Miroslav Volf’s 10 Theses on Islam and Some Response

I continue to be intrigued, obviously, by the idea that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Miroslav Volf, Yale theologian, wrote a book entitled: Allah: A Christian Response back in 2011, which I am now reading. It is Volf’s thoughts on Muslims that helped lead Professor Hawkins of Wheaton College to claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, and as a volfconsequence and show of solidarity she has been wearing the traditional head-dress of Muslim women, the hajib, throughout this Advent season. As most of us know by now Wheaton suspended her indefinitely, upon further review, for her theological claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

As has become obvious by now I reject the idea that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, but Volf doesn’t; Volf believes, of course that Muslims and Christians do indeed worship the same God, and as such he believes in the wake of that reality Christians and Muslims should seek to magnify the common over-lapping values shared between their ‘common shared conception of God.’ Here are his ten theses which spell out what he will be arguing for throughout his book (I share in full):

  1. Christians and Muslims worship one and the same God, the only God. They understand God’s character partly differently, but the object of their worship is the same. I reject the idea that Muslims worship a different God than do Jews and Christians.
  2. What the Qur’an denies about God as the Holy Trinity has been denied by every great teacher of the church in the past and ought to be denied by every orthodox Christian today. I reject the idea that Muslim monotheism is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
  3. Both Muslims and Christians, in their normative traditions, describe God as loving and just, even if there are differences in how they understand God’s love and justice. I reject the idea that the God of the Qur’an stands as a fierce and violent deity in opposition to the God of Jesus Christ, who is sheer love.
  4. The God Muslims worship and the God Christians worship—the one and only God—commands that we love our neighbors, even though it is true that the meaning of love of neighbor differs partly in Christianity and Islam. I reject the idea that Islam is a religion of life-constricting laws, whereas Christianity is a religion of life-affirming love.
  5. Because they worship the same and similarly understood God, Christians and Muslims have a sufficiently robust moral framework to pursue the common good together. I reject the idea that Muslim and Christian “civilizations” are bound to clash.
  6. Christians should see Muslims, who give ultimate allegiance to God as the supreme good, as allies in resisting the tendency in contemporary culture to see mere pleasure, rather than justice and love, as the hallmark of the good life. I reject the association of freedom to do what one pleases with Christianity and blind submission to the iron law of God with Islam.
  7. What matters is not whether you are Christian or Muslim or anything else; instead, what matters is whether you love God with all your heart and whether you trust and obey Jesus Christ, the Word of God and Lamb of God. I reject making religious belonging and religious labels more significant than allegiance to the one true God.
  8. Love and justice for all, rooted in the character of God, requires that all persons have the right to choose, change, and practice their religion publicly. I reject all attempts to control the decisions human beings make about what most profoundly matters in their lives.
  9. All people have the right to witness about their faith; curtailing that right in any way is an assault on human dignity. At the same time, those who witness have an obligation to follow the Golden Rule. I reject both all suppression of freedom of expression and all uncharitable ways of exercising that freedom.
  10. To give allegiance to the one God who enjoins humans to be loving and just to all, as Muslims and Christians do, means to embrace pluralism as a political project—the right of all religious people to articulate their views in public and the impartiality of the state with respect to all religions (and other overarching interpretations of life). I reject the idea that monotheism, properly understood, fosters violence and totalitarian rule.[1]

My Response

  1. There indeed is only one true God. I take it as axiomatic that if someone claims that Muslims and Christians worship ‘one and the same God’ that the revelation through which they came to know this God is from the same God as well. But the revelation Muslims refer to with reference to God is not the same revelation that Christians refer to; therefore they do not worship the same God.
  2. Not real clear on what Volf is asserting here: “What the Qur’an denies about God as the Holy Trinity has been denied by every great teacher of the church in the past and ought to be denied by every orthodox Christian today.” The Qur’an outright denies that God is Holy Trinity in both His inner and outer life; not sure how it can be said that ‘every great teacher of the church’ and ‘every orthodox Christian today’ ought to deny what the Qur’an denies about God as the Holy Trinity.

Volf rejects the idea that ‘Muslim monotheism is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity,’ but as I shared last time from one of the foremost systematic theologians of today:

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.

This represents a clear point of departure then from what Volf thinks about the ‘one God’ and what I believe a genuinely Christian understanding of ‘one God’ entails in its Trinitarian reality.

  1. How can a monad, a divine singularity, a god that is by definition capricious, removed, and deterministic in his relation to the world be described as loving and just in the same sense as the Christian sense? The Christian sense of God, based upon His Self-revelation, is that He is necessarily personal and relational because He is Triune. How can Volf assert that these two approaches to God in regard to justice and love be similar, without engaging in equivocation? He equivocates.
  2. Apparently Volf has never lived in Saudi Arabia as a woman under Sharia law.
  3. Volf takes a major leap of faith in this assertion, especially when the empirical reality attests otherwise. Ideas actually do clash, they have been clashing ever since Genesis 3. We have a clash of civilizations in the so called ‘culture wars’ why would that be any different then with reference to the relationship between Christianity and Islam. If he is asserting that Christians and Muslims should find common moral ground to engage society with then there might be some space for this, but only in a secularized state, and then only with secularized Muslims who believe they can join arms with Christians on certain moral issues. But most orthodox committed Muslims believe that to join arms with Christians would be to join arms with the infidels, the children of Satan.
  4. Again, his assertion works within a secularized state, but he should try to implement such vision in Saudi Arabia and see what happens. Does Volf believe the house of Saud does not represent orthodox Islam; does Volf believe that the only genuine forms of Islam are indeed those that have learned how to co-exist in secular states? It seems like that what is informing his premise here.
  5. Religious labels are symbols, just like words in general, they signify certain realities. The Apostles were first called Christians in Antioch according to Acts 11. To be a Christian simply means to be a follower of the Way, Jesus Christ. If a Muslim was a follower of Jesus Christ in the way Volf identifies in his thesis 7, then they would cease being Muslims and be considered Christians by any historic and/or reasonable matrix. But Volf is presuming upon his idea that Muslims and Worship the same God; this thesis in particular illustrates how that can send things off the rails.
  6. Okay, I agree with Volf on this one. Islamic thought doesn’t though.
  7. Again, I agree. But in Muslim states, they would disagree with Volf.
  8. This is certainly a major part, it appears, of Volf’s project; the idea of trying to chart a way for various religions to co-exist in a pluralistic society. He rejects the idea that monotheism properly understood promotes violence etc. I would agree, but at this point I don’t agree with Volf’s conception of what monotheism actually entails per my response to thesis 2.

[1] Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response (HarperCollins, 2011), 22 Scribd version.

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2 thoughts on “Miroslav Volf’s 10 Theses on Islam and Some Response

  1. Considering that 8 of 10 of his theses on Islam and Christianity respond to public square discussions and popular perceptions should wake us up to what Volf is doing. It’s Liberal theology in hippish new, evangelical, clothes.

    If all Volf is saying is that Christians and Muslims can coexist and live together without butchering each-other (the window-dressing for the Balkans Wars, which is near and dear to Volf), then sure.

    But if he is addressing this to Christians, then as Christians we should know (and teach and be taught) that peace-making is our way of life. We share a common humanity, one which bears the imprint of God’s Image, and the same Humanity restored in Christ Jesus. For that reason alone, Christians should always be weary of the sword. Paul’s ethics in Romans 12 say as much.

    But if he is addressing this to Muslims, he is clearly doing a bad apologetic job. He presupposes Muslims that accept the liberal-democratic progressive matrix of the American world. But this is itself a kind of nice fiction. The Liberal State has its own particulars that it will murder, steal, and kill for. Muslims have many times felt the brunt of this.

    So, in the end, this sounds like an apologetic for American pluralistic democratic liberal society. Nice, decent, mainline churchgoers should not be afraid of muslims and vote for fear-mongering candidates because of it. American Muslims should not turn towards sectarian and ghetto living to escape the fear of persecution.

    Bobby,

    I’m sure Volf would say that while that might be true for Saudi Arabia, it would be equally distressing for women living in a Medieval European kingdom. A kingdom where women were excluded from the public, heretics were physically harassed and killed, society was a highly structured and tiered hierarchy. Whether or not this is true, for Saudi Arabia or for Medieval Europe, is chasing down a red-herring. I think the real issue is that Volf does his theology out of the public square to God, rather from God to the public square.

    I know that’s a harsh charge to make, but he’s working for social cohesion. I’ve enjoyed stuff Volf has written in the past, but this seems spiritually poor. In some ways, I’d prefer openly secular appeals to a limp-wristed ‘kumbaya’ approach vis. John Lennon. They’re a little more honest and come off more empowering. An abstract god of love and justice, Jesus as a forgiving agent, how are these symbols anymore potent than a brotherhood of man, “we’re all children of the stars”, “to err is to be Human”, I’m ok you’re ok, kind of mantras and mottos? Maybe all Volf is doing is stamping a vague metaphysics over all of this.

    I don’t know, maybe I’m being cynical.

    cal

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