Christianity and Islam, the theses of Miroslav Volf

I found myself recently reading the website of the Christian Democratic party and was appalled to come across a policy statement that called for “a moratorium on Islamic immigration into Australia.” Such policies are the equivalent of asserting that we need a moratorium on African-American immigration or Jewish immigration. It is a policy of hate and it does nothing to foster peace and reconciliation. It is one thing for Christians to abhor the violence of Islamic fundamentalism. But we don’t diminish that violence by responding in kind – by perpetuating negative stereotypes of Islamic people and publicly asserting our hate – attempting even to establish that hate in political policies.

In our recent book, Globalisation and the Mission of the Church (co-authored with Neil Ormerod), we argue that it is long past time for the church to “make friends” with those of another faith. If the mission of the Church entails the proclamation, in word and deed, of the values of the Kingdom of God, then the church needs to be an agent of peace. It needs to form friendships with other faiths. This is not to compromise our commitment to Christ. In fact, we betray Christ when we perpetuate the cycle of religious violence and hate that has come to frame Christian/Islamic relationships. In contrast, Inter-religious friendship are motivated by the exclusive claim of Christ upon the Christian to give of oneself in love and service to one’s neighbor – to be an agent of peace and reconciliation in the world.

In this light, I found myself recently reading Miroslav Volf’s Allah: a Christian Response. He commences the text with 10 controversial theses. You’ll have to read his book to determine whether or not you think his argument can be sustained, but to stimulate your interest, these include the following (pg 14-15):

  1. 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 then do Jews and Christians.
  2. What the Qur’an denies about God as the holy Trinity has been denied by every great teacher of the church in the past and ought to be denied by every orthodox Christian today. I reject the idea that Moslem monotheism is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
  3. Both Muslims and Christians, in their normative traditions, described God as loving and just, even if there are differences in how they understand God’s love and justice. I reject the idea that the God of the Quran stands as a fierce and violent deity in opposition to the God of Jesus Christ, who is sheer love.
  4. The God Muslims worship and the God Christians worship – the one and only God – commands that we love our neighbours, even though it is true that the meaning of love of neighbour differs partly in Christianity and Islam. I reject the idea that Islam is a religion of life constricting laws, as Christianity is a religion of life affirming love.
  5. Because they worship the same and similarly understood God, Christians and Muslims have a sufficiently robust moral framework to pursue the common good together. I reject the idea that Moslem and Christian civilisations are bound to clash.

There are five more theses, but that is enough now. Volf notes that “the issues are hot on the claim spicy, but this is how I see things.” He invites the question, what about you? How do you see things?

5 thoughts on “Christianity and Islam, the theses of Miroslav Volf

  1. I don’t think the Democratic Party is a true representation of Christianity and we shouldn’t restrict anyone in regards to race, gender, age or class. I don’t think Volf’s proposal is the right way to go either. I don’t think that the heart of Islam and Christianity is the same. I say heart and not God, because there is only one true God who is lord of lords over the earth.

    I’m yet to hear of, nor read of any Muslim converts to Christianity who agree to Volf’s proposals, and the testimonies of those I have read and engaged with all say differently. Yet the testimonies I have read and heard are strikingly powerful about their encounter with the living God.

    I’m impressed with Scott Mcknight’s latest book theme…or what I have read so far – in that the Gospel message is one of being drawn into the narrative of God and not one of rules and regulations. This gives us the methodology of the way forward to avoid the legalistic responses of politics and that of Volf’s universalistic acceptance.

    Within this gospel framework, Paul makes the astounding claim that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male or female. The emphasis being that the freedom and unity is in Christ. Christ accepts us and draws us to himself, no matter our nationality, gender, societal class and age. Christianity was never to be a ‘nationality’ and within the political sphere that emphasis has been lost…and seems to have been lost within the methodology of Volf’s also – though I have not read his book and could risk making a huge assumption.

    Because Christianity works within, through and beyond national and political boundaries, we are free from their restraints, which in turn free’s us to be the people God has called us to be. The early church was taught to live within this framework of being and thus were free from trying to make rules and regulations for society – rather taught society how they should live, via their own Spirit empowered lifestyle.

    Though I disagree with him, I think its important to note his cultural and war torn back ground, which has pushed his working towards a peaceable co-existence is to be applauded.

  2. Hey Shane, found this blog very interesting. In 2010 I had the privilege of visiting a church in Texas (Northwood Church) that is really kicking some goals wth regards to church planting. While there in November, the senior pastor, Bob Roberts, held a ‘inter-faith’ conference, where Islamic, Jewish and Christian leaders were invited to share about their faith. Bob Roberts is a man who has many connections with those from the Islamic faith and actively seeks to share his faith with them. However, he has only had these opportunities because he has been willing to put aside any fears and prejudices that he held and be willing to engage in dialogue with these people.

    Spending time with Bob, you soon realise that much of our attitude towards other faiths, and in particular the Muslim faith, has been coloured by the media. While, as Christians, we need to remain firm in what we believe, I do believe that the church needs to ask itself in what ways has the presentation of that message aleinated other faiths. If our message is couched in fear, hate and disdain, then why would anyone want to listen to us? This is a point even more pertinent for the church I work in as we have a mosque located next door to us – makes for some interesting discussions at times…

    I was intrigued by your statement that Christians and Muslims worship the one God. I found that as I listened to both Jewish and Muslim leaders speak about their devotion to their God, that I found myself thinking the same thing – that when these people speak about Yaweh or Allah, that they are talking about our God as well. What is missing for them is obvious – Jesus Christ – which leads me to say that perhaps the greatest stumbling block for the Muslim will be the doctrine of the Trinity. The challenge for theologians is to “explain” the Trinity in a way that our church leaders and congregation members can grasp hold of and in turn share with their friends and family.

    Anyway enough of my ramblings – really like that the fact while Texans may be teaching these things to their church planters and church members, that there is an Aussie in my own backyard saying similar things!

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