Considering all the controversy about the Wheaton professor that was suspended for displaying solidarity with Muslims, even going so far as to say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, I figured that I would get my feet wet where so many have been swimming lately.
The basic assertion is simple: The father of the Islamic faith is Abraham (though Ishmael, son of Hagar). Since, like Islam, the Jews’ father is Abraham and since Christianity was birthed out of Judaism, Christians and Islam are brothers.
The Roman Catholic Stance
This is nothing new. We have been dealing with this since well before 9/11. In fact, Roman Catholics have expressed this in their own dogma (official teaching). In 1965, at the Second Vatican Council the wrote this:
But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among whom are the Muslims: these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 16, November 21, 1964; emphasis added).
The recent Popes recent confirmed this, even going so far as to kiss the Koran.
Many conservative Protestants hold to a view called “Inclusivism.” This means that those who have never had a chance to hear the true Gospel can be saved through other means. For example, someone who is in an African tribe who grew up under the tribal religion and never heard the Gospel can be saved through sincere hope in God as he or she knows him. In this, the blood of Christ must save them, but God uses a different means, other than faith, to save them. On the other hand there are the exclusivists or restrictivists (man, that sounds bad these days) who believe that people can only be saved through hearing and responding the Gospel in faith. I am among the exclusivists.
Having said this, we are not talking necessarily about whether God can save people in spite of their knowledge of Christ. It is whether or not, Muslims and Christians, like the Roman Catholic dogma asserts, worship the same God.
How We Are Alike
First, we must consider Islamic roots. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe that Abraham is the “Father” of our faith. Muslims believe their lineage of Mohammed can be traced to Abraham’s son, Ishmael, whom he bore through Hagar.
If we were to compare the Muslim faith to other faiths such as Mormonism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, one could come to the conclusion that, when it comes to the nature of God, Christians and Muslims are similar. Muslims believe that there is only one God who is transcendent. They believe that God, in his essential being (the actual “stuff” that He is) does not experience time, space, or matter. They believe that he created everything ex nihio, out of nothing. They believe that God is sovereign and rules over all his creation.
Therefore, philosophically speaking, our definition of what God must be to qualify to be God (self-awareness, transcendence, personhood, etc), the Christian view of God is very close to the Muslim view of God. It is the same with Jews and Deists (those who believe that God created everything but is not concerned with it). I am sure that there are millions of individuals around the world who don’t associate with any particular religion who simple believe that there must be one Source who gave birth to all of creation. So, the Muslim belief that Abraham is the father of their faith combined with a correct philosophical understanding of God might lead one to believe that we all worship the same God.
How We Are Different:
But the question, “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God”, may not the best one. The emphasis is naturally focused on one phrase, “same God.” The word that we need to focus on is “worship.” For, even if we were to come to the conclusion that the similarities outweigh the differences, this does not mean that we all worship Him.
The ultimate difference between Christians and Muslims and how worship God centers around one person, Jesus Christ. Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt.16:5) is the defining question of all history. While Christians hold vehemently to monotheism (belief that there is only one God), we believe that God eternally exists in three persons, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. When the Son of God became man, we finally found access to God. Muslims believe in Christ, but they don’t believe that he was born of a virgin and died on a cross for mankind. They abhor the doctrine of the Trinity, believing it is impossible for God to be one and three at the same time. Because of this, when Muslims approach God for worship, they do not go through Jesus Christ. While they, like us, may believe in God’s intolerance for sin, they do not see Christ as the avenue for forgiveness and reconciliation.
Jesus Christ has always been the dividing line. His person and work have separated Christians and non-Christians since his advent. First Corinthians 1:23 says, “But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” He is it. If we don’t go through Christ, we find no ability to worship God at all. Ephesians 2:18 says,”For through him [Christ] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” If you don’t have Christ, no matter how close we are philosophically, no matter what our lineage may be, we don’t have God. Jesus sets these definite standards himself:
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.
Most all Muslims would agree here.