There are many differences between Islam and Christianity. One of the major differences concerns what happened to Jesus at Calvary. Did Jesus die on the cross and rise again on the third day, or did he not? Christians of course believe that he did, while Muslims deny it.
One way to compare these claims and counter-claims is to provide a close examination of both what the Bible and the Koran say about the issue. Another way would be to compare Christian scholarship with Muslim scholarship on the issue. Michael Licona combines both elements in a cleverly devised format.
He puts these arguments and counter-arguments in the form of a debate between the apostle Paul and Muhammad. Paul of course was one of the greatest apostles of Jesus, while Muhammad was the prophet of Allah. Licona asks the reader to imagine these two heavyweights locked in a major debate about the resurrection.
Arguments are given, responses are made, and the debate goes back and forth. After a series of arguments and rebuttals, a number of issues are tackled in a discussion period, followed by closing statements of each debater. This in turn is followed by the moderator’s closing summation.
While the debate is of course fictitious, the issues involved are not. Indeed, they center on the very heart of the Christian gospel, and have to do with monumental truth claims.
Thus the importance of the debate. If one side is speaking truth on this issue, then the other must not be. Both sides cannot simultaneously be speaking truth on this topic, for the one side negates the other. Either Jesus died on the cross and rose again or he did not. If Christianity is right on this point, then Islam is wrong.
In fact we can go even further in this regard. As Licona rightly notes, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is simply finished, washed up. It is false and we should not waste our time with it. If, on the other hand, Jesus did rise from the dead, then Islam is false.
Licona shows, through his two main characters, that he is suitably qualified to host this debate. He is well versed, of course, with the claims of Christianity, but he also shows a deep understanding of the counter-claims of Islam. While the fictitious debate is an easy read and not theologically challenging, there are plenty of scholarly footnotes for the reader to consult if he/she wishes to take matters further.
As such, Licona is able to clearly and logically lay out the various claims and counter-claims. As an example, according to the gospel accounts, Jesus predicted that he would meet a violent death. Muhammad (and Islam) regard Jesus as a great prophet. But if Jesus did not die a violent death, then he must have been a false prophet. If so, not only Christians, but Muslims as well, would find this most troubling. Both the Christian gospels and the Koran would be wrong concerning Jesus if in fact he turned out to be a false prophet.
In this and many other discussions, Licona (through Paul) strongly makes the case for the actual death and resurrection of Jesus. The cumulative evidence is just too strong to be denied. Indeed, the Christian view of the resurrection of Jesus best explains all of the evidence available to us.
And the counter theories of Muslims – that Jesus did not die but was either rescued or substituted – simply lack any evidence. It takes more faith to believe the Koranic version of events than it does to accept the biblical version. All the evidence points to the Christian account as the most logically and intellectually satisfying.
Of course at this point a Muslim might claim this is simply a biased book, being written from a Christian point of view. The author acknowledges his Christian convictions, but argues that he sought to best as he could make the Muslim case. Indeed, he even went so far as to have a Muslim friend read his manuscript, and he incorporated the suggested changes and additions into this book.
With Islam becoming more and more prominent in Western societies, it is imperative that Christians are aware of both their own faith, and the claims of Islam, especially on this central issue of the resurrection. And this book does a superb job of laying out these differing beliefs.
Licona does an excellent job of laying out the issues, examining the evidence, and defending the biblical position. This is a much-needed book to show that not all religions are equal, and not all truth-claims are to be accepted at face value.