Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? (That He is vs. Who He is)

December 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

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From “Do Christians And Muslims Worship The Same God?” by NPR on December 20, 2015, this recent controversy is summarized:

“Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, decided to wear a headscarf during the Advent season as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims. In doing so, Hawkins quoted Pope Francis, saying that Christians and Muslims ‘worship the same God.'”

A Christian response in the article:

“‘The question basically comes down to whether one can reject Jesus Christ as the Son and truly know God the Father,’ says Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. ‘And it’s Christ himself who answered that question, most classically in the Gospel of John, and he said that to reject the Son means that one does not know the Father.'” (John 6:46; 14:9; see also 1 John 2:22-23)

A Muslim response in the article:

“One theologian with knowledge of both Christian and Islamic doctrine is Hamza Yusuf, president of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., the first Muslim liberal arts college in the U.S. Born Mark Hanson, he was raised as a Christian and then converted to Islam. He quotes the Quran as saying that God is immeasurable, so to define God in some particular way is impossible. ‘God is much greater than anything we can imagine,’ Yusuf says. ‘The Muslims have a statement in our theology: Whatever you imagine God to be, God is other than that.‘”

Dr. Mohler’s response has to do with knowing God by identifying Jesus Christ the Son, which Islam denies. Yusuf explains that in Islam, one cannot really have a clear definition of God. And this I think is key to why the answer to the question as posed, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?”, has to be no. Christians, Muslims, and all human beings who are made in God’s image have an intuitive awareness of God. We all know He exists. We have an array of world religions because we’ve taken the general revelation of God and sought to define Him in various ways. But there’s a difference between recognizing God’s existence and worshipping Him.

Yusuf’s Muslim interpretation of the Qu’ran is not that God is “greater than” what we can imagine, but that He is “other than” what we imagine. There’s a distinction. We cannot fully comprehend the greatness of God, but the Bible assures us we can know Him (John 17:3). To say “to define God in some particular way is impossible” means knowing God is impossible, therefore worship is impossible. We cannot worship what we can’t know (though some have tried, like the Athenians in Acts 17).

Of course, Yusuf’s agnosticism about God (Allah) brings to light the Qur’an’s self-contradiction. The Qu’ran has 99 names for God, and you can’t name God 99 times without claiming to know perhaps 99 attributes of God. The description of God in the Bible differs greatly from the God of the Qur’an. They’re both Theistic in category, because we all recognize God exists, though some have suppressed this truth as Romans 1 explains. We know this without the Bible or the Qur’an. But in person, character and attributes, “God” is articulated very differently in both.

Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, argues that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but that “the description of God is partly different.” I would argue that it is fundamentally different. God cannot be both trinitarian and not trinitarian at the same time; God cannot both have a Son and not have a Son; He either sent Jesus to die in our place or He did not. These are basic logical absurdities and therefore cannot be descriptions of the same God.

And as Dr. Mohler explains, Jesus was God in the flesh, and a non-negotiable in the Christian identity of God. The Bible describes a triune God who sought to redeem us from our sins and reveal Himself by sending His Son to offer Himself on our behalf. A God who isn’t this or didn’t do this is not the same God. In 2002, Baptist theologian Timothy George noted, “Apart from the Incarnation and the Trinity, it is possible to know that God is, but not who God is.” (Emphasis George’s)

Another voice from the NPR article:

“Amy Plantinga Pauw, a professor of Christian theology at Louisville Seminary, says Christians can have their own definition of God while still seeing commonality with Muslims and Jews. ‘To say that we worship the same God is not the same as insisting that we have an agreed and shared understanding of God,’ Pauw says.”

Pauw touches on the crux of the debate but perhaps doesn’t see that true worship requires an accurate understanding of God. We can see “commonality” with many belief systems. Christians do share a common general knowledge of God and should share a mutual love and respect for our Muslim neighbors as fellow image-bearers of the Creator, even though we disagree over who He is. This means we can have solidarity where our common interests lie, even where they extend from our unique theologies. But when it comes to worship, something we can’t truly do without knowing the object of our worship, Christians share no altar with Muslims.

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