Climate change, and our change?


This was written by Jay Butcher here:

In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit recognised sustainable development as being a top priority for the UN and international community. Twenty years later world leaders have gathered again…

We all know the mantras that inwardly drive an increasingly insatiable desire for more, for the new, and for the latest shiny product. Whether we truly believe it’s ‘because we’re worth it’ or that it really is ‘the best a man can get’, our culture screams at us to ‘just do it’. Just do it in a world of finite resources, where global economies teeter on the brink of collapse, and where climate and environmental changes threaten delicate ecosystems, increase the spread of disease and hit the lives of the world’s poorest, hardest, now.

Just do it.

U2’s anthemic One was released in March 1992 with proceeds benefitting HIV/AIDS research; but the song that has since provided the UK’s favourite lyric – ‘One life, with each other, sisters, brothers’ – set a tone of equality, connectedness and interdependence just months before one of the most significant global gatherings in recent times.

Twenty years later, Gary Barlow is riding high with the Diamond Jubilee track Sing which topped the charts, and features the Commonwealth Band and the Military Wives. With climate change being a direct threat to the very survival of some Commonwealth countries, it is poignant that the lyrics, whilst celebrating the Queen’s reign, sing of a bigger hope – a stronger unity and a people who are ‘shouting love tonight’.

In an interconnected world, human-made climate change is a reality that the whole world needs to face. The church surely has a distinct role to play in advocating on behalf of, and living differently for, men, women and children formed in the image of our Father, even though we may never meet them. We have the opportunity to be salt and light in a broken and hurting world, displaying life – lived differently in its completeness, abundant in its simplicity, lavish in its love.

How we go forward from Rio+20 depends on world leaders, whom we can influence. But it also depends on the lifestyle choices we make – frequency of flights, where we holiday, our consumption of meat and seasonal produce, to name but a few – and the communities in which we are scattered where we can cultivate a different culture.

We can and need to just do it.

I (Ruth) thought the above was a very interesting read. Honestly, I thought to myself, when do I really think about climate change? Being frank, I often begrudge the effort I have to put in to wash up the baked bean cans for the recycling! Bad, I know, but true.

I have heard other Christians argue that responsibility for the environment lays primarily with us, and we should be leading the way, but I confess, the urgency I once felt has faded into the background as ‘more interesting’ things such as theology and apologetics have clamoured for my attention. It has been so easy to place these things in the foreground, because they are immediate, popular and one can acquire qualifications in these subjects. Not so with climate change. But nevertheless sometimes, often in fact, the things that don’t provide profile, but rather heart, are the things worthy if our time and attention.

Butcher’s article has made me consider my emphasis. Do I really consider the climate change issue serious? Does God want me to care? Interesting questions. However, one solid reform I will try to make as a result of this article is I will be more thoughtful of the recycling, and I will try not to do a hodg-Podg job of the beaked bean cans!



Prometheus and the ‘who made us?’ question.


The following was written by Rachel Giles here:–1357#fbcomments

Maybe they were hiding from the rain, but an awful lot of people went to see Ridley Scott’s sci-fi blockbuster, Prometheus, over the Jubilee weekend. The prequel to his 1979 film Alien, it grossed £6.24 million over those four days – and it’s still topping the UK box office.

There’s plenty to please fans of the Alien series: a strong female lead, shocks, slime, a rapidly dwindling spaceship crew and, of course, scary aliens. But it also asks some big questions: where does human life come from? Who, or what, made us?

The film’s mythology – that humans were created by extraterrestrials who visited Earth – isn’t original, alluding to Erich von Däniken’s 1968 Chariots of the Gods. Nor is it one that would sit too happily with most Christians.

But here’s a surprise: the heroine, Dr Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist determined to find answers to these questions, is a Christian; she wears a cross and is ‘a true believer’. She trusts that the evidence (cave paintings and stone carvings from ancient civilisations) points to something ‘out there’. And she has faith that when the crew of the Prometheus arrive on LV223, two years from Earth, they will, literally, meet their makers – and ask them ‘why they even made us in the first place’.

Her beliefs aren’t shared by the crew. It’s 2093, and Darwinism, the prevailing explanation of life on earth, has been around for three centuries. Interestingly, her hunch about the aliens doesn’t clash with her faith in God, for if they exist, ‘who created the aliens?’ she says.

The mission has potentially disastrous consequences for Earth. But the film is less about humans overreaching themselves (like the Prometheus of Greek myth), and more about our unquenchable thirst for truth. Writer Damon Lindelof, who wrote the series Lost, said in a recent interview, ‘The entire point of being alive is to ask these questions and search for some meaning.’

It’s encouraging to see a popular film grapple with these ideas, even if it doesn’t provide answers. We’re regularly told that science has explained everything, but some questions won’t go away. Prometheus presents huge opportunities to share what we believe about God’s creation and purposes with others. But it challenges us, too. Would you pursue the truth, even if it cost you? And if you met your maker, what would you ask?

Not every slime-shocker blockbuster makes you wonder that.

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The Place of Works & Faith in Salvation: Do Paul and James contradict each other?


I recently wrote an essay on the supposed contradiction between Paul and James on the place of works and faith in salvation (the particular areas of contention are found in two specific passages Romans 3-4 and James 2). I thought I would share with you the 5 solutions to the problem that I have come across in my research . . .

1. There is no ‘solution’

This position states that the two simply cannot be reconciled, because we are encountering an issue of diversity in early Christianity. This is of course one way of viewing the differences between Paul and James, but such a view would give rise to other questions of uniformity and inspiration . . .

2. Using the word ‘Faith’ and ‘Works’ in different ways

If James and Paul were united in their theology, scholars have theorised, there must be an alternative explanation for the differences in Pauline and Jacobean theology. Some resolve the apparent contradiction by defining what Paul and James meant when using the words ‘works’ and ‘faith’, within their specific contexts. John Drane argues that when Paul uses ‘faith’ he refers to it in a technical and general sense that characterises the Christian life; both belief and action being components of this faith. James, on the other hand, refers to a faith that is specifically belief; belief in God, as opposed to atheism. Therefore on the basis of this reasoning Paul and James’ views of justification do not contradict.

This understanding of the Pauline and Jacobean views of justification seems reasonable for contextual reasons. Paul makes it clear in Romans that Christians are to live a life worthy of their calling, in other words, faith is supposed to be accompanied by good works.[1] Likewise, it is clear that when James is referring to faith-without-works it is defined primarily by belief, as he writes you believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder! This is clearly not referring to the same type of faith that Paul describes as producing good works through the Spirit.

3. ‘Works of the law’ opposed to ‘Works’

Another way of reconciling the two authors is by looking through the lens of recent scholarship connected with the New Perspective on Paul. James Dunn invented the phrase ‘boundary markers’ to refer to the 1st century Jewish understanding of salvation, i.e. circumcision, food laws and the Sabbath.[2] This is what, Dunn states, is referred to when Paul uses the phrase ‘works of the law’. Therefore, when we approach the tension between Paul and James’ views of justification, we see that Paul refers to saving faith apart from works of the law,[3] hence revealing that he is referring to ritual boundary-markers, instead of moral works. Also, when Paul argues that the promise was achieved by faith alone he says that it was received before Abraham was circumcised. Therefore, he argues that the ‘works of the law’ are not necessary for salvation. From other parts of his letters it is clear that Christian faith is supposed to be accompanied by (moral) ‘works’, or ‘living by the spirit’, by which he means right living.[4] Whereas when James refers to ‘works’, he means moral actions rather than ritualistic requirements of the law. Therefore, James uses an example to explain the type of ‘works’ he is referring to: If a brother or sister is poorly clothed (and you don’t) give them the things needed for the body, what good is that?[5]

Tom Schreiner argues that this interpretation fails:

The new perspective solution fails . . . for it is not evident that Paul restricts ‘works of the law’ or ‘works’ to ceremonial works or those that divide Jews from Gentiles.

In addition to Schreiner’s comment there does seem to be one anomaly with the solution provided by the new perspective. Romans 4:6-8 links Abraham’s blessing to a prophetic Psalm where David writes: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.[6] Paul specifically related this quote to the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works. As such it does seem that when Paul writes about ‘works of the law’[7] or ‘works’[8] when explaining the doctrine of justification by faith, he does indeed relate works to moral works, perhaps in addition to ritualistic works defined by Dunn. Paul explains that their ‘lawless’ deeds are forgiven. i.e. it refers to moral requirements that are not met, rather than ritual requirements that are met.

4. ‘Can that faith save him?’ The accusative pronoun.

R. T. Kendall brings an additional solution to the mix. He looks at the Greek grammar in the text. The pronoun in the sentence Can that faith save him?[9] is accusative, he argues. Thus, he says that James is not talking about the Christian who is the possessor of the faith in question, but rather the poor man in James 2:6. Therefore James is not referring to the salvation of the Christian, but rather the salvation of the poor man, as faith without works will not save the poor non-Christian, as there is no evidence of a changed life in the Christian wishing to bring him to faith.[10]

Kendall pre-empts the obvious retort to his solution: It is strange that James refers to a person reasonably far back in the text. But Kendal argues that this is not an unusual occurrence in the New Testament.[11] However, I would argue that it is also strange that later James writes: . . . faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Therefore the person with the faith-without-works in effect has no faith. Death means that something is no more. Therefore even if were to agree with Kendall on the reference to the poor man, it would still be odd that James would say that faith was dead without works, if James thought that faith without works was still active in saving.

5. James is responding to a distortion of Pauline teaching

Lastly we come to a solution that I think best fits with both the text and the historical context: Works are the outward evidence of saving faith. Therefore, faith without works is indeed dead. A persistent lifestyle of sin would suggest that one did not posses saving faith. Paul also makes this clear in Romans 6: . . . you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness.[12] Paul and James’ use of faith and works in regard to justification differ because of the context in which each author was writing. Paul was an Apostle to the Gentiles and wanted his congregants to know that they were free from the works of the law, defined by both Jewish boundary markers and moral requirements. He instead emphasised being ‘in Christ’, and following the Spirit, which would lead to moral living. James, on the other hand, although teaching the same things as Paul (i.e following God, and therefore teaching his congregants to follow the Spirit) was leading a church that contained a faction who were ‘zealous for the law’[13] as we saw above. These Christians seemed to believe that Gentile believers needed to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses.[14] Rumours had reached Jerusalem that Paul taught a theology that ‘forsook Moses’[15], and presumably Jews also believed, as a consequence, that Paul taught an antinomian theology. As such, James is countering this twisted version of Paul’s teaching. Tom Schreiner also argues for this interpretation because the two authors address different situations and circumstances, and those situations must be taken into account.[16]


I would love to hear your thoughts . . .

[1] Romans 6: 12-14

[2] Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul. 2011. The New Perspective on Paul. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 14 November 2011].

[3] Romans 3: 28

[4] Romans 6: 12-14

[5] James 2: 15-17

[6] Psalm 32:1-2

[7] Romans 3: 28

[8] ‘works’ is used instead of ‘works of the law’ in the passage concerning Abraham: Romans 4:1-12

[9] James 2: 14

[10] Kendal, R. T., Justification by Works, p. 168

[11] Kendal refers the reader onto James, Preaching through the Bible by M. A. Eaton, ch, 13 & 14

[12] Romans 6:16

[13] Acts 21:20

[14] See above in section ‘Background: Jewish & Hellenistic split’ & appendix

[15] Acts 21: 21

[16] Schreiner, Tom, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, p.603

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Quarter-Life Crisis

Sarah-Jane Marshall wrote the following here:

Dave turned 30 recently, didn’t he? How’s he getting on?’

‘Not great – he’s having a bit of a quarter-life crisis.’

The quarter-life crisis is a growing phenomenon. Recent research found that an increasing number of young adults are experiencing the insecurities, disappointments and depression usually associated with a mid-life crisis.

In many ways it’s not surprising that the thirtieth birthday milestone, a quarter of the way through adult life, is a common trigger point. The landmark junctures in life are often where we have pinned a set of hopes and expectations: ‘By thirty I will be married.’ ‘By thirty I will have saved enough for a deposit on a house.’ ‘By thirty I will have progressed in my career to that more desirable role.’ Crises come when such ambitions have not been met, or when they don’t look as we had imagined.

The research has sparked a flurry of debate online about how one should cope with a quarter-life crisis. Typical advice encourages sufferers to throw off any restraints that are contributing to their dissatisfaction. Quit the job! Go traveling! Dye your hair! Be the person you’ve always wanted to be! Or, as one influential American blogger put it, ‘Above all else, remember that you are living your life for you and you alone.’

There are situations in which proactive change should be encouraged; for those in dead end jobs or destructive relationships, crises can be turned into life-giving opportunities for constructive change. Indeed, the research concluded that for the majority of people there was a ‘proven pattern of positive change’. Nevertheless, the typical solutions offered can too often be aggressively individualistic, casually irresponsible and surface-level. The traveler’s tan will fade, the hair dye will grow out, and the same insecurities must be faced all over again. A deeper change is needed.

It can be difficult when life doesn’t work out as we had hoped or expected. The factors causing quarter-life crises are not trivial or to be dismissed lightly. But each crisis offers opportunity for a radical realignment of how we view success, achievements and our identity. We are forced to recognise the things we have held to for security over and above the knowledge that we are dearly beloved children of the King of Heaven. May crises at whatever stage of our lives only fling us deeper into the reality of that truth.


‘God forgives not that anything should be associated with Him’ (Qur’an 4:48), as this sin is usually associated with Christians does that mean we are eternally damned, even if we converted?

This is a record of a conversation I had on Facebook with some Muslim friends. To keep their identity private I have named them ‘Muslim 1, Muslim 2 . . . etc’. No disrespect is meant by the titles – it was just easier to type it up like that. I have found the conversation enlightening and very interesting, so thought I would share it.

Please note: the text below is copied from Facebook, so there may grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.

Muslim 1:Hi Ruth 🙂 No it doesn’t mean that. It means if Allah wills He may forgive any sin other than the sin of shirk, the sin of associating partners with him or worshiping anyone other than him, hope that helps 🙂

Muslim 2: Hi Ruth, I think what that verse means, as well as my own understanding from growing up as a Muslim is that God is Forgiving and the Merciful but He only wants us to worship him ‘alone’ and not ascribe partners with him: we should worship him as our creator alone.I’ve been undertaking my research project on Chrisitianity and the Baptist denomination specifically, something a Christian said to me still rings a bell in my head- ‘When there is a mistake doesnt mean God will easily punish the person immediately, you still have time for change’ this was in relation to interpreting the Bible and mistakes generally. It’s about your actions end of the day in this world, if we do a mistake/sin we should repent and ask for forgiveness from God. Its the similar concept to what Christians believe. Anyways hope I helped. Btw just wondering which denomination do you belong to? Xx

Me:Hello, thank you for both your comments. I thought that most Muslims would accept a Christian who converted, because there are many who have! And the umma has accepted them!

But it still seems strange that Allah says that they is ‘no forgiveness’ for this sin. Dosen’t that mean even if one repented they wouldn’t be forgiven?

Also, Muslim 2, your dissertation sounds fascinating! Would you like me to read it from a Christisn perspective? I’d love to read it. You can send it to if you were happy!?

Oh and, I’m apart of no denomination, but my church is apart of the evangelical alliance and is apart of a movement of churches called New Frontiers:

And this is my church in Brighton:

Muslim 3:I feel you misunderstand the latter part of the verse. First of all if one reverts to Islam and repents for all his sins including the sin of associating partners to Allah and they do this sincerely and whole heartily then Allah is Oft-forgiving and hence they’ll be forgiven for those past sins and it will be as if they have been born again. However Allah will not forgive those who die believing and proclaiming and associating partners to Him, they will never be forgiven for that sin as they never repented for it. To sum up; if one dies whilst associating partners to Allah then according to the Qu’ran (hence not my own opinion) they shall never be forgiven, key points being to sincerely repent will lead to forgiveness (God willing) and to dies in (Major) Shirk will lead to NO forgiveness. I hope this makes the verse clearer to you.

Muslim 1:maybe this is a better translation of the verse Ruth 🙂

“Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin.”

Me:Muslim 3 Thanks thats really helpful. But does the Qur’an say that the person who assosiates partners with Allah will be forgiven if he/she repents? because it seems to say that it cannot be forgiven. So this would mean they cannot be forgiven now on earth as well as later at the judgment, surley?

As Muslim 1 has provided a better translation it says that ‘he fogives what is LESS than this’, which again implies that Allah will not forgive Shirk. So again I would be unsure if any christians would ever be forgiven even if they did convert . . . ?

I know that the umma does accept converted Christians, and I know that you are all very nice people. But I’m concerned with what the Qur’an seems to be saying! Also another question. If a muslim converts to Christianity, and then back again to Islam – will they be forgiven?

Muslim 3: Once again like I said; if; one dies in a state of shrik then it won’t be forgiven. However if they repent for for it whilst still alive and have hope and trust in Allah then Allah if Oft forgiving and will forgive them. That is what the scholars discuss in relation to this matter. It makes logic sense. I mean what kind of God would Allah be if He calls Himself Oft forgiving and yet wouldnt forgive those who repent sincerely whilst still alive? That’s the question one should ask themselves. Thus in the end Allah does not forgive that sin only if one dies in the state of that sin.

When Allah says “”Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him…” He is really trying to emphasis the seriousness of associating partners with Him. Hence why it is the greatest sin in Islam. There are numerous verses within the Qu’ran stressing the same very point. In some verses the consequences of association are even given rather than just a warning. This is the one most important right that every human owes to God, I mean even when we look at the 10 commandments this is stressed.

Me:When I read your comments I thought ‘but where is your assurance coming from? Where is your authority?’ because the Qur’an seems to say one thing, and you say ‘oh but you can be forgiven if…..’ do you see my problem? I want to know why you are so certain your interpretation is correct.

You mention ‘the scholars’ – do you follow their interpretations of this verse? Who are they? Could I read them?


Muslim 3:When I the Quran I practice horizontal reading not vertical reading. This way I can compare verses and get a whole picture and not just a snippet. The problem with some people is that they forget to do this and thus misunderstand the meaning especially when they take a verse out of context. Anyway you asked who my scholars are…well I read the Yusuf Ali translation which has the commentaries from a number of scholars. If you want to know them I would strongly recommend you purchase a copy of the Yusuf Ali. It find it really useful especially the commentary in getting the assurance you ask for. Of course God knows best at the end of the day.

And indeed there is also the hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) that we could refer to for further understanding too!

Me:OK cool. This is starting to make more sense to me. When you say horizontal reading – you mean you take a systematic theological approach to the Qur’an? So what other verses to you compare this verse with to give you your interpretation. Thanks for Yusuf Ali’s reference. And what Hadith refers to this passage? Thanks!

Muslim 4: Hi Ruth, just to re-iterate what the brothers have said, the two main sources of islamic knowledge are the Qur’an and Sunna (sayings and actions of prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). The Qur’an refers directly to the Sunna by commending us to follow the example of the prophet. A lot of what muslims do is based on how the prophet himself interpreted the Qur’an (he is best placed to do so). God tells us He can forgive those sins which He wishes to forgive us at His discretion. However He warns us of the gravity of associating partners with Him as this is equivalent to disbelief, and disbelief does not lead to salvation. If one dies whilst not believing that God is the Creator, the only one whom we should worship, then this person is considered to have died in disbelief. God has sent us many messengers with this message, to believe in one God, the Creator, the one to whom all thanks is due. I hope we all die on this belief. Ameen.

Me: ah yes, so is the Hadith and the Sunna sort of the same thing? And is there a web link you could provide me to a passage in the Hadith that gives you the interpretation of Qur’am 4:48? Thanks guys!

Muslim 3: Here is just a slight example of what you may be looking for. Please read 47:34. Perhaps the latter part of that verse puts in perspective what I was trying to state above.

‘Lo! Those who disbelieve and turn from trhe way of Allah and then die disbelievers, Allah will surely not pardon them’

Me:Right, we are getting somewhere! So the text says: 47:34 ‘Those who reject Allah, and hinder (men) from the Path of Allah, then die rejecting Allah,- Allah will not forgive them.’

So, in this ayat we acknowledge when Allah says he will not forgive, it means just that. But how do we know that the people to whom this verse applies are comitting Shirk? Because the other ayat clearly says that Allah will not forgive that, so why don’t you take Allahs word literally for both verses?

I’m truly interested! I’m not just trying to be troublesome! Promise 🙂

Muslim 3: We do take it literally of course, but in context with other verses. One cannot just read one verse and then claim to understand everything. In 47:34 the key point with respect to this discussion is “…then die rejecting Allah…”

We appreciate your interest too, however u must understand that we’re not schorals and can only offer u so much explanation, that’s why I recommended u the Yusuf Ali Quran with comments. But of course I will do my best to answer if I have the knowledge tour questions.

Me: I appreciate that you are not scholars, but I recon you have all thought about what you believe and why – so I guess you will be able to answer my questions 🙂

I have actually found a verse that help

Sorry, I used ‘verse’, when I meant ‘ayat’! Anyway, here it is: ‘(2:62) Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.’ So I guess that because Muhammad accepted Christians into his umma, then it would only make sense that Christians would be allowed to now. I think I’ve answered my own questions!

It does seem strange tho that Allah would say that something will not be forgiven, but then it is forgiven . . .

Muslim 3: I totally agree with you; that we have thought about what we believe (in) and why. I always say that, we have to believe with reason and understanding, not with blindness and ignorance. Even Allah asks us throughout His Book…do you not reflect/ponder over His verses/signs

Nevertheless, with regards to Ayat 2:65; you have unfortunately fallen victim to the same mistake I pointed out to you in the above comments (hence why I recommend a Yusuf Ali copy with commentaries). You read the verse out of context and consequently you misinterpreted and misunderstood it. Once again, I would strongly suggest obtaining that Yusuf Ali copy before continuing, otherwise you will find yourself at the wrong conclusions in each case. You must empty your tea cup if you are to search for Truth.

Once again, I stress that I am no scholar, all the comments I have made above are based on those individuals with better knowledge/understanding of the Qur’an (and Arabic for that matter) than myself. Hence why I keep recommending you to them. But if you truly and faithfully think, feel and believe that you have answered your own questions then I have nothing more to say expect that I quote 109:1-6.

Me: How have a misunderstood from context? Can you explain? I don’t need a scholar – just a Muslim will do 🙂 Is it because its surrounded by ayat concerning Musa (Moses?)

Muslim 3: (Sorry just to correct myself …Ayat 2:62;…) not 2:65 I wrongly put it.

These scholars are Muslims too so you’ll understand better if you consult the source.

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Many religious people falsify the truths claimed in other religions without having experienced each of these beliefs. For example, how can one know that Christianity is true and Islam isn’t without experiencing both?

This was first posted here:

It is sadly true that people from different religions have sometimes, naively or otherwise, falsified the truth claims in other religions in order to make a mockery of them. This type of crude propaganda is unloving, unreal, and divisive. In order to be able to assess the validity of each religion, one must be willing to investigate with humility, not only for the sake of learning, but also out of respect for those of other faiths.

The question presupposes, however, that in order for one to judge the truth claims of a religion one must experience that religion. But what is meant by ‘experiencing’ a religion? There are two main categories of experience that I think are being referred to; knowledge of the doctrines of that religion, and a supernatural experience of God.

Knowledge of doctrine

There is much in the knowledge or understanding of different religions that can be tested. Some primary questions might be: Do they cohere with history and human experience? Does the belief system explain human origins? How does it deal with the problem of evil? And so on. These questions are helpful in ascertaining the validity of a world-view.

The three seats

Additionally, such knowledge will provide you with a basic understanding of the three main seats of religion (which will be discussed in further detail below). All religions fall roughly (not exclusively) into three camps in regard to what it means to be either a Muslim, Hindu, Christian and so forth. Firstly, what you do, secondly, what you think, and thirdly what you feel. For example, to be a Muslim you need to believe that Allah is one and has no partners among other things (The Qur’an: Surah 112), and you need to do good, and live in such a way that Allah will grant you paradise in the afterlife.

You can’t argue with experience

There are groups from different religions who claim that they have had a supernatural experience of God, or a transcendental experience of reality. If these religions claim to be exclusive, how can this be correct? Either, all ‘experience’ is physiological; or all are experiencing some aspect of God, an interpretation that might be proposed by a Hindu or a member of the Baha’i faith. It is important to recognise that the term ‘religious experience’ can mean vastly different things. For some faiths, experiencing God in a personal way contradicts the fundamental teaching of that faith. For example, to say that a Buddhist experiences God in his/her meditations would be shocking since Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) taught that an understanding and compliance with the Four Noble Truths, would lead one to nirvana (the perfect peace of the state of mind that is free from craving, anger, and other afflicting states). Therefore, saying that a Buddhist experiences God contradicts the concept of nirvana, as nirvana has nothing to do with ‘God’ and everything to do with ones personal mind and being. There is no Other that provided to experience.


There is not enough time to examine the Islamic concept of ‘religious experience’ in detail here, however, we can briefly look at the concept of ‘Tauhid’, the oneness and otherness of A’llah. It has been proposed on numerous occasions that the God of the Bible, and the God of the Qur’an are the same. However, the differences between the two must not be underestimated. Indeed, most Muslims believe that the Bible has been changed by Christians and Jews to suit our divergent beliefs about God (People of the Book (Jews and Christians), why do you deny God’s revelations when you can see that they are true? People of the book, why do you mix truth with falsehood? Why do you hide the truth when you recognise it? The Qur’an: The Family of ‘Imran: 70-71. Also see: The Mystery of Jesus by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, and is the Bible Gods Word? By Ahmed Deedat). In contrast then, the God of the Bible is fundamentally relational, existing in community within the Trinity, an idea that is repugnant in Islam (The Qur’an: Surah 112). This is because the concept of Tauhid reveals A’llah to be great, absolutely transcendent, unknowable, and beyond us. Therefore, the idea that God can be personally known is out of place and does not appear in orthodox Islam.

There is, however, a branch of Islam that does interact with the supernatural: the Sufis. Still, ‘experiencing a personal relationship’ with A’llah in our human bodies and minds does not strictly cohere with the doctrine of Tauhid. It is a perplexing but well-established fact that much of Sufi teaching directly contradicts some of the most fundamental doctrines of orthodox Islam (Geisler, L., Norman. Saleeb, Abdul., Answering Islam: The Crescent in the light of the Cross, 1993, Baker Books.) As one Muslim author observes: Beyond their speculations concerning God, the necessity of his existence, and his properties, Muslim theologians and philosophers have apparently felt no need to question the possibility and reality of a human experience of God . . . It is difficult to find an appropriate Arabic or Persian expression for ‘experience of God’ without running the risk of encroaching on the absolute transcendence of the God of Islam, of anthropomorphising him’ (Annemarie Schimmel and Adboldjavad Falaturi, We Believe in one God, New York: Seabury Press: 1979)


To have a personal understanding and experience of God is not only coherent within Christian orthodoxy, but a necessary component of being a Christian. Often Christians have a dramatic revelation, or experience of God at the time of conversion or soon after. The Bible makes many references to these events especially in Acts 2: 1 –12; these encounters are still happening today. The foundation of ‘being a Christian’ lies in a relationship with God, not exclusively in any of the three seats (mentioned above). Rather, when one meets God in a personal way the result is a dramatic change in what one thinks, feels and does.

In conclusion, to assess the reliability of truth one can do so intellectually to a certain degree. If a religion is claiming to have supernatural referent, then it is worth assessing what this really means. Is the idea coherent within the doctrine of that religion? If it is, then is it a central tenant of that religion? If a religion claims supernatural or transcendental experience, it does not necessarily validate the claims of that religion.

The evidence for the reliability of the Christian faith lies not only in its historic foundation, and understanding of human nature and needs, but in the profound reality that God himself meets with those who accept Jesus. Christianity is, therefore, an experiential religion, not only in doctrine but also in practise.

References/Further reading

• Orr-Ewing, Amy., But is it Real?, Chapter 1, Inter Varsity Press, 2008.

• Geisler, Norman. And Saleeb, Addul., Answering Islam: The Crescent in the light of the Cross, Baker Books, 1997.

• The Qur’an., A New Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem.

• In Defence of Miracles, Ed. Geivett, Douglas., Habermas, Gary., Inter Varsity Press, 1997.

• Annemarie Schimmel and Adboldjavad Falaturi, We Believe in one God, New York: Seabury Press: 1979


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