Saturday, January 15, 2011

Neglecting the Offense of Sin

I just read a post on the crucifixion by Timothy Winter (Abdal Hakim), a Cambridge professor who converted to Islam and is often called "Britain's most famous Muslim."  Here is an excerpt below:
If my neighbour owes me 1000 pounds, I have three options:
1. I can insist that he pay it back
2. I can get someone else to pay it back on his behalf
3. I can simply forgive the debt
Rather crudely it might be said that in the human penitential relationship to God’s rights, rabbinical Judaism favours the first, Christianity favours the second, and Islam favours the third. It is clear which is the ethically superior position.
It never ceases to amaze me that in denying penal substitution and saying that Allah can simply choose to forgive sin, Muslims consistently deny the offense of sin to a Holy God!  Essentially their position diminishes God's holiness, as it can be reduced to something akin to saying, "Oh, sin is no big offense to God, he can just forgive it and forget about it."  This minimizes the seriousness of our rebellion against God, and it destroys the very thing that Islam supposedly holds dear - the greatness of God!  Contrast this with the Christian position, which takes seriously our sin as an offense and a direct affront against a Holy God which requires some form of payment - either by us personally or by Christ.  I don't like my chances of paying back my own sin debt, so I am surely glad that Christ paid it for me!  To deny this is the ultimate form of pride and self-sufficiency.  It's like saying, "No thanks Lord, I can take care of my own sin." Wow!  That's dangerous.

p.s. I don't mean to demean Tim Winter as a scholar, I think he's one of the best.  I highly recommend his book, The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology.


Anonymous said...

'Contrast this with the Christian position, which takes seriously our sin as an offense and a direct affront against a Holy God which requires some form of payment - either by us personally or by Christ. I don't like my chances of paying back my own sin debt, so I am surely glad that Christ paid it for me!'

I'm curious, to whom exactly does Christ make the payment to?

Abdul Asad عبد الأسد said...

Thanks for your question, sorry for my assumption. The answer is that he pays the debt to his Father, the first person of the Trinity.

John Stott's book, "The Cross of Christ", especially Ch. 5 "Satisfaction for sin" is very helpful here.

Also, have a look at Romans 3 below:

“But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.”
(Romans 3:5–27 ESV)

This way God gets all the credit for our salvation, and he is thus shown to be more glorious!

Abdul Asad عبد الأسد said...


By the way, I recently found your blog and I enjoy reading it! I appreciate your transparency as a fellow pilgrim on the journey toward God. I look forward to dialoguing more with you...

One other thought about to whom Christ pays our sin debt - The New Testament uses the Greek word "hilasterion" (translated "propitiation") to describe Christ's work. That he propitiated God's just wrath at sin means that he bore the full brunt of God the Father's wrath at human sin, thus making a straight path - "al-Tariq al-Mustakim" in Arabic - directly to God. But without his atoning work on the cross, man has no hope of approaching a Holy God! We are sinners, he is Holy!

Put another way: "Islam says, 'Because I do good, hopefully God will love and accept me.' But the Gospel says, 'Because God loves and accepts me in Christ, therefore I do good.'"

Thus in Islam, good works are man's hope to earn salvation... perhaps, insh'allah. But according to the Gospel, God has already done all the work (Christ on the cross), thus our good works are an overflow of a joy-filled heart of gratitude to God. Again, in the Gospel, God gets all the glory, but in Islam, man gets at least some of God's glory because he is taught that his good works can somehow "earn him" God's merit. This is the exact opposite of the Gospel, where our good works are the overflow and natural result of our gratitude toward a God who already gave us grace in Christ. In Islam God is supposed to be "Allahu Akbar" - the Greatest. But Islamic soteriology is inherently anthropocentric because our salvation is dependent on our good works for God. While Christian soteriology is inherently God-centric, and gives God his status as "al-Akbar" - the Greatest!

If we both go to heaven together, Muslims will say, "I'm so happy I did good works to earn God's mercy." But Christians will say, "Thank you God for sending Jesus to pay my sin debt and make me righteous in your sight!" Which statement gives God more glory?

Anonymous said...

Salam Abdul Asad

thanks for your answer. But I don't understand why God needs to pray a debt to himself (!) to forgive our sins - makes no sense to me and is not what Jesus taught in the synoptic gospels. Just look at Luke 15 for example.

Furthermore, your view that Islam teaches salvation by works is completely wrong - this is a common error by fundamentalist Christians. Islam is a religion of grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Have a read of 'Answering Common Questions on Salvation That Christians Pose to Muslims' at this link on my blog:

Anonymous said...

spelling error: 'But I don't understand why God needs to PAY a debt to himselF' LOL

Anonymous said...

Doesn't Christ pay the debt to the justice of God? He is a holy God and His word declares that the soul who sins must die. God can't lie, and His justice must be fulfilled. Mercy is found in Christ because a holy God cannot tolerate even the smallest measure of sin.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hi Jacob

If God pays a debt to himself then there is no mercy or forgiveness from God to man. In Islam God does not have to pay debts to himself - he is free to forgive whom he chooses. This is a more worthy concept of God. In your version of Christianity God does not forgive at all. There is no love or compassion or mercy: I prefer the region of Jesus and his message in Luke 15.

I was once an Evangelical Christian but embraced Islam several years ago and blog on Christianity and Islam here:

Abdul Asad عبد الأسد said...


You keep alluding to Luke 15 as evidence that the cross was not necessary to atone for sin when you say that God did not need to absorb our sin debt. I strongly suggest you read Kenneth Bailey's excellent book, "The Cross and the Prodigal", which will put Luke 15 in it's proper context for understanding. We have to remember that the context of the Bible was first century Palestine, not 21st century Britain or America. And in first century Palestine, there was no greater shame that having your son ask for his inheritance and then leave your house. The father in this story is like God, because the public shame he bore for his son's sinful actions is akin to the way God bore our sin in Christ on the cross. When the son repented of his sin (as we must also), the father absorbed the debt at great cost to himself. Don't you think the whole village was talking about him and what a shame it was for him? Don't you think he lost a lot of money because of this, yet didn't ask the son to repay it, he took the debt himself. If you've never lived in the Middle East then you probably can't picture the seriousness of this. But again, there's no way you can use Luke 15 to say that God did not pay our sin debt on the cross because that means you aren't understanding the Middle Eastern context of the parable, and it also means you aren't understanding the entire rest of the Bible - which is all in accord with the teaching of the atonement.

Further, you say that you used to be an Evangelical Christian, but now you are a Muslim. Hey, that's fine, it's your right to believe what you want. But this just tells me that when you called yourself a Christian there's no way you were grasping the full meaning of the faith. Because if you did, you would never have left your Savior and your demonstratively merciful God for a path where you must save yourself and God is only theoretically merciful, which is what Islam is. It says God is merciful and so forth again and again in the Qur'an, but it never shows us how. But in Christianity, the Bible not only says God is merciful, but it shows us HOW he is merciful because of the cross! It's the difference between theory and actuality.


Abdul Asad عبد الأسد said...


You also said, "Islam is a religion of grace, mercy, and forgiveness." I agree with you that Islam teaches all these things ON PAPER, but it's all just talk and theory in Islam because the reality is Islam doesn't believe God has ever revealed his grace, mercy and forgiveness and demonstrated it for man in history. To the contrary, those of us who live under Sharia Law can testify that this supposed grace, mercy and forgiveness that is on paper in Islam is nowhere found in real life under Sharia. To the contrary, grace, mercy and forgiveness are absolutely 100% absent from the culture. Don't forget Paul, you are ingesting a form of Islam in Britain that has been contextualized and sanitized for a Western audience. If you come visit me in the Middle East you will see the "real Islam" where Sharia reigns and grace and mercy and forgiveness are entirely absent. The culture you come from, whether you realize it or not, was based at one time on Christianity, and it therefore still carries a legacy of blessing and grace and truth. Westernized Islam that you see in the UK merely came in on top of the Christian foundations of the West and is now claiming that they somehow had something to do with the fact that the West is a pretty darn good place to live! If Islam was so great, then how come every single person in every country I have ever visited or lived in under Sharia Law is dying to emigrate to a country with a Christian foundation like Britain, Germany, or America? Why isn't it the other way around? That in itself is pretty convincing proof. Just look at a migration map - you will see that people are emigrating from every Muslim country to every Western country, not vice versa. Why? Because the Western countries still have a foundation of Biblical truth and equality for all people, but the Muslim countries are based on the Qur'an, Sunnah, and Sharia and have nothing but injustice, corruption, poverty, and violence. The system which you base your society on breeds the results, or to say it another way, the proof is in the pudding.

Along these lines, I also seem to remember you linking some gay blogs to your blog. If you think for one second that real Islam (as opposed to the sanitized version in the West) would ever tolerate homosexuality you are sorely mistaken. I study Islam every day from top Sheikhs, and I can tell you that real Islam has one thing only to say to a gay man or woman - "you must die as soon as possible." Gay people are quickly executed in my part of the world, usually by family members before it goes public to reduce the shame. Again, contrast this with the Christian position, which teaches love and acceptance of gay people, while also teaching that God is able to help us overcome homosexuality. So both Islam and Christianity teach that homosexuality is not part of God's design for humans, but is a result of sin in our world. But the way in which they deal with it differs greatly!

Paul, thanks for engaging with me on this stuff. I don't mean to put you off or whatever. But from your blog I can see that you like to be challenged and to challenge as well. So do I, so thanks! And by the way, please don't associate me with "fundamentalist Christians" (I saw your links). I'm just a person trying to live out my life following Jesus' exemplary path, and I happen to LOVE theology and the differences between theology in religions.

Blessings 2 U!

Anonymous said...

Your exegesis of Luke 15 is very creative but overly labored. The key point for your religion is that Jesus did not teach that God demands (as you believe) that an innocent person be tortured to death for a guilty persons sin to be forgiven. No. But your obsession with 'debts' is quite unlike the love and compassion of God evidenced in Jesus' ministry. Also your talk about living in the Middle East is a red herring. I ask you: are you a Jew? Do you live in the period of the Second Temple? Are you obedient to the torah - like Jesus? If you answer no to these questions then you are no closer to Jesus' time than I am.

As a Muslim I still follow Jesus, but sadly many Christians have gone astray by raising Jesus, a Messenger of God, to equality with God. As the holy Qur'an states:

'O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of God aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in God and His apostles. Say not "Trinity" : desist: it will be better for you: for God is one God. Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is God as a Disposer of affairs.'

You write: 'It [Islam] says God is merciful and so forth again and again in the Qur'an, but it never shows us how'. I am amazed you claim this. Have you read the Quran? I recommend it wholeheartedly - a most extraordinary Book of grace and light and life. God's mercy is cleanly described in
the Quran and we see it in our lives by God searching us out, calling us to Life and paradise, giving us all the necessities of life and above all, inviting us to receive His love and love Him in return. This is not theoretical as you imagine but intensely spiritual and enduring - giving us a peace that the dunya cannot give.

Anonymous said...

Btw where in the Middle East do you say you live? Which country? You talk about so-called Westernised Islam in the UK - I take it you have 1st hand experience of mosques here in London like i do? I find it very amusing that you think they are Westernised!! I thank God they are not. Here we have a problem of salafi's not secularists or Sufi's! i think you have a very rosy picture of life in the UK - i guess you get your impressions from the TV set...

Also it is im portant you know that Britain is no longer a Christian country - it is profoundly secular and hostile to Christian faith. Leading churchmen were saying just this recently. It appears that your image of life here is England very naive.

I am not aware of any country in the Middle East that is truly based on the Qur'an, Sunnah, and Shari ia. Most countries are either secular dictatorships (like Syria) or Muslim in name only (like Egypt). Their 'injustice, corruption, poverty and violence' are because they are NOT based on the Quran and Sunnah. Historically Christian societies (like the UK and USA) have supported brutal enslavements of peoples, colonisation and forced conversions to Christianity, so we in Europe are quite glad to be free of that Christian past, thank you.

Finally and very amusingly, I note your silly mistake I thinking I have 'gay blogs' on my site! Just click on them and read them - you will find that they are the opposite of what you think! LOL!

Btw, in the Bible, God commands that homosexual offenders be put to death for their sin, and nowhere does it preach the acceptance of gay people! You seem to believe in a touchy-feely Westernised politically correct form of Christianity with talk of 'love and acceptance of gay people', and are very selective with the Bible ignoring all the nasty bits about God allegedly commanding the genocide of whole nations and the death penalty for far more crimes than is the case with Islam.

Lastly, I fear that like many fundamentalist Christians you have a deep hatred for what you consider to be Islam and profoundly misunderstand the faith. To begin the healing process of change can I suggest you read the following article:

Answering Common Questions on Salvation That Christians Pose to Muslims

which will, inshallah, bring you to a better place of understanding the Truth


Anonymous said...

Salam Abdul Asad

on another matter, I wrote the follow piece a while ago which I would like to share with you. It is to be found on the Muslim Debate Initiative blog.

Instructive Parallels between the Early Church’s Hostility to the Jews and Contemporary Evangelical Attacks on Islam