I have seen a number of articles floating around lately which seek to tackle the above question in some form or another.
Most of those articles, as you might suspect, are being written by Evangelicals doing their part to "guard the flock" from the perceived dangers of a more inclusive understanding of Jesus. Most are written to "protect Christians" from a broader view of the gospel of the Kingdom... And I get that. I do understand the mindset which brings such concerns about... I just don't think it's as simple as many are making it out to be. I actually see something quite different (and much more beautiful and revolutionary) in Jesus, and in the pages of scripture. At the very least, I think many of us have a lot to gain from a little dose of humility. The question above is yet one more way we seek to determine who's "in" and who's "out."
You'll notice that most all of these articles take on a lengthy format in order to tactfully reach a conclusion you know is coming. "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? ...No, absolutely not." I say "tactfully" because that's a pretty big question to be answering in such a definitive manner. This is the sort of answer that will surround itself with density in order to appear more nuanced. But the answer itself is fairly simple. "No. Judgment made. Case closed. Billions dismissed from the presence of God by affiliation... So let's show 'love' by laying out all of those terrible things as tactfully as possible." It's the sort of viewpoint which often goes accompanied by a disclaimer like this: "It's not me. I'm just telling you what the Bible says." ...But really, are you? Or are you just telling me what Christian culture has told you - repeating the same oversimplifications you've heard more times than you can count? (I've been there.)
I would argue that the ethic of the New Testament is not what has been suggested by the answers we've been seeing to this question. Even well-known, trusted voices are failing us in their zeal to craft a case for simple exclusivity. They typically rely on the isolated use of scriptures freed from their contextual and overarching narrative. Effectively, they wield biblical text much like the Pharisees did - weaving it into the wrong kind of controversy, and playing into the hand of the very systems which ensnare us rather than freeing us of their entanglement and abuse.
The ethic of the New Testament, in fact of the gospel itself, is not the blanket exclusion or dismissal of any religion, nation, tribe or tongue.
If you suggest that it is, I would argue that you are getting it backwards. And I would point out that your revelation of Jesus is producing in you the opposite of what Paul's revelation of Jesus produced in him.
I've been there, too, and I Iove many people who are still there. But when this sort of backwards, simplistic and rigidly exclusionary thinking persists, it comes to define the way we approach everything else. It marks how intimately we will know and be known by others - keeping us on the defensive as we are ever-categorizing "us" and "them" in going about our lives. It marks our interactions and conversations. It marks our church services and the spirit in which we gather as a people... And, of course, it marks the culture of Christianity in media and in print in general. When we pose the question of whether or not Group A "worships the same God" as Group B, and come to an easy and absolute answer of "No," we ultimately stifle in ourselves the most radical thing the world has ever known: love.
We replace dynamic, fascinatingly dense human beings with cold and lifeless categories to maintain our in-grouping and out-grouping.
Perhaps you have noticed that the sort of articles you find passed along on Facebook like to contrast "proofs" regarding the "character" of Allah compared to the "character" of Yahweh, and to posture them as definitive reasoning. This is nothing new. For many years, the standard approach by Christian apologists - many of whom I used to read with great passion - has been to list attributes of whichever deity they perceive as a result of whichever scriptures (whether from the Bible or the Quran) they've selectively taken into account. In other words, all the nice, cuddly stuff about Yahweh... and all the ruthless, scary stuff about Allah.
But I have no interest in hashing all of that out in this article.
And that may disappoint you if that's the sort of thing you were looking for. But I will say this much before moving on to my own point: That approach is too convenient. It cannot provide a truly satisfying answer - it misses the forest for the trees. We need a bigger and more holistic approach. We're bogging ourselves down in having the wrong discussion.
We should be humble and careful when it comes to painting a portrait of someone else's concept of "God" using whichever scriptures of theirs jump out at us, or best suit our biases. See, we could easily paint the same sort of god we are trying to distance ourselves from by using portions of the Old Testament. We could say these passages are fully indicative of Yahweh in the same way that we might choose to see portions of the Quran as fully indicative of what all Muslims believe about Allah. And to some readers, when it comes to things like violence and genocide, Yahweh might even fare worse by strict comparison... In fact, many who reject what they understand to be the Judeo-Christian God to this day do so based on that very measure. And when I hear a lot of atheists talking about why they don't believe in God, I often can't help but agree with them... because I don't believe in the kind of God they're describing either.
For me, personally... If it wasn't for Jesus, and God revealed in Jesus, I honestly would have nothing. I probably would have given up on this whole God thing long ago. I can see God before Jesus, but it's Jesus who ultimately informs WHAT MY EYES ARE LOOKING FOR.
And I think the first step into the bigger, better, more real, and more holistic approach I referred to... is to recognize something: For Christians, dealing honestly with our own concepts of God which contradict Jesus is essential when it comes to approaching this discussion of Yahweh and Allah. And why?
Because a person who follows Jesus is one who is convinced that God is LIKE Jesus.
As of now, we may not see as many Christians as we'd like to see who allow Jesus to define God beyond their preconceptions, but the number is growing. And what happens when people start taking Jesus seriously in regards to what God is like? One of the things that changes is that we approach questions like the one in this article from a bigger perspective, resting in a bigger God.
So back to that question. The question itself is problematic, because it incorrectly frames the discussion from the onset. It does this by seeking an answer while ignoring something huge:
The question distorts what "worship" is.
Because, when it comes to "worshiping God," the central issue is not which box you checked on some multiple choice test. The central issue is the deepest heart posture at the core of a human being.
There is an object of worship, sure, but the act of worship is not understood in how I view what you believe about God. It's beyond a checklist of doctrines and dogmas. Beyond words and formulas... It's the core reality of you. And that's something I cannot see.
As human beings made in the image of God, none of us is free from misconceptions about God... we all have them... and yet each of us remains close to something more essential. "Worship" (which, in biblical Greek, is the word is proskuneo, literally "a kiss towards") doesn't occur because of the perfection in our ability to assent to concepts about God anyway. Worship occurs because we've embraced something beyond our ability to define. It's much bigger than whatever we've heard or been subjected to, or whether our experience has been beautiful or ugly... or else God is very small. And very unjust and partial. And very petty.
The primary variable in worship is not what I perceive to be the differences between two prospective Divine beings. The primary issue... is me. How am I responding to the Spirit who is always and everywhere in the universe? How is the core of me basking in the Divine light? And how is my deepest heart posture relishing in the Image of God which rests within and upon me? These are things God knows.
So with this question, we're distracting ourselves in being solely concerned with whether two notions of "God" are exactly the same as we perceive them. In reality, worship is not found in those external and impersonal things so much as it is in how any given person responds to what he or she is experiencing of God. It's like we're trying to have a textbook argument which removes the responsibility from our own shoulders. We're asking, "Who has the right answer on the test?" instead of looking for illumination and transformation in human beings.
You might notice, this is the opposite of what Jesus did.
We recently celebrated Christmas. Every year, I am enthralled by the scandal of the Incarnation. How - even before the new covenant is spoken or established - the birth of Jesus brings with it announcement and celebration which goes out to literally no one within the Jewish religious order. Where my Hebrew VIPs at? Where are the priests and levites? Where are the scribes and rabbis? Nowhere. Even in his birth, and in the lack of room for him at the inn, Jesus is forced to the margins (likely a cave outside the city). And in making God known, the margins is where Jesus stays.
The cool thing about the margins is that there is room for everyone.
...They do not belong to the "important people" trying to avoid them. And yet they are precisely where Jesus begins to paint his Kingdom.
Here's a good question to ask: Why is the Incarnation not entrusted to one religion despite Jesus being the place where the Hebrew story reaches its climax? ...Doesn't that ever make some of us wonder what God is doing? If Jesus can be legitimately celebrated by disenfranchised shepherds who were considered "unclean" by Jewish Law, and thus not fit for temple worship... And if Jesus can be gifted and blessed by the Magi (who were most likely Zoroastrian astrologer-alchemists, which sounds pretty awesome) in recognition of his role as prophet, priest and king... Why should we feel sketchy if we conclude that God has made a habit of being perceived and known deeply, even by people outside of the religious trappings we're familiar with?
The writer of Hebrews ultimately tells us that the priesthood of Jesus is not according to Aaron's order (which is that of Judaism), but Melchizedek's. This is (ironically) a very Jewish way of telling us that, in revealing God, Jesus has aligned himself with everyone - through general revelation rather than a single religious perspective or tribe.
Jesus is not some insecure religionist looking for his little corner in the world of religiosity.
Jesus is big. It's okay to embrace that. It's what makes Jesus so awesome. Actually, it seems to me that recognizing this conclusion would save us from a lot of uglier conclusions elsewhere. That's why I am writing this response to articles I've seen floating around, and to the dialog which is going on "out there" on this subject, even though I have no desire to end in a place of easy certainty the way I've been seeing. What I desire is to reorient the discussion and to remind us where we're coming from with God already. I want to remind us because the question seems to have forgotten. The question has forgotten Jesus. The question has returned us to a more vague "God" we might have assumed before Jesus ever entered into the equation.
It's the kind of question that assumes so much even in the asking. But when we are faithful to deconstruct our own false foundations, we find there is room to reconstruct.
SO, WITH ALL THAT SAID... NOW, LET'S ACTUALLY TACKLE THE QUESTION.
"Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?"
Personally, I think it's a delicate issue to qualify - and for a number of reasons. But through them all, we are reminded that the sort of simplistic "team God" mentality of affiliation did not serve the Jewish authorities well... and it is not serving Christian voices well either. Today, for Evangelicals especially, it can prove a hard perspective to break free from. But it's worth it.
So, without further adieu...
Here are FIVE REASONS WHY THERE IS NO EASY ANSWER to the question.
1) Strictly speaking, not all Christians worship the same God to begin with.
I know a lot of Christians who would say "Jesus is God," and yet spend their lives forcing Jesus into the mold for "God" they already had - rather than allowing Jesus to be their primary light and lens for the Divine. As I mentioned earlier: The thing which drives followers of Jesus is not merely the idea that Jesus is like God, but the more revolutionary idea that God is like Jesus. Jesus has revealed God in a way no one before him had ever before seen or experienced. But this makes a large portion of Christians uncomfortable... And it could be pointed out that not all Christians have the same God in mind when they worship as a result. Some American Christians, in particular, have concocted a God who is merely a glorified version of themselves. For them, "God" is a capitalist and a Republican and prefers America to other countries. For them, "God" isn't even big enough to transcend their nationalism or politics. There are multiple major sects within Christianity, and thousands of denominations, and many of these would argue that they are the only Christians who truly worship the true God.
2) Jesus recognizes people who do not know God despite being inside his own religion.
Being Jewish was never a definitive indicator of anything for Jesus. There are a lot of places where Jesus takes the religious Jews to task despite their affiliation or ascent to Yahweh. He even tells some that they never knew the father, and are of their father the devil... So it would seem that even before Christianity, Jesus showed that not all Jews worshiped the same God. Even devout ones who knew Hebrew scripture by heart, believed all the bullet points, and "worshiped" in the Temple as prescribed. It's their hearts he was most interested in - beyond anything else they might claim. Jesus even speaks of a time when people who specifically claim to have served him and done great works "in his name" are told that he never knew them. Their works had been for themselves.
3) Jesus recognizes people who do know God who are outside of his own tribe and religion.
In the gospels, you will find Jesus frustrating the religious Jews by celebrating the faith of Samaritans, Gentiles and Roman centurions, etc... People who lived in reflection of his light before even claiming which God they worshiped or realigning themselves with the Hebrew name "Yahweh." In Matthew 25, Jesus says that some people will have worshiped him without even knowing it. He says the way worship is being measured is in how they took care of the least. He sees their hearts. Jesus has no reservations when it comes to recognizing true worship in people despite their lack of Jewishness (or Christian-ness).
4) What do you know, Paul agrees with Jesus...
In Acts 17, we find Paul walking into Athens and telling a bunch of Greek philosophers that they have already been worshiping the same God he was about to proclaim to them. I have an extensive examination of that very passage (and how crucial it is to seeing how Paul introduced Jesus and the gospel to these big gentile cities) HERE. Are we to believe that it's okay for Paul to proclaim to gentile pagans that they have legitimately worshiped God, and yet not okay for us to proclaim that some Muslims might have done the same today?
5) Hey, look! So does John...
The apostle John, exiled on Patmos, delivers his vision of the Revelation of Jesus. In it, he relays an "innumerable multitude" before the throne of God. And this innumerable multitude is comprised of people representing every nation, tribe and tongue. In the first century, there actually was no word for "religion" in the sense we use it today, but John's words are precisely how someone would communicate that every conceivable kind of people you can imagine are present in his vision, worshiping God. For that ultimate snapshot of his revelation of Jesus to be true (as Christians -including Evangelicals- believe), John's innumerable multitude of every nation, tribe and tongue cannot exclude Muslims in any blanket form or fashion.
Do you see what I'm driving at here? While a number of articles and respected voices have made their answer to the question "absolutely not," the real answer is not "absolutely" anything.
It is for these reasons and others that when I hear Christians rail about the differences between "Allah" (which is just Arabic for "God" and not a first name anyway) and "Yahweh," I have to wonder: When did this become the kind of question you can answer with two columns of verses chosen from different books? And when did it stop being the kind of question that can only be answered in the deepest recesses of a human heart?
There's a lot more to all of this - there always is - but in the interest of not being too lengthy, let's try to answer the question again, and let's answer it as simply as is possible: "Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?" Well, guess what:
It depends on the Muslim. And it depends on the Christian.
That's the actual precedent set by the New Testament. And even though anything resembling a potential "yes" answer to the question is a terrifying prospect for a lot of Christians, that does not mean these same folks get to own the New Testament. It doesn't mean they're wielding it properly, or teaching what it teaches. And it doesn't mean they can recast its ethic of inclusion in a way they're more comfortable with and have that be the end of it.
It may not be the most popular way to approach such an issue when it comes to running a large Christian institution - a church, or a website or publication, etc... and particularly so in a time of nationalist hysteria, where the socio-political upheavals of the day determine our theological appetites, and where God is being conflated with the kingdoms and empires of this world (so long as they are ours)... but it is what it is. The scripture simply refuses to draw the kind of line in the sand Evangelicals want to believe they are merely maintaining. There is no such thing as "All Christians believe the same stuff about God, and thus worship in spirit and in truth." So it should stand to reason that the opposite statement would be equally untrue in regards to anyone else.
So what are we asking, really? I mean really. When we ask if Christians and Muslims worship the same God, what are even asking?
- Are we asking if Muslims believe all the exact same things about God? (Even though no one does, including us?)
- Are we asking if Muslims gather in large megachurches to sing popular radio music to God? (Even though this dominant understanding and usage of "worship" we have is not how Jesus describes it - which, oddly, never seems to bother us at all?)
- Are we asking if Muslims checked the right box on that multiple choice test? (Even though to reduce our own faith to that same level would -rightly- feel ugly and cheapening?)
None of these things we might be asking or implying were ever how Jesus defined "worship" or service to God anyway.
The real thing to realize here is that making Jesus exclusive in the way a lot of us do does not make him greater. It makes him smaller. It reduces him to the tribalistic level - a god who is only big enough to know those lucky enough to be born in specific places and times. A god of the privileged few rather than the purposed many. A tiny god - who cannot be perceived or known beyond one special book (hopefully you know how to read!) which was not widely available until the last couple centuries of human history. A god who is far too limited to be the kind of God "in whom all things hold together."
Essentially, if you ignore the inclusiveness Jesus models - beyond any religious or non-religious affiliation - how can you be honoring him? Don't you see that you are "holding the line" in a battle you were never asked to wage? That you are fighting over national borders while claiming to serve the King of the whole world? ...Don't you see why that is absurd?
And when people trumpet John 14:6 to say "no one comes to the Father except through the Son," they are missing a crucial detail... It's Jesus' call. Which means...
Jesus is the Way.
He is not in the way.
See, you can believe, as Paul said, "to live is Christ" without pitting Jesus against people who are legitimately groping or grasping after the Divine. Those of us who know Jesus owe a lot of what we know to our geography. But one of the beautiful truths that should lead us to is that there is no partiality or favoritism with God. And God is not far from any of us.
The ethic of the New Testament is one of inclusion. Inclusion beyond all boundaries. Inclusion beyond all backgrounds, creeds, or cultures. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek. Neither slave nor free. Neither male nor female. All are One. Whatever it might be that separates us is something God can see beyond, because God sees to our very core.
In Christ, a Samaritan "heretic" taking care of a man beaten and left for dead becomes the answer to what "eternal life" looks like. An act of service to a brother in need exemplifies the kind of worship Jesus recognizes within. In Christ, the veil of the temple is torn. The confinement of four walls has ended. Humanity is declared the temple of God. In Christ, worship does not occur in temples (or megachurches) by virtue of their being built. Those structures are not the house of God... because you are. Worship occurs, not on this or that mountain associated with this or that religion, but in the integrity of a person's soul. In spirit, and in truth.
Destructive and tribalistic religion has ceased; it's over in Jesus.
And Jesus does not enter existence in order to promise the lone religious structure of Christendom. Jesus promises a Church. This organism is his own body, manifesting the Christlight of logos in the universe. This assembly of called-out ones contains people of every nation, tribe and tongue. All are represented, because Christ is all and in all.