The recent move of Wheaton College to place on administrative leave one of its faculty has sparked debate about whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. This debate recurs because of the culture’s tendency to flatten religious differences into nebulous and impersonal ideas about “God” and because of widespread ignorance of religious faith. As Stephen Prothero points out in God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter, our happily ignorant “pluralism” can in religious matters lead to car bombs exploding, bullets fired through office buildings, hostage situations at abortion clinics, and waves of genocidal violence.
Religions create a lot of problems in the world. Ignorance of religion compounds those problems. Arguing that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is often well-intended. But in a world increasingly filled with clashes between adherents of Islam and the west, this confusion is dangerous. Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God and that matters immensely!
Muslims hold that “God is one.” Allah has no partners and assigning partners to him is shirk, the highest blasphemy. Christians believe “God is one in three Persons.” Each Person in the Trinity is fully and eternally God. Yet there is one God. Our Muslim neighbors believe Christians are guilty of the greatest sin–making partners with God. Christians believe their Muslim neighbors are guilty of the greatest sin–idolatry.
The two views of the nature of God are irreconcilable.
Muslims believe that man’s duty toward Allah is to submit to his will. The goal of Islam is not salvation, but to bring the entire world under the rule of Allah–dar al Islam. The Christian believes that the most fundamental duty toward God–out of which obedience arises–is repentance and faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. No one knows God who does not know the Son who is the only mediator between God and man. The goal of Christianity is the salvation of sinners through the righteousness, substitutionary atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The goals of the two religions could not be more different. And because the goals differ, how we worship and how we act in the world also radically differ.
Despite all the debates about who is or is not a “true Muslim,” it cannot be doubted that significant numbers of Muslims believe it’s permissible, even necessary, to strive in the cause of Islam. Some believe that includes violent defense of Islam. The Lord Jesus Christ teaches that Christians are to love our enemies. Christians must turn the other cheek. Christians do not wrestle with flesh and blood but with spiritual forces of evil in high places.
Because Christians and Muslims define their enemies differently and respond to them differently, we cannot be said to worship the same God.
I could go on. Though at many places there is a common history (both groups come from Abraham), a common vocabulary (i.e., faith, worship, etc.) and increasingly a common address in the world, we may be tempted to think there’s more in common than is truly the case. Let us not make that mistake. The differences are radical and they lead to wildly different ethics. Sobriety and charity require us to lovingly state this truth and work out the implications.