We have quite a few Wheaton alumni in our church, and we seem to send one or two high school graduates off to Wheaton every year. Recently, I got an email from one of our students at Wheaton. The email had a number of good questions (he’s a very bright you man), all having to do with the current controversy over whether Muslims and Christians (and Jews) worship the same God. I thought it might be worthwhile, with is permission, to post my brief letter on my blog.
Dear Mike [not his real name],
I was going to write you an even longer reply, but then I saw this article on The Gospel Coalition website. It does a great job explaining why we should not say Muslims and Christians worship the same God. It also gets into the question you asked about whether Jews and Christians worship the same God. In a redemptive historical sense, there is a way in which this is true (certainly more than is true with Islam). But on this side of the incarnation, we still have the same Trinitarian and Christological problems.
One of the reasons this controversy is so difficult is because the phrase “worship the same God” can mean different things and can be heard in vastly different ways.
Consider a few examples:
Do Muslims and Christians understand God in the same way? No. The differences are massive. Either God exists in three persons and Jesus of Nazareth was God in the flesh or these notions are blasphemous errors.
Do both Muslims and Christians worship God in ways that are pleasing to the one true God? No. As evangelical Christians, we must say that worship that is pleasing to God is worship centered on Christ. The central affirmation of our faith—Jesus Christ is Lord—is categorically rejected by Muslims. Their worship is an affront to God’s revelation in Christ. I imagine most Muslims would say our worship is an affront to Allah.
Do Muslims and Christians both find salvation in their worship of God? No. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6). While inclusivists argue that we can be saved through Jesus Christ apart from explicit faith in him, almost all evangelicals throughout history have insisted that conscious faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. Even if inclusivists are right (and they’re not), there is quite a difference between ignorance of Christ and a conscious rejection of Jesus as the the Son of God. Moreover, I think many Muslims would find it insulting to their faith for Christians to say, “You’ll be saved because you believe in Christ without knowing it.”
Does the worship of Muslims and Christians reach the same God even though their theology about God is vastly different? Perhaps the object of worship ends up being the same, despite the fact that the worshiping subjects are thinking of very different Beings. This is the sophisticated argument some are trying to make. But I don’t think this argument works either. Since there is only one God, it is true that the one God—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ–sees Muslims worshiping and, perhaps, we can even say that the prayers and alms of some Muslims “have ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4) or that in one sense they are seeking after God and trying to feel their way toward him (Act 17:27). And yet, if this is what we mean to say, the language of “worshiping the same God” is bound to be confusing, for God does not “hear” the prayers of the Muslims (in the covenantal sense) and does not receive their “worship” as worship.
In other words, from a Christian understanding, the Muslim faith is not just a little off or incomplete, it is idolatrous, demonic, and false. It is hard to see how the language of “worshiping the same God”—despite whatever philosophical distinctions we may put in place—can stand alongside this theological evaluation.