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July/August 2006 Issue

ASK A THEOLOGIAN:
Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?
By Tim Perry

Question: Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

 

Answer: This is a very sensitive question worthy of careful treatment. So, let’s start with an important qualification. This question, as I understand it, has to do with the nature of God. It is not about whether Islam provides salvation. Questions of the nature and scope of salvation are vital in their own right. But I’m addressing the prior questions of worship and worship’s object.

With that in mind, let us proceed.

On the one hand, there are good reasons to think that the answer is: “No, Allah is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus.” Consider the following common Muslim beliefs:

  • God is one and does not have a Son. The doctrine of the Trinity is idolatrous.
  • Although Jesus was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he is not God Incarnate.
  • Jesus is a prophet who has been surpassed by Muhammad.
  • Jesus did not die on the cross.
  • The New Testament is a Christian corruption of Jesus’ message. Many Muslims claim to believe in the ’injil (that is, the evangel, the gospel), but this is not the gospel of the New Testament.

These are strong reasons. Some Christians (as indeed, some Muslims) use them to argue that Christians and Muslims have different objects of faith or devotion — one is an idol and the other is not.

On the other hand, there are better reasons to think that, from a Christian perspective at least, the answer is: “Yes, Muslims and Christians worship the same God.” In case this assertion sounds strange, let me assure you that I am outlining the position of historic Christian orthodoxy. Recent writings by evangelical scholars Timothy George and Terry Tiessen take the same position.

To explain further: if the Christian God — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — is the true God, then God is worshiped, however incorrectly or incompletely, by many who do not embrace Christianity. For the Christian God is the creator of everything and, as such, is implicitly known and sometimes worshiped by all people.

It is on this basis, says Paul, that God judges the nations (Romans 1:18-32). It is from this basis that God may acquit some people on the Last Day (Romans 2:13-15). This assumption also seems to underlie Paul’s conviction that the Athenians’ dim awareness of God was given expression in their altar dedicated to an unknown God (Acts 17). Paul proclaimed to them that the God and Father of the Lord Jesus was their unknown God. And he invited them to come to know him through Jesus.

The writer of the Hebrews says that God welcomes all who believe that He exists and rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

For these reasons, I think the Bible teaches that Muslims (alongside adherents of other faiths and none) and Christians worship the same God.

Tim Perry is associate professor of theology at Providence College and Seminary in Otterburne, Manitoba.

Tim Perry Responds to Reader Feedback

Editor's note: Since several readers have phoned and emailed about this column, Tim Perry volunteered to elaborate. A condensed version of the following text also appears as a letter to the editor in the SepOct printed edition of the magazine. The theologian Timothy George referred to above published Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? in 2002, and an excerpt that was published in Christianity Today is available online. There is also a related online article from that issue of Christianity Today by James Lewis, Does God Hear Muslims' Prayers?

I thank the many people who responded to my last column that began an answer to this very important and difficult question. I was not surprised by the number of people who shared worries or wished to disagree with the perspective I offered. In fact, I was grateful to know that people do indeed read my column (it’s not always clear), that some were willing to reflect on it, and that several of these were willing to take the time to write to me or to the magazine. Unfortunately, several people responded with judgmental and even hateful letters. I was deeply saddened to read these. Permit me to reply to some of the questions and objections distilled from various letters.

  1. Are you saying the Muslim understanding of Allah and the Christian understanding of the Blessed Trinity are the same? No. They are clearly very different doctrines of God. One is Unitarian, the other Trinitarian. They issue in very different understandings of who the people of God are, of how God is to be obeyed, of what God has communicated to people and how, and so on. Anyone who presumes to say that the doctrines of God in these two religions are the same, or that the differences are minimal, or that they can be negotiated, is, in my opinion, deeply mistaken.
  2. Are you saying that Islam is a way of salvation? Again, no. Indeed, I was quite deliberate in my first column to say that I was not talking salvation. But perhaps I should have expanded further on this point to say the following: Islam is not the way of salvation or a way of salvation. No religion is. Religions are human creations and as such, can express the all the beauty and longing for God that is contained in the human heart. And it is equally true that because religions are human creations, they can also express all the desperate wickedness that is concealed in the human heart. But that has nothing to do with final salvation. As a Christian, I am constrained to say that the way of salvation is Jesus Christ. There is no name under heaven by which people may be saved except that name.
  3. Are you saying that Muslims are our brothers and sisters? Yes. All human beings are brothers and sisters by virtue of having been created by God, by virtue of having fallen short of God’s glory, and by virtue of their need of a savior.
  4. What are you saying about the Christian doctrine of God? I am saying that, based on my understanding of Romans 1-2, Acts 17 and Hebrews 11, (1) God has hardwired people to know and worship him; (2) on the basis of this in-built knowledge of God, God will judge all people at the end of time — both those whose knowledge of God is inadequate but whose works are good (Romans 2:11-16) and those whose knowledge of God is sound, but whose works dishonor God (Romans 2:17-24); (3) when a Muslim (or anyone else) worships, that person worships — however incompletely or incorrectly — God and (4) it is for God (and not for me) to judge whether that worship is acceptable.

For those who wished further clarification, I trust this is sufficient. - Tim Perry

Other Articles
July/Aug 2006 Issue

Cover Story
Stand Up for Jesus: Canadian Christians Get Serious About Being Funny

Feature Article
Woman Offers Inspired Leadership in Two Armies

From the Editor
A Time to Laugh

The Gathering Place
An Integrated Faith

Ask a Theologian
Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

   
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