Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Review of Miroslav Volf's Allah: A Christian Response

Volf, Miroslav.  (2011). Allah: A Christian Response, New York, NY: HarperOne. Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at the Yale Divinity School and founding director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.

Using "political theology", Volf's main thesis is that the God of Christians and Muslims is the same. His approach is from that of a Christian but he is able to balance that with a few quotations from the Koran and Hadith. He argues persuasively that since "normative" Christianity's description of God's attributes is similar to "normative" Islam's description of Allah's attributes, therefore both religious traditions worship the same God.

When it comes to the issue of the Trinity (Muslims believe that Christians worship three gods instead of one), 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. The argument by Martin Luther as explained by Volf was a bit confusing except that "the main emphasis of Luther's theology: God's unconditional love" (73). However it must also be noted that Luther's thinking was in the context of Sulaimen the Magnificent capturing Hungary and laying siege to Vienna. If Vienna falls, then the whole of Europe will follow. The Christians were again trying to find common grounds.

Having set the groundwork by appealing to Nicholas of Cusa and Martin Luther, Volf set forth to argue in the second half of the book that the common attributes of the Christian God and Islam's Allah are the same thus concluding that both are the same. All other points of differences are then explained under "eternal and unconditional love". Though I appreciate Volf's attempt to set a common ground for dialogue, and suspect his affirmation that "If Muslims and Christians have a common God, are not Islam and Christianity just two versions of the same thing?" (191), I am not comfortable with his approach.

As Volf himself has pointed out, the Apostle Creed reveals two essential aspects of Christianity - who God is  and what He has done. One cannot explain away so easily the Trinity- God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit in one Godhead (Christians believe in one God, not three Gods). Also the work of Jesus Christ on the cross cannot be explained away by just using the term "unconditional love" without going into atonement and Jesus' words "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). In the index of this 314 page book, there is only three references to Jesus' death on the cross.

The second sentence Volf's introduction chapter almost broke my heart. He writes, "Christian responses to Allah - understood here as the God of the Quran - will either widen the chasm or help bridge it" (1). In Malaysia, the Christians have been trying to appeal against the government who wants to restrict the use of the word Allah to Muslims only. In one sentence, Volf gives away all that the Malaysian Christians have been fighting for all these years. Volf is aware of this issue in Malaysia (80-81). Allah has been used as synonymous with God by the Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) speaking Christians in Malaysia long before Malaysia became a country. Allah is an Arabic word meaning God.

This book is an excellent scholarly monograph in bridge building between two religious traditions. If it is from the Christian perspective, then one must be careful not to give away the basic tenets of one's faith.

Addentum (18 March 2011)

How does Volf "gives away" the battle for the name "Allah" for the Christians in Malaysia. This was at the very beginning of the book. Volf in naming his significant terms gave the term "Allah" to the Muslims and "God" to the Christians. We know what he is trying to do and if his thesis is correct it does not matter.
But if he is wrong then as a Christian he have given away the term to the Muslims.

The general reading public may not understand 'significant terms". All they will know is from this book, Volf suggests Christians and Muslims worship the same God which the Muslims call "Allah, and the Christians "God". It is likely most Muslims will reject this statement. However, they will be happy to point out that a prominent Yale scholar and theologian has used the term "Allah" exclusively to refer to the God Muslims worship and differentiated the term from the Christian God.

While I appreciate that he is writing from the North American context, however he must realise that the world is very interconnected and he has to be sensitive in his use of terms. Especially when he is aware of what is happening in Malaysia.



Hedonese said...

Had the chance to talk to a member of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry team (RZIM) about Miroslav Volf's book, I think there is broad concern that he gave away too much. Bill Nikides wrote a review on it which is quite strongly worded

Alex Tang said...

Hi Hedonese,

Thanks for the link

Anonymous said...

a volf in sheeps clothing

Anonymous said...

Allah is arabic for 'God', the christian God is known as Jawhe and Baäl is persian for 'God'. How can Allah and Jahwe be the same?? Baäl is also not the same as Jawhe and noted in the bible as false. Allah meaning the same as Baäl in their language is a imitation of Jahwe and thereby false!!!!!!!!

Wisdom's Daughter said...

Here's the simplest key to God, as defined by the Hebrew scriptures which are the "grandfather" scriptures of the three monotheisms: The True God of Israel and hence of all Creation is identified in the Hebrew scriptures (and this is affirmed again in the New Testament) by the descriptive title, "The Most High God." Whatever other beings exist in creation, and may appear to mankind as "gods," and thus are sometimes called in scripture "the sons of god," the one worthy of worship, the Creator, is the God of Gods, the Most High God.

Jesus said that devotion to himself and literally devotion to the name Yeshua (the original Hebrew having been transliterated via Greek into the name we say as “Jesus”) was desired by the Most High God as a way for the Most High God to glorify his own name, because the name Yeshua (Jesus) in its Hebrew roots means "YHVH Saves."

So, we are NOT told in the Bible to glorify the name "Jesus" because Jesus IS YHVH, but rather because the name Yeshua glorifies YHVH as the true source of all Salvation for his creation.

Jesus is no savior without the "Father" authorizing him to be such, and hence the FATHER of Jesus (Jesus being called the Son of the Most High God), is the Source of All Salvation. Jesus is called "savior" not of his own power or authority, as he clearly states, but ONLY by virtue of his anointing BY the Most High (anointing being the literal meaning of the titles "Christ" or "Messiah"). Jesus himself said that if he did not have this authority granted to him BY the Most High, then no one should listen to him. Sadly, just as the Jews are blind to Jesus as Messiah, Christians have become blind to the God of Jesus in their own scriptures! (Hence one could see the need for a prophet named Muhammed to clarify that Jesus does indeed have a God.) In Hebrew prophecy and later in Christian scripture (combined into the Bible), it is depicted by prophets like Isaiah, then in the Gospels by Jesus, and then in the Letters by the Apostles that Jesus himself has a God (and serves his God in loving and perfect obedience, which is the literal meaning of the term "Islam"). Thus, Jesus, being the anointed servant of the Most High is NOT himself the Most High God. Hence, Jesus in any of his glorious titles and roles in creation is NOT identical to YHVH or equal to YHVH but serves YHVH in an intimate relationship of Created and Creator(aka Jesus' "sonship" exemplified to Christians by his birth to a Virgin, which unique birth is affirmed in Islam's emphasis that God did not create Jesus by sexual means). This God OF Jesus is Allah, is the Most High God of Hebrew scriptures and New Testament, and is by definition in the Qu'ran and in the Bible: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Jesus. Allah/YHVH is the God of "gods" [ie, the Creator-God of lesser "gods," such as the elohim and as Jesus appear as "gods" to mankind] who himself has no God above him. The meaning of Allah's name taken down to the root construction of the name in Arabic is similar to that of "the supreme one" and hence again we see that Allah and YHVH are the same God-identity being spoken and revealed in different tongues.

Wisdom's Daughter said...

The (above) haveing been said, I would like to add that the "messiah" who pretends to be the Most High, the "messiah" who claims that he himself is the Most High, per the Bible, is the anti-Christ (the evil Dajjal in Islamic terms). So Christianity today is actually false worship professed to a falsely-constructed version of Christ, and not worship "In Spirit and in Truth" of the True Christ as Jesus represented himself in the Gospel. The True Christ, by definition of Christ meaning "anointed," has been anointed (passive) by his (active) God-- he did not anoint himself, nor is he his own God. This is a very important distinction that is scriptural truth if you but open your eyes and let the Holy Spirit peel the blinders that men have put over them: Jeus Christ, resurrected Christ of God, HAS A GOD ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE. To say Jesus Christ is the Most High is actually false and hence anti-Christ theology, which is part of the reason why Jews reject the "Christian" Christ-- they know that THE MESSIAH, THE CHRIST must be the ANOINTED OF GOD and not the Most High God himself, though the linkage between Christ and God is pure so that the words of God flow from the mouth of Christ, as Jesus said, "The words I speak are not my own." Thus, it could be said that there is a Holy Trinity, in terms of intimacy of connection and in terms of UNITY of mission and purpose; however, to say that the three parts are equal to each other is false according to the Bible itself, which clearly shows the Son as subservient to the Father. The same church that once opposed the Truths of the Universe revealed through Galileo must now cease opposing this Truth as revealed through MenaPace. That said, I challenge Muslims to understand that the Qur'an was left to be interpreted, and that this is the correct interpretation of Surah 4 verse 156: Jesus was indeed crucified, and the "error" cited in the Qur'an with respect to the crucifixion is an error of perception on the part of certain Jews (not of Christians), whose egos wanted to claim domination over and destruction of Messiah Jesus and so took credit for killing Jesus. What the Qur'an is saying is just what the Bible says: that God willed that Jesus be killed on the cross, so no man can take the evil "credit" for having done the deed, as if man could overpower the very will of God for his Anointed One.

Let the veil that has concealed the Divine Paternity of both Gospel and Qur'an be lifted, that this act of the Holy Spirit can help to also unveil Jesus as Christ to the Jews who await God's Messiah, hidden in plain sight from them. These revelations, these RECONCILIATIONS Qur'an and Gospel, of Muslim and Christian, reconciled to God and each other in Truth and in Christ, is the "secret" hope offered by the Fatima Prophecy of 1917​ch?v=ZdGLtInHMxI Assalaum w'alaikum, peace to you, shalom aleichem! Hallelujah! Praise God! Subhan Allah! focusonfaith777atyahoodotcom

phil d said...

For a perspective from a convert from Islam to Christianity take a few moments to view this clip:

phil d said...

Here is another worthy review of Volf's Allah:

kamagra said...

Loving Muslims in a way they will very likely perceive to be loving.