Dr. Shabir Ally responds to James White’s Complaint of his event with Dr. Crossan (Of the Jesus Seminar)


James White asked:

 But, I will say this—it will be a kindly discussion.  Having engaged in nine debates total with these gentlemen, I know at the very least it will be pursued in a kindly fashion.  But I remain confused as to its real reason.

Dr. Shabir Ally has responded by saying:

WHY A DIALOGUE WITH DR. CROSSAN?

Some of you have wondered how we may respond to those traditional Christians who think that Dr. Crossan does not represent them, and that therefore we should not be engaging in dialogue with Dr. Crossan. In answer to that, we should say that Christianity is quite diverse, and no one person can speak for all of Christianity. Any Christian scholar with whom we have a dialogue will probably have both supporters and detractors. Indeed, this has been my experience over the years.

The various denominations are well known. If, for example, we have a dialogue with the Catholics, the Protestants may say that they were not represented. The obvious solution to this problem is for us to have dialogues with both Catholics and Protestants and with all the other denominations, as much as time will permit.

More to the point here, there is a concern that since Dr. Crossan is liberal in his criticism of the Bible, and he does not represent traditional Christian beliefs, he is not suitable for dialogue. But here again we should realise that Christians span a wide spectrum from ultra-liberal to ultra-conservative. Again, the solution is for us to have dialogues one after another with persons representing various shades of the full spectrum.

Because the conservatives are louder in their complaints when we engage with someone who does not represent them, we may get the impression that the conservatives are the only ones who deserve to represent Christianity. But we should realise that even among conservatives some do not represent others. Some are not conservative enough for the others. I have at times been convinced that I am debating with a conservative Christian only to be surprised later at the complaint from other conservatives that the person I debated with is not a true Christian, or something of that nature.

It so happens that we are not the ones who invited Dr. Crossan to come to Toronto. He was going to be here anyway. We just tagged on the dialogue to make maximum use of his presence here. He was invited by a church that falls under the umbrella of United Church which is one of the largest Christian denominations in Canada. Many Christians will be paying to attend his lectures in that church. There he will be delivering a series of five lectures on various aspects of his research into the historical Jesus. Even if some of those Christians disagree with him, some others, at least the Christians who invited him to speak in their church, obviously feel that his findings should be shared. So, he does represent some Christians.

In fact, I feel that Dr. Crossan represents many Christians today. Some of us Muslims tend to assume that Christians generally hold on to traditional views about Jesus. But you may be surprised to find that one important leader and scholar after another confesses that they no longer believe in some significant aspects of the tradition. For example, many no longer believe that Jesus died for their sins. They think it would be odd of God to demand and receive a human sacrifice. Many no longer believe that Jesus is the Son of God in a literal sense. They actually believe that he is a man and a prophet.

This tendency to reject things in the Gospels has shifted to the far left. Many no longer believe that Jesus performed the kinds of miracles described in the Bible and the Quran. Many no longer believe in the virginal conception of Jesus. This extreme may be surprising to many Muslims. But, as I have pointed out in several of my debates, once one starts looking closely at the Gospels, as one must, one sees enough problems to make one hesitate to accept the major claims about Jesus.

If we did not have the Quran, we too would have been skeptical of the claims made about Jesus in the Gospels. Hence our responsibility is to share the message of the Quran with our Christian friends. And we need to share this with all Christians, not just the ones who refuse to look at the problems in the Gospels. It is our hope that some of those who reject traditional faith in Jesus because of the problems in the Gospels may embrace Quranic faith in Jesus. And those who refuse to see the problems in the Gospels’ depiction of Jesus may see a clearer light on Jesus shining from the Quran. So, let the dialogue continue and proliferate.

Most interestingly, a comment left under Dr. Shabir’s post highlights just how much of a problem Dr. Crossan can be for the Christian faithful:

Dr. Crossan is an actual monotheist — He believes Jesus was a prophet and nothing more … He criticizes the traditional beliefs about the Bible and about Jesus. In fact it was Dr. Crossan and his companion Dr. Borg that set my mind free from these blasphemous beliefs which ultimately lead to my reversion to Islam. Mainstream Christians will say he doesn’t represent them — and that’s 100% correct. Because he uses his critical thinking abilities and has authentic faith not blind faith. He studies and dismantles the Bible and Christian doctrine and looks at it for what it really is not what he believes it to be. He is a scholar and let me tell you from first hand experience… Christians do not like scholars, they prefer a preacher who can tell them what to believe instead of a scholar that will tell them to think for themselves. May Allah guide us all.

It is with great interest that myself and the larger Christian-Muslim dialogue community looks forward to the Dr. Shabir Ally and Dr. Crossan event.

and God knows best.

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