This question has come to the fore in recent days. This past week, Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor of political science at Wheaton College, was placed on administrative leave for a post she made on her Facebook account. Despite many news outlets reporting that the suspension was a result of her donning the hijab during Advent in solidarity with Muslims , the reason she was suspended was because of her statement about Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God:
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” ~Larycia Hawkins’ Facebook post, Dec 10, 2015.
This generated much discussion and has been a story in such places as the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times. Even Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale University, opined today in the Washington Post. Volf has been an advocate in recent years of the stance reflected in Hawkins’ statement from the Pope, having been one of the drafters and original signatories of “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word between Us and You”.
Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?
In answering that question, let’s expand it to include all of the so-called “Abrahamic Faiths”: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The argument is given that because they all claim monotheism, and a similar cast of characters (in particular, Abraham), then they basically are worshipping the same God. But is this true? Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God?
The answer for Christians must be, No.
There are many places from scripture where this point could be made. The following will look at only one. In John 8, Jesus finds himself in a debate with Jewish leaders after claiming he is “the light of the world,” and continues with: “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Jesus goes on to make some pretty exclusive statements about himself to these religious Jews. The religious Jews answered Jesus’ exclusive statements by claiming their heritage to Abraham. They said, “We are offspring of Abraham” (John 8:33), and “Abraham is our father” (John 8:39). These religious leaders were claiming their descendancy to Abraham and thus also the God of Abraham.
Note, however, what Jesus is arguing in this chapter:
• Jesus claims that these pious Jews did not know God because they do not understand who he is —
“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19).
• Jesus makes clear that unless they (and everyone) believes in him they would not be saved —
“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
• They claim to know God because they are descendants of Abraham. Yet, Jesus claims that his Father and their “father” is not the same —
“I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father” (John 8:37–38).
• Jesus says that religious piety in an “Abrahamic faith” without an acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of Man of Daniel 7 was not sufficient to knowing God the Father —
‘They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did” (John 8:39–41).
• They claim that they know the only God: “The only Father we have is God himself” (John 8:41 NIV). But Jesus refutes this because they do not love him and reject his words —
“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me” (John 8:42).
• Jesus then says these truly shocking words to the most pious religious Jews in Jerusalem —
“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Unless you know Jesus as God then the Devil, not God the Father, is your father.
• Jesus flatly says to very religious Jews that they do not know God —
“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47).
If Jesus says the most pious of Jews did not even know God then how can we say that they worship him?
• The Jewish religious leaders condescendingly ask Jesus, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” (John 8:53). Jesus’ reply reaffirms that, despite their claim they know God, they do not know God —
“If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. (John 8:54–55).
• Jesus concludes this debate by making a provocative statement of his deity: Jesus said —
“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am”’ (John 8:56–58).
With that last sentence Jesus is applying the name of the LORD in the OT to himself, “I AM.” This is a claim to being God, the proof of which is evidenced in the fact that the religious leaders seek the death penalty against him for blasphemy in the next verse: “So they picked up stones to throw at him” (John 8:59; cf. John 10:31).
Sharing a basic monotheism is not enough to be equated with worshipping the same God. Jesus leaves no room for such an idea. Neither is having a similar command to “love God and love neighbor” or acknowledging God as Creator enough to claim common ground for worshipping the same God. Anyone, including those of “Abrahamic faiths”, who does not acknowledge Jesus as the Son of Man and the Son of God neither knows God nor worships God. Jesus makes clear that unless you know him as God who has come in the flesh you neither know God nor worship the one true God.
Can a Christian and a Muslim (or Jew for that matter) worship the same God? Only if that Muslim (or Jew) acknowledges that Jesus is the eternal Son of God made flesh, sent by God the Father as Savior and Redeemer.