Christians, Jews, and Muslims all claim to worship God: the one God who revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, as well as to other OT figures. But do they, in fact, worship the same God? In 2015, tenured professor Larycia Hawkins “was placed on administrative leave for comments made on social media, which, in turn, led to a fury storm of articles written about this topic on the worldwide web” (9). In one Facebook picture, Hawkins donned a hijab and wrote, “I stand in religious liberty with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book” and “as Pope Francis state last week, we worship the same God” (9-10). But do Christians, Muslims, and Jews all worship the same God? What do we mean by “the same”? (As well, what do we mean by “worship”?) What this means has a range of practical implications (and the two helpful ministry reflections at the end begin scratching the surface there).
This newest volume in Zondervan’s Counterpints series offers four different views, and it ends with two ministry reflections. The way books in the Counterpoints series works is that there are a range of views. Each author presents their view within 20 pages, the other authors give a short 5-or-so page response, and the original presenter offers a final response.
All worship the same God: Religious Pluralist View (Wm. Andrew Schwartz & John Cobb, Jr.)
- This one was the hardest for me to get through. I fundamentally disagreed with most of what these two authors said. They write, “If there was only one God, then, for Christians, Muslims, and Jews to worship some God is to worship the same God… Put another way, how could they be worshiping different Gods if there are no other Gods to worship?” (35).
- The authors make a distinction between a supreme personal being (that is, God) and the source of all being (that is, Being Itself). The authors aren’t very specific here, so I hope I present their argument accurately, but it seems like they argue that Muslims worship Allah, Jews and Christians worship the God of Abraham, but there is a “greater being” behind the God of the Bible/Allah of the Qur’an whom people worship and which connects these three religious groups together all together.
- It would be like saying Group A worships Bob, Group B worships Fred, Group C worships Ted, but actually, everyone is really worshiping John who stands behind them all and is the “real being.” The authors also present an “all paths lead to God” view (“many paths, one mountain”), as well as a “many paths, many mountains” view which includes some thoughts from Process Theology.
- It’s interesting that these two authors were included as, in terms of theology, it is an option. However, it’s a poor option and not at all related to what the Bible teaches. Eventually I just stopped reading their responses to the other presenters because what they said was so absurd and out of line with biblical teaching.
All worship the same God: Referring to the Same God View (Francis Beckwith)
- Beckwith begins with two illustrations: Superman and Philosophy.
- Superman: Lois Lane is dating Superman, and Lana Lang is dating Clark Kent. They perceive them differently, yet they are the same person. The same thing goes for Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
- Philosophy: A Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian walk into a university. They each read arguments from great thinkers in the other religions and each end up converting to the others religion. After talking with their professor, they come to see that there are things they can all agree on about the God they worship: he is “the absolute, uncaused, perfect, rational, unchanging, self-subsistent, eternal creator and sustainer of all that which receives its being from another” (70).
- Heresies: Arius believed Jesus was a created being. Athanasius argued Jesus was the eternal uncreated Son of God. Both referred to the same God in their arguments, just as Avicenna (a Muslim) and Maimonides (a Jew) refer to their own Gods. We can say that we are all thinking of the same one God, and so we all worship him, though we have different conceptions of who he is.
- Objections: McDermott points out that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) and that “Muslim scholars think the concept of God’s love is incompatible with his transcendence” (94). Muslims and Christians would also disagree on their own God’s “rationality” and what it means to be “unchanging.” Walls adds that the Trinity is essential to the Christian conception of God, something to which Jews and Muslims object.
- Beckwith begins with two illustrations: Superman and Philosophy.
Jews and Christians worship the same God: Shared Revelation View (Gerald McDermott)
- I agreed more with McDermott than the previous presenters (and he was the closest so far to my own view), but I disagreed with many things he said about how Jesus viewed the OT. He doesn’t think Jesus came to end the Judaism of his day. Jesus did teach the Torah and treat the temple with reverence, but he sharpened the law and he also said that he himself was the temple (Jn 2:19-22).
- McDermott’s view of Paul seems very much influenced by the New Perspective. There are aspects of this that are good and helpful, but I don’t agree with all of it. Paul was a Jew and he did keep the law. He circumcised Timothy and kept a Nazarite vow (Acts 16:1-3; 18:18; 21:21-24). However, I can’t agree with his statement that Jesus and Paul didn’t come to start a new religion (125). In one way, yes, Jesus came to show that all of the OT pointed to him. However, those who followed him were called Christians (“followers of the way,” first). Those who didn’t remained in their Judaistic practices, offering sacrifices that did nothing, while rejecting the resurrected Messiah.
None worship the same God: Different Conceptions View (Jerry Walls)
- Walls begins with an example comparing Saint Nicholas with Santa Claus. Are they the same person? Santa Claus is based off of Saint Nicholas, but they are not the same. Quoting two other authors, Santa Claus is a “jolly Nordic elf who delivers presents globally on Christmas.” Saint Nicholas, on the other hand, was a human, and he’s dead.
- When a child is told the truth about Santa Claus, he does not say, “Well, Santa is still real but is quite different than I thought. He is actually a dead saint rather than a jolly elf with magical powers for delivering presents to good little boys and girls all over the world.” Instead, he says, “There is no Santa, and all those presents we thought were from him were actually from Mommy and Daddy” (167).
- The same goes for when a Muslim converts to Christianity (or vice versa). “Whatever it was he previously worshiped does not in fact exist, [it is] not merely that God is different in important ways than he previously thought” (167).
- After God rescued Israel out of Egypt, he told them that they were not to worship or make other gods (Exod 20:2-6). He alone was to be worshiped. Yet Aaron had the bright idea of making a golden calf and declaring that it was the god who had brought Israel out of Egypt (32:8). “God was so angry that he threatened to consume the Israelites and start over with Moses” (170).
- NT revelation tells us that God is a Trinity, and his divine and eternal Son died on a cross for our salvation and was resurrected from the dead for our justification (Rom 4:25; cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5). Walls agrees with what Jesus says in John 8, “Before Abraham, Jesus was, and Abraham rejoiced to see his day” (177). To evade the claims of Christ and disrregard knowledge of the Son is to disregard knowledge of the Father. It is to worship something else other than God.
Each chapter was more and more compelling. I agreed with almost nothing of the first position, a little more of the second position, a good bit more of the third position, and with most of the fourth position. Yet even still, due to the final two ministry reflections, I could see how one could argue that these three groups worship the same God. We are thinking of the same being. However, while we pray to and sing praises to God, whose worship does he actually receive? I have to say that, according to the bible, God accepts the worship only of those who honor him by putting their faith and trust in his Son, Jesus Christ.
The final two ministry reflections look at focusing on (1) the common ground (Joseph Cumming) and (2) the respectfully held differences (David Shenk) in Christian-Muslim relationships. I won’t rehearse these chapters, but both were very helpful, though I agree more with Shenk’s views.
I began reading this book thinking that the idea that christian, Muslims, and Jews worship different gods wasn’t too difficult to argue for. I was actually surprised at the arguments throughout the book. They helped push me to think more deeply about the issue and to really question what I believed. In the end, I still believe the same think, but I have a better understanding for the other side of the argument. This is a good book for apologists, pastors, teachers, and for anyone working among Jews and Muslims (and Christians as well, it’s a good point of reference). However, this isn’t easy reading and has a fair bit of philosophy in it. But if you can get through it, you’ll come out with a healthier understanding on this subject.
- Series: Counterpoints: Bible and Theology
- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Zondervan Academic (October 22, 2019)
- Read a Sample
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