Allah is an idol

These are thoughts that I’ve been sharing over at Between Two Worlds on a post called Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammed?

My answer?  Of course not.  Here are some points in no particular order:

1) Let’s let Allah define himself:

“He does not beget nor is he begotten.” (Sura 112)

The Quran defines the god of Islam explicitly as not the God of the Bible. Let’s respect Muslims enough to let them define who their god is. He is not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We honour their faith by speaking of Allah as another god – that is how Allah defines himself. From our perspective we cannot speak of Allah as anything other than an idol – anything else fails to take Muslim faith on its own terms.

2) Can anyone really imagine the prophets addressing the Edomites, Philistines etc saying ‘Yahweh is very much like Baal/Molech/Asherah’??! Never!

The question for the nations is not ‘Do you believe in God?’ But ‘What god do you believe in?’ Whether you’re evangelizing in north Africa or north America “God” cannot be assumed.  In fact “God” is the least obvious word in our evangelistic encounters.  How on earth do we get to a position where people make it the point of commonality!

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At this point a commenter replied that the ‘Baal’ analogies do not work because Allah is thought to be ‘the transcendent Creator’ and not simply a power within the world.  He claimed that a Muslim convert would have to repent of many beliefs but not his belief in ‘God as infinite transcendent Creator.’

To this I replied… 

3) We don’t say “Baal is called ‘Lord’ and receives worship therefore no convert from Baalism needs to repent of their notions of Lorship or worship.”  Of course they will have to repent of all of this.  So then why would anyone claim that a belief in the ‘infinite transcendent Creator’ is of a different order?  Fundamentally I see this as committing two errors.  It is to say…

A) ‘Transcendent Creator’ is more foundational to God’s being than His triunity.

B) The Muslim means roughly the same as the Christian when speaking of the ‘Transcendent Creator’

I strongly disagree with both.

A) i) If God is transcendent Creator you’ve made Him dependent on creation.

A) ii) It is a position that leads to Arianism. Athanasius complained that Arius’ error was to conceive of God as Unoriginate and then to consider trinity. On this trajectory he could never affirm the homo-ousios of One whose being was ‘ek tes ousia tw patri‘ (out of the being of the Father). Similarly if your conversation with a Muslim begins with some ‘bedrock’ notion of transcendence before introducing them to Jesus it will necessarily mean introducing them to one who is less than the transcendent one. You’ll have shot yourself in the foot from the very beginning. Let’s not define Jesus out of full deity before we’ve even begun. We therefore must not begin on the Arian trajectory of affirming transcendent Creator first – Jesus will not come out very well from such a starting point!

B) Only the God who exists as Himself in relations of otherness can actually have a relationship with creation in which we can know Him as transcendent. ‘Transcendent Creator’ is dependent on trinity (not the other way around). The Muslim account of transcendence is completely confused (as is every unitarian account). Allah is a prisoner of his ‘transcendence’ – by definition cut off from any relationship with it (whether transcendent or immanent).

‘Transcendent Creator’ is neither the foundational nor a shared understanding of the living God. And it’s not desirable that it should be.

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At this point my interlocutor (rightly) suspected I was denying the possiblity of true philosophical reflection on divinity apart from Christian revelation.  He claimed I was being overly Barthian ;-)   I replied with these points…

4) In terms of theological method, “Christ alone” is not a Barthian novelty!  It’s difficult to think of a more crucial verse in the history of the church for theological method than Matthew 11:27: “No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”

To this let’s add John 1:18; 14:6 and Colossians 1:15. To this let’s add the continual Scriptural witness that we are blind, dead, enemies of God unable to know Him apart from His Word to us.  (e.g. Ps 14:2; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:21).  These plain and central truths cannot be evaded by crying ‘Barthian’!

5) Nicea’s “The Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” was a deliberate and crucial choice of order. Triunity precedes creation. Of course it does – unless we want to define God as dependent upon creation.

6) Even Jews who have the Scriptures do not know the Father if they reject the Son. (cf ALL OF JOHN’S GOSPEL!)

7) To go over a previous point – there are tremendous Arian dangers of considering ‘Creator’ more foundational than trinity. Once you have assured your Muslim friend that she really does know God and that the God she knows is definitionally the infinite, transcendent Creator, do you really think you’ve helped her towards faith in Jesus of Nazareth?? Have you not just given her every reason to reject divine honours (thus defined) being attributed to Christ. Won’t she simply thank you for confirming her own doctrine of God which by definition precludes Jesus from being anything more than a prophet??

Athanasius rightly said ‘the only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit is the one in which He is the starting point.’

The Rock upon which we build is nothing and no-one else but Christ.  Let’s be clearer on this whether we’re evangelizing Muslims or our friends in the pub.  They do not know God and besides – why would we want to confirm for them a sterile, non-relational doctrine of God in the first place??  Let’s tell them, ‘The god you had thought existed was not God – let me tell you about the living God who is unlike anything you’ve imagined.  His name is Jesus and He blows your god out of the water!’

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Posted on by Glen in evangelism, islam, theological method, trinity, Uncategorized

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

26 Responses to Allah is an idol

  1. Dan Hames

    Glen,

    I’m trying hard to make sure that our comments on one anothers’ blogs aren’t shallow back-slapping, but I must say this is great.

    Thanks for this. On a previous post at ‘BTW’, I tried arguing this stuff a bit- but not so articulately.

    Good work.

    Dan

  2. glenscriv

    that’s alright Dan, you can call me a jerk next comment. That’ll spice things up. ;-)

    Really the whole discussion is not about Islam per se. It’s basically about trinitarian theology. So I’m not surprised you’re in agreement! Basically debating Muslims for a couple of years at Speaker’s Corner convinced me that any doctrine of God that didn’t include Jesus at the outset could never accommodate Him down the track.

  3. Bobby Grow

    Glen,

    excellent. I read your comments over at Justin’s site . . . and you are right on to emphasize the economy as the immanent nature of God.

    Fr. Kimel (Pontificator) is a thomist, as far as I can see, through and through . . . which bleeds right into his soteriology as a Catholic.

  4. yemsee

    isn’t it simply ‘logical’ that only the One Who knows God can make Him known?

    therefore the One Who knows God would have to have been with God (at His Father’s side) and be sent from God by God?

    thus unless the Word of God was God Himself, as opposed to prophets or ‘angels’ it would be rather nonsensical?
    for although the latter see God they do not know God and are quite rightly puzzled (or offended) at His works

    so it is quite a puzzle with things like this:
    http://www.acommonword.com/index.php?lang=en&page=option1

    and quite deserving of a response like this?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTY-9FY13kw

  5. glenscriv

    Bobby, just read Fr. Kimel’s page called ‘Allah’ at Pontifications. 80% of the paper is an argument for how Jesus is constitutive of God and the immanent trinity is the economic and vice versa. 80% of the paper is an argument for why Allah can’t be the living God. But he just can’t seem to follow his own logic.

    Dev, ‘God alone is a fit witness to Himself’ has been axiomatic throughout church history.
    Love Piper’s youtube response – especially the ‘year book’ illustration at 5 minutes. Well worth checking out.

  6. Otepoti

    A question:

    When I read your post, I was puzzled by this wording: “We honour their faith by speaking of Allah as another god – that is how Allah defines himself.” My thought was, why is he granting objective reality to Allah?

    Then I remembered that in the Bible the Lord sometimes seems to be deeming objective reality to “other gods” eg Ex 15:11, 1 Kings 8:25, Deut 10:17, Ps 82:1, and probably other places as well.

    So the question is, why does God ever seem to be grouping Himself in a category with other gods?

  7. abu daoud

    Generally speaking I tend to favor your position over that of Pontificator.

  8. glenscriv

    Hi Otepoti,

    Probably the first thing to say is that the sentence you quote was phrased more for rhetorical effect than theological precision! I can see why you would ask the question you did and I think if I wrote it again I’d probably rephrase it to: “that is how the Quran defines Allah so let’s honour their book and allow it to mean what it says.”

    But having said that you raise an interesting issue. 1 Corinthians 8 is fascinating isn’t it?

    “So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”

    Idols are nothing but then he goes on to say they are not just called gods but *are* gods. And then in chapter 10 he says pagan sacrifices are offered to demons. (1 Cor 10:20). And you want to say ‘Are they nothing or are they something or are they demons?’ And perhaps Paul would say yes to all three. Not sure how we co-ordinate all those truths – perhaps others have done some more thinking on this and can help? What do you think Otepoti?

  9. glenscriv

    Abu Daoud, it’s good to have you here. I was enjoying your blog for the first time yesterday. I hope to visit many more times!

    God bless,
    Glen

  10. Otepoti

    Thinking hard, but everyone is sick here today, so there’s not much time.

    Perhaps the Lord in mercy allows this sort of “my God beats your god” thinking to new but still fearful converts as a transitional step out of paganism? I can see that if you converted from (say) animism, you might need some extra reassurance that God is powerful enough to overcome the vengeful spirit in the next bush you pass.

    You do seem to be offering this thinking yourself with “His name is Jesus and He blows your god out of the water!

    Nga mihi ki a koutou ko tou whanau, greetings to you and your family.

  11. Pingback: Idols - nothing? something? demons? « Christ the Truth

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  13. spannerintheworksbob

    Hi
    Just a thought, (curious but not intending to be contentious). –
    What about all the Old Testament saints who loved God but had no clear revelation that he would manifest as Jesus. How would they define the same God without reference to Jesus?
    I ask this because the revealing of God through the history of the OT was gradual. His name (or description) changed as different people had further revelation and interaction with him.
    When the disciples asked Jesus, show us the father, his reply was “if you have seen me, you have seen the father.”
    ie He was not rebuking them for their lack of understanding of the father, but their lack of understanding that He, Jesus was One with the One who they already knew.

  14. spannerintheworksbob

    Hi again
    Maybe I should have spent more time looking at your other stuff.
    After doing the above comment, I found your “Christ in the Old Testament, which is where I intended heading with the above comment.
    Excellent stuff, I need more time to read the whole lot.
    Bob

  15. glenscriv

    Hi Bob,
    Welcome to the comments. Glad to hear from you.

    Yes, well spotted on the Christ in the OT front. As I see it, my position on this issue and my position on Christ in OT flow out of the more fundamental point that Christ *is* the Truth – true knowledge of God begins with Him rather than heads towards Him. At the most basic level this is what drives me to these two conclusions – i.e.

    1) *true* OT religion was always Messianic

    and

    2) knowledge of Allah is in no sense knowledge of the living God

    There are many who disagree with my stance on 1) but agree with me on 2). On the other hand, I can’t imagine people agreeing with me on 1) but denying 2) – but who knows – it’s a crazy, mixed up world.

    Yet for me they all pretty much go together – Christ is the Rock who needs no smaller stepping stones to bridge up to Him. That kind of thing.

    Love to hear more of your thoughts. Feel free to comment on anything around the traps.

    Glen

  16. dedeqorqud

    Of course, Allah is an idol. The Lord be with you.

  17. Ken

    Glen,

    Isn’t it surprising that one will refuse to know God (Yahweh) by what he has spoken and revealed of himself via his word (Son, Jesus, Yohaushua) and then turn around and expect you to know them by and honor them for the words they speak!

    How can we who are made in the image…breathing and speaking be so nieve as to believe in any entity that has no breath or life…You can try to exalt Hubal (who was one of the Baals) all you want by proclaimng him to be Allah and proclaim you are either a servant or a prophet to that title.

    The only problem is that in the proclaiming you demonstrate your likeness to Yahweh by being able to think, breath and speak and therefore condemn yourself as an idolator who worships something that has no word of life or breath of life in it.

    Ironic huh?

    Bless your efforts

    Ken

  18. Glen

    Hi Ken,
    Excellent points. You put the inconsistencies very well!

    It really does boil down to whether Jesus is the Word or not.

    Every blessing in Jesus,
    Glen

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  20. Noneedforname

    this is ridiculous. where in the quran does it deny that our god is also your god?

  21. Glen

    Hi No Need,

    I begin the post with Sura 112 – Allah does not beget nor is he begotten. The most fundamental description of the biblical God is: Father, Son and Holy Spirit in loving communion. Allah seems *very* keen to say he is not /that/ God.

  22. JM

    Have some ideas to share:
    1- While thrilled to spread the good news… still so tired of some putting other religions down instead of living the grace of God and living the good news showing the others how we can be the light and salt and hence affecting them positively and inviting them to our religion. In stead of being against Islam…. let’s think… What would have been changed if Jews at that time, believed in Jesus and shared the great kingdom of God… The whole history of the middle east would have changed… and Islam would have no need to exist. If you actually study both religions.. they have lots and lots in common… Islam is kind of following the Pharisees traditions and rules but with missing the grace…

    2- If you have access to trustable history resources you know that Islam started with Mohammed who was trained by a Christian priest. Look for this one! has lots to say…

    3- What do you say concerning the fact that the literal translation of God in an Arabic Bible is Allah. Arab Christians use the word Allah to represent God, who is according to the Christian faith, Father, son and Holy Spirit… Please don’t jump into quick conclusions… spread the good news and your light will shine before you know it… Criticizing others for, probably, other people’s mistake is not the best choice or best way to spread Christianity… Just think about it!

    Blessings.

  23. Glen

    Hi JM,
    Thanks for some thoughtful comments. Do you think that Allah is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? You mention that Muslims are something like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. That’s a helpful comparison. But Jesus said to them:

    “You do not know me or my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 8:19)

    I think it’s unhelpful in dialogue with Muslims to pretend that we’re talking about the same God. Jesus defines the living God – not culture or linguistics or philosophy.

  24. JM

    Hi Glen,
    Thanks for your reply although I hoped to hear your opinion on all my comments. Anyways, I still believe that Jesus gave us grace, yet responsibility to be the salt and the light of this World. My point is let’s spread the good news… Muslims or even people from other religions won’t ever be connected to Christianity if Christians kept criticizing them in a harsh way… If you even consider them your enemies… Jesus asked you to love them… All the testimonies from Muslims becoming Christians testify a turning point when people shared with them the good news and accepted them in the first place.. I wouldn’t be like Jonah who refused to go and spread the good news because he did not like people of Nineveh…

    International media is playing an excellent role in highlighting issues of Islam.. and I believe it is exaggerating… Politics is playing a big role in that which , in my belief is a crime… Jesus ordered us to go and teach all nations… to baptize them… are you and me doing so??? are we loving our enemies??? and we are still blaming Muslims.. how are they supposed to know?!?!
    so in your opinion… which one make us follow Jesus’s teaching better; is it consuming all this time and energy on putting down Islam or processing into the kingdom of God???… God is so big.. we need more than a lifetime to understand his plan and his teachings… let’s spend this time on the other mentioned option… please think about it and let’s send a message of peace… not a message or hatred and difference… let’s look for common things not for differences… Amen…

  25. Paul Blackham

    I agree that the media and politics plays a big role in the fear mongering that goes on today. I live in a largely Muslim neighbourhood and I much prefer this neighbourhood to a largely Western pagan neighbourhood.

    I think it’s vital to recognise that disagreeing with someone is not the same as hating someone. I very strongly disagree with all kinds of people yet I love them all the same. When I say that I disagree with my Muslim friends and neighbours, I’m not in any way saying that I hate them. I’m just saying that I do not agree with their claims about the world or their god or their prophet. I have the same issue with my atheist fand agnostic friends. I profoundly disagree with many of the things they claim, but that has nothing to do with hate. In fact I have found that when I hate or ignore a person I really don’t care what they think or believe. Love drives me to actually genuinely disagree with them, taking them seriously.

    In my own experience, I find it much easier to show genuine love and acceptance with all my Muslim friends and neighbours when I start from the understanding that Allah is not the same God as the One God who is Father, Son and Spirit.

    I don’t really think it is helpful for the followers of Jesus to be labelled as ‘religious’ at all – so trying to stand on a ‘common religious ground’ is very unhelpful for us. We don’t have sacred places, sacred clothes, sacred festivals, sacred diets or any of those religious things. It is vital for us to get on with and love people whether they are religious or not; whether they are atheists or Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus; communists or agnostics. I don’t see why we should say that because a Muslim believes in a god we should get on with them better or love them more than a Hindu who worships several gods or an atheist who worships no specific god. We have to get away from judging others, trying to place them higher or lower on a ladder of spiritual progress.

    Why can’t we just share the love and life and the vast cosmic mind-expanding reality of the LORD Jesus Christ without trying to smuggle Him into Islam or any other religion? Why do we so often shrink Jesus down to an abstract and anonymous god that lurks behind and within all kinds of religious traditions? Let’s leave Him to be the great Cosmic LORD and God who is never contained or even touched by human religion.

    If we try to assert that Muslims are basically worshipping the Christian god, it seems quite offensive and imperialistic to me. Why can’t we respect the right of our Muslim friends to believe whatever they believe and allow them to believe in and worship Allah just as they do?
    Why do we have to morph Allah into Jesus or Jesus into Allah?
    Why can’t we just have a proper respect for each other?
    If we try to say that Allah is really the Trinitarian God and that Allah came down, was born of Mary as a true human being or that Allah lived a life of poverty, weakness and rejection… or that Allah died on the Cross, rejected by heaven and earth… I think that trying to make that kind of argument is very divisive and confrontational – to say the very least.

    The use of the Arabic word ‘Allah’ is not really the issue. Many people might use the English word ‘god’ to refer to any number of different gods – and they don’t need to share any family likenesses just because the same English word is used for them. Those Arab Christians who use the word ‘Allah’ are not using that word to refer to the ‘Allah’ of Islam but rather the ‘Allah’ who is the Father who eternally begets His Sin in the power of the Spirit.

  26. Paul Blackham

    err… very bad typo… the Father eternally begets the SON in the power of the Spirit.

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