A friend of mine was dialoguing with a Muslim when he referred him to me, recommending my “services”. Below is what transpired between us. Because it is quite long, I’ve decided to divide it into two parts, the first part dealing with the Incarnation, Trinity and metaphysical issues, the second part with salvation.
On the Incarnation and Trinity
Muslim Friend: Hi, I’ll ask the same question i ask Joel. Was Jesus’s human form, created?
Muslim Friend: ok…this is a different view from joel…anyway…so his human form is created…and so jesus the human, is created? am i right to say that this is what u meant?
Me: Jesus’s humanity is created, but not his divinity.
Muslim Friend: Ok..so did jesus look like his human form before he came down?
Me: He didn’t have a human form before he was incarnate. He only had one when he assumed flesh in Mary’s womb
Muslim Friend: Ok…before that…he didnt look like his human self…then what about now? Does he still assume his human flesh?
Me: Yes, now his body is a spiritual glorified body; A post resurrection body
Muslim Friend: Now, all this that you have told me. Did jesus teach the christians all this?
Me: Yes, to his apostles and then recorded unto the scriptures.
Muslim Friend: So in the bible it says that jesus didnt have a human form and only had it when in mary and now his body is a post ressurected body in human form?
Muslim Friend: So is it correct to say that jesus the human was created?
Me: Jesus the human and Jesus the God are the same person. It is correct to say that Jesus’s humanity is created.
Muslim Friend: Anyway can u tell me where in the bible it says jesus did not have a human form before in mary and that now he is in his ressurected body in human form?
Me: John Chapter 1 for the Jesus didn’t have a human form before in mary and was “made flesh” afterwards. As for the post-resurrected body, the whole of 1 Corinthians 15
Muslim Friend: ok..thank you for the references….so christianity believes that God dwelled with his creation in his own creation?
Me: Yup, that’s essentially right. And you’re welcome.
Muslim Friend: And christians accept that it is godly for the creator to dwell in its own creation?
Me: Yup, because creation is good, not evil. There is no “ungodliness” for God to be joined to his own good creation.
Muslim Friend: ok…thats cool….u r really explaining to Me what i am looking for….thanks..now…ungodliness for god to be joined in his own creations….lets talk about this….if he is to dwell in his own creations, won’t that restrict him to limitations of his own creations? if you read isaiah 40-25 god ask whom then will u liken Me? so if you say that god dwells in his own creations..havent u just liken him to his own creation?
Me: Not if he freely choose those restrictions. It is no more “restriction” for God to communicate his own infinite divine truth in a limited human language then it is for God to dwell in his own limited creation.
Muslim Friend: if he freely choose to restrict himself and liken himself to his creations…then to you..is that godliness? when he has already mentioned to you that , whom then will u liken Me? when god is in human form, did he choose to restrict himself to ungodliness behaviour like drinking and eating and even going to the toilet?
Me: God’s will is always godly no? So if God willed to restrict himself, then that will is a godly one. And it is not us who liken him, but it is he himself who took the initiative to “liken” himself to us, or assume our form. We may not presume on our own to “liken” him to us, but we “liken” him to us because that is his own will to which we adore and revere. And Christians don’t think that drinking and eating or using the toilet are “ungodly” behaviour but perfectly natural and as are all things which are part of his natural creation, good and are commended of God.
Muslim Friend: so u believe that god needs to eat n drink and go to the toilet?
Me: Certainly God doesn’t need to, but Christ’s humanity does. But perhaps his spiritual body doesn’t “need” to any more but is simply capable of those activities. Again, Christians don’t see eating and drink or even going to the toilet to be “weaknesses” but are good activities to be enjoyed, even the relief from going to the toilet. After all, there is a famous pun about Christian hell that it is “damnation without relief” 😉
Muslim Friend: well..i didnt ask if it is a weakness….i asked if it was godly
Me: yup, they are good and godly activities, as the bible teaches, food and drink come from our creator and are to be received with praise and thanksgiving.
Muslim Friend: so drinking eating is godly ?
Me: Yup. In Christianity, as I’ve said, material activities which are part of God’s creation are good and godly.
Muslim Friend: can i know which bible scholars agree with that?
Me: Lol… it is virtually a standard part of Christian orthodoxy! You can take your pick of any bible scholar, or you can simply refer to Genesis 1 where God declares again and again that God created blah blah and declared that it was good. Or I can quote from the great “bible scholar”, the Apostle Paul himself,
“They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:3-5
Muslim Friend: i meant that eating and drinking is godly behaviours; so does your god eat and drink?
Me: Another translation puts it more explicitly as “it is made holy by the word of God and prayer”; Christ does, certainly. The bible teaches that at the resurrection he will be feasting with all the saints at Abraham’s table.
Muslim Friend: so if your god eat n drinks…then can i say that your god is like a normal human in terms of drinking and eating?
Me: Well, we were created in God’s image, so God is already “like” us in some aspects, albeit faintly, so Christ certainly shares certain points of “likeness” or similarities with us in respect with drinking and eating, although I’m not quite sure how eating and drinking works with a spiritual body, hahaha…
Muslim Friend: u used the word ‘like’ and u mentioned god is already ‘like’ us…is this from your own understanding or did your scholars and jesus teach the christians?
Me: Well, the Scripture does teach that we are made in God’s image, again, it’s in Genesis 1, and you can refer to the 1 Corinthians 15 passage about the “likeness” or image of Christ’s spiritual body to our bodies, etc.
Muslim Friend: well..that does not answer my question….
Me: Sure, scholars do teach those stuff and Jesus taught the Apostles, etc.
Muslim Friend: ok….so from what i can udnerstand, u say that there are scholars who says god is ‘like’ us?
Me: More like, we are like God, because we are made in God’s image, but yes, the good parts of humanity do image God…
Muslim Friend: but isaiah 46:9 says there is none like Me….. if we are created in god’s image as what you understand in your methodology, then does god have a man or women’s body?
Me: Well, if you read on, God was saying that in reference to the idols which the Israelites were making, etc. So yes, there is no likeness in idols to God, etc. Well, no, just because we are made in God’s image does not therefore follow that God has a body, etc. It is a non-sequitur
Muslim Friend: can you explain further…when u say god meant there is no likeness in idols to god
“Hearken to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am He,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.
“To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
and compare me, that we may be alike?
Those who lavish gold from the purse,
and weigh out silver in the scales,
hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
then they fall down and worship!
The question about “to whom will you, etc, etc” is made in the context to “those who lavish gold from the purse, etc, etc, to hire a goldsmith and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship”. The meaning of the verse has to be read in the context of the whole declaration or proclamation and cannot be divorced from it’s context…
Muslim Friend: ok..that i the verse in which it says to whom u liken me..i understand that from your exaplaination…they liken the idols to god…but isaiah 46:9 there is none like me…..is it also referring to there is no idol like me?
Me: Yup, so on and so forth to verse 9 which is prefaced with, “Remember the former things, those of long ago;” Evidently referring to the particular deeds which God did on behalf of Israel and that there is no other God who behaves that way like the God of Israel to Israel. It is like saying that there is none like a special person to emphasize the person’s unique interaction or behaviour. It isn’t meant to make an absolute metaphysical statement…
Muslim Friend: ok…great… brb
Muslim Friend: ok…just summarise for the night….according to your understanding of christianity, god eats and drinks and He is ‘like’ his creation.
Me: Christ is, yes.
Muslim Friend: and this is the understanding which christ and the scholars teach….
Muslim Friend: ok….we’ll stop here tonight…thanks for your time…this is some sort like what i want to find out….
more of the methodology of how christians believe in what they believe
Me: okay, no problem.
Muslim Friend: maybe one last question…u’ll see that most of my questions is based on fundamentals and how you came about deriving it; how did you/christians come about to believe in the trinity?
Me: Hahaha, if you’re asking about a point of epistemology, then for the Church, that’s a complex question. But the doctrine of the trinity is simply a formalisation of the teachings of Scriptures as recorded in the Nicene Creed
Muslim Friend: this formalisation, who came up with the believe of the trinity.
Me: It is a formalisation in the sense in which, for example, in mathematics, there is the practice of calculus and using differentiation and integration, but when asked to justify those practices and activities, mathematicians formalised those operations on a more abstract and formal basis in pure/theoretical mathematics. May be one can describe mathematical formalisations as something which they “came up” with, but I believe that mathematical truths are “discovered”, not invented. So likewise is the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, Christian Scriptures on the teaching of Christ and Christian worship practices, i.e. worship of Christ, etc, was formalised when the need arose to give a unifying explanation for all those activities and writings.
Muslim Friend: so this formalisation occured after christ?
Me: Sure, but the formal terms aren’t essential. For example, technically the Creed says that the Son is “of the same substance” as the Father. But throughout this discussion, I’ve never felt compelled to use this essentially philosophical term. It is useful for summarising our teachings on the relation between the Son and the Father, but not essential, and we can substitute it with any other metaphysical terms as long as the term performs it’s essential functions.
Muslim Friend: i understand….but this formalisation of trinity, the idea that god is 3 in 1, correct me with the proper understanding if i’m wrong, is taught during christ’s time?
Me: Yup, it is.
Muslim Friend: ok…can i have references?
Me: Well, I can’t think of the Bible verses off hand, but the whole of the Gospel of John would be good, as would Philippians 2 and the first letter of John
Muslim Friend: its ok….i’m not testing you…haha…u can quote me when u find it… for now just explain to me the doctorine of the trinity
Me: It is simply summarised as there are three persons but one God. Each person is God, but each person is not any of the other persons. They also exists in a certain relation, the Father is neither begotten nor breathed, but the Son is begotten of the Father but not breathed, and the Holy Spirit is breathed from the Father and the Son
Muslim Friend: in another words, 3 person but one god, so god is in 3 person? god in the form of the son, god in the form of the spirit and god in the form of the father?
Me: “form” is a rather philosophically loaded word, I would use it with much qualifications and nuancing, but sure, essentially yes.
Muslim Friend: ok….we’ll pick up from trinity next time..thanks for your time…
Me: no prob
Muslim Friend: Before that i just want to let u know..the whole point is to understand the methodology. Because when i talk to different christians, they give me different views.
Me: haha, well, different Christians have different depths of understanding of Christian scholarship and tradition, over and above our denominational differences
Muslim Friend: Yup..thats why i want to know the methodology of understanding the bible…lets continue The doctorine of the trinity, was it preached by christ? Of was it introduced by the council?
Me: Lol, I’m on my smartphone, so my responses will be a bit slower. I would say it was preached by Christ and codified by the council. Like how we learn how to count and do sums long before mathematicians formulated combinatorial theory and set theory to formalize those operations.
Muslim Friend: Ok..before i ask for references of the doctorine from the bible, i was wondering, how do u choose or rather know which denomination to follow?
Me: Well, for me personally, I went through several Christian traditions and did a lot of study before I settled where I am now, I.e. Anglican. But if you want to be more specific, I didn’t choose based on any formal procedures or methodology, but I weighed each teaching of the denomination by it’s own merits.
Muslim Friend: How did u came about becoming an anglcan? Or rather…what was the key factor
Me: Well, for me what was important was which denomination taught the objective certainty of God’s remission of our sins. This was the key factor for me. And the doctrine that we are saved by baptism, receive forgiveness of sins by the pronouncement of absolution by the minister, and everlasting life by eating the sacrament of the bread and wine, is what drew me to Anglicanism. It meant for me that salvation and forgiveness didn’t depend on what I did or think but upon what God does in the sacraments which I put my trust in
Muslim Friend: Interesting….so salvation and forgiveness has nothinf to do with whatbu do?
Me: No, not at all, it has everything to do with what God does, not us. Well, not unless you count “receiving” as something we “do”. But we don’t earn or merit salvation or everlasting life or forgiveness of sins, we receive it from Christ through his church
Muslim Friend: And this was preached by christ?
Me: Yup, by Christ and he to his apostles.
Muslim Friend: Can u show the references?
Me: Luke 18:9-14; Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 16:16; John 20:19-23.
I would recommend reading the book of Galatians or Romans for a more in depth exposition on being justified and saved by grace through faith and not works.
Muslim Friend: Thanks…will look tthem up
That’s just about it. See, your personal lay theologian. And I don’t charge for my services! 😀