It is no secret that I am a Barth[ian], even though Barth said that he didn’t want any “Barthians” (I paraphrase). The theological ground upon which I think receives its cultivation from the profundity and earth-shattering moves (in a Christian Dogmatic sense) that 20th century Swiss theologian Karl Barth bequeathed to the body of Christ. I have been able to layer Barth’s thinking, in a constructive way, by engaging further with his best English speaking student, Scottish theologian, Thomas F. Torrance. These two, among other after Barth theologians have done the church a great service by providing for a Christ concentrated, Trinitarian focus in theological method and exegetical practice that is quite unique; unique in the sense that the Gospel Himself serves as the ground upon which all subsequent theological articulation receives its categories, emphases, and trajectory. What we get from Barth and Torrance is what some have called an intensive principial christocentrism.
So you will have to forgive me if when we are confronted with the question of whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God that I demur and say: absolutely not! If I believe along with Barth and Torrance that the ‘referent [God] is necessarily delimited to be who He is in His inner life by His own Self-revelation, Self-interpretation, Self-wording in Jesus Christ’, then how could I ever also believe along with Yale theologian Miroslav Volf (see my last post) that Christians and Muslims–according to him–worship the same God?
Since I posted my last post I have actually had personal correspondence with Volf on Facebook in regard to his arguments and his claims that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. I asked him to read my blog post, he presumably did, and then said I need to read his book Allah. Apparently he believes I have misrepresented him, and he believes the only way that I could have the potential to accurately represent his views is to read his book. But that is wrong. I don’t need to read his book in order to engage with what he wrote in his Washington Post article in defense of professor Hawkins of Wheaton who took his argument, ran with it, and now has been suspended from Wheaton because of her view that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. The reality, though, is that Volf does not agree with my argument about the priority of revelation over referent in regard to who people can know God to be.
I put this question on my wall on Facebook on December 24th:
How is it that Barth[ians]–which I consider myself as one–affirm Miroslav Volf‘s argument that Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Do you bracket Christian Dogmatic thought and in particular Barth’s construction of that when it comes to affirming the “same God” theory? I don’t get it!
And I received this response from one of the foremost Barth scholars in the world today (not an overstatement) who I am ‘friends’ with on Facebook (I would share his name but I didn’t receive permission from him to use his name, yet):
Whether anyone’s ‘one God’ is the ‘one-in-three God’ depends entirely on the source of one’s concept of one-ness. If the source is the things or persons of our experience (to which the logic of numeration applies univocally), then the concept of ‘one’ being applied to God is the concept of a creature. It is not God. Put another way, the concept of the ‘one God’ – whose identity has been established in abstraction from Trinity – has no reality. It doesn’t exist outside the minds of those who create it.
You have no idea how much his comment encouraged me! I thought I was starting to lose it a little; I am not sure how certain Barthians that I know have been able to affirm Volf’s argument about Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God. Maybe their affirmation of Volf has more to do with sociological rather than theological concerns, and push back against perceived White male privilege that “runs” establishments like Wheaton College.
There is a Person, and His name is Jesus Christ. There is a Person and His name is the Father. There is a person and His name is the Holy Spirit. There are three persons in the Divine Monarxia (God-head) who in their threeness and interpenetrating inner-relating shape the oneness of the one being of God. The one being (ousia) is not what it is without the three persons (hypostatses), and the three persons are not who they are without the one being. As Epiphanius has written:
God is one, the Father in the Son, the Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit . . . true enhypostatic Father, and true enhypostatic Son, and true enhypostatic Holy Spirit, three Persons, one Godhead, one being, one glory, one God. In thinking of God you conceive of the Trinity, but without confusing in your mind the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the Father, the Son is the Son, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, but there is no deviation in the Trinity from oneness and identity.
Without God’s economic Self-revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ there can be no genuine particularist or objective knowledge of God. Who God is is wholly contingent without remainder upon His Self-exhaustion for us in His Self-exegesis in Jesus Christ (see Jn. 1.18). Muslims, from within the framework of their “revelation” (i.e. the Qur’an, Hadith, Mohammed, etc.) have no access to this conception of God. The only way we could argue, as Volf does, that Muslims do have access to the same God that Christians have access to through Christ would be to posit a dualist conception of God wherein “there is a God behind the back of Jesus.” But there is no God behind the back of Jesus; there is only one prosopon, one face of God, Jesus Christ. By this reality all by itself it is not possible to conceive of God as non-Trinity; God must be conceived of as Triune, necessarily so, since His own Self-professed Self-revelation, is the Second Person in His Godselfed life. The Son, Jesus Christ, through His broken body tore the veil asunder between humanity and God as He entered into humanity in the Christmas reality of Incarnation (Logos ensarkos); Divinity and humanity are now eternally joined of God’s own free election to not be God without us, but Immanuel, with us. In this reconciliation between humanity and Divinity is genuine revelation. There is no more holy ground than this, and Muslims, without the Holy Spirit, without the Son, cannot have any conception of the only true and living God.
Jesus stands at the door and knocks, those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will hear God speak; they will hear Him speak through the vocal cords of Jesus Christ provided breath by the Holy Spirit. They will not hear Him speak through Abraham (because before Abraham was Jesus was Jn. 8); they will not hear Him speak through Mohammed; they will not hear Him speak through the Qur’an or Hadith; they will hear Him speak through the melodious and powerful voice of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus Christ—thankfully many of them are!
 Epiphanius, Anc., 10, cited by T. F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, 234-3.