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Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? Part 1

By Rev. Aaron Messner - Window on the World - February 7, 2016

Tonight we are introducing a new occasional item to our evening service that I am referring to as Window on the World. The purpose of this window is to briefly consider an event or issue that is occupying a prominent place in our culture. The matter may be political, theological, or social in nature, but in any case the goal is to provide some reflection on a contemporary issue in a way that will strengthen and aid our ability to think about our world from a Biblical perspective, and to stimulate helpful and edifying conversation and reflection throughout our church body.

Tonight, for our first Window on the World, I would like to take up the matter of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. As some of you may know, this question has been in the limelight over the past couple of months as a result of a controversy that centers on former Wheaton College Professor, Larycia Hawkins. Hawkins was a political science professor at Wheaton up until the announcement of their mutual parting this weekend. She set off a firestorm of controversy when she posted on her Facebook page that, in solidarity with Muslim women, she would be wearing the hijab over the course of Advent. It was a shocking move to some, but the real controversy was stirred up because she supported and defended this move with the claim that Christians and Muslims are both “people of the book,” and, with the claim, quoting the Pope, that “we both worship the same God.”

Now this controversy has had multiple layers and angles. Charges have been leveled of theological heresy, racial and gender discrimination (Dr. Hawkins was the school’s only tenured, African-American, female professor), administrative overreach, and insubordination. My desire here is not to actually consider the goings on at Wheaton and the laborious process they have gone through, but rather to simply consider the question that Dr. Hawkins has forced to the forefront of evangelical discussion. Can it be said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

This controversy has produced a lot of activity in the blogosphere, in newspaper and magazine editorials, as well as more formal academic articles which have been published in various scholarly outlets. To summarize: some say yes, some say no. Some say they offer a complicated yes, others a complicated no. I cannot begin to capture all the various perspectives and ideas on this subject in a couple of brief reflections, but over the next couple of weeks I would like to try and consider three aspects of this question: I would like to consider the matter linguistically (words we use to speak of God), theologically (what does the Bible say about this question proper), as well as missiologically (in the strategies we use to reach Muslims).

Tonight I want to say a brief word about a linguistic dimension of the discussion: that has to do with the use of word “Allah.” On the global scene it is probably fair to say that most people associate the word Allah with Islam. However, it is important to realize that the Arabic language existed long before the rise of Islam and there were Arabic speaking Christians well before the rise of Islam. And Arabic speaking Christians throughout the centuries have referred to God, the God of the Bible as Allah, for that is the Arabic word for God. When Muhammad later came on the scene, and he presented the content of what he claimed were prophetic revelations, he also used the word Allah, utilizing a word and a concept that was already in use and already well known throughout the Arabic speaking world.

So on a very basic level, it should be recognized that Arabic speaking Christians and Muslims both refer to God as Allah. The question is, does the fact that they are using the same word to describe God mean that they are describing and worshipping the same God? Some would suggest that if they both use the same word, then the matter is clear: it must be that they are referring to the same God- at least in some sense. Others (both Christians and Muslims) would say that since Muslims and Christian do not worship the same God; it is unacceptable for them to use the same word/term for God; someone has to relinquish their use of the word. I heard speeches on the floor of PCA general assembly where brothers took offense at the fact that any Christian would refer to God as Allah.

I will say now, and then unpack this more in coming weeks, that I do not believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God. However, I think it is appropriate for Arabic speaking Christians to refer to God as Allah.

Christianity from the beginning, has rejected the notion that it can or should be contained in a single cultural and linguistic form. One of things the early church struggled with was whether a Gentile convert to Christ had to actually become a Jew in order to follow Jesus. The book of Acts makes it very clear that this is not necessary.

Christianity has gone forth in missionary zeal and there has been a great and glorious emphasis to translate the Scriptures into the native language of peoples so that they could have the very Word of God in their own language. As Christianity has done this, rather than force people to use a foreign linguistic term for God, Christianity has translated the name of God into the available linguistic options in the culture. In fact, this even took place with the Greek language itself. So that the God of the Bible is rightly known as Yaweh, Theos, God, Lord, Dios, Bog, Gud, Mungu and even Allah. This certainly leaves the Christian translator, missionary, and Bible expositor with the great task of distinguishing the God of the Bible, from any other deity that the name might evoke. But it does not mean that such names should not be used, or that the use of the name implies adherence with any and all other uses of the name.

Pray for Christian Bible translators, pastors, preachers and theologians who have the daunting task of presenting and expounding the words of life, that people may come to know the only true God, the Triune God of the Bible, Father Son and Holy Spirit, One God forever blessed. Amen

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