Brian’s question: “If we didn’t have the New Testament, would we be more like the Muslims?”
This is an intriguing question because it assumes we have a common understanding of Muslims. Many of us in this nation have very little understanding of the Muslim faith that isn’t filtered through or framed by the nightly news about the jihadists. Just last night I heard another Muslim “spiritual” leader say that Muslims need consult no one about killing Americans. Just go ahead and do it. This is the dark side of Islam that many hate-filled and desperate people seem drawn towards. Christians have a dark side, too. And we have some so-called Christians who cause the every day Muslim to see us as a threat to them, as well.
Islam does not necessarily promote the idea of God as the source of love. Allah is more often characterized as Merciful. That mercy is not specifically rooted in Allah’s love for humankind, but in something mysterious called Allah’s will. Muslims accept the fact that life is struggle and that they will struggle because it is the will of Allah. In fact, the word jihad means “struggle” and devout Muslims see that jihad is a legitimate way to be within the will of Allah. Jihad doesn’t necessarily mean violence against infidels.
Christianity, as expressed in the New Testament, speaks of love as God’s desire for humanity. “For God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son that whoever believed on him would have eternal life.” That’s the well-known John 3,16 but verse 17 is tied to it. “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” God’s mercy is clearly a product of God’s love for his people and his will is to show mercy rather than judgment.
The Old Testament, particularly the first five books, tend to have some common themes also found in the Koran. The scriptural justification for the Crusades (which the Muslims consider our equivalent to jihad) tend to come from Old Testament texts. Whereas the New Testament promotes self-sacrifice as God’s modus operandi; God in the Old Testament has a more warrior approach to humanity. So it is probably fair to say that if we did not have the New Testament that Christians might be more like Muslims.
What makes Christians different from Muslims is that we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is not merely among the holiest of prophets, as Islam teaches. His death on the cross as an atonement for our sin creates the opportunity for our lives to be transformed into new creations – freed from the power of sin. A book does not accomplish that, even our Holy Book which we understand to be God’s unique and authoritative Word. No, God’ intervention in human life in the person of Jesus Christ, an intervention made on the side of a sinful and powerless humanity, and our surrender to His love is what makes Christians, well, … Christians.