CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

No, We Do Not Worship the Same God

Aug 19, 2007

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.

Appeasing Islam

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.

www.townhall.com/columnists/DougGiles/2007/08/18/let%e2%80%99s_call_god_%e2%80%9callah%e2%80%9d_and_jesus_%e2%80%9cslappy_white%e2%80%9d www.townhall.com/columnists/KathleenParker/2007/08/17/oh,_allah,_wont_you_buy_me_a_mercedes_benz

[1174 words]

46 Responses to No, We Do Not Worship the Same God

  • Bill
    I agree it is crucial Christians know which god we serve in order to avoid compromise. In Exod 34:5-7 YHWH vividly describes himself as to leave the Israelites and us today in no doubt about his nature and character “The LORD came down in a cloud, stood with Moses there, and pronounced his holy name, the LORD. The LORD then passed in front of him and called out, “I, the LORD, am a God who is full of compassion and pity, who is not easily angered and who shows great love and faithfulness. I keep my promise for thousands of generations and forgive evil and sin; but I will not fail to punish children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for the sins of their parents.”
    A careful study of the whole Old Testament reveals the outworking of this declaration to be true. It is also true that Jesus Christ is the full revelation of the Godhead and as a result we are now under a new covenant of Grace. But I love and serve the same never changing amazing miracle working God of the O.T because he is our eternal loving Father, Creator, Redeemer and Lord. It is flawed humans who get confused and led astray and try to redefine God to suit themselves but the Bible clearly tells that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit never have this problem.
    Lyle Hutchinson

  • Doug Giles, you forgot to mention about churches worshipping on Friday instead of Sunday, having four wives, and bishops being called imams. Kathleen Parker, what about saying “Mary, mother of Allah”?
    Ed Sim

  • In 1981 a celebrated debate took place between two lawyers, one Christian, Josh McDowell and the other Muslim, Ahmed Deedat. It is worth the trouble and time reading this. www.answering-islam.org/Debates/Deedat_McDowell.html

    One difference between Islam and Christianity, if one takes these two gentlemen to be representative of their faiths, is the graciousness of Josh McDowell contrasted with the highly strung (there are recordings of this transcript) and arrogant contempt demonstrated by Ahmed Deedat. At one stage this Muslim gentleman accused Christians of blind faith in following the Bible. Josh answered thus:

    “Christians are called to an intelligent. intellectual faith – not a blind faith. I was quite surprised when I read in the little booklet, What Was the Sign of Jonah? by Mr. Ahmed Deedat, that over one thousand million Christians today blindly accept that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. I’m a little confused, because really, Mr. Deedat, you read from the Qur’an and you said you accept it, you don’t need facts, you don’t need any evidence. You simply accept it and then you’re saying that Christians, because they accept what God, Yahweh, has revealed through the Holy Bible, that Jesus is the Christ, that because we accept that, we do it blindly.”

    The God we worship is Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the very image of His Father in heaven.

    David Skinner, UK

  • A thought provoking post. I’ll add some of mine;

    Is it not possibe that we worship the same God as Muslims, yet the Islamic understanding of God is quite different to ours? I agree with your analysis here; our God is indeed and loving and personal God. You have proved that.

    What we perhaps should consider is that our understanding of God could be simply different. In our scriptures, God reveals himself to be sovereign. As I gather from your article and my own understanding, this is consistent with Islam. What may not be is the broader Christian definition which includes a God who is full of compassion and pity, who “is not easily angered and who shows great love and faithfulness.”

    Can I also say that I don’t appreciate the sarcasm of Giles quote, and after reading the entire article I was appalled by his sarcasm, disrespect and crassness. I think we should avoid this sort of approach when analysing other faiths.

    Simon Kennedy, VIC

  • Thanks Simon

    But Giles was mainly being sarcastic about weak and appeasing Christians, rather than Islam

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Simon, it seems we are back to C.S Lewis’ New York analogy: if there really, really is a real place called New York, some conceptions of it will be closer to that reality than others; they cannot all be equally valid. My view of Melbourne being a closer picture of New York than, say, someone who believed it was Suggan Buggan, would be closer to reality, simply because there is a real New York against which to compare all views.

    But we are also back to the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” The Jewish nation was constantly guilty of idolatry.

    1 John 1 says, ”That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

    David Skinner, UK

  • I’ve asked this in another thread but no one seems to have grasped my point.

    If as we Christians believe, there is only one God who created all things, and Muslims worship the one God who created all things, how can they be worshipping a different God? By definition, only one God exists.

    As Simon says, the current argument seems to be more about differences in human understanding of the nature of God, or our mental image of God.

    We don’t really know what God thinks of Muslims. They weren’t around at the time of Christ. Nor indeed were Christians if you think about it.

    Bill, what statement would you make about the God that Jews worship?

    Marge Williams, Vic

  • Now I see that you have moved a bit in your argument, away from the insistence that Allah is not God, to the idea of whether our understandings of the character and nature of God is the same. Which of course it is not! You never answered my question, Bill, of what you would say to the tens of millions of believers in the Arab world and Indonesia who worship and praise God as “Allah”. Please write an article about this! Please tell us how your perspective and opinion would work in the light of reality, I for one would be interested how you would deal with this problem.
    Cal Curtis

  • No we do not worship the same god, for Allah and YHWH are two different gods in personal description and character. Those who worship YHWH, worship Him in Spirit and truth.
    Albert Kamau

  • Thanks Marge

    But with all due respect, you seem to be the one who is avoiding questions put to you. You have yet to declare where you stand on the clear teachings of Jesus, and whether you accept them or do not accept them.

    But your last question is relatively easy for the Biblical Chrsitian to answer. Of course the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New. Simply put, Jesus is the final and fullest revelation of who God is. As Hebrews 1:1-2 so clearly puts it, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”

    This is what we understand by the doctrine of progressive revelation. God has revealed more of himself over time, culminating in the full revelation of himself in his son. Thus Moses knew more about God than did Abraham, and so on. But this progressive revelation stops with Jesus. It does not of course continue with Muhammad, as much as Muslims insist that it does.

    Most Jews of course have rejected Jesus and his claims to be their Messiah. Paul has an extended discussion of their future in Romans 9-11. He nicely answers some of the questions that seem to be on your mind.

    And you are simply mistaken to believe that we have no idea what God thinks of Muslims. We know exactly what he thinks of everyone. He made us all, he loves us all, and he grieves for us all because we have all gone away from him in sin and disobedience. And he wishes that we all come back to a relationship with him, but that is only by means of his son Jesus. This is basic Christianity at its simplest. Which part of that do you have troubles with Marge?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Cal

    But I have already said that in the interests of contextualization, sometimes using the word Allah in Muslim countries can be appropriate. But it should be used only under the condition that believers there make it clear that the God of the Bible is not to be confused with the God of Islam. And as one commentator put it in the parallel article to this one, plenty of Christians in Muslim countries do not use the word Allah.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • This is a good discussion. Thanks for replying to my comment, Bill. I still feel the Giles article would be insulting to Muslims, but that is neither here nor there in this debate.

    I still feel that Christian perceptions of God can co-exist with Muslim perceptions of God, and that they can be perceptions of the same God. They are similar in some ways, and vastly different in others. It remains to be proved, but we Christians are possibly worshipping the same God as the Muslims. The C.S. Lewis analogy is a good one to illustrate this.

    Verses like the one quoted from 1 John don’t prove whether or not Muslims worship the same God as we do. They enhance our understanding of, and reveal further, the nature and divinity of the triune God. They don’t disqualify people’s faith; they magnify our Lord.

    Simon Kennedy, VIC

  • Marge, suppose one day someone deposits a bunch of flowers on my doorstep. I think it comes from Mary, our next door neighbour to the right. My brother thinks it comes from Bill, our next door neighbour to the left. We each feel grateful to the person we think gave us the flowers, I to Mary, and my brother to Bill. Can we feel grateful to the same person? Well, if Marge’s argument is valid, since ‘by definition’ only one person gave us the flowers, we surely must each be grateful to the same person. The problem with this kind of reasoning is that identity is not just defined in terms of ‘the one who gave the flowers’: we attach other beliefs to this as well, including our knowledge about the person. It would be wierd to say that we each feel grateful to the same person, but have different understandings of that person. The truth is, we each think that a different person gave us the flowers, and at least one of us feels grateful to the WRONG person.

    It is not enough to just say that ‘we all worship the one creator’, when my creator is Allah, yours is Satan, and someone else’s is a Snake Spirit. Allah of the Qur’an is the god who allegedly sent down the Qur’an through Muhammad. There is no way this is the same god who inspired the Bible, unless God is schizophrenic. They are just completely different identities, with different attributes. The fact that they both claim to be the creator is neither here nor there. My cat might claim to be the creator, but it doesn’t mean my cat is the one true god.

    The fact is that Muslims and Christians don’t worship the same Platonic ‘ideal’ of a creator, but quite distinct deities with contrasting attributes and potentialities.

    Matk Durie

  • Thanks Mark

    Quite right. And I would like to draw attention to an excellent book Mark has authored. Entitled, Revelation?: Do We Worship the Same God? (CityHarvest Publications, 2006), it is an invaluable examination of the differences between the two religions and the two deities. It is available at bookstores such as Koorong.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Marge, You obviously don’t believe in revelation – that God has revealed himself only through the Word which is Christ crucified.

    Marge, even Satan knows the difference between Yahweh and all these other pretenders to the throne. The big question for us though, is not do we know God, but does He know us? Are your and my name written in the Book of life? You either believe in God’s revelation, His Word, or you don’t. I pray you do.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Dear Marge,

    One minute you are saying it is impossible with certainty to understand God and then the next minute you claim to have inside knowledge that God’s intellect is far beyond our understanding. Where did you get that from? How do you know that, if we have no certain understanding about God?

    If nothing was certain why would the psalmist in Psalm 139 plead with God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”? Or do you think God would answer, “Sorry buddy, your are on your own here. You won’t be able to interpret one word of what I am saying; your cultural, temperamental and family experiences are totally unique”.

    The first epistle of John is full of certainty: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:19ff)

    David Skinner, UK

  • Thank you Bill for your two interesting parallel postings. I lived in Malaysia for a number of years working in an Islamic institution and therefore would like to comment on your description of the Islamic understanding of Allah. I agree with you that the Christian concept of God is that he has made himself known to us and reveals himself to us. The more conservative Muslims I met perceived the Christian God almost as a heresy and went so far as to say that the triune nature contradicts the monotheism claimed by Christianity. On the other hand, Muslims with a broader view of Islam agreed that Muslims, Christians and Jews worship the same God. Although to some extent I agreed with this second view, I still held an uneasiness about it given the nature of the Muslim prayers and practices. Your parallel articles have explained the differences I intuitively felt.

    You say, “In Islam, Allah is utterly inscrutable and unknowable. Allah is utterly transcendent, and cannot be known by man. Only some of his activities are revealed, but not his true essence. At heart Allah is incomprehensible.” This utter transcendence of Allah is evident if you visit a mosque. What strikes me about even the most elaborate mosques is the total absence of reference to Allah in any human shape or form.

    In Christian churches, Christ (usually represented on the cross) is the central focus. Often there may also be statues and icons of Mary and various saints, all clearly in a human form. As you said, “the believer is invited to run into the outstretched arms, and the nail-pierced hands, of a loving saviour” and who “in the Incarnation, he even becomes one with us, one of us.”

    This is in total contrast to mosques where any reference to human form is absent, in fact the abstract angular repetitive designs used for ornamentation do not accommodate a reference to anything observable in the natural world. This serves to amplify the “inscrutable and unknowable” nature of Allah.

    I also observed this in the prayers. The uniform ablutions and prayer recitals and rituals work contrary to the personal and intimate involvement that Christians experience. The prayers also reinforce submission to the omnipotent. Everything that happens is Allah’s will, and to reason why is virtually blasphemy. The phrase “Insa’Allah” (if Allah wills it) is used constantly. Even a simple statement like “I will phone you later” gets “Insa’Allah” as a response. This highlights the “deep fatalism” you mention. It also results in a kind of lethargy in those who live on the basis that any outcome in their life, good or bad, is not the result of their doing but solely the will of Allah.

    I see very little similarities between this and the Christian conception of God.

    Finally, Cal’s statement that Christians in Malaysia use the term Allah is incorrect. Allah is an Arabic term adopted by all Muslims regardless of nationality. Arabic is really only spoken in Malaysia during prayers and in reciting the Koran. No services of other religions are conducted in Arabic.

    Frank Norros

  • Thanks Frank
    You raise some helpful and insightful points here.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • It is rather easy to come to a knowledge of a particular person just by relationship.
    God has revealed Himself to us by His written word, the Bible and Allah reveals himself to us through the Q’ran. To understand the differences one only has to read the revelations of the deities through their written words.
    (1) Is there a difference between God and Allah?
    (2) Can we come to a compromise?
    There are too many differences between God and Allah to ever come to a compromise and how can we ever accept a group of people who think that their god will reward them if they destroy any person who will not accept their beliefs.
    I remember a great adage from a wise man, watermelons are 95% water but aren’t we gald about the 5% difference whenever it rains.

    Jim Sturla. Brisbane

  • Excellent article.

    Chrsitians worship God in the form of the holy trinity, father, son and holy spirit, all equal and indivisable.

    Our God (Jesus Christ) is not the God of Muslims.

    They consider our God nothing more than a prophet.

    Helen Jed

  • My comment has no persuasive edge, but to say that in regards to architecture, I was amazed at how the Lalibella churches of Ethiopia, which are dug 2 or 3 stories down into the ground/rock, are oozing with biblical significance in almost every part of their construction. One resembles Noah’s ark, with the lower windows mudded closed to resemble needing to keep the water out of the boat. And a little Mount Ararat mound outside. Most of the churches are in the shape of the cross with many other representations of biblical concepts. Between two churches there is a very long tunnel that is pitch black to represent Jesus descending into hell on our behalf with our sin, so that we can be free. Course, they have a couple of things to show how to earn your way to heaven which is erroneous theology which crept in. But it’s such a contrast to the stark to the architecture of the mosques. I couldn’t help but compare with Frank’s description above.

    Rebecca Field

  • Hi Bill,

    Pope John Paul II prayed and gave an address in the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus in 2001. Seems quite clear that the Vatican considers that Muslims worship the same God:
    www.katolsk.no/nyheter/2001/05/07-0019.htm

    The Vatican position also suggests that Muslims are saved (quote from the above address):
    “Both Muslims and Christians prize their places of prayer, as oases where they meet the All Merciful God on the journey to eternal life”.

    You are obviously adopting a contrary view, but it’s clearly not a universal Christian position.

    Frank O’Hare, ACT

  • Thanks Frank

    But I do not think that a careful reading of the document leads to your conclusion that we “worship the same God”. And I have nowhere argued that my view was universally held to by all Christians. Christians have various positions on these sorts of issues, including the place of, and the need for, interfaith dialogue. The fact that some are more keen than others to downplay the differences between the two religions does not tell us that they in fact are right.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Frank
    I have read Pope Paul’s address and I must confess that I am confused by your statement “the Vatican considers that the Muslims worship the same God.”
    The Pope advanced that there should be “interreligious dialogue” which, I feel, most Christians would welcome.
    Yes, there may be similarities in our religions, but there are by far, many differences in the way that we Christians perceive God.
    Christians are taught to love others, even if they disagree with us, but nowhere in the scriptures do I find instruction as to acceptance of other beliefs for the sake of compatability.
    In fact, the Bible that I have says the reverse, reject the lie and accept that which is true, there is only one way and that is through Jesus.
    Jesus said it and that settles it.
    You may say that this sounds egotistical but it sounds like the Son of God to me.

    Jim Sturla, Brisbane

  • Bill,

    We’ll never know who is right until Judgment Day. Ultimately it’s all just opinion and hot air.

    But in the meantime, why stir the possum? Isn’t declaring other folk to be infidels exactly what many object to about Islam? Personally I think Christians would be better to proclaim our faith as a positive approach to life (and death) rather than criticising others for their beliefs.

    Frank O’Hare, ACT

  • Thanks Frank

    But how can you stand up for, and affirm, the truth claims of Christianity, without simultaneously running up against other religious views that deny those claims? For example, Christianity declares that Jesus died on a cross and rose again from the dead. Islam denies this. So to affirm Christian distinctives means to deny Islamic claims to the contrary. I don’t see how you can avoid this.

    And it was Jesus who made it quite clear that he was the only means to eternal life. That is why he came and died – to bring us back to the father. By claiming to be the way, the truth, and the life, he of necessity implies that all others are not the way. In fact, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:7-10).

    Do we accept the words of Jesus or do we not?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Marge, I don’t know if you are still “tuned in” but may I submit again for consideration that the real question is not: Do we know Christ from non-Christ? Even Satan knows the answer to this, but: Does the Lord know us? Read Matthew 25. One of the many ways Christians love their enemies is not by indulging them in their sin but by loving them enough to warn them of the consequences of their behaviour and thought life.

    By contrast, those who do not know the Lord are intolerant of those who do and persecute them. In the case of the liberal revisionists, like Katherine Jefferts Schori, they are already dragging Christian clergy through the courts. Similarly, in Britain ministers of the Church of England (and whom the Queen promised to protect in her Coronation Oath) are experiencing similar persecution: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/6904057.stm.

    The so-called “tolerant” are becoming tyrannical. The “oppressed” are becoming the oppressors. The question for you and I, Marge, is: Are we sheep or goats?
    Shepherds, or wolves in lamb’s clothing?

    David Skinner, UK

  • Dear Bill,
    One of the indigeneous tribes of East Malaysia (I believe they are the Ibans) have a translation of the Bible in which Allah is used for God. Some two years ago, the government of Malaysia banned that Bible. A big ruckus erupted, and I think the ban was eventually removed.

    i agree with you that there might be a place and time to use Allah amongst Christians. Having said that, we must be careful to ensure the use of this word does not lead the listener/s to think of God as the Allah of the Koran.

    At the risk of being labeled a bigot, my reading of the Koran gives me the impression that it is inspired by the ‘angel of light’, full of clever distortions (and I am reminded in Eze. 28 that he was the anointed cherub full of wisdom, which was later corrupted) of the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

    Henry Lim

  • Bill,

    I disagree. I think we can affirm our faith without damning those who come from a different faith tradition. None of us can see into the hearts and minds of others, nor can we truly see into the mind of God. It probably seems like simple-minded Christianity to you, but to me the Golden Rule is a pretty good guide to how we are meant to live our life.

    I have some good friends who are Muslim. They respect the fact that I have some different beliefs from theirs, and vice versa, but when it comes to the basics, our approach to life isn’t really very different. Most of our scriptures are familiar to them, and they regard both Christians and Muslims as having our roots in the Jewish faith. In their words, we are all “people of the Book” and they certainly believe they are worshipping the God of Moses.

    I’m unsure what purpose you think is served in damning the beliefs of others. Would we not better serve God by extending the hand of peace and friendship than by perpetuating the old conflicts?

    And by the way, I’m assured that Allah is the term used by Arab Christians when they refer to God.

    Frank O’Hare, ACT

  • Thanks Frank

    The issue is not so much being simple-minded here, but refusing to accept the clear teachings of Jesus and the basic truth claims of Christianity. To abandon the explicit commands of Jesus, and his clear remarks that salvation comes only though repentance and faith in him is to effectively deny the Christian Gospel. And to replace it with some mushy version of the golden rule which any atheist, secularist, or New Ager could happily adhere to is not helping matters, but making things worse.

    We either accept Jesus and his claims or we reject them. There is no middle ground here, and such a watering down of the gospel has nothing to do with biblical Christianity.

    And who is damning another faith? I repeat: if I affirm the truth claims of Christianity, that will of necessity put a lot of people out of joint. Atheists will not like me promoting the Gospel, not will Muslims, New Agers, Hindus and so on. (Of course if I so water it down that there is no longer any clear Biblical content or truth claims, then everyone will like what I have to say. But the Bible has a name for this: its called being a false prophet.)

    The truth is, people damn themselves when they refuse to believe in Jesus. Jesus made this perfectly clear: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3: 18).

    So I ask you again, do you believe what Jesus has clearly said, or do you not? Is your worldview based on the revealed word of God, or is it simply the product of secular and liberal thinking, with its distorted view of tolerance and its complete disdain for absolute truth?

    Finally, you claim that you and your Muslim mates agree on the basics. Can I respectfully suggest there is no agreement on the basics? Christianity is about acknowledging that Jesus Christ is God, and is the only source of our salvation. Muslims deny this totally. These are the basics of the two faiths, and they are mutually exclusive. Sorry, but the only way Muslims and Christians can have any similarity on the basics, as you put it, is for both to so water down their own faith that they no longer mean anything.

    I encourage you to reread the Gospels, and see just how exclusive the claims of Christ really are.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Frank,
    Here are two stark differences:
    Christians: Jesus the Son of God; Muslims: Jesus only a prophet, not the Son of God.
    Christians: Jesus the only Saviour who died for our sins; Muslims: Jesus did not die, someone else took His place.
    I can’t possibly see any basic similarity between the two. Even a casual reading of the Koran and the Gospels will show up the differences.
    Henry Lim

  • Hi Henry,

    I readily acknowledge those stark differences, but very similar differences exist between Christianity and Judaism, and we don’t see articles here about Jews worshipping the wrong God.

    Muslims may have a different understanding of the nature of God, but they worship the God of Moses and Abraham, and they also revere the Old Testament, and much of the New Testament.

    Bill, I have read and reread the Gospels many times in my 60-odd years on this planet, and I am unable to find good guidance on how God will deal with non-Christians who didn’t receive Paul’s letters. From what point in history did God decide to admit only Christians to heaven? It couldn’t have been at the Resurrection, because there were only a few dozen Christians in existence. Was it when the Gospels were written? That’s not fair either, nor is it precise. And what of civilisations like the aborigines of Australia and America, who had no opportunity to become Christian?

    Similarly, I question whether God will damn the billions of Muslims who happened to have been born into the “wrong” culture but who lead lives of strong faith and good works.

    I honestly think we are called primarily to lead good lives, not to vilify and make judgments about others. Call that a “mushy version of the Golden Rule” if you will, but it makes sense to me in the context of the Christian faith as I understand it.

    I am beginning to understand the “melancholy disposition” that you ascribed to yourself in an earlier article.

    Frank O’Hare, ACT

  • Thanks Frank

    But I seem to be repeating myself here. Christians and Jews do worship the same God, but Jesus is the final and fullest revelation of what God is like. Muslims claim Muhammad is the final and complete revelation of God, something Christians must of course reject.

    While I am glad you read the Gospels, it seems your reading has been selective. Each time I present you with a clear and unambiguous statement by Jesus Christ, you simply ignore it, or refuse to believe it. Just what is your basis of authority, if not the plain teachings of Jesus?

    Your point about hearing the name of Christ is another matter altogether. In times before Christ people responded to the revelation of God that they had, and their faith was counted as righteousness. But basic Christianity teaches that the shed blood of Christ is what makes such salvation possible. Thus it works retroactively for those before Christ.

    But now Christ has come. That is why we are to preach the gospel to every creature, as Jesus commanded us. The solution to those who have not heard is to go out and tell them. That is known as the great commission. It is the very heart and soul of the Christian faith. I trust that this is not another part of the gospels that seem to be of little or no consequence to you.

    But you let the cat out of the bag when you tell us what you really believe. You tell us that “strong faith and good works” is good enough. Sorry, that is not what the Bible says. The object of our faith is what saves us. And Jesus is the object of our faith. Having faith in Muhammad or ourselves will save no one. This is just such incredibly basic Christianity. I continue to be surprised that it seems to be so alien to you.

    And we will not be saved if we “lead good lives” as you put it. This is the complete antithesis to what the New Testament teaches. Paul said there is no one good, not one. None are righteous. (Romans 3: 9-20). And Jesus said he came not for the righteous, but for sinners. (Matt. 9:13) We are all sinners. None of us is good enough. If we could save ourselves by our own righteousness, then Christ would not need to have come and died for us.

    Again, this is just simple basic Christianity. These are themes that drip from every page of the New Testament. Why do you have such a problem with these clear Biblical teachings?

    Finally, your last line is simply the fallacy known as ad hominem.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,

    You have made a lot of false assumptions there about what I believe, and I am at a loss to understand how you could have so misinterpret my words. The great commission provides no answer to my question about those who are culturally isolated from Christianity. And Muslims don’t have “faith in Muhammad” by the way.

    I have to disagree with your interpretation of “simple basic Christianity”. You ignore the tension between grace and good works that appears throughout scripture, and you seem to dismiss works as if they unimportant. Yet we see: Jeremiah 17:10; Ezekiel 18:27; Matthew 16:27; Luke 10:26-28; John 5:29; Romans 2:6, 13; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Corinthians 11:15; James 2:14; James 2:17; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 2:23; Revelation 20:12-13.

    Frank O’Hare, ACT

  • Thanks Frank

    But if you are being misunderstood, maybe it is because you keep confusing the issues. Your latest remark is about the faith/works tension which concerns how believers are to understand the Biblical mode of salvation. It seems Eph. 2:8-9 gives us a clear insight into this whole question: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

    Good works are a sign of saving faith, and are what follows from faith in Christ. Good works never save anyone, they are simply the result of saving faith. Again, this is Christianity at its most basic, and I continue to be astonished that this seems so foreign to you.

    But we were before discussing the fate of Muslims and other non-Christians. You keep implying in your comments that they too will be saved, and that living a good life alone is sufficient for their salvation. As I tried to point out, this view makes a mockery of the very reason for the incarnation of the son of God. And again, you fail every time to even acknowledge the clear teachings of Jesus that I present to you.

    Finally, despite your dismissal of it, the great commission is the answer. Why did Jesus command us to tell everyone about him if you think it is so unimportant Frank? Do you think Jesus did not really mean this when he said: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

    Once again, the quintessential teachings of Jesus which lie at the very heart of the gospel you just seem to skirt over or dismiss as trivial.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,

    You have asserted many things here that you claim are “basic” or “quintessential” elements of Christianity but it is only your opinion based on your interpretation of scripture.

    Many Christians are in disagreement over interpretation and emphasis, yet you speak as if all of Christianity is at one on these matters.

    I’ve stated my case for rejecting your assertions. You’ve stated your case, but you practice a brand of hard-hearted, militant Christianity that is foreign to me, and your image of God is a far cry from the loving God of mercy, compassion, intelligence, and infinite wisdom that I know.

    I have nothing more to say on this topic. Amen.

    Frank O’Hare, ACT

  • Thanks Frank

    Yes progress seems slow here. Let me summarise all that I have been saying: Most Christians would agree that this passage is the very centre of the Christian gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)

    That is the gospel which I affirm and declare. I am at an absolute loss as to why that makes me a “hard-hearted, militant” Christian. Can you explain that to me?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Frank, you seem to be closing the door. I have just found this on: www.gotquestions.org/never-heard.html :

    If we assume that those who never hear the Gospel are granted mercy from God, we will run into a terrible problem. If people who never hear the Gospel are saved…we should make sure that no one ever hears the Gospel. The worst thing we could do would be to share the Gospel with a person and have him or her reject it. If that were to happen, he or she would be condemned. People who do not hear the Gospel must be condemned, or else there is no motive for evangelism. Why run the risk of people possibly rejecting the Gospel and condemning themselves – when they were previously saved because they had never heard the Gospel?

    David Skinner, UK

  • Hi Frank
    An American politician once said “it’s not the things in the Bible that I don’t understand that worry me, it’s the things that I do.”
    I have fellowship with “many Christians” and to be honest I would find it difficult to find “one” who would agree with your interpretations of scripture.
    Remember any text taken out of context is a pretext.
    If not agreeing with you makes me a hard hearted and militant Christian then so be it.
    The Bible does not allow for “fence sitters.”
    Jim Sturla

  • The heart of the matter lies in knowing the Father.
    And this, through his Son, by revelation from the Spirit.
    This revelation must come home personally, to a Jew and to a Muslim, and an Atheist, and a Christian!
    Only God can do this. We can not argue anyone into the family of the Father.

    Paul said” ‘Yet for us there is one God, the Father’ (1Cor. 8:6). We must come to grips with this even in today’s Christian church. Many only pray ‘O God…’, and refuse to come to the Father, in faith, reconciled.

    Allah does not have a Son.
    (Just a book, given to “the prophet”).

    Even, to the Jews who failed to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus needed to say: ‘You are of your father the devil’. Judaism may have the OT, but they must not ‘search the scriptures for life’, and yet refuse to come to him, of whom ‘all the Scriptures’ speak.

    The times of ignorance, God has overlooked, folks, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel – Christ Jesus is our future. And our present life, too.

    Trevor Faggotter

  • `
    Hmmm…

    Well, I’ve just had a quick read of the “never-heard” link that Dave posted. It seems to be clear enough that those who have never heard the NAME of Jesus can still find God (his father?) if they truly seek Him, through nature.

    So…
    On the authority of this verse, those who have never heard (the name of Jesus) in this present day CAN be saved, but it depends on the desire of their heart. But you do not find the name of Jesus, or the historical facts of his crucifixion, written in Nature.

    So, apparently people who desire God with all their hearts CAN be saved without necessarily knowing the mechanism by which it happens, or perhaps without even knowing that previously they were condemned???

    Adrian Woodcraft, Brisbane, Australia

  • Bill,

    This is off topic but I can’t find any where else to write it.

    I find the navigation of this sight a bit incomprehensible.

    How hard would it be to add something to the home page which clearly identifies it AS the home page?

    How hard would it then be to add links to all (or even most) other pages which make it possible to return to the home page?

    Some people get referred into your site by links from elsewhere that drop them directly into an article. Without the requested link, how do these people get back to home page?

    Thanks,

    Adrian Woodcraft, Brisbane, Australia

  • Thanks Adrian

    While a full article would be needed to do proper justice to this somewhat complex debate, let me just mention a few things. There are of course many passages which speak of Jesus being the only way of salvation, and of the need to hear this specifically, eg., John 3:18; Acts 4:12, Romans 10:9-15, etc.

    But passages which speak of natural theology, or general revelation, such as Romans 1-2 seem to say only this: there is enough in the natural world to convince us of God’s existence, and therefore render us without excuse. But this knowledge is only enough to condemn us, not enough to save us. That is why the preaching of the gospel is so vital.

    But as I say, this needs to be teased out in more detail, something hard to do in a short comment.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks again Adrian

    Yes good point and I can speak to my computer guy about this. But the short answer is this: if you simply click on ‘CultureWatch’ on the top left of every page, that will take you back to the home page.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • God bless you Bill, you are truly amazing! My family prays that you can “keep on keeping on!”
    Jane Byrne

  • Even though there’s only one God to worship, it doesn’t mean we worship the same God. The only God Who is, is Trinity. If your God is not Trinity, it is not God. Further, the Son is God. If the Son is not your god, you do not have God.

Leave a Reply