Alan’s monthly letter for February 2014
Christians believe in the one, true God. They believe He is all-knowing, all-powerful, the creator of the universe, and the only one deserving of worship. Muslims also claim to worship one God, who they assert is all-knowing, all-powerful, and the creator of the universe. Do both Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
While most Muslims claim we worship the same God, Christians are divided on the question. On the one hand, it seems straightforward that the God of Islam and Christianity are different, based on their characterizations in the Bible and the Qur’an. On the other hand, we know there’s only one God who exists—who is actually “out there.” When a Christian and Muslim pray, there’s only one God who can possibly hear both prayers. Therefore, it seems that both religions are praying to the same God.
How are we to make sense of these different views?
We need to recognize that “God” is not God’s name. It’s more like the title of a position. The position is a what, but the person who fills that position is a who.
It’s helpful to think of it as a public office. The president, for example, is the title of a position, but a unique person occupies that office and fulfills its duties.
In the same way, God is the title of the position or office. Both Christians and Muslims believe in the same what—a God whose duties include things like creating, receiving worship, and judging. They differ on who they believe is the person who occupies that position. Muslims believe that person is Allah and Christians believe it is Yahweh.
Now that we recognize the difference between the title of the position of God and the person who occupies that position, it makes sense to mention the differences between the respective persons. Allah is Unitarian (a single essence in one person), while Yahweh is Trinitarian (one essence, but in three persons). The Qur’an claims that Allah has no son, while the Bible says that Jesus is the Son of God. Allah is transcendent, meaning he is separate from his creation. Although Yahweh is transcendent, He is also immanent, which means He enters into His creation and reveals Himself (e.g. Jesus becoming flesh).
These differences aren’t merely incidental, they’re central to each religion’s concept of the person who occupies the office of God. The difference is so significant that Christians consider it heresy to deny God’s Trinitarian nature, and Muslims consider it blasphemy to affirm it.
This clarification seems to make sense of the relationship of God in Islam and Christianity. Yes, both religions believe in the same what (God), but believe in a different who (the person who fulfills the office of God).
In addition to this explanation, however, the answer to whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God can be determined with two simple questions: Do Christians worship Jesus as God? Yes. Do Muslims worship Jesus as God? No. Therefore, Christians and Muslims don’t worship the same God because they don’t both worship Jesus.
If Jesus appeared on the streets of Detroit tomorrow, Christians would bow down and worship Him. However, no Muslim would bow down and worship Jesus. That’s because they would be committing the sin of shirk—the moral crime of worshiping someone other than God. This is the most grievous and unpardonable sin in Islam. When a Christian worships Jesus, however, they are performing a noble act of devotion. Given this stark contrast, it’s hard to imagine how we’re talking about the same God.
[For more, see this video where I discuss this question.]