Posted in Phil's Blog

Islam’s Allah and Calvinism’s God: An Uncomfortable Comparison

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, November 16, 2015

In a packed baseball stadium a few days after 9/11, a Christian minister stood to pray.  Ever since the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, politicians and celebrities had been presenting Islam as no different than Christianity, and God as no different than Allah.  The minister began: “We pray in the name of our God – the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam…”

Twenty years earlier, while a student in seminary, I spent two summers in Saudi Arabia leading a ministry for high school and college-aged children of Aramco Oil workers.  In Dhahran, a community of ex-patriots fenced off from the Saudi population, a small Protestant fellowship met in a community center each week.  One night in a service, a man prayed that God would reveal Himself “in this land where You are not known.”  Afterward, he was criticized by some who insisted that “Allah is just another name for God.”

While many uncritically equate Allah and Yahweh, informed Christians and Muslims reject it out of hand.  At a lecture on the campus of North Texas State University two months after 9/11, converted Muslim Ergun Caner spoke to a student gathering, and showed from the Qur’an and Hadith (Islamic ‘scriptures’) that Allah is not the same as the God of the Bible.  Following his talk, Muslims in the audience attacked his conclusions.  One man insisted that ‘Allah is benevolent and merciful.’  Ergun Caner asked him directly: “Sir, may I ask you – Is Allah the same god as Jehovah?”  The man looked at Caner, then the crowd, and replied, “No, of course not.”[1]

We all would agree that Yahweh is not the same as Allah, but if ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ why not a ‘god by any other name’?  The answer is simple; while “Allah” is the Arabic ‘name’ for God, the deity which Muslim theology describes is very different from the biblical Yahweh.  We might say that this is not God, by another name.

But this raises another, and more troubling question: What if a group of Christian theologians conceive of God in a way that sounds a lot like the Allah of Islam?  Let us be clear: How Christians conceive God varies greatly.  Different theological groups (e.g., Calvinists, Arminians) have different concepts of God.  How we view God matters!  That is, how we see God affects the way we view the world, determines how we will respond to those who follow other religions, how we treat those who reject our faith or live ungodly lifestyles, how and why we live the way we do, and so on.  The attitudes, emotions, and actions we attribute to God will be reflected in the attitudes, emotions, and actions we live out as followers of our God.

A wrong concept of God is at the heart of every non-Christian religion – like Islam, but it is troubling to find that unbiblical views of God are also present in many ‘strands’ of Christianity, and are a source of theological and spiritual-life confusion in many Christians’ lives.  For example, Chuck Swindoll states that any Christian theology which focuses more on what we do for God, instead of what God has done for us, is really the heresy of humanism in disguise.[2]  Our view of God is either grand and glorious, and permeated by grace – or it is muted and mangled, and permeated by human merit.  One quip put it well: “In the beginning God created man in His image, and mankind has been ‘returning the favor’ ever since!”  If our understanding of God is wrong, everything that flows from it will be wrong as well!

With this in mind, my purpose today is to compare the concepts of Allah in Islam and God in Calvinism.

comparison

The Sovereignty of God in Islam and Calvinism

No one will dispute that God is sovereign.  God alone possesses the divine attributes of omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), omnipresence (present everywhere), eternality (no beginning or end), immutability (unchanging), and holiness (perfection).  But the implications of the sovereignty of God are open to debate.  In particular, how does the sovereignty of God ‘play out’ in His dealings with mankind?  The answer to this question is determined by our conception of what sovereignty entails.

Determinism.  Allah in Islam, and God in Calvinism, as absolutely sovereign, are both absolutely deterministic.  They are the author of every action, word, and thought, and this includes being the author of evil.  Within Islam and Calvinism, sovereignty is equated with determinism: That is, God predetermined before time everything that shall occur in time.  In reference to salvation, this means that God, knowing before creation every person who would ever live, decreed without respect to anything any person would ever do to give the gifts of faith[3] and perseverance to some, and therefore eternal life, and to refuse this enabling grace to others, thus condemning them without any hope to eternal hell.

Calvinist church historian Phillip Schaff writes:

Calvinism…starts with a double decree of predestination, which antedates and is the divine program of human history.  This program includes the successive stages of the creation of man, a universal fall and condemnation of the human race, a partial redemption and salvation: all for the glory of God and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice.  History is only the execution of the original design…[4]

Note that Schaff does not shy away from affirming that God Himself decreed the fall of man, and is thus the author of sin!  As the omnipotent cause of every event, God is therefore the absolute and final determiner of who will be saved, and who will be damned.  Calvin clearly affirms this view of God:

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man.  All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of those ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or death.[5]

God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it.[6]

Islam teaches the same thing.  According to Islam, Allah is absolutely deterministic.

En sh’Allah means “Allah wills it.”  One of the foundational doctrines of Islam is the absolute sovereignty, to the point of determinism, of Allah.  Allah knows everything, determines everything, decrees everything, and orders everything.  Allah is even the cause of evil.[7]

It follows that Allah predestines all who will be saved, and all who will be eternally damned.  Of those who cannot be saved, Surah 2.6-7 states:

It is the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe.  Allah has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing.  And on their eyes is a veil; Great is the chastisement they [incur].

Fatalism.  It follows that Calvinism and Islam are both inherently fatalistic.  In Calvinism, the sovereign God elects those who will be saved, and rejects all others.  Chuck Smith declares,

According to Calvinism, it is futile to try to convert the lost who are not predestined to be saved.[8]

Fatalism is seen repeatedly in Calvin’s writings:

…some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of those ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or death.[9]

…God…arranges all things by his sovereign counsel, in such a way that individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death…[10]

In the same way, Allah leads astray those he pleases, and saves who he pleases (Surah 14.4).  Caner and Caner summarize:

Allah is exalted and pleased as he sends people to hell: this is the fatalistic claim of Islam.  Fatalism is a belief that events are fixed in advance for all time in such a manner that human beings are powerless to change them.  In this case, Allah will send to heaven whomever he pleases, and send to hell whomever he pleases.”[11]

An old joke recounts the Calvinist who fell down the stairs, got up, and said, “Boy, I’m glad that’s over!”, since after all, every event is predetermined by God and must happen.  Interestingly, Caner and Caner recount from their Islamic childhood:

Our father used to say, “If you fall and break your leg, say, ‘Allah wills it,’ because he caused it to happen.”[12]

At the heart of both Calvinist and Islamic theology proper is a God who is entirely deterministic.

The Love of God in Islam and Calvinism

Perhaps the most fundamental of all aspects of God’s character is love.  He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love (1 John 4.8).  For God so loved the world… (John 3.16)  God demonstrates His own love toward us… (Romans 5.8).  These are just a few of the numerous biblical texts which affirm the universal, sacrificial, eternal, personal, and unconditional love of God for all mankind.  No character of God is more central to the message of the Gospel; the incarnation and substitutionary atonement shout it.  Everything in God’s saving action toward mankind declares it.  But what do we see in Islam and Calvinism?

Love de-emphasized.  In Islam, Allah is virtually devoid of love.  Caner and Caner list 99 names of Allah, and only one includes a reference to love (and this only to those who are “his own”).[13]  They write:

When Allah is discussed within the Islamic community, the absence of intimacy, atonement, and omnibenevolence becomes apparent.  In all the terms and titles of Allah, one does not encounter terms of intimacy. . .  Even the most faithful and devout Muslim refers to Allah only as servant to master; Allah is a distant sovereign.[14]

But what do we find in Calvinism?  God’s sovereignty – His power and holiness, are emphasized at the expense of His love.  Hunt observes:

But where is God’s love?  Not once in the nearly thirteen hundred pages of his Institutes does Calvin extol God’s love for mankind.  This one-sided emphasis reveals Calvinism’s primary defect: the unbiblical limitations it places upon God’s most glorious attribute. . .  Something is radically amiss at the very foundation of this unbiblical doctrine.[15]

Limited love.  As we look closer, we find reasons for this muting of God’s love in Islam and Calvinism.  For example, Calvin’s God, and Islam’s Allah are both bereft of unconditional love for everyone.

Allah’s heart is set against the infidel (kafir).  He has no love for the unbeliever, nor is it the task of the Muslim to “evangelize” the unbelieving world.[16]

Caner and Caner note, “This is why so many Muslims quickly disown children who have converted to another religion, especially Christianity.  Why love them when almighty Allah will never love them?”[17]

But is this any different than Calvinism?  Dave Hunt puts it bluntly:

Never forget that the ultimate aim of Calvinism…is to prove that God does not love everyone, is not merciful to all, and is pleased to damn billions.  If that is the God of the Bible, Calvinism is true.  If that is not the God of the Bible, who “is love” (1 John 4:8), Calvinism is false.  The central issue is God’s love and character in relation to mankind, as presented in Scripture.”[18]

Conditional love.  While Calvinists (but not Muslims) would object to the idea that their God has a conditional love, that is the effect of their doctrine.

This doctrine is openly announced in Islam: Allah loves not transgressors (Qur’an 2:190).  For [Allah] loves not any ungrateful sinner (Qur’an 2:276).  For Allah loves not those who do wrong (Qur’an 3:57).  For Allah loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious (Qur’an 4:36).

Calvinists claim to teach that God’s love is unconditional because He gives it ‘unconditionally’ – not in response to anything we do.  But whether or not one is actually loved – in a ‘salvific’ way – is ultimately determined and demonstrated by what we do.  This fact is enshrined by the last of the Five Points of Calvinism, ‘Perseverance of the Saints.’  Because all who are saved will inevitably ‘persevere’ in living a faithful life, God’s saving love, in the end, is determined by our works.[19]  Notably, as is always the result with synergism (salvation by faith and works), no amount of good works can assure that one will go to heaven.[20]

Insecure love.  It is impossible in Calvinism and Islam to know that you are loved by God.  While Calvinists proclaim their belief in eternal security, what they mean by this is that if you are really saved (which you cannot know with absolute certainty until you die), then you will never lose your salvation.  But the threat of falling into some sin, and thus finding out that you were never really saved in the first place, is a ‘Damocles’ Sword’ which hangs over the head of every Calvinist.

Similarly, and blatantly, Islam teaches this same doctrine.  Caner and Caner make this clear:

The Qur’an contains many words of wisdom and pieces of good advice.  What is lacking is the promise of life everlasting.[21]

The Qur’an hints that the believer in Allah can be confident of his or her eternal destiny, but there is no guarantee, even for the most righteous. . .  In Islam, the answer to the question, “What must I do to go to heaven?” is mysterious and complex. . .  Islamic tradition argues that the guarantee of heaven is as impossible to find as a chaste virgin and pure speech.  Consequently, the devout Muslim makes every effort to please Allah and thereby obtain heaven.  But fate (kismet) in the hands of the all-powerful Allah will decide the outcome.[22]

There is no security for the believer of Islam.  One is left wanting and waiting for the will of Allah to be accomplished. …the question of whether one is admitted to heaven is left unanswered until the Day of Judgment.[23]

The promise of eternal security is the ultimate motive behind the passion for Allah in the eager young Muslim warrior. …if he is killed in battle, he achieves the desire of his heart – Allah’s guarantee of a spot at the highest level of Paradise.[24]

No Muslim has eternal security.  Every Muslim fears the scales of justice, which weigh his good deeds against his bad deeds.[25]

Clearly, the love of God is at best compromised in both Islamic and Calvinistic theology proper.

The Violence of God in Islam and Calvinism

Despite appeals to the contrary, Islam is demonstrably a religion of violence.  This should come as no surprise.  A god (Allah) who is arbitrary, distant, and crass in his nature, and devoid of love, will naturally demonstrate this in violence toward whomever he chooses.  Caner and Caner entitle their chapter on the history of Islam, “A Trail of Blood.”[26]  In countries across the middle east, north Africa, and southeast Asia today, those who defy Islam, especially Christians, are beheaded and mutilated.  These ‘infidels’ are given three options: Convert to Islam, leave, or face persecution (often death).  For Muslims fighting in jihad (holy war), “ethical values [seem] to play little or no role.  Whatever the Muslims [do is] justified, since their cause [is] just.”[27]

This same kind of violence showed itself in Calvin’s Geneva, where rejection of Reformed dogma brought three options: convert (to Calvinism), leave (deportation), or face persecution (imprisonment or death).  The similarity to ‘pure’ Islam is unmistakable.  In February of 1555, Calvin and his supporters gained absolute control in Geneva.  Those who disagreed with Calvin’s theology were excluded from communion, and fled.  Four who failed to escape were beheaded, quartered, and their body parts hung in strategic locations as a warning.  Calvin referred to them as “henchmen of Satan,” and justified his barbarity by saying, “Those who do not correct evil when they can do so and their office requires it are guilty of it.”  From 1554 until his death in 1564, “no one any longer dared oppose the Reformer openly.”[28]

While there are many cases throughout history of violence by those claiming to be Christians, when the founder of a religious movement demonstrates a capacity for violence, it is more significant.  The fact that both Calvin and Mohammed distinguished themselves by their violence toward those who disagreed with them reflects their impaired view of God and His love.

A Curious Connection: Mormonism

More than a century ago, Bruce Kinney wrote Mormonism, The Islam of America,[29] revealing the similarities between Islam and Mormonism – a ‘modern form of Islam.’  In his book, he details the plan of Mormons to take over the world, their violence toward ‘unbelievers’ (one illustration, the Mountain Meadow Massacre in 1857), and their practice of polygamy (Young himself had at least 25 wives and 44 children – a number no one thinks is complete, since he had women “sealed’ to him in almost every town in Utah).[30]  Mormon doctrine imagines every faithful Mormon man having celestial wives – a ‘heavenly harem’ to mother countless spirit children, who will then populate the world of people for whom they will be “god”.  I could go on, but the similarities between Mormon practice and Islamic practice are pervasive.

In 1997, a book entitled How Wide the Divide? A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation[31] was published, co-authored by Craig L. Blomberg (a professor at Denver Seminary) and Stephen E. Robinson (a professor at Brigham Young University).  The authors concluded that the difference between evangelical and Mormon doctrine is less than is usually understood.[32]  It is important to note, however, that Craig Blomberg writes from a strong Calvinist evangelical viewpoint.  As a Calvinist, he found common ground with Mormon doctrine![33]

I submit that it should not be surprising that if a Calvinist theologian finds common theological ground with Mormonism – the ‘Islam of America,’ there will be similar common ground between Calvinism and Islam.  While this will surely be an uncomfortable comparison for most Calvinists to admit, it is undeniably true.  At the very least, it should give Calvinists pause to realize that their view of God so closely reflects the view of God within Islam.


[1] Ergun Mehmet Caner and Emir Fethi Caner, Unveiling Islam (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2002), 103-104.
[2] Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1990), 17-19.
[3] Even the Calvinist idea that faith itself is a gift given arbitrarily by God, without which no one can be saved, is reflected in Islam; “…eternal faith is ultimately given at the subjective whim of Allah…” (Caner and Caner, 150).
[4] Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Albany, Ore.: The Ages Digital Library, Books for the Ages, Ages Software, Version 1.0, 1997), Book 8, Ch. 14, Sec. 114.
[5] Calvin, Institutes, iii, xxi, sec.5, 1030-1031.
[6] Calvin, Institutes, iii, xxiii, sec. 7, 1063 (emphasis mine).
[7] Caner and Caner, 109.
[8] George Bryson, The Dark Side of Calvinism, (Santa Ana, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2004), from the Foreword by Chuck Smith, p.9.
[9] Calvin, Institutes, iii, xxi, sec. 5, 1030-31.
[10] Calvin, Institutes, iii, xxiii, sec. 6, 231.
[11] Caner and Caner, 31-32.
[12] Caner and Caner, 109.
[13] Ibid., 110-117.
[14] Ibid., 117.  See also the moving story of a Muslim convert to Christianity in Caner and Caner, pp.37f.
[15] Dave Hunt and James White, Debating Calvinism (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 2004), 47.
[16] Ibid, 118.
[17] Ibid., 33.
[18] Hunt and White, 21.
[19] See Bryson, Dark Side, 351-357; David R. Anderson, Bewitched: The Rise of Neo-Galatianism (Grace Theology Press, 2015), 66-67; Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Seige: Faith and Works in Tension, 2nd ed. (Dallas: Redención Viva, 1992), 40.
[20] Philip F. Congdon, “John Piper’s Diminished Doctrine of Justification and Assurance,” JOTGES 23:44 (Spring 2010), 59-73.
[21] Caner and Caner, 151.
[22] Ibid., 144.
[23] Ibid., 31.
[24] Ibid., 36.
[25] Ibid., 18.
[26] Ibid., 66-81.
[27] Ibid., 48.
[28] Hunt and White, 23-24; Francois Wendel, Calvin: Origin and Development of His Religious Thought, trans. Philip Mairet, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000), 100; Bernard Cottret, Calvin: A Biography (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000),198-200.
[29] Bruce Kinney, Mormonism, The Islam of America (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1912), republished most recently in 2010 by Nabu Press.  Kinney is not alone in seeing a link between Mormonism and Islam.  In 1856, a Danish convert to Mormonism, John Ahmanson, emigrated to Utah.  He knew Brigham Young personally, and was an eyewitness to early Mormon history.  Unlike many, he left the Mormon Church, and survived to tell about it, in his book originally entitled Vor Tids Muhamed (“A Mohammed of Our Time”).  The book is available in English now: Secret History: An Eyewitness Account of the Rise of Mormonism, by John Ahmanson, trans. Gleason L. Archer (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984).
[30] Ibid., 28.  For a detailed account of the violent and polygamous history of Mormonism, see the entire first chapter, pages 15-44; also Secret History.
[31] Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide? A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997).
[32] See Philip F. Congdon, “How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation:  A Review,” JOTGES 13:25 (Autumn, 2000), 67-72.
[33] It is notable that the Mormon Robinson is effusive in his agreement with John MacArthur in The Gospel According to Jesus, and other Calvinists: “We would agree with Bonhoeffer and MacArthur that one cannot “have eternal life yet continue to live in rebellion against God.” I would judge the terms “being saved,” “coming to Christ,” “accepting the gospel,” “entering the covenant,” “making Christ Lord in my life” and “serving Christ” as being roughly equivalent. It follows, then, that saying “I have come to Christ, but I refuse to serve him” is self-contradictory.  How does one accept Christ without accepting Christ as Lord?  And to accept Christ as Lord is to accept myself as his vassal, and vassals do the will of their Lord, not their own will” (How Wide the Divide?, 148-149); see ibid., 70.

Posted in Phil's Blog

An ‘Infomercial’ Worth Considering

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, November 4, 2015

I’ve just about had it with TV.  Regular programming that used to be free now costs every month, and what’s on the air is mostly ads!  In other words, I’m paying money to watch professional marketers tempt me to give them more of my money!  As if that’s not enough, there are half-hour long “shows” offering everything from CD sets to jewelry to weight-loss programs to kitchen appliances that make you think you simply ‘can’t live’ without what they’re offering!  This can be dangerous to your bank balance!

So this month, I’m giving you an ‘infomercial’ with a difference.  I’m not asking you for money.  What I offer is absolutely free.  And I can say, without ‘stretching the truth,’ that you will never be sorry, either in time or in eternity, that you ‘invested’ in this.  I’m talking about the adult Sunday morning classes offered at NBBC.

Let me start with ‘old faithful’ – the Adult Bible Class, which has met since virtually the beginning of NBBC.  Over the years, different godly men have taught, sometimes topically, sometimes going through Bible books.  Last year, Ron First led a study of Jewish Feasts and their significance for Christians today.  Clarke Englund is now teaching through 2 Corinthians.  The class meets in Room 101, with the sliding glass doors.

 Another class which is a favorite for many women is taught by Renee Garner.  You know Renee for her musical abilities – she is a singer-songwriter with four CDs, but she’s also a teacher-extraordinaire, especially clarifying biblical teaching about grace.  Her class is often referred to as the Women’s Class, but some men have dared to attend!  Renee is now teaching on the parables of Jesus. Her class meets in Room 109, next to the kitchen.

A third adult class meets in Room 100 (at the end of the hall, near the restrooms), and is taught by Robert Ambs (who just became an elder) and Daniel Mitchell (who is a deacon).  Both these men are committed to grace and truth, and are leading a study of the Gospel of Luke.  What do you really know about the life of Jesus Christ?  Attend this class and you’ll get to know Him better!

A fourth class meets in the Library, and is geared toward married couples.  Called “The Homebuilders’ Class” (from a series of studies produced by FamilyLife ministries), it tackles subjects that are applicable to married couples raising a family.  Dustyn and Novie Tysdale facilitate the class.  If you’d like to focus on God’s plan for your marriage and family, try out this class!

Finally, every other month (or so), we offer a “Welcome Class” in the ‘Round Room’ located just off of the main entry foyer.  This class last just four weeks, during which we get to know each other, learn about the history of NBBC and its ‘DNA’ (why we do what we do!), review the church’s statement of beliefs, and talk about spiritual gifts and ministry opportunities in the church.  All newcomers are welcome!

Yeah, I know…another ‘infomercial’!  But this one is all about you and me growing as Christians into the kind of people God wants us to be.  We’ve all got 168 hours each week.  Every Sunday morning from 9:00-10:00, you can invest one in learning truth that will change your life!  See you there!

Phil Congdon
Senior Pastor