"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Friday, June 10, 2011

Catching Up On My 2011 Reading (Pt VI): Volf, "Allah: A Christian Response" (UPDATED WITH A PARABLE)

Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response (New York: HarperCollins, 2011)

The God of Muslims and the God of Christians is one and the same. There are differences, but there are similarities. One can choose to focus more on the differences, or one can choose to focus on the similarities.

Focusing on the common ground is more likely to bring about more good in the world and more likely to lead to peace between religions and nations than insisting on the primary importance of the differences.

That’s the short version. It’s a great book, maybe the most accessible of all I’ve mentioned this week. Just pressed for a time…got a High School theater awards ceremony to attend!



A great comment made by my wonderful mother, that I assume reflects the concern of many others as well, to which I hope I've offered a helpful response:

"While I agree on focusing on what we have in common...I disagree that we worship the same God. I don't know as much as you do about Muslims. I worship a triune God, do they? And that is a huge sticking point for me. In the beginning, with Isaac and Ishmael...perhaps. Sorry. Love you."

I think you and I are thinking about this issue in two different ways. An analogy that I came up with laying in bed last night might be helpful.

Example 1: Ted and Ted (two different guys with the same name) are hanging out at a coffee shop. You have a brief conversation with Ted in the brown chair about how silly it is that people pay so much for coffee these days. He is light, witty, and humorous. I go in a few minutes later, and talk to Ted in the green chair about U.S. foreign policy, about which he is VERY critical and frustrated.

We meet be back at home and talk about our experiences with “Ted” and are very puzzled when we realize how different of an impression we have of this “person.” The problem is we’re talking about two different people named Ted.

Example 2: You bump into a man named Ted (the one and only Ted) at the post office. He is frazzled, just getting some bad news in a letter; you say hi and try to start a conversation, though he just says hi and doesn’t seem interested in talking. The next day, I see Ted at the grocery store, and he initiates a conversation with me, seemingly in a very friendly mood.

When you and I meet for dinner that night, we both talk about our meetings with “Ted.” But we’re confused by each other’s descriptions; you describe Ted as a rather introverted person, while I insist he’s much more extraverted. We think we must be talking about two different people, based on our very different impressions of this man.

I think many think about God through the lenses of the first scenario: different understandings mean different beings. The second example suggests that people can be talking about (or worshipping) the same God while having a different understanding of that God.

If I as a Christian begin my prayer with: “Dear great and holy Creator, One who commands us to love…” and a Muslim begins her prayer with the same refrain—does the same God not hear us? Muslims understand God to be more monotheistic than the Christian understanding of a Trinitarian Christian God (though I think many Christians in actuality think about God more monotheistically).

And it’s likely that one of us is more right than the other. Because I believe that Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, I obviously believe Christians have a fuller picture of God. That's probably partly why I'm a Christian and not a Muslim. That said, I think God is so far beyond my comprehension that I should be humble in claiming that I “get” who God is more than others, even believing that Muslims could help me understand my God even better than I do.

It’s not saying we share an accurate and/or common picture of God, though there are many similarities, if we can look past the caricatures of each faith (angry Jihadists and angry preachers); it’s saying we’re both talking about the same, incomprehensible being.

This is not about changing Christian beliefs, or watering down the Christian faith (or the Muslim faith) and making a “hybrid” God. It’s being willing to celebrate similarities and distinctives, creating a safe space between Christians and Muslims where dialogue is free and open, maybe even where Muslims feel free to try to “persuade” Christians just as Christians feel free to persuade Muslims of their respective views.

One can be a fully devoted follower of Jesus and believe in Jesus’ uniqueness and even believe your picture of God is more complete than others (not arrogance, just the nature of belief, I think), while admitting that despite our different understandings, we’re talking about the same being. Thus, we worship the same God, even if we’re both a little right and both a little wrong about some things.

It's one thing if I said, "I worship a being who is the Creator and Sovereign over all things" and you said "I worship a being with a core, stem, and that many often call Granny Smith or Golden Delicious." You would obviously be talking about an apple, something different than what I'm talking about. But Muslims and Christians believe they both worship the Creator and the Sovereign. I believe they do.

So in short, "do they worship a triune God?" you asked. I believe God is triune, and I believe they worship God. So, I would say, yes they worship a triune God, but don't believe that God to really be triune. I'd guess a Muslim who believes we worship a common God would probably say we worship God "who is One" and not three and that we're a bit misguided and need to be corrected.

Hope that helps. :)

1 comment:

Barb said...

While I agree on focusing on what we have in common...I disagree that we worship the same God.
I don't know as much as you do about Muslims. I worship a triune God, do they? And that is a huge sticking point for me.
In the beginning, with Isaac and Ishmael...perhaps.

Sorry. Love you.