I know I am quite late to this discussion. It’s been several weeks since Wheaton College took action against one of its professors when she claimed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. The furor has past, and few are discussing it now. However, I took notes for a blog article around that time, but then became sick and had other interruptions that kept me from writing about it.
So, even though many people have moved on, I still want to share some thoughts on this.
Two Different Questions
As I read several articles on this, it became clear that people were answering two different questions. Some people were addressing whether Christians can say that Muslims worship the same God as Christians in the way Christians can claim that Jews worship the same God as they do. But others were addressing whether Islamic worship is sufficient for salvation.
But these are, obviously, two different questions. Part of the confusion arises because we use ‘worship’ in a strict and a loose way. Sometimes we use ‘worship’ to talk about that activity in which all religions engage. We can talk about Hindu worship and Christian worship and Muslim worship. But sometimes we use ‘worship’ in a stricter sense, though, to where only those who are true disciples can be said to worship God –– if someone isn’t saved, whatever they might be doing in their religious gatherings, it isn’t true worship.
Talking Past Each Other
This confusion led to people talking past each other in discussions: they appeared to be arguing, but they were really addressing two different questions. For example, Michael Rea wrote that he thought Christians and Muslims did worship the same God. But Albert Mohler wrote that Christians and Muslims didn’t worship the same God.
But they were largely just talking past one another. They were answering different questions
Two New Questions
This is easier to see if we make clearer that “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” can be understood in one of two ways. I have found it helpful to think about this by thinking about these two questions:
- Will a Muslim worshipping Allah be saved through that worship?
- Does a Muslim who converts to Christianity come to believe in a different God?
Let me address both of these questions, since I think that both of these questions have been discussed in articles about the Wheaton College incident.
Sufficient for Salvation?
The question – will a Muslim worshipping God be saved? – is one that Christians have traditionally answered “no.” Jesus is the only way of salvation, and those who do not accept him will not be saved.
Several people wrote articles addressing the question, “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?”, and wrote about this sense of the question. For example, Dr. Albert Mohler argued in his article that Christians and Muslims didn’t worship the same God because of Jesus’s claims to be the exclusive way of salvation. And Thabiti Abwile also wrote that Christians and Muslims worship a different God, but he does so by highlighting three areas of significant disagreement between Christianity and Islam.
But both of these articles are addressing whether being a devout Muslim is sufficient for salvation. Among conservative to moderate Christians, most would agree with him.
But during the entire furor concerning the Wheaton College professor, most of the conversation seemed to be about the other question, not about whether Muslims were saved by their obedience to Allah, but whether we can properly identify the God of Christians with the God of Islam (again in the way that we identify the God of Judaism and the God of Christianity). This is the second question.
The second question is whether we can identify the God of Christians with the God of Islam. As I wrote earlier, I have found it easier to think through this question when I phrase it another way: does a convert from Islam to Christianity come to believe in a different God?
So how do we answer this question?
First, it is important to remember that Christians have never hesitated to say that Christians and Jews worship the same God. This is true even though Jews do not believe in the divinity of Jesus or that God is triune. Yes the Jewish understanding of YHWH is different than Christian understanding for these reasons, but we still plausibly claim that it is the same God.
Second, we also don’t claim that the disciples began worshipping a different God when they finally came to a full understanding of who Jesus was. Peter worshipped the same God before he encountered Jesus as after he fully understood who Jesus was, with a fuller understanding, no doubt.
Notice that in both these points, we are content saying that someone worshipped God (again: not necessarily in a saving sense), even though they were seriously mistaken about the nature of that God.
This, I think, is what the philosophy professor, Michael Rea, was explaining in his article for The Huffington Post, “On Worshipping the Same God.” Rea admits that there is significant disagreements between Islam and Christianity, but that doesn’t amount to saying that we worship a different God.
After all, he points out, the Christian Church has contained people with different understandings of the nature of God. He writes: “God as understood by Jonathan Edwards looks very different from God as understood by Rob Bell; but who would go so far as to say that Edwards and Bell worship different Gods?”
So I think that we can be justified in saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Though Islam has different conception of God and a radically different understanding of what it means to follow God, it still looks to the God of Abraham as the one God of the world.
A Hidden Agreement
But here’s what I found in reading many different articles addressing this issue: most Christian authors agreed with one another, even when the article seemed to disagree.
Most people agreed that there was overlap in how Islam and Christianity thought about God, but also agreed that there were significant differences in the religions.
So, do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? In a sense, yes; in another sense, no.
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