Jesus prays to the Father in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” This verse testifies that Jesus shared the glory of God in his preexistence. However, al-Ghazali explains away the explicit teaching of the verse by imposing an unprecedented meaning to the word “glory”. He asserts that “the factual meaning is not intended, because in the fullness of the glory that was given to him is prophethood and messengership, and what entails from them in rank, the ascent to heaven, and his power to perform unprecedented miracles.” [Al-Radd, p.111]
Based on his Islamic presuppositions, Al-Ghazali rhetorically asserts that intelligent people would agree that there is an absolute ontological dichotomy between the Father and Christ, “Is it possible that divinity be bestowed when the impossibility of this is a matter upon which intelligent people have unanimously agreed?” However, he does not explain why the divinity of Christ is an “impossibility.” Neither does he offer any evidence to support his claim that it is “a matter upon which intelligent people have unanimously agreed?” His argument is merely an exercise in rationalizing away the plain meaning of the text and aligning them with the premise that the divinity of Christ is an impossibility.
Jesus claims to be divine when he declares publicly to the Jews, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) However, al-Ghazali insists that the statement should be understood metaphorically rather than as literally. For him, Jesus’ prophetic mission was to show people the true God and to worship him alone. A literal interpretation of John 10:30 must be rejected as this would entail Jesus calling people to worship him instead of the true God. Jesus’ oneness with God describes his obedience which enables him to receives power from God to discharge his mission. Continue reading “Answering Al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity. Part 2. Arbitrary Metaphorical Interpretation.”
A. False Premises Distort the Reading of the Gospels
Unlike Muslim polemists who reject out of hand the divinity of Christ without examining the biblical evidence, Al-Ghazali mounts a critique of the divinity of Christ based on his reading of the gospels. However, the ineptitude displayed by al-Ghazali in his handling of the biblical texts seriously undermines his critique.
We look at school children with kind indulgence even when they repeat their mistakes in their class assignments. However, we are dumbfounded when a great thinker like al-Ghazali, whose mastery of philosophy is indisputable, commits glaring mistakes in his analysis of the gospels which are written in lingua franca (koine Greek) to be read daily by ordinary people. Somehow he ends up devising contorted metaphorical readings when the simple meaning is in plain sight.
[This summary of Al-Ghazali’s, A Fitting Refutation of the Divinity of Jesus (Al-Radd al-Jamil) marks the beginning of a series of responses to Muslim polemics against Christianity written by classical Muslim philosophers like Al-Ghazali, Ibn Tamiyya, and Abu Isa al-Warraq]
Historically, the Islamic view of the Bible has been one of ambivalence. On the hand the Quran affirms that the Torah is a word of God and that the Zabur (Psalms) was given to David. While the Quran is silent about the four gospels, it assumes that there is one Injil that was given through Jesus, “He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel.” (Surah 3:48). On the other hand, the Quran accuses Christians and Jews of being guilty of having distorted and altered Scriptures (tahrif).
Arianism [the ancestral fountainhead of modern day Jehovah Witnesses] posed a dangerous threat to the Church in the 4th century when it challenged the orthodox doctrine of the deity of Christ. In his refutation of Arianism, Athanasius the orthodox theologian displayed rare insight by identifying the doctrine of salvation as the heart of the dispute and cogently demonstrating that soteriology is a touchstone to determine the acceptability of any theology for the Church.
Arianism initially gained popularity because it offered an attractive path to salvation, that is, by imitation of Christ who perfected his own virtues through self-discipline and then enables his followers to do likewise. Christ as the first of the perfected creatures and his perfection is the promise of the heights that believers may aspire to achieve. Christ is the pioneer and perfector of our faith since he perfected his virtues while possessing the same human weaknesses as we have. Naturally, Arianism emphasized the human characteristics of Christ at the expense of his divine qualities, to which Athanasius retorted, “For looking at the human characteristics of the Savior, they have considered him to be a creature.” Continue reading “Redemption as a Touchstone for Right Theology in the Nicene Controversy”
The doctrine of divine simplicity and immutability sometimes leads us to think that God cannot truly respond to what happens in the world. However, to say that God does respond to human action may suggest that God has become passive and undergoes change when he is acted upon by an external agent. John Frame notes although God’s eternal decree does not change, it does ordain change. God also responds to the unfolding events in human history that flows from the eternal decree. But God’s response does not imply passivity in God because he is bringing to fruition an interaction that he has himself ordained. He is actively bringing to fulfilment what he has eternally ordained, even in bringing about a world that can bring him grief. (Acts 2:23-24)
Divine Simplicity and Immutability of God With readings from Stephen Charnock van Mastricht and Herman Bavinck
Simplicity is the perfection of God that excludes any physical or metaphysical composition in the being of God. God is not made up of more basic parts for this would mean that God’s existence is contingent or dependent on something more basic than him. There is nothing in God that is not God. God is maximal perfection and goodness. God has no potentiality so that he can become something more than he is. The simplicity of God entails his immutability. Therefore, God is identical with his existence and essence.
The Reformed theologian Stephen Charnock explains simplicity in terms of God’s supreme existence:
God is the most simple being; for that which is first in nature, having nothing beyond it, cannot by any means be thought to be compounded; for whatsoever is so, depends upon the parts whereof it is compounded, and so is not the first being: now God being infinitely simple, hath nothing in himself which is not himself, and therefore cannot will any change in himself, he being his own essence and existence.[Stephen Charnock, Discourse on the Existence and Attributes of God (Baker, 1996, reprint of Carter & Brother, 1953 edition), p. 333]
actus purus: pure or perfect actualization or actuality; sometimes actus purissimus:most pure actuality; a term applied to God as the fully actualized being, the only being not in potency; God is, in other words, absolutely perfect and the eternally perfect fulfillment of himself. It is of the essence of God to be actus purus or purissimus insofar as God, self-existent being, is in actu (q.v.), in the state of actualization, and never in potentia (q.v.), in the state of potency or incomplete realization. This view of God as fully actualized being lies at the heart of the scholastic exposition of the doctrine of divine immutability (immutabilitas Dei, q.v.). Immutability does not indicate inactivity or unrelatedness, but the fulfillment of being. In addition, the full actualization of divine being relates strictly to the discussion of God’s being or essence ad intra and in no way argues against the exercise of divine potentia ad extra, potency or power toward externals. In other words, God in himself, considered essentially or personally, is not in potentia because the divine essence and persons are eternally perfect, and the inward life of the Godhead is eternally complete and fully realized. E.g., the generation of the Son does not imply the ontological movement of the Second Person of the Trinity from a state of incomplete realization to a state of perfect actualization. Nonetheless, the relationships of God to the created order, to the individual objects of the divine will ad extra, can be considered in potentia insofar as all such relations depend upon the free exercise of the divine will toward an order of contingent beings drawn toward perfection.
“For as the Father has life in himself.” (John 5:26)
Aseity and Immutability of God
In classical theism, God is the eternal absolute being who is independent of anything outside of himself. God is independent in his existence because he depends on nothing and no one for His existence. God is independent in his activity because all that is actual, apart from himself, exists by his will alone. He has all life, glory, and blessedness, in and of himself. He is self-sufficient. Creation does not add anything to God.
The Self-Existence (Aseity) of God
God is self-existent, that is, He has the ground of His existence in Himself. This idea is sometimes expressed by saying that He is causa sui (His own cause), but this expression is hardly accurate, since God is the uncaused, who exists by the necessity of His own Being, and therefore necessarily…The idea of God’s self-existence was generally expressed by the term aseitas, meaning self-originated… As the self-existent God, He is not only independent in Himself, but also causes everything to depend on Him.[Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1938), p. 58.]