Sunday, September 4, 2011

ALLAH: A Christian Response (Three Reviews)

Miroslav Volf (Author)

Frequently bought together with A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor by Miroslav Volf

Recent disputes like the "ground zero" mosque controversy have their roots in historical conflicts, according to Yale professor and author Volf (Exclusion and Embrace). The author, who grew up in what was then Yugoslavia, explains that Christians' ability to live in community with Muslims depends on their answer to one question: is the God of the Qur'an the same as the God of the Bible?

With a conversational tone and the backing of both sacred texts, the author argues that while beliefs about God may differ, the object of worship for both religions is the same (or at least the objects are "sufficiently similar"). Such "claims are spicy," but come after careful consideration. Volf provides a thorough examination of theology to show the complexity of what seems a simple question of terminology.

Perhaps the most stirring and involved debate concerns the comparison of the Christian Trinity to Allah. On such a heated topic, readers will appreciate Volf's sense of humor and optimism. Though the text may not convince those who fear religious pluralism, his timely call for Christian love toward Muslims should at least lead to further dialogue, if not increased social cooperation. This is an important book.

Product Description
Three and a half billion people—the majority of the world’s population—profess Christianity or Islam. Renowned scholar Miroslav Volf’s controversial proposal is that Muslims and Christians do worship the same God—the only God. As Volf reveals, warriors in the “clash of civilizations” have used “religions”—each with its own god and worn as a badge of identity—to divide and oppose, failing to recognize the one God whom Muslims and Christians understand in partly different ways.

Writing from a Christian perspective, and in dialogue with leading Muslim scholars and leaders from around the world, Volf reveals surprising points of intersection and overlap between these two faith traditions:

• 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 Christians today.

• A person can be both a practicing Muslim and 100 percent Christian without denying core convictions of belief and practice.

• How two faiths, worshipping the same God, can work toward the common good under a single government.

Volf explains the hidden agendas behind today’s news stories as he thoughtfully considers the words of religious leaders and parses the crucial passages from the Bible and the Qur’an that continue to ignite passion. Allah offers a constructive way forward by reversing the “our God vs. their God” premise that destroys bridges between neighbors and nations, magnifies fears, and creates strife.

The most surprising part of the book was his analysis of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity in the light of Islamic monotheism. By his accounting, and he relies on traditional orthodox accounts of the Trinity, the affirmations and denials that make up the doctrine are well in line with Muslim teachings on the nature of God. Particularly interesting was his use of Nicholas of Cusa, a Christian theologian and philosopher who wrote eirenically toward Islam in the medieval era.

If you are looking for a thoroughly biblical and deeply Christian rationale for engagement with Muslims, you need to consider this book and its arguments. Volf's style is clear and accessible, with plenty of scholarly substance, yet written in a way accessible to non-scholars. Volf brings in the masterful argument set forth by theologian Nicholas of Cusa (1401 - 1464) and that of Reformer Martin Luther. Volf gave a good summary of the explanation of Nicholas of Cusa of the Trinity to the Muslim so that there is "no dispute between Christians and Muslim about God's unity" (51). One part of his explanation is that "[n]umbers are for creatures. God is not a creature. Therefore God is beyond number - beyond the number one as much as beyond the number three" (52). It must be noted that Nicholas of Cusa came up with this ingenious explanation of the Trinity after the fall and rape of Constantinople in 1453 by the Muslim armies of Sultan Mehmed II and the Christians were trying to sue for peace.

A Timely and Important Work by a Thoughtful and Loving Scholar, April 20, 2011
By Daniel A. Walter "Steelyeye" (Midland, TX USA):

In Allah, Miroslav Volf tackles the controversial question, "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?" Volf points out that it is only since 9/11 and the emergence of Muslim terrorist groups into the forefront that Christians have begun to ask this question. The book is a timely and carefully written argument from the point of view of a Christian theologian to fellow Christians (with Muslims as an intended and important secondary audience) that demonstrates that indeed the God of the Qur'an and the God of the Bible share sufficient similarities to be deemed the same.

Volf opens the debate by briefly touching on the modern issues contrasting the opposition's viewpoint, exemplified by Pat Robertson, who believe that Allah is a different God from that of Christians, with that of his own. In the wake of the violent reactions throughout the Muslim world to the Danish cartoons that satirically portrayed Muhammad in 2006 and the peacemaking overture of the Islamic scholars who issued the "Common Word" document in 2007, knowing whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God is critical to achieving peace and combatting extremism. Volf does not address the issue of salvation. His stated goal is to lay the theological foundation for peaceful Muslim-Christian relations.

Volf examines the record of Muslim-Christian relations for precedents. His first is Nicholas of Cusa was a cardinal during the sack of Constantinople by Ottoman armies. His recommendation to the pope to arrange an interfaith conference rather than a new crusade was based on his conviction that Christians and Muslims worship the same God with different names and in different ways. His second example is from a century later when the Ottoman armies had invaded Hungary. Martin Luther described Muslims using the same fiery rhetoric as he did for all his opponents. For Luther the Muslims didn't worship a separate God, but like Catholics, Jews, and heretical groups, they did not rightly know the one true God, while acknowledging significant overlaps between the Christian and Muslim understanding of God.

Then Volf returns to the book's central question. He suggests that no two people have the exact same belief in God, even if they share a common faith, so he proposes that the God of Christians and Muslims can be said to be the same if they show sufficient similarity. Volf examines portions of the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Bible and compares beliefs for normative Muslims and Christians: God is One, God is the Creator, God is transcends creation, and God is good. Also God commands that people love Him and love their neighbor. The key here is "normative." Volf sets aside extremist positions for the moment. Then, he examines the practices of Muslims and Christians. Stated beliefs are one thing. What person practices reflects what he truly believes. He concludes that to the extent that Muslims and Christians hold to the normative beliefs of their religion and practice the commandments to love God and love others, they do worship the same God. Muslims may worship God deficiently since they do not know God as revealed through Jesus Christ, but Volf is not examining the question of salvation.

Volf then examines some of the key differences between the Muslim and Christian conception of God. He clears up many of the misconceptions held by Muslims about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and paints a picture of the Triune God to highlight another important difference, the nature of God's love. Though in both religions, God commands his followers to love, only in Christianity does God ask believers to love their enemies. The difference comes from the quality of divine love. For Muslims, God's self-love is the source of all human love. For Christians, the inter-personal love of the Trinity is the source. God's love is self-giving rather than self-directed. God does not love what is pleasing to Him, rather God loves and so transforms what is displeasing to Him to what pleases Him. These differences do not indicate that Muslims and Christians worship a different God, but are the basis for fascinating and rigorous debate about the nature of the one true God.

One of the most important points in Volf's argument is the inclusive nature of monotheism. Any attempt the confine God to a marker of identity (his example: the Christian Serbs) effectively reduces God to tribal deity. A community must instead align its own aspirations with God's character and demands. Both Muslims and Christians claim to worship the one God, but both communities often fall prey to having God align with their own narrow viewpoints. Since God does underly the ultimate values of both, this is a foundation for unity and peace.

Volf believes that unity and peace can be shared by Muslims and Christians who maintain an exclusivist religious worldview. Volf does not suggest that Christianity is the same as Islam, just because both adherents worship the same God. Nor must either group surrender the truth claims of their respective religions. Muslims and Christians do not need to settle for relativism. They can disagree with one another on important religious beliefs such as the nature of salvation, while remaining committed to treating one another with dignity and fighting for the common good of all. The foundation for this "political pluralism" for "religious exclusivists" is in the shared belief that the two most important commands are to love God and love one's neighbor. Additionally, a commitment to justice precludes treating the other as second-class citizen. Thus, Volf also has critics of religion, such as the new atheists, in is sights. Monotheism is the basis for a just and ethical, peaceful society, committed to political pluralism. In his words, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of political wisdom in a multi-religious state" (241).

Volf concludes his work by giving ten ways the arguments of his book can be used by Christians, primarily, but also by Muslims to combat religious extremism, including terrorism. The book thus achieves its practical purpose of promoting peace and the common good of Muslims and Christians in society. I highly recommend this book to any Christian (or Muslim!) involved in interfaith dialogue, religious ministry, or mission work. While I don't agree with every point that Volf makes, his writing is very clear, logical, and easy to read. His arguments are well constructed, with a good balance of reason and revelation, with modern and historical examples. Though some of the topics are challenging theologically, it should not be difficult to follow for the layperson. There is a lot of material worth debating and discussing in Christian, Muslim, or interfaith groups.

Look Inside at

Product Details
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: HarperOne (February 15, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061927074
ISBN-13: 978-0061927072
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.2 inches
Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)

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