Theological Controversy: God and Allah

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.
  • etc.

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.

Dr. Krause

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3 thoughts on “Theological Controversy: God and Allah

  1. FYI…Rick Warren never did say that the God of Christianity and Allah are one and the same. The writer who quoted him totally misrepresented Rick’s remarks. Rick sent out a reply to this false story in order to set the record straight. Here is the main part of that reply:
    RICK WARREN ON MUSLIMS, EVANGELISM and MISSIONS
    with Brandon A. Cox and The Christian Post

    QUESTION: Do people of other religions worship the same God as Christians?

    WARREN: Of course not. Christians have a view of God that is unique. We believe Jesus is God! We believe God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not three separate gods but one God. No other faith believes Jesus is God. My God is Jesus. The belief in God as a Trinity is the foundational difference between Christians and everyone else. There are 2.1 billion people who call themselves Christians . . . whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, or Evangelical . . . and they all have the doctrine of the Trinity in common.

    QUESTION: A recent newspaper article claimed you believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God, that you are “in partnership” with a mosque, and that you both agreed to “not evangelize each other.” You immediately posted a brief refutation online. Can you expand on that?

    WARREN: Sure. All three of those statements are flat out wrong. Those statements were made by a reporter, not by me. I did not say them . . . I do not believe them . . . I completely disagree with them . . . and no one even talked to me about that article! So let me address each one individually: First, as I’ve already said, Christians have a fundamentally different view of God than Muslims. We worship Jesus as God. Muslims don’t. Our God is Jesus, not Allah. Colossians 2:9 says “For in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Second, while we urge our members to build friendships with everyone in our community, including Muslims and other faiths, (“Love your neighbor as yourself”), our church has never had any partnership with a mosque. Friendship and partnership are two very different levels of commitment. Some of our members have hosted a Bible study with Muslim friends, which I applaud, but I’ve never been to it, and a Bible study certainly isn’t any kind of partnership or merger! It’s just crazy that a simple Bible study where people explore scripture with non-Christians would be reported as a partnership and others would interpret that as a plan for a new compromised religion. Just crazy! Third, as both an Evangelical and as an evangelist, anyone who knows me and my 40 year track record of ministry knows that I would never agree to “not evangelizing” anyone! I am commanded by my Savior to share the Good News with all people everywhere, all the time, in every way possible! Anyone who’s heard me teach knows that my heart beats for bringing others to Jesus.

    QUESTION: That same article mentioned that you ate an Iftar dinner with Orange County Muslims. What is that all about?

    WARREN: It’s called being polite and a good neighbor. For years, we have invited Muslim friends to attend our Easter and Christmas services and they have graciously attended year after year. Some have even celebrated our family’s personal Christmas service in our home. So when they have a potluck when their month of fasting ends, we go to their party. It’s a Jesus thing. The Pharisees criticized him as “the friend of sinners” because Jesus ate dinner with people they disapproved of. By the way, one of my dear friends is a Jewish Rabbi and my family has celebrated Passover at his home, and he attends our Christmas and Easter services. I wish more Christians would reach out in love like Jesus.

    QUESTION: Why do you think people who call themselves Christians sometimes say the most hateful things about Muslims?

    WARREN: Well, some of those folks probably aren’t really Christians. 1 John 4:20 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” And 1 John 2:9 says “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” I am not allowed by Jesus to hate anyone. Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

    QUESTION: Let’s talk about evangelism. In the past 10 years, Saddleback Church has baptized over 24,000 new believers. No other church comes close to that record. You are likely the most evangelistic church in America. What’s the key?

    WARREN: We are willing to do what many other churches are unwilling to do. We are willing to go beyond our comfort zone.

    QUESTION: For instance?

    WARREN: Because Jesus commanded us to take the Gospel to everyone, I spend much of my time with groups of people who completely disagree with what I believe. I’m constantly trying to build a bridge of love to nonbelievers, to atheists, to gays, to those I disagree with politically, and to those of other faiths. We don’t wait for these people to come to church; we go to them and share with them on their turf, not ours. Every member is a minister and a missionary. Saddleback was a missional church 30 years before the term became popular. We just called it being “purpose driven”.

    QUESTION: “Building a bridge” sounds like compromise to many people.

    WARREN: Building a bridge has nothing to do with compromising your beliefs. It’s all about your behavior and your attitude toward them. It’s about genuinely loving people. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Before people ask, “Is Jesus credible?” they want to know if you are credible. Before people trust Jesus they must trust you. You cannot win your enemies to Christ, only your friends. It’s part of what Paul calls “the ministry of reconciliation.” It is Christ-like to treat people with dignity and listen to them with respect.

    QUESTION: Why are most Christians so ineffective at sharing their faith?

    WARREN: I have a whole seminar on that! First, they don’t really have any unbelieving friends. They spend all their time with other Christians. As a result, they are afraid to share their faith because it feels unnatural to them. For most people to come to Christ, you must build a relationship with them first. You must love them. The truth is, most Christians love everything else more than the people around them that Jesus died for. Second, many don’t really believe that people are lost without Christ. Third, many Christians are afraid of the criticism they will receive from other Christians if they hang out with unbelievers. It was the religious people who hated Jesus the most. They criticized him for associating with tax collectors and lepers and prostitutes and politicians and going to parties. Lost people loved Jesus but the religious folks saw his associations as dangerous compromise. The same is true today. Modern Pharisees still use guilt by association as a weapon. Just read the blogs. They’d rather hunker in a bunker and attack those courageous enough to reach out to non-Christians. I do not fear the disapproval of others. I fear the disapproval of God on my disobedience to what he has clearly commanded us to do.

    • Tim, I appreciate your documentation. I don’t think I said that Pastor Warren made a statement equating the Christian God and Allah. I just used his controversy as a way of introducing this topic.

      Dr. Krause

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