A number of years ago a student asked me, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” That is a question that has lingered with me over the years and so I turned with interest to this book in which Miroslav Volf explores the same question and the implications of how we answer it.
An important thing to understand about this book is that it is not written in the vein of the “all religions are pointing to the same truth” or that Christianity and Islam are different paths leading to salvation. What Volf, who would answer the question by saying “yes, with different understandings of the God we worship” is interested in are the implications of our answer to this question for Muslim-Christian relations in this world. Volf points to the fact that figures as diverse as Nicolas of Cusa, Martin Luther, and Pope John Paul II have all taken this position. He points to our common belief that God is One, Creator, Sovereign, a God of love and justice, to whom we owe our absolute allegiance, that he commands love of neighbor, and that given that all of us will face a reckoning, we ought live in the fear of the Lord. He also observes that the objections to the idea of the Trinity in Muslim teaching are in fact things Christians themselves would disavow concerning the Trinity — these are not three gods, Jesus is not God’s associate, etc.
It is evident, and Volf notes this, that he writes from a Christian perspective and for Christians. He does believe, and has encountered, many thoughtful Muslims who would recognize much of this as common ground. And that is his point. He contends that if we in fact believe we worship different Gods, then one is an infidel or idolater and must be opposed. But if we recognize common ground, including the command to love and the standards of God’s justice, it moves us to recognize the interests of our neighbor, Christian or Muslim and provides common ground for seeking common good.
I know of friends who will point to radical Islam as an enemy of the west and of Christians and believe this characterizes all of Islam. Volf recognizes these elements and yet believes that by refraining from inflammatory rhetoric or worse on the Christian side, we avoid turning those who we might engage and work with into enemies. He recognizes in the clerics who published “A Common Word Between Us and You” that there are some with whom we may engage.
Whether we agree or not with Volf’s answer to the main question of this book, one of the challenges this poses to me as a follower of Christ is, will I love not only my neighbor but even one who may act as my enemy? As I’ve dialogued with friends concerned with the dangers of “radical Islam”, I don’t deny the possibility of these, but as a minister of the gospel, I come back to the reality that Jesus included in the Twelve a “radical” who ultimately betrayed him and who he loved to the end. It is very possible that the risk of loving the neighbor, seeking peace, the common good, and under God’s grace to witness to Christ could lead to betrayal at that person’s hands. To win my neighbor or enemy could mean losing my life, but it seems that this is just what following Jesus is about.
Bonus added by the editor: Miroslav Volf’s presentation of Allah: A Christian Response at Wheaton College’s Center for Applied Ethics.
About the author:
Bob Trube is Associate Director of Faculty Ministry and Director of the Emerging Scholars Network. He blogs on books regularly at bobonbooks.com. He resides in Columbus, Ohio, with Marilyn and enjoys reading, gardening, choral singing, and plein air painting.
Andy Walsh says
It strikes me that one can ask a related question – Is the god that atheists *don’t* believe in a god that Christians (or Muslims, or Jews, or any other theists) don’t believe in either? Oftentimes it would seem the answer is ‘yes’ in which case that would also seem to be a place for common ground.
Good comment Andy! I often have had that conversation, where I’ve asked about the “god” atheists don’t believe in and have been able to truthfully say, I don’t believe in that god either–which then can lead to a conversation about the God I do believe in!