God, Christ & Humanity: Christian & Muslim Perspectives (Part 1)

Part 1: God and Humanity in Islam & Christianity

Thesis: Ultimately, the difference between Islam and Christianity is that the former views the relationship between God and man within the field of power. The Divine-human encounter becomes a contest of strength where human submission is a matter of expediency in the face of sheer dominant power. In contrast, Christianity views the relationship as one that is moral: God, despite his sovereignty, treats human beings as persons with inherent dignity (since they are created in His image). God seeks allegiance from man based not on expediency but as a grateful response to a God who passionately cares for his welfare (c.f., pathos in Abraham Heschel’s work).  Man may fail to perceive the depths of divine pathos. Without a personal revelation from God, man can only be dimly aware of divine pathos in pale and fragmented forms, described as divine sorrow, pity, wrath, and compassion because of his psychological limitations, although divine pathos must be perfect and complete within the divine Trinity. However, these partial perceptions of divine pathos are fully revealed and experienced as divine love when manifested at the cross. Hence the glorious declaration in 2 Corinthians 5:19 – in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself.

This post is a draft of the chapter published in Diverse and Creative Voices: Theological Essays from the Majority World. ed., Dieumeme Noelliste & Sung Wook Chung. Pickwick Publications 2015

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Related Post: Part 2: Jesus Christ-Eschatological [Final] Prophet And Incarnate Savior: A Christian Proposal To Muslims

Common Roots: Radical Challenge

God is most great, God is most great, I bear witness that there is no god except Allah: I bear witness that Muhammad is the Apostle of God. Come ye unto prayer. Come ye unto good. Prayer is a better thing than sleep. Come ye to the best deed. God is most great. God is most great. There is no god except Allah.

Every day across the Muslim world, the call of the muezzin breaks the silence of dawn with sudden forcefulness as it summons the faithful to prayer. One cannot help but sense a note of compulsion as the call intrudes into the half-awakened mind. Wake up from your slumber! I bear witness to God Almighty and Muhammad as his prophet! The call loudly amplified by speakers these days – serves as a strident message in contrast to the rolling tunes of church bells which gently invites believers to prayer and worship. On the other hand, the minaret call assertively declares Islam’s uncompromising self-referential demands that insist on being taken on its own terms.

“La ilaha illallah (There is no God but Allah).” Thus asserts the Muslim his belief in a unique God who is absolute unity (tawhid). Islam as an inclusive religion has an aggressive quality. One may describe it as zeal for the glory and unity of God. Islam is uncompromising to the point of being militant in rejecting any comparison or association between God and His creatures. As the Quran asserts, all sins may be forgiven except this sin of shirk.

The Christian faith shares similarities with the monotheism and Semitic ethos of the Quran, especially with the latter’s acknowledgment of the faith of Abraham. The similarities are well reflected in the first chapter of the Quran, Al-Fatiha, the gateway or essence of the Quran.

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
Master of the Day of Judgment.
Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.
Show us the straight way,
The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace,
those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.

I suspect that the recitation of this verse at a Christian Sunday meeting might just be acceptable if the word ‘Allah’ is replaced with the English equivalent of ‘God’ and the congregation is not told that the verse is taken from the Quran. Nonetheless, the word ‘Allah’, especially when uttered in its Semitic guttural tone, is a fitting carrier for the forceful and dynamic vitality of incomparable Divinity.

The Quran asserts that Allah is the source and the final destiny of all creatures. His attributes, aptly captured in the traditional list of the ninety-nine names include the Guardian (wakil), the Great (kabir), the Lifegiver (muhyi), the Seer (basir) and omniscient Knower (sami, alim) who reckoner of all things (hasib) and hence He is the Powerful (qadir) who compels all things by His will (jabbar).

Surah 2:163: And your Allah is One Allah. There is no god but He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Surah 112:1-3. Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; 2. Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; 3. He begetteth not, nor is He begotten./1/

The Christian reader easily resonates with those Quranic passages which proclaim in concrete imageries, the God of justice and judgment and the God of compassion who is concerned for widows and the social underclass. Can any Christian disagree with Islam’s insistence on the oneness of God, the sovereign Creator, the God who reveals because of His mercy towards wayward humans? Should not the Christian be grateful for the Muslim’s stubborn insistence regarding our final accountability to the ‘Master of the Day of Judgment’? In Islam we are confronted with a magnificent vision of ethical monotheism comparable to that of Isaiah’s vision. However, despite obvious spiritual affinities between Christianity and Islam, it cannot be denied that there exist fundamental theological differences on the idea of God and salvation of man.

 

Uncompromising Zeal for the Glory of God
Islam is synonymous with submission to the righteous demands of God. Many Christians in the West today simply presume on the grace and forgiveness of the loving God and are hesitant to preach a sovereign God who demands exclusive allegiance. In the process of trying to avoid offending wider culture, many Western theologians speak of the limited God of process theology and open theism and echo the post-modern Dionysian dance of primeval playfulness recently embodied by volatile Deconstructionists and Nietzchean nihilists. In contrast, Muslims remain unwavering in their insisting on Islam (submission to God).

Islam entertains no concession to any suggestion that may compromise the idea that God is sovereign and absolutely transcendent. While there are Quranic passages that point to God’s work in creation, for example, that He is closer man than he is to his jugular vein, nonetheless the thrust in Islam is to accentuate the transcendence (tanzih) of God./2/ Allah creates and decrees everything at all times – the assertion of Allah’s continuous creative activity that directly and immediately causes everything leads inexorably to the doctrine of Islamic ocassionalism. Islam’s resolute insistence on God as absolutely transcendent and unconditioned power can only mean submission. In this regard, Muslims are remarkable in their piety expressed in utter submission to the will of Allah, a submission that sometimes borders on fatalism, most evident when Muslims stoically respond to misfortune in life with passive resignation – It is predestination (qadar)!

 

Islamic Predestination
Not surprisingly, belief in the predestination of God features significantly in the tenets of Islamic beliefs. H. W. Stanton explains the decree of God,

The determinism of the Quran is summed up in the word qadar, i.e. measuring. The well-known word qismat is not used in this sense in the Quran, but its meaning is the same, viz., apportionment. Qadar expresses the divine act or decree which determines the apportionment of the lot of all things, animate or inanimate, and all events in life as well as its limits…Allah do all beings in the heavens and in the earth adore, whether they will or no” (S13: 6). Had He pleased there would have been no idolatry. “Allah is the Creator of everything; He is the One, the Dominant (S13:17)./3/

Islam’s emphasis on the absolute and unconditioned power of God gives rise to the corollary doctrine of shirk. In the Quran shirk describes the sin of associating Allah with other deities (S25:3). The punishment for these idolaters will be judgment (S28: 62-74).

Even when a person commits the sin of shirk it is the consequence of determinism by Allah. If Allah willed, all men would be believers (S6:107; 10: 99f), and all men would be ‘one’, but He leads astray or guides aright as He wills (S16:95). The debate between God’s sovereignty and human free-will rages in Christianity, but for Islam Allah’s action is not conditioned in any way by man. In contrast to James 2:13 which says no one when tempted may blame God, the Quran unapologetically declares that Allah does as he pleases. There are verses that say that Allah leads astray only evil doers (S2: 24, 14:32). S 6:39 – God leaves whoever He will to stray, and sets whoever He will on a straight path (S6:39, cf. 7: 154, 17:77; 14:4; 16:39) and there is no guidance for those whom Allah misleads (S4:90, 142; 7:185; 13:35). Indeed, Allah is the creator of man’s thoughts, intentions and acts, whether good or evil. At best, a man can only ‘appropriate’ (iktisab) what God has created for him. Even then this ‘appropriation’ is not an act of free will, but an inescapable compliance to Allah’s decree. Allah even “drives the sinners to Hell, like thirsty cattle driven down to water” (S19:86ff).

Finally, such sin cannot affect Allah. It is not appropriate to depict human sin grieving Allah who transcends all creation. Naturally, such unqualified transcendence explains why Muslims cannot accept the Christian testimony to being drawn into a personal relationship with the Savior God through the grace manifested through Jesus Christ. Much less can the Muslim comprehend the suggestion that Allah’s wounded love calls forth a self-sacrifice to save mankind.

On the other hand, the Christian insists that it is precisely because God initiates his love to undeserving man that it is appropriate for believers to go beyond submission to God and to loving God. Indeed, as the Epistle of John says, “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The contrast between the Christian God and Allah of Islam is most telling in the traditional list of the names of Allah. The word Allahu Muhibba or “God is love” is not found among the 99 names of God given in Islam. There is however, the name Al-Wadud or “the Loving One,” which is found in Surah 11:90 as well as Surah 85:14 though it should be noted that the common translation for the word is “full of loving kindness.”

To be fair, modern Islamic theologians attempt to soften the traditional austere image of the absolutely transcendent God who provides little consolation to the believing longing for His care and love. Fazlur Rahman links both the Lordship of God and the Giver of Mercy (S2:255; S59:22-24; Q27:60-64). Thus Fazlur Rahman comments,

 

While these passages emphasize God’s lordship and power, they equally underline His infinite mercy. As these five verses make clear, God’s lordship is expressed through His creation; His sustenance and provision of that creation, particularly and centrally of man; and, finally, through re-creation in new forms. His creation of nature and man and of nature for man is the most primordial mercy of God. His power, creation, and mercy are, therefore, not only fully co-extensive but fully interpenetrating and fully identical: “He has imposed the law of mercy upon Himself” (6:12), and “My mercy comprehends all” (7:156). His very infinitude implies not a one-sided transcendence but equally His being “with” His creation; note that He is nearer to man than is man’s jugular vein (50:16). Whenever a person commits a lapse and then sincerely regrets it and “seeks God’s pardon,” God quickly returns to him – indeed, among His often-mentioned attributes besides the “Merciful” and the “Compassionate” are the “Returner” (as the opposite of “forsaker”: S2:37, 54, 160, 128, 5:39, 71; 9:117, 118; 20:122, etc) and the “Forgiver” (S40.3; 2:173, 182, 192, 199, 218, 225, 226, 235; and about 116 other occurrences), which are almost invariably followed by “Compassionate.” For those who genuinely repent, God transmutes their very lapses into goodness (S25:70)./4/

 

It seems that at this point modern Islamic theologians like Fazlur Rahman are trading on the semantic ambiguity of ‘love’. It may be noted that mercy and compassion are benevolent attitudes that Allah, the superior, extends to suffering man, especially when the latter is in a position of dire need. But, in no way does Allah allow Himself to be (even potentially) affected by His creature. In this regard, the final relational category (if the word relational is applicable to Allah) remains one of unconditioned power. The use of words like ‘mercy’, ‘compassion’ must be qualified as a figure of speech used to describe Allah’s benevolent attitude towards man and are not descriptive of the inherent nature of Allah.

In contrast, the Biblical God condescends to the level of making Himself vulnerable to rejection by man. When Christians talk about the love of God found in Christ they are merely elucidating the profound insight into the pathos of God so poignantly captured by the Old Testament prophets. Abraham Heschel notes that in contrast to the god of the Greek philosophers who thinks but does not speak and is conscious of himself but oblivious to the world, the biblical God is deeply involved with His people, “Pathos denotes, not an idea of goodness, but a loving care…a dynamic relation between God and man…no mere contemplative survey of the world but a passionate summons.” Herschel adds,

The theology of pathos brings about a shift in the understanding of man’s ultimate problems. The prophet does not see the human situation in and by itself. The predicament of man is a predicament of God who has a stake in the human situation. Sin, guilt, suffering, cannot be separated from the divine situation. The life of sin is more than a failure of man; it is a frustration of God. Thus man’s alienation from God is not the ultimate fact by which to measure man’s situation. The divine pathos, the fact of God’s participation in the predicament of man, is the elemental fact./6/

The idea of divine pathos has also anthropological significance. It is man’s being relevant to God. To the biblical mind the denial of man’s relevance to God is inconceivable as the denial of God’s relevance to man. This principle leads to the basic affirmation of God’s participation in human history, to the certainty that the events in the world concern Him and arouse His reaction. It finds its deepest expression in the fact that God can actually suffer. At the heart of the prophetic affirmation is the certainty that God is concerned about the world./7/

 

However, these words should be taken with a measure of caution so that we do not pose a dichotomy between the transcendence and pathos of God. After all, Hershel himself qualified the pathos of God by saying that pathos describes the relationship of God and not His essence. But there is no doubt that traditional Islamic theology places exceeding emphasis on the transcendence of God that precludes talk about the pathos, much less the love of God.

 

Disturbing Concerns and Unsettled Questions
It should be noted that human language is stretched to the limits when one talks about the pathos or love of God. The fragility and limitation of language is easily exploited by avant-garde theologians ready to recast doctrine to suit the dominant “Spirit of the Age” (zeitgeist). As a defensive posture, traditional Islamic theologians consistently go far to insist that all language that ‘refers’ to God be qualified so as to avoid any association (shirk) between Allah and creation. However, some quarters allow for the doctrine of Al-Mukhalafah, which is the idea that terms derived from human meanings may be applied to God ‘with a difference’. Kenneth Cragg explains,

Classical Muslim theology developed a form of compromise solution in effect inclining to the negative answer. There developed the idea of Al-Mukhalafah, “The Difference.” Terms taken from human meanings – and there are of course no others – were said to be used of God with a difference. They did not convey the human connotation but were used in those senses feasible of God. When the further question was pressed: What then do they convey as applied to God? No precise answer was capable of being formulated. Islam here falls back upon a final agnosticism. Terms must be used if there is to be religion at all. But only God knows what they signify. Muslim theology coined the related phrases Bila kaif and Bila Tashbih. We use these names “without knowing how” they apply and without implying any human similarity./8/

 

Nevertheless, the concession assumes that only God can specify wherein lies the difference. But would not such a move reduce religious (Islamic) discourse to reverent agnosticism, if not empty talk? In this regard, despite claims of divine revelation, the Muslim knowledge of God amounts to an awareness of the Unknown who remains inscrutable and inaccessible to knowledge. If the non-Muslim expresses puzzlement about the theological difference between language and the transcendent One, the Muslim assures him that it is enough and proper for God’s creature to accept his limitation. Only God knows.

The difference between Christianity and Islam’s idea of God and revelation becomes all too clear. For Islam not only is God hidden with a sense of mystery. Christianity disagrees with Islam and allows for positive statements about the revelation of God without compromising God’s transcendence. In this regard, Christians are mindful of the cautions given in Deuteronomy 29:29 or Isaiah 55. The mysteriousness of a God robed in unapproachable light is, after all, also familiar to the prophets of the Old Testament. But, Kenneth Cragg cautions that one must not confuse transcendence with transcendental isolation. He warns that a purely negative theology may emphasize the surpassing mystery rather than annul the reality of revelation in the theatre of creation. “To find only enigma in God is to find only jest in the universe. Revelation becomes a sorry joke if its claims are no more than a tantalising stance, an ‘as-if’ which derides us when it most enjoins. ‘We have not created the heaven and the earth and all they hold together as if We jested’ (S21:16, 44:37). We must not equate the fragility of language with the futility of faith.”/9/ This misunderstanding leads one down the slippery slide of post-modern linguistic nihilism and deconstruction.

It is natural that Islam concludes that man cannot plumb the personality of God (even with the aid of divine revelation). It suffices that God’s will is made known and that His revelation is inscribed in a revealed book, the Quran. Islamic transcendence of God precludes any possibility of personal revelation epitomized by the Christian belief that “God was in Christ.” But the Christian asks, “Does not an all transcending God isolated from his creation render Him irrelevant to creation?” Indeed, one may argue that any theology bereft of a genuine anchor in creation becomes an abstraction./10/ Conversely, an unmitigated transcendence would rob creation of its integrity. The meaning of a created world that is continually dependent on the sustenance of God is undermined. The words used to describe God’s mercy, compassion and revelation towards mankind would be robbed of their personal and moral significance. In other words, if nothing can be related to God then the unity of all things under God becomes problematic.

To overcome this formidable predicament, Kenneth Cragg suggests that shirk should not be understood as ‘association’. It should be translated as ‘idolatry’ – the act to deify earthly realities or to rank creation alongside the Creator. To insist on absolute dissociation of the divine and the human would also preclude prophethood and thus the very office of prophet Muhammad. Some Muslims, to be sure, insist on the total passivity of prophet Muhammad as the bearer of Quranic revelation. But this is to ignore history, even the early biographies of Muhammad (Sirat rasul ‘Allah) who portrayed Muhammad as one struggling for a sense of certitude in proclaiming his message and subsequently became a forceful activist. Was Muhammad not admired precisely because of his creative leadership in the midst of conflicting contests of the poets? Were not his military victories evidence of his strategic genius? Such abilities to be sure, presume the full engagement of his critical faculties, however enhanced they might have been in his mystical experiences.

The Christian argument is that when Islam accepts prophets as bearers of divine revelation, it has accepted that divine transcendence is not merely divine isolation. Divine participation in the contingencies of creation is inevitable regardless of whether Islam acknowledges it or not. In this regard, the veto of shirk is unjustifiable. To the extent that participation need not compromise divine transcendence, we have an opening to the possibility of the Incarnation.

Regardless of these strictures, Islamic theologians remain insistent that as creatures we can never ever know the personality of God. For Christianity, God has revealed His personality through the Incarnation; for Islam, revelation ended in a book detailing the will of God rather than the personality of God.

We arrive at the question concerning which attribute of God is pre-eminent in His dealings with man. Is the final word on God ‘power’ or ‘love’? If God is transcendent in the sense of being above relationships then power is the obvious answer. God is then to be admired, honored and worshipped but only from a distance. But if God’s nature allows for the possibility of relationship, then the attribute of love becomes primary. In any case, it is misleading for the Christian to pit these two categories against one another. It is precisely because God is Almighty that He has the capacity and willingness to reach out to His creatures. He is not just the God who sends warnings and exhortations [through the prophets]. He is also the God who comes [in Jesus Christ]. Gregory of Nyssa has given us a beautiful resolution to the problem between power and love.

 

That the omnipotence of God’s nature should have had the strength to descend to the lowliness of humanity furnishes a more manifest proof of power. . . It is not the vastness of the heavens. . . and the unbroken administration over all existence, that so manifestly displays the transcendent power of God as the condescension to the weakness of our nature, in the way the sublimity is seen in the lowliness and yet the loftiness descends not./13/

 

These considerations lead to the Christian doctrine of Trinity, an ingenious (more properly, revealed) insight into how God is transcendent (immanent Trinity) and yet works out His purposes in human history (economic Trinity). Obviously, this insight is not acceptable from the perspective of Islamic transcendence – if God does not care to be involved in human history in a manner that is significant to Him, there will be no possibility of the Incarnation. Not surprisingly, the rejection of the Trinity has been a battle cry among Islamic theologians.

 

Muhammad’s Misconception of the Trinity
Islam’s rejection of the Trinity arose from two sources. Historically it began with Muhammad’s misconception of the Christian teaching of the Trinity. Later, when Islam spread beyond Arabia and its Semitic ethos (where God is depicted in concrete imageries in His dealings with human history), Islamic philosophers followed the Greeks in taking flight from history and concluded that Allah cannot be involved, or rather be contaminated through His involvement in history. That is to say, the logic of the absolute transcendent God of Islam found a suitable intellectual apparatus to rationalize its decisive rejection of the possibility of the Trinity and the Incarnation of God in Christ.

Historical Sources of Misunderstanding
The rejection of the Trinity flows logically from the concept of Islamic Tawhid (Oneness of God). First, Muhammad emphasized that God is self-subsisting, and sufficient.
S5:75 They do blaspheme who say: “Allah is Christ the son of Mary.” But said Christ: “O children of Israel! Worship Allah my Lord and your Lord.” Whoever joins other gods with Allah Allah will forbid him the garden and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help.
S5:76. They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy) verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them.

Obviously this God cannot have partners or offspring.
S23:91-92 – No son did Allah beget nor is there any god along with Him: (if there were many gods) behold each god would have taken away what he had created and some would have lorded it over others! Glory to Allah (He is free) from the (sort of) things they attribute to Him! He knows what is hidden and what is open: too high is He for the partners they attribute to Him!
S19:35 – It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter He only says to it “Be” and it is.

It appears that Muhammad erroneously equated the Christian Trinity with the teaching of surrounding pagan polytheism and wrongly believed that the idea of sonship suggests God has a partner (c.f. S4:171-172 and S19:35: wherein the gods engaged in sexual union and reproduction). This is a far cry from what Christianity actually teaches about the Trinity and the eternal Sonship of Christ.

Second, Muhammad rebuked Christians for describing God as a threesome, “And say not ‘three’” (S4.171),
S 4:171. O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His apostles. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah. Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs.
S 4:172. Christ disdaineth nor to serve and worship Allah, nor do the angels, those nearest (to Allah.: those who disdain His worship and are arrogant,-He will gather them all together unto Himself to (answer).

It should be pointed out that Muslim commentators such as Yusuf Ali, try to hide this Quranic misunderstanding by translating the word thalauthah as ‘Trinity’, when in the nineteen occurrences of the word elsewhere in the Quran, it simply means the number three. In contrast, A. J. Arberry keeps the proper meaning, “They are unbelievers who say ‘God is the Third of Three’. No god is there but the One God” S5:76 (A. J. Arberry)./14/

Classical Islam was less defensive. For example, the famous commentator, Zamakhshari suggests that the word thalaathah in Surah 4:171 confirms that the Quran was attacking tritheism.

 

According to the evidence of the Quran, the Christians maintain that God, Christ, and Mary are three gods, and that Christ is the child of God by Mary, as God says (in the Quran): ‘O Jesus son of Mary, didst thou say unto men: “Take me and my mother as gods, apart from God”?’ ( 5:116), or: ‘The Christians say: “The Messiah is the Son of God”‘ (S9:30)./15/

 

It should be intriguing to speculate how Muhammad came upon the idea that Mary was believed to be one of the three persons the Christians held to be divine. Most probably what gave rise to this idea was the veneration given to Mary by heretical sects around Arabia at that time. Hence, Muhammad strongly rebuked these sects.
They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. Why turn they not to Allah, and seek His forgiveness? For Allah is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful. Christ the son of Mary was no more than an apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make His signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! Say: “Will ye worship, besides Allah, something which hath no power either to harm or benefit you? But Allah,- He it is that heareth and knoweth all things.” (S5: 73-76).

These verses teach that Christ the son of Mary is not God but only a prophet: God is not one of three. Thomas Hughes elaborates on the expression “they both ate food”:

[H]istorians tell us that there existed in Arabia a sect called Collyridians, who considered the Virgin Mary a divine person, and offered in worship to her a cake called Collyris ; it is, therefore, not improbable that Muhammad obtained his perverted notion of the Holy Trinity from the existence of this sect. From the expression “they both ate food,” we must conclude that Muhammad had but a sensuous idea of the Trinity in Unity, and had never been instructed in the orthodox faith with reference to this dogma./16/

 

In summary, Muhammad completely misconstrued the Christian Trinity in concluding that Christians are either advocating three gods, or that the Trinity consists of God, Mary and Jesus – Surah 5:116: And behold! Allah will say “O Jesus the son of Mary! didst thou say unto men ‘Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’?”

Theological Consequences
Regardless how the misunderstanding of the Trinity arose from the contingencies of history, it is important to keep in mind the underlying theological presuppositions that continue to (mis)inform Muslims concern the Trinity. Such a misunderstanding remains very much alive today as we often come across Muslim apologists who rehash old arguments framed by early polemics against Christianity.

First, Muslim theologians assert that it is inappropriate, if not blasphemous, to apply human concepts like ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ to God. After all, these words imply the idea of physical procreation that contradicts the sublime spirituality of transcendent monotheism./17/ In response, the Christian assures the Muslim that these terms are only used analogically, a literary form that is also used in the Quran.

Second, Muslim theologians argue that the Trinity suggests a God who is a compounded being that is divisible. God becomes a three-some, if not polytheistic. The Christian notes that this objection rests on a faulty analogy taken from the physical realm. At the human level we reason from an abstract unity concept like ‘Man’ is a species/genus and observe it can comprise three particular members such as Abdul, Ahmad and Anwar. Applying the same reasoning, the Muslim concludes the term ‘Trinity’ as a genus includes three gods.

The Christian responds by noting that divisibility applies only to physical entities and the objection fails since God is spiritual. God is not a generalization from empirical observations in the way ‘Man’ is a generalization of many human individuals, an intellectual construct. The genus ‘Man’ as a relative category with limitations of physical existence should not be applied to an absolute being like the Triune God. But it is the suggestion that there can be inner differentiations or modes of Being relating to one another within the Truine God that Islam rejects. Islam is contented merely to assert the oneness of God without any relationship.

But how could a bare unrelated Being and undifferentiated Being be the highest existing Being? The Christian contends that the Perfect Being would not be compromised by the quality of relatedness. Being perfect means possessing varied distinctions internally and being plenipotentiary rich suggests the ability to impart relative existence to subsidiary beings. How else is God the first cause and the ground of all beings? Kenneth Cragg makes a pertinent observation: In this regard,

 

[T]o elevate the Unity of God so as to be removed from experiential relevance would be religiously barren. “A bare unity, philosophically understood, is a barren one. . . . We cannot say that “God is Love” and also say that “God is solitary” or, in this solitary sense, that “God is One.” Entire transcendence is in the end a blank agnosticism.”/18/

 

Finally, internal differentiations (but not divisibility) point to a richer concept of unity. For example, a human being is more complex and differentiated than an octopus. By the same token he is a higher form of unity. The great Muslim theologian, Al-Ghazali himself perceived the possibility of conceiving distinctions within identity and acknowledged that plurality does not necessarily contradict unity. He offers the following analogy:

 

How can the many be one? Know that this is the goal of all revelations. And the secrets of this science should not be penned down in a book, for the people of knowledge said: `The unveiling of the secret of Lordship is blasphemy … The thing can be many in one sense, but also can be one in another sense. And so, as man is many in one sense if you look at his spirit and body and limbs and blood vessels and bones and members, but in another sense he is one man./19/

 

The Christian concludes, then, that the highest and richest Unity of all, the Divine, exists in the indivisible but real internal differentiation of three Consciousnesses. Hence the Trinity.

 

The Incarnation
It should be stressed that the Trinity is not a deduction of abstract analysis that is irrelevant to religious devotion and spiritual vitality. On the contrary, the doctrine of Trinity actually arises from the Christian experience of God’s personal revelation and salvific acts in human history. That is to say, the Trinity is the correlate of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Islamic theologians vaguely sense the vital connection between the Trinity and the Incarnation and offer a list of objections.

Objection 1: “The Word became flesh” suggests that God is transmuted into physical flesh, that is to say, the eternal became saddled with the world of contingency.
Response: A key passage which will aside this objection can be found in the passage in Philippians 2:5-11. In particular, verse 7 describes the Incarnation as the process whereby God in Christ “made Himself nothing” (emptying) and “taking the form of a servant.” It should be noted that the participles “made himself nothing” and “taking” suggest the act of “making Himself nothing” is simultaneous with the “taking”./20/ In other words, “made Himself nothing” means adding humanity to deity rather than subtracting deity from the person Christ. As such, the Incarnation is not a dilution of God’s divine power, nor a transmutation of God into flesh. The more accurate understanding of the Incarnation is that it is not the case that God was transformed into flesh, but that God took on human nature for His earthly existence as Jesus Christ. Theologically, in the Incarnation, the God assumed flesh and veiled His divine glory in His earthly existence.

Objection 2: The Incarnation imposes the limitations of space-time on to God and thus dilutes his deity.
Response: Admittedly, if the Incarnation is a transformation (an exchange between deity to humanity) than it would amount to a dilution of God. But in reality the doctrine of the Incarnation affirms that God remains both God and man in Jesus Christ. As the Chalcedonian Creed declares, Christ is both God and man at the same time. The implication of this statement is that God remains omnipresent and omnipotent throughout the universe, while presenting Himself in a particular locality of the Universe. Surely there is no logical impediment to the ability of the omnipresent and omnipresent God sustaining the Universe while giving special attention to a local region of the universe? The objection of dilution of the deity cannot be upheld.

Objection 3: The Incarnation is conceptually incoherent.
Response: It is a sign of intellectual decline among the Islamic intelligentsia that Muslim theologians today hardly exploit the sophisticated polemics against the Incarnation based on classical Islamic (Aristotelian) philosophical categories in medieval times. But there are signs of rediscovery of this heritage with recent republication of classical critiques of the Trinity and Incarnation. One popular rehash of this polemical tradition is Al-Ghazali’s Criticism of Christians’ Theological Doctrines (Al-Radd Al-Jamil)./23/

The author displays firsthand knowledge of the Gospels although he read them strictly within his Islamic terms of reference. I shall only focus on Al-Ghazali’s objection to the Incarnation as a failed attempt to explain the two natures of Christ. Al-Ghazali first critiqued the Jacobites’/24/ position as it results in a third being that is a composition of both the divine and human natures. In turn, this composition presupposes not only the prior existence and the complementary qualities of the two components. By definition, each part cannot be perfect. That is to say, there is human nature distinct from divine nature. As such, Al-Ghazali asserts that if God could be united with the human nature this would mean that God was not perfect before the union. If that be the case, the Christian Incarnation suggests that God needs the human nature to realize fully His own existence. Al-Ghazali refuted the Melkites for relying on an abstract human nature which Christ supposedly assumed as no more than a figment of human imagination.

More importantly, regardless of the teaching of both Jacobites and Melkites as to whether the Messiah’s supposed two natures were mixed or separate, Al-Ghazali found their teaching of the crucifixion of the Messiah to be self-refuting. The contradiction of their position can easily be demonstrated by a simple syllogism:

  • The Messiah was crucified;
    Nothing that was ever crucified is God.
    Therefore, nothing of the Messiah is God.

Finally, Al-Ghazzali addressed the Nestorians asking how they understood the oneness of wills in Christ. He argued that if the Nestorians referred the will to the “Five Judgments” – that is, what is obligatory, what is forbidden, what is approved, what is disapproved, and what is permissible – then it should not be uniquely applied to Christ since the same oneness of wills could be applied to all the prophets and to saints who do not have the status of prophets. For full measure, Al-Ghazali further retorted and noted that one may doubt about this ‘oneness of wills’ since Christ’s will differed from God’s will as is evident when Christ asked that the cup to be passed at Gethsemane.

In summary, Al-Ghazali found all three major Christian theological traditions wanting and proceeded to offer his own Islamic understanding of the Incarnation as the Indwelling (hulul) of the Divine in Christ. Al-Ghazali was prepared to grant the term Son of God only a metaphorical meaning. For him, the unity between Jesus and God arises not because God dwells in the body of Christ since such a concession would require the same indwelling of God in the bodies of the disciples who were one with Christ. For Al-Ghazali, the unity refers to a moral union – Christ perfectly conformed to the will of God.

 

Denial of the Cross
Objection: If there is no Incarnation, there is no divine atonement at the cross. The loci classicus is found in Surah 4. It begins with a list of the many sins of the Jews: they worshipped the calf (S4:153); they broke the covenant made at Sinai; disbelieved the revelations of God; killed his prophets (S4:155); and spoke against the Virgin Mary – ‘a tremendous calumny’ (S4:156). The passage continues:
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah.;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;- And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them;(S4:157-159).

The majority of Islamic theologians say this passage refers to God substituting Jesus with someone who looked like Him on the cross. The real Jesus was raised up to heaven. This teaching suggests that Muhammad was influenced by Gnostic sects in the Arabian Peninsula.

It is more important to understand the presuppositions underlying the Quranic rejection of the crucifixion – i.e., allowing the Messiah to be crucified suggests that God not only allowed failure to beset His divine mission. But worse still, God abandoned His prophet who ended up executed. But surely this is unbefitting of the divine Lord since even earthly kings do their utmost to protect their ambassadors.

The Christian needs to help the Muslim appreciate the deeper logic of salvation. First, God may not have prevented the crucifixion, but He did vindicate Christ by raising Him from the dead and glorifying Him in heaven. God allowed the crucifixion in order to deal with the problem of sin – sin according to the Bible being rebellion and not just forgetfulness as taught in Islam. As such, forgiveness cannot be simply set aside by a decree (that would be indulgence rather than forgiveness). In effect, forgiveness without punishment undermines the integrity of divine law that governs the cosmos. The necessity of atonement that was foreshadowed in the Old Testament sacrificial system explains when Jesus died on the cross.

 

II. An Adequate Revelation that Creates Responsible Relationships
It is imperative that Christians not only answer Islamic objections but offer positive arguments to defend the Christian concept of revelation. To begin with, the Christian argues that divine revelation must be personal. It is granted that religious faith expresses a willing submission to the will of God. But divine exhortation must go beyond an abstract list of duties and restrictions. A list of do’s and don’ts will lead to despair on the part of the believer who is weighed down by a sense of moral inability (sin). Despair arises because when command does not grant the power to obey, it can only result in condemnation for both sins of omission and sins of commission. Rebellion results because abstract commands are seen as restrictions to one’s freedom imposed by an unsympathetic external power.

Therefore, the demand for a righteous life requires that divine commands be exemplified by personal role model(s). The Christian insight into moral psychology is that character formation and moral action is best nurtured in the context of relationships; as such, the goal of revelation is not abstract moral knowledge but alleviation of moral inability concomitant with the restoration of relationship through a personal revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

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Excursus: Helpful insights from Speech Act philosophy
I also want to argue that the concept of revelation of divine commands as a list of dos and don’ts alone sees language as primarily a carrier of information. However, this view of language is inadequate especially given the insights of speech-act theory which was pioneered by J. L. Austin. For Austin, language is multi-dimensional. Language includes ‘locution’ or the act of saying (what is said), ‘Illocutionary’ or the purpose of the utterance (why it is said) and ‘perlocutionary’ or the results of the speech act (effects and outcome). In other words, speech is a form of action. Brummer notes that in speaking we go beyond proposing a picture of reality (expressives). We also express convictions and attitudes (constatives), we express convictions and attitudes (expressives), we commit ourselves before our bearers to some specific future act(s) (commisives) and we finally accept an obligation before our hearer(s)./25/

Believers who restrict revelation to a holy book operate with a view of language that postulates a duality which separates the speaker from reality and from the persons he wishes to communicate with. In contrast speech-act theory emphasizes that when a person uses language he projects himself into reality with the intention to change it. Speech also creates a relationship between the speaker and the hearer. There is therefore no dichotomy between language (thought) and action (reality and relationship). Speech then is more than a cognitive intent; it involves the whole person. Jerry Gill emphasizes that the speaker gives his personal backing to his speech. “Thus truth is a function of personal commitment. There is a sense in which every statement must necessarily participate in both the factual and valuational dimensions simultaneously. Technically speaking, each statement should be prefaced by the phrase, “I say,” thereby indicating the speaker’s responsibility for making it.”/26/

The purpose of communication is certainly more that just to convey information; it is to establish a relationship between the speaker and the hearer. In the light of recently gained philosophical insights into the nature of language we see the cogency of the Christian understanding of revelation which makes the chief purpose of divine revelation as aimed at establishing fellowship and eliciting a human response in the form of worship of a personal God.

We cannot simply expect to read off God’s personal intention statements from a book filled with statements in abstraction. Revelation creates an ontic relationship which places the recipient into a concrete relationship with God. Revelation creates a dialogical relationship through God’s word. Human beings are affirmed in a dialogical relationship. Ray Anderson writes, “In concrete social situations, only relationships which have the character of placing person into the truth of relation with God are considered normative, and is the standard by which all other concepts of personality are measured.”/27/ The Christian then sees a person as affirmed in the context of community. A person is only totally a person in community. The Christian rejects any atomistic concept of persons which isolates him from a larger community. Revelation is appropriated in the context of involvement, response, integration, that is to say, in the context of relationship.
————————–

We are again forced back to the issue regarding the fundamental nature of God’s revelation. Here Kenneth Cragg reiterates that God is by nature revealing and given His righteousness and mercy, His revelation also redeems,

 

This revelation is finally personal and consummates all its words into a Word that lives and moves and has its being in our ken. But further, this revelation – if it is of a living God – intends fellowship. God will not simply tell us what, but show us Who He is. Revelation bringing God to us and us to God in knowledge means communion. The end of the law is obedience; the end of education, understanding; the end of revelation, knowledge. God is not an idea; nor can He be obeyed, understood, or known merely as an idea. God as Muslims and Christians suppose Him, in their common if contrasted traditions, is a God Who seeks worship and intends fellowship. Revelation overcomes not merely darkness, but distance./28/

 

Many Muslims wonder if the centrality of the Cross has softened Christians to the point of being unable to transform society. Perhaps such a conclusion arises from an inappropriate criterion of judgment. Marshall Hodgson helpfully distinguished Christian and Islamic views in his magisterial work, The Venture of Islam.

 

For Christians, being based on revelation means being in response to redemptive love as it is confronted through the presence of a divine-human life and the sacramental fellowship of which that is the source. For Muslims, being based on revelation means being in response to the total moral challenge as it is confronted in an explicit divine message handed on through a loyal human community. The two senses of revelation not only contrast to one another: they exclude one another categorically./29/

 

Herein lies the parting of ways between Islam and Christianity. Islam rejects the message of the cross since divine self-humiliation at the cross undermines the weightiness of truth and undermines confidence in the efficacy of God’s law to regulate social life. For Islam God’s truth without fail confirms itself and will triumph over untruth and godless powers. In operational terms, Islamic revelation offers a blueprint of God’s perfect and perfectible society. What is revealed is achievable and therefore to be followed through. The present deficiencies of society must not be excused by appealing to eventual eschatological fulfillment resulting from direct divine intervention. There is no break/gap between the history of God’s action and the history of the Islamic enterprise.

Kenneth Cragg elaborates on Ibn Khaldun’s concept of ‘asabiyyah or group solidarity: “God sent no prophet except that he should be obeyed” (S4:64). This obedience goes beyond mental assent or even ethical discipleship. It is, rather, a reciprocal bond of prestige and protection that exists between the leader and his adherents. The outcome is an organized community to protect their interest. Khaldun concluded that Christianity is therefore not a ‘missionary religion’ precisely because it has no Jihad. Religion in this regard “must enjoy the benefit of power as proof both of its own sincerity and of its competence to be effectively sincere. Verbal propagation is not only incomplete: it compromises, if not corroborated by the power-form of group solidarity politically operative.”/30/ Truth is confirmed by the power and deliverance of His people from injustice, or shall we say, conquest by the Ummah? The historical success of the Muslim community confirms the veracity of the authority of Muhammad as the seal or final prophet.

But is Islam justified in having this confidence? Has history not time and again proven itself not amenable to human ventures, and that includes the Islamic community itself? One calls to mind G. K. Chesterton’s dictum that the one empirically verifiable doctrine is the doctrine of original sin. In contrast, Islam views human sin not so much as rebellion but as forgetfulness. Human beings, in its view, are born pure (fitrah). All that is needed for the transformation of the human heart is to heed the call to remember the laws of God. All that is required for attaining a righteous society is education and legislation of morality and religion.

Islam takes pride in its possession of an allegedly final revelation that serves as a blueprint for perfectable man and perfect society. Its outworking ought to be evident, if not compelling for all to behold. Unfortunately, history does not seem to comply with Islamic expectations. Granted, that Muslims may point to Islam’s early conquests as confirmation of the truth and power of Islamic revelation when Islam was the global superpower that reigned supreme from Spain to Iran. However, as with the way of all human flesh and empires, stagnation and decline eventually crept. Indeed, the last 200 years witnessed the fragmentation and demise of Islamic political power, epitomized by the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire by Western powers.

Contemporary Muslims are beset by an embarrassing historical incongruity. The perfect revealed book ought to nurture a perfect society if not a dominant society. But the reality is that its adherents continue to suffer political humiliation under the hands of ‘godless’ Westerners. It would seem that the more Muslims up their rhetoric of the supreme truth of the Quran based on its alleged efficacy, the more obvious the discordance between Islamic rhetoric and the realities of history.

How then is Christian love to engage with Islamic political power? One calls to mind the Song of Mary (Luke 2: 46-55), the reversal of social values, power and hierarchy epitomized by the Incarnation and the Cross. In the end, only eschatology can settle the issue. But until then, the Christian can only plead with Muslims to take a hard and honest look at history. The way to Hell is indeed paved with self-righteous intentions. Is it not the case that history has become the slaughter bench arising from mindless exercise of power? Did not King Louis XIV described cannons as the ‘ultimate argument of kings’? Should we not be profoundly disturbed by the endless cycles of violence, revenge and counter-revenge in inter-ethnic conflicts between Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians? The Christian’s humble but persistent message is that only the embrace of love can break this mindless cycle of violence.

Ultimately, the difference between Islam and Christianity is that the former views the relationship between God and man within the field of power. The Divine-human encounter becomes a contest of strength where human submission is a matter of expediency in the face of sheer dominant power. In contrast, Christianity views the relationship as one that is moral: God, despite his sovereignty, treats human beings as persons with inherent dignity (since they are created in His image). God seeks allegiance from man based not on expediency but as a grateful response to a God who passionately cares for his welfare (c.f., pathos in Abraham Heschel’s work). Man may fail to perceive the depths of divine pathos. Without a personal revelation from God, man can only be dimly aware of divine pathos in pale and fragmented forms, described as divine sorrow, pity, wrath, and compassion because of his psychological limitations, although divine pathos must be perfect and complete within the divine Trinity. However, these partial perceptions of divine pathos are fully revealed and experienced as divine love when manifested at the cross. Hence the glorious declaration in 2 Corinthians 5:19 – in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself.

 

ENDNOTES

1. Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Quran elaborates: “The nature of Allah is here indicated to us in a few words, such as we can understand. The qualities of Allah are described in numerous places elsewhere, e.g., in 59: 22-24, 62:1, and 2:255.  Here we are specially taught to avoid the pitfalls into which men and nations have fallen at various times in trying to understand Allah.  The first thing we have to note is that His nature is so sublime, so far beyond our limited conceptions, that the best way in which we can realise Him is to feel that He is a Personality, “He,” and not a mere abstract conception of philosophy.  He is near us; He cares for us; we owe our existence to Him. Secondly, He is the One and Only God, the Only One to Whom worship is due; all other things or beings that we can think of are His creatures and in no way comparable to Him. Thirdly, He is Eternal, without beginning or end, Absolute, not limited by time or place or circumstance, the Reality before which all other things or places are mere shadows or reflections. Fourthly, we must not think of Him as having a son or a father, for that would be to import animal qualities into our conception of Him.  Fifthly, He is not like any other person or thing that we know or can imagine:  His qualities and nature are unique.” Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Quran (Islamic Book Trust 2005), p. 1429.

2. In my view, the existence of Islamic mystical movements does not invalidate the preeminence of the teaching of the absolute transcendence of God in Islam.  See Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (University North Carolina  Press 1978) and William Chittick’s two books, The Sufi Path of Love (SUNY 1983) and The Sufi Path of Knowledge (SUNY 1989). Indeed, prominent mystical theologians of Islam influenced  Ibn Al-Arabi represented by Hamzah Fansuri in South-East Asia who taught the Unity of  Being (Wahdat al-Wujud) have been accused of promulgating pantheism.  See John Bousfield, “Islamic Philosophy in South –East Asia,” found in M. B. Hooker ed., Islam in South-East Asia (E. J. Brill 1983), pp.92-129; Syed Muhammad Naguib Al-Attas, The Mysticism of Hamzah Fansuri (University of Malaya Press 1970) and Mohammad Bukhari Lubis, The Ocean of Unity, Wahdat al-Wujud in Persian, Turkish and Malay Poetry, (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka1993).

3. H.U. Weitbrecht Stanton, The Teaching of the Quran (MacMillan 1919), pp. 54-55.

4.  Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Quran (Islamic Book Trust 1999) p. 6.

5.  Abraham Heschel elaborates, “It is not a passion, an unreasoned emotion, but an act formed with intention, rooted in decision and determination…its essential meaning is not to be seen in its psychological denotation, as standing for a state of the soul, but in its theological connotation, signifying God as involved in history, as intimately affected by events in history, as living care.” The Prophets vol. 2 (Harper 1975) p. 11.

6.  Heschel ibid., p. 6.

7.  Heschel, ibid., p. 39.

8.  Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret (Oxford UP 1956), p. 55.

9.  Kenneth Cragg, Jesus and the Muslim (Allen & Unwin 1985), p. 200.

10.  Thomas Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology (IVP 1982), p. 25.

11.   For a Christian contrast, see Hendrikus Berkhof who provided an instructive contrast when he admirably described the plurality and unity of creation. “The createdness of the world implies the fundamental unity of the world. More basic than the diversity of nations, races and cultures, is their unity. And more basic than the difference in matter of spirit, body and soul, nature and existence, is their oneness. . . creation means that all phenomena are irreducible, because the world has its ground outside itself in its creator. Everything forms a unity, but within it everything also has its own place and character.” C.f. Berkhof, Christian Faith 2nd ed., (Eerdmans 1986), p. 167.

12.  Kenneth Cragg, Muhammad and the Christian (Orbis 1984),  p.111.

13.  Kenneth Cragg, Jesus and the Muslim, p. 207.

14.  Arthur John Arberry, The Koran Interpreted (OUP 1964).

15.  Helmut Gatje, The Quran and its Exegesis (Routledge 1971),p. 126.

16.  T. P. Hughes, Notes on Muhammadanism (Allen 1877), p.265.

17.  Ismail Faruqi writes, “Islam charged Christianity with extending the nontranscendent concept of God’s “fatherhood of the Jewish kings” to Jesus and giving it…the de-transcendentalizing ontological connotation of unity of substance between God and Jesus…Although Christians never ceased to claim that God is transcendent, they spoke of Him as a real man who walked on earth…When pinned down, every Christian will have to admit that his God is both transcendent and immanent. But his claim of transcendence is ipso facto devoid of grounds. To maintain the contrary, one has to give up the laws of logic.” See Ismail Faruqi, Al Tawhid: Its implications for Thought and Life (Herndon, Virginia: International Institute of Islamic Thought 1992), pp.20-23.

18.  Kenneth Cragg, Call of the Minaret p. 317.

19.  Ghazali, Ihya’ ‘Ulumed-Din, vol. 4, p. 263, quoted by M. Anderson, The Trinity (Pioneer Book 1994), pp. 32-33. The full English text of Ghazali’s classic work is available in four volumes, Ihya Ulum-ud-Din  4 vols. (Lahore: Kazi Publication, no date).

20.  See R. P. Martin, Martin, Philippians 2nd ed., (Word 2004), p. 118:  “μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, “by taking the form of a slave.” The expression ἑαυτὸν ἑκένωσεν “he poured himself out,” is now defined more precisely by the participial phrases that follow: “taking [λαβών] the form of a slave,” “being born [γενόμενος] in the likeness of human beings,” and “being recognized [εὑρεθείς] as a human.” These participles, although aorists, are nevertheless participles of simultaneous action (c.f. Blass Debrunner Funk §339[1]) and express the means by which the action of the verb ἐκένωσεν, “poured out,” was effected. Paradoxically, then, Christ’s self-giving was accomplished by taking, his self-emptying was achieved by becoming what he was not before, his kenosis not by subtracting from but by adding to, if some literal sense is intended.”

21.  On the other hand it should be noted that Christian theological scholarship on Islam did not make much progress in the last fifty years. The most comprehensive philosophical study that consciously compares Christianity and Islam with respect to their Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian heritage remains the four volume work by James W. Sweetman written from 1945-1967. See James W. Sweetman, Islam and Christian Theology, 4 vols. (Cambridge: James Clark 2002 reprint).

22.  See books by Abu ‘Isá al-Warraq,  Against the Trinity (Cambridge UP 1992) and Against the Incarnation (Cambridge UP 2002).  See also  ibn Tamiyyah, Al-Jawab Al-Sahih. A Muslim Theologian Response to Christianity (Caravan Books 1984).

23.  See English translation by Razali Nawawi,  Al Ghazali’s Criticism of Christians’ Theological Doctrines (Kuala Lumpur: Muslim Youth Movement(ABIM), 1983). For convenience, I shall refer to Al-Ghazali as the author, since there is considerable debates on whether Ghazali is the actual author. See “Al-Radd Al Jamil: Ghazali’s or Pseudo-Ghazali” by Maha El-Kaisy Friemuth in David Thomas ed. The Bible and Arab Christianity (E. J. Brill 2007), pp. 275-294. The philosophical critique by al-Warraq is more robust, but Ghazali’s book is more accessible and is more influential among popular Islamic polemists.

24.  The Melkites were the Byzantine Christians who supported the Chalcedonian Creed (AD 451) but the Jacobites opposed the creed.

25.  Vincent Brummer, Theology and Philosophical Inquiry (MacMillan 1981), pp. 10-12.

26.  Jerry Gill, The Possibility of Religious Knowledge (Eerdmans, 1971), p.115.

27.  Ray Anderson, Historical Transcendence and the Reality of God (Eerdmans 1975), p. 82.

28.  Kenneth Cragg, The Christ and The Faiths (SPCK), pp. 310-311.

29.  Marshall Hodgson, The Venture of Islam. vol. 1 The Classical Age of Islam (University Chicago 1977), p. 29.

30.  Kenneth Cragg, Muhammad and the Christian, p. 33.

31.  Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace (Abingdon Press 1966).

 

Part 2: Jesus Christ-eschatological [Final] Prophet And Incarnate Savior: A Christian Proposal To Muslims

3 Comments

  1. phil dehart says:

    Thank you, Dr. Kam Weng, for this excellent research on a topic that is foundational in our relating between the faiths.

    Looking forward to part 2!

    I’m tracking with your argument in the earlier part of the post more than the later. Would like to see more worked out on the distinctions that exist between Islam and Christianity in Theology Proper, the-one-and-the-many, and in covenant condescension generally. Of course there is not a single doctrine that is truly similar between the two religions but some seem to be areas of more foundational importance, whether structural or apologetic.

  2. TAN KIM SAI says:

    THANK YOU FOR YOUR EXCELLENT ARTICLE. BUT HOW TO MAKE IT ACCESSIBLE TO MUSLIM DIALOGUE PARTNERS? BLESSED IMMANUEL.

    REV. TAN, KS

  3. Paul Long says:

    Dr Ng

    Finally got down to reading this. Have to read again later though … in one sense easy reading, in another tough reading :-)
    Very helpful.
    Thanks!