The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Radical Divine Accommodation:

– or –
How vast ARE the paths to God?
Does God ever go “backwards” in His revelations to us?

This post is really a question about how I (as a Christian, and a believer in UR as well!!) should relate to Islam and so I’d like to direct this post especially to Tom (TGB) because of his long work in Islamic lands as I’m incredibly curious how he has “adapted” (if that’s even the right word to employ) the gospel as he understands it to the Muslim mind.

So here’s the setup to my question Tom…

I’m indebted to the author of WHO’S AFRAID OF THE OLD TESTAMENT GOD? – Alden Thompson – for the idea of “radical divine accommodation”. He’s obviously not the first to express it, but the first that’s had a real impact on me. He developed the concept to deal with those terribly troublesome passages in the bible which make God seem to be so violent and monstrous. Thus the bible “story shows how God radically accommodated His message to His people in order to reach then within their cultural framework.” There are many instances that might illustrate this of course;

– the idea of having Cities of Refuge when we know (from the Life/message of Jesus) that His preferred way is non-violence, returning good for evil, etc.

– God giving specific divorce laws to His people not because it was His ideal, but because of the hardness of their hearts.

– The “eye-for-an-eye” law of Moses when the Life of Jesus displays zero retaliation.

– God giving the people a king, when His strong preference was that they let HIM be their King.

And so on.

How far one lets this dynamic take him differs though. For example, when God tells the children of Israel the pattern by which to build the temple, it takes a nearly identical shape as the pagan temples surrounding them. The idea being that God used what they were familiar with and co-opted it to His own purposes; using what they knew and accepted already, and gently guiding them to deeper and changed understandings. God accommodating them; not the other way around. Many I know are unable to go that “far”.

As a Christian who believes;
that Jesus was the LIGHT that comes to light the entire world;
that Jesus is the Shepherd who is faithful to the entire flock;
and that God is the great pursuer of men and souls, I have little problem accepting that God really is speaking to all of us. He reaches to us, is with us; is Emanuel.
As a believer in the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation, I of course believe that the intent of all His actions are to woo and win us back to trust Him and that God is ultimately successful in all this work.

Now it happens that I’m reading a book now for a men’s discussion group that I’ve been invited to join. The book is IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE PROPHET and is written by Tariq Ramadan. And it’s a wonderful compilation of stories from the life of Muhammed from an entirely sympathetic point of view. I’m trying to be nice, and objective, and fair-minded, but am tempted to say it’s simply propaganda! But since I don’t want others to approach Christian theorizing and lesson drawing in that way, I’ll not succumb to that temptation.

There is much to agree with of course; the prophet is portrayed as humble, patient, gentle (a favorite word of Ramadan’s when talking about the prophet) wise, and insightful. He is seen as far ahead of his culture in terms of how well he treats women and outsiders and those in need. At the same time, when the issue of his multiple marriages (polygamy) – including one to young Aisah, age 6 – as well as things like slavery, and war, the explanation is along the lines of “hey, what’s the big deal; it was part of the culture.”

The questions I’d like help with then Tom are many and varied and broad. I don’t want to impinge too much on your time or anything, but wonder if you can advise on a framework through which I can process all these ideas…

– Is it possible that the prophet Muhammed really was/is a prophet? Meaning is it possible that God can USE this prophet (or shall I say “prophet”??) to His own purposes? (ie God coming to a culture where IT is…)

– If we can assume (grasping UR as we do) that God can and will and does use ANYTHING to His advantage (most here believe He uses even Hell to His ultimate benefit; and ours too) there should be no problem with Him using Islam right?

– While I am utterly convinced that Jesus was/is the final and best revelation of God (…in many and varied ways… but in these last days God has sent His Son…) is it possible that God “backtracked” to “reteach” some crucial lessons to a certain culture? Those “lessons” being that God is One, the value/benefit of prayer, the need for charity, etc etc (the rest of the stuff, like the Haj, just confuses me…) (Yes, I’m suggesting that Islam is a more “backwards religion” than is Christianity…)

– To what extent can one employ existing concepts and culture (ie the world of Islam) when trying to evangelize in the Muslim world?

Sorry Tom to dump such a huge question on your plate – but I have really loved and enjoyed the way you weigh and choose your words and think you might have a thing or two to say about this for my (and our) edification…
Give me some hooks on which to hang my ideas and thoughts…


Thanks for posting Bobx3. Unfortunately, due to a slight glitch in a recent upgrade your post didn’t come up on “Active Topics” when you posted it. I’ve now fixed the problem and am just commenting to make it appear in the “Active Topics”. Sorry about that.

While I am utterly convinced that Jesus was/is the final and best revelation of God (…in many and varied ways… but in these last days God has sent His Son…) is it possible that God “backtracked” to “reteach” some crucial lessons to a certain culture?

Certainly. With God all things are possible - and it was pretty obvious the pharisees got it all (mostly) wrong