I’ve spent a few minutes today in dialogue with an old friend regarding a story that was published today where Pope Francis declared Muslims and Christians worship the same God. There are obviously serious issues with this statement and I’m sure my friend is apoplectic with me when I tell him that the Pope is wrong, Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.
Let me put this as succinctly as I can: As a Christian I worship one God in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I recognized the son of God, Jesus Christ, as God, as well as the person of the Holy Spirit. Muslims, on the other hand, reject the deity of Jesus and the personhood of the Holy Spirit and thus worship one God who is not Jesus.
And there you have the fundamental problem with saying we worship the same God. Christians worship Jesus as God while Muslims reject Jesus as God. That’s about as black and white as I can make it.
But I don’t want you to take my word for it. There’s a guy named Nabeel Qureshi who is a former Muslim who has converted to Christianity. He explains this problem quite well in his book, Answering Jihad, A Better Way Forward. Let me quote from his book.
“For years after leaving Islam and becoming a Christian, I believed Muslims worshiped the same God as Christians but were simply wrong about what he is like and what he has done. After all, I had been taught as a young Muslim to worship God who created Adam and Eve, who rescued Noah from the flood, who promised Abraham a vast progeny, who helped Moses escape Egypt, who made the Virgin Mary great with child, who sent Jesus into the world, who helped the disciples overcome, and who is still sovereign today. Is that not the God of the Bible?
“For that matter, the Quran asserts that the Torah and the Gospels are inspired scriptures and that Jews and Christians are people of the Book. The Quran tells Muslims to say to Jews and Christians, ‘our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender’ (29:46). If the Quran asserts that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians, does that not settle the matter?
“For years I thought it did, and the great overlap between Islam and Christianity meant we were talking about the same God…I no longer believe that. At a certain point the differences go beyond details to essential matters of identity, and it turns out we are talking about different people.
“…I do not condemn those who think Muslims and Christians worship the same God, because it is a complex issue. But the identity of the Muslim God is different from that of the Christian God in essential characteristics. The Quran seems to agree with this assessment. Though Muslim and Christians worship a God who fulfills the role of Creator, the persons they see occupying that role are quite different.
“Let’s start with the Obvious. Christians believe that Jesus is God, but the Quran is so opposed to this belief that it condemns Jesus worshipers to hell (5:72). For Christians Jesus is certainly God and for Muslims Jesus is certainly not. For this reason alone, no one should argue as Volf has done that ‘there isn’t any theological justification’ for believing Christians and Muslims worship different Gods. There is, and it is obvious when we consider the person of Jesus.
“Another difference between the Islamic God and the Christian God is God’s fatherhood. According to Jesus, God is our Father, yet the Quran very specifically denies that Allah is a father (112:1-4). In 5;18, the Quran tells Muslims to rebuke Jews and Christians for calling God their loving father, because humans are just beings that God has created. So the Christian God is a father, while the Muslim God is not.
“Similarly, when we consider the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, Islam roundly condemns worship of the Trinity (5:73), establishing in contrast its own core principle of Tawhid, the absolute oneness of God. Tawhid emphatically denies the Trinity, so much so that it is safe to say the doctrine of God in Islam is antithetical to the doctrine of God in Christianity. Not just different but opposed.
“This last different is profound. The Trinity teaches that God is not a person but three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. To assert that the God of Islam is the same person as the God of Christianity becomes almost nonsensical at this point, as the Christian God is tripersonal, two persons of whom Islam specifically denies in the Quran.
“…So how can people argue that Muslims and Christians worship the same God? primarily by giving undue priority to the Islamic assertion that it is so. Even though the Quran says that worshipping Jesus or the Trinity will send Christians to hell, it somehow asserts that Muslims and Christians worship the same God (29:46). Though the logic is not clear, it is asserted as blunt fact that must be accepted. Ultimately, this is the reasoning of those who believe, as I once did, that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, and it is flawed.
“The similarities between the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are superficial and at times merely semantic. Though Islam claims that the Muslim God has done some of the same things as the Christian God and sent some of the same people, these are minor overlaps and far less essential to reality of who God is than the fundamental characteristics of his nature and person. Islam and Christianity overlap on the former, but they differ fundamentally on the latter.
“Volf’s rejoinder to this line of thinking is that Christians believe they worship the same God as Jews even though Jews do not worship the Trinity. How then can Christians say Muslims worship a different God without also saying the same of Jews? He argues that would be inconsistent or hypocritical.
“Yet the response should be obvious to any who have studied the three Abrahamic faiths: the Trinity is an elaboration of Jewish theology not a rejection. By contrast, Tawhid is a categorical rejection of the Trinity, Jesus’ deity, and the fatherhood of God, doctrines that are grounded in the pages of the New Testament and firmly established centuries before the advent of Islam. The earliest Christians were all Jews, incorporating their encounter with Jesus into their Jewish theology. Nothing of the sort is true of Muhammad, who was neither Jew nor a Christian. Islam did not elaborate on the Trinity but rejected it.”
I think Qureshi makes a compelling argument, especially as one who practiced Islam from childhood into his adult years. I would only add one thought to all of this and it will be an unpopular one for those who hold onto a belief that the three great religions are united by the same God.
Qureshi talks about how there are similarities between the God of Islam and the God of Christianity but he calls them “semantic” and “superficial.” I want to go a step further and ask this question: In Christian scripture and doctrine, who pretends to be God but is not? Who would benefit by claiming Muslims and Christians worship the same God at the same time rejecting Jesus’ deity? Who, in fact, has the most to gain by rejecting Jesus’ deity? Answer this one and it may reveal to you why we as Christians are not worshiping the same God as Islam.
I’ll end with this: Every man, woman, and child on this planet has been created by God and as Christians we are told to love them because they all are made in the image of God no matter what they believe. However, we also are told very clearly in scripture there is only one way to the Father and that is through the Son. There is a reason Jesus told us the gate is narrow. All paths do not lead to the Father only the one on which Jesus walks. Our job as Christians is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those of other faiths not embrace their faiths as equal to ours as a way to salvation.