Monday, December 23, 2013


When John Piper preached at our church two weeks ago, he talked about the very high view Muslims have of the sovereignty of God. They believe in a God who ordains whatsoever comes to pass. They believe in a God who knows the hairs on our heads. They believe in a God who can do as he pleases.So is there any difference between a sovereign Allah and the sovereign God of the Bible? Piper argued that in Islam the sovereignty of God operates independently of his other attributes, such that Allah can be capricious and arbitrary in his exercise of divine power. This is, no doubt, how some Christians see the Reformed view of God and why they reject it so strenuously.
i) I agree with the overall point that Piper and DeYoung are making. Sovereignty all by itself is not a good thing. Calvin led the way in that respect when he attacked theological voluntarism. To isolate God's will from his other attributes results in an amoral sovereignty. Unlike Allah's sheer will, Yahweh's sovereign will is characterized by his wisdom and goodness. 
ii) However, I think both men oversimplify Islam. In my younger days I did a lot of reading on Islam, so I may be rusty, but as I recall, we need to consider a number of issues:
iii) When we talk about Islamic theology, what are the sources? The Koran? The Hadith? Traditional commentaries on the Koran? Muslim jurisprudence? Islamic Kalam?
What about contemporary Islam, which interacts with medieval and modern philosophy? 
iv) We need to draw further distinctions:
a) Fatalism. No matter what happens, the outcome is the same. That's consistent with libertarian freedom. There could be alternate routes, but they all lead to the same destination.
b) Determinism. This takes different forms. From what I've read, the Asharites espouse a roughhewn version of compatibilism. 
By contrast, Al-Ghazali propounded occasionalism. There are no second-causes. Every event is the direct effect of Allah's immediate causation. 
c) Predeterminism. That can take the form of a master plan. Everything happens according to plan.
Something can be determined without being predetermined. 
d) Or it can involve physical determinism, where the present is the inevitable result of prior states. A chain of cause and effect. That's different from occasionalism, where the present is causally discontinuous with the past.
e) Providence
A plan requires something over and above the plan itself to implement the plan. Primary or secondary causality.
iv) Some Muslims (e.g. Asharites) were determinists while other Muslims (e.g. Mutazilites) were indeterminists. 
The Koran has a references to a divine tablet. On one interpretation, that suggests a script or blueprint. Everything that happens is scripted. That would be a predestinarian metaphor. It's all written out in advance. 
However, the Mutazilites turned that around. Allah sees the future, and writes down what he foresees. He's writing history ahead of time. He's writing history before it happens. Writing about the future as if already lies in the past. But the future is not scripted. Rather, the tablet transcribes the future.
I think the predestinarian interpretation is more plausible, but we're just dealing with a few passing references in the Koran.
v) The Koran also talks about God guiding some people and leading others astray. That's deterministic, but not necessarily predeterministic. Indeed, that's consistent with fatalism.
One interpretive difficulty is knowing where Muhammad got his ideas. I suspect fatalism often personifies the apparent randomness of life. There often seems to be no rhyme or reason to who lives and who dies, who propers and who suffers. You can do all the right things, and still come to a horrible end. So it seems like you were doomed all along. Conversely, some people seem to be lucky. Or they get away with things. That may lie behind many Koranic passages. 
You also have astrology or astrological fatalism in folk Islam. 


  1. Here's a post from Win Corduan titled "Groups of Islam" which might be helpful.

  2. I don't know much about Islam but I read somewhere that one of the differences between Calvinistic and Islamic sovereignty is that in Calvinism God's sovereignty is a COVENANT keeping one. God self obligates Himself IN LOVE to be gracious and faithful toward the elect. Whereas in Islam God can consign anyone to hell even if he meets the requirements of salvation (e.g. his good works outweighing his bad works). If both characterizations are correct, then both conceptions of God teach God's absolute sovereignty, but the Islamic one has God/Allah being more arbitrary (maybe even capricious).

    BTW, I'm not claiming that the Qur'an does not teach that Allah does not keep his promises. The Qur'an does say Allah does keep his promises (e.g. 3:9; 3:194; 13:31; 14:47; 30:6). And contrary to may (misinformed) Christian claims, it also teaches that Allah loves the righteous (2:195, 222; 3:76, 134, 146, 148, 159; 5:42, 54, 93; 9:7, 108; 19:96; 20:39; 49:9; 60:8). So, do the Hadiths.

    However, Covenant faithfulness is more than mere promise keeping. Also, God's love in Calvinism is so intimate that God Himself describes it as analogous to the love between a husband and wife in marriage.

    1. The emphasis in Calvinism is that God keeps his promises and covenants and therefore you can trust and bank your life on them. Also that God loves His people like a husband loves his wife. Whereas in Islam the emphasis is on the arbitrariness of Allah's decisions and decrees and the relationship between Allah and believers as that of master and slave/servant. It's true that in Calvinism God is sovereign and that God is lord/master and believers are God's slaves and servants. But that's not where the emphasis is at. In Calvinism, believers are more than mere slaves but also God's beloved children and the Church the bride of Christ. In Calvinism, God connects and ties His glory with the good of the elect so that the advancement of one is the advancement of the other. Or as John Piper has said, "God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him." There is no "Islamic Hedonism" that is the counterpart to John Piper's "Christian Hedonism".

      See John Piper's book ,Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist

    2. Also, in Calvinism, ultimate fulfillment is found in relationship with God. Yes, in heaven/paradise (and eventually in the Eternal State) there are other pleasures beside and beyond God in Calvinism. Since Christianity teaches a resurrection of the body and a renovated earth where our glorified bodies will live. However, in Calvinism God is the source of those inferior blessings. With those inferior blessings being a reflection of the greater blessing and blessedness found in God alone. In Christianity relationship with God and with His saints (and probably also with His angels) is the ultimate end/goal/telos. "Love", not mere "submission" is the focus. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "For it must be true, as an old writer says, that he who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only."

      In that sense, Islam is idolatrous in that it doesn't locate ultimate fulfillment for sentient creatures in God and fellowship with him. In many forms of Islam, ultimate fulfillment is found in creaturely pleasures like having all the sensual pleasures found in food and sex et cetera. The essence of idolatry being valuing something other than God as most valuable and glorious (i.e. worshipping the creature rather than the Creator as Rom. 1:25 says).

      This lack of emphasis on love in Islam is due primarily to Islam's teaching on Allah's transcendence and secondarily to its denial of Trinitarianism. In Trinitarianism, God is inherently social and so love is very basic to God's nature and attributes since each person of the Trinity eternally loves the other two persons of the Godhead. That intra-trinitarian love is what brings forth creation in order to "birth", as it were, the Church and the saints. Similar to how the love between husband and wife results in children.

      Note: I think there are some Islamic sects that locate ultimate fulfillment in Allah/God and relationship with him. Especially in the more mystical strains of Islam. But that's not what I sense is the case in the majority of Islamic sects and among Islamic believers. But again, my knowledge of Islam is very limited.