It was a blustery January afternoon when I stepped through the door of my friend Ahmed’s shop. I was stopping by to say hello, to grab a cup of tea and to continue a relationship I’d been working to build for the last few months. We’d gotten to know one another sipping tea over Champion’s League soccer match reruns on the large television and amidst the steady traffic of people coming in to pick up groceries, to wire money or to ask Ahmed for help with filling out an application.
The store was also home to a group that met regularly to discuss politics, education, sports and the teachings of the Quran. I had joined them on a number of occasions. The group had met the evening before and after Ahmed and I had exchanged all the regular greetings and small talk, he began to talk about a difficult topic which was on his mind.
“Our group was meeting last night and my friend Mustafa was asking about why Christians believe in three Gods so I thought I’d see if you could come by next time and sort of explain about your three gods.”
It wasn’t a surprise to hear this from Ahmed and so I said, “Three gods? Ahmed, Christians don’t believe in three gods.”
Ahmed looked both relieved and confused and said, “Oh? But I’ve heard about the trinity. Trinity means three. You believe in God. That God had a son and that he is somehow God. And you believe that Mary is God.”
He paused but before I could break in he continued, “Honestly, it’s rather disgusting to us Muslims. The idea that God could somehow have partners is really dishonoring to His glory and greatness. God is Great. God is unique. God alone is God - He has no partners. What Christians believe is “shirk”, Islam’s cardinal sin because it diminishes God’s greatness by saying that someone else is equal to God. Muslims cannot accept this. In the Holy Quran in Sura 5:73 it says, “They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three: when there is no Allah save the One Allah. If they desist not from so saying this, a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve.”
You are my good friend. Please reconsider your beliefs. I don’t want you to experience that doom.”
How would you answer Ahmed?
Growing up in a Christian community I was never challenged to explain the triune nature of God. Most of my friends - myself included - believed in the trinity but outside of a few analogies we could do little to really explain why it was important to the Christian faith. Your Muslim friends will not let you off the hook so easily.
With today’s article I’d like to offer a few introductory thoughts about how to step into this particular conversation. These thoughts are not exhaustive and so I'll also share a number of helpful resources and talks by experts that will do a better job than I can do to actually explain the trinity to your Muslim friends.
I want to encourage you to read and listen to all of these. For me it is a bit like watching a picture appear on a canvas as an artist adds layers of paint. With each article or video, a clearer picture will emerge and you will be better equipped to help your Muslim friends understand the central importance of the triune nature of God to the Christian faith.
A Few Thoughts
Rather than thinking you need to completely explain the Trinity to your Muslim friends, start with the more modest goal of helping them see that a triune God is logically possible. We may not be able to completely understand but that doesn't mean it is an unreasonable ideas. Shouldn’t the all powerful, infinite and glorious God of the universe be at least a little beyond human understanding? That doesn’t make his triune nature irrational or illogical.
We also need to be careful with analogies. Saying that God is like an egg is problematic in all sorts of ways and we need to make it clear that we know that God cannot be explained by an analogy. All analogies will fall far short of ever explaining God and most are filled with real problems.
Give a clear definition before you do anything else. Here is Nabeel Qureshi's definition:
God is one in being and three in person.
"Being" is what we are. I am a human being.
"Person" is who we are. Ahmed or Tim or Juana or Anna.
Make sure to read the scriptures with your Muslim friends whenever the opportunity arises. Why? First, they will meet Jesus in the scriptures because it is the living and active word of God. Second, they will have to wrestle with the validity of the Bible which can be proven and which we will explore in next week's post.
If the Bible has not been changed (most Muslims contend it has), then it is clear that the Bible teaches that Jesus is God.
Not only are there clear statements about the divinity made by Christ (Mark 14:62) and about Christ (John 1:1) in the Bible, there are also things that Jesus does which only God has the authority to do: forgiving sins, accepting worship, dictating scripture, etc.
The first and last thing you should do as you discuss the triune nature of God with your Muslim friends is to pray and fast. Intellectual assent is rarely enough for a journey to faith. "No one comes to Jesus but that the Father who sent him draws them (John 6:44)." Salvation is always a work of the Holy Spirit.
Remember, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4)."
We must pray that the blinders be removed!
As a final word, "honor Christ the Lord in your hearts as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:5-6).
Each person. Our Muslim friends are people. They are not arguments to be defeated. They are people to be loved and the Father is drawing them to himself.
The following articles, videos and books are resources I've found helpful as I prepare to give a reason for the hope I have in the Triune God.
The E2E Community
We are a collection of practitioners and trainers dedicated to equipping and encouraging everyone everywhere to proclaim the gospel and make disciples among the unreached locally, nationally and globally.