This morning I had the privilege of listening to the debate that took place between Chris Green and Paul Bilal Williams. I will be addressing the debate on the Dividing Line, for I was truly amazed at what I heard. Chris Green did a fine job, for a Brit! I do believe my British brethren need to have a little more strength to their assertions, to be honest, but that is often not the “British way.” In any case, I was disappointed in the debate for a more basic reason: I had read glowing reports from Muslims who attended, but what I heard was little more than the “same ol’ same ol’,” the utter and total reliance upon liberal attacks upon the Bible and New Testament in general while rejecting the consistent application of the worldview of such scholars to the Qur’an and Islam. Absolute fulfillment of, “Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument,” but now that it seems “Inconsistency is the sign of Islamic dawah as practiced by MDI.” Of course, I don’t think there is any way out of it for them: their ultimate authority makes a claim that is unsustainable logically or historically, hence, both logic and history, and hence consistency, has to be sacrificed to hold the system together. But it seems the majority of Islamic apologists have abandoned even the semblance of “equal weights,” and enjoy revving up their base with frequent quotations of “conservatives” like E.P. Sanders (yes, seriously, it was suggested by Williams in this debate that E.P. Sanders is a conservative).
In any case, toward the end of the debate (time index starting 1:32:50), Williams spoke about the “great scandal of Christianity.” He repeats the standard lines about how “all scholars” (echoing Bart Ehrman, who limits all “critical scholarship” to those who embrace a naturalistic approach to Scripture and reject, out of hand, any concept of inspiration or therefore harmonization, taking as the default “contradiction” rather than “consistency”) view the gospels in a particular way, how “all scholars” see John as a-historical and late and hence unreliable, etc. and etc. Oh, and anyone who disagrees? Just a “fundamentalist” (the irony of someone who believes the Qur’an to be the very Word of God, unchanged, without historical development, and such things as the Isra, Mi’raj, and the existence of the Buraq, the Jinn, etc., calling someone else a “fundamentalist” as a pejorative is rich indeed). But having concluded that no one with a brain who has done the first bit of study would ever still hold to historic orthodox Christian views of theology or history, and having concluded that everyone except the Fundies are on his side, he claims, “I’m just sharing with you what most Christians are not told about their own Bibles by their own scholars. That’s the scandal of the Christian church, where these things are not communicated. I often find that Muslims are better educated about the Bible than Christians are, not because they have the Qur’an, but because they have looked into this.”
I have yet to meet a Muslim apologist who has invested a quarter of the time I and other Christians have to attempt to understand the other side’s Scriptures. Williams’ attempts at exegesis were, with all due respect, sophomoric. He pounded away at “Jesus was ignorant of who touched Him” and “Jesus did not know when the season of figs was.” Both of these arguments are so ridiculous, so shallow, and so a-contextual, as to boggle the mind, but they were part and parcel of his constant presentation. While many Christians may be tempted to use bad arguments against the Qur’an, the fact is that as I seek to engage that text, I seek to be consistent in the application of my worldview, something that Williams, and the MDI men in general, simply do not do.
Further, while there are, indeed, many churches where people go on blissfully ignorant of their Bibles, the history of their Bibles, and all sorts of other issues, I would like to suggest that the situation is far worse for Muslims as a whole. Ignorance of the Qur’an and its history is epidemic amongst Muslims. Is this “the great scandal of Islam” I wonder? Or is the utter suppression of serious critical thought about the origins of Islam, and of the Qur’an, in most Islamic countries an even greater scandal? It is hard to say. But I would simply point to my own church as a standing, documented refutation of Williams’ erroneous claim. I have been teaching through the Synoptic gospels, using a parallel harmony, for almost a decade. We have tackled synoptic parallel issues repeatedly during that study, including discussing background issues, alleged contradictions, you name it. The people of my church are fully aware of the entire range of scholarly disputes, and anyone with a computer and access to SermonAudio.com knows it. So much for the “great scandal.”
I would like to suggest in response to Paul Williams the Great Scandal of Islam: that the founder of Islam was more ignorant of the Bible than the average Bible believing Christian is today. How is that for a great scandal? But it is the scandal that causes someone like Williams to proudly repeat the words of unbelievers like Bart Ehrman while ignoring the reality of the application of that very worldview that gives rise to his conclusions to Williams’ own religious faith. The glaring inconsistency is born out of the ignorance of the writer of the Qur’an regarding the Torah and the Injeel, and it is an inconsistency that the Muslim simply cannot escape without rejection of Muhammad’s authority or the Qur’an as divine Scripture.