Scot McKnight and his brainy comment posse at Jesus Creed have started discussing Miroslav Volf’s Allah, with two posts so far. The JC crew have spent more time than I did discussing Volf’s contention that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Volf actually spent more of the book on this issue than you might have thought from my posts, because I got bored by the semantic nitpicking — what exactly does “same” mean? — and I didn’t see that it made a vast amount of difference. Scot also doesn’t seem to think it matters that much: “I’m not yet convinced of the Same God theory, but I am convinced that the follower of Jesus, the Christian, is to love God and to love the neighbor as himself. … This means whether Muslims agree or not, and I’m encouraged by those who have participated in these concerns, I am called to love Muslims as my neighbor.”
In his book, Volf emphasizes the common God as a source of harmony between Christians and Muslims. In the introduction he quotes Abraham Lincoln’s words about how Confederates and Unionists followed the same God, and believes this aided in healing the nation after the Civil War. (This is a rather poignant observation coming from a former Yugoslavian.) But thinking it over again, I wonder if Volf doesn’t have another motive: having a common God gives him grounds to critique certain Muslim beliefs and practices.
Ever since 9/11, there’s been a running debate in the West over identifying the “real Islam.” You know: is it the “religion of peace,” or at least something Americans can live with, or is it the radical version of Osama bin Laden? My own view is that, if you don’t believe in the religion and think it’s a man-made creation to start with, you can’t say it even has a “true self” — it will be whatever its followers think it is. But by positing that the God of Islam is real, Volf has some standing to say that some versions of Islam are truer than others. So he can tell certain Muslims they’re wrong about apostasy and church-state relations, and say that the suicide bomber is following the wrong god, without simply imposing a Christian framework on them.
Or is he? I complained before that Volf’s comments about church and state, in particular, seem far too embedded in modern Western assumptions. But I can definitely see why he wants to get past the lazy pluralism of “You believe this and I believe that, and that’s our right.” As we have seen, some difference of opinion have deadly consequences.