Intellectually dishonest people are people who essentially do one thing: They refuse to allow their assumptions to be tested. That’s it. It doesn’t matter what area of life we are talking about: Science, philosophy, cultural values, governmental policy, etc. Even religion. If you assume something and refuse to allow it to be tested – you are intellectually dishonest. Just imagine a world in which anyone could say anything and everyone ought to believe it? Does that sound insane? Of course it does! But that is the logical extension of the way intellectually dishonest people live and think. This is the essence of blind faith and many are guilty of it.
Intellectually honest people, on the other hand, allow their assumptions to be tested and then decide whether or not to continue to hold them based upon two criteria: (1) Is there evidence to support my assumption?; and (2) How much evidence or lack thereof allows me to feel comfortable with maintaining my assumption or letting it go?
As a Christian my foundational assumptions are: (1) God exists. (2) God has revealed Himself in history, in the Bible, and in the Person & Work of Jesus Christ. I’ve had numerous people over the years test those assumptions of mine. Yet I still hold to them. Why? Because the evidence I’ve come to know, that supports those assumptions, is more than enough for me to continue to hold them.
Sadly though, even some Christians are guilty of intellectual dishonesty. Need I say King James Version only-ism? Ugh. Furthermore, intellectually dishonest people typically get angry when their assumptions are questioned. Or, they simply create straw views to attack, that don’t represent the views of those who question their assumptions. This is done all the time in the media.
What does this have to do with Islam? This is my fifth and final article on Islam. Thus that is a very good question. It has a lot to do with Islam for more than one reason. It has to do with Islam because Muslims are still people; therefore they too can be intellectually dishonest, just as Christians can. It has to do with Muslims because Islam assumes certain things about God that I believe many of its adherents never test. And it has to do with Muslims because in its interaction with Christianity, Islam judges the Gospel with untested assumptions.
When it comes to the subject of the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, Islamic assumptions comes to the fore. I’ve heard one particular assumption at different times when in dialogue with certain Muslims, especially from an Imam who laughed repeatedly at the idea. That assumption is — God could never die for sinners. But despite what Muslims may say there are passages in the Quran that do present the atonement motif. And the Hadith states that Muhammad himself will intercede for some sinners and thereby ransom them from hell. So even Islam teaches some sort of atonement though Muslims deny the Christian idea of atonement.
What is the Christian idea of atonement?
To atone basically means “to cover a debt.” In the Bible God does this by allowing the innocent to die on behalf of the guilty. People who sin against God are guilty and need atonement. In the Bible God tells Israel that “the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Lev. 17:11). God would temporarily atone for the sins of the people through the bloodshed and death of the animal sacrifice.
Yet the revelation of the Bible shows us that such atoning animal sacrifices were never ultimately sufficient. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Temporary? Yes. Permanent? No. Why? Simply because the level of offense cannot be measured without knowing the dignity of the one offended.
Who is it that sinful human beings have offended? It is Almighty God. And the Bible teaches that our Creator is infinite, meaning He cannot be measured (Ps. 147:5; Is. 40:28). He has no beginning or end. Therefore, the level of punishment for the offense must rise to the level of the dignity of God. That level is infinite. How in the world can finite human beings rise to that level? The bad news of the Bible is that none can. The Good News of the Bible is that God can and did in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel is About a Just & Merciful God Dying For Sinners
I have just supplied some evidence for the atonement found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only one sacrifice will suffice to reconcile sinners like you and I back to a holy God — who MUST judge sin. I don’t need to be intellectually dishonest and engage in blind faith in order to believe in the biblical doctrine of blood atonement.
The bottom line for any theistic religion is: Is God just? If you say He isn’t then you’ve just admitted that the Hitlers of the world are not ultimately accountable for their actions. If you say He is — but not all the time (which is what Islam teaches): meaning God reserves the right to be capricious (change His mind whenever He feels like it); then my retort would be – How can you trust and worship such a God? After those two options are shown to be fallacious there is only one option left: God is always just. If you realize that is true then you are not too far from the Gospel. In the Gospel of Jesus Christ we don’t have a God who is never just, or only sometimes just; but rather He is always just, and yet He is also merciful. He can be merciful to sinners, yet remain just because He became a man and died for our sins, then rose from the dead.
Here is where Muslims get tripped up. They ask, “How can God die?” But surely this is assuming something even they already know to be untrue. Anyone who truly believes in God and eternity, doesn’t mean their loved one is“forevermore non-existent” when they say, “Johnny has died.” They mean his body is dead but his soul has entered into eternity. Muslims believe that when they die they don’t really die, only their physical bodies have died. That is what the New Testament means when it tells us Jesus Christ, who is truly God and truly man, died on a real Roman cross in history. His physical body died, but who He was and is eternally as God the Son did not go into non-existence. And three days later He rose from the dead with a glorified body, forevermore truly God and truly man.
I have stated that Muslims argue against the Christian view of atonement with untested Islamic assumptions.
- If their assumption is, “God cannot have a Son” then they must deal with the evidence for God as Trinity in the Bible, which their own Quran affirms.
- If their assumption is, “God cannot become a man” then they must prove that such a thing is impossible for God. They cannot. It is nonsense to believe God created everything out of nothing, and yet He is powerless to enter His own creation as a human being. And if they only state that they believe it to be so because the Quran teaches it, then they ought not affirm the Bible as Divine revelation or Jesus as a prophet because both affirm His deity and humanity. Yet they cannot deny the Bible or Jesus Christ because to do so would be to deny the Quran.
- If their assumption is, “God cannot die for sinners” then what do they have with which to argue for such an assumption? They cannot argue that God never atones because even the Quran & Hadith teaches He does at times. They cannot argue that God cannot go out of existence because that is not what Scripture means when it reveals Christ died for our sins. The best they can say is, “God doesn’t need to die for sinners.” That fits with the Quranic evidence. But it falls short when we think of God’s justice in the Bible and in a logical manner. And such an assertion is very different than the common, untested assumption that “God cannot die for sinners.” If a Muslim realizes that their assertion, “God cannot die for sinners” is too strong, then I would take them back to the subject of the “justice of God” discussed above.
For these reasons I believe the Muslim assumption that “God cannot die for sinners”, if blindly held to, shows a certain level of intellectual dishonesty. It is my belief that blindly held to assumptions cannot be held with conviction unless they are tested, and evidence is shown to support them. Anything less is blind faith. Where no evidence exists, or what was once thought to be evidence is proven to be false, such assumptions give birth to intellectual dishonesty if still held to. Unfortunately, we as fallen human beings don’t typically like to do the rigorous work required in critical thinking. Christians are guilty of this at times. So are Muslims. But the painful work of ripping a bandaid off an infected wound is needed before a healing ointment can be applied. The greatest healing ointment ever provided for man is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is my belief. It’s been tested time and time again, yet I still hold to it. Not because of blind faith but because of real evidence rooted in history.