By Kelly James Clark
Suppose there is a God who a long, long time ago spoke to Abraham, promising to bless the world through his descendants. Suppose his descendants told their friends who told their friends who told their friends about Abraham's encounter with God, with some of those friends identifying as Jews, some as Christians, and some as Muslims. Their descriptions agree in many respects, even important ones -- they all believe, for example, that God is one, merciful, just and Creator. Their descriptions of God also differ in some respects. Christians, for example, think that God was incarnate in Jesus while Muslims and Jews reject the Trinity. And they, Muslims-Christians-Jews, even call God different names -- among them, Yahweh, the Father and Allah.
Different names and different descriptions. No big surprise, really. Over the course of several millennia, theological telephone is likely to produce a lot of variations among the descriptions and names.
But as long as Muslims, Christians and Jews worship the God who spoke to Abraham, they are worshipping the same God. Given the assumption that Abraham was directly acquainted with God, they do. The names and descriptions -- same or different -- are irrelevant.
Wheaton College has recently suspended theology professor, Larycia Hawkins, for saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Wheaton College assumes that worshipping God crucially involves getting one's description of God exactly right.
Christians believe that God was incarnate in Jesus, the second person of the Trinity and that salvation is attainable only through Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross. Muslims, on the other hand, believe that while Jesus was a Prophet he was not God in the flesh, that the doctrine of the Trinity violates Islam's unflinching monotheism, and that salvation is attainable solely through one's good deeds.
Different descriptions, different gods. According to Wheaton College: cased closed.
Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, concurs. He writes, in support of Wheaton's actions, the following:
Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. Christians worship the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and no other god. We know the Father through the Son, and it is solely through Christ's atonement for sin that salvation has come. Salvation comes to those who confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). The New Testament leaves no margin for misunderstanding. To deny the Son is to deny the Father.
Mohler concedes that Muslims "know some true things about God." But because Muslims deny all of the above, they do not worship the same God as Christians. He claims: "One cannot deny the Son and truly worship the Father."
Mohler, Wheaton College and many Christians mistakenly assume that two people worship the same God only if they have identical or nearly identical descriptions of God. This assumption, which may seem obviously true, is deeply flawed both philosophically and spiritually.
Two people can worship the same God with incomplete, incompatible and even false descriptions of God.
Let me offer a simple, non-God, example. Douglas Cone, of Tampa, Florida, was married to Jean Ann Cone and together they had three children -- Julianne, Douglas, Jr. and Rammy. Douglas Carlson, of Tampa, Florida, was married to Hillary Carlson and together they had two children, Carolee and Fred. Both the Cone and the Carlson children attended the same school, Berkley Prep. Over lunch at Berkley Prep, Rammy Cone and Fred Carlson would sometimes speak fondly of their fathers.
In 2003, Tampa was shocked to learn that Douglas Cone and Douglas Carlson were one and the same person, with secret lives and wives. When Rammy and Fred were talking about their fathers in, say, 1999, they were, unbeknownst to themselves, talking about the same person. They knew the same person but by different names and different descriptions (given their assumptions about monogamy, incompatible descriptions). Yet both Rammy and Fred were in relationships with exactly the same person.
As long as both Rammy and Fred had encountered the person who variously called himself, "Mr. Cone" and "Mr. Carlson," both were talking about and even relating to the same person. They related to the same person because both were directly acquainted with him, not because of or through their descriptions.
Their descriptions were not, of course, irrelevant to the truth. The descriptions were just irrelevant to the two of them relating to and even talking about exactly the same person.
Relating to a person requires only that one be acquainted with that person, either directly or indirectly (through a chain of testimony that traces back to someone who was directly acquainted with that person). This is a good thing because our descriptions of people are often mistaken and contradictory.
Back to God. Muslims and Christians worship the same God if one or both are either directly acquainted with God (perhaps through a religious experience) or if both are part of a chain of testimony that traces back to someone who was directly acquainted with God (say, Abraham). Worshipping the same God does not require either person to get their description of God just right (or even right at all).
Here's another way of putting it. Acquaintance with Douglas (sometimes with the surname Cone sometimes with the surname Carlson) is all that relating to and talking about Douglas requires. Acquaintance with God on the part of Muslims and Christians (either directly or indirectly, say through Abraham) is all that worship of the same God requires.
Frankly, and this is the spiritual part, one should be grateful that one can worship God without getting one's description of God just right. After all, given the plethora of beliefs about God, what are the chances that any of one of us has gotten God just right?
Even supposing, as Mohler and Wheaton do, that Christianity is true, what are they chances that any particular Christian has gotten God just right (and so is uniquely positioned to worship God in spirit and truth)? One can imagine that Christian, going off to worship and saying to himself, "Thank God I'm not like other people (Muslims, for example). I worship the true God in the right way..." In Luke 18, Jesus condemned that person and commended the tax collector who cried out, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner."
Finally, while Mohler argues that the Muslim's rejection of the Trinity consigns them to idolatrous worship, Jews, who equally enthusiastically reject the Trinity, are given a free pass:
Evangelical Christians understand that, theologically, there is a genetic link between Judaism and Christianity. That is why Christians must always be humbled by the fact that we have been grafted onto the promises first made to Israel. In terms of both history and theology, there is no genetic link between Christianity and Islam. The Qur'an claims that to confess Jesus Christ as the divine Son and the second person of the Trinity is to commit blasphemy against Allah.
Muslims, who reject the Trinity but claim allegiance to Abraham's acquaintance with God, are idolators. Jews, who reject the Trinity but claim allegiance to Abraham's acquaintance with God, are not. According to Mohler, then, one can deny the Son and truly worship the Father. Just not Muslims. Such twisted logic, even when it comes in the guise of Christian "piety," should be called by its proper name -- anti-Muslim bigotry.
If Abraham was directly acquainted with God and told his children who told their descendants ..., then Muslims, Christians and Jews worship the same God. Muslim and Christians may worship in different ways, call God different names and describe God differently (sometimes incompatibly), but they worship the same God.