“Islam is Christianity’s greatest challenge.” In that succinct sentence the Reverend Melvin A. Wittler, a United Church of Christ missionary in Turkey, summarized an afternoon’s conversation concerning Christianity and the Middle East. His words lingered in my mind as I left Bible House in Istanbul on a late August afternoon and walked through the congested Egyptian Spice Market toward the Galata Bridge, connecting artery between the old and new parts of the city. Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, was once the theological capital of Christendom; today it is one of Islam’s largest and most sacred cities. From the chief minaret of the massive Yeni Valide Camii, or New Mosque, came the clear voice of the muezzin uttering the Muslim’s call to prayer that is also a confession of faith: “I bear witness that there is no god except God; I bear witness that Muhammad is the Apostle of God.” As the invitation echoed over the sounds of street, market, and harbor, it seemed to offer eloquent testimony to the accuracy of Wittler’s remark.

No matter how one views the issue—theologically, historically, or practically—Islam is Christianity’s chief rival for the loyalty of mankind.

First, theologically, Islam is Christianity’s most skillful and articulate intellectual competitor. Since it is the only world religion born since the advent of Christianity, its very existence is a challenge to the finality of the Gospel. Islam is also the only universal faith that claims to have surpassed and superseded Christianity. This is done, not by a rejection of Jesus, but by a radical reinterpretation of the man and his meaning.

Starting with the affirmation that Muhammad is the ...

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