Review: The Questioning God @energion

the questioning god

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Thanks to Energion for this free, hand delivered, review copy:

Many prominent Christian theologians question those who question. Smaller sects, indicative of their origin, often refute questioning of any kind because they see doubt as sin. When Rob Bell wrote Love Wins, one of the central characteristics of that book was to ask questions; one of the central characteristics of his detractors was to deny that such questions should be asked of God. Obviously, the book of Job has not been a regular source of inspiration for such people. But, it goes beyond just the trends of Christianity. Can questioning a monotheistic god lead to anything good? Are we allowed and if so, what types of questions are allowed? That is the goal of this book, part of the Areopagus series by Energion. Ant Greenham, the author of this monograph, writes to explore the allowance of questioning in the three major monotheistic religions of today’s modern world – Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

After explaining the role of questioning in humanity, Greenham moves to tackle the questioning process in ancient Islam. In a religion that is named after submission, it is difficult from the start to suggest that ancient Islam allowed questioning. Of the historical matter, I am most distressed by his suggestion, as passive as it was, that Islam’s restriction on questioning goes back to Muhammad. The early decades of Islam, much like the early decades of Christianity (and the early millenniums of Judaism) are generally murky in historical fact and only interpreted through those who managed to become the most entrenched interpreters. It is reasonable to suggest that the Quran we have today is not the Quran of Muhammad’s ‘recitation.’ After all, history reminds us of the forced and bloody Uthmanic recension process. But, if we consider Islam post-Uthmanic, then we can agree with Greenham, that ancient Islam, as a whole, was often oppressive to questioning. Moving into modern Islam, he presents an often negative view, of fiery councils, executions and repression of self-introspection. It is difficult to view Islam this way, in such a politically incorrect view, but he is more right than wrong; it’s just that he is not all right. Indeed, after the terrible tragedies of 9/11 a new breed of Muslim made itself known in America. It was this new Muslim that questioned the historical attitudes of Islam and called for introspection. Liberal and Moderate Muslims formed groups which questioned Islam in light of the tragedies. This questioning goes on. I would also suggest that Islam is some 600 years behind Christianity as an evolved religion. What did Christians do 600 years ago to those who questioned unsanctioned questions?

Moving into Judaism, Greenham’s theological bias comes forth. Again referring to John Piper, he seems to suggest that Judaism is lacking because it acknowledges that God no longer speaks to the Jewish people. His chapter six is rather weak, relying more on stereotypical misunderstandings of a religious group which is spread across a variety of cultures, times, and races. Indeed, I cannot tell if he is focused more on the Jew or the practitioner of Judaism. I it is the former, then there are significant problems; if it is the latter, his thesis becomes weaker. Regardless, his thesis that an entire religion based on questioning (again, Job and as he mentions, the Talmud) is something suffering a deficit is entirely bunk.  His next chapter, related directly to the modern state of Israel, is even worse than his sixth chapter. Israel (from here on out, I will use this only for the modern State) is a questioning society, more so, as he points out, than American Zionists. This is a good thing. Indeed, both of these chapters, if one could get past what is surely coming in chapter eight, portrays Judaism and the Jewish people as one who continues to question and in questioning, moving forward as an open-minded society and, indeed, religion. Chapter eight is nothing more than a condemnation of the Jews for not questioning the veracity of the claims of Jesus. What bothers me the most is that this is not taken next to the refusal of Christians to question “in their heart” if Joseph Smith is the Prophet or if Allah is the Prophet of of Scripture is wrong without any meaningful suggesting that they could be wrong. Perhaps, we should also question if Hitler was truly right.

Greenham exhibits a large amount of theological ineptness in chapter nine when he discusses the role of questioning in Catholicism. I am unsure as how to amend all of his errors except to suggest that Greenham take time to read of the history of development of Catholic doctrine so as to not create embarrassing errors for himself in the future. Indeed, I would suggest that his idea of Salvation is not completely biblical, in that he assumes that salvation is not an ongoing process. I would take it that Greenham is not Wesleyan, to his discredit, but further, he hasn’t questioned Paul’s own admonition throughout Scripture that he is saved, he is being saved, and he will be saved, indicating an ongoing process of salvation. Granted, reviews are not meant to be full blown theological rebuttals, but Greenham isn’t just talking about questioning God, but failing to question himself in his assumed knowledge of what he is talking about. He follows this rather anti-Catholic chapter by opening his tenth chapter with the suggestion that evangelicals have the corner on the “biblical Jesus” and salvation. Indeed, this chapter is more about the superiority of Western culture and Evangelicalism than it is about questioning anything, especially those presuppositions. As of chapter eleven which continues with the Christian theme, Greenham has yet to suggest anything related to the questioning God. Eleven is more about questioning the leaders of various Christian institutions rather than Christianity or even God. His final two chapters are light, and nothing more than you’d expect to find at a usual evangelical retreat, that of, have an orderly home, read the bible, but don’t question God.

Is this really how we are to be left? He opens with the suggestion that God asks questions and that we may in turn ask him as well. Yet, he moves to Piper who suggests that many questions should not be asked. Throughout the book, no real questions are asked, or at least those questions which are asked are not also asked of Christians. This is a thoroughly disappointing work. Where are the questions, and the allowance for questions? Throughout Scripture, and if we could step away from the theology which we have placed into Scripture we would see Scripture itself as a grand question, questions are asked of God, about God, and sometimes, in such as way as to suggest that God is not there. Yes, Islam does have a way of discarding questioning, but the Jews thrive on it. Christians, on the other hand, especially evangelicals, follow more along the lines of Islam than Greenham and others would have us believe.

Now comes the question of whether or not you should purchase this book. Let me say yes. Yes not because of the reasons I have given you against such a book, but because you must question me and my review. You must question Greenham. You must question yourselves.

 

Post By Joel Watts (10,056 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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2 thoughts on Review: The Questioning God @energion

  1. Your prejudice and ignorance of Islam is clear. The Quran not only asks questions of its readers, but also repeats and answers questions that were asked at the time of revelation.

    • Kat, feel free to enlighten me. Greenham brings to light other texts in the Quran what would have made questioning more acceptable.

      Also, let me suggest that much like Judaism and Christianity, the sacred texts of the Tradition aren’t always the same the Tradition itself.

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