Monday, March 14, 2016

Miroslav Volf doubles down on Tash and Aslan

For a little while the doctrine of the Trinity was making news, which was exciting. There were also several interesting sub-plots about academic tenure and freedom, evangelical culture and race. Most interesting though was the debate about the similarity or dissimilarity between the God of Islam and the God of Christianity. The heart of this debate is theological, is there a real theological difference between the two gods that is more than a sociological, historical or linguistic observation? Does the question of 'who God is' create an unbridgeable divide?

Miroslav Volf, an eminent protestant theologian at Yale, says no and in the process becomes an apologist for the Ape and his cronies at the end of the Narinan Chronicles, The Last Battle. The single best place to get the gist of this debate and Volf's position is listening to this discussion between him and Nabeel Qureshi a medical doctor and Christian convert from Islam who now works with Ravi Zacharias.

Our heroes need fatal flaws, if only to remind us that the only true hero is Jesus. CS Lewis' fatal flaw is on show in his brilliant finale to the Narnian Chronicles, The Last Battle. The book begins with the Ape dressing up his friend Shift the Donkey in a lion skin, with himself pretending to be the mouthpiece of Aslan, since the real Aslan has been silent for so long. He tricks most of the animals and does a deal with a stealthily encroaching Calormene army. To explain the deal, the Ape starts putting around the story that Tash and Aslan are actually the same. When the King of Narnia is captured, he calls them out saying this:
"Ape," he cried with a great voice, "you lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an Ape." He meant to go on and ask how the terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people could not possibly be the same as the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved. 
Later the King escapes and the real Tash, a demon like god arrives in Narnia. Then after several more adventures, Narnia is destroyed and the heroes are killed. However they find themselves on the other side of the stable door, on the other side of eternity. Where they meet Emeth, a young Calormene who'd been confused by the Tashlan nonsense of the Monkey and the Calormene Captain. Lewis then blunders around with this scene, revealing that all great men have flaws. In this description Emeth says:
Then I fell at his feet and thought Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. ... But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.
Even if Lewis wasn't a Christian thinker, as a scholar and a writer he should've realised the internal logic of his secondary world was flawed. Maybe the Ape was right all long, maybe the horrors of Tash await the heroes as the ventured further up and further in? In Lewis' defence he is making a complicated point about virtue, only to muddy the waters at a crucial moment. He should've written it so Emeth dreams about Aslan and realises he's got it all wrong. So he secretly worships Aslan, based on the little fragments of truth he gleans from Calormene propaganda and travellers tales. Then on the other-side of the stable door realises, the God he worshipped in secret turned out to be real, phew. Even smart wonderful people can botch it all at their finest hour.

So maybe there is hope for Miroslav Volf even as he doubles down on the Tash-Aslan similarities. The Gnostic undertones of Volf's arguments are also unsettling. It's almost as though he is saying 'Get with the program, if you squint in the dark they look the same, and besides we've all been fighting to long, let's put aside long theological squabbles about the nature of God and embrace Tashlan.' Volf is a skilful interlocutor and highlights Qureshi's main weakness, defending the Canaanite Genocide. Which interestingly is actually a debate about virtue rather than a winning point about the similarity ofAllah and the Trinity and if you weren't listening carefully you'd miss the cunning side step.