According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review - "Islam & Christianity" by McKnight, Parts 8 & 11

The Same God, Part 8

by Scot McKnight
March 2011
Filed under: Religions

Miroslav Volf, Professor at Yale, on the dedication page of his new book — Allah: A Christian Response, says this:

To my father, a Pentecostal minister who admired Muslims, and taught me as a boy that they worship the same God as we do.

Volf’s quest is to build a theological basis for peaceful co-existence and peaceful cooperation among Muslims and Christians, and his quest is to contend that the God of the Christians and the God of the Muslims is the “same” God.

In chp 8 of his book, Volf asks if God is love in both religions. Is the God of Islam a God who is love? Is the God of the Bible a God who is love?

For Christians, it is not enough to say God loves; for Christians, God is love. God’s essential attribute is love. Do Muslims believe God is love in this way?

Here Volf distinguishes the theologians in Islam from the spiritual masters, and he appeals to the Sufi masters for whom God is love — that is, that love is an essential attribute of love. He appeals to Reza Shah-Kazemi, who knows that some didn’t see love as essential to God.

Volf observes that with a non-Trinitarian God, Islam sees God’s love as self-love, and God’s own self-love overflows into love for his creation. Christianity’s God is about other-love within the Trinity.

The difference, then, between Christians and Muslims is about what kind of love is ultimate: self-love or other-love. Volf knows the distinction and knows the implications: it has to do with God’s creation of the world. Creation of the world spills not from self-love but from other-love within the Trinity.

There is a debate between Christians and Muslims over whom God loves. The Christian view is that God loves even the ungodly, but that God distinguishes between loving sinners but not their sin. Among Muslims there are strong traditions that affirm that God loves the obedient, etc., but not the sinners. God loves some but doesn’t love others. On p. 175 Volf has a helpful chart. (I can’t produce it here.)

For some this indicates conditionality in God’s love in Islam, but Volf observes that there is conditionality in God’s love in the Bible (eg. Exod 20:6; John 15:9-10). Volf resolves the tension in this: “when people do God’s will, God loves the doer and the deed; when people fail to do God’s will, God loves the doer but not the deed” (177).

What about love of enemy, a distinct Christian teaching of Jesus? Clearly, Jesus teaches this, even if many Christians have not practiced this. But Islam, while teaching God as Merciful and that such is an option for Muslims, is not as strong on this one. But he finds a strong spiritual tradition in Islam that values even love of enemies.

There are differences between Islam and Christianity. But God loves creatures; God is just; and justice is an aspect of God’s love for creatures; humans are called to love neighbors.

This sets the stage for how Christians and Muslims can work together. Check back next Tuesday [for more reviews].

-----------------------------------------------------------------

The Same God, Part 11
http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/04/14/the-same-god-11/
.
by Scot McKnight
April 14, 2011
Filed under: Religions

Miroslav Volf, Professor at Yale, on the dedication page of his new book Allah: A Christian Response, says this:

To my father, a Pentecostal minister who admired Muslims, and taught me as a boy that they worship the same God as we do.

Volf’s quest is to build a theological basis for peaceful co-existence and peaceful cooperation among Muslims and Christians, and his quest is to contend that the God of the Christians and the God of the Muslims is the “same” God. What he means by “same” is not “identical” but “sufficient similarity.”

A major issue arises: the relationship of monotheistic faiths and government. Does loyalty to God clash with loyalty to the state? Can two faiths live under one government? Or, and this is what many think today, is belief in one God the source of political strife?

Put differently: Is monotheism so exclusive that it it is “theoclastic”? (Does it destroy all other gods?) Is monotheism the source for intolerance of other faiths? Politics and faith are connected in history.

But monotheists have sought to explain themselves over against the intolerance charge:

1. Monotheism is no worse than polytheism.

2. Monotheism can be democratizing: instead of just top-down it can be bottom-up.

3. Monotheism is inherently inclusive because if there is one God then that one God is for all people.

And it is there that Volf camps.

A state needs to be politically pluralist by not favoring one religion and each religion is permitted to bring its vision of reality into the public forum. Religious exclusivists can be political pluralists.

So he examines monotheism’s capacities for political pluralism:

- Belief in one God gave religion an essential ethical dimension (justice, law and freedom arose in monotheisms).

 - And more importantly: Monotheism decoupled religion from the state and from ethnic belonging because if there is one God, then that one God is God of all, regardless of political condition or ethnic heritage.

This leads him to his major stance of how monotheism makes political pluralism acceptable: the one benevolent God relates to all on equal terms; love of neighbor implies granting to the other freedom; there should be no coercion in faith.

Which means that proselytism is acceptable: each person has the right to practice his or her faith, and each person can practice the faith he or she chooses. This is justice at the most basic level.

So Volf has three principles:


1. There is no identity between state and religion.
2. There is no complete separation between religion and the state.
3. The state is to be impartial toward religions.

Understanding Islam

http://tgcreviews.com/reviews/allah-a-christian-response/

Allah: A Christian Response

by Miroslav Volf
March 27, 2011 Review by Joel S

Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response (HarperOne, 2011), 336 pp., $25.99.

“Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Does the answer to that question have significant implications for how Christians and Muslims engage each other in the world today?”

It was in answer to those two questions that Miroslav Volf wrote Allah: A Christian Response. It was not written to answer whether or not Muslims are saved; that is, his goal is to discuss a political theology, not soteriology. My review will focus on two areas: (1) stimulating practical points and (2) points of theological and biblical concern.

Stimulating Points

Volf writes as one who has seen the bitter hostilities between Muslims and Christians and wishes to see those hostilities cease. Accordingly, he makes several points that provide excellent stimulation for Christians who are considering how to think about and engage with adherents of Islam.

First, Volf helpfully summarizes key similarities and differences between normative Islam and normative Christianity. This is not to say that the conclusions he draws from them are necessarily correct, but he highlights...


six areas of formal similarity between the two faiths:

1. “There is only one God, the one and only divine being.”

2. “God created everything that is not God.”

3. “God is radically different from everything that is not God.”

4. “God is good.”

5. “God commands that we love God with our whole being.”

6. “God commands that we love our neighbors as ourselves.” (110)

Citing both Christian and Muslim sources, he makes a clear case for each of these elements within both religions. He goes on to cite...


four more areas of agreement:

1. God loves. (158)

2. God is just. (158)

3. God’s love encompasses God’s justice. (158)

4. Human beings should love their neighbors as themselves. (159)


In all 10 areas, Volf acknowledges differences. In particular, on the issue of love, he highlights some significant ones:

1. Christians affirm that God is love. (182)

2. “Most Christians say that God’s eternal love includes love of the other, the divine other

within the triune godhead and, derivatively, a creaturely other.” (182)

3. Christians affirm that God loves “the ungodly,” and that this love cannot be earned (182).

4. Christians must love even their enemies. (183)


Volf’s patient engagement on these issues shows that while he openly desires to focus on the similarities for the sake of the common good, he still recognizes significant differences. Christians ought to listen to how he works through the similarities and differences on these points. I am not yet evaluating the conclusion that he draws from all of this—that Muslims and Christians refer to the same God when they speak of God. Rather, I simply note that his look at each of these areas is helpful, as he does truly attempt to lay out what Muslims and Christians believe on these crucial issues.

Second, Volf presents a careful model of engagement with both Muslim and Christian theology on one of the most contentious issues between the two communities. He puts a great deal of effort into clarifying exactly what the Qur’an affirms about God’s unity and what it denies about the Trinity.


A list of five [Islamic] objections to the doctrine of the Trinity in the Qur’an:

1. God cannot beget a Son. (133)

2. God cannot have an associate. (134)

3. God is not one of three divine beings. (134)

4. God cannot be Christ, because then the sovereign Creator would be contained in a creature. (134)

5. “Christians worship persons they associate with God in denigration of the one true God” (134).

He explains how each of these denials refers to a misunderstanding of the Trinity, basing his views on classic orthodox formulations of the doctrine (136).


Additionally, Volf explains several elements that indicate that Qur’anic teaching on the unity of God does not deny orthodox Trinitarianism.

First, he argues that Christians do not divide God’s one essence in the doctrine of the Trinity (136-139), demonstrating this biblical and theologically.

Secondly, he argues that the terms we use to describe God, including the numbers one and three, cannot fully express the reality about God (139-142).

Volf clearly wants to accurately understand Islam, and he also wants Muslims to accurately understand what Christians believe about the Trinity. Such engagement, contrasted with the prejudice he later criticizes, models how Christians ought to approach Islamic views.

Third, Volf articulates clearly what many Christians (and Muslims) have sadly missed in the history of Christian-Muslim relations: We must apply the Golden Rule to mission. He applies it in several ways. First, we must witness only if we allow others to witness to us (211). Second, we should witness how we wish others would witness to us, that is, without coercion, bribery, seduction, or unfairly comparing the worst of one religion with the best of another (211-212). While the first rule has generally been violated more by Muslims than Christians, the second has been the domain of both parties. Volf strongly urges Christians that if they are to love their neighbors, they must do it in how they witness.

Fourth, Volf provides much food for thought in how we lose our prejudices and exercise our rights concerning issues of blasphemy. He suggests that when we apply love of neighbor to trying to understand those of another religion, we will actively try to compare our self-perception with how others might perceive us. This “double vision,” Volf says, “is a way of coming to know the other truthfully, an application of the command to love the neighbor to how we seek knowledge of the neighbor” (205). Much prejudice, misunderstanding, and conflict can be avoided by following this simple process.

Arising from this concern to see through another’s eyes, we can come to see that having the right to speak in a certain way of another religion does not mean that such a way is a responsible exercise of the right (250). He applies this to the Danish cartoons of Muhammad that sparked riots and uproar among Muslims globally, arguing that while many Muslims responded inappropriately, Christians must consider both the safety of others (250) and civility (251) in how they approach things that they have the right to say. His reminder to express ideas with respect—even on questions of significant difference—is timely in a volatile atmosphere such as we have today.


Points of Concern

Notwithstanding those positive aspects of the book, there are some areas that are at a minimum, a cause for concern, and at a maximum, a cause for serious disagreement.

First, Volf’s entire argument for the God of Muslims and the God of Christians being the same depends on his understanding of “sufficient similarity.” He argues repeatedly that identical sameness is not needed, since even Christians—Calvinists and Arminians, for example—disagree about some aspects of the nature of God (90), though he admits that Muslim and Christian descriptions of God should not be “radically different” (90-91). Accordingly, as noted above, he patiently examines several major areas of agreement and notes a few areas of difference.

What is concerning in this approach though is that crucial word, sufficient. On what basis can sufficient similarity be determined? As Christians, we ought to go to Scripture in order to receive guidance on how to approach establish criteria for the sufficiency of our similarities. Instead of doing this, Volf quickly (pages 97-102) notes four areas of similarity (which are helpful, as noted above), and then claims to have presented a “tight and persuasive” argument that Christians and Muslims refer to the same God (102).

But in order to determine whether there is sufficient similarity, it seems that it would be helpful to develop a set of criteria that would, if not show clearly, at least indicate where one crosses from an inadequate understanding of God to a different God altogether. In other words, what constitutes a “radical difference”? Volf later admits, “If we have misidentified God—say by subscribing to a seriously erroneous description of God—we are talking about the wrong God (which for all monotheists means that we are not talking about God at all)” (113). So, again, I ask, how does one determine a “seriously erroneous description”?

One might rightly object that since we do not have any list for determining sufficient similarity, Volf has done the only thing that can be done: comparing major descriptions about God to see if they are similar or not. And certainly, Volf makes a clear case for (1) that on the issues he mentions, Christians and Muslims hold similar beliefs, and (2) that the issues he mentions are necessary similarities for claiming that both refer to the same God. Necessary does not equal sufficient, and the following considerations should at least make us pause to consider whether or Volf has proven the former but not the latter.

While he acknowledges the essential Christian teaching of Jesus as the self-revelation of God (147), he does not interact at length with any biblical texts that discuss Jesus’ necessity. One of the only texts that he does mention is John 14:7-9, which says:

“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?"

These verses follow on the heels of John 14:6, which famously proclaims that Jesus is the only way to the Father. About them Volf says,

"Certainly, John’s Gospel affirms that Jesus is the self-revelation of God. If you know Jesus as the incarnate Word, you know God, and you know God truly (though not exhaustively!). And yet, according to that same Gospel, if you reject Jesus, you can still be worshiping the God whom Jesus truthfully revealed. (92)"

The connection between Volf’s last statement and the text in question is not apparent. Particularly given the connection to verse six, it seems more natural to take the text as saying that from then on, because they knew who Jesus was, they would know the Father—not that after they rejected Jesus, they would still know the Father. These verses, on the surface at least, seem to suggest the opposite of what Volf proposes.

More importantly, there is one other thing to note about his use of Scripture. Volf refers to precious few other Scripture passages to determine sufficient similarity. While this does not mean that he is mistaken, as there may very well be no passages that illustrate the error of his view, I find it curious that a book written to convince Christians does not include more biblical interaction. Indeed, one can’t help but wonder about passages such as 1 John 4:2-3 and 5:20:

"By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already."

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

I am quite sure that Volf would have a response to these, but nevertheless, given the clarity with which Scripture teaches on the nature of the true God (and the incarnation), and 1 John’s descriptions of those who deny these things (“liar” in chapter 2 and “antichrist” in chapter four), it seems reasonable to expect that Volf should have dealt with the Scriptures in a more coherent fashion on this topic.

Second, even if we grant that Muslims and Christians have the same God as their referent, further questions remain about actual worship of that divine Being. Can we legitimately claim that they both worship, love, and give their allegiance to that same God? Can we say that right actions (love of neighbor, for example) can please God if they exist without right beliefs? [sic, re Jesus, pointedly – sh]

Volf answers these questions in the affirmative; indeed, he bases his vision for joint Muslim-Christian effort for the common good on an affirmative response to these questions. In his own words, “From a Christian standpoint, might it be that some Muslims (and some Christians!) who have a deficient view of God’s nature and God’s commandments nonetheless worship the one true God by means of their godly lives? I think so” (119-120).

To clarify, Volf is not arguing that Muslims therefore have salvific standing before God, but rather that they do “everyday acts that honor God” (120). Citing the often-noble example of Saladin during the crusades, he concludes, “To the extent that people love their neighbors, they worship the one true God, even if their understanding of God is inadequate and their worship is seriously lacking in other regards” (122).

Indeed, he goes on to suggest that fear of the one and common God—the God who loves and commands love of neighbor—would make a difference. Fear of that God will nudge Muslims and Christians to emulate God and therefore to pursue the common good, for, by definition, the common God to whom they are accountable is the God of both as well as the one Lord of their common world. (247)

In other words, Volf suggests (without stating it in quite this way):

1. that Muslims can love, honor, and fear God apart from Christ;

2. that this love, fear, and honor can form a common basis on which they can work with Christians for the common good.


Summary

Biblically and theologically, those statements are concerting, despite their obvious practical pull. The following considerations illustrate my concerns:

First, this is not simply a question of inadequate propositions, but broken relationship. Scripture teaches that sin has broken the relationship between God and man such that man can do nothing to please God. Isaiah 64:6 shows that even the best deeds done by man outside of a state of salvation are as filthy rags before God. This renders suspect Volf’s insistence that one can honor God or please God with inadequate beliefs.

Further, given that this book is written to persuade Christians, one wonders how at this point Volf can think that the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19) is not a central means of loving neighbor for Christians. That is, if we take Scripture’s words about the broken relationship between God and man seriously, it seems patently unloving to encourage Muslims who deny Jesus’ true identity to see their deeds as pleasing to God apart from Christ.

Second, while Muslims and Christians may very well agree that God commands that people love him, Christians cannot be faithful to the Scriptures and to Christ if they accept that Muslims, apart from Christ, do indeed love God. John 5:37-42 shows that those who reject Jesus as Savior do not love God:

"And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, this form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you."

His words are clear: if one does not accept Jesus for who he actually is, he does not have the love of God in him. Put differently, no amount of right action—of which many first century Jews had plenty—can offset wrong belief about Jesus when it comes to love for God. The painful conclusion is that Muslims do not love God, and that to appeal to them on the basis of their love for God to work for the common good is to deceive them about their true status before God.

Third, Volf’s claim that one can be a practicing Muslim and 100 percent Christian lightly dances around a crucial issue separating the two communities: the person of Muhammad. As the front cover and publisher’s blurb note, Volf believes, “A person can be both a practicing Muslim and 100 percent Christian without denying core convictions of belief and practice.” Volf cites two examples of this, an Episcopal priest who claimed to also have become a Muslim (195) and a Muslim-background believer who claimed his new faith in Jesus was compatible with valid interpretations of Islam (196).

This is not the place to fully enter into the debate over C-5 contextualization and other related issues. Nevertheless, in all of Volf’s discussion over this “hybrid religiosity” (200), he only once mentions in passing the question of the person of Muhammad (with relevance to this particular issue). He argues that if people are baptized, confess that Jesus is Lord, and receive the divine gift of new life through Christ, “and believe that Muhammad was a prophet (not ‘the Seal of the Prophets,’ but a prophet in the way in which we might designate Martin Luther King Jr. ‘a prophet’),” then they “would still be 100 percent Christian” (199).

[Though an Islamic prophet of God, Muhammad never declared salvation through Jesus, simply that Jesus was a prophet like himself. This view then would consider Jesus not Incarnate Savior but simply an empowered human prophet or would unnecessarily lift Muhammad up to that of a God-like status. Both views would be untendable biblically. Today, to the non-Islamic outsider's view, Muhammad is little better than a cultural Islamic icon for nationalism; further, he is not a Christian icon for Jesus like the NT apostles were. – sh]

The problem is that the shahada, the Islamic confession, does not mean that Muhammad was simply a prophetic voice like Martin Luther King, and the rest of the Qur’an does not allow for such an interpretation. Christians can certainly approach Muhammad respectfully. But ultimately, the question of his prophethood is far more central than Volf makes it seem to be. Any proposed union between two faiths that so lightly jumps over such an integral question makes the conclusion, at least in my mind, ring hollow.

Fourth, Volf’s claim that having a common God is necessary to avoiding conflict seems unproven. Given that this is a book for Christians, the simple command to love God and neighbor ought to be enough for Christians to approach Muslims with love. Certainly, Christians will fail, but Christians do not need for Muslims to look to or worship the same God for Christians to treat them as they would wish to be treated. If indeed unconditional love is a hallmark of Christian teaching, then whether one is Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i, or atheist, Christians ought to follow Volf’s helpful material on how to view life from the perspective of others, participate in dialogue, and love their neighbors as themselves.

Joel S is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and is under care in the Presbyterian Church of America. His ministry focus is the Arabic-speaking world, and he writes at http://joelws.com.