Friday, 31 May 2013

Book Review: "What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Quran" by James White

I've just finished reading James White's newest book, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Quran. James White is director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, a reformed protestant apologetics ministry, and is an elder of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church of Phoenix, Arizona. I'll admit to being something of a “fan” Pastor White; on the many issues on which he and I agree I frequently find his work incredibly helpful; on the issues where he and I disagree I generally find his arguments among the most challenging to overcome and argue against. This book falls, largely, into the first category and certainly is one that I found very helpful and which, I imagine, I will be returning to many times in the future.

One note that should be made, the book's intended audience is made clear in its title. If you are a non-Christian considering reading this book, you should realise that it is not really written for you. This is not to say that such a reader will get nothing out of this book; if you are a Muslim wishing to understand why Christians reject what you believe to be God's word or if you are neither a Christian nor a Muslim but have an interest in inter-religious debate, then you will almost certainly find this book of interest. Such readers, however, should be aware that they are not the target audience of this book. (Although, keep in mind, this advice comes from an adult male whose current favourite T.V. show has a target audience of pre-teen girls.)

It should be added, if you are looking for a neutral or “dispassionate” discussion of the Quran, you should look elsewhere. This is not to say that the book is dishonest or unscholarly, but it is very much the work of a Christian apologist whose aim is to make the case, to Muslims, for the claims of
Christianity and to assist other Christians in doing the same.

I'm aware of a review of the book on Amazon which argues that the book would be more accurately called “What Every Christian Scholar Should Know About the Quran.” In this person's opinion, the book is too complex for the average lay reader. I disagree. I think a reasonably intelligent person without any scholarly background in religion should be able to understand what is being said. Having said that, I will give this warning, White does expect his reader to be able to follow an argument over the course of a chapter; if you are one of those people whose response to any argument longer than a page is “tl:dr” then this book is probably not for you.

The first three chapters give a brief introduction to the Quranic text and the history of the Quran's being written. The real polemic begins with chapter four. In this chapter, White looks at the Quran's handling of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. White's argument is clear and, it seems to me, compelling: the author of the Quran seems to have believed that the Trinity meant worship of Allah, Jesus and Mary as three separate Gods. By the time of Mohammed, the actual Christian teaching was well defined and, even assuming this doctrine to be erroneous, one would expect God to know what that doctrine was. From this, we can reasonably conclude that the Quran is not the word of an omniscient God.

The next several chapters consider a number of different subjects but all make arguments similar to that advanced in chapter four. These chapters consider topics such as the crucifixion of Christ, the relationship of the Quran to the Gospels and the alleged prophecies of Mohammed in the Bible. In each chapter, White argues that the Quran makes claims about history, Christian belief and the Christian scriptures which simply will not stand up to scrutiny.

At this point, I should mention one place where the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism substantially effect the argument. Chapter seven deals with the question of salvation in the Quran. This is not really the place to go into the long standing differences between Protestant and Catholics over soteriology but I will say this: White lays out what he calls the arbitrary role of God in pardoning whom he chooses in Islam, and contrasts this with the Reformed Protestant view of God pardoning the elect because Christ has been punished in their place. White argues that Islam gives no grounds on which a holy God can forgive sinners while still allowing His justice to be satisfied. As I said, this is not the place to go into such question in depth but I must add that I think, to many readers, it will be less than obvious that justice is truly satisfied in the punishment of an innocent, even if willing, victim.

The final two chapters deal with the alleged perfection of the Quran. Chapter ten examines the evidence that the Quran, contrary to orthodox Islamic claims, was influenced by apocryphal Jewish, Christian and even gnostic legends while chapter eleven gives a brief over-view of the early history of the Quaric textual transmission. I found chapter eleven one of the best parts of the book and think White did an excellent job showing how many difficulties are raised in claiming, with any degree of certainty, that the Quran we currently posses is what Mohammed originally wrote.


All told, I think this is a fine book which I would recommend to any Christian seeking to better share his or her faith with Muslim neighbours.

1 comment:

  1. Good review. I would not read White's work, as I am not a Christian and therefore am not the target audience. Thank you for a thoughtful and helpful review.