Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
The question in the headline above might sound like a matter of abstract theology rather than current events. It turned out to be quite a newsy matter, however, with a recent decision taken by the administration of Wheaton College, a small Christian university in Illinois.
Larycia Hawkins, a tenured political science professor who teaches at Wheaton, wrote on her Facebook page, “We worship the same god.” She, as a Christian, was referring to Muslims, and was expressing solidarity with Muslim women by donning a headscarf. But the theological basis she offered for this ecumenism did not go down well with her institution. Soon, Wheaton College informed her that she no longer was welcome to teach there.
In support of its decision, the Wheaton College noted that Dr. Hawkins’ “theological statements seem inconsistent with Wheaton’s doctrinal convictions.” This, of course, first raises a question of academic freedom. Should religious colleges only employ professors with the “right doctrine?” Wouldn’t they, and their students, benefit from different views that can enlarge their scope? Of course every institution has the right to opt for a narrower scope, but then others have the right to question the wisdom of that approach.
For me, as someone who is theologically inclined, the only issue here is not just academic freedom, though. It is also the presupposition that Christians and Muslims do NOT worship the same God. I actually know many Christians and Muslim who would agree with that verdict readily, if not enthusiastically. But both sides might benefit from taking a step back and thinking a bit more carefully.
First, for Muslims, the statement that Muslims and Christians worship the same God must not be news – if they are aware of what the Qur’an says. The Muslim Scripture tells its believers to “argue with the People of the Book in the kindest way,” and to tell them: “We have faith in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are one, and we submit to Him,” (29:46).
The “People of the Book” mentioned here certainly includes Jews and Christians, if not others. Therefore, the Qur’an makes it clear to them that “Our God and your God are one.” Similar statements may be found in other passages of the Qur’an. “He is our Lord and your Lord,” verse 2:139 decrees. “We have our deeds and you have your deeds.”
Some Muslims might object to this by saying that Christians worship a Triune God and Muslims don’t. Well, that is indeed a major rift between the two faiths. But, arguably, this is a dispute over the NATURE of God. It does not mean Muslims and Christians worship separate gods.
For Christians, the same argument – that the Doctrine of the Trinity makes us worshippers of different deities – may also make sense. However, again before rushing to a conclusion, they should answer another question: Do Christians and Jews also worship different deities? Because for Jews, the Doctrine of the Trinity is as unacceptable as it is to Muslims, and the God of Abraham is unmistakably defined by unity.
So, in my humble view, unless Christians take a bluntly “Marcionist” view (which was an early “heresy” that condemned the Old Testament and its God as anti-Christian), they cannot abandon their place under the Abrahamic tent – a tent under which we Abrahamists often passionately disagree, and perhaps need more of the wisdom to agree to disagree.