Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? (That He is vs. Who He is)

December 27, 2015 § Leave a comment


From “Do Christians And Muslims Worship The Same God?” by NPR on December 20, 2015, this recent controversy is summarized:

“Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, decided to wear a headscarf during the Advent season as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims. In doing so, Hawkins quoted Pope Francis, saying that Christians and Muslims ‘worship the same God.'”

A Christian response in the article:

“‘The question basically comes down to whether one can reject Jesus Christ as the Son and truly know God the Father,’ says Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. ‘And it’s Christ himself who answered that question, most classically in the Gospel of John, and he said that to reject the Son means that one does not know the Father.'” (John 6:46; 14:9; see also 1 John 2:22-23)

A Muslim response in the article:

“One theologian with knowledge of both Christian and Islamic doctrine is Hamza Yusuf, president of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., the first Muslim liberal arts college in the U.S. Born Mark Hanson, he was raised as a Christian and then converted to Islam. He quotes the Quran as saying that God is immeasurable, so to define God in some particular way is impossible. ‘God is much greater than anything we can imagine,’ Yusuf says. ‘The Muslims have a statement in our theology: Whatever you imagine God to be, God is other than that.‘”

Dr. Mohler’s response has to do with knowing God by identifying Jesus Christ the Son, which Islam denies. Yusuf explains that in Islam, one cannot really have a clear definition of God. And this I think is key to why the answer to the question as posed, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?”, has to be no. Christians, Muslims, and all human beings who are made in God’s image have an intuitive awareness of God. We all know He exists. We have an array of world religions because we’ve taken the general revelation of God and sought to define Him in various ways. But there’s a difference between recognizing God’s existence and worshipping Him.

Yusuf’s Muslim interpretation of the Qu’ran is not that God is “greater than” what we can imagine, but that He is “other than” what we imagine. There’s a distinction. We cannot fully comprehend the greatness of God, but the Bible assures us we can know Him (John 17:3). To say “to define God in some particular way is impossible” means knowing God is impossible, therefore worship is impossible. We cannot worship what we can’t know (though some have tried, like the Athenians in Acts 17).

Of course, Yusuf’s agnosticism about God (Allah) brings to light the Qur’an’s self-contradiction. The Qu’ran has 99 names for God, and you can’t name God 99 times without claiming to know perhaps 99 attributes of God. The description of God in the Bible differs greatly from the God of the Qur’an. They’re both Theistic in category, because we all recognize God exists, though some have suppressed this truth as Romans 1 explains. We know this without the Bible or the Qur’an. But in person, character and attributes, “God” is articulated very differently in both.

Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, argues that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but that “the description of God is partly different.” I would argue that it is fundamentally different. God cannot be both trinitarian and not trinitarian at the same time; God cannot both have a Son and not have a Son; He either sent Jesus to die in our place or He did not. These are basic logical absurdities and therefore cannot be descriptions of the same God.

And as Dr. Mohler explains, Jesus was God in the flesh, and a non-negotiable in the Christian identity of God. The Bible describes a triune God who sought to redeem us from our sins and reveal Himself by sending His Son to offer Himself on our behalf. A God who isn’t this or didn’t do this is not the same God. In 2002, Baptist theologian Timothy George noted, “Apart from the Incarnation and the Trinity, it is possible to know that God is, but not who God is.” (Emphasis George’s)

Another voice from the NPR article:

“Amy Plantinga Pauw, a professor of Christian theology at Louisville Seminary, says Christians can have their own definition of God while still seeing commonality with Muslims and Jews. ‘To say that we worship the same God is not the same as insisting that we have an agreed and shared understanding of God,’ Pauw says.”

Pauw touches on the crux of the debate but perhaps doesn’t see that true worship requires an accurate understanding of God. We can see “commonality” with many belief systems. Christians do share a common general knowledge of God and should share a mutual love and respect for our Muslim neighbors as fellow image-bearers of the Creator, even though we disagree over who He is. This means we can have solidarity where our common interests lie, even where they extend from our unique theologies. But when it comes to worship, something we can’t truly do without knowing the object of our worship, Christians share no altar with Muslims.

Worship: A Heap of Glitter

January 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

My niece Kelsey Jacobs wrote this essay shortly after turning 18, and when I uncovered it recently she gave me the okay to post it here. It’s over 11 years old, but maybe you can relate to this experience.

glitterOne of the most important issues the church is facing today is that of unity in worship. The local church has the potential to be a highly effective ministry to the community, yet its inner struggles prevent it from accomplishing as much for the kingdom as it otherwise could. I come from a church with an incredible history of believers, many of whom are still living, which provides a richness to my experiences in a church body that many new churches lack. This heritage is a blessing that selfishness and myopic thinking has caused to become a burden. At times it seems that the young and old worshippers are contesting against each other, weakening their fight to win souls for our King. The issues presented are valid, but need to be dealt with in love, remembering that “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

In recent years, young generations in the Christian community have struck out for a greater freedom in style of worship, and traditional forms of worship have often been dismissed as stale and tame. Breaking free from conventional piano-led hymns, guitar-driven praise bands lead worship in many growing churches. Emphasis has also been put on forms of worship that require no music, such as service, art, and poetry, in an effort to allow every person to express thanksgiving to God in a unique, sincere way. Clapping, dancing, and raising of hands during musical worship has also become more prevalent as lovers of the Lord are encouraged to throw off any reservation that could hinder a completely honest act of worship. As innovations have been made, some resistance has been met from older generations who have not traditionally worshipped in these ways. Although it was a challenge for them to accept some foreign methods of worship, the older people in my church rose to the occasion and allowed changes to be made for the good of the whole body.

I support every effort for true worship with my whole heart. Nothing could be more pleasing to the Savior than acceptance of genuine worship. However, I have noticed that in some ways, the people who once seemed to seek the freedom to worship with sincere and humble abandonment now seek it with arrogance and offense. To dance, scream, and be “undignified,” as the popular praise song inspired by a statement of King David says, is seen by some as the holy way to worship. Quiet ways of worship are looked upon as half-hearted and weak—people are only quiet when they are ashamed of worshipping like they know they should. Enthusiasm and passion are only acknowledged when they are expressed impressively.

I would caution these energetic worshippers not to take their mild brothers and sisters at face value. Society tells us to be noisy. Americans scream at football games, shout along with favorite bands, dance around with excitement. Many people in older generations and some in young generations do not express themselves in this way. Consider a heap of glitter. The specks at the top of the pile are shiny and attractive. There is no doubt that this sparkling mass is glitter. However, the bottom sides of the twinkling flecks of glitter are dark. The mound beneath the scintillating outer layer is dark. But every minute piece in the pile is just as much glitter as any piece on the surface. It is the same way with worship. Some worship is like the glitter on the surface of the pile: it is visible. Some worship is like the mound of glitter underneath: not flashy, but unnoticed, and decidedly worship.

Scriptures undoubtedly call believers to worship in lively ways. Psalm 149:3 says, “Let them praise his name with dancing,” and Psalm 66:1 exhorts believers to “shout with joy to God, all the earth!” However, many Christians who have been raised in an environment of energetic worship do not realize that it is possible to worship while being both quiet and sincere. There exists “a time to mourn and a time to dance…a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:4,7).

The dignified worship of some Christians can be explained by their desire to “be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28). The Psalms are filled with admonitions to meditate on God’s love and His creation. Hebrews 12:3 calls us to “consider him who endured such opposition.” This consideration does not request or require dancing, singing, or any sort of physical indication. All that is needed is a contrite and earnest spirit that longs to “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23).

In his book, The Unquenchable Worshipper, Matt Redman, English songwriter and worship leader, wrote, “When we meet to worship God, although structure is important, it must never be allowed to strangle life” (51). I concur, but will continue that life must never be allowed to strangle worship. Paul pled with believers in the Philippian church to resolve arguments among themselves, and I believe he would instruct Christians today to settle their discord. Unity in worship is vital in today’s church. Unbelievers will not respond positively to an environment where believers cannot interact with love and comfort. May the church realize the necessity of unity and may each individual surrender his self-centered desires to the glory of the Lord.

~Kelsey Jacobs

Where Is Your Gaze?

September 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

IMG_2645This early bird doesn’t get up for worms, but the sunrise on the beach at Hilton Head Island, where we are vacationing this week, is definitely worth getting up early for. Armed with camera and tripod this morning I made my way down to the beach, a couple hundred yards from our villa, and set up just before the glorious red sphere emerged from the sea.

As I clicked off some shots, I noticed the early joggers and dog walkers were stopping near me and pulling out their camera phones. I guess when someone sets a nice SLR on a tripod, they look like they know what they’re doing, and what they’re pointing that big lens at must be important. I wasn’t anticipating anything out of the ordinary for this sunrise, but my attention and commitment to it made others want to look too.

Where do you fix your gaze? My worship of our glorious Creator should be obvious and intentional. We glorify God when we make Him look good, and all we need to do to make Him look good is to show the world who He really is. Start your day with an obvious heavenward focus and see who else follows your gaze.

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