In a predominantly secular culture, theological distinctions are easily lost. Indeed, they are seen as irrelevant altogether, not only for secularists, but for many believers overly influenced by secularism. Thus it may seem like a petty squabble as to whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. But it is a vitally important issue, for at least two reasons.
One, the nature and definition of God is absolutely fundamental to both faiths. They stand or fall, based on their conception and understanding of God. A wrong conception of God means the religion loses its very foundation.
And both religions are quite clear about what sort of God they worship. And the two are obviously not the same. At the most basic level, while both religions are monotheistic, that is where the similarities end, and the differences begin.
Islam is radically monotheistic, as is Judaism. Christianity also affirms that God is one, but in a quite unique manner. It affirms that there is one God who exists eternally in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a bedrock theological given in Christianity, and any attempts to diminish this doctrine means that Christianity itself is undermined.
Of course Muslims reject the Trinitarian God, but they also misunderstand the Trinity. Muslims believe Christians worship three Gods: the Father, Jesus the son, and Mary the mother. That understanding is of course heretical, and to be rejected. It is not what Christians believe in.
But there are other fundamental differences. In Islam, Allah is a despotic sovereign, not a loving Father. He is utterly transcendent, and has no personal involvement with his creatures. A commentator in a previous post said this: “Your description of Allah as ‘an inscrutable, harsh and remote deity’ sounds remarkably like the God of the Old Testament”. I responded by saying that she is clearly unfamiliar with both the Koran and the Old Testament. Such a comparison is ludicrous.
Yahweh is certainly depicted as transcendent in the Old Testament, but he is also depicted as immanent. He is very closely and personally involved with his people.
Very early on we get a glimpse of the warmth and compassion of God. In Genesis 6 we read of God’s broken heart over his wayward people. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6). The grief and hurt which God experiences over his rebellious creation is a common theme of the Old Testament. It is a sign of a God who is deeply in love with mankind. Such a conception is quite foreign to the Koran.
As I mentioned to this critic, no one can claim Allah is identical with Yahweh after reading a passage such as Hosea 11:1-9. Part of the passage reads as follows: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. . . . “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.”
This is a remarkable depiction of God, and gives lie to the claim that Yahweh is some far-removed tyrant with no concern for his people. The truth is, God always has been madly in love with us, and his heart breaks when we reject that love. This is not how the Koran depicts Allah.
The second reason why these theological distinctions matter is that we live in an age where tolerance and relativism are championed, while truth and theology are decried. The result is the watering down and decimation of Biblical faith. In the attempt to have all religionists get along, we invariably dumb down the faith – especially that of Christianity. In the effort to be all things to all people, Christian truth is often the first casualty.
Thus the attempt to say we all worship the same God, and the attempt to find a lowest common denominator amongst the various world religions, simply results in a truncated and diluted Christian faith. And it more often than not is just an attempt to appease Muslims anyway. But why should Christians water down their faith to keep Muslims happy?
Two recent columns pick up this theme, following on from the piece I recently wrote about the Dutch Bishop who said Christians should call God Allah. They offer some insightful, if humorous, comments about the logical outcome of such a move.
Doug Giles asks, why stop here? Why not compromise other key beliefs and practices, in order to not offend Muslims? He offers this list for starters:
“-Start calling our churches mosques.
-We could call Jesus ‘Slappy White’ because Slappy was a beautiful person, a great jazz guitarist – and he made some tasty BBQ ribs.
-Yank the steeples off the roofs of our churches and replace them with gold domes.
-Start circumcising our young girls.
-Start hating Israel.
-Start hating America.
-Grow long beards.
-Replace Easter with Ramadan.”
Kathleen Parker also has some concerns about the Bishop’s remarks: “The Doxology of my Protestant childhood is problematic with the two-syllable Allah instead of the monosyllabic God, but not impossible: Praise Allah, from whom all blessings flow. Praise him, all creatures here below. Not perfect, but workable. America’s familiar childhood blessing is downright euphonious: Allah is great, Allah is good, let us thank him for our food. But the Apostle’s Creed is a mess: I believe in Allah the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son … . Oops.”
She continues, “That’s not a small doctrinal difference. In fact, at the risk of exhausting the obvious, Christianity doesn’t exist without, um, Christ. Of course we could rewrite the Apostle’s Creed to include Muhammad: ‘I believe in Allah the Father Almighty … and in Muhammad, his favorite prophet …’.”
Words are important, as is theology. But in a secular postmodern culture, even fellow believers are getting pretty weak-kneed and simple-minded when it comes to the vitally important distinctives of the Christian faith. Now is not the time to abandon Biblical absolutes, but to hold them even more tightly.