Last month, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County ,CA was the center of controversy surrounding the claim that the Christian “God” and the Muslim “Allah” are the same. In other words, Warren was accused of promoting the idea that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This has been seen by some as a denial of historic Christianity and a blending of two religions into something that has been labeled “Chrislam.” For even discussing this, some have claimed that Warren is given over to “liberal theology.”
I recently read a book suggested by my friend, Dr. LeRoy Lawson, Allah: A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf of Yale University. (Amazon.com link) Volf explores the idea of the God of the Muslims being the same as the God of the Jews (YWHW) and the God of the Christians (God). This is a rich book, but it seems to me that Volf’s main point is that any argument you can muster against Allah not being the same as the Christian God can be used to say that the Jewish God is not the same as the Christian God.
- Does God exist in some Trinitarian way? Jews don’t think so. Muslims don’t think so. Christians do think so.
- Is Jesus the Son of God? Jews don’t think so. Muslims don’t think so. Christians do think so.
- Is God one God? Jews think so. Muslims think so. Christians think so.
- Is God the Creator of the Universe? Jews think so. Muslims think so, Christians think so.
I am no expert in Muslim theology (and neither are most of the loud critics of Warren/Volf), but I do see a couple of issues here.
First, I am not convinced misunderstandings about God mean two Gods are present. I do not agree with Muslim doctrine about God in several ways. For example, I cannot imagine that God could bless or reward a suicide bomber who murders innocents. Anyone who teaches this is just plain wrong (and not all Muslims agree with this idea). But I also disagree with some Christians about the nature of God (although in less serious ways). For example, I have trouble imagining God as exclusively male, thereby justifying the treatment of women as lesser beings than men (as do some Christians).
Second, some folks object to the term “Allah.” But most of our terms for God were borrowed from the common languages of the people. In the Greek language, the term for God, theos, was used for deities long before anyone applied the term to the Christian God (or the Jewish God in the LXX). Etymologically, the English word “God” has a pagan origin in the Germanic languages, but was adopted to express the Christian God. We see this in that we use “god” for deities other than the Christian God and “God” for the One God of the Bible. The only difference is capitalization, a rather artificial device.
Let me give you an example from real life. At the end of my time as a pastor in Los Angeles, I was blessed to be involved in the conversion of a young Muslim man. He came to me very disillusioned about the violence of Islam and wanted to know more about Christianity. Which of these two approaches do you think would have worked best to begin our conversations?
1. First let me say that Muslims and Christians worship a different God/god. Our God is the true God and the god of Islam, Allah, is a false god. Your god may even be Satan in disguise.
2. First let me say that Christians, like Muslims, believe there is only one God. But we understand God very differently. We believe that God has revealed himself to us in a Son, Jesus Christ, whom God sent to earth to redeem mankind and restore them to himself. We cannot explain exactly how this works, but we do not believe it is a violation of the oneness of God. There is only one God.
To make a long story short, I took the second approach and baptized my Christian brother from Tehran a few weeks later.