CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

What to Make of Allah

Aug 16, 2007

Often the church is its own worst enemy. Sure, there is plenty of opposition and animosity towards Christianity, but sometimes those calling themselves believers can do as much damage or more to the Christian faith.

Consider the case of a Dutch Roman Catholic Bishop, Tiny Muskens. He has recently argued that people of all faiths should refer to God as Allah. He says this will bring more tolerance and harmony in Holland, a country with one million Muslims.

Said Muskens, “Allah is a very beautiful word for God. Shouldn’t we all say that from now on we will name God Allah? What does God care what we call him? It is our problem.”

What are we to make of such a proposal? Firstly, it can be said that God does care about how he is revealed, and how he is named. His self-revelation is an important part of how he communicates to us, and what he wishes us to know about himself. Names do matter, and the one true God is to be defined on his own terms, not ours.

But more significantly, what should we think about equating the God of the Bible with Allah? Can we use the name of Allah and experience no theological problems?

This of course has been a long-standing theological debate, especially in missiological circles. It has been a very practical question to ask: how much should Christian missionaries working amongst Muslims seek to contextualise the Gospel?

Contextualisation is always important, but how far does one go? Should this include using the name Allah? Various answers to this problem have been forthcoming over the years. And it is true that in parts of the Arab world, Christian and Muslim Arabs use the words God and Allah interchangeably.

But many would argue that Allah of Islam in no way resembles Yahweh of the Old Testament or God the Father of the New Testament. There are numerous reasons for this.

But first, by way of background, it should be pointed out the Arabic word Allah is a somewhat generic term for God. It predated Islam, and had been used of a pagan deity in Mecca prior to Muhammad. Muhammad used the term, but sought to strip it of its old pagan connotations.

Also, it should be pointed out that Muslims argue that Allah is the god of both Jews and Christians. Moreover, they insist that all three groups worship the same God. Jews and Christians are considered by Muslims to be “people of the book,” and in Muslim missionary endeavours, this insistence upon the one God argument is imperative.

But is Allah in fact just another name for the Judeo-Christian God? No it is not. Let’s begin with the Old Testament. Several important names are used as part of the divine self-revelation. YHWH is one of the more significant names. Exodus 3:13-15 is a foundational passage in which God declares his name to Moses.

While this is not the place to go into all the complexities of this term, it can be said briefly that it might best be translated, “I am who I am,” or “I will be who I will be”. Part of the Old Testament conception of God is that he has made himself known to us, that he reveals himself to us. Thus YHWH is knowable in a very real sense.

In Islam, Allah is utterly inscrutable and unknowable. Allah is utterly transcendent, and cannot be known by man. Only some of his activities are revealed, but not his true essence. At heart Allah is incomprehensible.

Also little mentioned in the Koran is the love of God. While this is a prevailing theme in both biblical Testaments, it is at best an insignificant trait of Allah. And Allah is seen as totally omnipotent and sovereign. His ways cannot be resisted, and the term Islam means to submit. Muslims simply submit to the mysteries and transcendent demands of Allah. Theirs is not to reason why, simply to obey.

But the Biblical God – who is also sovereign and majestic – invites us to come reason with him, to ask questions of him, to seek relationship with him, and to pray to him, with the sense that in some ways our prayers can be really efficacious. In contrast, there is a deep fatalism amongst Muslims. What happens is Allah’s will, and we are not to question it.

While some versions of Christianity – such as extreme Calvinism – may be equally fatalistic and over-emphasise the sovereignty of God, the balanced Biblical picture is of a God who is both sovereign yet stoops to meet with us and interact with us.

One aspect of YHWH, mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament, is his holiness. This is a defining characteristic of God. Yet it is merely tangential in Islam, and Allah is only called holy twice in the Koran.

And of course the God of Christianity is a triune God: one God in three persons. The strict monotheism of Islam has no place for such a Trinitarian conception. Thus the place of Jesus Christ in Christianity is fundamentally at variance with the position accorded him in Islam.

As already mentioned, a major difference between Allah and the God of the Bible is that Allah is aloof, transcendent, far removed from his creation. This is worth exploring a bit further. The utter transcendence of Allah is a major theme in Islam. The God of the Bible, by contrast is certainly transcendent, but he is also immanent. That is, he stoops to our level, he interacts with us, he has relationship with us. And in the Incarnation, he even becomes one with us, one of us.

In the Bible we find the possibility of having a close and intimate relationship with God. And in the New Testament, we can experience a very close relationship with God through his son Jesus Christ. We can even call God father, something unheard of in Islam. Allah is stern, aloof and utterly separate from mankind and mere human concerns. He is certainly not to be thought of as a loving heavenly father.

In the Bible, our relationship with God can also be spoken of in terms of friendship, as was the case with Abraham, or as Jesus called his disciples. Such talk would be blasphemous in Islam. Allah is far removed from his creation. But the Biblical God is intimately involved with his creation, and is in fact involved in a deep love relationship with us.

While sin separates us from a holy and just God, the work of Christ at Calvary opens the way for us to reignite a love relationship with the father. As such, the gospel message is really just a plain old-fashioned love story: boy meets girl, girl rejects boy; boy wins back girl. Then they live together happily ever after.

That is the core Gospel message. The triune God created us to have an intense love relationship with him, just as the three members of the Godhead had a loving relationship amongst themselves for all eternity. But the creature rebelled against the creator, and a broken-hearted God sought to woo back his beloved. Indeed, so great was God’s love for us, that he sent his son to make reconciliation possible.

Now all who come to God through Christ by means of the Spirit have that love relationship restored. And as the book of Revelation makes clear, the grand climax of human history will be a wedding. Jesus, the groom, will wed his church, the bride.

Such a cosmic love story is the heart of Christianity, but is totally absent in the Koran and Muslim teaching. Indeed, in the Islamic ninety-nine “beautiful names of God,” love is not one of them. Yet God is love, we are told in 1 John 4:8.

In sum, the Muslim must cower in fear before an inscrutable, harsh and remote deity. In Christianity, the believer is invited to run into the outstretched arms, and nail-pierced hands, of a loving saviour. The two could not be more different. So no, Allah is not the God of the Bible, and yes, it does matter how we describe and understand God.

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43 Responses to What to Make of Allah

  • It is not only Allah who is to be a beneficiary of the Equality Laws, but Shiva, Vishnu and many others gods who have unjustly suffered discrimination and exclusion. Mind you, I don’t know how Allah will take this, seeing as how he, or rather “it“ (not being even a person) won’t entertain any other god but itself. The tolerant Prince Charles is promoting the most intolerant of all gods.

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/ukcorrespondents/holysmoke/may07/westminster.htm
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/17/arts/music/17whit.html?ex=1339646400&en=f75f55d704550bbd&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

    David Skinner, Child Okeford, Dorset, UK

  • Well said Bill and David Skinner. Not only was Allah a pagan arabic god predating Muhammed, but ‘he’ was a moon god [hence the crescent moon] and married.
    Bill such dissertations should be getting out to a wider audience and in particular seminaries and bible colleges.
    Christians have ‘religious’ leadership, not Righteous Spiritual leadership. Lord Christ forgive us for our idolatry.
    Ray Robinson, Wollongong

  • I disagree with several elements of this article. However, it doesn’t matter necessarily what I think or what the writer of this article believes. What we should be looking at is the issue from the perspective of Christians from the very areas that this article is addressing. What do our Christian brothers and sisters in these areas call God? The answer may surprise you if you agree with this article. They call him Allah, yes,Allah…exactly the same name as the Muslims call him. Also, all of the Christians in Malaysia and Indonesia worship Allah as God! Surprised? Well, if you embrace the perspective in this article you should be!

    We in the West have often made these mistakes in the past as we go cross-culturally. Why? Because we bring our own western evangelical cultural baggage and worldview along with the gospel. We would do well to look at the situation through the eyes of the peoples that we are trying to reach; rather than interpreting it through our own cultural grid.

    Somethng to think about!

    Cal Curtis

  • Thanks Cal

    But a careful reading of my article will reveal that I have already raised all these issues. I have discussed contextualisation, and the debate which surrounds it, and I said that Christians in Muslim lands often use the word Allah. But the real discussion here centres on the question: Is the God of Islam the same as the God of Christianity. Those who know something about these two religions can only answer in the negative, as I tried to demonstrate here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,

    Your description of Allah as “an inscrutable, harsh and remote deity” sounds remarkably like the God of the Old Testament, which is hardly surprising given that Islam grew from the same Abrahamic origins as Christianity. That line of thinking would also imply that the Old Testament God is not the same as the Christian God.

    Since all monotheistic religions believe there is one God who created all things, it is illogical to accuse another monotheistic faith of believing in a false god. Muslims may have a different image of God than Christians, but by definition they worship the one and only God.

    By the way, most scholars believe the word Allah derives from the Arabic words “al” and “?il?h” meaning “the God”.

    I really think Christians would be better to open dialogue with other faiths rather than rubbish their beliefs. After all, there but by the grace of God (and an accident of birth), go thee. I can’t accept that God will punish a Muslim who has led a virtuous life.

    Marge Williams, Vic

  • Thanks Marge

    But you display profound ignorance both of Islam and the Old Testament if you see no difference between how God is depicted in the two. There would be many hundreds of passages in the OT which describe the very intense love, mercy, kindness and gentleness of God, as well as his close, personal and intimate involvement with his creatures. Consider just one passage, perhaps one of the most remarkable passages in the entire OT, dealing with Yahweh’s love and personal intimacy with a rebellious and callous people:

    “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. . . . “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.” (Hosea 11:1-9)

    This sort of passage about God, full of emotion, pathos and heart breaking love, is nowhere to be found in the Koran, but is everywhere to be found in the Bible. Allah is never depicted in such terms or in such images. I am surprised you can even make such reckless claims as this. You seem to know little about Islam, or about the Judeo-Christian worldview.

    And there are plenty of cults which can be described as monotheistic faiths, which clearly are promoting false gospels, if you believe the biblical revelation. It is one thing to dialogue with those of other faith claims. It is quite another to so water down your own faith that it no longer means anything.

    You have claimed before in your comments that you are a Christian. With all due respect, at the bare minimum, a Christian is one who lays aside his or her personal opinions, and takes seriously the claims of Scripture, especially the claims of Christ. He clearly said that he was the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the father but through him (John 14:6). Do you believe this or not, Marge? Jesus also repeatedly warned of false teachers, false prophets, and those who lead people to a lost eternity. Do you believe this or not Marge?

    If you really believe that a “virtuous” Muslim, or a virtuous Hindu or a virtuous atheist will be welcomed into Heaven along with everyone else, then you have effectively called Jesus a liar. He spoke about hell and the negative consequences of those who would not believe in him more than any other New Testament writer.

    At the end of the day Marge there are only two choices: to bow down and submit to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and what he has said, or to pretend that we know better, and that we can tell God what is right and wrong, true and false. I urge you to carefully reconsider just what it is you are claiming to adhere to, and ask yourself whether it aligns with the word of God, or mere human prejudice.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,

    There are so many different interpretations of scripture that it is impossible (and somewhat arrogant) for any Christian to claim with certainty that only their understanding of God or of what makes a true Christian is correct. I have no idea what your beliefs are but your attitude towards other Christians and unbelievers suggests a strong Calvinist streak. If I was to guess I would say you were brought up in a Southern Baptist environment. In that case you would be familiar with the Four Freedoms, especially Bible Freedom, yet you seem to deny that freedom to others.

    We each come to our own interpretation though our individual upbringing, learning, education and experiences, and I believe that no mere human can deign to second guess God. We may quote scripture to support a particular opinion, but the reason there are so many Christian sects is precisely because scripture is so open to human interpretation. Frankly I think that God’s supreme intellect is so far beyond our human understanding that we are being arrogant if we presume to know how God will dispense judgment towards others. It is from that perspective that I find it difficult to pass judgment on those who were brought up in a different culture and do good works in their life. I think we must leave such judgments to God.

    “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12)

    “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” (Rev 20:12-13)

    Marge Williams, Vic

  • Thanks Marge

    I have written before about how we do have to be humble as we approach the text, because we are all fallen and finite. But such an acknowledgement does not mean we can never know any truth. Why did Jesus promise to lead us into all truth by means of his Holy Spirit if it is not possible to do so?

    You are simply reflecting postmodernism here, not Biblical Christianity, in your claim that all interpretation is relative and subjective, and no-one can be certain of any sure word from God. You seem to take your marching orders from Derrida or Foucoult rather than Jesus Christ.

    Also, you completely undermine your own argument. You tell us it is no good to select Scriptures to make one’s case, because in the end there is no absolute and certain interpretation of Scripture, and all is relative. Then you select some Scriptures to try to make your case. You can’t have it both ways Marge. Which one is it? Is there objective truth in God’s word or is there not?

    And you still have not answered my earlier questions. Your silence here is very telling.

    Finally, you rely on the typical postmodern argument that we should never judge, and chew me out for judgementalism, only to starting judging me. You seem not to be aware of your own many inconsistencies here. But hey, that’s OK, everything is relative anyway, so what does it matter?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hello Bill,
    I recently began reading an English translation of the Qur’an, and after reading through the first few suras, I’ve come to the same conclusion as you have. Allah of the Qur’an comes across as very distant and unattainable, a deity that – dare I say it – isn’t all that interested in his followers. A stark contrast to Jehovah God, whom even from the start of the OT is the one to initiate contact with his creation – be it calling to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, etc. And God even today is still calling out to us.

    I’ve also been keeping track on how many times the Qur’an mentions “love” in relation to Allah… I haven’t been keeping numbers, but I can say that the count falls far short of the Bible.

    My conclusion so far: both deities are described as just and righteous and merciful, but it is Jehovah God who is full of love.

    Olivia Tan, Melbourne, Australia

  • Marge is mistaken in claiming that Islam grew from the same ‘Abrahamic’ origins as did Christianity. Islam’s roots are complex, and include a good deal of pagan Arab influences, reflected, for example, in the Hajj pilgrimage rituals. It is true that influences were borrowed from Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, but this hardly makes Islam ‘Abrahamic’.
    Mark Durie

  • Marge,

    I’d like to pick up a few points from your second post.

    You state that “there are so many different interpretations of scripture that it is impossible (and somewhat arrogant) for any Christian to claim with certainty that only their understanding of God or of what makes a true Christian is correct.” This seems like a throw-away line to put us off. As a student and teacher of NT Greek, I could debate this at length with you, but the idea of “so many different interpretations of scripture” is a meaningless comment unless you give examples.

    The following verses are very clear. Only imposing presuppositions on them can change the exegesis. The grammar is straight forward: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6). Speaking of Christ’s death and resurrection, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

    I have read theological liberals who don’t like these statements and try to fudge the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ for salvation, but that does not relate to the historical-grammatical interpretation of the text but their imposition of a priori assumptions.

    You stated: “We each come to our own interpretation though (sic) our individual upbringing, learning, education and experiences, and I believe that no mere human can deign to second guess God.” That is hardly the way to interpret Plato, Josephus, Shakespeare, Derrida, OT, NT, Quran or The Age.

    Coming to an interpretation of any document is based on a historical, contextual, grammatical understanding of what the document states, as intended by the original author. In The Age online today, I read:
    Fire extensively damaged an historic hotel in Melbourne overnight.
    About 20 firefighters were called to the Gasometer Hotel on the corner of Smith Street and Alexander Parade, in inner suburban Collingwood, about 1.30am (AEST).
    The blaze was in the roof and firefighters forced to remove a large section of the roof structure to get to the flames. (Available from: http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/fire-damages-historic-hotel/2007/08/19/1187462059193.html )

    Your view is that “we each come to our own interpretation though (sic) our individual upbringing, learning, education and experiences.” It would be crazy for you or me to read The Age’s description of this fire based on our individual upbringing, learning, education and experiences. The article is from a journalist and we read and interpret according to the laws of English grammar and our understanding of the culture and context of Melbourne.

    Granted there are more challenges to interpretation through a document in a different language and culture from the distant past (e.g. OT, NT), but your view that there are “so many different interpretations of scripture” is not a way to rebuff those of us who are serious about historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture, The Age, and Plato.

    Sincerely, Spencer Gear, Hervey Bay, Qld

  • Marge
    You claim that the God of the Old Testament and Allah are similar. Let me direct you to Jesus’ own words when dealing with Jews who rejected his deity.

    “Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” -John 8:54-58

    Jesus not only claims he existed before Abraham but also identified himself as ‘I AM’ – God of the Old Testament. The Lord Jesus Christ is the sticking point for all who want to claim all religions are equal. That’s not my opinion that’s Jesus’ own words and as God he should know what he is talking about.
    Lyle Hutchinson

  • Marge said ‘But why dost thou judge thy brother?…..’ Is she saying that Christians are not to judge?

    1 John 4:1 Dear Friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

    Eph 5:10,11 Find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

    1 Thess 5:21,22 Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

    John 7:24 Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.

    Rom 16: 17,18 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

    1 Cor 2:15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgement (man without God’s spirit).

    Samantha Lee

  • Why just stop there? What about also calling God Buddha, Baal, Shiva, Kwan Yin? I have a better idea. Anyone who really studies the God of the Bible, and knows Him, would see the distinctive differences between our God and Allah. Our God is a God of love while Allah encourages conversion at the end of a sword. Tiny Muskens probably is trying to appease the Muslims out of fear of them. What he should remember is that “evil is powerless when the good are unafraid.” Instead of fearing their violent behaviour, we should instead show them our Christian love and encourage the Muslims to change “Allah” to Jesus.
    Ed Sim

  • Just a reminder to Cal Curtis that he has to be careful what he claims.You are claiming that ALL of the Christians in Malaysia worship Allah as God!
    Come on now! My wife is a Chinese Malaysian and we certainly have never ever heard that muslim name Allah ever mentioned as a name for our God in any of the church services we attended in Malaysia. They addressed God with the proper Biblical name(s). And you now what! We will never ever address our God in any other way.
    Something to think about Mr Curtis.
    Robert Seghers

  • Well, this topic has certainly raised a few interesting points!
    Consider Galations 5:32 where the nature and character of Jesus Christ is defined and the fruit of the Spirit is revealed.
    James 3:12 states: ‘Does a fountain send forth simultaneously from the same opening fresh water and bitter?’
    Islam was birthed in the slaying of Muhammed’s own tribe, then Jews and then Christians in Arabia and then across the Middle East. The same spirit is manifesting today where teachers of Islam want death to the infidel and slaying their own kind.
    The spiritual fruits of Islam are radically opposed to the Spiritual Righteous fruits of Jesus. Defintiely not the same god of Muhammed the prophet.
    Ray Robinson, Wollongong

  • There is only one God, although there are three persons in the one God (Father, Son and Spirit).
    As there is only one God how do we as humans constantly make such mistakes about who is God?
    I think that in the case of both the Jews and the Islamists that they simply did not want to see what was there to see: Truth!
    The God of the OT is the same God of Christianity but the Jewish and the Christian understandings of God are somewhat different. As Lyle Hutchinson mentions in his comment the real issue was that the Jews did not know the God they claimed to be theirs and when Jesus tried to explain the Truth to them many did not want to hear it.
    It is not possible to say that the nature of God as revealed through his Son is the same as the nature of the God of the Jews or the god of Islam.
    As a Christian I use the names Yaweh or Father to describe God but I do so in the knowledge that the attributes of Yaweh or Father are those revealed by Christ.
    ‘What’s in a name..’ is very important when it comes to describing God. When we have the situation of 3 concepts of God then the name used is critical.
    One name cannot be used to describe all three notions without seriously compromising each belief system
    Rather than “What’s in a name..” the reality is that “Everything is in the name”.
    Christ didn’t leave us with an option of redefining God as we saw fit or as the mood took us. Rather His message was clear.
    There is only one Truth and it cannot be found in Islam! Allah may be called a god but it is not God.
    John Ryan

  • I wholeheartedly agree with Bill’s article and I don’t mean to change the direction of this important debate, but I would like to make three comments ‘for the record’.
    Bishop Tiny Muskens’ utterings on interchanging God’s name with Allah IN NO WAY reflect the teachings of the Catholic church.
    He shouldn’t be referred to as a ‘Roman Catholic’. This term is unofficially used within our church for someone who knows and understands the teachings that are taught by the magesterium of the Church, and sees those teachings as something that is beautiful and true…hence they humbly submit to them.
    The media loves reporting on some obscure radical catholic somewhere who comes out with some dumb idea that in no way reflects the teachings of the Catholic church. I saw this clearly illustrated about five or so years ago. The Pope had come out to officially speak on an issue that affected the church. I was visiting a Catholic organisation and someone from the ABC phoned. They stated that they were writing a story on the issue, and asked if we had a priest there who would disagree with the Pope…they wanted to interview him. In other words, they had already written the story, they just needed to find the characters to play the parts.
    Having said that….back to the debate.
    Donna Murphy

  • Spencer,

    I think you have misunderstood me, which is a good example of how an author’s words can get misinterpreted.

    When I referred to “our individual upbringing, learning, education and experiences” I meant not that we each interpret scripture for ourselves, but that we each interpret scripture according to the Christian tradition in which our faith has developed. Your example of a newspaper article is quite meaningless in that context.

    There are hundreds, if not thousands of different Christian denominations, each with their own interpretations and emphases, based on different traditions or different theological understandings. If we all interpreted scripture identically there would be only one Christian church. Equally Biblical scholarship is not without controversy, especially where it contradicts long-held beliefs.

    My point is that I come from a different Christian tradition than Bill and most of his correspondents. Most of you would seem to be fundamentalists, or “Biblical Christians” if you will, whereas I believe that the Old Testament is part myth, part allegory and part truth.

    Now I fully expect that I’ll get criticised here for that belief, but let’s face facts. In Australia most Christians have the same kind of faith that I do, which comes from a reasoned approach to Biblical criticism. My beliefs didn’t develop overnight – they are the end result of long and careful thought and intensive study. It may well be different in America, as we’ve seen on Four Corners tonight, but this is not America, and I think they’ve got it badly wrong.

    However, I fully respect the rights of others to think differently and to interpret the Bible literally if they wish, and I hope for the same respect in return.

    Equally I am loath to make assumptions about how God will treat non-Christians who worship a supernatural being that they call God in their language, and who they regard as the Creator. If such people lead blameless lives and love their neighbour what kind of God is going to condemn them?

    I think it’s best to leave such judgments to God. I often wonder what He thinks of the petty theological squabbles that we humans engage in.

    Marge Williams, Vic

  • But the obvious question in all this is, who is it who is so anxious to to make Allah the same as Jahweh ? Is it the Christian, the Jew or the Hindu (for whom another god added to the pantheon is no big deal)? Of course not, apart from a few crazed, liberal bishops, it is the Muslim who is into this hard sell of appropriated, cut and paste, biblical narrative. Such a blatant and balmy attempt to claim what we believe and then have the breathtaking cheek to make a cubist collage out of it can only be matched by their attempt to claim where ever they happen settle as Islamic territory and then to make it conform to Shariah law – whether that is London, New York or Sydney. Last night I was foolish enough to watch the British ITV programme, “The Muslim Jesus”. Just reading this commentary will make your blood pressure shoot up and cry out for the premature resurrection of Charles Martel. http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/2007/08/itv-to-broadcast-muslim-jesus.html
    Davis Skinner, UK

  • Why in heaven’s sake should we consider changing the name of God to Allah? The God we worship is omnipotent, omniscient. He is mighty and powerful who created the heavens and the earth and yet He is humble and tender to live in a human body. There is not even a slight comparison of the God of the Bible and Allah. These are two different gods with totally different meaning and purpose. While Allah lives in the heavens and is untouchable, our God is with us and touchable. His presence is eminent, the God with us, Emmanuel, Prince of peace who champions for the World peace among the nations. Unlike Allah whose followers would kill to protect him, the God of the Holy Bible is glorious and kind and merciful and wants to touch, feel us and be with us, care and protect humanity. We are His image.
    Albert Kamau

  • Bill, I think you have got this one wrong. The basic flaw is that you suppose people invent their own God.
    There is only one God. People’s understanding of God is what is flawed. In our Bible God is called many names. True that God directs us through Jesus to pray to him as our Father but that is not actually a name. The only time God directly answered the question he just said “I am who I am”. To me he was saying I don’t have a name, I am God, I am above names. It therefore follows that in different languages the word for God will be different.

    IIn your article you rightly attack the flawed understanding of God as expressed in the Koran. There can be no debate among Christians on that but flawed understanding does not mean that they are not referring to God anymore than the flawed understanding of God by many people in our own country or even a primitive society that may see God in a tree are not referring to God. They have just got wrong and need to be shown the true nature of God.
    If people use a diferent word for God we just confuse the issue by insisting on a diferent word. Must we not use the word “God” because primitive people used it to describe pagan images?
    In context, use the word Allah but strive to show the true nature of God!
    Steven

  • Thanks Steven

    (You have not provided a full name here, as per my blog rules.) But you and some others here seem to be confusing some issues. Is there only one God of the universe? Absolutely. There is one God and there is no other. But that is not the real issue here. Are there false gods, false prophets, false teachings and false religions? Absolutely. Anyone who takes the Biblical revelation seriously has no problem with this at all.

    We are constantly warned about false beliefs, false doctrines, and false gods. The first commandment makes this abundantly clear: ‘Who shall have no other gods before me’. So people who do not worship the true god end up worshipping false gods, idols, and so on.

    But Paul makes it clear that these are not simply false beliefs. He can even say that when people offer sacrifices to these idols, they are in fact offering to demons (1 Cor. 10). There is a very real spiritual world out there, and false religion is not just a matter of ignorance or wrong belief. It is also a matter of satanic deception. Plenty of warnings about this are made both by Jesus and his followers.

    Words and names do matter, and we should let God determine which ones we go by, and not tell God that we somehow know better. Peter, speaking about Jesus, made it quite clear that names are important: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

    By all means, we must apply contextualizing principles in our missionary activity, but we must be careful in how we do this.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Marge

    But these are more than just “petty theological squabbles”. We are dealing here with the heart of the Chrsitian Gospel, and with Biblical truth claims. Either Jesus is the only way to God or he is not. Either the Bible is the inspired word of God or it is not. You seem to have a pretty casual view about all these matters, steeped as it seems you are in relativism, postmodernism, and a fear of being ‘intolerant’.

    It seems you don’t have a very high view of Scripture. You claim to have done a lot of study on this. But what sort of study? And of whom? It seems that you have drunk deep from the waters of theological liberalism. But have you actually even read any conservative Old Testament and New Testament scholarship? Or are you happy to write off much of the OT without a full and proper evaluation of the evidence?

    And with all due respect, it seems that you are “loath” to do many things, including taking the truth claims of Jesus Christ seriously. As believers, he must be our first allegiance, not trendy, liberal theological scepticism and radical higher criticism of Scripture.

    Finally, what does Australia or America have to do with truth? What if 99 per cent of Australians who profess to be believers take the same position that you do? So what? Does that make it right, or true? Since when is truth determined by mere numbers or majorities?

    Yes you are right to suggest that ultimately only God can judge the human heart, but that does not mean that we no longer can say anything about competing worldviews or truth claims. We are commnded in Scripture to do just that.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Islam is just another do more, try harder, religion. Follow the rules and you might have a chance of getting into heaven, if you catch allah on a good day that is! The human fallen fleshly brain is an amazing thing. It can dream up most anything, but that does not make it the truth. Allah is simply a figment of someones(Mohammed’s) imagination, based on his complete misunderstanding of Greek philosophy, Judaism and perverted legalistic, dualistic Christianity, all rolled into one. Allah cannot be the creator. He/it is non-relational, unknowable, wholly (legal sense) unapproachable, does not want anything to do with sinful humanity, and will only communicate through the mediation of angels. If allah is the creator, and we are created in his image, why is the world relational when he is not? Why do Muslims value family and community so much? Where does this love of family and friends come from? It comes from the original family who created the world in THEIR image. The first fully functional, perfectly relational family: The Father, Son and Spirit. When you understand this and the ramifications that this fact entails, the false god of islam is fully shown as a figment of a deeply disturbed mind!
    Lou d’Alpuget

  • Bill,

    To put it bluntly, conservative fundamentalism is the religion of the deep South, hillbilly America. If you want to believe that the Bible is literally true in its entirety, that’s your right, but don’t expect me to have a high regard for your intelligence level.

    Humans have discovered an enormous amount of information about the history of the Universe since the Old Testament was written and to me it is absolutely beyond doubt that Genesis is made up of creation myths written by people with a primitive understanding of nature.

    Now I’m sure that you probably hang your whole Christian faith on Genesis being literal truth. I don’t, and I feel pretty sorry for those Christians who do.

    Why is it so important to you to demonstrate that my faith emphasises different truths from yours? It should be obvious that we think differently on many matters. Does that mean that one of us is less likely to be saved? No it does not. Honestly God must laugh himself silly at the stupid arguments that go on his name, none of which make one iota of a difference to our salvation. You seem to think that God will make us sit a theology exam, and that only you know the answers. What a pompous opinionated fool you are.

    Marge Williams, Vic

  • Thanks Marge

    Evidently reasoned debate is not to your liking here, so there is not much point in going on with this. All I can say is I will be keeping you in prayer. Thanks,

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Marge,

    You think that I have misinterpreted your post and you give this clarification:

    “When I referred to ‘our individual upbringing, learning, education and experiences’ I meant not that we each interpret scripture for ourselves, but that we each interpret scripture according to the Christian tradition in which our faith has developed. Your example of a newspaper article is quite meaningless in that context.”

    That may be what you hoped to say but that is not exactly what you said. I can’t read your mind. I can only read and interpret what you actually wrote and here you have inserted extra material by way of interpretation.

    The example from The Age fits exactly with how we need to interpret any document.

    Again, you miss my point when you state that “there are hundreds, if not thousands of different Christian denominations, each with their own interpretations and emphases, based on different traditions or different theological understandings.”

    The substantive hermeneutical question is: How do we interpret any text? What are the principles used? I affirmed what is a general standard in exegesis – the historical-grammatical interpretation that takes into consideration cultural matters.

    Name calling any of us as “fundamentalists” or “biblical Christians” does not help with hermeneutics. Your believing that part of the OT is myth, part allegory and part truth may be a conclusion you have reached or a presupposition you have placed on the biblical texts. I have no way of knowing since you have in no way attempted to define or defend the OT as myth, allegory and part truth (Does that mean that you believe some of the OT is part falsehood?)

    You stated that “in Australia most Christians have the same kind of faith that I do, which comes from a reasoned approach to Biblical criticism.” You have provided no reasoned evidence to support your view. Besides, I’m pursuing my doctoral dissertation in an area of biblical criticism, but you want to label me as “fundamentalist” or “biblical Christian” in contrast to your “reasoned approach.”

    You can’t have it both ways. I support and use the discipline of biblical criticism but my conclusions are not the same as yours.

    Using the throw-away line, “I fully respect the rights of others to think differently and to interpret the Bible literally if they wish,” is not a reasoned way of dealing with my post. I have told you that my methodology is that of historical-grammatical interpretation, so what do you do? You use a logical fallacy to discount my reasoned defense of hermeneutics.

    You stated: “If such people lead blameless lives and love their neighbour what kind of God is going to condemn them?” This is “history of religions” style of reasoning that is contrary to what the Scriptures state in the verses I quoted to you in John 14:6 & Acts 4:12. Do you consider these two verses to be allegory, myth or part truth?

    To try to convince others and me of your refusal to accept God’s Word, you state: “I think it’s best to leave such judgments to God. I often wonder what He thinks of the petty theological squabbles that we humans engage in.”

    God’s judgement is clearly stated in John 14:6 & Acts 4:12. He has told us what his judgement will me. There is no need to look to any other judgement from God on the matter of people who “lead blameless lives and love their neighbour.”

    This is a more accurate conclusion, biblically: “All, both Jews and Greeks are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, no even one” (Rom. 3:9b-12).

    Sincerely,
    Spencer Gear, Hervey Bay Qld.

  • Interesting that Marge has given us an indication of why she is a theological liberal. It boils down to the issue of Creation and Genesis. If Marge had done as much research into these things as she claims to have done, she would have discovered, quite apart from the Bible, that evolution is a myth contradicted by real science. But like all those who think Genesis is myth, she prefers the opinions of fallible men who weren’t there to the Word of the Creator who did it. Belief in evolution lies at the heart of the modern day liberal Christian.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Marge,

    You wrote to Bill: “If you want to believe that the Bible is literally true in its entirety, that’s your right, but don’t expect me to have a high regard for your intelligence level.”

    When I was taking serious grammar lessons in high school and then as part of my bachelor’s degree, I learned the clear difference between “literal” language and “figurative” language. My English grammar text states that “literally . . . not only is overused but also is confused with figuratively. It is an antonym of the latter and really means ‘not imaginatively, ‘ ‘actually.'”

    This same English grammar states that “figuratively” means “metaphorically, representing one thing in terms of another, not literally.”

    Therefore, you use a logical fallacy of creating a straw man when you speak about those who “believe that the Bible is literally true in its entirety” as lacking intelligence. This is your way of putting down those who read the Bible like any other document, accepting literal and figurative language where such is intended.

    Sincerely,
    Spencer Gear, Hervey Bay Q.

  • “The only truth you have is the one you believe in.” But such truth could be faulty. That’s why Muslims are so ready to blow themselves up, because that’s the only truth they have. Marge, I don’t think anyone would give a wooden coin for whatever regard you may have for Bill’s intelligence level. For that matter, I don’t even think anyone here would bother to expect anything from you because it is very clear that your truth is a stand-alone truth unique to you alone. I thought your intelligence was high, until you start putting down other people’s intelligence. I dont usually get involved in giving comments, but what you are arguing about here is way off track from the original topic of changing the name of God to Allah.
    Ed Sim

  • Marge, you evidently have researched only one side of the Creation/Genesis argument. You could start with ‘The Case for the Creator’, by Lee Strobel, an atheist journalist who became a believer. In this his most recent book, he interviews modern day scientific luminaries to see just how Darwinian evolution stacks up with all the modern science and recent research. In every field of science, it fails – however the evidence for Intelligent Design, that is the God of the Bible being behind the universe, is now absolutely overwhelming.
    It is ‘science’ that continually rolls out the ‘populist’ atheistic myths, yet cries foul when they are exposed as such.
    You may even be astonished to find out that many true scientists believe the Bible, and Genesis, from a scientific perspective as well as a faith perspective. Some websites to check out are:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com/ the Intelligent Design website.
    http://www.creationontheweb.com/ Creation Ministries International.
    http://www.answersingenesis.org/ Answers in Genesis ministry website.
    http://www.icr.org/ Institute for Creation Research.
    The second and third sites were founded by Australians, so are not the product of Southern American Fundamentalist Bible churches. Not that that would matter.
    While on the topic of fundamentalists, maybe checking out the etymology of the word may help some people, as I see it as a compliment that you consider Bill one.
    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalism .
    You will note that Wikipedia lists ‘above all’ liberal theology as undermining the Bible’s authority, yet 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for instruction, for reproof, for correction and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be complete and well equipped for every good work.”
    If you take away God’s authority regarding Scripture, then you must replace it with, well, your own. That means you have an authority higher than God, therefore, logically you are God. Remember Commandments Numbers 1 and 2?
    By the way, what does one end up with if they take out all the alleged ‘myths’ or ‘unbelievable’ parts of the Bible? If your version of the Bible contains myths you should rip those pages out and keeping tearing until you reduce God’s word to what is only acceptable to you. The next person would end up with something slightly different, and then your argument would be with them, as they are not ‘in the majority’, of your opinion. Revelation 22:18-19 admonishes those that add or take away from God’s word.
    Until you deal with God’s authority in, through, over and permeating all Scripture as the living Word, can you honestly even consider that He is actually LORD? If you can’t reconcile that then is Jesus actually your Saviour? But Saviour from what? Fiction? Myth? Ignorance? Sin becomes only relative, so he doesn’t ‘save’ you from it, Heaven is only figurative, so you don’t really go there, ditto for hell.
    Jesus says search the Scriptures, He quotes the Scriptures, He fulfills the Scriptures, He is the author and the finisher of your faith (if you have it). He is the Truth.
    Keep up the good work of apologist, Bill.
    Good to see some people showing hermeneutics and exegesis as the foundation of interpreting and applying the Bible to our lives!
    Shalom, Michael Evans

  • BTW just when will those tolerant Muslims start to call Allah, “God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit?” After all, its only fair isn’t it? He is the same God isn’t He? I’m waiting on the first Imam to announce this….
    Will the Islamic Council of Victoria do this to show respect towards Christians and their God? By not doing this is Islam mocking the Christian God and vilifying Christians?
    Shalom, Michael Evans

  • I ask one question.
    Why is it that Christians are always asked to change, why don’t the Muslims change the name of Allah to God?
    Jim Sturla. Brisbane

  • Marge, apologies for taking such a ‘Hillbilly’ view of Scripture, but I hold that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). Further, that “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Col 1:16b-17). Regardless of the predominant worldview of the day, God is unchanging.

    Also, personal insults do little to build your arguments or credibility. Doesn’t the old adage mention something about heat in the kitchen?

    Luke Beattie

  • I myself once held similar views to Marge. I considered myself superior in wisdom and actually felt pity for those Christians with the utmost respect for the truth of Scripture. If I was honest with myself, I looked down upon them and praised myself for my intelligence and progressive thinking.

    But then an amazing thing happened. I actually started reading it more and more, and allowed it to tell me what it was saying, not me imposing my liberal views upon it.

    As this took place I started to realise how amazingly accurate the Bible actually was, and how I’d placed the liberal views of myself and others in authority over it, rather than placing myself under it.

    As I started to accept that the Bible was correct and I was wrong, I was blessed by God’s teaching, wisdom, truth and promises. I also had to repent of my own ignorance and proud reliance on man’s wisdom, but by this stage, was more than happy to do that.

    I can only pray that Marge has an experience similar to mine.

    George Kokonis

  • As far as I am aware, all Christians and any non-Christian Bible scholars of note agree that from the very opening pages of Genesis, the names of God have significant meaning, even if the semantic range is debated. The significant implication of this in real life is that God of the Bible consistently reveals (or for the sceptics: “is said to reveal”) His name and nature to man. So the lowest common denominator for a Divine Name in Christian theology is that the Name reveals something about God. “Allah” barely even begins to compare to the most generic “Elohim” in this regard.
    Damien Carson, Wynnum, Queensland

  • Can I also add, with all the talk about liberal theology and intellectual endeavour, that I am deeply cynical about the opinion of the experts.

    I appreciate and value good scholarship, but I also have a strong suspicion that if a professor of theology or biblical studies was from a well established British or German University, they would still receive thoughtful nods and low murmurs of approval at theological conferences regardless of what they said.

    Damien Carson, Wynnum, Queensland

  • I haven’t had time to read everything here so if there is some repetition forgive me. Logically speaking, two things being similar by no means makes them the same. A bank teller can pick a counterfiet, not by knowing all the ways a bank note can be faked, but by knowing the original so well.
    To apply this to the above: The God of the Bible (Old Testament) may be similar in some aspects to the Allah of the Koran, but it is the differemces that make them absolutely not the same deity.

    Deu 7:6-8 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

    Main DIfference No.1 – The God of the Old Testament loves (and his motivation is love which is exactly the same as the New Testament), whereas Allah does not at anytime command his followers to love.

    Main Difference No.2 – The God of the Old Testament and New Testament delights in making and keeping his promises, whereas Allah is capricious – Muslims know that there is absolutely no way to be 100% sure that anyone has salvation in Allah, but the best chance for salvation according to Islam, is to shed one’s blood in Jihad

    These two deities are asolutely NOT the same deity if we agree that both books accurately represent their God.

    Josh Ferrara

  • I enjoyed reading Donna Murphy’s contribution. Very well written. That Catholic bishop in Holland would not be speaking for the Catholic Church. There are some recalcitrant bishops floating about and I don”t have the time to explain it all. If he thinks the Muslims will be nicer to us and not bomb our children, because we change the name of God to “Allah” he has a lot to learn. To them this would be a sign of weakness. I’m pleased he’s not in charge of the war on terror. I remember listening years ago to an interview with Hitler’s translator. Asked what Hitler said when British prime minister talked Hitler into signing the peace accord and then Chamberlain left the room with a gushing smile. The translator said that, once Chambertain had left, Hiltler threw his arms in the air, laughing his head off, saying “He was such a nice old man, I thought I’d give him my autograph”. A short time later Hitler’s army invaded Poland, starting world war 2.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie, Queensland

  • Great article, and great teaching above. Also great to see the action in volleys.

  • So, Bill, I’m seeing that, according to several folks here, you are wrong, wrong, wrong, and totally judgmental. But what I see here is truth and courage in having posted this informative article. This view that to tackle the claims of Islam has only gotten worse since you first penned this article. Please be encouraged as you are a bold soldier for Christ. The world may hate you, but God knows you by name and has called you. (It’s sort of hard to relay what I mean without sounding like a brown nose).

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