Twice now I have met in a debate with the same Muslim speaker, and handled questions from a curious, polite, mostly Muslim audience.
And on each occasion I have heard an intake of breath as if I have said something that has possibly stepped over the bounds of polite debate, and moved into giving offence.
The first time was in the East London mosque, when I presented my case for the incarnate divinity of Christ from across the New Testament data. I wasn’t embarrassed by any of the verses my debating partner used to show Jesus’ humanity, but tried to show what I thought was the full New Testament position. Fully God and fully man.
No-one batted an eyelid. They had probably heard that this is what Christians believe.
But then, in response to a question, I described Jesus kneeling, taking a towel, and washing his disciples’ feet.
There was an audible intake of breath from six hundred people. And someone said later, “You’d have to have a different kind of Messiah to persuade a Muslim.”
That’s an interesting observation, because the Qur’an does repeatedly teach that Jesus is Messiah, although it says nothing of what he said or did beyond the fact that he did not die on the cross. But he was a, or the, Messiah. And I had just insulted him, because that humility and self-sacrifice is unthinkable for one of the Prophets.
This week was the second occasion, this time in one of London’s teaching hospitals. This time I explored the idea of Jesus as Messiah: Prophet, Priest and King.
Same polite courtesy. And then my debating partner turned to Acts 2 and tried to show that Peter taught that Jesus was a man, nothing more, appointed by God. Christians have read in Jesus’ deity over the centuries, but it wasn’t in the text
In response, I flipped a page to Acts 3:15, and read out Peter’s accusation that ‘You killed the Author of Life.’ That verse was quietly booed.
It wasn’t that I had proved the debater wrong. It was that I had insulted God. God is immortal (several New Testament verses were shown the crowd to prove that). He is the Author of Life, Jesus died, and therefore Jesus cannot be God. QED.
But Peter insists that on the cross, the Author of Life died. And Peter was booed. I’m sure it happened to him on many other occasions as well.
We could decide to have a different Messiah, more persuasive for any given audience. Common sense says that’s the way to be persuasive. Or we could stick with the real one, affirming that the foolishness of God is wiser than our common sense, and his weakness wiser than our strength
A weak God-on-a-cross will always be booed and hissed. It happened on Good Friday, and throughout the New Testament, and it will happen today. We booed him once, before our conversion. Let’s pray that God will open many eyes to see the cross as it really is, the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). But prepare to be booed.