Review: The Qur’an and the Christian

The Qur’an and the Christian, Matthew Aaron Bennett. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2022.

Summary: A scholarly discussion of the origins and place of the Qur’an in Islam with the aim of encouraging Christians to read, and understand how to read and discuss the Qur’an with their Muslim neighbors.

People of Islamic belief are part of the warp and woof of American culture. They are our neighbors, they may provide our health care or fill our prescriptions, they are cashiers at our groceries, and classmates of our children. We eat at restaurants owned by them, enjoying their cuisine. A growing number are being elected to political office. Our temptation may be to suspect them or shun them or try to marginalize them. The operative word is “them.” But as a Christian, I am caught up by the word “neighbor.” I see no “out” clause excusing me from the love of neighbor that Jesus has commanded.

If we develop any kind of trust and our candid about our respective beliefs we may likely be drawn into conversations about respective beliefs and may hear that the Qur’an speaks of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Isa), who are honored as prophets as are their “books.” We may be tempted to retreat, finding ourselves on unfamiliar ground. The author of this book encourages a different approach. He wants us to read the Qur’an as an act of loving our Muslim neighbors by seeking to understand their book. In this work, he wants us to understand how the Qur’an is regarded, understanding its origins and the cultural background of its origins, its meaning as a “revelation.” and its intent: to give instruction in the life pleasing to the one true God, Allah. Much of this is covered in the first part of the book.

The second part deals with the Qur’an as a text in relation to previous texts, because indeed, the Qur’an makes reference to the sacred texts of Jews and Christians, although as we learn, there were no copies of the Bible in Arabic available at the time of the revelation of the Qur’an and its inscription in Arabic, explaining the lack of direct quotes. It speaks of Torah, Psalms, and Gospel (Injel). Jews and Christians are called both to obey their books, and receive the Qur’an as correction for ways their books have been distorted. Bennett discusses references to biblical characters, and sometimes the “mash-up” that joins characters separated by centuries in events. A basic principle is to observe how these advance Muslim readings, rather than criticize these lapses. It also points out that our reading should be discerning, noting both points of contact and distinction.

The third part then returns to the idea that Christians should read the Qur’an, and why and how. Reading the Qur’an, understanding the use of rhetorical questions in the text, and how it resonates in the life of our Muslim neighbors offers a bridge for communication. At the same time, Bennett helps us discern some key distinctions between Islam and Christianity that emerge in reading the Qur’an and the Bible. There are very different conceptions of God, beginning with the transcendence but not imminence of Allah. The Qur’an’s aim is not to show us how to enter into loving relation with God but to submit to and serve God. Indeed, the love within the Trinity has no counterpart. There is sin, but no original sin for which atonement has been provided through Christ. Sins are addressed through repentance and offset by good works.

Bennett addresses the use of the Qur’an in efforts of Christians to share their faith. Contrary to some approaches which advocate this, he would commend the Qur’an simply for understanding and believes that efforts to use the Qur’an in Christian witness may often result in confusion. One exception that he discusses is the Qur’an’s account of the Akedah, Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, which commends Abraham on the basis of his submission, yet maintains the need for a sacrifice in place of the son. He suggests that this raises a question only the Bible can answer–why was a ransom needed? He believes this addresses the need for an atoning sacrifice and can lead to a discussion of Jesus.

I appreciate Bennett’s combination of loving engagement with Muslim friends, thoughtful understanding of their Book that avoids polemics, recognizing both points of contact and the distinctions between Christian belief found in the Bible and Islamic belief rooted in the Qur’an. He wisely urges not assuming what our friends believe but to listen to them. He is also candid about the reality that both Islam and Christianity are evangelistic and seek to persuade others of the truth of their beliefs with the hope of conversion. He helps Christians to be both discerning in these matters and loving in our engagement with Muslim friends, believing that our willingness to read the Qur’an may lead to an openness to examine the Bible. Some may be uncomfortable with what they think of as “proselytizing,” but where there is no imposition or manipulation but simply honest discussion between interested friends, this seems far superior to fostering good Christian-Muslim relations to the “othering” which often characterizes these relationships.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Reading Scripture Together: A Comparative Bible and Qur’an Study Guide

Reading Scripture Together: A Comparative Bible and Qur'an Study Guide
Reading Scripture Together: A Comparative Bible and Qur’an Study Guide by Barbara J Hampton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While scholars and pundits debate whether in fact we are facing a “Clash of Civilizations” (in Samuel Huntington’s words) between the West and Islam, there is a different kind of encounter that is possible in universities in many parts of the world. Christians and Muslims attend classes together, form friendships, compete on intramural teams, and stay up late together sometimes, talking about the deepest questions. While such conversations can’t resolve the violent clashes occurring elsewhere, no one knows what might happen where conversations of respect and mutual understanding across religious differences occur.

Barbara Hampton has given us a wonderful resource to foster such conversations in her study guide, Reading Scripture Together: A Comparative Bible and Qur’an Study Guide. This guide was developed out of Barbara Hampton’s work with College of Wooster students while she served as faculty advisor for the InterVarsity chapter at this school. The guide consists of seven studies, each of which parallels a text from the Bible and the Qur’an, along with a summary “Challenge” and paired “Witnesses” from Christian and Muslim perspectives. These studies can be pursued over seven weeks, or if participants elect, fourteen, doing Christian scripture one week, and the Qur’an the next.

The studies are organized around seven key aspects of Christianity and Islam where the two faiths both touch and differ: Abraham and Isma’il, the Name and being of God (and what can be known of this), Jesus as Incarnate Son or Prophet, the nature of salvation, whether Jesus was in fact crucified, the nature of the scriptures of each faith, and the ethics of the faith, captured in the beatitudes versus the call to jihad understood both as spiritual struggle and at least defensive war with unbelievers.

The person considering using this guide should be forewarned: Hampton has sought to be extremely even-handed in the presentation of these texts and witnesses. Some of the “witnesses” include former Christians who have embraced Islam and well as former Muslims who have become Christians. Equally, her questions about each text follow an “inductive” format and deeply probe the meaning of each. This makes sense as a prerequisite to genuine dialogue, yet may be unsettling for some committed believers of either faith. Yet a genuine search for truth as well as a human rights commitment to a person’s freedom to change their beliefs recognizes that changing one’s beliefs may be the consequence of such dialogue.

This is reflected in Hampton’s own premises. She believes the search for truth matters and that different religions are not “different paths up the mountain.” She is a convinced Christian and this comes through in the leaders notes and bibliography (forty pages of this hundred page book). While the leaders notes provide in depth commentary from both Christian and Muslim perspectives, it is evident that she envisions this dialogue being initiated by Christians who are at least open to or praying for their Muslim friends to embrace the Christian faith. What she advocates is not aggressive proselytizing or argumentation, but thoughtful consideration of the differences between the two faiths, as these emerge from the texts, in terms of what makes more sense out of one’s life and the world. What the leaders notes do not discuss is the possibility of Christians embracing Islam, and it occurs to me that perhaps she may have refrained from dealing with this issue in her attempts to remain as even-handed as possible while writing this guide as a committed Christian.

If one is looking for an absolutely “neutral” resource for such a dialogue, this is not that. Hampton believes that religion concerns matters of truth about which we ultimately must choose. At the same time, this guide represents the fruit of field-tested, respectful Muslim-Christian dialogues around scriptural texts that is an important resource in promoting respectful understanding between Christians and Muslims that takes the truth claims of each faith seriously.

[In the interests of full disclosure, the reviewer has had a long time friendship with the author including collaboration on various projects. However I purchased my own copy of this book.}

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