Do We Worship the Same God? Jews, Christians and Moslems in Dialogue

by Miroslav Volf (editor) 2012, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

The fundamental question of multi-faith pluralistic society is not so much, ‘Do we have a common G-d?’ as ‘can we live together?’  This anthology of six articles by Christians, Jews and Moslems, explores both question, but places greater emphasis on the second.  Catholic Christopher Schwoebel puts it well.  ‘The goal of history is not that all people will become Christian. . . . In history we continue to live under pluralistic condition and therefore our efforts must be directed at managing the pluralistic situation in the light of faith’s apprehension of G-d’s character and of the human destiny’ (p 15).  This requires a tolerance, not the Enlightenment tolerance based on the uncertainty of religious faith, but toleration based on the certainty of faith.  Become more religious (in touch with our faith) will mean becoming more tolerant.  The corollary of this sense of tolerance is that our interfaith dialogue is not intended to issue in consensus but in gaining a better understanding of our difference (p 16).  The aim of dialogue is not a dogmatic consensus but working at common goals that are justified within each tradition by different goals interpreted from our different perspectives, in which we have to act together for our common good (p. 17).

There is fascinating discussion on the nature of Trinitarian thought (e.g., Christian and Moslems agree there is one and only one G-d—polytheism is ruled out, and there is no multiplicity of gods (p. 26).  A Muslim writer cites an event in 631 when a Christian delegation came to Medina to engage in theological discussion.  When they requested to leave the city in order to perform their liturgy, the Prophet invited them to worship according to their rites, with him in his own mosque.  The Prophet showed that ‘disagreement on the plane of dogma can—and should—coexist with spiritual affirmation on the spiritual plane of ultimate reality ‘ (p 104).  Personal relationships are key to true dialogue:  ‘I would not make judgements about others’ worship until I had extended contact with them’ (p. 163).

A great treatment not only clarifying inter-faith dialogue, but also useful for inter-Christian ecumenical conversations.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.