Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Allah, a review
According to the back cover of the book, "do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?" Volf's personal answer (as he had nothing to do with the book flap and quote) is far more nuanced. But the question remains:
Do these two vast and prolific religions share and claim the same God?
The potentially volatile nature of this project is immediately upended by Volf's keen sensitivity and distinct attention to historical detail. Beginning in the present with 9/11 looming over the nature of religious extremism, Volf begins to trace back the historicity of this conflict, moving through centuries of bloody political conflict. He compellingly paints a picture of how we worship and view God, and how this in turn cashes in on the way we act about our God.
If our God is violent, are we not to be violent?
Volf's conclusions are highly nuanced, but revolve around the ideas expressed in the Qur'an and Scripture about the similar nature of God's sovereignty, His desire for worship, the love of neighbor and others; he builds his case around this, contending that both religions have 'sufficiently similar' views about God to warrant belief in a sufficiently similar deity. With both Islam and Christianity being the world's two largest faiths, bridging the gaps could indeed prove fruitful. Volf's end goal is political (not religious) pluralism.
Volf interacts with both the Bible and the Qur'an in respectful ways, though the strength of his case is philosophical.
There are instances where it appears Volf is indeed stretching it. His discussions on the Trinity, though firmly and robustly orthodox, do not fully combine the Muslim understanding with that of the Christian church's idea of Trinity. This is perhaps the biggest difference between both faiths. Our perception of God is trinity, and Muslims seem to believe this instead to be polytheistic. This is a core difference, and it effects our views about God and Jesus.
Though Volf doesn't gloss over differences (and I do not have enough space to give this more attention), he does stress to a fault that Muslims are close enough. However, it should be noted that Volf doesn't ever compromise Christian Doctrine, nor is he interested in reducing both faith's to a watered-down version of their former glory.
This book was a challenge. I went in expecting unbound pluralism and weak exegesis, and was pleasantly surprised. Volf is as orthodox a Christian as one can be, and his measured tone and desire for political unity is to be commended. This is thoughtful and strong material that must be wrestled with.
Though I am not to be numbered amongst his converted, Volf has written a powerful and incisive book that deserves your attention.
4 out of 5 stars.