Father Marco Testa is the pastor of St. Mary Immaculate parish in Toronto, Ontario; I am grateful for his reasoned review of my book Not Peace But A Sword, which appeared in the September 2013 issue of Catholic Insight magazine. Order the book here.
This latest book by one of the most insightful and learned scholars of Islam, provides a very clear analysis of the differences between Islam and Christianity. This respectful and accurate examination of differences provides Catholics with much needed knowledge in the face of Muslim religious claims and the growing Muslim aggression against Christians around the word. This book makes it very clear that this aggression is theologically driven.
The title of the book is not a call to war but as the author states, a call to Catholics to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17) and to bear witness to the truth in its totality; without compromise or dissembling. The tendency among some Muslims to take offence rather quickly often makes others reluctant to engage in a form of dialogue that is truthful and ultimately helpful. For example, the subjugation of non-Muslims in Islamic countries is an undeniable fact; yet this is one of the many issues that are often not discussed for fear of giving offence.
Mr. Spencer’s book makes it very clear that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God and that contrary to what is often uncritically assumed, all religions are not the same. The diffrence [sic] between Christianity and Islam is undeniably obvious to those who are intellectually honest enough to acknowledge the fundamental theological and anthropological differences between these two religious traditions that are often assumed to share a common origin along with the Jewish faith. Each of the eight chapters that comprise this book provides a lucid answer to a question that serves as a chapter title. For example, the third chapter addresses a common misconception, The Same God? The answer to this question is very important for though Muslims profess belief in one God, the teachings of Islam in other respects describe a God who is substantially different from the God of the Bible and the Catholic faith. With scholarly precision, Mr. Spencer discusses these differences, not arbitrarily but on the basis of scrupulous textual analysis and references.
Chapter four, The Same Jesus? is especially important. Since Muslims use the presence of Jesus in Islam as a basis for outreach to Christians, the content of this chapter is relevant for those who may believe that Islam’s acceptance of Jesus as a prophet is an example of the spiritual kinship between the two faiths. According to Islamic doctrine, Jesus is no more than a prophet and certainly not the Son of God. In its revisionist account, Islam appropriates Jesus, neutralizes the Gospels” assertions about His divinity and reduces Him to a prophet who makes room for Mohammed. Incidentally, Islamic revision- ism is just as liberal in its treatment of Abraham and Moses. Through his extensive knowledge of the Quran and other Islamic texts Mr. Spencer is able to discuss Islam’s claims critically and contextually. His masterful knowledge of these texts exposes the fragility of their grounding and unity as well as the overabundance of Islamic anachronisms in relation to clearly established and accepted biblical narratives. It may very well be that precisely because of this ability and his desire for truth Robert Spencer is often unjustly accused of intolerance.
The book is well written and though the complexities of a moral or theological distinction may pose a challenge, these are ably explained and resolved. Before reading this book, the reader may wish to consult the Appendix. In this, the author lists in summary form the fundamental differences between the two faiths in regard to the nature of God, the truth about Jesus Christ, and the moral law. The clarity of presentation of these differences serves as an incentive to read a book that should be studied by anyone who wishes to engage in real and respectful dialogue with Muslims; and by anyone who wishes also to understand the motivation behind many of the events taking place in the Muslim world and elsewhere around the globe. The chasm between Christianity and Islam is undeniably evident. But a bridge solidly grounded on truth and mutual respect is not an impossibility! Mr. Spencer’s book serves the cause of truth and for this reason, no less that of mutual respect.