Pointing Wheaton to George: A Book Review with a Purpose
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
Wheaton College’s recent faculty upheaval centers on the very question Timothy George addressed in his book published in 2002 entitled Is the Father of Jesus the God of Mohammed? Founder of Beeson Divinity School, George responded to the question with both a “yes” in that there is only one true God and Jesus is His Son, and a “no” due to the deficiency of deity in the religion of Islam.
George’s book is an engaging study written with such clarity and simplicity that the layman can readily tune in. Arabic words are clearly defined and are listed in a glossary in the back. Difficult concepts are made vivid and unforgettable for the reader with illustrations, such as likening Arius’ deity (and by implication the god of Mohammed) to George Eliot’s Silas Marner. Statistics (a bit outdated by now) concerning numbers of Islamic adherents and their relative distribution in the countries of the world, references to the Koran and the Bible, and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 via contemporary anecdotes makes the reading of this book a rewarding, enjoyable learning experience.
To be sure, George knew his subject, and the threat posed for the Christian on this side of 9/11; yet he resists the temptation to address the subject in a reactionary way. Indeed his style may be described as gutsy, quoting Muslim prayers which could equally well have been spoken by Christians, and citing 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 striking similarities and radical differences,” he states in his opening chapter. Like a skillful surgeon, George proceeds to separate two religious systems joined at the hip in the religion of Islam.
In approaching this subject, George identifies major theological and Christological issues of the early centuries of the Christian era which relate to the religion of Islam. His insight into the doctrine of the Trinity is profound, definitely in the school of Jonathan Edwards–though there is no mention of the Puritan scholar. He notably quotes, however, from William Ames, the grandfather of Puritanism. The book is a refreshing and profound review of the issues of Nicaea and Chalcedon. From that standpoint alone, the Christian who wants to be informed and equipped will find it helpful.
The pressing issue facing 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 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, most notably tritheism. Christians, George notes, no less than Muslims, reject tritheism. In the Koran’s treatment of the Crucifixion (Sûrah IV, 157), George hears echoes of another early heresy faced by the church, namely docetism in that Mohammed taught that the death of Christ never really occurred–it only seemed to occur.
George observes that the Muslim emphasis on divine transcendence (to the neglect of divine immanence) does not allow for the personhood of Deity. This is all the more ironic in view of Jonathan Edwards’s observation in Mahometanism compared to Christianity. Edwards noted that the Koran affirmed Jesus’ miraculous virgin birth (Surat iii. 47. xix. 20, 21; xxi. 19). The biblical Hebrew name “Immanuel” associated with the virgin-born Son certainly conveyed “immanence.” For its literal meaning is “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matt. 1:23).
Tragically, George must inform his readers that 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 plight of the Muslim god, and by the time George has finished his analysis, the Christian reader cannot help but feel a kind of compassionate sympathy for the Muslim people. Accordingly, George has opened a window to the Muslim world that will enable Christians to approach that world with wisdom and compassion rather than fear. In Timothy George’s book: Is the Father of Jesus the God of Mohammed? Christian nurture takes precedence over polemics, and on that basis and to that extent, the author has succeeded.
Cool-headed academic analysis for the sake of the gospel, however, must be coupled with due regard for public safety. To remain silent in the face of efforts toward the institutionalizing of sharia law within a constitutional republic, or to pretend that jihad is not Islamic by the standards of the Koran, is to work toward the dissolution of that republic. To turn a blind eye to this is neither an act of compassion nor forbearance but of naivete if not aiding and abetting sedition. The books of Daniel and Esther poignantly remind us of our Judaeo-Christian duty to obey God within the civic sphere. Yielding to public pressure in the face of public threat or political “correctness” (under the guise of religious freedom) contributes to the legalization of that public threat. It constitutes disobedience to God by undermining the civil order, and putting fellow citizens at risk. Citizenship, no less than missionary endeavor, is an essential part of Christian duty (Jer. 29:7; Acts 23:12-25; Rom. 13:1-7).
About the Reviewer
David Clark Brand is a retired pastor and educator with missionary experience in Korea and Arizona. He and his wife now reside in Wooster, Ohio, where they first met at a Presbyterian youth conference. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. With a B.A. in the Liberal Arts, an M. Div., and a Th.M. in Church History, Dave continues to enjoy study and writing. One of his books, a contextual study of the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards, was published by the American Academy of Religion via Scholars Press in Atlanta.
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