Certainty and Salvation

A few weeks ago was the National Prayer breakfast where President Obama indicated that Muslims and Christians worship the same god. For some reason Christians are vehemently opposed to this idea despite world history, not to mention their own theology, supporting the fact that Christians and Muslims worship the same god. Given my circle of family and friends it was unsurprising when Ken Ham appeared on my Facebook feed to condemn the President’s statements. That reminded me of an incident in late 2015 where Franklin Graham did the same thing in response to a Wheaton College professor. You can catch up on that issue here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/us/larycia-hawkins-wheaton-college.html?_r=0

Here is what Franklin Graham had to say


I want to key in on one phrase: “The God of the Bible sent His Son to earth to die in our place and save us from our sins. The god of Islam requires you to die for him to be sure you are going to heaven. That’s a huge difference—and there are many more examples!”

I initially wanted to expose the dishonesty of his statement. But that led to a more academic study of the differences between salvation in Christianity and salvation in Islam, and now it has been a few weeks since the prayer breakfast…

To start, I want to point out what Franklin is comparing isn’t actually comparable (hence the dishonesty). The first statement is the Christian god’s chosen salvation mechanism, while the second statement is one pathway to salvation in Islam.  If we want to see any differences we have to compare like with like. For instance we could compare and contrast the Christian god’s and the Islamic god’s salvation mechanisms, we could look at how the Christian god requires a blood sacrifice, first with animals in the old testament and then with his son made flesh in the new testament in order to save anyone, and compare that to how the Islamic god just saves those worthy, no blood sacrifice needed. There is quite a difference there.

What Franklin is actually trying to accomplish here is to comment on the difference of certainty in salvation between Christianity and Islam.  Franklin’s implication is Christians can be assured of their salvation because Jesus died for their sins, while Muslims can only be sure of their salvation if they die a martyr. Which leads me to ask, “is there evidence of this in scripture?”

I am considerably less familiar with the Islamic faith than I am with Christianity, being raised in one and not the other, but after reading several Islamic apologists on salvation in Islam, and reading what several Christian apologists had to say about salvation in Islam there seems to be a consensus of four things required for salvation in Islam. (if you are more familiar with Islam, and I have missed something, please let me know.I should also caveat this entire post with the acknowledgement that there is a wide range of internal disagreements about interpretations in both Christianity and Islam so any “they believe” statements made by me or anyone else should duly be taken with a grain of salt)



3)Good Works

4) A certain amount of Predestination

The concept of predestination in both Islam and Christianity could fill several blog posts. That being said, at least on a surface level, Islamic interpretations of predestination (or as they would prefer to define it “divine decree”) are very similar to how Christians approach what to do about an omniscient, omnipotent god, with humanity’s free will. If you think predestination doesn’t play a part in Christian salvation check out Revelations. If your name is not found in the book of life you are thrown into hell. When were the names written down in the book of life? That’s right, before the foundation of the world.

Revelation 20:15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 13:8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

For other verses specifically mentioning predestination check out Romans 8 28-30, Acts 4: 27-29, and Ephesians 1: 4-12

Faith and repentance seem pretty standard, it is the “good works” where Christian apologists, and presumably Franklin Graham seem to fault Islam.  They seem hung up on the Islamic concept that on the day of judgement all of their “good works,” their faith, repentance, how well they upheld the five pillars, their attitude, and intentions… would be balanced on a set of scales. Those who balance heavy (with good works) will receive an accounting of their deeds in their right hand and enter paradise. Those with light scales will receive an accounting of their deeds in their left hand and will be cast into a blazing fire, wishing they had never known the outcome of their accounting. If good works are required to enter paradise, how can you ever be sure you have done enough to tip the scales in your favor? Hence the uncertainty of salvation that Franklin indicates. But do Christians really have any more assurance they will enter Heaven?

Christians like to cite Ephesians 2: 8-9, which reads  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

So all you have to do is believe that Jesus will save you, and he does! How convenient. This is why all of those evangelical Christians voting for Trump claim you can’t know his heart so it isn’t fair to judge him because of his three marriages, casinos and strip clubs. But is that really the case? If only Christians knew a guy who had seen a vision of the future judgment day and wrote it all down, but we are in luck because someone did!

Revelation 20:11-15 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

So in this vision of the future describing the actual process of salvation and damnation the hordes of dead are judged and enter into hell, or conversely heaven, based not on their faith in a guy named Jesus, but “according to what they have done.” Oddly enough this sounds eerily familiar to the Islamic judgement day.

Now I’m confused Ephesians says Christians are saved completely through faith, but Revelations says Christians will be held accountable for what they have done. Are these mutually exclusive? Mutually inclusive? For help I turned to Franklin’s father, Billy. Okay, actually I googled “How can Christians be sure they are saved” and BillyGraham.org popped up with this article by Steven Lawson http://billygraham.org/story/how-to-be-sure-of-your-salvation/

Well that sounded very reassuring to Christians right up until Pillar 3 (presumably Steven knows about the 5 pillars of Islam, then again maybe not, but perhaps in the future he might want to vary his analogy). In Pillar 3 Steven states that True Believers are bestowed with the Holy Spirit. Well shit… How does a Christian know if he/she is a “true believer” compared to all of the false (?) believers out there?  So it is back to the Bible.

Matthew 7:15-20 states that you will recognize false prophets by their fruits. And those with bad fruits will be cast into the fire.

So we can recognize bad Christians from good Christians based on the kinds of “fruits” their life produces. Essentially the things that they do. To add more ambiguousness to Christian salvation, lets keep reading

Mathew 7:21-23 goes on to say that not everyone who calls out “Lord, Lord” will enter heaven. Jesus will say “I never knew you.”

It sure sounds like the people in Matthew 7:21 had faith that Jesus would save them, if they are not sure, how can anyone be sure? Jesus saves (haha, see what I did there) the day later in Matthew 25 by actually describing who gets into heaven and who doesn’t.

In Mathew 25: 31-46 we see Jesus separating the righteous from the unrighteous (sheep and goats) for eternity in heaven or hell based on the things they had done, or not done as the case may be.

We should probably trust Jesus on this since Jesus declared himself to be “the way, and the truth, and the life.” And that, “no one comes to the father except through me” in John 14:6. Dude should know what he is talking about.

Most damning of all is James 2:14-17 ”What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Followed of course by James 2:19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

All of this categorically flies in the face of Ephesians 2:8’s concept of being saved through faith alone (so what, even the demons believe). Obviously those without faith will not be saved, but just as obviously those without works will also not be saved, it takes both. Presumably the sheep and the goats in Matthew, and those judged in Revelations have all done both good and bad things, strange how the bible doesn’t provide any certainty on where that line is exactly to give assurances to its flock of good and faithful servants.

In light of all this I am going to go help Franklin fix his statement. “Christians can be sure that God has the power to save people because of a blood magic ritual he completed with his son, and Christians can be sure that they will in fact be saved provided their names were written in a book that was written before the world was created (this of course is all perfectly sane and reasonable). Muslims believe similar things only without the blood magic, but in Islam dying a martyr is the only way to be sure you will enter paradise. And that is just ridiculous.”

Oh, before I leave I have one last parting verse.

Mathew 10: 39 “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Seems like the only guarantee that your name is in the book of life is to die a martyr in Christianity too. I guess it is only ridiculous when it is someone else’s religion.