One of the difficult balances for Christians is holy bridge building. Holiness is God’s demand that we are separate, distinctive and different to the world around us. Bridge building is our exercise of reaching out to others with the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. To do either has its difficulties, but to do both at the same time is extraordinarily difficult. The easy and false way is to choose one or the other: to join the holy huddle or to become worldly.
The Bible is both world affirming and world denying. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16) is matched by “Do not love the world or the things of this world” (1 John 2:15). This tension can be resolved by arguing that God’s love for the world shows the extent of his grace, and that the things of this world we are not to love are limited to “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions”. For the world is God’s good creation: “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4) and it is the doctrine of demons to say otherwise. But just as we are to avoid the doctrine of the demons, we are also warned not to think as the nations of the world do: “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:17-18).
One of the newer areas for Sydneysiders to work this balance out is the relationship with, and evangelisation of, our Muslim neighbours.
They claim that “There is only one God and Mohammed is his prophet.” while we claim that “There is only one God and Jesus is his Son”. Clearly we are in disagreement about Mohammed and Jesus, for even though Muslims say they believe in Jesus as a prophet of God, they will not replace Mohammed with Jesus as the prophet nor would they call him God’s Son.
But can we build a bridge on the basis of believing in only one God? Muslim preachers want to build the bridge there, claiming that we worship the same God, though they with clearer understanding since their prophet’s message is not distorted and is God’s final revelation to humanity. But do we worship the same God? Or do we worship a different God, even though we agree there is only one and he is the creator of all things. Is Yahweh Allah?
Would it be right, for example, to publish a special Muslim version of the Bible using ‘Allah’ instead of ‘God’? Arabic Christians and their Bibles use the word Allah to refer to God for the word Allah was the Arabic word for God long before Mohammed came on the scene. He did not introduce this word into Arabic as a revelation from God. It is the Arabic word for God or more precisely “the God”.
Allah is not technically a name, though if there is only one God and you address him by this word, over time it becomes his de facto name. It is like the Hebrew word for man: Adam. When there was only one man and he is spoken to as “man”, Adam becomes his name.
In Arabic Bibles, ‘Allah’ is the word to use for God, but what of building bridges to English speaking Muslims by using ‘Allah’ in an English Bible? Here are a few of the problems in this bridge building exercise.
First, Allah is not an English word, so it is no longer an English translation.
Second, it is quite unnecessary, for even Muslims know the word ‘God’ and will say to us “There is only one God and Mohammed is his prophet” instead of “There is only one Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.
Third, there is the problem that though Islam claims to believe the Old Testament prophets, it doesn’t accept their revelation of God’s name as YHWH. Islam has 99 names for Allah but YHWH is not one of them, even though the prophets use the name YHWH over 5000 times in the Old Testament.
Fourth, Allah has 99 names and at the same time no name, for he is not personal in the same way as YHWH. His names are his attributes and characteristics, but not his revealed person with whom we relate.
Fifth, the name Yahweh reveals God’s glorious mercy and justice in Exodus 34, which is completely different to Allah’s concept of mercy without justice.
Sixth, there is the problem that a Muslim invests into the word ‘Allah’ everything he believes about God – both the right (he is the creator) and the wrong (he has no Son). He also invests into this word his submission and his association with Mohammed. Putting ‘Allah’ into the English Bible will not help his understanding.
Seventh, Islam’s bridge to us is that we have the same God but we have a defective understanding. But it is not our bridge to them, for they do not have the same God. It is more than Allah is not a father – it is unmistakably and unambiguously revealed that Allah is neither begotten nor begetting. Allah did not and would not create anything in his image – that would be “shirk”. Jesus is the image of the invisible God and the Son of the Father. To deny the Son is to deny the Father (1 John 2:23).
We are created in God’s image and reborn as his children. Muslims at best are loved slaves of Allah but never sons of the Father God – because their God is different to ours. Muslims don’t know Allah as YHWH.