Saturday, March 24, 2012

Christians, Muslims, God, and Allah: Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

Only those steeped in postmodern culture could propose that Christianity and Islam are actually much closer in theology than traditionally believed. It seems to me that anyone with a basic, simple understanding of the two religions would necessarily reject even the slightest hint that the two are actually religious cousins, so to speak. Yet, there is a stir among many within the respective religions regarding our commonality. In the article IO87: Chrislam for Human Flourishing?, Dr. Peter Jones reacts to Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale, who contends that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Volf admits that the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are not identical. One wonders then how Volf can say with one breath that both religions worship the same God and then say in another place that they are not identical. How can I be the same as me without being identical to me? If I am not identical to me, then obviously I am not the same as me. I wonder just how far from identical one can move before they cross the line of sameness. Is it an inch? Perhaps a foot. As long as you are within a foot of sameness, you can be the same but not identical. I also wonder who was in charge of working such a system out. Who was the person vested with the privilege to determine how far from “sameness” identical can move before it becomes “another?” As Rob Bell might say, “good question.”

Volf observes that God’s love is much less obvious in the Qur’an than in the Bible. This admission is quite puzzling. First, Volf is correct! In fact, it is a gross understatement to say it this way. The description of God in the Sacred Scriptures is predominately immersed with love. God loves the world! God loves His own! God loves His sheep! God is love! He that does not love does not know God! Repeatedly, the recurring theme of love is laced throughout the text of Scripture. On this point alone, one could easily see that the Qur’an’s description of Allah and the Bible’s description of God are remarkably different.

The attempt to bring Christianity and Islam together is a product of postmodern thought. It is an attempt to disregard distinctions because, after all, distinctions are built on the arrogant idea of right and wrong. Even worse, distinctions, especially religious and ethical distinctions are the product of the kind of antiquated thinking that believes one can actually know truth. From such reasoning, people can deduce what is not true. This kind of philosophical praxis is off-limits in postmodern culture.

At the foundation of “Chrislam” as some refer to it, is the age-old philosophy of pantheism. In this view, everything is God. If pantheism is true, then all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different. Pantheism is far more comfortable in a postmodern culture than the exclusive religions of Christianity and Islam. Hence, it only makes sense for a postmodern professor to attempt to flatten out any distinctions between the two largest religions in the world and have them serving the same God. If Volf can pull that off, it will be much easier to do with the smaller religions. The real problem for the true church is the attempt on the part of some to move in this direction in the name of missions and evangelism.

The idea is to avoid offense in your delivery of the gospel. Offense, according to some, guarantees that evangelism fails. However, Jesus came with the very intent of bring offense. He said, “Blessed is he who does not take offense at me.” [Matt. 11:6] Then again, Jesus said, “Do you suppose I came to bring peace on the earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.” [Luke 12:51] The exclusive truth claims of Scripture, which reveal a triune God, are inherently offensive to the Muslim religion. In Islam, God is not three persons eternally existing in one God. Islam views this description of God as blasphemy. One must take Christ out of Christianity in order for a discussion of this nature to take place. Not to worry, many are unwittingly doing that very thing. They are taking Christ out of Christianity by making his entire existence and mission completely unnecessary and irrelevant to salvation. His virgin birth, some argue is not necessary. His penal-substitutionary atonement is no longer necessary. His deity is a matter open for debate. His resurrection may be viewed as myth, an apologue if you will. His words are not at all authoritative and many think we have no idea what He actually said when He was here. Man has become the measure of all things, even in our churches. In postmodern, pluralistic soil like this, is it any wonder that theology professors at Yale or anywhere else for that matter can make the absurd proposition that two religions with fundamentally antithetical views of God, actually worship the same divine being?

What can we do about this crisis of truth? A survey by George Barna indicates that most Americans already believe that all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they may call that being. One thing we can do to correct the problem is to begin with the simple truth that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Michael Horton writes, “Among the false assumptions “killing the ministry” today are that “Americans have a firm understanding of the basic tenets of Christianity.”[1] We must concern ourselves with how we handle the truth rather than unbelievers. We must be less concerned about offense and persecution and more concerned to accurately communicate the gospel.





[1] Michael Horton, Christless Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), 32.

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