by Dr. Peter Jones on March 19, 2012
Neighborly love in Islam is an expression of the Golden Rule found in many religions. Ultimate self-giving love is found only in the Gospel, where God the Savior takes the sins of mankind on Himself. (This image by Flickr user baktincorporation is used and modified under the Creative Commons Agreement.)
We live in a period of theological confusion that the book, Allah: A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf, does little to alleviate. Formerly a professor at Fuller Seminary, and currently Professor of Theology at Yale, Volf asks: "Can it be said of Muslims and Christians that they too worship the same God?" He answers, "Yes, it can" (11), and it must!
This thesis has major problems in three areas: theology, missiology and eschatology.
Volf admits that the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are not "completely identical" (91). To me, the differences are overwhelming. In 2007, in A Common Word, 138 Muslim leaders affirmed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. However, they were careful to quote Muhammad's words: "there is no god but God He hath no associate," thereby eliminating the Trinitarian foundation of the Christian Gospel.
Any religion without the Trinity makes God a lonely singularity and becomes a form of impersonal Deism. The Hadith-e-Qudsi, which Muslims regard as the word of God, tries to relieve this problem. Allah says: "I was a hidden treasure, being unknown. Then I desired to be known. So I created creatures and made Myself known to them; and by Me they knew Me."Here God admits that to be personal or to have a personal relationship, he needs creatures.
If God depends for personal existence upon something created, then his transcendence is compromised. Oddly enough, unrelieved transcendence leads to unrelieved immanence. The Deist who longs for a more personal God often turns to Pantheism, as do the Islamic Sufi mystics.
Here Volf makes an amazing admission: "God's love is less obvious in the Qur'an than in the Bible in Islam, theologians do not play nearly as central a role as they do in Christianity But the religious sensibilities of a great many scholars and common believers alike have been shaped above all by the Sufi masters" (153, 165). Unfortunately the Sufi masters are pagan One-ists.
Take the Sufist al-Ghazali, (AD 10561111) who, says Volf, "is in many ways the most representative Muslim thinker you'll find, from any period" (169). Al-Ghazali says: "God does indeed love [people], but in reality He loves nothing other than Himself, in the sense that He is the totality [of being], and there is nothing in being apart from Him" (169). For the Sufis, as for Hindus, physical reality is illusion, and the human soul is part of divine reality.
Astoundingly, Volf allows this notion of God to be "sufficiently similar" to the God of Christianity. But surely neither Deism nor Pantheism is Christian.
Neighborly love in Islam is an expression of the Golden Rule found in many religions. Ultimate self-giving love is found only in the Gospel, where God the Savior takes the sins of mankind on Himself. No other religious system knows the love that the Christian scriptures affirm: God's love has been poured into our hearts For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:56). Without the Trinitarian God, there is no Savior, no Gospel and no Christian mission of sacrificial love.
Volf's version of "Chrislam" only confirms the conclusions of the syncretistic Insider Movement which counsels Muslim converts to Jesus to remain in the Mosque and practice a "Christianized" form of their Muslim faith.
Volf's thesis is driven by pragmatism: "I leave the questions of salvation and eternal destiny aside the book is not an exercise in soteriology, but in political theology" (13). In this game of what he calls "high stakes," the highest stakes go to this-worldly "human flourishing" rather than to other-worldly eternal joy.
By favoring present cultural peace, as do many in the "Progressive Christian" movement, Volf fails to do justice to the organic heart of the Christian Faith. Christ's future reconciliation of all things to himself is based on his death and resurrection in the past, which determines how believers live and love in the present. Volf opts for "human civilization over the salvation of one's soul" (252), thereby refusing the urgency that Jesus teaches: "What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
Cherry picking elements from the message of Jesus for political purposes is both an act of theological disfigurement and a false, unloving promise of "security."
Volf is only comfortable with this because he is a self-described universalist, believing that "as creator and redeemer, God loves all with preserving and redeeming love-Christians and non-Christians" (171).
World peace and the alleviation of injustice are worthy issues of basic human respect, but false hopes of religious unity and this-worldly flourishing cruelly obscure the fact that true peace with God and man, now and in eternity, is found only at the foot of the cross of Christ, the only Son of the Father.
About the author: Dr. Peter Jones is Director of truthXchange, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament, as well as Scholar in Residence, at Westminster Seminary California. He has written The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (1992), Spirit Wars (1997), Gospel Truth/Pagan Lies (1999), Capturing the Pagan Mind (2003), Cracking DaVinci's Code (2004, co-author, James Garlow), Stolen Identity (2006) and The God of Sex (2006). Peter Jones is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, and is married to Rebecca Clowney Jones. They have seven children and twelve grandchildren. For recreation, Dr. Jones enjoys playing jazz piano and golf.
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