How Does Islam Differ from Christianity?

According to Pew Research, if current trends continue then by 2050 there will be nine billion people living on the planet. Approximately three billion will be Christians, three billion will be Muslims, and three billion others will represent various beliefs (both religious and secular).1

Since Christianity and Islam are the two largest (comprising about 55% of the world’s population2) religions in the world people often wonder where they disagree and how significant the differences are. A brief look at six doctrinal contrasts will help address this question.

First, it is important to note that Islam shares common ground with historic Christianity. For example, both religions are:

  • theistic in philosophical orientation
  • monotheistic in doctrinal belief
  • Middle Eastern in origin
  • biblically oriented Abrahamic faiths (they connect to the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament)

However, the differences between the two religions are profound. Since Islam emerged about six centuries after Christianity, we’ll outline how Islam reacts to essential Christian truth claims. As you’ll see, traditional Islam denies the essence of historic Christianity.

Six Systematic Doctrinal Denials

  1. Islam denies the Trinity (i.e., tri-unity: One God in three persons). Muslims instead affirm a form of unitarianism where Allah is a single, solitary being (tawhid) with no partners, equals, rivals, or companions. Allah is not begotten nor does he beget; therefore, he has no son.
  2. Islam denies the incarnation (i.e., Jesus Christ was God in human flesh: a single person with both a divine and human nature). In contrast, Muslims assert that Jesus was a mere human being. Yet Islam does concur that Jesus was virgin-born, performed miracles, and lived a sinless life.
  3. Islam denies the crucifixion (i.e., Jesus’s atoning death on the cross). Muslims instead declare that Jesus either didn’t actually die on the cross (though he may have been impaled) or that someone else took Jesus’s place on the cross. But either way, Islam is not a redemptive religion.
  4. Islam denies the imago Dei  (i.e., human beings bear God’s image). In contrast, Muslims affirm that such an image would put creatures too close to Allah (the heresy known as “shirk”). Thus in Islamic theology, human beings are not made in Allah’s image.
  5. Islam denies original sin (i.e., that human beings are born with a sinful nature and a natural propensity to sin). Instead, Muslims assert that people are born morally good. So Islam rejects the Christian doctrine of the fall.
  6. Islam denies salvation by grace (i.e., that human beings are reconciled to God by God’s unmerited favor apart from works). In contrast, Muslims proclaim that personal submission is required to earn paradise. So both paradise (reward) and divine wrath (punishment) are earned.

Both Can’t Be True

While we live in a time that prizes religious pluralism, nevertheless the laws of logic are stubborn things. Given these six systematic doctrinal denials it follows logically that if Islam is true, then Christianity is patently false and vice versa, for Islam denies the very essence of Christian doctrinal truth claims.

Reflections: Your Turn

Why do you think Islam and Christianity are such popular religions?

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Pew Research Center, “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050, April 2, 2015,” https://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/.
  2. Wikipedia, s.v., “List of Religious Populations,” updated May 28, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_populations.

  One thought on “How Does Islam Differ from Christianity?

  1. Ben Hyden
    June 23, 2020 at 6:10 am

    1. Man desires a relationship with the God-Creator of the universe.
    2. Man inherently recognizes his separation from God and seeks redemption.
    3. In a “religion,” the different cultures find community within their shared theistic practices.
    4. Both religions recognize an unpaid debt for our sin and offer pathways to forgiveness: submission places our choices above those of God; grace places God’s choice over ours.
    5. You gotta serve somebody, as a counter-culture poet once said.

    • June 23, 2020 at 2:03 pm

      Thanks, Ben.

      I’m assuming this is your answer to my question at the end of my article:

      “Why do you think Islam and Christianity are such popular religions?”

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  2. Zimriel
    June 23, 2020 at 6:33 am

    This analysis is correct.
    A followup would explain how the Christian side has developed into western European civilisation; and how the Islamic side has developed into fitful alternations between despotism and stagnant legalism. I can recommend Tom Holland’s “Dominion” for the former.
    Islam started as a rallying-point for all the late-antique Christian heresies: Donatism and leftover Arianism along the old Vandal North Africa, Monotheletism in Egypt and Syria, the pre-Nestorian undercurrents in Iraq like Aphrahat (Nestorius himself was more orthodox than many allow). It follows that Protestantism has no future in this world. I expect Protestants will continue their drift to liberalism and thence to Islam.

    • June 23, 2020 at 2:17 pm

      Zimriel:

      Thanks for your comments.

      I have Tom Holland’s book Dominion. I need to start reading it.

      Your connections between Christian heresies and Islam is interesting.

      Protestantism as a branch of Christendom has its challenges. But the common ground on doctrine, values, and worldview shared by the three branches of Christendom (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant) is robust.

      Truth, Unity, and Charity.

      Ken Samples

  3. Isaiah Abrams
    June 23, 2020 at 7:34 am

    Some useful points, but the overall approach could be used to distinguish Judaism from Christianity. Nothing wrong with being a fundamentalist, but if you want to write for a readership beyond your own faith, you should focus on the distinctions that are truly civilizational; the Muslim belief that we are not made in the image of God, that we are not sinful by nature, and that God’s grace does not operate in human souls.

    • June 23, 2020 at 2:36 pm

      Isaiah:

      Thanks for your comments.

      On some points traditional Judaism is closer to Islam than to historic Christianity (generally speaking a religion that emphasizes practice over belief). But Orthodox Judaism does affirm the imago Dei and the basic sinful nature of humanity whereas Islam does not.

      What you call “fundamentalism,” I call the orthodoxy of historic Christendom (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant).

      I’ve written more extensively about Islam in my book A World of Difference. But the “civilizational” ideas you note are deeply connected to points of God’s nature and personhood (Trinity, Incarnation, atonement, etc.).

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  4. Roger Doll
    June 23, 2020 at 8:59 am

    Consider adding to your list that the Christian God is personal. That is, we can have a personal relationship with Him. That is a Biblical truth, both Old and New Testament.. It is my understanding that the God of Islam is impersonal. That the primary relationship is one of obedience. You can love Allah, but Allah does not love you. Where a Christian has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and is in Christ. We are in a family relationship as loved adopted children with the Christian God.

    • June 23, 2020 at 2:42 pm

      Roger:

      Thanks for your comments.

      In my book A World of Difference I do discuss the deep difficulty of Allah being so transcendent that he seems less than personal or knowable by Muslims. I also discuss Islam not being a redemptive religion.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

    • Jason H.
      June 24, 2020 at 1:17 pm

      And praise God (Jesus) that He is a personal God!

      • June 24, 2020 at 3:25 pm

        Thanks, Jason.

        Ken Samples

  5. Polemeros
    June 23, 2020 at 9:22 am

    As a specification of the Triniity, I would add that while Fatherhood is essential to the Christian deity’s identity, it is completely absent from Islam. Allah is never addressed as a father, certainly not in relation to a divine son but also not to Muslims, who are not his children in any sense, but his slaves. Ascribing fatherhood to Allah smells of shirk.

    • June 23, 2020 at 2:47 pm

      Polemeros:

      Thanks for your comments.

      I know the word Father does not appear in the Qur’an. You make an important point that Allah is not a Father not just in terms of divine Sonship but also in terms of human devotion (no adoption).

      Thanks.

      Ken Samples

  6. June 23, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    Thank you for this article. I think you focused right on point. They are fundamentally opposite and ultimately cannot be reconciled in any way. Islam denies the cross and the Trinity, which are the heart and center of Christianity.

    When Jesus described the death he would suffer, Peter said, Oh no, Lord, we won’t let that happen. Jesus replied, Get behind me Satan. But Islam says, Allah would never allow a prophet to suffer a death like his….

    Or consider this: When Jesus’s death was approaching, he said that the hour was coming when the ruler of the world (Satan) would be defeated. Allah says, Jesus never died. Hmmmmm….put that 2 and 2 together.

    The poverty of Islam is heartbreaking and I pray that Muslims get to know Jesus Christ and find someone incomparably better than they believed in before.

    • June 23, 2020 at 2:49 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Hety.

      Ken Samples

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