I’ll admit when I first came across Miroslav Volf’s book Allah: A Christian Response during one of my weekend library trips his book didn’t look that appealing. After spending the last the last three or four years reading a host of books on comparative religion, in addition to already possessing huge and embarrassingly unread collection of those same kind of books as part of my own personal library I’m not really sure why I decided to grab Allah: A Christian Response as I was heading towards the checkout line. But after burning through his book in what seemed like no time at all I was very happy I grabbed it. Volf has produced an interesting but above all readable attempt to find common theological ground between Christianity and Islam.
Volf, currently a professor of theology at Yale as well as a leader in the areas of workplace spirituality and conflict resolution, uses his recently published book Islam: A Christian Response as a vehicle in seeking out the common ground between normative, (and normative is key because Volf automatically discounts the views of both religion’s extremists), Christianity and Islam by examining in-depth the core beliefs of the two Abrahamic faiths. Thankfully, Volf does this not only systematically, but using language that is accessible to nontheologians like myself. By examining the writings of Church fathers such as Nicholas of Cusa and Martin Luther when they themselves discussed at length and in-depth the perceived differences as well similarities between the two religions, Volf is able to place his search for interfaith common ground in a deeper historical context. To Volf it’s imperative to look at the two religion’s beliefs at the most basic level if we are to achieve any sort of interreligious respect, let alone harmony.
In assessing Volf’s arguments, one must remember just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so interpretation is also an individual matter. In reading what Volf has to say about such potentially divisive concepts as the Trinity, the Incarnation, in addition to the finality and primacy of Muhammad’s anointed role as Prophet, I’m respectfully struck by the Volf’s creative interpretation when it comes to these ecumenical “deal-breakers”. In doing so, Allah: A Christian Response is just as much a commentary on the religion of Christianity as it is on the religion of Islam.
Like I said at the start, I was pleasantly surprised with Volf’s ability to discuss such lofty and arcane subject matter in language accessible to those outside academic and theological circles. While I had a few minor disagreements with his discussion at the end of the book regarding the Danish cartoon controversy, (in a nutshell, I don’t think freedom of expression should automatically be trumped by religious sensitivities), I thought Allah: A Christian Response is a very good book and quite suitable for readers interested in exploring the differences and above all the similarities between the two great religions.