The other day as I was getting a haircut, my stylist (I know – what hair do I have to style?), found out I was a pastor and so asked me a great question based off of an earlier conversation about the news coming out of the Middle East. “Why do Muslim’s and Christian’s fight each other? Don’t you really worship the same God anyways? Why not just focus on the stuff you are the same like the love stuff and be kind to each other stuff?”
She probably didn’t expect me to answer the way I did. Most people just say “You’re right, why don’t we?” I think most people would answer that way because they don’t know what to say or because they’d agree with her premise. Before you accuse me of promoting hatred and warfare, I did agree with her about the peace part. After all, we are to love God and our neighbour as ourselves, and the neighbour thing includes my muslim neighbours whether they be next door here in Halifax or across the ocean.
What I didn’t agree with her about was the idea that we worship the same God. So I seized on her openness of the moment to share the beauty and uniqueness of Jesus and his teachings. She engaged in the conversation and was genuinely surprised about the differences – apparently no one had told her what I was telling her, along with the obvious fact that she hadn’t explored the idea herself.
I wasn’t surprised, and in fact I find this to be a common way of thinking. What I do find surprising however, is that there are some within the Christian camp who hold a similar belief, in that there isn’t much difference between the three Abrahamic faiths; Christianity, Islam and Judaism. In fact, there are a large number who’d say that we actually worship the same God.
Back in December of 2015, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a professor with Wheaton College (An evangelical institution), put on a hijab and stated on Facebook, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
Five days after that posting, Wheaton College gave Dr. Hawkins a ‘time out’ saying that they wanted to give her “more time to explore (the) theological implications of her recent public statements.” Giving a grown woman, a Doctor none the less, a time out wasn’t received well, based on the firestorm of controversy it ignited.
The Chicago Tribune, described Wheaton’s actions as “bigotry… disguised as theology.” This assessment was partially based on the input of Yale Professor Miroslav Volf, a theologian who said, “There isn’t any theological justification for Hawkins’s forced administrative leave. Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy. It is about enmity toward Muslims.” That sounds a bit harsh, but is he right?
WHAT IF ANY, ARE THE SIMILARITIES?
The founder of Islam, Muhammad, saw himself as the last in a line of prophets that reached back through Jesus to Moses, beyond him to Abraham and as far back as Noah. According to the Quran, God (known as Allah) revealed to Muhammad:
“The Book with the truth [the Quran], confirming what was before it, and [before He sent down the Quran] He sent down the Torah of Moses and the Gospel of Jesus… as a guidance for the people.”
The Muslim and Christian views of God certainly do have some similarities. For example, Christians believe in one eternal God who created the universe, and Muslims apply these attributes to Allah. Both view God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. Jesus is mentioned 25 times in the Qur’an. And then there’s the fact that Christianity and Islam having similar teachings on morals and ethics.
The obvious conclusion to some then is that Muslims worship the same God as Christians, it’s just that the two mega faiths are simply having some familial misunderstandings about what he’s like and what he’s done – yet still the same God. After all, both Christians and Muslims recognize that their books speak about the same God who created Adam and Eve, who rescued Noah from the flood, who promised Abraham a vast progeny, who helped Moses escape Egypt, who made the Virgin Mary great with child, who sent Jesus into the world, who helped the disciples overcome, and who is still sovereign today. Is that not the God of the Bible being described in the Quran? The Quran even asserts that the Torah and the Gospel are inspired scripture and that Jews and Christians are people of the Book.
And then there’s the fact, the Quran tells Muslims to say to them (Christians and Jews), “Our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender” (29.46).
That sounds very benign… and inclusive to me. Listen, if the Quran asserts that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians, doesn’t that settle the matter?
Fair question deserving a fair answer. My observation however, is that those assertions do not settle the matter even remotely. That’s because Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. Here is why I make that claim. It’s because making a claim that it is the same God being truly and honestly worshiped equally by both Muslims and Christians quite simply subverts Christian orthodoxy in favour of Islamic claims.
ARE THE DIFFERENCES REALLY DIFFERENT ENOUGH?
Christians believe Jesus is God, but the Quran is so opposed to this creed that it condemns Jesus worshipers to Hell (5.72). In fact, any belief in the deity of Jesus is considered shirk (“polytheism”) to Muslims. Further to this, Islam denies the death of Christ on the cross (4:157–158). So, right at the start, the most crucial doctrine of the Christian faith is rejected in Islam. This fact alone should be enough to settle the matter.
But even if that wasn’t enough, there is the doctrine of the Trinity to consider. In the Bible, God has revealed himself as one God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So from a right understanding of Christian scripture, we see that while each Person of the Trinity is fully God, God is not three gods, but three in one.
God’s Son came in the form of man, a truth called the incarnation, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Sonfrom the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14(Also look up, Luke 1:30-35; Colossians 2:9; 1 John 4:1-3).
Jesus conquered the penalty and power of sin by dying on the cross, and then after rising from the dead, went back to heaven to be with his Father and sent the Holy Spirit to believers.
“’But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’.” – Acts 1:8-11.
Islam, on the other hand, roundly condemns worship of the Trinity (5.73), establishing, in contrast, its own core principle: Tawhid, the absolute oneness of God. Tawhid specifically denies the Trinity, so much so that according to Islam, worshiping the Christian God is not just wrong; it sends you to Hell.
ARE WE BEING HYPOCRITICAL WHEN IT COMES TO THE JEWISH FAITH?
Allow me to answer a question that many might be asking at this point. “How can you Christians accuse Muslims of worshiping a different God without also indicting the Jews of doing the same thing, isn’t that hypocritical & inconsistent?”
That is a fair question, however the response should be obvious to those who have studied the three Abrahamic faiths: The Trinity is an elaboration of Jewish theology, not a rejection. By contrast, Tawhid is a categorical rejection of the Trinity, Jesus’ deity, and the Fatherhood of God, doctrines that are grounded in the pages of the New Testament and firmly established centuries before the advent of Islam. Most of the earliest Christians were Jews, incorporating their encounter with Jesus into their Jewish theology. Nothing of the sort is true of Muhammad, who was neither a Jew nor a Christian. Islam did not elaborate on the Trinity but rejected and replaced it.
For the Christian though, no Trinity means no incarnation of God’s Son in the Person of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ, there would be no salvation from sin, no matter you be religiously Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Without salvation, sin condemns all to an eternal hell. And for Christians, the deity of Christ is non-negotiable, because without his deity, Jesus’ death on the cross would not have been sufficient to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the entire world, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2
So, do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? A better question is, “Do Christians and Muslims both have a correct understanding of who God is?” To this question, the answer is definitely a big fat NO! And that is this, because of the crucial differences between the Christian and Muslim concepts of God, the two faiths cannot both be true. The biblical God alone addresses and solves the problem of sin by giving his Son, the God man Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:16-18