Muslims, Christians and God


The Wheaton College incident involving a professor who put on a bourka and professed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God has sparked much controversy, debate and discussion. The College has put her on paid leave and is still trying to decide her fate, having made a statement that seems fundamentally at odds with the evangelical creed to which the College subscribes.

In the United States, where minority rights are championed and “tolerance” is preached, the public consensus seems solidly in favor of the sympathetic professor.  A different sentiment prevails in the Middle East, however. “Among Muslims and Christians in the Middle East, the discussion is not over whether we worship the same God,” one Arab Christian said, “but rather Muslims challenging us that we worship one God at all.” [1]

If a similar controversy were to arise in a predominantly Islamic country, the atmosphere would likely be much different. Debate would likely be replaced by one-sided polemics, public spectacle and, perhaps, the death of the “heretic”. But, the differences in cultural response do not address the fundamental question: Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

While Muslims and Christians both claim to worship the one, true God, Muslims claim that Christians do not worship “one” God. According to Islam, God is inseparably one, but Christians believe that the one God is triune. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, but not God; Christians believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man.

Magdy Gendy, retired dean of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, says, “I worship the triune God. The God they worship is none of my business,” he said. “To say otherwise is a political statement.” To put his remark in context, he added, “There is a huge difference between Islam as a minority and as a majority….” (Id.) Cairo evangelical pastor Refaat Fekry agreed because Muslims and Christians are not united in understanding of who God is. (Id.)

I have previously published an article embedding a series of lectures highlighting the fact that there are real and irreconcilable differences between the Bible and the Qu’ran, between how Islam views Jesus and the Christianity views Jesus.[2] These things cannot be denied.

Recently, however, I read a twist on this discussion that really got me thinking.  Maybe we are asking the wrong question.[3]  Maybe the right question is not whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God; but how Muslims and Christians understand and perceive God, to echo Fekry. After all, “What other God is there?” asked Miriam Adeney, a world Christian studies professor at Seattle Pacific University. “In all the universe, there is only one God.”

That there is only one God does not settle the gaping differences in Islamic and Christian doctrine, but differences in doctrine do not need to drive an inseparable wedge between Muslims and Christians. In both the Islamic community and the Christian community, true seekers of God are seeking the God: they must be seeking the same God, as there is only one God.

This is not to say that doctrine does not matter. I speak from the Christian perspective. The early church, going back to the epistles of Paul, was diligent and on guard against heresies that would distort and obscure the Gospel. Doctrine today is no less important.

Like the way Jesus dealt with the Pharisees, however, the rightness of our doctrine can never replace the essence of the Gospel, the essence of relationship with God. We may have our doctrine right and still be white-washed tombs. The rightness of our doctrine should lead us to love our neighbors and our enemies, and, if it does not, we do not have the love of God in us.

Today I read an article: Muslim Man Who Saved Christians from Terrorist Gunman Has Died. This man’s act of heroism and love endeared him to the Christian community. But, he is a Muslim. He is now dead. Does that mean he is resigned to an eternity in hell because he worshipped the wrong God?

This is the question doctrine suggests, but is it the right question?

There is only one God, and there can only be one God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me.” Jesus was the fullness of God in human flesh. He said nothing that he did not receive from the Father. Doctrine is important, and heresy necessarily must be challenged and weeded out, but doctrine must never be divorced from the character of God.

If there is only one God, all people who are seeking God are seeking the only God there is. All true seekers of God are seeking the one true God. We know the one true God to be merciful and just.

This is does not mean that all roads lead to God. There are consequences to the paths we choose, but different people find themselves in different territory and have different information and resources available. Paul says:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16)

Only God judges the secrets of men’s hearts. Abraham heard God and believed God, and his faith was counted to him as righteousness. Abraham had not heard of Jesus. His world was limited, much more limited than ours, but he heard God and believed God.

The essence of having faith in God is trusting God, not ourselves, and relying on God’s mercy. God who knows us, can be known by us. Like the Gentile who does not know the law or Abraham who did not know of Christ, God’s character is knowable to anyone who seeks God with all of his heart.

God is bigger than we like to think. He does not fit neatly into our worldviews or even our doctrines. We can have the right doctrine in our heads and not know God in our hearts. It stands to reason that we can have the wrong doctrine in our heads and know God still in our hearts.

I have been indelibly influenced by CS Lewis. In the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis depicts a scene that may be a profound statement of this reality I am getting at. Lewis said of the Chronicles that it was not written intentionally as a Christian story; it is just a child’s fairy tale. Yet Lewis, himself, was very strongly influenced by similar stories. They have the power to convey a sense of reality that is missed in other ways.

83270342_2ccac7cc5f_mIn the final chapter, Lewis has set the stage for the end of the world. A rebellion has been mounted against the last King of Narnia. The antagonist to Aslan, the Lion (Christ like figure), has propped up a counterfeit to the Lion, and has gathered a host of dark forces that evoke images of the Moors (Muslims). This great battle leads to the climax, which is the end of the world.

In the final scene, stars are being plucked from the sky like light bulbs. The earth is being rolled up like a carpet, and the mountains are being leveled into plains, as the entire population of the world has no choice but to gather into a line that leads past Aslan who stands at a door that leads into his own country for those who are truly faithful to him.

Says Lewis of this scene: “Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before”.

The picture Lewis draws brings to mind that narrow is the gate, and that Jesus is the way the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father, but through Him.

Lewis hints throughout the series that what we see is not necessarily the essence of reality, but some shadow of it. Aslan, alone, knows the true essence of the reality that is in men’s hearts. As both the subjects loyal to the King of Narnia and the subjects of the dark forces are gathered into a single line, they must all go, one by one, past Aslan. It would appear that the subjects of the Narnian King and the subjects of the dark forces would naturally go separate ways, but the reality is slightly different.

Some of the Narnian subjects, when their eyes met Aslan, were repelled and “chose” the other door. It was not a choice, however, but the progression and thrust of each person’s life culminating in that moment into either love or hatred of the Great Lion. There was no choice to be made in the moment; the choice was made throughout life leading to that moment in which the choice was irrevocably set.

 To the surprise of all but Aslan, some of the subjects of the dark forces were drawn as they passed Aslan, and so entered into His country. Though they been on the wrong side of the fight, loyal to the leader of the dark forces, as was their lot in life, these individuals had been tending in their hearts, in the culmination of the choices they made during life, in the direction of the character of the Great Lion.

In similar fashion, though doctrine is important, and though fundamental differences exist in the way God is understood in Islamic and Christianity, the reality is not the doctrine, but the character of God, Himself. Someone, having heard the Gospel and having embraced it, is much more likely to know the true character of God and have relationship with God, but saying the right things and doing the right things is not the reality. Meanwhile, not having heard or embraced the Gospel puts one at a serious disadvantage in knowing and having relationship with the one true God, but God, who knows mean’s hearts, can see the reality, and the reality may be different than we suppose for specific individuals.

We need to be careful in our adherence to doctrine that we not become white-washed tombs. We need to embrace the reality of God, who is love, and place our trust in Him who is worthy to be trusted. Doctrine and people are two different things. Doctrine should not build walls to keep out the people that God loves and desires to reach. Doctrine should guide us on the right path but should not used to bar the children who seek to sit on the Father’s lap. Let the people come to God.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] What Arab Christians Think of Wheaton-Hawkins ‘Same God’ Debate

[2] Islam & Christianity Through the Eyes of a Former Muslim

[3] Here’s What Evangelical Experts on Missions and Muslims Think of Wheaton’s ‘Same God’ Debate

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Postscript:

Following is the testimony of a former Muslim imam who sought to answer the question, “who is Jesus?, by reference to the Qu’ran.


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2 Comments on “Muslims, Christians and God”


  1. Navigating,
    I agree there is only one God. The difference between Christianity and Islam is in what we call God?
    Doctrine tells us who God is. Doctrine should always be directly from Scriptures.

    Like


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