Monday, March 30, 2015

Trinity, Tawheed, and the Unity and Diversity of God

Explaining the Trinity is a matter of explaining the unity and diversity of God. Typically, when Christians and Muslims talk about the Trinity, the Christian seeks to explain this unity and diversity, while the Muslim is critical, stressing that the unity and oneness of God makes any diversity impossible. At the popular level Muslim leaders stress that God only has unity and no diversity, and so this is the common Muslim assumption. This assumption needs to be challenged if you want to make progress explaining the Trinity. So how can we do this? How can we show that God has both unity and diversity?

We can do this by realizing that the doctrine of the Trinity is not the only doctrine of God’s unity and diversity. Consider Genesis chapter 1: Here we see unity, there is only one God, but we also see diversity as this one God sends his Spirit, acts through this word, and has many attributes that he expresses in a variety of ways. In Christian theology this aspect of God’s unity of being and diversity of attributes is examined in the doctrine of God’s simplicity. However, this is not only an issue for Christianity, every religion has some understanding of the unity and diversity of God - including Islam.

In Islam the question is, how do the many distinct attributes of God coexist in the unity of God’s essence and maintain his oneness. Islam maintains that each of God’s attributes (his power, knowledge, speech, life, will, sight, hearing, breath, etc.) are a distinct attribute yet all of them share fully in the one divine essence. How is this unity and diversity to be understood? The doctrine of Tawheed, with it focus on the oneness and singularity of God, is unable to explain this diversity as the following quote shows.

The Ash`aris maintain that the attributes of God are not the essence [dhat] nor are they other than His essence. If it is said that the attributes are the very essence of God (as the Mu`tazilah and philosophers claim), then it means that the essence of God is without attributes since they would be one and the same as the essence (whereas the attributes and essence are understood to be two different things). However, it is also problematic to say that the attributes of God are totally other than His essence, since it would mean that the attributes may exist separately and die away - whereas this is certainly not the case given that his attributes are eternal. The reality is that there is a special connection between His essence and attributes. His attributes exist in His essence, are eternal in His eternalness, and everlasting with His everlastingness. They have always been with Him and will be that way for eternity. (Muhammad Salih Farfur, The Beneficial Message & The Definitive Proof in the Study of Theology, (Trans: Wesam Charkawi) 2010, p. 119, underline added.)

Therefore Islam solves the problem of God’s unity of essence and diversity of attributes by saying there is a special connection between them. However, saying a special connection is not an explanation; it is just acknowledging that both unity and diversity are true and there must be some connection between them. For the Ash`aris this was expressed with the famous Arabic saying bi-la kayfa (without asking how).

Therefore, if Muslims do not accept the unity and diversity of the Trinity they still must acknowledge that in Islam God does have unity and diversity, and that Muslim leaders disagree about how to explain this. That is, Muslim leaders do not agree about Tawheed, and Muslims are rarely encouraged to think about the diversity of God. If you want to make progress with the Trinity you need to make Muslims think about this!

Therefore, if a Muslim asks you to explain the Trinity do not start with the Trinity, instead, first establish that God, even in Islam, has both unity and diversity. Do not let a Muslim fool you by focussing only on the unity of God. Ask them, “Are you saying God only has unity and no diversity?” Then you can discuss with them the following areas to establish that God has both unity and diversity:

As we have seen already, in Islam God has many distinct attributes each of which share fully in the one divine essence, that is, God has unity and diversity.

Did Allah create the Qur’an? The orthodox Muslim answer is no, the Qur’an is the speech of Allah and one of his essential attributes. Yet the Qur’an is distinct from Allah, therefore, there are at least two eternals, which means God’s unity is diverse.

Did Allah create his Spirit? The answer may vary from yes, no, and I don’t know. The Holy Spirit in the Qur’an is Allah’s breath through whom he gave Adam life (Q. 15:29). Allah sends his Spirit with revelation (Q. 16:102), and the Spirit comes as a man to Mary (Q. 19:17). Again, this shows a diversity in Allah.

Jesus creates a living being (Q. 3:49) in exactly the same way that Allah does (Q. 38:71-75). How can Jesus share in this unique God defining attribute and maintain the unity of God?

Islamic theology believes in a unity and diversity of God, therefore, Christians must not be fooled when Muslims try to discredit the Trinity by saying the unity of God makes any diversity impossible. After you have established that God has unity and diversity it is then time to ask what is the nature and scope of this diversity and how can we know this? Explain that we must allow God to reveal himself to us, and invite them to read a gospel.


simple_truth said...

Hello, Mr. Green.
I haven't seen you here in a while, but am glad to read this article. I have been thinking about the topic for a few years, but never collated it as you have.

I have known for a long time that the Islamic concept of Oneness is outright mediocre in explaining who Allah is, even by Islamic standards. This is definitely one area that Muslims need to be heavily challenged. This type of open discussion will hoepfully force them to think more deeply upon what they believe and what Islam's presumed authentic documents actually say.

Thanks again for the article.

Greehardus said...

Andy Bannister has a lecture that is very helpful in understanding this

marksonmark13 said...

The holy dogma of the triune God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is a faith that was once delivered unto the saints by the Living God . While the false teachings of mohammedan tawheed were delivered to mohammed by the demons meant to lead people into damnation.

Anonymous said...

David, this is key. Muslims need to be challenged on their idea of "one," which is a very materialistic and of this world understanding of it. They win converts by convincing people that christianity is polytheistic, parially because christians cannot defend their scripture due to biblical illiteracy. Double down on trinity.

Mahsheed said...

Very interesting post...

Reminds me of a testimony of an ex-Muslim that I read somewhere... Basically said that he left Islam after realizing one day it is impossible for God to be just and merciful at the same time. IOW discovered that the 99 attributes can be contradictory and that killed his faith.

Anonymous said...

Muslims like hamza tzortsis are coming to american universities and converting people to islam. It must be stopped. Here is his recap on his recent michigan trip.

Michigan (USA) Trip Update: At the weekend I delivered a two-day workshop at the University of Michigan. The workshop was designed to articulate an intelligent and rational case for the intellectual foundations of Islam. We covered the philosophy of science, God's existence, the remarkable nature of the Qur'an, spirituality and the truth of the Prophet Muhammad's (upon whom be peace) claim to prophethood. At the end of the workshop a young man who attended the whole workshop said that he couldn't deny the truth of Islam and decided to become a Muslim and accepted Islam. May God grant him tranquillity and love in this life and the one to come.

Earlier in the week I delivered lectures at Eastern Michigan University, Wayne State University, Ali Ibn Abi Taleb Mosque and the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor. It has been a wonderful experience and it has reaffirmed my view that many members of our community are willing to positively and compassionately engage with the wider society by conveying an intelligent and compassionate case for Islam.

Unknown said...

Excellent Pastor Green.

Joseph said...

Awesome write up David!

David Wood said...

Joseph and Jay, check the author!

Joseph said...

AH!!! Awesome write up SAMUEL GREEN!!! : )

Anonymous said...

I love samuel greene! I feel sorry for him everytime he debates muslims. He is like a lamb in a den of muhammadan wolves. Brave, brave man.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this very relevant and interesting article.

This is indeed a huge issue upon which many a discourse between Christians and Muslims finds an impasse. Muslims believers have been told that their understanding of the unity of God is more logical and reasonable than the Christian's. In reality, however, even the most advanced Islamic scholar has not found a way to respond to all the problems raised by the very inconsistent doctrine of Tawheed.

As happens, when an argument becomes unwinable, the arguer tends to attack the person they are arguing with, rather than defend their own stance.
Attacking the Christian concept of the trinity has become just such a 'go to' for Muslims.

After centuries of assaults, some Christians feel nervous around this topic and resort to saying things like 'we cannot understand everything about God'. While this is true, we do not need to say this when we discuss the Oneness and diversity of God.

We also need to remember that Muslims believer only find fault with the doctrine of the Trinity, because it is proof that Jesus is God.

Imams teach their followers to ridicule the Trinity not because it does not make sense, but because it makes Jesus God, and therefore Mohammad a false prophet and the Qur'an a false message.

Christians should be confident in their explanations of the doctrine of the Trinity. To exist in relationship is by and far the most logical and consistent explanation for the existence of a loving God.

This is not to say that we can comprehend just how God exists in three Persons, but it demonstrates that we can know why He does.

A very interesting book in which this subject is addressed for both Christians and Muslims is Dr. Richard Schumack's "The Wisdom of Islam and the Foolishness of Christianity". (Don't be misled by the title.)

Unknown said...

When Muhammad acknowledged Jesus’ godly power (Quran 3:49) of creating human from clay as well as giving life to dead as stated in the Bible, in what sense did Muhammad claim himself the best and last prophet of all time?

Quran 3:49 : “And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], 'Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah . And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead - by permission of Allah. And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.”

Muhammad had no miraculous power other than killing, looting property, raping women of non-believers, marrying women whom he liked including 6 six year old girl Ay┼če, and wife of his adopted son. Muhammad was killed by poison and above all, all Muslims pray for him after each namaj (prayer), though he is believed to be friend of allah. Does a friend need prayer from his followers? Muslims are backward and illiterate among all other religions.

Muslims practice Islam because of its liberal attitude on killing, raping, looting, marrying and best of all Islam’s noncompulsory attitude as religion as Muhammad taught. Muslim countries politicians use madrassa educated, illiterate voters, as they like, to get power and money. Their political strategy to develop their country is to keep voters uninformed about religion and manipulate them easily.

Thanks David Wood exposing meaning of Quran to enlighten sleeping Muslims to aware their conscience.

James said...

Dear Sir, few days back I observed on youtube the debate between Jay Smith and Shabbir Ali. There was a dominant question: Can God (as Jesus) die? If God is dead for 3 days, who rules the earth in those days?
I think if we need to answer this question we need to define what we mean by death, namely the separation of body and soul. But the Soul never dies. It is true as in our own case. Therefore, when Jesus 'died', it was his soul that had left his body for the time being, only to be re united with Resurrection. I think Muslims also believe and understand the resurrection of the body, as there are physical pleasure in Muslim heaven. (

billwhit1357 said...

I certainly don't see how we can compare and relate our Christian/Israel God to the entity of Islam. As God said in His Word, many False Prophets will come and lead their followers to Hell. Islam is the Super Highway of false beliefs.

Anthony Rogers said...

Thanks for this article, Samuel.

For those who are interested, in the debate linked below I make much of this line of reasoning, combined with some other things, to argue that Muhammad is not a prophet because the "god" he allegedly revealed and spoke for is either an undifferentiated unity (in which case he is a blank and unknowable being), or he is a disunited diversity (which amounts to shirk). These mutually exclusive and independently destructive teachings are both supported by the Qur'an, rendering Muhammadanism completely incoherent and altogether false.

Was Muhammad a True Prophet?

Samuel Green said...

Great points Anthony. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

@Athony Roger,

Thanks for the link to the debate. It was an excellent example of how to engage in a respectful intelligent debate with your opponent.

I found myself feeling sorry for Mr. Livingstone. He was so lost and incoherent, and was painfully overwhelmed by your rebuttal and explanations.

We could assume that the "dialectical tensions" you mention bring Islamic teachings to snapping point, but when Andrew Livingstone said "I just do not understand why anyone should have to be crucified for our sins to be forgiven" and argued that we do not need "outside intervention" to achieve forgiveness, I remembered that the darkest aspect of Islam is not just their refusal to believe that Jesus is God, it is their denial of their need for him as well.