Book Review: Is the Father of Jesus the God of Mohammed?
Author: Timothy George, Dean and Founder of Beeson Divinity School
Is the Father of
Jesus the God of Mohammed? This is the question raised by
Timothy George in his book by that title (published by Zondervan in
2002). George answers with both a "yes"
and a "no"--"yes" in that there is only one true God and Jesus is His
son; but "no" in light of the deficiency of Islam's deity.
So engaging is this study, and written with such clarity and simplicity, that the layman can readily tune in to a difficult subject. Arabic words are clearly defined and are listed in a glossary in the back. Difficult concepts are made vivid and unforgettable with illustrations, such as the likening of the Arius' deity (and, by implication, the god of Mohammed) to Silas Marner. Up-to-date statistics concerning numbers of Islamic adherents and their relative distribution in the countries of the world, references to the Koran and the Bible, and continuous comparison and contrast between Islam and Christianity with contemporary anecdotes makes the reading of this book a rewarding, enjoyable learning experience.
Especially impressive is the perspective George brings to this subject. Obviously, he knows his subject, and the threat it poses for the Christian on this side of 9/11; yet he resists the temptation to address the subject in a reactionary way. In fact, his style may fairly be described as gutsy as he quotes Muslim prayers which could equally well have been spoken by Christians, and cites surprising instances of people becoming Christians as a result of reading the Koran. "More than any two religious traditions on earth, Christianity and Islam share both striking similarities and radical differences," he states in his opening chapter. Then, like a skillful surgeon, George proceeds to separate two religious systems joined at the hip in the religion of Islam.
Most impressive of all is the historical-theological insight with which George approaches this subject. The highlight of the book, and what makes it so valuable for the Christian pastor, is George's relating the major theological and Christological issues of the early Christian era to the religion of Islam. His profound understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity recalled for this reader the perspective of Jonathan Edwards--though there is no mention of the 18th-century New England pastor-theologian. His definition of theology, however, is taken from William Ames, the grandfather of American Puritanism. The book is a refreshing and profound review of Nicea and Chalcedon. From that standpoint alone, every Christian who wants to be informed and equipped to share the gospel ought to read it.
The pressing issue of every pastor who has approached the religion of Islam is how to account for it. George offers a plausible thesis, namely, that Mohammed was a magnet for a plethora of early doctrinal heresies related to the nature of Christ--heresies which continued long after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 had settled the issues for the church at large. Supporting his argument from the Koran itself, George shows how Islamic teaching is not opposed to the Trinity, properly understood, but rather to caricatures of the Trinity, tritheism in particular, but also mariolatry emanating from the "mother of God" emphasis with which the church councils countered the teaching of Nestorius. The renunciation of tritheism is something, George argues, that Christians and Muslims have in common. In the Koran's treatment of the Crucifixion, George hears echoes of docetism, in that, for the Muslims, the Crucifixion never really happened--it only seemed to happen.
George points out that the Muslim emphasis on divine transcendence will not allow for the personhood of Deity. Inscribed upon the mosque at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is the statement that God does not have a son. It is not the unity of the Godhead, therefore, that divides Christians and Muslims--it is rather the nature of that unity. If the divine essence does not consist in a joyful interpersonal communion of One who knows, One who is known, and One who communicates that knowledge, then the divine being is unknowable. This is the tragedy of the Muslim god, and by the time George has finished his surgery the reader knows it and cannot help but feel a kind of compassionate sympathy for the Muslim people.
George, has opened for us a window to the Muslim world that will enable Christians to move forward in confidence and compassion rather than fear. Christian nurture, rather than polemics, is the author's intention, and in that he has succeeded.