We were recently approached by St Giles Church, Derby, a parish church in England. They have been running regular “Reasonable Faith” events, looking at some of the biggest questions of life, faith and meaning, from a Christian perspective. In recent months they have done evenings on science, suffering, and the resurrection – for example.
They wanted to do something on Islam, because they have lots of Muslim friends and neighbours, and their church building is right opposite a mosque there in the South of the City. Apparently they found me and Solas, by doing a Google search on Christians with an interest in Islam – they found the Solas website and got in touch!
On the night we had 60 people the Zoom conference – because it took place before the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were lifted. However, despite that we had a full evening together, with talk from me – followed by a Q&A with some perceptive, genuine and heartfelt questions.
My talk was about “Jesus in Islam and Christianity”. Most Christians are unaware that The Qur’an mentions Jesus over ninety times, and includes reports of his virgin birth, affirms his miracles and describes him using some highly elevated titles. The Islamic view of Jesus is problematic however – because his role doesn’t seem to fit his titles. He is variously described as ‘A word from Allah’, ‘A Spirit from Allah’, and even “The Messiah”; but then doesn’t seem to be given a role which is accordance with these.
I argued that these titles were borrowed from the New Testament gospels, and the only way to really grasp the significance of the is to investigate what they mean there in their original setting.
Of course on of the biggest stumbling blocks to Muslims is that Christians worship Jesus. Jesus is worshipped throughout the New Testament, Christians pray to Him, they call on His name and believe He is the Son of God. All of this is of course, very difficult for Muslims to comprehend.
I argued that Jesus was either the most useless religious figure in history, who didn’t want to be worshipped but failed to communicate that to his followers or he really should be worshipped! So I looked at 5 pieces of evidence that show that Jesus really did make those exalted claims. Firstly the titles Jesus uses for himself which include “Lord of the Sabbath” and “The Son of Man” from Daniel 7. Then he forgave people’s sins, told people to pray in his name and then placed his words alongside scripture. Old Testament prophets would say, ‘thus says The Lord’; but Jesus said, ‘truly I saw to you’! It’s no wonder then when Jesus was questioned about His identity by Ciaphas, the High Priest, Ciaphas tore his robes and cried, “Blasphemy!” at Jesus’ answers. This means that Jesus was was telling the truth, or was a liar, or was a lunatic.
After my talk we did about half an hour of Q&A. It was clear from the nature of the questions that there were a few people there who weren’t Christians, including some asking questions from a Muslim perspective – so it was great to welcome them and engage with them.
Neil Barber, the vicar at St Giles was encouraged especially by the engagement in the Q&A He’s invited us to go back to Derby and do some more work with them in the future. It’s really good to see a local church who (as unlocking from Covid-19 begins), have their eyes firmly on evangelism. The temptation for churches is to become introspective, and worry more about facilitating our own programmes than the lost. St Giles’ are setting us all a great example by being intentionally missional.