Monday, December 21, 2015

Prof. Miroslav Volf and his views on impressive overlaps between Christianity and Islam

As I explored more about the incident of Wheaton College Associate Professor, Dr. Hawkins, being asked to go on administrative leave as she had written on her Facebook page that Christians and Muslims worship the same God,, I noted that a Washington Post article on the matter,, stated:

She [Ravi: Dr. Hawkins] linked to a Christianity Today interview [Ravi: link:] with Yale theologian Miroslav Volf on the topic. In the piece, Volf said that “all Christians don’t worship the same God, and all Muslims don’t worship the same God. But I think that Muslims and Christians who embrace the normative traditions of their faith refer to the same object, to the same Being, when they pray, when they worship, when they talk about God. The reference is the same. The description of God is partly different.”
--- end short extract from Washington Post ---

Prof. Miroslav Volf had also written an opinion piece in the Washington Post supporting Dr. Hawkins for her stand and being critical of Wheaton college administration for their action against her,

I then read up/viewed up on Prof. Volf and felt that I should put up a post about him and his views regarding Christianity & Islam.

Fascinatingly, Prof. Volf had given a lecture at what seems to be the same Wheaton College in Illinois, USA, perhaps in the beginning of April 2011 or slightly earlier (the video upload date is April 6, 2011), "Miroslav Volf: Allah: A Christian Response",, around 1 hr 30 mins (including Q & A). The lecture part is around 40 minutes and is a very thought-provoking, no punches pulled kind-of lecture. Was Dr. Hawkins part of the audience during this lecture? Did she get influenced by the lecture? Perhaps.

Mind you, Prof. Volf was raised in the former Yugoslavia and seems to have great exposure to the Bosnia conflict. From

The Bosnian War was an international armed conflict that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. Following a number of violent incidents in early 1992, the war is commonly viewed as having started on 6 April 1992. The war ended on 14 December 1995. The main belligerents were the forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and those of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat entities within Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska and Herzeg-Bosnia, who were led and supplied by Serbia and Croatia respectively.

The war was part of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Following the Slovenian and Croatian secessions from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, the multi-ethnic Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was inhabited by Muslim Bosniaks (44 percent), Orthodox Serbs (32.5 percent) and Catholic Croats (17 percent), passed a referendum for independence on 29 February 1992.
By early 2008, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had convicted 45 Serbs, 12 Croats and 4 Bosniaks of war crimes in connection with the war in Bosnia. The most recent estimates suggest that around 100,000 people were killed during the war. In addition, an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 women, the majority of whom were Bosniak, were raped, and over 2.2 million people were displaced, making it the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of World War II.
--- end wiki extracts ---

Now some info. about Prof. Volf:


Miroslav Volf (born September 25, 1956) is a Croatian Protestant theologian and public intellectual who is touted in the preface of one of his books as "one of the most celebrated theologians of our day". Having taught at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in his native Osijek, Croatia (1979–80, 1983–90), and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California (1990–1998), Volf currently serves as the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.

Interfaith engagement

Volf has brought his theology of embrace to bear on how people of different faiths relate to each other. He participated actively in the work of The Elijah Interfaith Institute by writing Christian position papers—both on his own and with his students as co-authors—for the meetings of its Board of Religious Leaders and by participating in its meeting. For a number of years, Volf also participated in the Jewish-Christian dialogue. However, most of his interfaith efforts were directed to the relation between Christianity and Islam. He focuses on Islam partially because he comes from a region in which these two faiths have intersected for centuries (he was born in a city-fortress that the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I started building around 1700 to keep Ottoman Muslims at bay) and partly because he considers the relations between these two religions to be today’s most critical interfaith issue.

Since 2004 Volf has taken part in the Building Bridges Seminar, a yearly gathering of Muslim and Christian scholars chaired until 2012 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. His engagement with Islam intensified after the publication of A Common Word Between Us and You (2007). Occasioned by Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at the University of Regensburg, but motivated by a deteriorated relationship between Christians and Muslims (especially in the wake of 9/11), the document, which was originally signed by 138 of the world’s most prominent Muslim leaders, argued that what binds Muslims and Christians (and Jews, of course) is the dual command to love God and love one’s neighbors. It proposes this common ground as a place of dialogue and cooperation between the two religions. Along with the staff at the Center for Faith and Culture (Joseph Cumming and Andrew Saperstein), Volf drafted Yale Divinity School’s response (“Yale Response”), which was endorsed by over 300 prominent Christian leaders (including some of the world’s most respected evangelical figures such as John Stott and Rick Warren).

Allah: A Christian Response (2011) is Volf’s major work engaging Islam. The book is an exercise in “political theology”; it explores the possibilities of peaceful co-existence of Muslims and Christians “under the same political roof,” rather than the merits of Islam and Christianity as systems of salvation (an area in which there is substantially more divergence between the two religions than in regard to moral values). The central question of the book, which had not been explored in a sustained fashion before the publication of this work, is whether Muslims and Christians have a common God and whether, consequently, they have common or at least overlapping central values. In a dialogue with Nicholas of Cusa and Martin Luther, Volf develops his own method of assessing the issue and argues that Muslims and Christians do have a common God, even though each group understands God in different ways, at least in part. The most obvious differences concern the Christian claim that God is Love and that God is the Holy Trinity (though when it comes to the Trinity, Volf argues that Muslims objections seem directed at ideas that the great Christian teachers never actually affirmed). These differences notwithstanding, Christians and Muslims have similar accounts of the moral character of God and therefore of basic human values—the one Creator God who is different from the world is just and merciful, and God commands worshipers to do similar things (e.g., the Ten Commandments [minus the Fourth]; the Golden Rule). Love for and fear of that common God can, therefore, bring Muslims and Christians together, or at least be the basis for resolving conflicts without resorting to violence. As Volf sees it, in Allah as well as in his engagement with Islam more broadly, he is applying to interfaith relations the kind of generous engagement with the other that his theology of embrace recommends.
--- end wiki extracts ---

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?,, April 15th 2011. This has the interview with Miroslav Volf which the Washington Post article said was linked to by Dr. Hawkins.

A few small extracts from it:

Volf: If our understandings of God clash, it will be hard for us to live in peace—not impossible, but hard. So exploring to what extent Christians and Muslims have similar conceptions of God is foundational to exploring whether we inhabit a common moral universe, within which there are some profound differences that can be negotiated, discussed, and adjudicated.
Q: What are the most striking similarities between the way Muslims talk about Allah and the way Christians talk about God?

Volf: One that shouldn't be forgotten is that God is one in both traditions. That's very important. Two, God is merciful. Also, God is just. God's oneness, God's mercy, and God's justice are significant commonalities. We have different understandings of each of these, but the overlaps are really impressive.

Q: Some theologians argue that when Christians and Muslims say "God is one," they mean fundamentally different things, since for the Christian, God is a Trinity.

Volf: I would respond by asking, "Do Christians and Jews worship different gods?" And I would hope the response would be, "No. Jews and Christians worship the same God. They just understand God in a different way—Christians in a Trinitarian way, and Jews not."

Some Jews and Muslims accuse Christians of being idolatrous for believing in the Trinity. My response to both groups is that they fundamentally misunderstand the Christian understanding of the Trinity. It's not that we worship three distinct entities who sit on three thrones next to each other; we worship one undivided, divine being who comes to us in three persons.
Q: Don't most religions postulate a God who is all-powerful and merciful? Is it possible that we all worship the same God in the end? In that case, maybe there is no such thing as idolatry, only different interpretations.

Volf: If somebody postulates the existence of more than one god, I would have to say we don't worship the same god. If somebody says that God is basically one with the world, I would also have to say we don't worship the same god. What binds Muslims and Christians, and what is central to my argument, is that God is one, that God is distinct from the world, and that the one God has created everything that is not God. There is a radical divide between creature and creator. This is a fundamental monotheistic belief. Muslims, Christians, and Jews share that belief. Therefore, they believe in the same God. Polytheists and idolaters do not share that belief.
---- end extracts ----

Ravi: I felt it appropriate to add some thoughts of mine about Hindu beliefs in this regard. Hindus believe in ONE formless & nameless God but who can also be worshipped through images and idols (God with name and form) for those who prefer to relate to God in that fashion. Hinduism also believes in very powerful beings that have taken human form who have miraculous powers (like what Jesus is said to have had), and many Hindus worship these very powerful beings (devas, avatars) as named and formful aspects of the ONE formless & nameless God, Further, a core belief of Hinduism (as expressed in the Upanishads/Vedas) is that creation (including creatures) is part of God, and that there is no divide between creature and creator. Hinduism views the creature like the wave that arises from the ocean which is like the creator; the wave arises (is born) from the ocean, is a part of the ocean when it is (has life as) a wave, and merges back (dies/gives up the form/body) into the ocean.

So the Hindu view of God does seem to have significant differences from what Prof. Volf conveys as the Christian and Islamic view of God (separate from creation, and who should not be worshipped via idols & images).

[I thank Wikipedia and Christianity Today and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extracts (small extracts from Christianity Today) from their website on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

1 comment:

  1. Chandu Patel wrote: As far as my understanding of Hinduism goes, it believes/accepts 2 schools of thoughts for describing God:

    1. Nirguna-Niraakaar, that is quality-less, form-less.
    2. Saguna-Saakaar, that is with-qualities and with-form.

    Islam and Christianity believe in Saguna-Niraakaar, that is with-qualities, formless God.
    With-qualities, because they consider God to be merciful (a quality), and formless because they believe in God without any form.