What Does God Care What We Call Him?
- Friday, August 24, 2007
The Christian faith is essentially and irreducibly Trinitarian. The Bible reveals that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Jesus is not merely a prophet; He is God in human flesh. This is precisely what Islam rejects. If Allah has no Son, he is not the Father.
This is the most significant theological obstacle in the way of the Christian use of Allah as a name for God. Jesus taught his disciples to pray to "our Father, who is in heaven" [Matthew 6:9] -- thus disallowing any confusion concerning God's name. The most important names for God for Christians are "Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit." In the four New Testament gospels, Jesus uses the word "Father" more than sixty times. No Muslim would refer to Allah in this same way. This is not what will come to mind when a Muslim hears a Christian pray to Allah.
So Bishop Muskens is disingenuous at best when he suggests that God does not care about His name. This is not a matter of mere "discussion and bickering." If the Bible is the Word of God, we can be assured that human beings did not invent this discussion.
There is one final and insurmountable problem with Bishop Muskens' proposal. Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize believers "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" [Matthew 28:19]. When this command is taken seriously and obeyed, the whole issue is greatly clarified -- a Christian cannot baptize in the name of Allah.
If Allah has no son, Allah is not the father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even if the case is made that Allah could be used in a generic sense to refer to God ( and I am not persuaded that it can), the word cannot be used to mean the Father in a Trinitarian affirmation. This is not mere "discussion and bickering." This is where the Gospel stands or falls.
ADDENDUM: The particular question raised by Bishop Muskens was the use of the word "Allah" by Christians in the West as a means of lessening Christian-Muslim tensions. The question of using "Allah" to refer to god in a clearly missiological setting will raise other issues. If the word is understood as a generic term for God (and not exclusively as a proper name), the question would then be how a Christian must make clear that the God of the Bible -- revealed as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ -- is not the deity as described in the Qur'an (who explicitly has no son). The linguisitic root of Allah may well be connected to Elohim (a name for God found in the Old Testament). This fact may help to clarify the possible use of the word in a missiological setting. The clarity comes in understanding that, even in the Old Testament, the name Elohim is, in itself, quickly accompanied by other names and words to make clear that the God of the Bible is the personal, monotheistic, covenant-making God of Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. The New Testament makes clear that this God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ -- indeed the God who in these latter days has spoken definitively through the Son [Hebrews 1].
In other words, it would seem best to think of Allah in this setting as a place to begin a conversation about God in a Muslim setting. The challenge from that point onward will be to make certain that there is no misunderstanding about the fact that the only true and living God is the Father of Jesus Christ the Savior.
The crucial questions here are these: First, can we assume that the deity central to Islam and known as Allah is, in fact, the same God worshipped by Christians and revealed in the Bible? The answer to that question must be negative. In that sense, Allah is certainly not the God of the Bible.
The second question is whether the word "Allah" can be understood, in Arabic and Muslim settings, as both a generic noun and a proper noun. Some credible Christian scholars and missionaries are certain that it can. The issue then becomes how contemporary Christians remain faithful to the Gospel in this setting even as the Apostle Paul remained faithful in Acts 17 when he visited Athens. Paul, we must remember, had to tell the religious Athenians that they had misunderstood the very nature and character of the true God. "Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you" [Acts 17:23].
© All rights reserved, www.AlbertMohler.com. Used with permission.
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