The Same God?

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.



10 thoughts on “The Same God?”

  1. Isn’t it just “grammar”? To say “God does not exist”, as apposed to “A God does not exist”? A disagreement to a presumption in the same statement, i.e., “the tooth fairy does not exist” as apposed to “A tooth fairy does not exist”?
    Isn’t the assertion in an argument determined by which side is arguing the positive? If an atheist makes that assertion, they would have to back it up. Likewise, the theist making an assertion also would have to back it up. I think most atheists would say to a person who is suggesting that he “make his case” would say “I don’t have a case”, that’s the whole point.
    People call it atheism and/or agnosticism to show a position of belief or lack of belief or knowledge or lack of knowledge, but isn’t it all just grammar and how we manipulate the language. For an atheist to argue for the non existence of a god, he would have to say “I believe there is no God”, the other side would say “I don’t believe there is no God”, the atheist having the burden of proof in this case, while the “non believer” in no God, just says show the evidence that there is no God. How can you show evidence that there is no God? Of course, you can’t, but is there evidence of the contrary that doesn’t have holes in it? I think you’ve demonstrated in this post some of the holes.

  2. Each religion thinks that their “bible” is the word of god, written by god through prophets. If it is true that there is “a god”, only one, it doesn’t make sense that this god would reveal himself differently to other parts of the world. If there is not a god, and man wrote the texts in all the different bibles, it makes sense that god is an invention by humans from different parts of the world and different religions. Further, if god wrote the bible, the one god, it doesn’t make sense that its a question of misunderstanding. Seems like the christian bible and muslim bible (quran) would be the same. Enter the other religious texts from various religions, not to pick on christians or muslims. We are talking about, allegedly, the creator of the universe, the creator of time and space after all. I don’t think is a matter of misunderstanding.

    1. I am by no means suggesting that Muslims understand God correctly, or that the Koran is true. You’re right that it doesn’t make sense that the one God would reveal himself differently to other “parts of the world.” He doesn’t. God revealed Himself in the Bible (and through natural revelation and reason, and so on, as this site has pointed out). He did not reveal Himself in the Koran.

      The point of saying they worship the same God is to point out that if both religions hold that there is one and only one God, then they are both necessarily worshipping the one and only God. It is necessary to acknowledge this, because if we think of them as being different Gods, then that means we think God is what we devise Him to be. The religions arose from seeking God. They don’t create God.

      You’re also slipping into the familiar argument that because there are many religions, they must all be false. But you could as easily draw the opposite inference. Because religion has been so pervasive among people, it must be a reflection of man’s near-universal sense of the truth of God, however incompetently we may express that sense.

  3. Oops, reference my previous comment about arguments, what I meant when I turned the arguments around is how they are typically argued in debates and what not with the burden of proof supposedly on the theist. I understand that “a darkling plain” would suggest that the argument should be “I believe there is a god” against “I believe there is no god” vs “I don’t believe that there is NOT no god” since a person cannot take a position of neutrality. Just wanted to clarify that. Hope that made sense.

    1. Atheists typically argue that theists have the burden of proof that God exists. Atheists should have just as much burden to prove that He doesn’t, because the atheist point of view is just as fundamental as the theist’s.

      A better way to say it is that the debate is really about ultimate reality. Whether the theist vision of ultimate reality is correct, or the atheist vision of ultimate reality is correct. There is not a “burden of proof” that lies with one or the other. They are two completely separate and irreconcilable views of what is reality. Each view can be presented and defended on its own merits. Because the views conflict, presenting and defending one’s point of view is going to include arguments about why the opposing view is wrong. The attempt to put theists on the defensive by imputing to them a “burden of proof” is trickery. It is an attempt only to win the argument, not find the truth.

  4. I contend they don’t worship the same God and they of course don’t understand the one true God because of it. If they were truly seeking the one true God…He would reveal himself in truth as He has done countless times in history throughout time.
    According to the Encyclopedia of Religion, Allah corresponded to the Babylonian god Baal, and Arabs knew of him long before Mohammed worshipped him as the supreme God. Before Islam the Arabs recognized many gods and goddesses, each tribe had their own deity. There were also nature deities. Allah was the god of the local Quarish tribe, which was Mohammed’s tribe before he invented Islam to lead his people out of their polytheism. Allah was then known as the Moon God, who had 3 daughters who were viewed as intercessors for the people into Allah. Their names were Al-at, Al-uzza, and Al-Manat, which were three goddesses; the first two daughters of Allah had names which were feminine forms of Allah. Hubal was the chief God of the Kaaba among the other 360 deities. Hubal was the chief God of the Kaaba among the other 360 deities. Hubal was a statue likeness of a man whose body was made of red precious stones whose arms were made of gold. (Reference Islam George Braswell Jr.)

    1. Thanks for commenting. That’s fascinating history.

      I think the truth about God is what we should be seeking. Religion is a collective effort to seek truth about Him. Muslims get it dreadfully wrong. But suppose we’re contrasting Baptists and Presbyterians instead of Christians and Muslims. I would say that Baptists and Presbyterians both worship the God who is, but they have a slightly different conception of Him. Either Baptists or Presbyterians are closer to getting it right. God is not created by one form of Christian religion or the other, but He may be better understood by one than the other.

      I would also say that God is not created by one of the monotheisms rather than the other. About Muslims, one could say that they worship “a different god” because the god they worship is a fiction; that fictional god is not God. Or one could say that they worship God (because there is only one God) but they completely misapprehend (and malign) His character. They’re both ways of saying the same thing, in my view.

      My concern about saying it the first way is that it might suggest to someone who believes neither that the character of God is something that is manufactured from the ground up, by the religion. God does not originate in the mind of men. The mind of men originates in the mind of God.

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