn the destiny to which he has been ordained.
In his book Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross, co-written with Abdul Saleeb, Dr. Norman Geisler provides a critique of this teaching (pp. 140-145 of the first edition). Norman Geisler is well-known to listeners of The Dividing Line and those who have followed this website over the years, since it was his criticism of Sproul's book Chosen by God, entitled Chosen But Free, that provoked Dr. White to write The Potter's Freedom. Geisler is solidly Arminian in his theology, and has attacked Reformed doctrine, particularly Calvin's Five Points, in various fora, always with the same misunderstandings and misrepresentations as detailed in Dr. White's book. As with most Arminians, Geisler holds to the idea that God has chosen an undefined group of people that will be saved, but, even though He loves all men equally and desires each one to be saved, He has given each man the ability to choose whether or not he will belong to that number. God provides His Church, His Word, and many evidences of His existence to all creation, and extends the offer of salvation to all of fallen mankind through the shed blood of His final and greatest gift: His Son, who sacrificed Himself on the cross for every person who has and ever will live. However, it is up to each sinful man to accept God's offer in order to be saved. If man does not accept, then he will have consigned himself to eternal punishment, despite God's loving efforts to save him. If he does accept, that man is welcomed into Heaven when he dies.
After seeing what Islam teaches with regard to Predestination, it comes as no surprise to learn that Dr. Geisler takes issue with the Muslim view. In this blog, I want to take a few moments to see how Geisler goes about critiquing the doctrine of Qadar, and to provide a counter-critique. My counter-critique is by no means in defense of the Muslim position, but to illustrate how Geisler's own theological position has weakened his apologetic response.
Critiquing Qadar: The Geisler Approach
Dr. Geisler breaks his critique of the doctrine of Qadar into four categories: the logical problem, the moral problem, the theological problem, and the metaphysical problem. The logical problem he sees with Qadar is the fact that the Qur'an depicts God acting in contradictory ways, and describing Him in contradictory terms. "For example, God is 'the One Who leads astray,' as well as 'the One Who guides.' He is 'the One Who brings damage,' as also does Satan" (p. 141). He finds the Muslim response that these contradictions are not part of God's essence but expressions of His will to be "inadequate." As Geisler points out, one's actions flow from one's essence. In other words, a rational person acts in a way that is in character with who he is. That being the case, the God of Islam would be a God of contradictory essence.
The moral problem, according to Dr. Geisler, is simply that Islam's "extreme determinism" robs man of moral responsibility for his actions. Since God ordains a man's path, and causes him to act in ways that lead to either Heaven or Hell, God is unjust to condemn man for sin over which man has no power. He claims that the attempts by Muslims to deny this only work if they are willing to distort what the Qur'an plainly teaches.
Geisler's theological problem with Qadar is that, since in Islam God wills both the faith of the believer and the unbelief of the unbeliever, God is thus made to be the author of evil.
Finally, the metaphysical problem Geisler sees is in the fact that this concept of absolute sovereignty has led to the idea that since God's will is the only will, then God is the only one who actually acts: the rest of creation is passive, waiting for God to move. Further, some have suggested that if no-one but God has the ability to act, then nothing else has true being but God. This has led some mystical Islamic sects to seek the annihilation of one's individuality.
Shabir Ally Debate Page
03/22/2007 - James WhiteDon't forget to make your plans to be in Seattle October 19th for the debate with Shabir Ally! For those who have been asking for a more details, here is the official website for the debate. I will be playing clips from Shabir on the topic today on the DL.
This is what my radar program on my desktop is showing me, and that line of storms is moving due north. So, should you tune in today and get dead air, it might be due to lack of electrical power!
Finally, Jay Adams was kind enough to read through From Toronto to Emmaus, and wrote,
"James White has done it again. This timely book handles the infidel ravings of people dedicated to destroy Christianity with care and precision. It is a devastating refutation of an outrageous claim."
Predestination in Islam: The Doctrine Stated
03/21/2007 - Colin SmithOne of the major beliefs about God held by the majority of Muslims is that of His absolute sovereignty. This concept is unavoidable for Muslims since it is explicitly taught in the Qur'an. For example:
To Him [Allah] is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: When he decreeth a matter, He saith to it: "Be," and it is. (2:117)
Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth: with Him is the Mother of the Book [Umm al-Kitab, the "book" in which Allah has, supposedly, decreed all things]. (13:39)
And Allah did create you from dust; then from a sperm-drop; then He made you in pairs. And no female conceives, or lays down (her load), but with His knowledge. Nor is a man long-lived granted length of days, nor is a part cut off from his life, but is in a Decree (ordained). All this is easy to Allah. (35:11)
Whom God does guide,-he is on the right path: whom He rejects from His guidance,-such are the persons who perish. (7:178)
It follows logically from the above that Islam would have a concept of Predestination, and indeed it does. The Arabic term for this is Qadar, which has a semantic range that encompasses ideas of "decree" and "ultimate destiny." This being the case, it should come as no surprise that, just as within Christianity, so in Islam, there are those that embrace the idea of God's absolute control and decree over all elements of the universe, and those who struggle with it and try to find middle ground between what the Qur'an and the Hadith say with regard to God's hand on all events, and human free will. However, the many ayat in the Qur'an, along with many sayings quoted in the Hadith (e.g., Tirmidhi, 4/445, hadith no. 2135; Muslim, 4/2040, hadith no. 2648; Bukhari, Fath al-Baari, 11/477, et al.) seem to affirm the idea that nothing, even the destiny of the soul after life, is outside of God's control.
What the Qur'an and the Hadith Teach about Predestination
In essence, Islam teaches that God is the Creator of all things, and it is He who has ordained all that will happen. When a person is conceived in the womb, God writes the path of that person's life, so it cannot be anything other than what God has decreed. God will then so order the man's life and draw him toward good deeds or evil deeds so that he may be properly judged according to his conduct and, at the end of his life, receive the just reward for the life he has lived: Paradise or Hell. In the course of his life, the man may be tempted by jinn, which are spiritual beings that are supposedly morally neutral, but have a tendency to draw people into sin. However, his ultimate end has been decreed by God, and the balance of his life, whether he has succumbed to sin more than he has striven for good, has also been planned and decreed by God.
This is, of course, a very brief statement of the concept without the nuances and explanations that would normally be provided by the Muslim theologian to try to blunt the harsh edges of what this says. Historically, objections have been raised within the Islamic community along the lines of "if God has so decreed every aspect of my life to the very end, why should I strive? What's the point?" and "if God is able to decree anyone to Paradise, then isn't God unjust if He does not decree all to Paradise?" In response to these objections, the Muslim theologian might suggest that God decrees both the means and the ends, so one cannot help but strive, even though God has decreed the result beforehand. God does not force one to act, because He so affects the desires of men that they will want to act in the way God ordains:
Verily, (the ends) ye strive for are diverse. So he who gives (in charity) and fears (Allah), And (in all sincerity) testifies to the best,- We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Bliss. But he who is a greedy miser and thinks himself self-sufficient, And gives the lie to the best,- We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Misery; Nor will his wealth profit him when he falls headlong (into the Pit). Verily We take upon Ourselves to guide, And verily to Us (belong) the End and the Beginning. (42:4-13)
To the accusation that God is unjust to punish any when He could ordain all men to Paradise, one response is that if mercy belonged to man and God stole it from him, that would be unjust; but mercy belongs to God and He is free to distribute it however He wishes.
Ultimately, though, Muslims are not encouraged to dwell too deeply on the subject of Qadar, since it involves speculation in things that only God knows. Instead of becoming concerned with questions of God's justice, and one's own decreed end, the Muslim should concern himself with obedience and faithulness to God, and let God be concerned with the things He has prescribed.
The Next Installment: Dr. Norman Geisler's Critique of Qadar.