Theological opposition to Theonomy keeps evolving. Those of us who have been in the debate for the last two decades, can clearly see it. Those older than us, the veterans, who have been in it for over four decades, see it even more clearly. First, it was the dispensationalist argument that we are in the dispensation of grace, not of the Law, and therefore the Law of God is not applicable to us today. Dispensationalism collapsed under its own weight, of foolishly—but consistently, given its theology—giving its followers promises that couldn’t come true.
Then the faculties of Westminster East and West decided to take Theonomy to task by the rhetorical device of the “Law v. Grace” distinction, applied in an openly un-Biblical way, and without any clue as to what Theonomy teaches. The resulting Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (1990) was such a blatant disaster, and received such a blow by Theonomy: An Informed Response (1991), that the two seminaries are still ashamed of that book, and don’t bother to re-publish it.
Then, in the mid-90s, the Lutheran concept of “two-kingdoms” was recovered from its ashes of the 1930s when it fell in disgrace, being used by Hitler to subject the German churches to his regime. By the 1990s, to the average church-goer in the US, Nazi Germany was as distant as the Battle of Naboo, so a few Westminster West professors took it, dusted it off, warmed it up a little bit and inflated it under the name of “Two Kingdoms Theology.” Real theology it never became, for no one really wrote a systematic defense of it: only a small book by VanDrunen and several articles and haphazard mentions of the term in articles and interviews. It remained only a rhetoric, a semantical device to reject Theonomy; it never rose up to the task of presenting a consistent, comprehensive worldview as an alternative to Theonomy, which by that time had developed consistent theory about almost every major area of the life of man and his institutions.
All these proved to be inadequate to “combat” Theonomy, so they had to be dropped at some point. The “Two-Kingdoms” rhetoric is also falling in disrepute, of what I see, for it can hardly win the hearts of many by its insisting that “God doesn’t redeem the civil institutions, He only preserves them.” (From VanDrunen’s book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms.)
Over the years, the opponents of Theonomy, ironically, have been moving closer and closer to Theonomy, despite their professed disagreement with it, while Theonomists have become even more consistent with their teaching. Opposition started in the 1970s with “The Law is not for today, we are under grace.” In the 1990s it was “The Moral Law is valid, but only for the church; the common kingdom is under the natural law.” About a decade ago “natural law” was defined already as “the moral law of God written on the hearts of men.” And in our day, as the debate between Joel McDurmon and Jordan Hall demonstrated, the opponents of Theonomy have moved so close to Theonomy that they now bicker over whether the civil laws are “obligatory” or “practical,” while the justice of the Law for today is accepted for granted. Forty years ago, these were discussions between Theonomists. (In fact, these were some of the discussions on the ICE Forum just 20 years ago.) Now, as Theonomists have become more consistent, anti-Theonomists have adopted the position of the former “moderate” Theonomists. We can safely extrapolate where this is going.
This gradual surrender to Theonomy, however, has to be disguised somehow in order for the critics to keep face, so the same old tactics is used of false statements, misrepresentations, fabricated quotes or quotes out of context, etc. The McDurmon/Hall debate I mentioned above was full of those, and Joel McDurmon has documented many of them here. In addition to those, we have the good old technique of base rhetoric and false analogies: Theonomy has been compared to both anarchy and fascism at the same time, and sometimes by the same authors, and sometimes within the same article (no kidding!). Recently, however, with the hype about the rising danger of Islam in the secular media, another false analogy has become the fad of the day for anti-Theonomists: “Theonomy is like Shariah.” Spiffy, heh? No need to explain your position, no need to explain Theonomy. Actually, no need to study Theonomy at all. Just use the impression of those images in the media of decapitated prisoners to create the emotion, and then direct the emotion against Theonomy. Why bother actually studying Theonomy?
This is exactly what James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries did in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eUsjNH93ck&feature=youtu.be.
I have heard of White before, from friends of mine who have praised him highly for his “presuppositionalism” in his debates—which “presuppositionalism” I couldn’t detect in this particular video, by the way. My friends also praised him for his deep knowledge of Islam, and consequently, for his debates with Muslim scholars. I can’t pass judgment on the validity of his ministry. And I am not going to indulge in the childish play of some ministry leaders in the US of comparing personas and ministries. (“My ministry has been around for 32 years, and I have 25 books published! Show me your ministry and your publications!”) I am perfectly satisfied if my persona and my ministry are considered inferior to everyone else’s; my place in God’s Kingdom is mine only, and I don’t need comparisons to feel secure in what I do and who I am. If there are debates within the Christian community, I believe, they should be on theology, not on personal merits. A true minister of God should be the first to agree with those who assault him personally or just ignore their attacks; and at the same vehemently and vigorously defend and proclaim what he believes.
I must say, though, I was rather disappointed of what I heard. There were quite a few statements by White in that video that rather disproved the notion that he was the “expert” so highly praised by my friends. Without going into too much detail, the main disappointment was in the area of presuppositionalism: At some point in the video, in his comments on Theonomy, White went on to defend the “excluded middle ground,” and declare his position to be that “middle ground.” Obviously, when it comes to ethical/judicial issues, Biblical presuppositionalism doesn’t allow for a middle ground; its battle cry has always been “Push the antithesis!” No matter what brand of presuppositionalist one is, Clarkian or Vantillian, there is no way to imagine Van Til, or Clark, or John Robbins, or Greg Bahnsen, or any other presuppositionalist arguing for a middle ground, ethically/judicially. This is a major blunder for one who claims to be a “presuppositionalist”; White either doesn’t have a clue what presuppositionalism is, or he doesn’t care to employ it in his thinking.1
Another area of disappointment was intellectual honesty. White doesn’t know much about Theonomy. He calls it a “movable target” when, in reality, Theonomy is the best published theological position as of present, and therefore there is nothing “movable” about it. There is more material for Theonomy available that for all of the alternative positions combined. He also claims that there are “substantial differences between some major voices” of Theonomy but there is no evidence for such “substantial differences.” In fact, if anything, the Theonomists are the most united group of all groups in terms of theological beliefs. Their substantial differences amount to arguments over the validity and forms of public taxation, or over the nature and the place of the church. In comparison, to give an example, the Southern Baptists in the United States are still divided over the issue of God’s Sovereignty and Predestination, for crying out loud!
And yet, for all his ignorance about Theonomy, White scorns the objections of Theonomists that he misrepresents Theonomy and says that he will not invest the time to study what he criticizes. He repeats that several times, to make sure his listeners got the message.
White’s moral failure aside, what is more important is his use of the same base rhetoric and false analogy I mentioned above: “Theonomy is like Shariah.” In the video, while criticizing “some Theonomists,” and explaining his differences with them, he says,
Because of Acts chapter 15, we don’t have to bring Shariah, but Islam has to. . . .
So, there it is. He is arguing against Theonomists. He is then invoking his expertise on Islam. Then, within the same argument of counterposing Theonomy to his position (which is so unspecified that only Allah knows what it is, I might guess), he freely moves to a counterposition of his position to Shariah.
Logically, there is no way to claim he hasn’t used the rhetoric. If in the same argument his opposition to Theonomy is explained using the analogy of his opposition to Shariah, then he is comparing Theonomy to Shariah.
It is this false analogy that needs to be put to a presuppositional rest. And this is what this article is about. Hopefully, White will read it and will humble himself and repent for his slander against Theonomy. In the process, I will have to teach him a thing or two about presuppositionalism. I will also have to teach him a thing or two about Islam; from a presuppositional perspective, I mean. And, most important, I will use this as an occasion to give an example to the readers of how presuppositionalism should be properly applied to law and religion.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that White doesn’t know facts about Islam. I am sure anyone who focuses on a specific area can learn a bunch of facts within a three-month period, with today’s availability of printed and electronic material. And since he has focused on Islam, he certainly knows more facts about it than most of us, enough to impress us all. But for a true presuppositionalist, facts do not speak of themselves. One needs to have the right presuppositional understanding. And his comparison of Theonomy with Shariah is a proof he has not built a presuppositional understanding of Islam; therefore, while he may know many facts about Islam, he doesn’t have a true knowledge of it. This is what this article will make the effort to do: Help him understand the presuppositional nature of the facts that he has learned.
So, is Theonomy “like Shariah”? Let’s get started.
The Nature of God and the Nature of Revelation
A presuppositionalist must always approach every analysis, every analogy, every policy recommendation starting from . . . well, the basic presuppositions, of course. He can’t afford to rely on superficial and trivial arguments. To remain faithful to his position, a presuppositionalist must examine every idea down to its deepest philosophical foundations, to the level of its “basic commitments or assumptions.” Without such examination, there can be no real logic, no real analysis, no real debate, because there would be no real interpretation of facts. And without interpretation of facts, facts remains silent.2
Therefore, a comparative analysis between Shariah and Theonomy must—if it is to be done within a presuppositionalist framework—go back to the very foundational question of both systems, a question that is ultimately an issue of faith: What is the nature of the God behind each system? A commentator who—like White—simply makes a superficial statement of comparison without first going so far back, is no different than a media propagandist who just relies on Pavlov-type instincts in his listeners; he has committed the same logical fallacy as the atheist who claims that the early Christians were “communists” because they shared everything freely. Superficial resemblance is not true identity, and a true presuppositionalist knows it, and knows to avoid foolish comparisons.
So let’s get to a comparative analysis of the natures of the gods behind both systems.
It is generally assumed that, both being theistic religions, Christianity and Islam have similar views of the nature of God. In fact, most misunderstandings between the two religions come from this assumption. On the Christian side, many Christians vehemently deny (rightfully) that Jehovah is Allah, but they see the differences mainly in the fact that Jehovah is a loving God while Allah is a vengeful, bloody god (wrong). On the Muslim side, Muslims are positive that Jehovah and Allah are the same God, but they see in Christianity a mild form of polytheism, having three gods rather that one. Other than the ethical nature of God and the arithmetic of his Persons, most people can’t see a deeper difference.
The difference, however, is much deeper. It is an ontological difference, having to do with the very nature of God as He is. It goes to the original question of any cosmology, Is God—and therefore reality—ultimately One or Many? And then to the question that is essentially the same as the first one, Is God ultimately transcendent or immanent? Translated in layman’s terms, the question means, Is God ultimately remote, separated from the reality of facts and experience (transcendent), or is He intimately present in that reality in every part of it (immanent)? Related to this question about the nature of God are almost all other questions and problems of our knowledge and interpretation of ourselves and the world. What we believe about logic, science, technology, society, economics, law, time, man, family, etc., will ultimately hinge on the answers we give to these questions about the nature of God.3
It is here where the most fundamental difference between Christianity and all other religions—including Judaism and Islam—lies. While every religion and philosophy tries to solve the problem in favor of either unity or plurality—either transcendence or immanence—Christianity asserts a God Who, in Himself, contains without contradiction the equal ultimacy of the One and the Many. Is He one, or is He many? Our answer is: Yes. Neither has greater ultimacy in Him. And this oneness and manyness of God are not simply “connected” in Him in some sort of dialectical cohabitation. God doesn’t simply “reconcile” unity and plurality in Himself. They are both integral characteristics of His very Being.
Following from that, and even more relevant to our discussion, Christianity believes that both transcendence and immanence are ultimate in God’s nature. God is ultimately transcendent: He is perfectly distinct from His creation, absolute, self-existent and self-sufficient, and in no way can be said to be dependent on, or identified with, His creation or with any part of it. At the same time, God is ultimately immanent: He is intimately present with, and involved in, every single detail and part of reality.
It is on this premise that the central doctrine of the New Testament is based: the Incarnation. Through the Incarnation, God made Himself manifest to His creation in a way that is sovereign and divine, and yet accessible to every creature to taste, see, touch, and experience. God’s equally ultimate transcendence and immanence are the doctrine which gives meaning and basis for the entry of Jesus Christ in the universe (Heb. 1:5-6). God can be One God and yet He can beget a Son from eternity, Who will be His perfect representation in His creation. This belief about the nature of God is the underlying theological reason for the insistence on the Person of Jesus Christ as a test for Christian orthodoxy:
. . . acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ . . . (Chalcedonian Creed).
The importance of this definition for orthodoxy is in the fact that it is not just a nominal proposition; the nature of Christ is the pivot of the Christian faith. In Christ we see God the way we can’t see Him directly; God is revealed in Christ. And in Christ, even His Divine nature is revealed to us, in all the glory that our eyes can bear to see. Christ has in His Person both the transcendence and the immanence of the Father, both the absoluteness and the concreteness of God’s relation to the world. He reveals that God is not restricted to His heavenly realm, unable to relate in a meaningful way to His creatures; to the contrary, God can become like His creatures and share their created nature, and be above His creation and yet, in His creation, distinct from His creatures and yet, fully like them.
In opposition to the Trinitarianism of Christianity (God is ultimately One and Many) stands the most fundamental doctrine of Islam: Tawhid, or the Oneness of Allah. Allah is one. Muslims scholars insist, when the word “one” is used for Allah, it is a not a number, for then it would sound as if he is one of many. “One,” when used for Allah, is an expression of nature, both internal and comparative. He is one, there are no parts in him, but also, he is “single” as in compared to no other. So far there is nothing that Christianity would disagree with, but then comes the negative aspect of tawhid: Allah’s oneness is his ultimate description of his nature, and therefore he can’t be said to be many in any sense of this word. There is no distinction in him in any possible sense; thus the Christian distinction between the Persons of the Trinity sounds idolatrous to a Muslim, for it is by definition shirk, that is, idolatry or polytheism, the opposite to tahwid. Allah is such a strict unity that even his 99 names—upon which not all Muslim scholars agree—must be considered one name, describing one nature. A large part of Islamic apologetics is devoted to proving the unity of Allah. The awareness of his unity is a spiritual requirement; and Muslim “evangelization” is simple: testify that Allah is one. With a god who is such uncompromising unity to the exclusion of any identification or distinction, the Muslim creed can’t but be very simple: “Allah is one.” Thus, even people in history before Mohammed who have never heard of Islam, are considered good Muslims if they have acknowledged in a simple way that God is one (Abraham, for example). The OT and the Gospel are thus Muslim holy books for the same reason (but, according to the Quran, they were corrupted).
The more relevant part of our analysis comes when we move to the logical conclusions from the oneness of Allah to his relation to the world. Obviously, Allah who is perfectly one and never many, can’t be present in any meaningful real sense in his creation. The creation is always, by definition, subject to fragmentation, and therefore the presence of Allah in any particular part of it would subject him to fragmentation.
This leads us to a very important conclusion about the nature of Allah: He can’t share his character and his attributes with his creation. The creation is not a true revelation of Allah in any meaningful way. It can not contain any of the attributes of Allah. Unlike the Christian God, Allah has no communicable attributes. He is loving and merciful, but he doesn’t share his love and mercy with his creatures; whatever love and mercy they show, must be radically different from his. Same with his patience, and knowledge, and wisdom, and any other trait of his character. His character is his only, and will remain his only.
And indeed, an integral part of the doctrine of tawhid is the concept of shirk, which as a term can be translated “idolatry” or “polytheism,” but etymologically means . . . “sharing”! It is an unpardonable sin in Islam to allow the notion that Allah can share his character or his attributes with anyone. Shirk can be of many types, but important for us here are two: (1) Allah is given the qualities of humans or animals; as in “the Lord’s hand”; and (2) Allah’s qualities are associated or imputed to creatures. So not only saying that God is three Persons is idolatry for a Muslim, but also saying that we are showing God’s love, patience, or mercy would be idolatrous.
This distant Allah, isolated and separated from his creation, can never produce any sons and daughters. When it comes to the issue of sons of God, the Quran itself clearly connects Allah’s oneness to the impossibility of him having any offspring that would bear his image or nature, in one of its shortest surahs (chapters), Al-Ikhlas:
Say, He is Allah, One / Allah the Everlasting / He neither begets nor is begotten / And no one is equal to him.
Similarly to the Jews in Jesus’s time (John 10:36), the Quran declares that Allah’s oneness prevents him from having sons. Indeed, the Christian creed of Jesus Christ being the Only-Begotten Son of God is especially offensive to Muslims. It seems to violate the name of God by drawing God in a contact with His creation which is profanation of His divine nature.
Thus, theoretically, both Christianity and Islam affirm a Creator-creation distinction where creatures can’t rise to the level of God and become divine. But the fundamental difference is in the nature of God and His ability to cross the dividing line and become like His creatures. To make it simple, we can use the analogy of the center line of the road. For Christianity, the line will be solid on the side of the creature and dashed on the side of God. That is, creatures can never cross the line to achieve divinity but God can cross it at will (and He did).4
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
For Islam, on the other hand, the center line will be double-solid, for neither Allah nor the creature can cross the line without losing ontological or ethical integrity.
From Being to Revelation
Our presuppositions about the ontology (that is, the being) of God will by necessity have bearing on our view of the nature of God’s revelation. Revelation, obviously, is a necessary condition if a god is to be relevant; after all, a god who doesn’t reveal himself to man is as good as a god who doesn’t exist at all, from man’s perspective. What is man supposed to do with an unknown and unknowable god? How is he to worship such a god? Is he to worship him at all? Could it be that such a god wants to be dishonored or opposed? (You never know, after all, what could be pleasing to an unknown god.) Therefore, a real god is only that god that wills to reveal himself to man; any other deity would be irrelevant, and a worship of such deity would be really a worship of man’s imagination.
But will to reveal himself is not enough. That god must also have the capability to reveal himself to man. Such capability will depend on the nature of such a god, and on the nature of his relation to reality in general and man in particular. If such a god is too deeply immersed in reality (ultimate manyness and immanence), to be identified with it, he would struggle to distinguish himself from reality when it comes to revelation. After all, if god is to be identified with the material universe, then there is really no difference between knowing god and knowing the material universe; then there is no real revelation, as in uncovering things previously hidden. On the other hand, if that god is too distant from reality (ultimate oneness and transcendence), his attempts to reveal himself may fail because man will have no way to relate meaningfully to such a god, not having any shared ground of knowledge with him. Again, then, man will have to resort to his imagination, at least in interpreting the revelation.
The presuppositionalist, then, is not only interested in what the nature of the god behind a system of thought is, he needs to discover how the nature of that god defines and conditions the revelation that god gives. Is it a revelation that really reveals anything hidden, anything of value? Does it set god apart from the rest of reality? Does it bridge the gap between human and divine, giving man a real opportunity to know god? Etc., etc. A god whose nature prevents him from delivering meaningful revelation to man is no better than a god who is silent, and therefore is no better than no god at all. For all practical purposes, the choice before us is between meaningful revelation and practical atheism.
The Bible is full of statements of God’s meaningful, reliable, intimate revelation to man; revelation not just of the created reality but of God Himself. In Hebrews chapter 1,5 God Who is described as the “Majesty on high” (v. 3) has also been revealing Himself in history, first partially through the prophets (v. 1), and now fully through the Son (v. 2) Who is the “imprint,” that is, the exact representation of His nature (v. 3). The Son is begotten by God (v. 5), and therefore He is also God Himself (v. 8). He is not a creature, for His real abode is outside the world, with God (vv. 3, 6), and He is also Creator Himself (v. 10) and Eternal (vv. 11-12). And yet, He is introduced into the world (v. 6), being Himself a revelation of God. Thus, God’s oneness and manyness, God’s transcendence and immanence, and Christ double nature (divine and creature-like) are combined to declare that God has delivered a full, reliable, and practical revelation of Himself to man.
Being one transcendent God, God’s divinity, incomprehensibility, and absoluteness are preserved: “No one has ever seen God.” Being a Trinity intimately present in His creation, He is manifested through the Second Person: “The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed Him” (John 1:18). That such an awesome God would choose to reveal Himself in such accessible and knowable and intimate way is a stunning proposition, and we are often unable to grasp what we are seeing with our own eyes (John 14:7-10). The Incarnation was the one unique act that made that possible, and the Incarnation itself was possible because of the nature of God. But the process of God revealing Himself doesn’t stop with one central historical act. The Incarnation is only the beginning, because it made it possible for countless smaller “incarnations”: God and Christ, through the Holy Spirit, make their “abode” with everyone who believes (John 14:23). God’s revelation is not limited to intellectual knowledge of God, it works out into embodying God’s moral character in God’s people. The Majesty on High, the God who abides in inaccessible light (1 Tim. 6:16), not only can share His character with His creatures, He actively works to embody it in them.
Note carefully: That Christ, the Revealed God, is also called the Word, speaks volumes of the nature of God’s revelation. When we open the Word of Revelation, we see Christ in it. When we look at Christ, we are looking at God.
And this is not a New Testament doctrine only, opposed to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament God did appear to people in human form many times, He did talk to His creatures, and He did share His character with them. He took special care to indicate to His people that He was very close to them and that the knowledge of Him was perfectly accessible (Deut. 30:11-14). God was still unseen and invisible, as He told Moses (Exo. 33:17-23); but He was talking personally to Moses as He was passing in all His glory. With Elijah, the passing of God was described in detail by wonders (wind, earthquake, fire). And yet, God wasn’t in any of them. He was in the voice of “gentle blowing” (1 Kings 19) which examined Elijah’s motives and revealed God’s intentions and will. There are many more examples: God talked to men, walked with men, ate with men, wrestled with men, and revealed Himself to men on men’s terms, and at the same time He was the Great I Am, Who needs nothing and depends on nothing.
It is rather humorous when atheists try to make the argument that the God of the Bible can’t possibly be real since He is revealed in primarily in anthropomorphic terms. The answer to this is, “Well, duh, that’s what He said he was going to do, for He created man in His image.” We have a unique God: He can be God and yet He can take on human body and characteristics, and still remain God. He can be incomprehensible and inaccessible, and yet He can reveal Himself to man to closely, as His closest friend.
In sharp contract to the God of the Bible is Allah of the Quran. Not only doesn’t he reveal himself, but asking him to reveals himself may have dire consequences. The most glaring example of the Quran’s view of Allah’s revelation is Al-Araf 7:143 where Mohammed gives his twisted version of Ex. 33:18-23, mixing in elements of Elijah’s experience in 1 Kings 19:11-13:
And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, “My Lord, show me [Yourself] that I may look at You.” [ Allah ] said, “You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.” But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, “Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers.”
Notice, the very request to see Allah is sinful enough to require repentance. So he reduces a mountain to dust and renders Moses unconscious in the process to make his point. A Christian who is carefully reading the Quran will stop here and ask the question, Why unconscious? The Bible doesn’t have a single example of a person who encounters God and falls unconscious, losing his senses. Neither does the Bible contain an example of someone who wanted to see God, or know God, and had to repent for it later. God always responds positively to the desire of His creatures to see Him and know Him. The knowledge of God is a basic aspect of Christian piety (1 John 4:8) and not knowing God is sin (1 Thess. 4:5; 2 Thess. 1:8). But for a Muslim, such desire to see Allah and to know him personally would mean that either man will have to be elevated to divine status, or that Allah will have to be demoted to the status of creature. Neither is possible, and even the simplest attempt can’t help but end up in some form of destruction: Allah destroys a whole mountain, and Moses loses his conscience. The central line must remain double solid, and it can never be crossed from either side.
The previous Surah, Al-Anam, lists the numerous ways in which Allah supposedly has revealed his existence to the unbelievers. The signs he lists are taken from the Bible, but they never personally involve Allah: physical phenomena and natural disasters, sending prophets and angels, historical curses and blessings, etc. Nowhere does Allah point to or promise any personal appearance similar to the Biblical Emmanuel, “God with us.” The faith in him is supposed to remain blind faith, one that is not supported by Allah’s personal and unmistakable intervention in history. Believers may know that Allah exists but they can’t know him personally. Unbelievers will never be faced with any fact about Allah in history that is personal, special, compelling, unique, and close to the heart and mind of man. There is no incarnation, whether special (as in Jesus Christ) or general (as in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit). Faith remains entirely an exercise of the human will—and that in a universe which is entirely predetermined, which makes the human will rather obsolete, for all practical purposes.
That Allah’s knowledge and Allah’s mind are entirely impossible for humans to grasp or know or follow is additionally attested by an element of the Quran which is rather curious for Christians: the “mystery verses,” or muqatta’at (“abbreviations”). In the Quran, 29 Surahs start with combinations of letters which make no sense whatsoever in Arabic. For a Christian whose God not only gladly reveals Himself to His children, but has intended to do so as the very essence of His redemption of the world (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:11), adding such “mysteries” to a holy book makes no sense whatsoever. But for a Muslim who always expects his encounter with Allah to lead to some form of “unconsciousness” (as in the example above with Moses), they are perfectly natural and expected. Muslim scholars are not in agreement on the meaning of the “abbreviations”; opinions range from the pious “mysteries which only Allah knows” to the more rationalistic and cultural “poetic technique inherited from the pre-Muslim Arabic cultures.”6 It seems that the majority of scholars, though, tend towards the opinion that the “abbreviations” have to do with the attributes of Allah, or some expression of his character. Arabic and Assyrian Christian commentators also believe that these mysterious combinations of letters point to the character of Allah. Given the nature of Allah, whatever points directly to him and to his character, is by necessity a mystery, and meaningless to man.
It is for this reason that Islam has nothing comparable to the Christian concept of the “knowledge of God.” The spiritual advice to a devout Muslim is to develop an awareness of Allah; a constant remembrance of Allah’s constant presence with him, presence which is unseen, unqualified, undefined, which is neither helpful nor encouraging, nor in any possible way reassuring. Allah is like an Orwellian Big Brother, distant and impersonal when it comes to relationship, but close and implacable when it comes to judgment. He can’t be addressed in any possible way as a person, nor can he be known, in any possible aspect or face or form. Identification with Allah, or the indwelling of Allah are impossible: they will presuppose that either Allah is demoted from his divine status or that man has been elevated to it. There is nothing concrete or active about such awareness; it remains passive and mystical, like parallel thought. Active initiative to meet, know, and accept Allah in a process of sanctification is impossible in Islam. At best, there is passive contemplation of Allah’s greatness, greatness which has nothing in it that man could relate to; and the contemplation brings no knowledge of anything that the character of Allah can contribute to man’s sanctification or justification.
Thus, in Christianity man faces a God who is personal—and therefore knowable—at every level, and in both realms, divine and human, heaven and earth. In Islam, man faces Allah whose personhood and character can’t cross the central line and be revealed to man. For all practical purposes, from man’s perspective, Allah is as impersonal and irrelevant as the god of deism: a Creator who can’t communicate meaningfully to His creation, and therefore leaves men to figure out for themselves the issues of moral character and personhood.
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- While writing this article, I was informed that Joel McDurmon has also noticed White’s lack of familiarity with presuppositionalism, or his unwillingness to use it. See here. [↩]
- Greg Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics (Powder Spirngs, Georgia: American Vision Press, 2008), p. 15. [↩]
- For an extended discssion on the topic, see R.J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy. [↩]
- The Reformers understood perfectly well that Islam was in fact an anti-Trinitarian heresy. It was for this reason the trial against Servetus in Geneva included accusation that he was spreading the “teachings of the Turks,” on account of his anti-Trinitarianism. It is ironic that modern Arminians would use the argument, “Calvin murdered Servetus,” and at the same sincerely support the wars against Muslim populations waged by the US government. [↩]
- Ironically, Hebrews 1 is the chapter which is the closest to the Quran in its literary-poetic style. [↩]
- Although, given the Quran’s self-professed high standards for “scripture” (see, for example, Al-Baqarah 2:79), it is difficult to see how pagan poetic techniques may have found a place in the Holy Book. [↩]