Allah: A Christian Response
New York: HarperCollins e-books, 2011
Many years ago my doctoral dissertation was published as Very Sure of God: Religious Language in the Poetry of Robert Browning. My question was, “In his poetry, when Browning says ‘God,’ what does he mean?” My answer was, “Not much.” Of course it took me a book to explain what I meant. Ever since this exercise I’ve been listening closely when people say “God.” You can explain a lot of their behavior this way.
Now Miroslav Volf has published Allah: A Christian Response. His question is, “When Christians and Muslims say ‘God’ (Allah), what do they mean?” Are Allah and God the same? His answer is yes. He, too, takes a book to explain what he means.
Volf, a Christian theologian, was born in Croatia where his father, to whom he dedicates this book, was a Pentecostal minister who “admired Muslims and taught (him) as a boy that they worship the same God we do.” It’s hard to tell that, though, in a world torn by religious warfare. Is Islam’s Allah Christianity’s God?
In Allah, Volf offers a Christian perspective on the God of the Koran. He writes for Christians but hopes Muslims will read over his shoulder and dialogue with him, because talking, even disagreeing, is so much better than killing. He is very much aware that extremists in both camps will disagree, even violently disagree, with him but moderates might find a way to mutual respect.
He succeeds in giving us a book that is “both truthful and charitable.” Thanks to his father and his own studies, he also succeeds in helping us Christians try to think like Muslims (not necessarily to agree, but to attempt understanding), an absolute must if we are to be friends rather than foes, good neighbors and not armed enemies.
“I reject the idea that the God of the Qur’an stands as a fierce and violent deity in opposition to the God of Jesus Christ, who is sheer love,” he writes. If in fact Allah is the same as God, then both Muslims and Christians worship a God of love. This belief can and should govern our relationships with one another.
The alternative is 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They didn’t work out so well. Volf’s proposal is worth trying.
You may not, as I don’t, read a lot of theology. Volf is one theologian, though, who is worth the effort. And unlike plodding through some of his other books, reading Allah is not heavy lifting. It does, however, require some serious thinking. Be prepared to have some of your favorite prejudices challenged.
And like me, you too will wonder, when people (Christians, Jews, Muslims, anyone else) say “God,” what do they mean?
LeRoy Lawson, international consultant with Christian Missionary Fellowship International, is a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor and a member of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee.