Fr Victor Edwin SJ, director of Vidyajyoti Center for Christian-Muslim Relations at Vidyajyoti College of Theology, New Delhi and editor of Salaam, in conversation with Rev Dr Michael D Calabria, OFM, PhD.
Fr Victor Edwin: Is there a valid Islamic critique of some aspect of Christian theology, eg, in the areas of Trinity, redemption , Sonship, intercession etc.? Are we challenged to abandon some antiquated Christian language and to rethink some of our doctrines, without at the same time renouncing the substance which is constitutive of Christian faith and practice?
Dr Michael D Calabria: Briefly, I would say that I often find Islamic critiques of the Trinity valid – not because of the theological concept of the Trinity per se – but because so often when Christians talk about the Trinity, we sound as if we’re talking about three gods. Even Christian artwork suggests we have three gods! I want to encourage Christian theologians to articulate the Trinity in a way that is clear and comprehensible while preserving the Oneness of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As far as the term “son” is concerned in reference to Jesus Christ, this has been dealt with by good Muslim theologians, particularly Mahmoud Ayoub. Briefly, I would say that the word “son” is a term of relationship. When Christians say that Jesus Christ is the “son of God,” it signifies a closeness of relationship to God (the Father) that is echoed in the Qur’an in many ways while not using the word “son.” That the Qur’an speaks of Jesus as conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by means of God’s creative utterance and by the in-breathing of God’s Spirit suggests to me that Christians and Muslims have more to talk about than argue about.
I do not think Christians need to change ways of articulating the faith simply to make it more agreeable to Muslims; but I do think Christians need to better articulate the faith for the diversity of Christians in the 21st century who do not understand the world (or God) in terms of western medieval metaphysics. I think if we “updated” our language and incorporated Asian concepts, we might find that Christianity and Islam have even more in common with one another than previously imagined.