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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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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 muslimschristiansa 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.

Conclusion

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.[1]

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!

 

[1] Epiphanius, Anc., 10, cited by T. F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, 234-3.

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Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little Thomas Torrance

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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