Public discourse about a recent news item has been more interesting than the item itself. The news item (as reported in the New York Times, among many other places) was this: that at Wheaton College, a professor was fired because she said that that Christians and Muslims worship “the same God.” Wheaton is an evangelical institution which requires a statement of faith from its instructors. Wheaton is apparently evaluating the theological implications of what she said – whether it is a violation of her statement of faith.
The articles and blogs that have popped up ask the question: Do they indeed worship the same God? One would think that this would be readily disposed of, by most people, but we live in strange times.
Most of what you’re likely to read on this subject is going to highlight theological differences among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the written revelation. One ordinarily very reliable source, Ravi Zacharias’ associate Nabeel Qureshi, takes that approach, for example, in Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?
This kind of discussion is not wrong, exactly. It just misses the point. The point is that they talk about God as if we create Him, rather than the other way around.
Imagine the three monotheisms huddling in their respective corners, each generating a list of attributes for God. They’re inconsistent. They can’t all be right. One may be right, or closer to right than the others. But none of them define God. We didn’t invent God. God invented us.
Our job is to try to understand God as best we can. That is the most important thing we do on this planet. To do that we should weigh the respective claims made by religions. But what is religion? It is collective worship of God on shared ideas of who God is. So it implies doctrines. Man develops those doctrines, from God’s revelation to him. The doctrines are inferences we draw about who God is, based on the evidence, and they’re important. But the doctrines are either correct or incorrect about God; they don’t create God. To say it differently, religious doctrine is a collection of inferences we draw about the God who is; they’re not a ground-up construction of a god we find it convenient to worship.
There’s an interesting parallel here to the atheist assertion, which can be stated alternatively as “there is no God,” and “God does not exist.” As we pointed out here, the latter formulation is actually incoherent. It’s like saying “the God who exists does not exist.”
In the same way, asking “do Muslims and Christians worship the same God” implies that there might be more than one God. But that’s nonsense. Both Muslims and Christians (as well as Jews) assert that there is but one God. Answering “no” puts us into that silly trap. Of course they worship the same God, because there is only one God. But one may be misunderstanding God, at best, or slandering Him, at worst.
The question “Do they worship the same God?” is different than “Do they both correctly understand God?” The first question is a poorly-phrased question. The answer, though it requires explanation, is “yes.” The answer to the second is “no.”
The Muslim conception of God may anger Him, and the more so as piety in the face of that misconception increases. But there’s not some uniquely Muslim God sitting up there in heaven. A new God is not created because some people use the word “Allah” rather than “God.”
There is but one God, immanent in His creation, manifested in the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.