Theology: May 2004 Archives

Same God posts

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In a continuing effort to shorten my list in the sidebar despite constantly adding to them, I'm removing my two posts on the same God issue with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and linking just this one that refers to both of them.

The first was simply an argument that the one being called God in English is the same being that Muslims refer to with the name 'Allah', though they believe very different things about this one God, which makes all the difference. The second looked at some arguments in N.T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God about first-century Judaism and first-century Christianity and their relevance to this issue. Partly it helped clarify my position, and partly it helped me express my reasons for thinking this a little more clearly.

Update: This comments on this post about on freedom, rights, and 'under God' in the pledge of allegiance also has a discussion about the same issue that reflects a development of my thought on this issue. The basic idea is that I don't think there's one sense in which an expression might refer to God. An act of false worship may in one sense be worship of God but done so wrongly that it's immoral and worthless. The same act of false worship may in another sense not count as genuine worship of God and therefore count as worship of a false god. I think the former sense is primary and the latter secondary, as the terms in English are standardly used, and John 8:41-44 and II Kings 17 contain examples of the two senses in the Bible. The correct theory of reference-fixing for terms like 'God' and 'Allah' should explain why there are both senses, but it may still turn out that my view that the one of II Kings 17 is the primary one in English.

Update 2 (March 2008): The conversation picked up again in response to a debate between Rick Love and John Piper. In Muslims Worshiping God But Not Worshiping God, I present the argument in a different enough way that I thought it was worth linking to it here, and I respond to the objection that Muslims deny an essential property of God and thus must not refer to him when they use God-language.

Then in Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? I respond to a couple arguments from Timothy Tennent. He argues that it doesn't seem right to say that the God of Muhammad is the Father of Jesus, and I point out the real problem in that statement is that no Muslim or Christian should accept both labels for God, but that both could refer to God in the same way that mistaken descriptions of mere human beings can refer even if they get things badly wrong (e.g. the red-haired man across the room drinking champagne, when it's a bald woman in a wig cross-dressing and drinking wine out of a champagne glass).

Finally, in Islam and a Different Jesus, I respond to a more difficult set of arguments from Kevin Courter and Dale Tuggy. What about Paul's statement in II Corinthians that those who teach a false gospel are teaching a different Jesus? What about his statements in I Corinthians about demons lying behind idols? What if Muhammad actually received the Qur'an from a demon? This post offers a slightly modified view that can handle these objections, and it argues that, since you won't be able to modify the alternative view to handle the difficulties I've raised for that position, my view is the most reasonable way to handle the tensions within the scriptures that bear on this issue.

Update 3 (March 2011): Miroslav Volf has now released a book about this that seems worth reading. He sees to me to give a bad argument for the correct view, and then he goes on to apply the view in ways that strike me as possibly going way too far, but I'd have to see the details of what he has to say to be sure beyond that. I've recorded some thoughts on Volf here.

I've been reading through some commentaries on Isaiah for the Bible study on Isaiah 29 that I'm leading tonight, and I discovered something very interesting in John Oswalt's commentary, which is an excellent book overall, one of the two best commentaries on Isaiah of our time as far as I'm concerned (the other being Alec Motyer's).

Oswalt is an avowed Arminian. He thinks a significant degree of human choice involves a freedom that makes God's plan, in effect, holey and not just holy. God's sovereignty could but doesn't cover every human choice, particularly the ones we're morally responsible for. On the other hand, Reformed theology(sometimes identified with Calvinism, though perhaps it's more an association than an identity) takes God's sovereignty to cover every single event throughout history. God isn't morally responsible for all these events, but he does in some sense stand behind every event as sovereign over them. At the very least this would be because God could have prevented any event that he didn't want happening. Reformed thinkers tend to want to say something stronger than that, though, that God in some way causes every event.

As I was reading through Oswalt's comments on Isaiah 29, which deals in some ways with the issue of God's sovereignty over human rejection of God, I discovered a common misunderstanding of Reformed thought. I've found many Arminian theologians who really just don't understand Calvinism or Reformed thought, and I think this case is a good example of that.

Secret Agent Man

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Since I'm going to be working on the questions for the Blogdom of God interview soon, I decided to go read the two interviews that I hadn't read yet. One of them was of Secret Agent Man's Dossier. This hasn't been true of any of the other interviews I've read so far, but I found a number of items worth drawing attention to.

The Blogdom of God discussion on God's will continues at New Covenant, Jollyblogger, and Adrian Warnock's blog.

It occurred to me that one of my reasons for taking the view I've endorsed, which seems to have been at least closely approximated by Jollyblogger and some of the others in the discussion, has to do with my opposition to naturalistic influence on Christian thought. There are two ways this can happen.

Rebecca Writes offers us more on the "two wills of God" issue. She clears up why it's so easy for people to wonder about God's will and not be satisfied when they're told to do what they know God has revealed about his will. They're talking about two different things. People want to know God's sovereign will, and all God has revealed to us is his moral will (at least on the basic things about our individual lives involved in our decision-making). The problem is that God specifically hasn't revealed his sovereign will, and our desire to know that goes beyond what he wants us to know. He wants us to make our decisions based on his moral will. We may complain that his moral will doesn't tell us everything we need to know to have one absolutely right decision and everything else absolutely wrong. I don't actually think that's true. I think it just takes a lot of work to figure out which option will best serve God in the ways he's already told us we need to be thinking about serving him. He wants us to do that hard kind of thinking, basing our decisions on principles he has revealed clearly in scripture. All we need to know to do this is already revealed, and we just have to pursue better understanding of those truths, as Becky's earlier post points out.

While I'm at it, see her post on Romans 13 and submission to the government. It would be interesting to see that post turn up in the Carnival of the Cats, but it may not be the sort of thing they're looking for.

I've been wanting to host the Christian Carnival for about three months now, but I'd made a commitment not to do it during the semester while teaching an 8:30 am class, which gives no time for assembling the posts the night before due to prep work or the morning of due to teaching, so I've been putting if off. Well, the semester proper is over (though I've still got grading to do), and here we are.

Our party this week's Carnival has thirteen dwarves entries, including my own, and following the advice of Gandalf I've decided to pull rank as this week's heir to the title King Under the Mountain host. I've sought out a burglar Hobbit fourteenth entry to increase the size of our expedition the Carnival past such an unlucky unpopular number.

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