Why a Triune God is Better than any Other (Michael Reeves)
In the new issue of Credo Magazine, “The Trinity and the Christian Life: Why a Triune God Makes All the Difference,” Michael Reeves has contributed an article entitled: “Why a Triune God is Better Than Any Other.” Michael Reeves (Ph.D., King’s College) is author of Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (B&H), and Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (IVP). He is also theological advisor for Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), a charity supporting evangelism in higher education throughout the United Kingdom. He was previously associate minister at All Souls Church, Langham Place. Reeves is no stranger to Credo Magazine, have written for Credo before (for example, see his article: “The Cruelty of Inclusivism”).
Here is the introduction to his article to get you started:
“A deep chasm of misunderstanding, dislike, and even hatred separates many Christians and Muslims today. Christian responses to Allah – understood here as the God of the Qur’an – will either widen that chasm or help bridge it. If for Christians Allah is a foreign and false god, all bridge building will suffer.” So begins Miroslav Volf’s Allah: A Christian Response, an eloquent and passionate argument that Christians and Muslims worship one and the same God. His motivation is clear and understandable: wouldn’t people fight less, bomb less, hate less if they knew that, beneath the cultural differences, they worshiped the same God?
Well, now. I suggest instead that the very thing that most essentially distinguishes Christianity from every other religion is the very thing that offers the true hope of peace. I am talking about the Trinity. Now the Trinity is not some superficial thing in God, some thing that can be shaved off to leave Father, Son and Spirit looking remarkably like Allah. No, the triune being of God makes the God of the Bible a radically, incompatibly different God – a different sort of God – to the gods of every other religion. And therein lies, not a problem, an obstacle to world peace, but the source of all hope, peace, love and joy.
Of course, saying that, deep down, all the gods of the different world religions are the same has an immediate air of reasonableness to it, like saying that “fromage,” “ost” and “caseus” are just different words for cheese. But look closer and the idea becomes ever more preposterous.
Allah: a very different kind of god
Take, for example, how the Qur’an so keenly distinguishes Allah from the God revealed in Jesus:
Say not “Trinity.” Desist; it will be better for you: for God is one God. Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son (Surah 4.171).
Say: “He, Allah, is One.
Allah is He on Whom all depend.
He begets not, nor is He begotten.
And none is like Him” (Surah 112, my emphasis).
In other words, Allah is not a Father (“he begets not”), and he is not a Son (“nor is he begotten”). He is not Father, Son and Spirit. He wishes it to be known that he is a different God. And why not? Allah, after all, is one person, and not three. That’s quite a difference. And it is not just incompatibly different numbers we are dealing with here: that difference means that Allah has a completely different character, motivation and way of going about things.
Think about it: if Allah is truly God, the creator of all things, what is he most essentially like? A good way to think about it is to ask what he’s been up to for eternity. Before he created anything, what was he doing? What was he like then, in himself? Well, one thing we can be quite sure of: entirely unlike the Father, Son and Spirit, Allah was a single person all by himself. Solitary. For eternity. So then, for eternity Allah had nobody and nothing to love. Love for others is clearly not his heartbeat.
There is actually a fascinating tension at just this point in Islam. Traditionally, Allah is said to have ninety-nine names, titles which describe him as he is in himself in eternity. One of them is “The Loving.” But how could Allah be loving in eternity? Before he created there was nothing else in existence that he could love (and the title does not refer to self-centred love but love for others). The only option is that Allah eternally loves his creation. But that in itself raises an enormous problem: if Allah needs his creation to be who he is in himself (“loving”), then Allah is dependent on his own creation, and one of the cardinal beliefs of Islam is that Allah is dependent on nothing.
The implications for the character of Allah are concerning, to put it mildly. Not being essentially loving, Allah is the source of all evil just as much – and in just the same way – as he is the source of all good. And while he can be described as The Compassionate, The Merciful, he can also be called The Proud, The Destroyer, and “the best of deceivers.” In some twenty passages in the Koran, Allah is said to lead men astray, deceiving and perverting them (for example, deceiving the followers of Christ into believing that Jesus really died and rose again by substituting a lookalike on the cross).
Faith in Allah therefore looks decidedly different to faith in the triune God. Understandably, faith looks unsure and frightened. Even when Mohammed’s successor, the enormously significant Caliph Abu Bakr, was assured of paradise by Mohammed himself, it gave him no confidence. He knew Allah too well. “By Allah!” he said, “I would not rest assured and feel safe from the deception of Allah, even if I had one foot in paradise.” He was quite right: Allah could not and cannot be trusted.
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The Trinity and the Christian Life: Why a triune God makes all the difference
One of the dangers every church faces is slipping, slowly and quietly and perhaps unknowingly, into a routine where sermons are preached, songs are sung, and the Lord’s Supper is consumed, but all is done without a deep sense and awareness of the Trinity. In other words, if we are not careful our churches, in practice, can look remarkably Unitarian. And such a danger is not limited to the pews of the church. As we leave on Sunday morning and go back into the world, does the gospel we share with our coworker look decisively and explicitly Trinitarian in nature? Or when we pray in the privacy of our own home, do the three persons of the Trinity make any difference in how we petition God?
In this issue of Credo Magazine, we have brought together some of the sharpest thinkers in order to bring our minds back to the beauty, glory, and majesty of our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we do not merely want to see him as triune, but recognize why and how the Trinity makes all the difference in the Christian life. Therefore, in this issue Fred Sanders, Robert Letham, Michael Reeves, Scott Swain, Tim Challies, Stephen Holmes, and many others come together in order to help us think deeper thoughts about how God is one essence and three persons, and what impact the Trinity has on who we are and what we do as believers.
Matthew Barrett, Executive Editor