Reviewed by Robert Danielson, Ph.D.
Faculty Associate and Affiliate Faculty at Asbury Theological Seminary
Ant Greenham presents an intriguing analysis of the world’s monotheistic religions and their view of God, through the lens of how God is perceived to relate to the questions of human beings. Using broad strokes, he paints a generalized picture of this situation. In essence, he argues that Islam suppresses the questioning of God through its focus on submission to the will of Allah. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Greenham presents the Jewish faith as being so open to questioning God that this questioning has undermined an ultimate certainty in God. This leaves the Christian faith, which Greenham examines in both its Roman Catholic and Evangelical forms. While Vatican II opened the Roman Catholic Church to a more positive view of questioning, it has left certain theological positions too sacrosanct to be questioned. Evangelicals, in the meantime, have become too closed to the questioning of authority (both political and religious) and Greenham outlines some of the potential dangers inherent in this lack of questioning.
The author presents some very solid scriptural arguments for his position and he outlines a strong biblical view of questioning from the example of Christ’s words to his followers in the gospels. He recognizes several times that he does not have the space to do a thorough analysis of each religion’s position and Greenham also validates that individuals vary within each religion presented. Beyond these obvious concerns, I found myself left with several additional questions.
First, the author presents this spectrum of current positions regarding questioning as the norm for these religious traditions. He would be better served to bring out the temporal and cyclical nature of questioning. Judaism was forced into a greater openness to questioning as a result of the Holocaust and its horrors, which replaced a much closed rabbinic tradition. Christianity as well was forced into a more open position with regard to questioning by the Enlightenment. Even then the Church fought Copernicus and other scientists through the Inquisition and the Counter Reformation for their questioning of the theology of their day. The Islamic world was the seat of scientific knowledge and openness during the Dark Ages, when the Christian Church demanded blind obedience to the faith. Greenham mentions a number of these factors, but does not really tie them into a theory which would be more cyclical. While Islam may be going through a current phase that is closed to questioning, this does not mean this period is permanent or unable to be changed given historical events. Evangelical Christianity may be going through a similar cycle of closing itself to questioning stemming back to the Scopes trials and a distancing of Evangelical Christianity from scientific inquiry. All religions may go through such cyclical transformations.
Second, Greenham does not really tie in the role of mystery and faith in religious traditions. While questioning is indeed one important aspect of how people interact with God in religion, all of these traditions also call for some ideas to be accepted as matters of faith. The mystery of the Trinity, faith in the divinity of Jesus, acceptance of the faithful transmission of the Qur’an to Muhammad, or the acceptance of the Jewish nation as a specially chosen people of God, are all matters which a believer must chose to accept by faith. No amount of questioning can prove or disprove these fundamental concepts. Religion, in its basic difference from science, is found in its concepts accepted without question by faith.
Third, in terms of mission and evangelism from an evangelical perspective, the author does not really deal with the role of the Holy Spirit. In terms of previenient grace (from a Wesleyan point of view), the Holy Spirit is active in all parts of the world, all cultures, and all religions, before Christianity even appears. It is the Holy Spirit who compels people to begin to question what they believe and why. It is the Holy Spirit that is the reason for individual variations in how people move to conversion and personal transformation. In the same way, it is the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that moves us to self-critique our own ideas and values as Christians. The dynamic power of questioning would be nothing without this theological groundwork from a Christian perspective.
From my reading of Greenham’s book, The Questioning God, I feel he understands these issues and concepts, but lacked time and opportunity to elaborate on them. Nevertheless, I feel they are important, even vital additions to this conversation. Greenham has provided a fascinating foundation for a beginning discussion on how people should deal with questions about God, both from inside and outside the Church. His biblical principles for Christians are sound and need to be heard in the Evangelical Church today. While his perspective of questioning in the Muslim and Jewish communities provides a good starting place for a discussion on evangelism, it is not the end of the discussion. Much more remains to be said and analyzed in terms of history and the theology of world religions, but it is a refreshing place to begin to develop new and more fundamental questions to ask about what we believe.
Reviewed by Robert Danielson, Ph.D.