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Monday, June 20, 2016

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?



Last December, a Wheaton College professor ignited a firestorm when she created a Facebook post including a statement that Muslims and Christians "worship the same God." This exposed a very interesting debate that has gone on within Christendom for some time with devote Christians and good thinkers coming down on both sides of the issue.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? The question may not be as easy as it first appears. Certainly, there are vast differences in the way each faith understands the nature and attributes of God. Jews and Christians hold to a God that is all-loving and who revealed himself through the Old Testament prophets and writings. Christians would go on to distinguish God as a Triune being, one who is three in persons but single in essence. Muslims would reject these descriptions.

However, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do share some beliefs about God. Each of the faiths are monotheistic in what can be termed a classically theistic way. That is, each understands God as a being who is eternal, self-existing, and necessary. There is no conceivable universe where God does not exist, for any possible universe must have its origin in God. Realize by defining God this way, one defines God as a unique being, distinct from everything else. There can only be one necessary being. So if each faith points to the necessary being as their God, doesn't that mean we worship the same God?

Getting God's Properties Wrong

Philosopher Francis Beckwith argues that we must be talking about the same being. At his blog, Beckwith argues that while Muslims may get many properties attributed to God wrong, that in itself doesn't invalidate the fact they are referring to the God recognized by Christians and Jews. He explains:
But doesn't Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn't this mean that they indeed worship different "Gods"? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of "being a father to several of SHs children." On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of "being a father to several of SHs children."

Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? Again, of course not. The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.1

Distorting God Beyond Recognition

I appreciate Beckwith's point. Are Christians willing to say that Abraham didn't worship the same God we do because he wouldn't have ascribed the property "Trinity" to him? Yet, I don't think his analogy is quite correct. The Trinity is not the only aspect of God where there is division. The points at which Fred and Bob disagree about Jefferson are not substantial to describing the third president one way or the other. However, if Fred held that TJ was born in Virginia in 1743 and wrote the Declaration of independence while Bob held that TJ was born in Chicago in 1920 and played a trumpet, then it is his assumption that he is speaking about the third president of the U.S. that is in error. There are too many points of difference between the descriptions.

Here's the problem. The Muslim conception of God reminds me of what you get out of a pressed penny machine at Disney land or some other tourist spot. You start with a penny, which is recognized as legal tender and must be recognized as payment debts in the U.S.2 If you owe a creditor $50, he is obligated to accept 5000 pennies as payment. However, let's say you ran all 5,000 pennies though the Disneyland penny press so they now look like the image at the top of this post. The press distorted the penny so much it can no longer be called a penny. It can no longer be used as legal tender; it's value is only measured by the price of  souvenir's copper bullion on the open market.3

This is exactly what Islam has done to the concept of God. While it began with the classically theist conception of God from the Jews and Christians, it has squished, stretched and distorted the description of God to the point where it has become unrecognizable by Christians or Jews. The Islamic God is capable of deception and evil (Surah 4.142, 14.4). He is not only non-Trinitarian, but anti-Trinitarian claiming that Christians are sentenced to hell (5.72). The Islamic god is not a father with whom one may develop a personal relationship (5.18).The Islamic God can and does change his mind, not in an anthropomorphized or conditional way, but a true change of intent. The God of Islam is actually capricious and not at all trustworthy.

When one looks at how the Allah is described in the Qur'an, it becomes clear that the properties he holds are not those of a necessary being. The descriptions don't fit; they're completely out of place and undermine the idea of a God who is the source of morality, love, and existence. To claim the Islamic God the same necessary being referred to by Christians like trying to use a pressed penny in a gumball machine. It simply doesn't fit.

References

1. Beckwith, Francis J. "Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?" The Catholic Thing. The Catholic Thing, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/12/17/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/.
2. "Legal Tender Status." Resource Center. United States Treasury, 4 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Currency/Pages/legal-tender.aspx.
3. "Mutilated Currency and Bent or Partial Coin." Federal Reserve Bank Services. Federal Reserve Banks, 2016. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.frbservices.org/operations/currency/mutilated_currency_and_coin.html.

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