Book suggests Islamic, Christian beliefs closely tied; creates heresy controversy

By Bruce Ashburn

In recent years discussions between Muslims and Christians have escalated. More books and articles are being written on whether Muslims and Christians worship the same divine being.

One new book, “Allah: A Christian Response,” published in March by Miroslav Volf, director of Yale University’s Center for Faith and Culture, addresses this question.

“Christianity Today” quoted Volf as saying “Muslims and Christians who embrace the normative traditions of their faith refer to the same object, to the same being, when they pray, when they worship, when they talk about God. The referent is the same.”

Dr. Scott Huelin, director of the Honors Community, said Muslims and Christians may be “directing our worship to the one God. But there are deep misunderstandings and deceptions within Islam that ought to give Christians pause and prevent them from worship together with Muslims. The greatest deception is the refusal of Islam to acknowledge the deity of Christ.”

Volf wrote his book in response to all the violence and conflict between the two religions. It provokes a desire for peace among them and a hope that the argument presented, once realized, will help cause peace. Volf argues that the Christian understanding of Muslims worshiping a different God leads to conflict, and the only way to end the conflict is for both groups to embrace the belief that they worship a common God.

“The claim that Muslims and Christians worship radically different deities is good for fighting but not for living together peacefully,” Volf writes.

Since Christians and Muslims make up the world’s religious majority, he argued the only way for peace in the world is for the two religions to come together.

Volf made this statement based on his conclusion that the similarities between the two religions outweigh the differences. He acknowledged some differences, such as the Christians’ commands from God to love their enemies. Muslims do not have this command. Another is that Christians believe in the Trinity. Muslims do not. In the book, Volf dismisses the difference, pointing to the big picture — both religions have a concept of love and a oneness of God.

Volf stated in “Christianity Today:” “What binds Muslims and Christians, and what is central to my argument, is that God is one, that God is distinct from the world and that the one God has created everything that is not God.

“There is a radical divide between creature and creation. This is a fundamental belief. Muslims, Christians and Jews share that belief. Therefore, they believe in the same God.”

However, Volf’s arguments raise some questions as to how the similarities can overcome the differences in order for one to be able to say that Muslims and Christians worship the same divine being.

Dr. Randall Bush, director of the Interdisciplinary Honors Program, disagreed with the idea of Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God.

“There is no way, factually, that you can support Muslims and Christians are worshiping the same divine being,” Bush said.

Bush said Allah is an arbitrary god, whereas God is not. But Bush said he appreciates Volf’s desire for Christians not to be hateful toward or afraid of Muslims, especially in evangelism. Instead, Christians should be humble and loving in their approach to sharing with Muslims.

Huelin said, “Muslims and Christians can reason together from commonalities rather than throw stones.”

Elements of Christianity are seen in the Quran, Huelin said. Muslim Ramadan resembles the season of Lent and the view of Jesus not being fully God seen in the Quran resembles the heresy of Arianism. Huelin agreed, “because Muhammad (in the Quran) so robustly borrowed from the Christian heretics of his time it seems likely that one plausible way of understanding what he was doing was actually worshiping the Father, but doing so in a heretical way because he was not acknowledging the Son or the Spirit.”

Concerned with the way Volf presented his argument, Huelin suggested students read Volf’s book with others in order to not fall into the misunderstandings that can arise from the book.

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