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03/29/2011

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Viola Larson

Charles,
I have just skimmed Volf's paper, (company today) and I intend to read it more carefully. But it seems to me that in a way you are asking two questions and to the first there can only be one answer. I will explain.

You want to know if Christians and Muslims worship the same God, and you want to know about Volf's paper which is a slightly different question-it seems to be about whether the Trinity can be acceptable to the Islamic understanding of one God. That is ever so slightly different.

I believe the first question entails looking at both revelation and the Incarnation. For the Muslim God is revealed in the Qur’an. But for the Christian God is revealed not only in the Bible, the written word, but in the Living Word, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father. And since Jesus is the ‘eternal’ Son he is the whole and ultimate subject matter of the Scriptures. And we only know God through his revelation.

I think we can say the Jews have this revelation but do not understand it.

But the Muslim does not have the revelation at all. How can that which is not scripture, the Qur’an, and a God who has not taken on flesh, be a revelation of God. So how can the one who the Muslims call Allah be the same as the Christian God? The only sameness would be their monotheism and their moral outlook. But not the person of God.

So, although I believe it is quite possible for God to reveal himself to the Muslim in the person of Jesus Christ including through his scripture I don’t believe the God of the Qur’an or classical Islam can be the God of the Christian.

As far as 9-11 goes if we are basing any of our understanding of the differences of faith on that horrible event that would be to use an impolite word stupid.

Charles Wiley

Viola,

I figured you'd be first!

I'm really curious if you have spent much time engaging Muslims face-to-face or Christians who work in mission among Muslims to inform your approach.

Charles

Viola Larson

Charles
you have me laughing a tiny bit. I always hope I'm not that predictable.

I have taught on new religions and world religions in the past. I do have a degree in religious studies. But I am sorry to say that most of my interaction with Muslims has not been good. It’s not the fault of Islam but of extremism. Part of that was a young Egyptian who stayed in our home over night and explained to me the next morning that he would like to line all of the Israelites up and shoot them. He was later to kidnap his son taking him to Egypt and forcing his American wife (a friend) there where she became pregnant again. She was later able to escape with her children. That was over thirty years ago and I don’t blame it or some other incidents on Muslim beliefs. I do, however, blame them on religious social ideals that belong to a different time going back at least 600 years.

I also have a friend who was a pastor in Iran for several years. He and his wife attend the Presbyterian church one of my daughters attends.

I would make two recommendations:
The first is a book by Timothy George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? As you may know George is the Dean of Beeson Divinity School and although the book is very scholarly it is very accessible. It is excellent and I think there is a video series too.

Second, there is a Pastor in the Cayman Islands, Thabiti Anyabwile who was at one time a Muslim. He goes, I think almost yearly to Dubai where he debates with Muslim scholars the differences between Christianity and Islam. They are always so polite and kind, friends, but honest and very informative. They are very much worth listening to. Here is the last series but not this years. This is on my blog . What I did was put up one of the first videos, but there are twenty-two- if you click on it and go to YouTube. http://naminghisgrace.blogspot.com/2009/05/dialogue-between-christian-and-muslim.html I challenge you to listen, you will be enriched with both the gospel and knowledge about Islam from Islamic scholars.

Anyabwile has also published a book The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to share Christ with Confidence

Charles Wiley

Viola,

At the risk of sounding paternalistic, that is a pretty thin experience for making such global statements. There are radical Muslims, but also moderate Muslims, secular Muslims, former Muslims, and everywhere in between. There are Muslims who hold Jesus up to a point that it would confuse some folks as to why they weren't Christians.

What I see in Volf's book is a theological engagement with Muslims growing out of concrete, face-to-face relationship with Muslims. In the little experience I've had, such an approach does not erase the differences. In some case it heightens them. But you end up with a more three-dimensional portrait.

Consider how you would respond if you heard a faithful Christian believer writing off all Jews because they don't believe in Jesus. My guess is that your perspective is not based only on abstract arguments, but also on personal engagements with Jews. Consider personal engagement with Muslims. It won't make you into a Muslim, and probably won't make them into Christians, but I bet you'd find it theologically enriching.

Charles

Viola Larson

Charles are you saying that if I had a personal friendship with a Muslim I would believe they worshiped the same God I did. No, I don't think so, I think they would be my friend and I their friend but that wouldn't change my beliefs.

And to explain a little more clearly about how I feel about the Jewish faith. I believe they need Jesus also. And I have many Jewish friends and they know I believe that way.

Toby Brown

What does knowing Muslims have to do with our ability to frame an argument about whether or not their religion worships the same God as Christians? That is an argument that is being used in our denomination a lot these days: that we must know people face to face to make a judgment on the merits of their beliefs. It is why we are in the mess we are in!

We have plenty of Muslim writings to judge their beliefs. Knowing a Muslim has no bearing on our ability to make theological arguments. Viola's comments cannot be dismissed that easily.

Viola Larson


Charles,
I have read the paper several times now; perhaps it should be read five or six times. It is in almost all ways excellent and helpful.

The latter part concerning the understanding of perichoresis is I think that part which is often most needed in mainline discussions of the Trinity. That is that there is nothing that one person of the trinity does that another does not also do otherwise the divine essence is divided. Volf could have added the verse in Colossians, “For in Him all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form. …” (9)

I think understanding this, the above, one should not use names for the Trinity which describe the actions of each person such as Redeemer, Sustainer, for it is God, the One, who sustains and redeems.

I believe Volf clearly defines the misconceptions that Muslims, and some Christians, have about the Trinity. I will have to say that I think that many Evangelical scholars understand this misconception more than many liberal scholars. But that is of course just my opinion from reading various theologians.

Now having said the above I do have one problem with the paper and I believe it is just at that point that both the Jews and the Muslims renounce Christianity. Volf, under point 5 on page 22 states that “Christians agree that anyone who worships a human being does so in denigration of God; that person is an idolater. Christians reject worship of Christ or anyone else in place of God. In worshiping Christ, whom they consider to be fully divine, they are worshiping the one undivided divine essence.”

But in stating this Volf leaves out the human nature of Christ. (Something he did not do in his above paragraph.) And the two natures of Christ cannot be divided. So in our worship we worship the whole Christ, both human and divine. And I do believe that is the scandal of the gospel.

It is in fact through this flesh which is both God and human that we enter into the very presence of God and through Christ, as both human and divine that we experience the Trinity, the perichoresis, (or divine dance as James Torrance liked to refer to it).

So to go back to your original question –Do we worship the same God? No because the divine essence of the Muslim God has not taken on flesh. But to go even further, Volf is addressing the sameness of the oneness of the two gods. But he still does not address the persons of the Trinity as distinctions. But this is found in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am sure that Islam does not allow for even the name as a distinction.

But it is a great discussion piece and I wish more people would be concerned enough to write.

Al Sandalow

At the risk of sounding a little like Bill Clinton debating what “is” is, I think the question can only be answered when you define what “same” means.

If “same” means regardless of how you define a object/being, if you call it by the same name, certainly Jews, Muslims, Christians, Unitarians..maybe even Madonna worship the same God.

If “same” means you share a common set of critical attributes and definitions, then no, the Christian concept of God is radically different from both Islam and, honestly, Judaism.

I think many of the fruitless discussions of this issue bypass the definitions of terms. Add to that the political incorrectness of anything smacking of exclusivist religion and it’s hard to have an honest conversation.

If you’d like a good appreciation of how early Muslims viewed Christianity’s claims about the divinity of Christ, get one of Oleg Grabar fantastic photo books of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and read his translations of the calligraphy inside. The reality transcends all theory.

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