Editors’ note: 

The FAQs is TGCs new series in which we answer your questions about the latest news and current events. Although the series normally attempts to be as fact-based and objective as possible, this entry relies on scriptural interpretation that some Christians may consider wrong or at least open to debate.

A recent article in the Orange County Register claimed that Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, is “proposing a set of theological principles that includes acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.” Does Pastor Warren really believe that Christians and Muslims worship the “same” God?

In an interview posted on Ed Stetzer’s blog, Warren says the claim is “flat out wrong.” In addition he adds:

QUESTION: Do people of other religions worship the same God as Christians?

WARREN: Of course not. Christians have a view of God that is unique. We believe Jesus is God! We believe God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not 3 separate gods but one God. No other faith believes Jesus is God. My God is Jesus. The belief in God as a Trinity is the foundational difference between Christians and everyone else. There are 2.1 billion people who call themselves Christians… whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, or Evangelical… and they all have the doctrine of the Trinity in common. Hindus, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, Unitarians, and everyone else do not accept what Jesus taught about the Trinity.

So to be clear, Rick Warren does not believe Christians and Muslims worship the “same” God.

Since both Islam and Christianity are monotheistic, what would be wrong with claiming that Christians and Muslims worship the “same” God?

There are two reasons why we should refrain from agreeing to this claim: respect for truth and respect for the freedom of religious belief.

The first, and most important, reason is that Islam denies a fundamental truth that is necessary for the claim that Christians and Muslims worship the “same” God to be true. One of the basic axiomatic truths of Christianity is that God is Triune. While this can be a difficult doctrine to understand, almost all Christians would agree that Jesus is not a “part” or “attribute” of God but is one of three persons in the Trinity. A Christian cannot speak of “God” without including Christ.

When we claim that we worship the “same” God we are essentially saying that Jews and Muslims worship Christ but they just don’t know it. By taking this position we are either denying the validity of our belief in Christ or dismissing the Muslims’ belief that Jesus is not divine. In essence we are claiming either that (1) despite their denials to the contrary, Muslims recognize Jesus is God, or (2) that it is possible to know and worship God and yet deny that Christ is God.

What’s wrong with claiming that Muslims really think that Jesus is God but that they don’t know it?

As an evangelical Christian I have a profound respect for the freedom of religious belief. While it might be necessary to limit certain actions that would be committed in the name of religious freedom, I don’t believe we are justified in shackling freedom of thought, especially when it comes to the ability to accept or reject Jesus Christ. Since God himself permits humans to reject him we can do no less that respect that same right.

Most Muslims are aware of the person of Jesus Christ but simply reject the claim that he is God. While I disagree with their conclusion, I trust that they have what they consider justified reasons—-at least consonant with their theology—-for why they reject Jesus as God. By playing a “bait and switch” semantic game—-claiming that we all worship the same God but adding an element on which they would vehemently disagree—-we show a disregard and disrespect for Muslims.

While it might be disrespectful, isn’t it more charitable to continue making the claim that we worship the “same” God?

Religious liberty is a divinely permitted freedom. As Christians it is our duty to speak the truth in love and to deal maturely with genuine disagreements. Religious tolerance does not require us to agree with the content of other religious beliefs but only that we show the respect due to fellow humans made in the image of God. By glossing over our profound theological differences with a layer of politically correct ecumenical agreement, we are being uncharitable to the followers of Islam.

What’s the basis for saying that we do not worship the “same” God?

To shed light on why the claim cannot be true, let’s put the Muslim and Christian arguments into logical form.

First, the Muslim argument in the form of a brief syllogism (modus ponens):

1. {If P then Q} If you believe that Jesus is the begotten son of God, then you do not believe in the one true God (Qu’ran (Sura 112)—“Say: He is God, The One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, Nor is He begotten; And there is none Like unto Him.”)

2. {P} Christians believe that Jesus is the begotten son of God. (John 3:16)

3. {Q} Christians do not believe in the one true God.

Second, an extended and more detailed form from the Christian perspective:

1. P—The Gospels of Matthews and John make accurate claims about what Jesus said.

2. Q—Everything Jesus said was true.

3. R—Jesus said that he is the begotten son of God. (John 3:16, 1, 2}

4. S—Jesus said that you can know the Father, if and only if you know him first. {John 8:19, Matt. 11:27 1, 2}

5. T—> U—If you deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God then you do not know Jesus. {Modus Ponens, 1, 2, 3}

6. U—> V—If you do not know Jesus then you do not know the Father. {Modus Ponens, 4}

7. T—> V If you deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God then you do not know the Father. {Hypothetical syllogism, 5, 6}

8. W—Muslims deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God. (Qu’ran (Sura 112)—“Say: He is God, The One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, Nor is He begotten; And there is none Like unto Him.”)

9. T & W—You deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God and Muslims deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God. {Conjunction, 5, 8}

10. W—> V—If Muslims deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God then Muslims do not know the Father. {Simplification, Modus Ponens, 7, 9}

Your argument hinges on the claim that Muslims deny that Jesus is the begotten son of God. Admittedly, they are wrong but can’t they be wrong and worship the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”? After all, in the story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus tells her that the Samaritans worship what they do not know, but He does not say it’s a different God that they worship. Why can’t the same be true for Muslims?

There are two reasons I think this is not a plausible option:

1) Muslim do not worship the “God of Abraham” as the Jews and Christians conceive him to be. Their view of Allah is radically different from Yahweh. Other than claiming the lineage from Abraham, their conception of God is so radically different from ours that there is almost not basis to the idea that they are talking about the same Being.

2) As the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26) claims, “The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” Verses 39-42 add a key detail:

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.

When the Samaritans were presented with the claims of Jesus, they accepted him as the “Savior of the world.” In contrast, Muslims are also aware of the claims of Jesus and reject him as Messiah and the Son of God.

If your argument is sound, then wouldn’t it also apply to the Jews? Are you saying that Jews do not worship the “same” God as Christians?

To answer this question, I’ll defer to my fellow TGC blogger Trevin Wax, whose view on the subject I completely affirm:

Some readers might affirm that “Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” in order to eliminate many pluralistic gods. But where does that leave our Jewish friends, since they would easily affirm the same statement? You might say, “Jews and Christians share the same God! It’s just about Jesus that we don’t see eye to eye.” By saying this, Christians make a glaring misrepresentation of Yahweh – the Great I Am.

God is not God apart from Jesus. It is pointless to try to define the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob apart from Jesus Christ. That is the pluralistic problem plaguing so many Christian factions today. Since you can’t explain the Bible’s God without involving the Trinity, you can never fully explain how “Jesus is God” makes any sense at all.

Since Christians believe in a triune God – Yahweh in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we actually undermine the divinity of Christ by claiming that our God is the same as that of our Jewish friends. As Christians, we believe Jesus is so important that you can’t define God’s identity apart from Him.

So what’s the answer? What can help us get through some of the theological red tape and bring us to the point where we can once again make a firm statement for the Gospel?

Here’s the statement that I recommend you chew on a little bit: GOD IS JESUS. When you see Jesus, you are seeing God, not just because Jesus is God, but also because God is Jesus. Jesus is the One who shows us who God is and what God is like.