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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Muslims worship who?

I (Scott) sat in a meeting a few weeks ago and heard a chaplain make reference to "some of our patients who are worshipping their little gods in our courtyard."  It surprised me and, unfortunately I think, revealed a prevailing view of many Christians who believe that Muslims worship a "little god" or an "idol."  

In light of the current raging fire of protests against America sweeping across the Middle East, I've begun to re-read a book I just finished a couple of months ago: Allah, A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf.  Volf is currently a Professor of Systematic Theology at the Yale Divinity School.  Having grown up in the  former Yugoslavia, he experienced first-hand, a bitter war between Muslims and Christians.  In his dedication of the book he says this: 

To my father, a Pentecostal minister who admired Muslims 
and taught me as a boy that they worship the same God we do.

Volf says that the goal of his book "is to explore how Christian and Muslim convictions about God bear on their ability to live together in a single world" (p.12).  

In the end of his first chapter he has a section which he calls "Hot and Spicy."  Here he lays out a number of theses which he realizes are sure to rile the feathers of a lot of people who have fixed ideas about the religion of Islam and the relationship between Islam and Christianity.  The first of his theses is plain and unambiguous:

Christians and Muslims worship one and the same God, the only God.  
They understand God's character partly differently,
 but the object of their worship is the same.  
I reject the idea 
that Muslims worship a different God
 than do Jews and Christians.

This is a fascinating book.  Like Volf, I venture publicly into this inflammatory topic with great trepidation. Volf does say early on that he leaves "the question of salvation and eternal destiny aside.  To use technical terms, the book is not an exercise in soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), but political theology" (p.12).  

While some may doubt whether Volf is a Christian, he makes explicit statements about his faith:  "What matters is not whether you are Christian or Muslim or anything else: instead, what matters is whether you love God with all your heart and whether you trust and obey Jesus Christ, the Word of God and Lamb of God.  I reject making religious belonging and religious labels more significant than allegiance to the one true God" (p.14). 

And his final "hot and spicy" thesis has relevance for some of the current debate in this election season:  "To give allegiance to the one God who enjoins humans to be loving and just to all, as Muslims and Christians do, means to embrace pluralism as a political project--the right of all religious people to articulate their views in public and the impartiality of the state with respect to all religions.  I reject the idea that monotheism, properly understood, fosters violence and totalitarian rule" (p. 15). 

So, I implore those of you with any interest at all (and those of you who are Americans should be interested in light of the current Muslim protests against all things American) to grapple with Volf.   You may not end up agreeing with him, but he's studied the Quran, dialogued with Islamic theologians, and sought to find common ground for discourse and peace.   Personally, I think he should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize --and not because he's conjured up some fiction to appease Christians and Muslims, but because he's perceived and articulated some real truth in one of the most incendiary issues of our age.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Does Scott speak for WHM on this subject?

Lou and Beth LaBrunda said...

Thank you!

DrsMyhre said...

NO - this blog is personal, and does not reflect official views or policy of WHM or Kijabe Hospital.

Mardi said...

Excellent Scott. Bravo for honest monologue - I pray it becomes dialogue, not least here in kijabe. M.

scruffy said...

As children of Abraham, i would have to agree with the major premise or theses. It's a great beginning point for conversation. And hopefully for conversion because John 8, among many places in the Bible, make it abundantly clear that belief in one God and prideful adherence to a system of self-righteousness is not true worship of that Father.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Scott, for opening a new thought for me. I will be praying and considering this. and yes, I agree with the first comment; brave.

Anonymous said...

Christians serve the Trinity and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Hardly the same God

Merrick said...

Hi Scott,

I commend the peacemaker in you that clearly desires peace between conflicting people. I commend Volf that he rejects "making religious belonging and religious labels more significant than allegiance to the one true God". Certainly more atrocity than good has come of "religious belonging" (the Christian Crusades and Muslim jihads, for example) and only good comes from from a real relationship and personal allegiance to the one true God. The Bible tells us that the one true God is a jealous God and that we should have no other gods. Clearly, the question of Allah from the Christian perspective is a divergent one: either he should be embraced as the same as the one true God of the Bible or he should be utterly rejected regardless whether or not the issue is "incendiary" between two human groups. If, in fact, Allah is an idol, there would be no greater folly than displeasing the one true God by flirting with another for the sake of discourse.

I haven't read Volf's book or the Quran, but from what I do understand about the fundamentals of Islam, however, there is no reasonable interpretation of the Bible and the Quran that agree. The Biblical account states with extreme clarity that Jesus is the son of God (Mark 1:1, Matt. 8:29, e.g.). The Quran rejects this. The Bible says that Jesus was God and one with the Father (John 10:30). The Quran rejects this. The Bible says that Jesus was crucified for our sins. The Quran says otherwise.

Perhaps some would argue that there are two paths and that the Bible and the Quran wouldn't have to agree, but the Bible (and I suspect the Quran) reject this. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). The fundamental precepts of Christianity and Islam are mutally exclusive. And, significantly, Islam came some 600 years after Jesus and the New Testament. Galatians 1:8 says, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!"

I agree with your reaction to the chaplain's belittleing statement. Muslims should be treated as any unbeliever: with love and a desire for their salvation. But, Muslims should not be treated as believers. Their god is quite simply not God.

I would love to hear your response.

DrsMyhre said...

This is Jennifer, speaking for myself (not WHM, not Scott, not all women or all doctors or any other group I am happy to belong to). For Merrick (not sure who you are . . only can think of one person with that actual name MB):
1. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the difference between her worship and the Jews' worship was that the Jews had understanding. But he implied they were worshiping the same God. This was a point of connection to draw her into truth. She still needed salvation, but the commonality of the object of their worship was a starting point.
2. Paul told the people in Athens who made the idol to the unknown God that they were actually worshiping the God above all that he was now coming to tell them about. Again an affirmation that there is one Supreme God only, and that the way to know Him is through Jesus. But still acknowledging that the direction and intent of their seeking was good.
3. Would you say that the Jews worship the same God as Christians? I believe they do. Try to think of addressing Ms'ms the way you would address Jews; try to think of Ms'ms becoming Christians more like Messianic Jews.
4. We Americans incorporate a lot of pre-Christian paganism into our understanding of God, and a lot of Western culture into our practice of Biblical Christianity.
OK those are just a few thoughts on why a Bible-believing Christian who loves Jesus as the way the truth and the life can still accept that other world religions such as Judaism and Islam are approaching the SAME GOD. They need Jesus just like we do. So let's learn how to love them into the Kingdom as Jesus would.

Merrick said...

Hi Jennifer,

Yes, this is Merrick B. I have followed your blog for a while and have been meaning to contact you for a long time to tell you how much I appreciate it.

I'm sorry that the first time you've heard from me is a dissenting comment on your blog. I am very much not the type to comment on blogs whatsoever and certainly not in disagreement. I am not one who likes argument for the sake of argument - even if it's good-natured. I guess I felt strongly enough that I had to say something. In fact, I felt like I was defending the identity and nature of my God.

The Bible talks a lot about the person of God. It says that he has specific attributes and promises that they are unchangeable. That is very important to me. It is a huge and common pitfall to try and make God's nature relative and fit Him into different cultural or temporal settings. Now, I don't think you are trying to do that, but I do think that Scott's post lays down a stumbling block for those that would like to.

Your response talks about approaching people of different religious backgrounds to point them to God. You seem to suggest that we might be more effective if we can treat their current god as the same as our God. But I'm saying that the truth is much more important and fundamental than evangelical effectiveness. I'm saying that you have to establish the nature and identity of God first before you would be able to love anyone into His Kingdom. Suppose for argument that Allah is not Jehovah. Can you agree that it that it would be wrong to say that he was even if you thought it might be loving to a Muslim? Can you agree that suggesting to a Muslim that they are on the right track by worshiping Allah would be wrong? Certainly if Allah is an idol and not God, he cannot be a path toward God. "Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry." (1 Cor. 10:14).

That said, I think the onus is on you as originators of this discussion to address the overwhelming inconsistencies between the Quran's account of Allah and Jesus and the Biblical account of Jehovah and Jesus before you could ever take the tack of approaching Muslims as seekers of the one true God (and encourage others to do so). Can't we can lovingly help Muslims into the Kingdom by presenting the real (although contradictory) Jesus just as well as we could by suggesting that Allah is God? If Allah isn't God, there is "no commonality in worship". Certainly we could start from the common ground of wanting to be faithful. Certainly we can try to eradicate Western predjudices, but stop short of changing God, because I can't see how calling Allah God is not changing Him.

I hope I'm not taking attention away from the original intent of your post. I think you are trying to encourage Christians to be Christ-like towards Muslims since we've largely failed at that in the past. That is brave. That is important. But, again, our concept of God is more important than our relationship with humans.

I'm sure that when Scott posted this he expected some backlash from those who are preconditioned to dislike Muslims. I hope you know that this is not a kneejerk reaction and not the response of someone who considers Muslims enemies.

I know you're busy, so please take your time in responding. Maybe the doctors will stop their strike if you tell them you have a blog comment response to write.

Saintly Nurse said...

Longtime lurker, only occasional commenter. :)

I will check this book out, as Muslims are a fascinating people group to me. 9/11 did to me what it did to a lot of people, it made me prejudiced toward Muslims - a very wrong reaction to have. God has worked in my heart since then and now they are some of my favorite people to deal with.

If you can get hold of a copy of 'Tea with Hezbollah' or 'Muslims, Christians, and Jesus', both by Carl Medearis, they are also very interesting reads.

harryk said...

Hi Scott and Jennifer,

First of all, I'm sorry I didn't get to talk to you when you were at Grace Church recently. I'm glad that things went well for Caleb in getting started at the AF Academy and that Scott survived back in Kenya. I'll be praying for Judy's recovery. I hope your book got a good start while you were here in the U.S.

I need to be careful in commenting here since I have so many weaknesses and questionable thoughts of my own. I certainly can't claim to know the Lord as I should. Hopefully there are a few points that I can make that are accurate but are provided only in a spirit of love.

1) God is the Father, Son (the Word) and Holy Spirit - the three Persons Who are the One God. (For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." (1 John 5:7)) Muslims worship a single person deity.
2) Jesus said He and the Father are one ("I and my Father are." (John 10:30)) but Muslims don't believe that Jesus is God and thus call Him a liar. ("He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself; he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son." (1 John 5:10))
3) The Jews that didn't believe Jesus is the Messiah and those in all other religions that believe in god(s) but not in Jesus (which seems to have been the case with certain well-respected American founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) are deists. They do worship other gods, not the Living God.
4) We westerners often have our own gods of money and possessions. Thank the Lord that He knows that even Christians must struggle with idolatry and gives us Fatherly direction against it. ("Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21))
5. In some sense, everyone worships a god and following the example of Paul in Acts 17:23, that can be a beginning point for dialogue (Acts 17:23). Even atheists worship someone - usually themselves.
6. My understanding is that parts of the Quran indicate some consideration is to be given to "people of the book" (which has been interpreted as referring to Christians) but later (chronologic) passages don't exclude them from those "infidels" who are to be converted or killed.
7. I don't know if the way that the chaplain made the comment about patients worshipping their own gods had the sound of love and concern for the lost but I think he spoke the truth. There is one sense in which it doesn't matter who someone worships - that is in the attitude we should have towards them. It is to be an attitude of love. ("But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;" (Matthew 5:44). I fail daily at this and would your appreciate prayers.

DrsMyhre said...

Dear Harry and Merrick-
This will be my final comment. i respect and appreciate and mostly agree with you both. The Bible and the Q are not exactly the same! But they have enough in common to make common ground for entering into relationship. We can lovingly agree to disagree on two things:
1. ONE GOD OR TWO DIFFERENT? God is real, and true, and revealed in Scripture, Nature, and the person of Jesus. We who seek to know God do so imperfectly through these three means. I think we all believe and hope that most Christians have a fuller understanding because we know Jesus, and have the full Scripture. But we also acknowledge that the OT Jews were worshiping the one true God. I believe that people of the book today also seek the one real true God, but because they lack the full revelation they have further to go on this road. Our word "God" is a pre=christian word that we now use to refer to the one true God revealed in Jesus. The word "Allah" is the equivalent term in Arabic that is used by followers of Jesus in those cultures now to refer to the one true God, and by prayer one day all M'ms. M'sms need Jesus, but I still think they're seeking the same true God, just not there yet.
2. EMPHASIS ON DIFFERENCE OR COMMON GROUND: We all want the love and knowledge of God to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Jesus spoke to Jews using their culture and Scripture to point them to truth. I think looking for points of connection will be more effective in establishing relationship than arguing from a chasm of difference. Then when a person from that background reads the Bible and knows Jesus for him/her self, he or she can find all the nuances of difference in what was previously taught. We do this ourselves as we grow and mature in faith.
3. The point of Scott's post was to read the book .
Thanks for dialoguing.

Susan said...

Another really interesting book on this topic is called 'A Deadly Misunderstanding' by Mark Siljander. Mark is a Christian, was a US Congressman, and I think back in the day was running with the 'moral majority' crowd. Thru some really interesting and crazy events he started to dialogue with Muslims (I think later when he was a UN ambassador) and started to look for 'common ground.' Overtime his heart began to change as he realized some of the cultural obstacles of Western Christianity and/or interpretations of scripture. Also, he began to see the power of talking to people about Jesus. He has some great stories of prayer meetings (in the name of Jesus) with signficant leaders in the Muslim world. We were priveleged to spend time with him and excited about his unique ministry. Worth a read!

Ordinary Radical said...

your first commenter said "brave". Indeed, it was. But it is needed...what you wrote needs to be heard. Amazing post!

Pam said...

I don't see how Muslims and Jews and Christians are worshipping the SAME God simply because the Christian God says "Jesus is the only way to heaven," and the Muslim and Jewish God says, "Jesus is not the way to heaven." I think all true Muslims, Jews and Christians would baulk at the idea of their God making both of those contradictory truth claims.

Also, I don't see any evidence that Muslims and Jews are trying to convince anyone that they are worshipping the same God as Christians. If they don't even believe it then why are Chrisitians trying to convince them that he's the same God? I wonder if that seeming "common ground" is more of a stumbling block to Muslims and Jews.

Andy Steere said...

Finally got around to reading this...thanks for wading into a topic that you are clearly stirred by!

I have purchased the Volf book and look forward to wading into it (and the other 10 books I've purchased on recommendation from you two!).

I think this question of inter-faith dialogue between followers of Jesus and followers of Allah is a really interesting one, but like most questions needs to be framed clearly and well in order for the answer to be meaningful.

For example, I think a very similar and parallel question to the Jesus-Allah question is whether the God of conservative, American, fundamentalist Christianity (hellfire, rapture, vengeful God, etc) is the same God described by the canonical gospels in the person of Jesus.

I've thought about this for awhile, and I am coming to a position where I think the two question are basically the same. While the *intent* to worship God as they picture him may be earnest and sincere, it is their image/picture/concept of God that is out of alignment, and hence a case can be made that they are not worshipping the same God.

Am I really going to post this in a public forum? Hm. Yes. Especially after learning today in my Greek II class that the scholars behind the most common Greek translation of the NT (United Bible Societies, 4th ed) in Romans 5:1 selected the present, active, indicative form of the Greek verb "exo" in their translation, causing causing Romans 5:1 to read "...we have peace with God". This in spite of the fact that the earliest complete manuscripts, including the Codex Sinaiaticus, have the subjunctive form of "exo", which means there is a very strong case that Rom 5:1 should say "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, LET US have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ..."

Potentially an example of how a particular theological bent of the translators led them to ignore the earliest manuscripts in favor of a preferred translation which reflected their theological views...