Brief Summary of the Series
The first book compares the doctrine of Christianity with the religion of secular humanism. To maximize effectiveness in communication, we follow an outline which consists of an introduction and four parts. Part One addresses the basics of belief, why a belief system is necessary for us. Part Two addresses how we each formulate a belief system to accommodate our own, personal needs. Part Three addresses the actual doctrines of the belief systems we discussed at our meetings. And Part Four addresses how we practice our respective belief systems. In general, the first three sections address the theory and the last section addresses the application of the theory.
The second book compares the doctrine of Christianity with Judaism and Islam and the third book compares various Christian denominations with each other and with the doctrine of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
Excerpt of Book 2
Darrel: Based on what you have been saying about Islam, Ahmed, I really wonder how much you do know about your religion.
Bobby: Darrel, please don’t insult our guest. Try and make him feel more welcome in our little group. If you insult him, he may not want to come back and then we will have to rely totally on what you think you know about Islam. That won’t work so well for me.
Darrel: OK, I apologize to you, Ahmed. I don’t mean to insult you. It’s just that, when I read these verses in the Koran, I get so damned upset about what your prophet is telling you people. It makes no sense.
On the one hand, we have a religion, Christianity, which places the emphasis on love and another, Islam, which places the emphasis on fighting. Considering the behavior of your fanatics, this comes as no surprise to me. But, only a fool believes that this emphasis on hatred for the infidel and this encouragement to destroy him, is self destructive. What do you think the infidel will do in response to your attacking him? It just doesn’t make any sense.
Dan: Yes, love really is the key in encouraging our best behavior. And our best behavior must be encouraged or this world won’t last long. Obviously people behave better when they are loving each other than when they are fighting with one another. This really goes without saying but nonetheless, it should be said.
John: In fact, this focus on love over every other emotion is what makes Christianity unique among world religions. First Corinthians 13 says it all. Without love, no virtue has any real meaning.
Darrel: Yes, I have heard Islam described as a religion without love, with a prophet who never made a prophecy and never performed a miracle.
Bobby: Is this really a fair generalization?
Ahmed: I admit that Muhammad never made a prophecy and never performed a miracle. The only miracle in Islam is the Koran. But I object to the comment about lack of emphasis on love in Islam. I think that each of these three monotheistic faiths emphasizes love to some extent.
Darrel: We can get into specifics later on in our discussion but the point I would like to make here is that Islam does not present an image of loving one’s neighbor. I just don’t understand this continuing hostility for Israel. And then there is this major problem with this insane fanaticism in your religion and your tacit approval of it. Hate seems to be emphasized in the behavior of your people. Your only interest in the rest of the world seems to be in dominating it by force. That is an old game plan which you have never really abandoned since the inception of your religion.
Peter: If we assume that these fanatics are really motivated by their religion, their behavior is predictable based on obvious trends of this nature which have occurred in history. A contemporary philosopher, A.C. Grayling, believes that, as religious believers begin to understand that the inevitable evolution from a theistic religion like theirs towards a secular world view is occurring, their cherished beliefs are threatened. They see themselves as passionate soldiers of God with a mission, to wipe out the infidel. In this particular case with Islam, the backwardness of their culture in contrast to the advanced West, combined with the frustration caused by their own Islamic governments, was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many of them. Militant forms of Islam provide everything needed to provide them with an excuse to engage in aggressive acts against the hated enemy. This is the way it has been since the beginning of civilization and that is why historians point out that most wars are caused by a conflict in religious beliefs.
Ahmed: We should have sympathy for these misguided people who believe that their mission is to destroy the infidel. They are victims of a false perception of the world. They are trapped in this distorted mindset.
Darrel: So, we are to feel sorry for these maniacs?
Ahmed: Yes, but not to the extent where we excuse them for their actions. They present an embarrassment to our faith. They have provided the world ample reasons to attack Islam and put us moderates on the defensive. Here I haven=t even had a chance to explain my doctrine yet.
Darrel: Fair enough. We got distracted talking about impact of your faith/culture on the world.
Ahmed: Considering what is going on in the world today, I am not surprised. You all had to get that reaction out of your systems. But, I would now appreciate the opportunity of presenting our doctrine as outlined in the Koran. It is summarized in our Pillars of Faith taken from the Koran. I’ll list them for you:
1. Shahadah (Declaration of Faith)
2. Salah (Establishment of Regular Prayer)
3. Zakah (Required Tithe)
4. Siyam (Fasting)
5. Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca)
In addition, the true Muslim must accept the five main articles of Iman, faith:
1. Belief in Allah as the one true God.
2. Belief in angels as the instrument of God’s will.
3. Belief in the four inspired books, the Torah, Zabur, Injil and the Koran, the final and most complete book.
4. Belief in the twenty-eight prophets of Allah, of whom Muhammad is the last.
5. Belief in the final day of judgment.
And, in addition to the five main articles, we are further enjoined to strive in the Way of God. We call this obligation, jihad. It is the sixth Pillar.
Darrel: Ah, yes, jihad, my personal favorite. Your religion has been hijacked in the name of jihad.
Bobby: Yes, Darrel, this word is of course associated with this fanatical terrorism these days so I know it is a sore spot. Dwelling on its negative connotation will only serve to emphasize our differences. Let’s focus on just the these five Pillars and five articles of Iman for now and go through them one at a time. We can discuss the similarities with Judaism and Christianity.
Darrel: And the differences. Once we get into how Muslims view these Pillars and articles, I am sure you will see some dramatic differences between the way they look at things and the way the rest of us do.
Ahmed: I think you will see more similarities, my friend. At least that is my hope.
Bobby: Well, right off the bat, I would think we share the same moral code.
Darrel: Why not? After all, the Koran plagiarized the Mosaic Law from the Old Testament. And then there are these 28 prophets of yours who are supposed to inspire you to live a moral life.
Dan: This is a most important similarity, of course. In fact it is THE most important similarity among our three religions. Christ, Abraham and Muhammad all communicate the message that God requires mankind to do good and avoid evil. So, as Bobby says, we need to stay focused on what we share in common. This is the essence of the presuppositional approach to apologetics, explaining and defending our respective faiths to each other and the rest of the world. This is a good approach because it doesn’t put people off by forcing them up against a wall in defending their faith. We begin by examining the commonalities and then proceed with an analysis and defense of the differences. We need to avoid tearing each other=s religions down and instead focus on sharing the love of Christ with everyone we come into contact with, believer and unbeliever alike.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at these Pillars and articles of your faith. All three of our faiths communicate our respective doctrines in some sort of declaration of our faith. The Islamic declaration is short and to the point: You believe in Allah and Muhammad as his prophet. Well, we Christians communicate the essentials of our doctrine in our creeds and they are much more specific and definitive than these Pillars and articles of yours. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. I have brought a copy of the Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s Creed and you can see that they are quite complete in stating our reformed Christian doctrine. I also have a copy of The Westminster Confession and The Augsburg Confession which go into even more detail in explaining the reformed Christian faith. Christianity is unique among world religions in that we actually have these creeds specifying very clearly our beliefs.
Ben: I know that Judaism places more emphasis on rules and precepts than on creeds and doctrines.
Ahmed: Islam does too. So, you are right Christianity is unique in that respect. It is just the opposite from Judaism and Islam. You place more emphasis is placed on creeds and doctrines.
John: I agree with you, Ben. Creeds express doctrine and since reformed Christianity is based on a very straight forward doctrine, the emphasis is and should be in that area. Good, sound doctrine is the foundation of our morality and it motivates us to do good works.
Ben: While the Jews do not state an actual creed we do refer to thirteen articles of faith defined by one of our most respected theologians, Maimonides in the Mishnah, one of our commentaries.
I can summarize the thirteen points as follows: We believe in one God who created the world and all that is in it. We believe that God is Unity and that there is none like him. We believe that is not a body and is free from all attributes of the body and has no form whatsoever. We believe that God is the first and the last. We believe that it is only proper to pray to God and no one or nothing else. We believe that all the words of the prophets are true. We believe that Moses was our great teacher and father of all the prophets and that his prophecy was true. We believe that the entire Torah now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses. We believe that this Torah will never be replaced and there will never be another Torah from God. We believe that God knows every deed of men and all their thoughts. We believe that God rewards those who keep his commandments and punishes those that transgress. We believe in the coming of the Messiah and will wait daily for him. And lastly, we believe that the dead will be revived at a time when it shall please God. Now, I should mention that, though this is the only statement of our beliefs that is mentioned in the Mishnah, it is not binding on the conscience of the believing Jew. While Maimonides had great prestige, his thirteen points have never been completely accepted.
Darrel: So, what are they, suggestions?
Ben: No, they are much more than that. They are just not to be necessarily thought of as you Christians think of your creeds. Look, the word mishnah means to review and the Mishnah is a collection of commentaries our scholars categorized and grouped together. It consists of the oral teachings and interpretations, insights and ethics, regulations and rules. The Mishnah then is a body of wisdom which is based on the Torah. It is not meant to compete with the Torah. Later, when stories and elaborations accumulated about the Mishnah, a supplement was written which we call the Gemarah. The Mishnah and the Gemarah together made up the Talmud. The Talmud has served to light the way of our people through the centuries. The Talmud was officially closed as a book by the Rabbis by 500 c.e. We Jews truly deserve to be known as the people of the Book.
Darrel: It sounds more like people of the books, Ben. It seems that there are more books than just the Bible.
Ben: As I said before, the Torah is our doctrine. These other books serve to explain how we are to apply the law to our everyday lives.
Darrel: What you say may have been the intention of your scholars, but nonetheless, all of these other books tend to complicate the issue of what you people really believe. Vague, esoteric references which may or may not carry any weight with your followers just doesn’t present the impression of credibility.
Ben: Well, it doesn’t seem to me that we Jews have any problem at all with understanding God’s law and how we are to apply to our lives. It should be all about application in any belief system and clarification of God’s word leads to better application.
Darrel: Well, it seems you people have your various books and we have just one book, the entire Bible, consisting of both Testaments and we have several creeds summarizing the doctrine presented in the Bible.
John: Ben, you mentioned how important clarification is in a belief system. This of course is obvious and goes without saying. It would seem that your books are meant to clarify how you should apply God’s law while our creed places an emphasis on our doctrine. Your books focus on the heart and our creeds focus on the head, a basic intellectual understanding of God’s word to us. And indeed Christianity, as the great Reform theologian, John Calvin, once said, encourages it believers to really know and understand what we really believe in. So, in that respect, our religions are different in that supplemental material like your other books and our creeds serve two different purposes. And that certainly is not to say that we are right and you are wrong.
Ben: I can only say that we Jews are a very passionate people and do place a great deal of emphasis on the heart of our religion. Yes, of course, the law is important and we know we are primarily a people of the law and must always exercise discipline to obey it (I am of course speaking only of orthodox Jewish believers like me). But, as I said before, the application of the law is where the rubber meets the road. Please don’t take offense, but it seems that Christianity is monotheism without pain. You need not exercise discipline because, no matter what you do, how you act, your God of grace bails you out. You need not observe any of the Old Testament law, the dietary rules, circumcision, and observance of the Sabbath. Just accept Jesus as savior and all will be right with the world.
Darrel: Well, that of course is exactly the way you Jews see us. Personally, I do take offense because I like for my religion to be understood for what it really offers: Redemption. Yes, Christianity is a religion which focuses on God’s grace. You Jews, like all other monotheisms, are a religion of works. You emphasize doing good deeds and that is why your books which came after the Torah deal with such application of God’s law. We love the law too but these laws primarily serve to demonstrate just how far we have fallen from the Garden of Eden.
We emphasize God’s grace and His mercy in forgiveness of our sins because we don’t believe that we are able by ourselves to dig out of the hole that sin has pushed us into.
Ben: We recognize God’s sovereignty, his eternity and the providential care which he bestowed on our forefathers. We believe that the Torah emanated from him and that the proof for all this is to be found in the delivery from Egypt. Although we believe that he who accepts all this in pure thought is a true Israelite, we do not actually consider it to be binding on the conscience of the believing Jew.