When considering Christianity and Islam, interfaith discussions often address issues of similarity and difference as definitive categories. Some suggest that the differences between the two are minimal and that the similarities must be emphasized for peace to be imaginable. Others claim radical disparities between the faiths and are convinced that the differences must be promoted to protect the integrity of the respective truth claims. Two recent books, Who Is My Enemy? Questions American Christians Must Face about Islam—and Themselves (2011) by Lipscomb professor Lee Camp, and Allah: A Christian Response (2011) by Yale professor Miroslav Volf, help us grapple with these issues profoundly and faithfully. On the surface, Volf can be seen as emphasizing similarity and Camp can be seen as emphasizing difference. While both acknowledge the faiths’ substantial similarities and irreconcilable differences, a comparative analysis of the books actually helps point the discussion beyond similarity and difference per se, toward respectful dialogue, mutual understanding, and genuine missional encounter. Despite the different purposes and emphases of the two books, the authors agree that peace initiatives between the communities do not require pluralistic compromises of core convictions or denials of the missional impulse, and both advocate a posture for Christian-Muslim dialogue that is defined by the Golden Rule and love of neighbor.
“So you see, there are only a few degrees of difference between Islam and Christianity.”
That’s what our Turkish guide said as he led our group to the apse of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, that magnificent structure that was once a church, then a mosque, and is now a museum. The Hagia Sophia was built in the sixth century and served as the central church of Eastern Christendom for the better part of a millennium. An altar once stood in the center of the apse marking the fact that the entire building pointed toward Jerusalem. In May of 1453, however, when the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered Istanbul (then Constantinople), he went directly to the Hagia Sophia and declared that the thousand-year-old church was now a mosque. Over time, various Islamic elements were added to serve the new Muslim worshipers. For example, the altar was replaced with a mihrab (prayer niche) found in all mosques that indicates the direction of Mecca and thus the direction of Islamic prayer. From Istanbul, Mecca is located only seven degrees farther south than Jerusalem, so the mihrab was installed a few feet to the right of where the altar once was, thus slightly off-center as one faces the apse (see the picture above). For the next 500 years, therefore, Muslim worshipers lined up with the Mecca-facing mihrab, and thus slightly diagonal to the original Jerusalem-facing orientation of the building. Our guide was a master at telling this story, but he also couldn’t help but share his theological conviction that the spatial proximity of the altar and mihrab reflected the theological proximity of the two faiths, thus “there are only a few degrees of difference between Islam and Christianity.”
Interfaith discussions often cast issues of similarity and difference as definitive categories. Some suggest that the differences between Christianity and Islam are minimal (e.g., a mere seven degrees?) and that the similarities must be emphasized for peace to be imaginable. Others claim radical disparities between the faiths (e.g., a full 180 degrees!) and are convinced that the differences must be promoted to protect the integrity of the respective truth claims. Of course, whether one sees accommodating similarity or whiplashing difference is largely affected by one’s cultural and theological location. As an Islamic friend of mine once mused, Mecca and Jerusalem may be geographically separated by seven degrees when standing in Istanbul, but there is a full 180 degrees of separation between the two when standing in northwestern Saudi Arabia (and the political and theological analogies were not lost on us!).
Two recent books, Who Is My Enemy? Questions American Christians Must Face about Islam—and Themselves (2011) by Lipscomb professor Lee Camp, and Allah: A Christian Response (2011) by Yale professor Miroslav Volf, help us grapple with both the remarkable similarities and the profound differences between these two major world faiths. A full review of the books is not possible in the space provided, but I will offer some specific points of comparison between them that are important for interfaith dialogue. In the end, I will suggest that both help point the discussions beyond issues of similarity and difference per se, and toward respectful dialogue, mutual understanding, and genuine missional encounter.
Contexts and Objectives
I will begin with representative quotes from each book:
“To the extent that Christians and Muslims embrace the normative teachings of Christianity and Islam about God, they believe in a common God,” Volf declares.1 And again: “If . . . Christians and Muslims have a common God . . . they will have . . . overlapping ultimate values . . . [and] a common moral framework.”2
“The narrative logic of the Qur’an and of the New Testament are not ‘basically the same,’ ” Camp states. “The fundamental storyline of the two differs.”3 And again: “The founding narratives of Christianity and Islam are different . . .[they] proceed from two very different narratives.”4
Both Volf and Camp are theologians who write from the perspectives of personal faith and with the hope of contributing to respectful dialogue and peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians. Based on the quotes above, however, one could surmise that Volf highlights similarity between the faiths while Camp argues for difference, and those characterizations would be true up to a point. But such an observation also easily becomes a caricature that misses the rich nuances and deeper invitations of each book. Neither is a monolithic presentation of similarity or difference. For example, in his presentation of theological similarities, Volf also notes that “Muslim and Christian beliefs about God significantly diverge at points,”5 reflect “ineradicable differences,”6 and reveal “two rival versions of the Master of the Universe.”7 Likewise, as Camp describes “fundamental differences” between the two stories, he also displays deep appreciation for the “clear parallels between Jesus and Muhammad” especially with regard to shared convictions about the sovereignty of God and shared concerns for the poor, for justice, fairness, equality, and peace.8
To assess their distinct contributions, it is first critical to recognize their different contexts and objectives. Neither book claims to be a comprehensive comparison of the two faiths. Rather, each stems from a specific impetus. For Volf, Allah was written as part of a series of interfaith discussions that evolved especially after Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial 2006 Regensburg Address.9 In that speech, the pope implied that the “inner nature” of Islam reveals a posture of violence that reflects an antirational capricious God diametrically opposed to the rational peaceful God of Christianity. Volf asserts that such a dichotomy fails to stand up to scrutiny.10 This sets up his thesis that the God of the Bible and the God of the Qur’an are “sufficiently similar” in descriptions and commands so as to conclude that they are the same God (see more below). But it is crucial to understand that Volf presents these arguments as an exercise in “political theology.” In short, he is not focused on issues such as salvation and the world to come as much as he is seeking to build bridges that might help Muslims and Christians live together more peacefully in this world.11
Camp’s Who Is My Enemy? was written as part of a personal journey triggered by negative reactions to several lectures he delivered on interfaith dialogue.12 To his surprise, some claimed that his lectures undermined Christian faith and reflected dangerous naïveté about the violent and dominating intentions of Muslims. The reactions created in him the desire to investigate the issues with greater diligence, which eventually led to the writing of the book.
As with Volf’s book, Who Is My Enemy? is also a work of political theology, but one with different starting points and ending points. Building on his earlier book Mere Discipleship,13 Camp presents a political theology influenced by John Howard Yoder that promotes a turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and sharply contrasts the nonviolent suffering love of Jesus with the notions of “just war” and “redemptive violence” that developed in post-Constantinian Christendom. In Who Is My Enemy? Camp finds Islam to be a fascinating external dialogue partner in these otherwise Christian debates about war. After all, a common assumption is that Islam, like post-Constantinian Christianity, supports ideas of justified war and measured retaliation against enemies. In fact, from a Yoderian perspective, Camp provocatively suggests that mainstream, post-Constantinian Christian notions of just war are actually more Muslim than Christian. In more precise words, there is a “fundamental political difference” between the logic of Jesus and the logic of Muhammad, so that “the normative of Christian tradition, with its just war tradition, looks more like the Muhammad story than the Jesus story.”14 Camp implies that one must make a choice: one must either embrace the idea that Jesus followers are called to a life of radical pacifism, or admit that Jesus and Muhammad are significantly similar in their approach to war and justice. It is important to note that Camp is not advocating the kind of crass comparisons that pit Islam as a religion of war or justice versus Christianity as a religion of peace. But he does advance the idea that the “founding narratives” of Christianity and Islam present two fundamentally different means for achieving the shared goals of peace and justice: one shaped by the suffering love of one on a cross, the other shaped by the equitable leadership of one with a sword.15
Assessments of Camp and Volf
Is Camp’s analysis accurate? An assessment of the argument invites at least two caveats. First, as Camp is fully aware, a radical Yoderian-type pacifism is an influential yet minority position in the history of Christian thought and practice. In fact, theologians of the stature of Augustine have regularly insisted that war against enemies, while always lamentable, can actually be a form of just peacemaking and thus an expression of love for enemies.16 Secondly, Islamic history includes its own influential minority traditions that have promoted principled nonviolence.17 Consider, for example, the nonviolent activist movements of early-twentieth-century Kurdo-Turkish scholar Said Nursi in Turkey18 and Abdul Ghaffar Khan (the “Frontier Gandhi”) in India19 and the international movements currently inspired by Fethullah Gülen, who calls for Muslims to act “without hands against those who strike you, without speech against those who curse you.”20 One might even detect Yoderesque logic in the influential Sudanese reformer and martyr Mahmoud Muhammad Taha who opposed the legalistic and militant traditions that have developed in Islamic history and located Islam’s original and ideal vision (“founding narrative”?) in the inclusivist and nonretaliatory Meccan passages of the Qur’an.21 While Camp recognizes pious Muslim individuals who display remarkable commitments to peace,22 he does not adequately address movements and schools of thought such as these. The operative question, then, is this: Do these reform movements challenge Camp’s portrayal of Islam’s “founding narrative” and its political vision?
Volf casts a wider net than Camp, but at one point in Allah he also focuses on issues of war and retaliation against enemies. Like Camp, Volf acknowledges the prominence of just war ideas in Christian history and promotions of nonretaliatory kindness to enemies in Islamic history. All things considered, however, Volf finds the normative Christian command to “love enemies” to be, even in its just war forms, more definitive and proactive than in normative Islam, which tends to be more protective and defensive.23 I think similar nuance is also valuable when comparing the radical reform movements of both faiths.24 In a sense, therefore, Volf confirms Camp’s distinction at least as it relates to the love of enemies, but only as a sub-point within his wider appeal to the theological similarities between the two faiths. This is not to suggest that the point about war is less theologically significant to Volf than it is to Camp, but rather that Volf has wider objectives in his book.
What, then, can be said about Volf’s wider objectives? A primary philosophical challenge of his thesis relates to the concept of “sufficient similarity.” How does one determine whether the similarities between Islam and Christianity are “sufficient” to support the idea of a common God? What is sufficient? Where are the lines drawn, and who draws them? In many ways, such questions are unanswerable and can easily fall victim to semantic tail-chasing. But Volf remains focused on the normative traditions and employs persuasive historical and philosophical arguments to support the “same God” position.25 Volf also presents a deep theological argument that, if true, has profound implications for interfaith dialogue. Echoing the “Common Word” document, Volf underscores a teaching that is central to the three Abrahamic faiths: the twin commands to love God and to love one’s neighbors. This teaching is clear in the Shema and other parts of the Torah, in the teachings of Jesus and his promotion of the “greatest commands,” and in the teachings of Muhammad as recorded in the authoritative hadith.26 Unfortunately, history is filled with examples of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim individuals and communities that have failed to be faithful to such teachings. But if this central point of commonality is accurate, Volf claims, the consequences are “momentous” for the prospects of peace. In short, it means that a deep commitment to the distinctives of the faiths “no longer leads to clashes; it fosters peaceful coexistence.”27 Said another way, peaceful coexistence does not require pluralistic compromises of core convictions or denials of the missional impulse.28
On his side, Camp emphasizes the call of Jesus-followers to faithfully practice nonretaliatory suffering love to all, including enemies, regardless of the situation or whether peaceful coexistence or justice results.29 Volf would certainly agree with such an emphasis, but for Camp this is precisely what makes the Jesus story different from both the Muhammad story and the Christian just war traditions. Nevertheless, Camp can also plead with his just war “brothers and sisters” at least to apply the principles of that tradition thoroughly and rigorously, and thus avoid the violent abuses that have been so common in Christian history.30 He concludes that just war advocates, and by implication mainstream Muslims, who are motivated by “love of neighbor” can “serve an immensely positive role in peacemaking in our world.”31
Love of neighbor, therefore, becomes a hermeneutical key in both books. It is a litmus test that allows Camp to affirm peacemaking possibilities for just war traditions despite his strong Yoderian convictions. It also serves as one of the key theological litmus tests for Volf’s idea of sufficient similarity and the same God thesis. Volf further implies that the embodiments or practices of love of neighbor are more significant than what different communities might believe or say about God or one’s neighbors. From this, Volf delivers a thought-provoking twist of logic that I also find reflected in Camp’s presentation:
Are the Crusaders and the terrorist worshipping the same God? A Crusader shouts Christus dominus (“Christ is the Lord”) while cleaving the head of an infidel. A terrorist shouts Allahu Akhbar (“God is the greatest”) as he pulls the fuse of the bomb strapped around his waist. They are naming God very differently, and yet they are, alas, worshipping the same god—a bloodthirsty god of power, not the God of justice and mercy of the normative Christian and Muslim religious traditions.32
Said another way, Christians who strive to worship God by loving their neighbors have more in common with Muslims who do the same than with other Bible-reading, church-going Christians who embody a posture of animosity, violence, or fear-mongering. Volf concludes with a provocative nuance to his overall thesis: “No simple yes or no is possible in answering the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Some do, and some don’t.”33
Much more should be said when attempting productive comparisons between Christianity and Islam.34 But Camp and Volf both provide helpful reference points for navigating the faith’s substantial similarities and irreconcilable differences. Both also advocate a posture for Christian/Muslim dialogue that is defined by the Golden Rule and love of neighbor.
In conclusion and from a Christian perspective, love of neighbor in Muslim/Christian interactions finds specific support in Jesus’ well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.35 In many ways, Samaritans were to the Jews of Jesus’ day what Muslims are to many Christians today. The parallels are striking. Jews and Samaritans, like Christians and Muslims, share complex historical connections to one another, and each claims to be the true worshipers of God.36 Samaritans, like Muslims, embraced only selected parts and idiosyncratic interpretations of the Jewish scriptures. Samaritans directed their faith toward a different “mountain” than the Jews.37 Furthermore, the Samaritans of Jesus’ day were often mistrusted and feared as terrorists and infidels. And yet when a lawyer questioned Jesus about “eternal life” and the living out of the “greatest commandments,” Jesus chose a merciful Samaritan to represent such a life in contrast to the social and religious purities of a priest and a Levite. In short, being neighborly and showing mercy gets at the heart of Jesus’ message in ways that religious identity and piety cannot on their own. Jesus could have made this point without bringing to mind the sensitive mixture of differences and similarities between Jews and Samaritans. But that is exactly what he chose to do and thus he forced his hearers to grapple with the surprising reversals of the kingdom. Jesus said to his Jewish audience, in effect, “Do you want to be a good God-fearing Jew? Then behave as did this merciful Samaritan.” I can imagine him saying today, “Do you want to be a good, faithful, missional Jesus-follower? Then behave as a merciful Muslim.”
As Volf and Camp illustrate, discussions about the degrees of similarity and difference, and all missional encounters, should begin there.
John Barton is a professor of philosophy and religion and currently serves as the Provost of Rochester College in Rochester Hills, Michigan. He and his family lived and worked in Jinja, Uganda, East Africa, from 1994 to 2002 as part of a church-planting mission team. While in Uganda, John completed a PhD in philosophy at Makerere University in Kampala. Barton has special interest in the study of world religions and is specifically active in initiatives related to Christian-Muslim interactions. Recent publications include articles in Philosophia Africana, Missiology, and Turkish Review.
Akyol, Mustafa. Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011.
Camp, Lee C. Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2003.
________. Who Is My Enemy? Questions American Christians Must Face about Islam—and Themselves. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011.
Griswold, Eliza. The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line between Christianity and Islam. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.
Gülen, M. Fethullah. Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance. New Jersey: The Light, 2006.
Jenkins, Philip. Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses. New York: HarperOne, 2011.
Kelsay, John. Arguing the Just War in Islam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
Kurtz, Lester R. “Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s Nonviolent Jihad.” Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice 23, no. 2 (June 2011): 245–51.
Lewis, Bernard. The Multiple Identities of the Middle East. New York: Schocken Books, 1998.
Patel, Eboo. Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. Boston: Beacon Press, 2007.
Prothero, Stephen. God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter. New York: HarperOne, 2011.
Saritoprak, Zeki. “An Islamic Approach to Peace and Nonviolence: A Turkish Experience.” The Muslim World 95, no. 3 (July 2005): 413–27.
Stassen, Glen H., and David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downer Groves, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Thistlethwaite, Susan Brooks. “Religion and Gender.” In The Religion Factor: An Introduction to How Religion Matters, ed. William Scott Green and Jacob Neusner, 149–65. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
Volf, Miroslav. Allah: A Christian Response. New York: HarperOne, 2011.
1 Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 123.
2 Ibid., 260.
3 Lee C. Camp, Who Is My Enemy? Questions American Christians Must Face About Islam—And Themselves (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011), 44.
4 Ibid., 103.
5 Volf, 33.
6 Ibid., 262.
7 Ibid., 13.
8 Camp, 46.
9 Soon after the Regensburg Address, an “Open Letter” was sent to the pope from a group of renowned Islamic scholars offering a reasoned response to the pope’s speech and assumptions. One year later, a larger group of the most prominent Islamic scholars in the world, commissioned by Jordanian prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, presented a more thorough response in a document entitled “A Common Word between Us and You.” Volf was one of the authors of a Christian response to the “Common Word” document, which became known as “The Yale Response.” His book Allah both reflects and extends that response. See Volf, 20–36.
10 The Regensburg Address ignores substantial streams of Islamic theology that have, from the religion’s earliest decades, emphasized the rational nature of God and a rationalist understanding of faith and liberty. For a recent treatment of these themes, see Mustafa Akyol, Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011). Also, if one wants to explore the connections between violent passages in the Qur’an and examples of violence in Islamic history, one also needs to do the same with the Bible and Christian history. One must contend with Philip Jenkins’s claims that “in terms if its bloodthirsty and intolerant passages, the Bible raises considerably more issues than does the Qur’an.” See Philip Jenkins, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 73. One must also contend with the claim of renowned Middle East historian Bernard Lewis that, at least until modern times, “there is nothing in Islamic history to compare with the massacres and expulsions, the inquisitions and persecutions that Christians habitually inflicted on non-Christians and still more on each other. In the lands of Islam, persecution was the exception; in Christendom, sadly, it was often the norm.” See Bernard Lewis, The Multiple Identities of the Middle East (New York: Schocken Books, 1998), 129. See also Camp’s helpful and concise discussion of violent passages in the Old Testament in Who Is My Enemy?, 48–54.
11 Volf, 13. This also has important implications for mission since peaceful coexistence requires that both faith communities are able to live out their missionary impulse in respectful and noncoercive ways. See Volf, 207–13.
12 Camp, 1.
13 Lee C. Camp, Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2003). All remaining references to Camp in this article are references to Who Is My Enemy?
14 Camp, 46, 140. Camp is heavily influenced by ethicist John Kelsay who concludes that “just war” is “an aspect of the foundational narrative of Islam.” See John Kelsay, Arguing the Just War in Islam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 97. Likewise, religion scholar Stephen Prothero claims that “on the ethics of war the Quran and the New Testament are worlds apart.” See Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 45.
15 Camp, 105, 141–42, 153. In these sections, Camp provides powerful discussions of the meaning of the cross (beyond modern penal substitutionary theories) and explorations of why the Qur’an denies the crucifixion.
16 See Camp, 67–70; also Volf, 180.
17 Eboo Patel locates the “defining moment of Islam” in a certain reading of the story of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah and Muhammad’s peaceful return to Mecca in which the Prophet, despite threats of military attack, refused to carry arms and accepted humiliating terms in order to achieve reconciliation with enemy tribes. Patel claims this is the context for the Medinan 48th sura, “The Victory Sura” (see more below on Medinan and Meccan suras), which therefore connects Medinan “victory” with a nonretaliatory peaceful act and leaves the punishment of enemies to God in the afterlife. Patel finds analogies here to the modern nonviolent theologies of Martin Luther King, Jr. See Eboo Patel, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007), 139–41. See also Zeki Saritoprak, “An Islamic Approach to Peace and Nonviolence: A Turkish Experience,” The Muslim World 95, no. 3 (July 2005): 413.
18 For a helpful commentary on Nursi, see Akyol, 207ff.
19 See Lester R. Kurtz, “Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s Nonviolent Jihad,” Peace Review 23, no. 2 (June 2011): 245–51. As my friend Imam Achmat Salie shared with me, Khan’s pacifism was based exclusively on Muslim sources unlike his friend and colleague Mahatma Gandhi who based his ideas on a pluralism of sources.
20 M. Fethullah Gülen, Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance (New Jersey: The Light, 2006), 54–57. Gülen’s “pacifism,” however, still assumes a role for both the “greater jihad” (an internal spiritual struggle against one’s carnal self in which one seeks to remove all obstacles to one’s own spiritual development), and the “lesser jihad” (an external struggle that might, in rare and specific situations, include defensive combat in order to “remove obstacles between people and faith so that people can choose freely between belief and unbelief”). See Gülen, 171, 178. Gülen repeatedly emphasizes, against many other Islamic voices, that this external struggle is for the sake of others and their freedom, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, and not for oneself, or for one’s community per se, or in self-defense, and certainly not for coercive persuasion. As he told his followers when he was receiving death threats, “If I am assassinated, despite all of your angers, I ask you to . . . seek order, peace and love. . . . Regardless of what happens, we believers should be representatives of love and peace.” See Saritoprak, 423.
21 Jenkins, 84. See also Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line between Christianity and Islam (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), 110–11. There are many hermeneutical debates with regard to how the earlier, nonviolent Meccan chapters of the Qur’an relate to the later, more “political” Medinan chapters in which God grants “permission” to retaliate against aggressive enemies (22:39). Some have claimed that the Meccan pacifism was merely strategic (i.e., not “principled”) at a time when the Muslim community was a young minority group, and that the Meccan strategies were overruled (“abrogated”) by the later Medinan passages once the Muslim community had been established, thus representing a kind of progressive revelation from pacifism to power-politics. (This is the interpretation that Camp seems to emphasize, and it does seem to be a majority position; see pp. 106–7). Others claim the Meccan passages only address internal spiritual issues, while the Medinan passages address external, social, and political guidelines. Still others claim that the Meccan passages represent the universal, principled message of Islam, while the Medinan passages, much like similar passages in the Old Testament, represent specific, contextual situations that must be interpreted as such (see Akyol, 55–62; 88–95; 329, fn. 40; see also Saritoprak, 413–27; such an approach to the Medinan passages parallels how Camp interprets violent Old Testament passages; see pp. 48–54). Mahmoud Muhammad Taha represents a radical yet influential version of this latter approach. Analogies between Taha and Yoder are tempting but also should not be exaggerated. For one thing, Taha’s 1967 book A Second Message of Islam, written a few years before Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, reflects a kind of non-Yoderesque “contextual realism” that seeks to make the Islamic faith relevant to the modern world. But at least in the sense that Camp draws analogies between the Christian shift from pre-Constantinian to post-Constantinian political postures, and the Islamic shift from Meccan to Medinan postures (p. 65ff.), one can find parallels between Yoder’s claims that the original and authentic “politics of Jesus” have been distorted by the “Constantinian cataract” and Taha’s claim that the universal Meccan ideals of Islam have been distorted by certain theories of abrogation. Of course, the challenge in these Islamic debates involves the need to justify two sets of Qur’anic revelations (Meccan and Medinan), which are both given to the Prophet himself within a few years of each other, and whose identification and chronology is a matter of debate. In the Christian case, the debate involves the “founding narrative” of Jesus and the nonauthoritative story of Emperor Constantine who lived nearly three centuries after Jesus. In other words, a Taha-type position seems harder to defend than Yoder’s. But in the end, in the spirit of the Golden Rule, Christians should leave it for Muslims to make judgments about Islam’s difficult historical and hermeneutical issues (such as whether the Meccan passages are to be understood as principled or strategic, normative or contextual) and hope that Muslims will return the favor with regard to difficult issues in Christian interpretation and history.
22 Camp, 132–39. Also see the excerpt from Camp’s book in the present issue.
23 Volf notes that the New Testament reserves all violence against enemies for God alone (Rom 12:19; Rev 19:2) and commands Christians only to love enemies. Such “love” implies actively being for someone. So while Christians are commanded to be for their enemies (e.g., to act in their enemies’ favor), Muslims are permitted and sometimes even expected to be against those who wage war against them. For Muslims, kindness toward enemies would be considered more of a supererogatory act. Volf summarizes: “Though Muslims insist that we should be kind to all, including those who do us harm, most reject the idea that the love of neighbor includes the love of enemy.” Volf connects the command to love one’s enemies with the fact that Christians unequivocally affirm that God, though condemning ungodly behavior, nevertheless loves and potentially saves “the ungodly” (Rom 5:6–8). Muslim theologians tend to be more cautious about such ideas. See Volf, 182–83.
24 For example, Islamic pacifists, such as Gülen, seem to consistently stop short of what Glen Stassen and David Gushee describe as “rule-pacifism,” which is a more absolutist form of Christian pacifism that holds nonviolence as an obligatory rule that is never compromised regardless of the situation. But Gülen, it seems to me, closely exhibits what Stassen and Gushee describe as “discipleship-pacifism,” which not only avoids violence but actively practices peacemaking as a way of life. Stassen and Gushee point out that discipleship-pacifism is “slightly more flexible” than rule-pacifism, and they cite the well-known example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s anguished participation in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler as an example of the way committed Christian pacifists might determine that rare situations still call for acts of violence in service of greater peace. See Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downer Groves, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 166–67. I find Bonhoeffer’s discipleship-pacifism to be compatible with Gülen’s ideas of the “lesser jihad” as an external struggle that is pursued for the sake of others and only in the rarest and most extreme situations involves violence. See fn. 20 above. All of this, I believe, challenges what can often be an exaggerated polarization in Camp’s analysis between Yoderian pacifisms and Augustinian just war ideas. With the exception of more legalistic, absolutist, rule-oriented pacificisms, the differences between the various pacifist and just war positions are differences of shading along a continuum more than binary distinctions.
25 First, he finds significant allies in Christian theologians as diverse as the medieval Catholic cardinal Nicholas of Cusa and the often-intolerant Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. Both men lived in times of intense political tensions between the two communities and acknowledged significant theological differences between the faiths, but both also assumed that Muslims and Christians share a common God. Secondly, Volf attests that Muslims themselves have most often assumed the faiths share a single God. Despite passages that reflect distinction or even clash, the Qur’an directly instructs Muslims to approach Jews and Christians with the following assumption: “Our God and your God is one” (Al ‘Ankabut 29:46). Thirdly, Volf addresses the common Christian claim that the Muslim God cannot be the same as the Christian God because Muslims do not embrace the lordship of Jesus or God’s trinitarian nature. This seemingly substantial point quickly dissipates, Volf implies, when one remembers that most religious Jews also reject Jesus and the Trinity, and yet Christians still overwhelmingly insist that the God of the Jews and the God of Jesus is the same God despite substantial disagreements about God’s nature and work. Why not accept, then, that the God of Islam is the same God as well? See also Brad East’s interview with Volf in this issue of Missio Dei.
26 See Deut 6:1–9 and Lev 19:18; Mark 12:28–34. For references to the hadith passages and Muslim commentary, see Volf, 27–30.
27 Volf, 31.
28 Ibid., 209–13, discusses a “common code of conduct,” guided by the Golden Rule, for all forms of Christian and Muslim evangelism and mission. The code includes basic rules that ensure mutually respectful, noncoercive, and fair forms of witnessing. See also Brad East’s interview with Volf in this issue.
29 This is in line with Yoder’s emphasis on faithfulness over calculated effectiveness and acknowledges that nonviolence does not always “win.” See Stassen and Gushee, 167–68.
30 In Who Is My Enemy? and in Mere Discipleship, Camp chronicles the frequent historical compromises to just war principles and shows how inevitable such compromises seem to be and how frequently justifications are found for communities and nations to enact great injustices in “God’s name” (see, for example, Who Is My Enemy, 73). Of course, any “slippery slope” critique has limits since a similar argument could be made for any good and right principle or idea. Grace itself can be, and has often been, abused (Rom 6). In addition, cruciform nonretaliatory suffering love that Camp so persuasively promotes as foundational to the Jesus story can be, and often has been, misused and abused. To illustrate this, one need only cite John Calvin’s instruction to a woman who was a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband: “We exhort her to bear with patience the cross which God has seen fit to place upon her.” Quoted in Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, “Religion and Gender,” in The Religion Factor: An Introduction to How Religion Matters, ed. William Scott Green and Jacob Neusner (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 158. Furthermore, advocates of just war often claim that historical abuses are precisely why just war theory is needed in order to oppose and correct such abuses. See Stassen and Gushee, 166.
31 Camp, 153. See Camp’s respectful engagement with the ideas of Daniel Bell and the latter’s argument that just war should be recovered by Christians as a discipline of the church. Camp, 161, fn. 10.
32 Volf, 119. See also Camp’s similar sentiment: “When the Crusader marked with the cross cleaves the skull of the infidel, when the conquistador bears the ‘Good News’ to the New World as he slaughters and kidnaps the natives, and when the American Christian dangles a cross from the end of the machine gun with which he kills Muslims, he denies the crucified Jesus too.” Camp, 146.
33 Volf, 123. Note that this statement is about “worship” and not just belief or reference. He continues: “To the extent that Christians and Muslims strive to love God and neighbor, they worship that same true God.”
34 In Allah, Volf addresses other important areas of dialogue that I do not reflect in this review such as considerations of God’s oneness and trinitarian thought, the Christian description “God is love” compared to Islamic ideas of God’s mercy, and others. There are also many other areas in which fruitful dialogue is possible. I find some of the following points of similarity and difference to be some of them. Points of Similarity: historical and genealogical connections to Abraham; ideas of theistic dualism between Creator and creation, as opposed to, say, ideas of monism, pantheism, and atheism; and shared ideas of historical and progressive revelation. Points of Difference: the related Christian doctrines of sin-nature, atonement, and the work of the Holy Spirit; the relationship of works and mercy/grace; the election of Israel in salvation history; and, maybe most significantly, the doctrine of kenosis and the idea that divine self-disclosure involves God emptying himself and making himself weak and vulnerable, denouncing worldly power and embracing humiliating suffering service seen most clearly in the cross. See also Keith Huey’s article in this issue.
35 Luke 10: 25–37; cf. Matt 22: 37–40; Mark 12:28–34.
36 Of course, many of these parallels continue today. See 2 Kings 17 for the Old Testament’s account of the Samaritan people. Samaritan accounts differ, but the traditional Hebrew account states that when the Assyrians took many Israelites into captivity, Gentile foreigners from Babylon and other places came in, settled, and eventually intermarried with some Israelites still in the land. By Jesus’ day, the mixed descendants of these unions were known as Samaritans and lived in Samaria in between Galilee and Judah.
37 Samaritan worship is associated with Mt. Gerizim in Samaria rather than Mt. Zion/Jerusalem. See John 4:19–20.