I finally got around to watching Melvin Bragg’s documentary ‘The Muslim Jesus.’ It was good, informative and well balanced. It of course inevitably raised the question of whether or not ‘Jesus’ was a bridge between Christians and Muslims or a barrier. In much the same vein last week a Dutch minister suggested that Christians should call God ‘Allah’ in an attempt to bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims. Whilst we have of course a shared vocabulary and share a common figure in Jesus the problems begin to arise when we come to definitions and understandings. As one Islamic scholar put it in this programme Christians had in fact a wrong view of Jesus as they had allowed tradition to colour their understanding. A Christian scholar laid much the same charges at the door of Islam.
Two particular issues were raised in my mind. The first was the issue of critical evaluation. There was it appeared to me little critical evaluation of the Christian tradition from the point of view of Islamic scholars. They naturally assumed that the Islamic view was correct but there seemed to me to be little critical evaluation of how the Christian view of Jesus emerged. Why from the 1st century onwards did Christians proclaim Jesus crucified and risen from the dead if these things did not happen? As those who emerge from a later tradition it seems to me the weight of proof is upon the Islamic scholars to show that the earlier view is incorrect.
The second issue that occurred to me was the theological one. If the Islamic view of Jesus is correct Christians are hopelessly misled. I am reminded of Paul’s words about the historical reality of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, ‘if Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins and your faith is futile.’ As has rightly been said Christianity is Christ. So the issue of the identity of Jesus is one not simply of historic interest but huge theological significance.
One thing that perplexes me considering the debate it this- and I am no Islamic scholar by any stretch of the imagination. It seems to me strange that Islam can respect Christians as ‘people of the book’ if our book is fundamentally flawed. In Christian theology the whole New Testament is centred upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified and raised from the dead. This also determines our understanding of the Old Testament. So I’m not quite sure why Christians are honoured as ‘people if the book’ if both their book and their interpretation of it is so fundamentally flawed.
So is Jesus a bridge or a barrier? I suppose he is both. He is a barrier in that there is a radically different understanding of Jesus between the two faiths. But He may also be a bridge if Christians and Muslims can engage in a constructive discussion over the key historical and theological issues.