Tag Archives: Reform

No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

Islam rose to the forefront of the global consciousness on September 11, 2001 through the bloody actions of several self-proclaimed followers of Islam. Yet in spite of the almost constant barrage of information since then by news pundits, political leaders, and religious personalities, it seems that most people living in the United States still don’t understand the basic concepts, history, or divisions within the religion. Written four years after the 9-11 terrorist attacks by Reza Aslan, a Sufi Muslim immigrant to the USA from Iran, the book No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam seeks to provide the reader with a basic understanding of Islam.[1]

Using chronological time as a scaffold, Aslan focuses on telling the theological history of Islam rather than outlining the territorial spread of the religion. This focus on the theological development of Islam allows Aslan to highlight the various reformation movements within the religion. In fact, Aslan goes as far as to say that the book itself is less about the origins of Islam as much as it is “an argument for reform.”[2] Though not widely known in the United States, “Islam has been in a constant state of evolution”[3] since the very beginning. Hence the power and glory of Aslan’s book is that it informs the readers of the struggles within Islam as its religious followers try to adapt their religion to a changing world while remaining true to their traditions, scriptures, and deity.

A good example of this struggle is the ongoing debate over the role of human reason in reading and understanding the Quran. The Rationalist school of thought within Islam believes that all “theological arguments must adhere to the principles of rational thought.”[4] Hence to them, the proper way to interpret the Quran is to read it within “its historical context.”[5] This allows proponents of the Rationalist school of thought to adapt the message of the Quran to the culture of the time. The Traditional school of thought, however, holds the opposite view, claiming that “human reason, while certainly important, must nevertheless be subordinate to the Quran and the Sunna of the Prophet.”[6] This view leads to a more literal reading of the Quran that states that the Quran and its interpretation “has never changed and will never change.”[7]

This debate reminds me of the Liberal/Fundamentalist divide within Protestant Christianity in the United States. Within this divide it was the Liberals who embraced science and human logic while the Fundamentalists held to a “strong emphasis on the inerrancy and literal truth of the biblical record and the falseness of modern, skeptical, evolutionary science and philosophy.”[8] As such, it can be said that Fundamental Evangelicalism and Traditional Islam both hold to some of the same philosophical concepts.

In closing, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Reza Aslan’s book No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. It gave me a greater understanding of what is happening within Islam and among the various people groups who embrace the teachings of Muhammad. As the last decade has taught us, the world is changing with Islam quickly becoming a major player on the global scene. Accordingly, the reforms within Islam have now become the reforms of all people as these reforms have the potential to shape the world’s geopolitical and cultural structures in multiple ways.



[1] “Reza Aslan,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, accessed on January 1, 2018.

[2] Reza Aslan, No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (New York: Random House, 2005), xx.

[3] Reza Aslan, No god But God, 266.

[4] Reza Aslan, No god But God, 153.

[5] Reza Aslan, No god But God, 161.

[6] Reza Aslan, No god But God, 153.

[7] Reza Aslan, No god But God, 161.

[8] Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 534.

“Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life” by John Calvin

john calvinBased in Geneva, Switzerland, John Calvin became one of the most influential Protestant theologian and pastor of the Reformation. Born in Noyon, France in 1509, Calvin joined the Reformation at an early age after studying to become a humanist lawyer. At twenty-six, he published the first edition of his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” which established him as a major player in the Reformation movement. The “Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life” booklet was published both separately and as part of later editions of the “Institutes of the Christian Religion.”

The booklet itself is divided into five chapters cover different areas of the Christian life. Chapter one talks about the humble obedience of a believer in submitting themselves to the Scriptures and seeking a life of holiness. This life is one that goes beyond external trapping of the faith and touches the inside of a believer. As Calvin puts it, “the gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life” (page 20). To this end, the believer is to always be pushing in and trying to move further along the journey of the faith.

Chapter two builds upon this humility by expounding upon the concept of self-denial, i.e. the life of a believer is no longer their own but belongs to God. To me, this was the best chapter within the booklet as it captured the concept of living for Jesus rather than trying to add Christianity on as just another activity. Instead Calvin tells us that if we are to follow God, then we must be willing to deny the inner most desires of our heart for that of the desires of Jesus. We are also to “voluntarily give up our rights for the sakes of others,” helping them whenever possible (page 35).

The third chapter looks at the concept of crossbearing and preparing oneself for a life that is “hard, difficult, laborious, and full of countless griefs” (page 47). While I disagree with Calvin’s premise that every hardship is ordinated by God (page 46), I do agree with his encouragement to persevere through hardship for the glory of God. All too often Christianity is presented as a way of life that is easy with no troubles. The opposite is true as the cross begs us to “partake of the sufferings of Christ” (page 48).

calvin picChapter four shifts gears a bit and encourages the believer to stay hopeful for the coming of Christ and the New Heaven and Earth. By focusing on the Age to Come, the believer may embrace the self-deny of the cross while overcoming the hardships of this world. “The cross of Christ triumphs only in the hearts of believers over the devil and the flesh, over sin and wickedness, when they life their eyes to behold the power of the resurrection” (page 81). Sadly enough, Calvin uses this chapter to despise the present world and age in which humanity lives in. At one point he even promotes a form of Gnosticism which sets up a dualism between the spirit and the body (page 75).

The last chapter of the booklet deals with practical life items in that Calvin seeks to promote the concept of moderation. In a lot of ways this chapter is counteracting potential extremes that readers may have picked up from the previous chapter. To counteract this, Calvin writes “even if this earth is only a vestibule, we ought undoubtedly to make such a use of its blessings that we are assisted rather than delayed in our journey” (page 84). In order to avoid the extremes of being held captive by the blessing of this life or by denying them totally, Calvin seeks to lay out some “general principles for the lawful use of earthly things” as seen in the Scriptures (page 85). These principles follow the basic outline that all things are gifts from God and are to be used in moderation to help the believer on their journey toward heaven.

Overall there are some great points and concepts within Calvin’s “Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life.” At the same time, there are some key items missing from the booklet. Namely Calvin doesn’t address the battle motifs of the Scripture, choosing instead to claim that all hardships are from God rather than from the evil one or as a result of sin in the world. This is a huge hole in the booklet as it sets God up to be the author or, at the very least, the promoter of evil. To me, there is a big difference between what is permitted and what is ordinated, which is why I do not agree with John Calvin or the Reform tradition he started.