Do Christians and Muslims (and Jews) Worship the Same God?

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? This question has become urgent amongst internet Christians. Ten days ago Dr Larycia Hawkins, a professor of political science at Wheaton College, announced her religious solidarity with Muslims. “They, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she states. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” Wheaton College subsequently put her on administrative leave “in order to give more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements concerning Christianity and Islam.” Twitter exploded.

I find the controversy perplexing. As a justification for her decision to wear the hijab, Hawkins’s Facebook statement is vulnerable to criticism. Her opening statement is just fine: “I don’t love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American. I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity.” Putting aside the unpronounceable “s/he” (which drives me up the wall), this is a perfectly fine humanitarian statement, fully compatible with the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” I presume that Hawkins would also express her solidarity with all persecuted and oppressed human beings around the globe, regardless of their religious affiliation. But then she goes on to add two specifically theological reasons for her position: (1) Christians and Muslims are people of the book and (2) Christians and Muslims worship the same God. The first reason is misleading (which book? what kind of authority?) and the second predictably contentious. I would have expected Hawkins to have given her statement a bit more thought before going to print.

I also find Wheaton College’s lightning response premature and unconvincing. Why not give Hawkins an opportunity to clarify her remarks before making her a cause célèbre? Wheaton’s explanation rings hollow. Money is talking.

The respected theologian Miroslav Volf, who has written a book on Islam (Allah: A Christian Response), quickly accused Wheaton College of bigotry. “[Hawkins’s] suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy,” he declared in a column in the Washington Post. “It is about enmity toward Muslims.” Perhaps. Perhaps not. In any case, it’s hard to see how this accusation adds to the public debate. Yes, Americans (Christian and non-Christian alike) are now uneasy about Islam as a religion—and for understandable reasons. Donald Trump’s demagogic rhetoric  discloses a fear that lies deep in the American psyche. 9/11 changed us. If Volf wishes to help Americans deal with Islam and terrorism, then he needs to constructively address these fears. He is of course quite right that the effective waging of war requires, often unjustly, the drawing of “sharp and hard boundaries”; but knowing that hardly assuages my anxiety, and it certainly does not encourage me to relax those boundaries.

Volf is more helpful on the question of God as the object of corporate adoration and service. I have not yet read his book Allah, but fortunately Volf enjoys virtual omnipresence on the web. In a 2011 interview, he shifts our attention to Judaism and restates the question: “Do Christians and Jews worship different gods?” “No,” he answers. “Jews and Christians worship the same God. They just understand God in a different way—Christians in a Trinitarian way, and Jews not.”

I agree. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Our Father who art in heaven,” he was not teaching them to pray to a different God than the God of Israel. He was revealing to them something new and fresh about that God. When after Pentecost the disciples of Jesus began to proclaim the gospel, they did not invite their Jewish hearers to convert to a different religion. They invited them, rather, to believe that in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit, YHWH had fulfilled, and was fulfilling, his covenantal promises.

The evangelistic mission of the Church is premised on the identity of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Father of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul confesses, in clear allusion to the Shema: “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6). Western Christians sometimes get uneasy with the identification of the One God with God the Father; but this unease only betrays their relative ignorance of Eastern formulations of the Holy Trinity. This early patristic understanding of the Trinity has been well stated by Fr John Behr:

The Father alone is the one true God. This keeps to the structure of the New Testament language about God, where with only a few exceptions, the word “God” (theos) with an article (and so being used, in Greek, as a proper noun) is only applied to the one whom Jesus calls Father, the God spoken of in the scriptures. This same fact is preserved in all ancient creeds, which begin: “I believe in one God, the Father …”

“For us there is one God, the Father… and one Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 8:6). The proclamation of the divinity of Jesus Christ is made not so much by describing Him as “God” (theos used, in Greek, without an article is as a predicate, and so can be used of creatures; cf. John 10:34-35), but by recognizing Him as “Lord” (Kyrios). Beside being a common title (“sir”), this word had come to be used, in speech, for the unpronounceable, divine, name of God Himself, YHWH. When Paul states that God bestowed upon the crucified and risen Christ the “name above every name” (Phil 2:9), this is an affirmation that this one is all that YHWH Himself is, without being YHWH. This is again affirmed in the creeds. “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God … true God of true God.”

Sadly, even a fine evangelical biblical scholar like Scot McKnight has been led to claim that Jews and Muslims worship a different Deity than the One worshipped by Christians. Both religions, after all, reject the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. He also cites long-standing Jewish belief to support his contention: “I have had a number of Jewish scholars tell me ‘we don’t worship the same God.'”

I do not see why Jewish conviction should count in this intra-Christian debate; but it is interesting nonetheless. The great Jewish rabbi and philosopher, Moses Maimonides, regarded Christianity as simply another form of paganism: “Therefore one must know that in every one of the Christian nation’s cities which has an altar, meaning their house of worship, it is a pagan house of idolatry without any doubt.” On the other hand, he defended Islam against the charge of idolatry: “These Ishmaelites are not idol worshippers in the least, and [paganism] has been long since cut off from their mouths and their hearts, and they worship the singular God properly and without any blemish.” For this reason Jews are traditionally permitted to enter mosques and to even pray within them, but are forbidden to enter Christian churches. Yet the Rambam also permits Jews to discuss the commandments of God with Christians but not with Muslims, because, as Rabbi David Novak explains, “Christians believe Hebrew Scripture in toto to be the revealed word of God, whereas Muslims believe that primary text to be the Quran; for them, Hebrew Scripture is a flawed revelation.”

Decisive for McKnight are the dissimilarities in belief between the monotheistic religions (also see Albert Mohler’s blog for a similar judgment). Christians believe that God has become incarnate in Jesus Christ—Jews and Muslims do not. Christians believe that God has fully revealed himself in Jesus Christ—Jews and Muslims do not. Christians believe that God has revealed himself in “Three Persons, Father, Son and Spirit”—Jews and Muslims do not. Clearly these are important differences, yet does it logically follow that Jews and Muslims worship and serve a different God than do Christians? I think not. Volf identifies the critical point:

If somebody postulates the existence of more than one god, I would have to say we don’t worship the same god. If somebody says that God is basically one with the world, I would also have to say we don’t worship the same god. What binds Muslims and Christians, and what is central to my argument, is that God is one, that God is distinct from the world, and that the one God has created everything that is not God. There is a radical divide between creature and creator. This is a fundamental monotheistic belief. Muslims, Christians, and Jews share that belief. Therefore, they believe in the same God. Polytheists and idolaters do not share that belief.

Volf is exactly right. To speak of the transcendent Creator is not to speak of one of the gods; it is not to speak of a being at all. When we invoke the divine oneness, we are not numbering divinity, as if we might possibly count two, three, or more Gods.  As Denys Turner astutely observes: “God’s oneness is not the oneness of mathematics, as it would be were I to say of any creaturely oneness: ‘I’ll have one pie for lunch, not two’” (Thomas Aquinas, p. 120). Christians, Jews, and Muslims together intend the infinite divinity in their doxological, confessional, and theological language (cf. Francis Beckwith’s blog article). They may vigorously disagree about Jesus Christ and the divine attributes, but their disagreements presuppose the one God, maker of heaven and earth. How could it be otherwise?

As a Christian I believe that on key points Islam tragically, even blasphemously, misrepresents the character and nature of the holy Transcendence. I see no reason to contest St John Damascene’s judgment that Muhammad was a false prophet. I deplore Islamic persecution of Christians around the world.  I continue to worry whether Islam can constructively accommodate modernity and affirm genuine respect for the dignity, freedom, and rights of the individual. And I fervently believe that Muslims desperately need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet I do not deny that in its prayer and theological reflection Islam intends the same God whom Christians know and confess as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

(Go to “‘Allah’ or ‘God'”)

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103 Responses to Do Christians and Muslims (and Jews) Worship the Same God?

  1. Yeah, I think in terms of reflecting on the God of Israel, Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God but this does not negate the theological dissimilarities between the three groups. CCC reads,

    “The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, “the first to hear the Word of God.” The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
    And when one considers the future, God’s People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.

    The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”” (paragraphs 839-841)

    The catechism seems to imply though that all three being professing of the faith of Abraham at the very least, intend to worship the same God yet some where Judaism and Islam got off track and fell into theological error.

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  2. “I continue to worry whether Islam can constructively accommodate modernity and affirm genuine respect for the dignity, freedom, and rights of the individual.”

    I think from a strictly Western perspective that Islamic law seems counter-intuitive to human dignity though I personally don’t find it as disrespectful for human dignity. Islamic law is quite harsh, severe, and often times includes punishments that would be considered cruel and unusual, however, the punishments are generally meted out toward those who disavow human dignity and respect for the faith. It’s really no different than the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages wanting to insure unity of the faith. Of course, issues of ISIS can be brought up but in general, most Muslims would typically disavow ISIS as well. In the reign of the Ottoman Empire over the Eastern Church, freedom of religion was granted as long as the Orthodox agreed not to convert Muslims to Christianity (which happened any way). But overall, the Byzantine Church favored the Islamic rule over them compared to the Catholic rule. Though this might have been due to their own anger directed toward the Catholic Church at the time as well…

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  3. Tom says:

    Over on one of the conversation sites (Scot McKnight’s blog on Patheos) Fr Aidan mentions I’ve been trying to engage Scot a bit over his perspective on the question of whether and, if so, how we might be able to say Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the “same” God. For Scot it all comes down to the word “same.”

    Fr Aidan asked if I’d pick some of my comments from that conversation and trim them down to share here. Maybe it’ll help to divide them up in 3 comments. Enjoy!

    —————-

    (1)
    Having lived and worked in the Middle East for about half my life, I think this is a question with important implications for dialogue between Muslims and Christians. I appreciate the passion with which some deny that in using the terms ‘Allah’ and ‘God’, Muslims and Christians direct their worship to one and the same God. I think this denial is untenable.

    One very practical reason is that Arab Christians in the Middle East have (in Arabic) been worshiping “Allah” for as long as we can document Arabic speaking Christianity, certainly predating the rise of Islam 14 centuries ago, and likely back to the earliest days of Christianity. There is no other word for God in Arabic. Arabic translations of the Bible all employ the word “Allah” for God. Arab Christians (of all traditions) all conduct their liturgies to “Allah,” address their prayers to “Allah,” and engage in religious conversation with their Muslim neighbors and friends using “Allah,” all without the slightest suspicion that they are speaking of anything but the One true God. The same applies to early Arab apologists (say, the Syrian Church Father John Damascene, whose passion for distinguishing Christianity from Islam is second to none but who nevertheless had no problems employing the term “Allah” when speaking of God).

    This evening I ran across Acts 17 and, in light of this whole debate, I thought it extremely interesting how Paul in Athens observed their many “idols” and shrines and, of course, noticed they even had an altar dedicated “To the Unknown God” (‘theos’), about which Paul said (v. 23), “Whom you worship without knowing, ‘this one’ I announce to you.” That ought to bring this whole debate to an end. Paul believed that devout worship offered by pagan Greeks was at the very least directed toward that same referent as the “God” he worshiped.

    Even the attempt to argue that Christians and Muslims don’t worship the same God by grounding the argument in the obvious denial by Muslims of the Trinity and Incarnation ends up failing, unless we want to maintain the argument in the case of unbelieving Jews who equally deny the Trinity and Incarnation and say Christians and Jews don’t worship the same God. But that seems completely unwarranted. Certainly none of the apostles believed that coming to faith in Christ meant they had come to worship a ‘God’ different than the God they believed they were worshiping before Christ.

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    • Tom,
      I like how you brought up that reference from Acts with the altar dedicated to the ‘Unknown God’. I believe as well that if Muslims and Jews also believe they are worshiping the God of Abraham, they may not know God in his fullest revelation of Christ, but are worshiping the same God as us.

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    • Dante Alighieri says:

      I have no doubt that Muslims do worship the same God. What other transcendent and truly One God of Abraham, who created the world out of nothing, would there be? However, I have been thinking about a more debatable quandary, deity names which are clearly non-Abrahamic but nonetheless describe a unitary, transcendent (though not necessarily aniconically expressed) Creator. It seems to me that all worship, even to limited and created beings, gods, spirits, would in some way be a misdirection of the proper instinct of worship, gratitude, in some way. But, if we accept ‘Heaven’ as a proper translation of the concept of One God into Chinese, for example, would that mean, as a thought experiment, that Egyptians during the New Kingdom worshipped the transcendent and uncreated One God under the name Amun-Re, albeit in a compromised ‘natural’ rather ‘revealed’ religion?

      He is called: “The One who crafted himself, whose appearance is unknown…who built his processional images and created himself by himself.”

      “Amun, whose identity is hidden from the gods, oldest elder, more distinguished than these…Light was his development on the first occasion, with all that exists in stillness in awe of him. He honked by voice, as the Great Honker (referring to the god as the primordial goose over the waters)…creating himself while he was Alone. He began speaking in the midst of silence, opening every eye…He began crying out while the world was in its stillness…that he might give birth to what is and cause them to live…Their hearts live when they see him, his are the effective forms of the Ennead.”

      And the probably the most curious passage is this one: “No god knows his true appearance, no processional image of his is unfolded through inscriptions…He is too secret to uncover his awesomeness, he is too great to investigate, too powerful to know. Instantaneously falling face to face into death is for the one who expresses his secret identity…There is no god who knows how to invoke him with it. Manifest one whose identity is hidden, inasmuch as it is inaccessible.” (all quotes taken from James P. Allen, “Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts,” Yale Egyptological Studies 2, edited by William Kelly Simpson, 1988, which are in turn quoting the Leiden Papyrus)

      Since David B. Hart in “The Experience of God” is comfortable with ascribing some Hindu philosophies with an accurate conception of natural religion, around the idea of transcendent ‘Being,’ as I would be, would the same be true for high religious achievements of antiquity like the ‘counter-monotheism’ of Amun-Re? And, if to some entrenched Stoics, Zeus was no longer a daylit sky and storm power but rather the vivifying and unitary reality, the ‘fire,’ behind the universe, so much so that Paul was comfortable in quoting Stoics to express the One God, were Stoic worshippers of this Zeus in fact worshipping the One God, even though both they, the Egyptians, and the philosophical Hindus still used/use anthropic cult images as aides in worship? So much so that if these names were still in current parlance among their native peoples that missionaries could comfortably say the one they call Amun or Zeus sent his only Son into the world or translate their Bibles using these words?

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  4. Tom says:

    (2)
    Scot: The issue is the word “same” and what it means. It’s an elastic term with all sorts of variations — from similar but quite different all the way to identical.

    Tom: I think in the end this is a pseudo-problem, Scot, because nobody uses “same” in “same God” to mean “identical in every sense.” There’s just no way to dismiss the differences and even get close to an understanding of “same” as “identical in every way.”

    Scot: Orthodox Jews admit Christians to be monotheists but think our notion of the Trinity is wrong and not their God. Orthodox Muslims by and large (from what I’ve read) do not think the Christian Trinitarian God nor the God whose Son was crucified are true. So the second issue is “who is saying they are the same God”?

    Tom: To begin with, the Apostles (and Luke) are, and (arguably) Jesus, though one can question just how radically different his view of ‘God’ was from the Judaism(s) of his day given his understanding of his relationship to God, but still, Jesus is the event on which the Apostles reflect. If an Orthodox Jew today wants to argue Christians don’t worship the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, I’d suggest the Orthodox Jew Paul as a reason for thinking Jews and Christians worship the same God.

    Here’s an analogy that might help. Not sure. But consider all the competing interpretations of quantum mechanics. Scientists disagree on what ‘really’ is happening in a quantum event (say, the collapse of the wave function). Some say the indeterminacy is only epistemological and that the sub-atomic world behaves as deterministically as the rest of the world. If we had all the relevant truth we’d be able to predict the collapse of the wave function as precisely as we can predict an eclipse of the moon or the arrival of Halley’s Comet. But other physicists disagree, arguing that the indeterminacy is fundamental and ontological such that if we knew absolutely everything there was to know about the quantum world, we still couldn’t predict the collapse.

    Scientists here argue incompatible interpretations of our experience and observations of the quantum world, but no competent scientist in the debate is saying anything close to “Well, Heisenberg and I aren’t talking about the ‘same’ reality because we disagree fundamentally on the nature of that reality. So we should all find different ‘words’ to describe that final reality or else folks might think we believe the same thing and we don’t want that, and perhaps we should put indeterminist physicists on administrative leave for….” Well, you get the point.

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  5. Tom says:

    (3)
    An important question in all this is whether we refer “same” to (1) our beliefs or (2) to that divine reality to whom our language is directed. It’s in the second sense that I think we ought to agree Muslims and Christians worship the same (“exact”) God. But if one wanted to collapse the two (i.e., collapse the referent about whom we speak to the things we believe about him and just equate the two), then that would essentially make atheists of us all since, as some are emphasizing, no God about whom one holds false beliefs can be said to exist.

    It’s clear that you (Scot) are using “same” to quantify over the “things we say” about God. Now, if that’s what we’re doing, then we ALL have to agree that no two theists worship the “same” God because no two theists say the “same things” about God.

    How about we quantify over “God” so to speak (over the divine reality itself, the referent “about whom” we say things). This is a different conversation and a different use of “same.” Here we’re talking about referent and we have “exactly” one and the same ultimate, divine reality.

    It’s the unwillingness of many Christians to concede exact sameness of referent that reflects, I think, a sort of improper sense of ownership of God or perhaps phobias or prejudices. It’s as if such Christians don’t want any shared-space in which the God they pray to actually hears the humble prayers of honest (but theologically mistaken) Muslims and admits those prayers into his relationship with those Muslims in ways that shape and orient their relationship to God positively. But that would mean Christians are praying to a God who is actually hearing and responding to Muslims as well as to them and, frankly, that disturbs many Christians. It makes them feel dirty by association. It’s the whole Jonah story again but applied to the Church instead of Israel, and we don’t wanna hear it.

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  6. SVS seminarian says:

    The use of the excerpt from Fr John strikes me as being very much out of context. The underlying thesis to Fr John Behr’s whole theological project is that, for Christians, there is absolutely no God except the one revealed in the Cross. Whatever else God may be, “who knows and who cares,” to quote Fr John’s oft-repeated phrase. A God without the Cross cannot in any way be considered to have any relation to the God of the Church, so that a Christian must say, with Irenaeus, as Fr John points out in class and in his books, Christianity is not based on Judaism, but the other way around.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Welcome to EO, seminarian. My first thought when I read your comment was “I didn’t realize that Fr John was such a Barthian.” 🙂

      May I ask you to clarify why you believe the excerpt from Fr John’s article represents a misuse of his article. The excerpt simply asserts the Monarchy of the Father along Eastern lines, which is why I quoted it. Whether Fr John would agree or disagree with the substance of my article I do not know, though I do not think anything I have written here disagrees with his assertion of the eschatological ultimacy of Christ.

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  7. infanttheology says:

    Father Kimel,

    “They may vigorously disagree about Jesus Christ and the divine attributes, but their disagreements presuppose the one God, maker of heaven and earth. How could it be otherwise?”

    I understand where you are coming from here. I sympathize with what you are saying. I think as we get the blessing of talking with each Jew or Muslim in our life we need to keep in mind the need to learn about where they are at, listen carefully for misunderstandings they might have about what they think the biblical Jesus is, discern what they need to hear (or not hear just yet), etc. All, that said, *intending* to worship the biblical God who “is one,… distinct from the world, and that…has created everything that is not God” earns the Jews in John 8 at least a “your Father is the devil”.

    Ouch.

    Don’t think I don’t want to be concerned about political issues of worldly peace. Don’t think that I take this chapter to be a template for how to always talk to Jews and Muslims. Etc. That said, what do *you* do with that? What does this passage have to say to us.

    We need a clear answer – at least for our own sakes – do we not? If not, why not?

    +Nathan

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hi, Nathan. Forgive the tardiness of my reply. I believe it is hasty and wrong to take the polemical words of Jesus, spoken to those who sought to kill him in a specific historical situation, and extrapolate from that a conclusion that post-resurrection Judaism, because it denies the Sonship divine identity of Jesus, no longer worships and prays to the one God. Then what God are they praying to and dying for? A fiction in their minds? A delusion? What should Jewish denial of Jesus suddenly eradicate their knowledge of and relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Does Judaism live under judgment because of this denial? Of course, as do we all. But then we also need to ask why denial of Jesus is sin and what judgment ultimately means.

      In any case, I find the appeal to John 8 and or 1 John 2 irrelevant to the question at hand, which I see as a question of reference and disagreement about the attributes and character of the one God. I simply cannot make any sense of of the statement that Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship and pray to different infinite Creators. That way of looking at things only makes sense if we were talking about individual and distinct deities: Bob worship Zeus, Alan worships Odin, Michelle worships Atum. Christians, Jews, and Muslims call that idolatry.

      I’ve been asking myself why this is such a hot-button item for evangelicals and Protestants. I suspect it has to do with the rejection of philosophical theology and reliance upon a purely narrative-personalist reading of the Bible—in other words, theistic personalism. Theistic personalist struggle, in my judgment, to articulate the radical difference between God and creation. As a result they end up talking God as a being—perhaps a perfect being but a being nonetheless. Hence it seems to make sense to them that Christians, Jews, and Muslims are really talking about three different (real or imagined) beings. I hinted at this in my first article.

      I bid you a Merry Christmas, Nathan. Thank you for your comments.

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      • infanttheology says:

        Father Kimel,

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Again, my concern is not to apply the essential truth found in John 8 in a careless fashion, but to apply it nonetheless. I will try to read the article on theistic personalism.

        “I simply cannot make any sense of of the statement that Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship and pray to different infinite Creators.”

        Right. Of course the idea would be that the differences introduced – the errors introduced – are such that the true God, the only God who is both good and strong enough to save us, is simply unable to be grasped by the sinner in desperate need of His Savior. This, I think, is the critical question.

        -Nathan

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  8. The Qur’an says, “Never has God begotten a son” (23:90). The New Testament says, “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also….and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already…For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (1 Jn 2:22-23; 4:3; 2 Jn 1:7). Jesus says that the devil “was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44).

    I do not doubt that some pious Muslims who follow a well-formed conscience and obey the moral law do indeed worship the One God; however, the god of Islam is an idol. The spirit of Muhammad, the spirit of Islam, is the spirit of the antichrist.

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  9. Bobby Grow says:

    How can you conclude this, Aiden? You make it sound as if God is some sort of philosophical construction, a monad, and not necessarily Triune whatsoever. False prophets typically reprsent false deities.

    As I’ve argued over at my blog who God is referentially is necessarily tied to who God has revealed Himself to be. Jews and Christians share in that revelation (even if veiled for Jews II Cor 3), Muslims do not; Muslims have a totally different revelational foundation and thus conception of God, inclusive of how oneness is understood. Jews have a stunted view of God, Muslims have a non-starting view of God.

    Volf’s argument seems to argue from a least common denominator approach to getting at “reference” for God; again, this might work in a philosophy of religion that is trying to navigate through a pluralistic lens, but it doesn’t fit with the particularity of revelation itself.

    I think the better comparison, in regard to a host of things, particularly a theory of revelation, is between Islam and Mormonism, not Islam and Judaism. It comes back to revelation not intention of the knowing agent (i.e. Muslims etc). If someone rejects philosophical speculation for establishing fertile ground for conceiving of godness then Volf’s argument crumbles.

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  10. SB says:

    Hopefully we worship God, and not our ideas about God. Hopefully Muslims do the same.

    Whatever has been taught about God is taught only to help us find and orient toward God, not so that we can go around acting like experts on God and pronouncing on whose worship God is able to receive. So let us go back to drawing near to God, and loving our neighbors, and pray that this question disappear.

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  11. Alex says:

    On night Murray, Jen and Chris were looking up at the night sky. Murray pointed up and exclaimed, “Look at that light moving across the sky, it’s not a shooting star as it’s not fading, nor is it an aeroplane as it’s not flashing, I reckon it’s a satellite!”

    Jen, pulls out her telescope and points it at the moving object, and informs them, “I can see it’s solar panels, I reckon it’s the International Space Station!”

    Chris takes out his iPhone and nods, “That’s the International Space Station alright. Here, take a look at this video Jed, my astronaut friend who is onboard, has just sent me!”

    As far as I can tell, none of the Jews who became followers of Christ thought that in doing so they were denouncing the God they’d always worshiped. Rather they rejoiced in seeing Him more clearly, although still admitted that, “For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” (1Cor 13:12 HCSB).

    As we believe there is only one God and that He is Truth, surely every speck of truth humans discover is a small reflection of Him? Or to extend Paul’s analogy, could Muslims and Jews have a mirror that hasn’t been cleaned as much by the Spirit?

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    • Tom says:

      Alex: On night Murray, Jen and Chris were looking up at the night sky. Murray pointed up and exclaimed, “Look at that light moving across the sky, it’s not a shooting star as it’s not fading, nor is it an aeroplane as it’s not flashing, I reckon it’s a satellite!”

      Tom: Love the analogy. Here’s the problem with it (and others like it) from Bobby’s point of view. It posits a “shared context” that Murray, Jen and Chris equally inhabit and out of which they theorize about what the object “really” is. That is, they all have eyes, they have equal access to the night sky within the shared constraints of their eyesight, the distance from the object and their location on the front lawn. Given that shared context and access, they each initially come to different theories about what the object is.

      Bobby denies that there is any such shared access to revelation sufficient to ground the claim that Muslims are on the front law looking up at the same object with Jews and Christian theorizing about God. There’s only one “space” (for Bobby) where access is provided for theologizing about God—Jesus. And once you reject Jesus, you remove yourself from the only God-given access to knowledge about God that anyone has. So for Bobby, because Muslims reject the Incarnation, they left the open space of the front lawn where Christians and Jews are staring at the night sky and when inside the house and are staring into the toilet.

      Like

      • Tom says:

        front *lawn*. 😀

        Like

      • Thomas Renz says:

        I don’t think that is fair. The analogy posits that there is one thing which is seen by all and all agree that they see the same thing: “that light moving across the sky” over here (whatever it is) rather than “that light moving across the sky over there” or “that light which is moving so slowly that it seems stationary.” But what if someone says “I see a light moving across the sky that is flashing red and green” and another “I see a light that is moving east to west in unfading brilliant white” and another “I see a light that is moving back and forth” — this is the scenario as Bobby sees it, I dare say, concluding that they cannot well be seeing the same light.

        Like

        • Tom says:

          Thomas, I think you’re substantiating my point. Bobby wouldn’t agree that human beings share a God-given context (other than the God-Man Jesus) from which human beings can be said to “see” something about which they make competing observations. Alex seems to be suggesting that Muslims, Jews and Christians DO have a sufficiently shared (God-given) context in which they make contrary claims about what’s ultimately the case.

          I was just trying to locate Muslims within Alex’s analogy given Bobby’s position. I could be misunderstanding Alex’s analogy. But that seems to be how Bobby would have to respond to Alex’s analogy, i.e., Bobby wouldn’t grant there’s anything (other than Jesus Christ) which Muslims, Jews and Christians can even stare up at and observe to make competing claims about. Jews just get a pass from Bobby even though they reject the Incarnation every bit as Muslims (whose history is rooted in both Judaism and Christianity) do.

          Like

          • Thomas Renz says:

            There is no need for Bobby to respond to Alex’s analogy. The analogy is an illustration of Alex’s viewpoint, not an argument in its favour. It is like someone explaining that the Trinity is like H20: water, ice and steam. The answer of orthodox Christians is simply: “no it isn’t, your analogy is a nice illustration of modalism.”

            As a preacher Paul is happy to use a number of bridges, so am I. But did Paul instruct the Athenians to drop the worship of all other gods but two: the unknown one and Zeus, then to identify the unknown one and Zeus with each other, then to realise that Zeus has sent his son into the world to save us from our sins? I don’t think so. Ad hoc identifications in a sermon are one thing, doing theology is another.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            Thomas: There is no need for Bobby to respond to Alex’s analogy.

            Tom: True. I was just bringing the two into conversation for conversation’s sake. We can forget it.

            Thomas: But did Paul instruct the Athenians to drop the worship of all other gods but two: the unknown one and Zeus, then to identify the unknown one and Zeus with each other, then to realize that Zeus has sent his son into the world to save us from our sins? I don’t think so.

            Tom: Neither do I think so. But to suggest that there’s a referential ‘identity’ behind them isn’t to suggest Paul was just rubber stamping the Greek pantheon.

            Like

          • Thomas Renz says:

            In so far as our desire for worship is an expression of the fact that we have been made to worship God, we can say that all our worship ultimately seeks the same object whether we worship Allah, rugby, opurselves or Madonna, although it would not be wise to claim that these objects are all the same. I think the apostle does not so much pick individual entities from the polytheistic pantheon worshipped in Athens and identifies them with YHWH but works from the principle suggested above: In so far as your worship recognises that the object of your worship is unknown, I want to affirm your intention and make the unknown known to you, in so far as your worship recognises that we have our being in the heavenly king, I want to affirm your recognition and introduce you to this king. To a Muslim he might say, in so far as you want to submit to the will of the Creator of the universe, I want to affirm this desire and communicate to you the will of God.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            Thanks Thomas. I appreciate the interaction.

            I think there’s a fruitful dialogue to be had about what divine, God-given realities might lie behind your “insofar as.” I like the word myself and think it gets at what I’ve been trying to express, namely, that if we human beings are by divine design and calling primordially oriented toward the Good as such, if God is (if only tacitly) the end of all desire and devotion as such, then my point is made and I’m satisfied: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Bhakti Hindus, indeed all transcendental longing in whatever cultural forms it takes—but certainly more obviously in the Abrahamic traditions surrounding Christ, of which Islam is one—all worship, long for, desire, aim at, intend, aspire to and approximate in some inexorable degree (for what is essentially ours cannot be denied however desperately sin privates us) the one and true God who is the Good to which all desire is naturally oriented. That’s all I think those who say we “worship the same God” would like to say.

            Tom

            Like

      • Alex says:

        Thanks for engaging with it. As God is the source of all truth, doesn’t that mean that the truth that Muslims have is glimmer of Him given by Him? e.g. they believe that there is one Creator who is distinct from all Creation, we believe that is a small part of God’s true revelation to humanity.

        Passages like “He is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'” (Acts 17:27-28) and “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Rom 1:20) suggest to me that God isn’t entirely unknowable by non-Christians.

        Liked by 1 person

    • infanttheology says:

      Alex,

      I think so. One thinks about Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, baby John the Baptist, Simeon, Nathaniel and Anna – all who seem to have immediately recognized the Messiah they were waiting for from the Lord. Of course there were Jews who were fierce in their unbelief as well, and our Lord dealt with them in a very jarring way, particularly in John 8.

      Martin Luther, writing about Cornelius in Acts 10, said the following: “Cornelius, Acts 10:1ff , had heard long before among the Jews of the coming Messiah, through whom he was righteous before God, and in such faith his prayers and alms were acceptable to God (as Luke calls him devout and God-fearing), and without such preceding Word and hearing could not have believed or been righteous. But St. Peter had to reveal to him that the Messiah (in whom, as one that was to come, he had hitherto believed) now had come, lest his faith concerning the coming Messiah hold him captive among the hardened and unbelieving Jews, but know that he was now to be saved by the present Messiah, and must not, with the [rabble of the] Jews deny nor persecute Him.”

      -Nathan

      Like

      • Alex says:

        Yes, there are also some interesting non-Israelites in the OT who seemed to be seeking for God (which is in itself a gift from God) and I assume had had something revealed to them e.g. Melchizedek and Rahab. Although I’m not trying to make a case for inclusivism, just that they may have stepped onto the road to the narrow gate.

        Like

  12. Thomas Renz says:

    As far as I can see, use of the same word (Arabic “Allah” = English “God”) does not necessarily entail that the same referent is in view (Quranic Allah, Biblical God). Nor do we have to believe and affirm exactly the same things about someone for the referent to be identical, otherwise Christians would not worship the same God as other Christians.

    Also, in Acts 17 Paul does not grant that whatever devout worship pagans offer to whatever deity is directed towards the same referent that the apostle worships as God. And he does not, e.g., identify the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with the supreme God in the Hellenistic pantheon. He accepts the Athenian insight into worshipping someone “unknown” and then proceeds to make him known.

    No-one argues that the two are “identical in every way” and no-one argues that there are no similarities. The same could probably be said for Aphrodite, Baal, Krishna, Zeus and a host of other deities and entities.

    On this continuum the question of identity can be addressed either ‘quantitatively’ (is there enough overlap to postulate that we are talking about the same referent?) or ‘qualitatively’ (is there overlap in all that is essential for the identity in question?).

    The argument here presumes that the essentials are:
    • God is one,
    • God is distinct from the world,
    • the one God has created everything that is not
    So everyone who affirms these three things refers to the same entity, whatever other details they rightly or wrongly attribute to this entity. (NB: Acts 17 does not fit in here.) If we can add to this something about love and revealing himself in a book, so much the better.

    But is that right?

    For me this is not about Islam. I am with Bobby Grow. With Pascal we may say this is about whether God is (first of all) the philosophers’ “God” (supreme being, all-powerful, Creator distinct from creation) or “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and indeed the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

    I appreciate the concern to help us see Muslims as less “other” but this can be done differently by appeal to our common humanity, being made in the image of God, being created for worship etc. (And the implication that we will love Muslims more the more they appear to be similar to us is rather worrying in other respects.)

    Like

    • Tom says:

      Thomas,

      When you say “Nor do we have to believe and affirm exactly the same things about someone for the referent to be identical, otherwise Christians would not worship the same God as other Christians” I completely agree. My point exactly. The referent is “identical” (i.e., one and the same) in spite of our beliefs about that referent not being the same. That’s how I suggest we best view the relationship between Muslims, Christians, and Jews (and Bhakti Hinduism and others for that matter, as DBH points out in his book Experiencing God, which as far as I can tell is a book length argument for precisely the position Volf argues).

      As far Acts 17, you say Paul does not “identify” the Father with the supreme God in the Greek pantheon (although the “Unknown God” wasn’t identified as the supreme God of that pantheon—but never mind that). It all depends on what you mean by “identify.” It sure looks to me like he does identify the two: “that which you worship as unknown I announce to you.” That’s the language of identity at least. Of course he goes on to introduce new truth as well as dismiss falsehoods. And since it’s clear that Paul isn’t saying “identical things about God” (i.e., since he’s both affirming and correcting), the “identifying” he is doing can only be referential, i.e., I’m going to tell you about that divine reality to whom you ignorantly and imperfectly have been directing your worship.

      Tom

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      • Thomas Renz says:

        Tom, yes I meant to signal agreement with you on this important point. To say that we only believe in the same God if we believe exactly the same things is as silly as to say that we believe in the same God because we use the same word (Allah/God).

        As for Acts 17, the fact the “unknown god” is not the supreme God of that pantheon is precisely my point. Why did Paul pick this deity rather than, e.g., Zeus? Was it because the essential attribute of this deity was the fact that it was unknown which is exactly what the biblical God was for them? Or was it because for the attributes of this unnamed god were of such a great number or essential quality that it commended to Paul that he should identify YHWH with him/her rather than with Zeus or another deity on offer?

        Like

        • Tom says:

          Thomas: As for Acts 17, the fact the “unknown god” is not the supreme God of that pantheon is precisely my point. Why did Paul pick this deity rather than, e.g., Zeus?

          Tom: Well, the shrine to “the Unknown God” is too sweet an opportunity for a preacher like Paul (especially given the history of the shrine, the historical plague behind it, etc.). But following Paul does pick Zeus. The poets Paul quotes are works written about Zeus. That “we are his offspring” is from Aratus’s (d. 240 BCE) poem about Zeus (the “his” refers to Zeus in the poem), and the “in whom we live and move and have our being” is from Epimenides (6th cent. BCE) who is also writing a poem for Zeus (“They fashioned a tomb for you…but you are not dead, you live and abide forever; for in you we live and move and have our being”).

          Tom

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          • Thomas Renz says:

            See above on the difference between ad hoc sermon illustrations building bridges and theological attempts to correlate belief-systems.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            I’m not correlating or identifying belief systems.

            Like

          • infanttheology says:

            Tom,

            Perhaps Paul is offering a subtle course correction here? Namely, the poet was right about what God odes, but I am saying now this is not to be attributed to Zeus, but rather this unknown God….

            -Nathan

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  13. I have made it pretty clear, in fact, that it is the word “same” that is problematic. I have in fact also made it clear that “sufficiently similar” is much better, and that expression is from Volf. To say the “same” God is to evoke for many people “identical,” which is why there is an outcry every time this word is used. I prefer to be more analytical: all three are monotheistic faiths; all three derive historically from the faith of Abraham; all three share common themes about God and ethics; but each religion articulates God in dramatically different ways, dramatically different enough not to wipe the differences away by using the term “same” for a theological foundation. I’d appreciate your representing me with more nuance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Scot: I’d appreciate your representing me with more nuance.

      Tom: Scot, I’m not sure if you’re referring to Fr Aidan’s comments about your position in his blog post or my having brought my comments from your blog over here to share. I did trim my comments down to produce them here. So for the record, folks should read the convo over on your site before reaching any conclusions about your views. My apologies for indirectly contributing to any misunderstanding.

      But I think folks have been careful to maintain the needed nuances (i.e., the difficulty with “same” simpliciter over “same = identical” compared to “same = sufficiently alike,” not to mention “same = referentially identical” and “same = descriptively both similar and dissimilar”).

      For example, I don’t think the various nuances of “same” are bad (not saying you think they are bad) or that the disagreements they expose or the clarification they invite should lead anyone to stop saying Muslims and Christians worship the “same” God. I think this is all a good thing. It gets people discussing God, what it is we think we’re even doing when we talk about God, how important our agreements and disagreements are philosophically and religiously, etc.

      For me, what’s become clear in this is how much fear possesses people on a religious level. There’s the concern that if we say “same” (without involved qualifications attending every use of the word) Muslims and Christians will be “confused” and might “misunderstand” their faiths as being the “same religion.” I think this concern is just ill-informed fear at work.

      There is no possibility that people are going to mistakenly come to read “Christians and Muslims worship the same God” as meaning identical in the descriptive sense. That’s not an informed concern. Everybody knows Christianity and Islam are two different religions that make mutually incompatible claims about God. What this “concern” actually expresses is the concern of some that people might believe Christians and Muslims are “referencing” the same (identical) ultimate, divine being whom they describe differently. And it’s precisely “exact” which “same” does mean in the referential sense. The interesting question now is: Should this be grounds for dismissal at Christian institutions? Is it syncretism to assert that Muslims and Christians who disagree fundamentally over God’s nature, will, and actions are in fact disagreeing about one and the same ultimate God?

      Tom

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Scot, welcome to my blog. I’m sorry that you feel that I have not presented your views absent the nuances. In my defense, I simply note that one can hardly present all the nuances of a position in a single paragraph. That noted, I do believe that I have accurately, albeit succinctly, presented your position—namely, Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not worship the same God because Jews and Muslims reject essential elements of the Christian understanding of Deity. Does adding the notion of insufficient similarity or sufficient dissimilarity change anything? I do not see that it does, which is why I did not elaborate further on your position.

      I personally find the notion that Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship different “one” Gods incoherent, though I’m certainly open to counter-argument. Each community, at least in its classical tradition, intends to worship and obey the eternal, infinite, simple, transcendent Being who has made the world from out of nothing. That is sufficient to establish referential identity, and that is all I am arguing for. Referential identity does not mean descriptive identity; it does not entail total agreement on the divine attributes and nature. It just means that when a Christian refers to God, a Jew and a Muslim can acknowledge that they recognize that he is talking about the same personal reality they intend by the word “God,” despite communal disagreements.

      You may believe that John is a wicked, insufferable person. I may believe that he is utterly delightful and profoundly wise and good. Yet we both know that “John” refers to the same person, despite our contradictory assessments of his character.

      My apologies if I have misrepresented your views in any way.

      I hope to publish tomorrow a few more brief reflections that hopefully will clarify my own views on this interesting question.

      Like

      • I do not in fact think they worship different Gods, nor have I ever said that, nor do I think it does any good to say they worship the same God (or deny they worship the same God). That’s the point. I think their view of God ought to be distinguished from one another. The word “same” confuses everything.

        So, what you say:

        Each community, at least in its classical tradition, intends to worship and obey the eternal, infinite, simple, transcendent Being who has made the world from out of nothing. That is sufficient to establish referential identity, and that is all I am arguing for. Referential identity does not mean descriptive identity; it does not entail total agreement on the divine attributes and nature. It just means that when a Christian refers to God, a Jew and a Muslim can acknowledge that they recognize that he is talking about the same personal reality they intend by the word “God,” despite communal disagreements.

        I agree each community thinks it is worshiping the one true God, and I’ve never denied that. I’m not sure we can speak of “referential identity” but we can speak of The One to Whom each refers. I agree totally each believes in monotheism. That is not the point.

        To claim that each worships the “same” God confuses the issue. The word “same” means “identical” to most people. Which means when someone says “they worship the same God” (that’s omitting the meaning of “worship,” by the way) it will confuse the one who thinks God is Trinity vs. the one who denies the Trinity. That they refer to One God, Yes. That they refer to the “same” God confuses.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Tom says:

          Scot: I do not in fact think they worship different Gods, nor have I ever said that, nor do I think it does any good to say they worship the same God (or deny they worship the same God). That’s the point. I think their view of God ought to be distinguished from one another. The word “same” confuses everything.

          Tom: Thank you Scot for the clarification. I want very much to understand you here, so I appreciate your patience.

          There are millions of Muslims and Christians having conversations all over the world—to say nothing of centuries of published dialogue between the two—and a great deal of the conversations are about this very point, namely, whether or not and if so in what sense Muslims, Jews and Christians intend their worship and prayers to the same God. In 30 years of knowing and conversing with Muslims, I can’t recall a single conversation of any consequence that didn’t get around to this point.

          Is it really reasonable to suggest or expect (if you’re doing either) that we purge these conversations of the word “same”? Don’t the shared historical and religious contexts make the question of the identity of Allah with the Christian God unavoidable? The challenges of inter-faith dialogue and of discipling Muslims who come to faith in Christ make the question unavoidable.

          I don’t understand what you’re suggesting the Church do in the context of these conversations. To refuse to use the word “same” (to affirm or deny) would itself confuse things far greater than would engaging in conversation of the issue until folks at least understood each other.

          Merry Christmas!
          Tom

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          • Tom says:

            Sorry to jump in, Fr. Aidan. Scot’s reply was to you. (Spank on me. Ouch!)

            Like

          • Yes, it’s reasonable because the word “same” makes no sense to most people. It means “identical” to most people. To say they both worship one God, fine. What I’m asking people to do is to avoid the really impossible quasi-ecumenical idea that we really do believe the same thing and work from our own foundations. Muslims approach peace from their foundations, Jews from theirs and Christians from theirs. That really all that is needed.

            To carry on a conversation about “same God” is a good example of theoretical discussions that provides for a very limited number of people (those who think “same” is fine) some kind of comfortable logical basis, but the action of peace-making is what matters most. Volf’s aim, you will remember, is peace-making. I’m with him on that. Again, to repeat myself, “sufficiently similar” is better and might make some feel better having a mutual theological basis, but I would repeat another point. That’s doesn’t matter. I can work for peace with atheists on my basis and they on their basis and we can work together. That’s what matters.

            Tell me, Tom, why does “same” matter so much to you?

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            Thanks again Scot. Appreciate your reply. I know you’re busy, and it’s Christmas week to boot!

            I’m not approaching this from the question of what basis Christians and Muslims might have within their own resources to pursue peace-making. Even there, I think a form of the Golden Rule is another shared component, but in any case, my passion is not how this conversation motivates Christians and Muslims each to best pursue peace and justice given their own particular faith. It’s how Christians and Muslims can pursue relationship and friendship with each other where faith IS actually shared with the other (and not just where faith motivates the one who holds it to be a peaceful person in the world).

            Given the shared historical and religious contexts, the history of ongoing dialogue, the long established use of Allah by Arabic (and other non-English speaking churches) speaking churches, as well as the challenge of Muslims who decide to follow Christ, I think asking people not to ask questions about whether or not, and if so how, Muslims and Christians worship the “same” God is impossible. But that’s just me.

            Tom

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          • Tom says:

            Forgive a quick follow-up comment!

            After confirming that Christians and Muslims should abandon use of the word “same” in conversations regarding their faiths (by either affirming or denying that they worship the “same” God) because the word “same” only confuses matters, you clarify with, “To say they both worship one God, fine.”

            Do you believe, Scot, that Christians and Muslims (we could include Jews, but never mind that for now) mean the same thing by “one” when they say they believe in “one God”?

            Tom

            Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Tom, thank you for jumping in. You bring a wealth of experience as a Christian missionary in the Middle East to the discussion!

            Liked by 1 person

        • I’m not certain I understand exactly what your position is. I think it would be more beneficial to us if you helped us to understand what your position is in this conversation which would help us more fairly represent your position. Many of us here are just lay-man when it comes to academic theology.

          Any way, I did want to comment further–you speak of “It means “identical” to most people. To say they both worship one God, fine. What I’m asking people to do is to avoid the really impossible quasi-ecumenical idea that we really do believe the same thing and work from our own foundations. Muslims approach peace from their foundations, Jews from theirs and Christians from theirs. That really all that is needed.”
          It seems to me that you take “identical” to be an absolute 1=1 statement. But this would theoretically also sever all connections of sameness that Jews have within their religion (Reformed vs. Orthodox Jews), sameness Christians have in approaching the one God (Calvinists vs. Arminians, Catholics vs. Protestants, etc.), and sameness that Muslims have within their own religion (Sunnis vs. Shiites). If, by identical, you mean that they view God and things about God in exactly the same light, it cannot even be said that all denominations and sects within a given religion can be said to be worshiping the “same” God. I would greatly appreciate if you could clarify what you mean by identical in case I have misunderstood you.

          Like

      • infanttheology says:

        Father Kimel,

        Again, I sympathize with your position (Tom says: “Is it syncretism to assert that Muslims and Christians who disagree fundamentally over God’s nature, will, and actions are in fact disagreeing about one and the same ultimate God?” which I take to be your question to), even if I suspect most devout Muslims would not be so charitable. God cannot have a Son who is God after all – especially if He would be shamed by dying on a cross and being merciful to those who do not deserve it.

        “You may believe that John is a wicked, insufferable person. I may believe that he is utterly delightful and profoundly wise and good. Yet we both know that “John” refers to the same person, despite our contradictory assessments of his character.”

        Or there is another possible way of looking at it, and this is the illustration that I use with my students.

        Let’s say you and I are talking and we realize we both know the same person. How cool! Let’s say we go on thinking this is the case for a while.. that is, until we start talking about the person in more detail. It is only then – after we have more information – that we realize that we actually were not talking about the same person at all.

        Now, this may not be the case every time you talk to a devout Jew or Muslim. Perhaps – just perhaps – in speaking with them you think you are finding out that they believe what you believe. Maybe they even say they don’t believe in Jesus, but when you talk to them about that, you realize their picture of Jesus is not the true one, etc. etc. My point here though is that the approach that you and Tom are taking at the moment does not give the attention to passages like you should. John 8 is disturbing clear, and I am sorry, un-ecumenical (well, we would have to talk about what ecumenical means or should means). And in Acts 17, of course, Paul ends by saying that God has proven to all persons through Christ’s resurrection that this man is going to judge the world. Some are ready to hear more at this point and others are not.

        -Nathan

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  14. I will make one more comment. The quest in the “same” God discussion is to find a theological foundation for cooperation for the sake of peace among Muslims and Christians, not excluding Jews but Volf’s project is Christians and Muslims. I don’t think it is even necessary to find a theological foundation of common beliefs for peace efforts to get underway. What we need is Christians willing to act in peaceful ways and to work for peace, for Muslims to act in peaceful ways and to work for peace, and thus to spread a culture of peace instead of acrimony, accusation and violence. We can do this even if we are radically different on any number of core ideas. The quest for peace is beautiful; the need for a theological foundation to do that is worth challenging or at least rethinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Jonathan says:

    The only sure way of deciding a question like this is to apply the test of faith found in the final paragraph of the confessions of the holy fool Saint Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac (Ti Jean, to those who conceive a special devotion for him), usually known in English as On the Road: Are Muslims and Jews fee to acknowledge that God is Pooh Bear?

    Sorry, that’s all I’ve got. Thought the situation could use a little levity. Don’t blame me: my God, when he walked the earth, drank wine and fraternized with prostitutes, and twenty centuries later I worship Him in a language no one speaks. lex orandi, lex credendi, eh?

    pax vobiscum

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  16. Nabi Safl says:

    Do the Samaritans worship a different God, or do they simply not know the God they worship? (And perhaps worship incorrectly.)

    Did the Athenian worshipping at the altar of the unknown God offer to another God, or ignorantly offer his worship to the Creator?

    Who would we say the Magi worshipped prior to beginning their journey?

    Does Dale Tuggy worship a different God?

    When I feel that God must be angry at me, when I believe he must require some assuaging, when I attribute evil to him, when I speak falsely of him to others – am I worshipping another God?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike H says:

      Fascinating thread, and I appreciated your comment here Nabi, particularly the last sentence. Since their is an irreducible human side to this, I think there is a subjectivity that causes some anxiety.

      “To say Thou art God, without knowing what the Thou means-of what use is it? God is a name only, except we know God.” – George MacDonald

      I’m as interested in this question as it relates to the other monotheistic faiths as with how it plays out within Christianity. After all, it’s not uncommon to see Christians of different theological backgrounds make claims that others “believe in a different God” or “don’t believe in the same God”.

      Same authoritative texts, sacramental practices, creeds, etc, but the character and nature of the God that emerges varies significantly – they aren’t “identical” and at times are more different than alike. This seems indisputable to me.

      Same theological verbiage on the surface, so where is the line at which differing (even major) beliefs about the “same God” cross over to being a “different God”?

      Like

      • infanttheology says:

        Mike,

        “so where is the line at which differing (even major) beliefs about the “same God” cross over to being a “different God”?”

        This, I think, is an absolutely critical question in this conversation. I don’t think arch-conservatives like myself are incapable of being nuanced. I just want to affirm that in the N.T. there is an urgency present when it comes to embracing the Son. Now. That does not mean that we need to be frantic in our efforts, but simply level-headed. We should treat each person individually, realizing that their own understandings are likely quite distinct from their fellows. What happens when we start talking one on one about the gods we say we know and intend to worship? For me, how they answer will influence how I answer… giving a word that challenges/confronts (law) or a word that comforts and speaks of mercy (because Christ is mercy)….

        We all fall short of the glory of God, and there is terror in contemplating the holy. But the Holy One came down for us, that we might have real peace with Him and know this peace and joy in our lives to the fullest.

        -Nathan

        Liked by 1 person

  17. David Waltz says:

    Hi Fr. Kimel,

    Back in early 2014, I published three posts concerning the issue of whether or not ‘Muslims and Christians worship the same God’ (first; second; third).

    My contributions concerning this issue were not meant to be overly dogmatic—I was not trying to convince readers that a solid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to the question should subsequently follow my reflections—but rather, I was attempting to demonstrate that the issue is much more complex than most folk realize.

    I would also like to recommend a thread I posted back on 07-01-2013 (LINK). This thread (IMO), sheds some important ‘light’ on whether or not, ‘Muslims and Christians worship the same God’.

    Grace and peace,

    David

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    • Thomas Renz says:

      David, this is interesting. By way of background, I want to stress that I am less dogmatic than I might sound here. I wrote a blog post some time ago in which I recognised valid arguments on both sides. In terms of evangelism and preaching I don’t think it is always necessary to stress that the Allah to which the Quran testifies and the God to whom the Bible bears witness are not the same. But in terms of thinking about God, I suggest that the identification has some consequences which are not always recognised – e.g. while you may want to affirm that God is (in one sense) one and God is (in another sense) three, if you affirm the identity the identity of the Trinity with the Islamic Allah, you are pretty much forced to say that the statement “God is one” is more basic, essential, fundamental to who God is than the statement “God is three”.

      So, not wishing to be dogmatic, I nevertheless think that your discussion of Light demonstrates how easy it is to slide into heresy on this path. The “eternally (!) begotten” is surely not the “one created before anything else was created”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • brian says:

        Well, really, I wish Father Kimel and you lot would schedule interesting discussions so that they are more convenient for my schedule . . . I must be brief, so without actually engaging any of this deeply, I’d just like to point out that a work like Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles tacitly assumes there is enough fundamental agreement about the nature of existence to allow for genuine engagement with questions of metaphysics, anthropology, theology, etc. It is also interesting that Eric Voegelin posited that the modern world had lost sufficient consensus for such a work to be unproblematic today.

        The character of Emeth in C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle represents a righteous Calormene whose worship of the false Tash is accepted by Aslan. So, as our capacity to reach the reality of God is always an act of grace, one can opine that God condescends to approach all who make an effort, however mistaken they are in theology. Equally evident, theological differences are meaningful and some articulations are significantly more true than others. How should we approach questions like the following: Are Muslims closer to Christian theism than Buddhists? Should one consider beliefs that come after Christ more hostile, more erroneous, and less open than Jewish and pagan beliefs before the New Testament witness? Is late, rabbinical Judaism somehow more compromised, now that the mystery of the Church is an historical reality? Is the evident sanctity of a Buddhist or Hindu sage closer to Christ than a worldling Christian of nominal faith? Is Christ present “ontologically” for the non-believer who appears to have genuinely advanced on a path of love or is ecclesial sacramental action absolutely prerequisite? Consider the use made of pagan poets and philosophers — and the continuing validity of Justin Martyr — whatever is true and good in other civilizations, we claim for Christ. This kind of imperial theology is utterly resented by non-Christians and rejected by many Christians as well. If it isn’t true at some substantial level, however, one limits Christ’s fundamental at-one-ment with all humanity.

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      • David Waltz says:

        Hello Thomas,

        Thanks much for taking the time to respond to my post. In your response, you wrote:

        ==I wrote a blog post some time ago in which I recognised valid arguments on both sides.==

        I would be interested in reading that post; could you provide a link?

        ==In terms of evangelism and preaching I don’t think it is always necessary to stress that the Allah to which the Quran testifies and the God to whom the Bible bears witness are not the same.==

        I concur; it is important to establish some common ground before proceeding onto differences.

        ==But in terms of thinking about God, I suggest that the identification has some consequences which are not always recognised – e.g. while you may want to affirm that God is (in one sense) one and God is (in another sense) three, if you affirm the identity the identity of the Trinity with the Islamic Allah, you are pretty much forced to say that the statement “God is one” is more basic, essential, fundamental to who God is than the statement “God is three”.==

        The Biblical terms, El, Elohim, Theos etc., are most certainly used in more that one sense; as such, one needs to quite clear as to which sense one is using in theological discussions—and this especially so when one is dialoguing with a paradigm that has restricted the sense to just one meaning.

        ==So, not wishing to be dogmatic, I nevertheless think that your discussion of Light demonstrates how easy it is to slide into heresy on this path. The “eternally (!) begotten” is surely not the “one created before anything else was created”.==

        I am sure that you are aware that the Greek terms for “begotten” and “created” were used interchangeably into the early 4th century, and that context must be established to determine precise usage. My reflections on the ‘Light’ motif can certainly “slide into heresy”, but only if one forces a post-early 4th century reading of terminology back into germane texts that I referenced.

        Grace and peace,

        David

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        • Thomas Renz says:

          See http://hadleyrectory.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/do-muslims-worship-same-god-as.html for my original post. Among the later March posts you’ll find an abbreviated version and a follow-up on whether Jews and Christians worship the same God.

          I do not think that this theological question can simply be answered by observing semantics. Hebrew “el” can refer to English “El” (a specific deity within the Canaanite pantheon), “a god” or “God”. “Elohim” is the plural form of Eloah and is used in two ways, equivalent to the plural of “el”, i.e. “gods” or with reference to a single entity, namely YHWH. Greek “theos” functions similarly to English “god/God”.

          I am not entirely sure which Greek word you refer to as begotten/created: κτίζω which is used in Proverbs 8:22 and Ecclesiasticus 1:4 (cf. v14), focal points of some of the discussion in the early church, but which to my knowledge is not used for begetting, or γεννάω which is the common word for begetting but which can be figuratively used for various kinds of production. The key question for the church is whether the second person of the Trinity belongs to κτίσις (creation) or κτίστης (creator), whether he has a beginning in time or not. It might help to have some of the early church references you have in mind that might suggest ambiguity about this. I am not aware of church fathers who were comfortable with phrases like “first causation” which put Christ as the first in a sequence of created things.

          As far as Islamic tradition is concerned, I could not see from your references that “the first thing that God created” is without beginning, outside creation rather than the first part of creation. Yes, “the light of the prophet” may be taught to have existed prior to anything else that is created but is it clear that there was no time when “the light of the prophet” was not? You offer references to the effect that Muhammad was the first of the prophets to be created and even ontologically prior to the universe but is he pre-existent? (By the way, I do not think your sue of Surah 2.284 justified. Islamic tradition in this case clearly distinguishes between the one they consider the first and last prophet and the others.)

          For me these are secondary issues here which is to say the question whether Quranic Allah and Biblical YHWH are the same is the first. Only once one affirms this does it make sense to address the question whether Muhammad and Jesus are the same as well.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            I read Leithart’s piece earlier today. He clearly has been reading his Robert Jenson. 🙂

            I do think he’s off-base when he states that Beckwith presumes that “implicitly treats God as a member of a class of beings.” I do not see that in Beckwith’s article at all.

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          • David Waltz says:

            Hello again Thomas,

            Things are quite busy for me as we prepare for the upcoming, extended holiday weekend; so, I have had little time for the internet. With that said, I wanted to briefly respond to one portion of your last response, wherein you wrote:

            ==I am not entirely sure which Greek word you refer to as begotten/created: κτίζω which is used in Proverbs 8:22 and Ecclesiasticus 1:4 (cf. v14), focal points of some of the discussion in the early church, but which to my knowledge is not used for begetting, or γεννάω which is the common word for begetting but which can be figuratively used for various kinds of production. The key question for the church is whether the second person of the Trinity belongs to κτίσις (creation) or κτίστης (creator), whether he has a beginning in time or not.==

            I was referring to ἔκτισέ (the indicative aorist active 3rd person singular of κτίζω). A number of the early Church Fathers were quite comfortable with applying the LXX version of Prov. 8:22 to the Son of God, with reference to his causation by/from God the Father; the following are a few examples:

            Κύριος ἔκτισέ με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς ἔργα αὐτοῦ (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, 61.19, 20; 129.13, 14 – Migne, PG Tomus VI, 616.83; 777.56)

            Κύριος γὰρ, φησὶν, ἔκτισέ με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς ἔργα αὐτοῦ (Athenagoras, Plea On Behalf of Christians, ch. 10, – Migne, PG Tomus VI, 909.70)

            Κύριος ἔκτισέ με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς ἔργα αὐτοῦ (Eusebius, Preparation of the Gospel, Book 7. ch. 12 – Migne, PG Tomus X/XI, 616.83; 777.56)

            The above CFs (and there are more), were quite comfortable with equating ἔκτισέ (κτίζω) with γεννηθείς (and other various cognates of γεννάω), with application to the production of preexistent Son of God from God the Father.

            Have much more to comment on, but it will have to wait until Monday (the Lord willing), when I hope have more time to devote to this issue (and the others you raised).

            Hope you and yours have a merry Christmas.

            Grace and peace,

            David

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  18. Fariba says:

    I like how people have been mentioning Paul’s experience in Athens. God can and does work in the lives of people of other religions. If we find similarities between Christianity and other religions can we not conclude that those other religions have some knowledge of the Truth? I don’t like the question that is being asked (Do we worship the same God?) – According to whom? God? Howw can I be so sure I worship God properly. If I as a Christian acknowledge the creed intellectually but live contrary to it, am I worshipping the Christian God? When we ask whether we worship the same God we imply that we worship God properly all the time. Jean Danielou wrote in his book Prayer as a Political Problem that no one is perfectly Christian or entirely Godless. All Christians are pagans-becoming-Christian and the Godless are pagans who don’t acknowledge the gods they worship. I think we should look for similarities in teachings and work from there. If Paul could find God in a poem praising Zeus I’m sure we can find God in the Qur’an. We should not however deny the Trinity, the Incarnation and Divinity of Christ, etc. We must acknowledge the deficiency in other religions but that doesn’t mean that all teachings in other religions come from Satan (because if they are not of God where do they come from?)

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  19. Thomas Renz says:

    I did not think that this was a question as to whether true statements are to be found in the Quran, or as to whether Muslims intend to worship the only true God, or whether Islamic teaching is from Satan. Obviously, if God is understood in its essence to be the all-powerful, all-sufficient Creator of the universe with other attributes being secondary, then Allah as worshipped by Muslims and God as worshipped by Christians are “the same” while Krishna is someone else and Zeus is someone else again. The question to what extent none of us is god-less and all our hearts are knowingly or not oriented towards God is a different question again and in my opinion it does not help confusing the two.

    One way of looking at this would be to ask whether the narrative implied in the Quran is factual (albeit with many errors) or fictional (albeit with a central character based on a real person). The same question could be asked of stories told in ancient Athens or contemporary India. If factual, it obviously makes a lot of sense to correlate the characters with characters in other factual stories. If fictional, the question is more tricky and likely involves a search for “sufficient similarities”. With much historical fiction we may be inclined to say “I am not sure about the historical accuracy about this portrayal but it is clearly talking about this historical person,” e.g. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy depicting the life of Thomas Cromwell or maybe even Shannon Selin’s Napoleon in America (which I have not read). We know that Napoleon never was in America but we may be happy to say that in some sense the Napoleon of the book is the same as the Napoleon of history, not least because the book does not claim to be factual. If Selin were to claim that she is writing history, we could either say “what you say about Napoleon distorts the facts” or “your Napoleon is a figment of your imagination”. Does it matter which way one answers?

    To many the claim that the three “Abrahamic religions”, the three “people of the book” belong somehow closer together with each other than with those outside this circle is obviously true. For me it is an open question. Is there more truth in the Quran than in the Vedas and Upanishads or are the elements of truth in the Quran more important / essential than the elements found in the Hindu Scriptures? The implicit claim seems to be the latter and, as I have pointed out above, this has consequences for Christian theology. It is the latter vin which I am interested.

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  21. Mina says:

    I do intend to reading the comments here, since this subject is very interesting. But set aside all the persecutions and harsh Sharia laws and the history. I may even say set aside the Trinity and concentrate on the One God, the Father Almighty.

    In Islam, God’s infinity is quantitative and qualitative. In other words, God is unable to “dwell” in anything in creation, is unable to speak directly to anyone in creation, and cannot be in communion with anything in creation. This has profound problems. The means of salvation in Islam is the Quran and the laws of Allah. If a King rules over the land, I cannot shake his hand. I am not even allowed to look at him. But I only “know” the King through the constitution he gives me and others like me, the peasants of his kingdom. This is Allah, the untouchable and infinite God who can only be known through His words.

    Christianity sees infinity neither quantitatively nor qualitatively, but mysteriously or mystically. God the Father can dwell in us. He can communicate in us. He shares with us His divinity. This is how divinity is understood in Christianity. When we say we know God through His Word, it is not a book or a law, but His Only Begotten Son, given to us in person that we may have that same relationship He has with the One True God, the Father.

    Jews have an ambiguous history of understanding whether God can dwell, communicate, share His divinity or not. Maimonides seemed to have clearly rejected such an idea, but other Jews seem to inherit a tradition, especially in contemplating the Shekinah glory of God, that is consonant with Christian theology.

    All in all, the answer is not a “yes” or “no”, but “it’s complicated” I think, and it’s better to just highlight those differences than to play a politically correct game about worshipping the same God, which I truly believe this is really. If it was just a way to entice someone to the gospel, by highlighting what we do agree upon, I do not think that is ever successful, but only strengthens their own reasons for their own beliefs.

    Mina

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  22. Tom says:

    Scot,

    You asked why “same” matters to me. I don’t want to prolong things, but I’ll try to describe a few important reasons:

    1) If you’ve read David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God you’ll see a book-length defense of the “same God” position as I see it. Without ignoring the differences, Hart describes the fundamental agreement among the main theistic worldviews (Jewish, Islamic, Christians, Vedantic & Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, some paganisms [of the Neo-Platonic sort], Taoism and other views).

    2) As I understand the main, orthodox line of Christian thought re: God, God is the transcendent telos of all created desire, especially as expressed through our religious sense as divine image-bearers. Sin and evil are privations, not substantial entities in themselves, and the primordial desire for the transcendent that defines us as created, and our being as God-given, cannot be absolutely extinguished or misrelated to. So all such desire and religious longing is already a response to God as the ground and telos of our being. If only implicitly, then, we all approximate, to lesser or greater degrees, God as the transcendental Good and end of all things. Saying “same” for me is just equivalent to positing God as the transcendentals we call truth, beauty and goodness wherever and to whatever degree they are found (and being transcendentals, they are found to some degree in all things). So metaphysically speaking, I’m disinclined to say ANY sentient being can orient their desire or longing for the transcendent absolutely away from God. So I literally wouldn’t know how to give meaning to the claim that Muslims do not in any sense of the word direct, intend, or otherwise orient their devotion and worship to the transcendental ground of all things.

    3) Biblically speaking, you have the examples I’ve shared already, especially the fact that no Apostle coming to faith (least of all St. Paul) felt that in coming to worship God as the Father of Christ they had come to worship a God other than the God they worshiped before coming to faith.

    4) Practically speaking, it would be impossible to purge the Arabic-speaking Christian worship and liturgies of the use of “Allah” (or the referential notion of “same”) or to ignore the history of dialogue between Muslims and Christians that has proceeded on the shared use of language and the shared conviction that they worship the same God. This is explicit in the Quran (29:46). And no Arabic-speaking Christian tradition (Orthodox, Catholic, Oriental, whatever) requires Muslim converts to Christianity to renounce “Allah.”

    5) Also practically speaking, it does make a difference when sharing faith and seeking to convince, say, a Muslim, to embrace your faith, whether or not you plan on asking her to abandon or renounce all belief in and devotion to “Allah” or simply come to realize the life-transforming truth about “Allah” in light of Christ. So at the very least, clergy, church leaders, pastors and others ought to have an informed enough pneumatology and worldview to guide their dialogue and proclamation. If we never say the word “same” or “not the same” to others, we have at least to say it to ourselves and form some opinion on the matter. So it’s never really ignored.

    “Same” matters to me because it reflects underlying metaphysical beliefs I have about God as the transcendent telos of all desire and religious longing, because it best explains relevant biblical texts, because rejecting it would void nearly two millennia of Arabic-speaking Christian liturgies as well as all existing Arabic translations of the Scriptures and undermine centuries of Christian-Muslim dialogue, and because the testimonies of Muslim converts overwhelming confirm no conscious acknowledgement of having exchanged one Deity for another.

    Blessed Christmas!
    Tom

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Tom, for those who are unacquainted with your ministry, please share with us how long you spent in the Middle East as a Christian missionary.

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      • Tom says:

        I felt in high school (in the US) a certain interest in the Arab/Muslim world. So after graduating I spent 3 years in the Middle East (language study, volunteering, etc.) to check it out. Loved it. After Stateside college (and marriage), I spent another 20+ years as a minister (working with churches, Bible schools, church planting, Bible translation). Wonderful years.

        Tom

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    • brian says:

      Really well stated, Tom.

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    • Tom says:

      Forgive my plodding on here. But I’d like to bounce these ideas of others. I was just thinking of Scot’s insistence that the default meaning which people attribute to the word “same” is “exactly the same.” I’m just running through common uses of “same” I could think of that arise in everyday conversation and it doesn’t look like “exactly the same” is anything close to being the default meaning people give the word. Some examples:

      “I’ll have the same thing she’s having” said to our waitress about what my wife just ordered.
      “I feel the same way,” said to a friend about how horrible he feels about Trump.
      “They have the same accent,” said about two people from Alabama.
      “It all sounds the same to me,” said by me about two rock songs my kids have me listen to which they think are vastly different.

      In none of these does “same” mean “identically” or “numerically” the same. Of course, we can think of examples where it does mean that. My point is that “exactly identical” isn’t the reigning, default meaning that people attribute to the word “same.” People can and do many all sorts of finer distinctions every day.

      So why not in the case of religion/faith? What happens I think is that certain arenas of meaning (‘religion’ being one of them) are more deeply and emotionally embraced by us than others like who you buy your car insurance from. We’re more invested in the former sort arenas. They’re fully charged you might say. And when comparisons and contrasts are made, we tend, I think, to default to dissimilarities. Why? Because in the case of belief in ‘God’, a lot of thought (hopefully) went into why we settled on the beliefs we did, and that means that in coming to believe in ‘God’ we’ve already gone through a process naturally driven primarily by discrimination (this NOT that), distinguishing between what we believe and don’t want to believe about God. So when we discuss religions, we’re predisposed to hear “same God” in terms of the sorts of defining distinctions that led us to believe what we believe and not what they believe. We simply don’t relate ourselves automatically or primarily within the scope of similarities when it comes to ‘faith’ because it’s the nature of faith commitments to engage us at the deepest emotional levels where we’re most invested and most discriminating.

      Many Christians naturally feel they have little reason to view other faiths from a perspective other than one that primarily negates and discriminates. We worship in the world of our conscious beliefs, and those beliefs are different from other faiths. One has to have a motivation (equal to his motivation to believe in the first place) even to ask what implicit, transcendent unity (say, the divine image in us all) might be behind all religious aspirations, moral intuitions, and longings in the first place. And many of my evangelical tribesmen can’t think of any good reason to venture beneath the level of conscious, discriminating beliefs (descriptions) because, frankly, they don’t think there is anything transcendent of those beliefs.

      I’m not saying that since we all bear the divine imagine which grounds our shared religious sense and moral intuitions, that’s enough to redeem human beings in some anonymous sort of way. On the contrary. If I’m arguing for a legitimate “same God” view, I’m prepared to argue for a domain of dialogue in which I’d passionately argue for “not the same.” What I’m suggesting is:

      a) this shared divine image is a unity more fundamental to different religions than are our doctrinal differences (even if we relate to this fundamental, transcendent unity in terms of our doctrines and particular beliefs),
      b) this unity is implicit in all the different and contrary religious forms and beliefs we posit in seeking to fulfill it (but all seek to fulfill it!),
      c) even if this unity grounds the religious impulse and transcendent longing in human beings, false beliefs can and do shape our experience of/relationship to it. It can be misrelated “to” in diabolical and violent ways even. I’m just arguing that it cannot be misrelated “out of” in an absolute sense.

      Tom

      Liked by 1 person

      • infanttheology says:

        Tom,

        I will admit I am struggling to understand your last three points. It seems to me that if we seem to be finding common ground with people in our understandings of God, a large part of this experience has to do with the language we use about God and how we describe him. Perhaps you might be willing to share some of your personal experiences and encounters a bit that have helped shape – or maybe they have just reinforced – your own viewpoint? Also, thank you for your missionary service.

        -Nathan

        Liked by 1 person

        • Tom says:

          Nathan: I am struggling to understand your last three points. It seems to me that if we seem to be finding common ground with people in our understandings of God, a large part of this experience has to do with the language we use about God and how we describe him.

          Tom: I’m suggesting a fundamental unity of human beings which is pre-linguistic and transcendental. Identify it as the divine image if you like. Works for me. But it’s antecedent to the linguistic/descriptive or any degree to which our descriptions agree or disagree.

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          • infanttheology says:

            Tom,

            I guess I don’t really understand how that works. Language is all and does more than describe. He made the world with His powerful words and redeems us as well. Language – communication – is so much more than linguistics. In fact, none of us can live without communication/language. “in 1211, Frederick II, Emperor of Germany, in an attempt to discover the natural ‘language of God,’ raised dozens of children in silence. God’s preferred language never emerged; the children never spoke any language and all ultimately died in childhood.” (Van Cleve, Thomas Curtis. The Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, immutator mundi. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972). Rosenstock-Huessy said: ““Nature” is an abstraction from the saturated-with-language-world, the world minus speech. “Nature” is the result of a subtraction. It is a misleading word, because it seems innocent, a primordial sound, an “a priori.” Yet this is to get everything upside-down for in our actual experience voices call us into life first of all, and water, earth, and wind may concern us only after membership in society and participation in language securely lash us above the abyss of nature.”

            I do hold out hope that those who have not been shared an explicit, life-transforming Word from God about Jesus Christ will be saved. But I only know of one way that God rescues us from the darkness we are are born into (Psalm 5;, John 1,3, 6; Eph. 2), and that is by communicating His Son to us by His messengers.

            +Nathan

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          • Tom says:

            Nathan: But I only know of one way that God rescues us from the darkness.

            Tom: As do I. For me at least, to say the same God stands behind Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, or to say that these all aspire toward or intend their worship to the same ultimate reality isn’t to say they all equally succeed in rescuing us from darkness.

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          • infanttheology says:

            Tom,

            “For me at least, to say the same God stands behind Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, or to say that these all aspire toward or intend their worship to the same ultimate reality isn’t to say they all equally succeed in rescuing us from darkness.”

            I might put it this way. Men all seek God (Acts 17), but due to sin, apart from His Holy Spirit and Enlightenment (the gift of faith, or trust, in Him), no one *really* seeks Him – no fallen human being seeks Him as He should be sought, for no one seeks Him as He truly is (Rom. 3). As Acts 17, says, “they grope”. There are different concepts of God, some which seem more in line with the true God as ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ. Perhaps there is an advantage in believing in a Muslim or Jewish conception of God in that those persons tend to be more likely to listen to the message of the Christian God – and listening to the Law and Gospel can result in spiritual transformation, as the Word of God is power. That said, I am not comfortable building a theological system on this, but only on Christ. Each person I speak with will be unique, and hear I need to find out what they believe, how they define words, what they think of Jesus (perhaps over and against the official teachings of the religion they say they adhere to).

            +Nathan

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          • Tom says:

            Nathan: As Acts 17 says, “they grope….”

            Tom: Finish the phrase. It’s immediately followed with “…and find him.” But never mind that. I feel very comfortable with what Paul says in Acts 17.

            Let me ask this, Nathan. What is it about human nature that constitutes that nature essentially as a “seeking” and “groping” after God as its telos? It is not any particular religious or theological doctrine. We are not groping after some proposition. What do we essentially grope for in all our searching? It defines us essentially, naturally, as created by God. Can you not imagine what it is? And imagining something of what it is, can you not understand something of how it works? And understanding something of how it works, do you not find it worthwhile or helpful to say that Muslims seek this same end?

            Tom

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          • infanttheology says:

            Tom,

            “Let me ask this, Nathan. What is it about human nature that constitutes that nature essentially as a “seeking” and “groping” after God as its telos? It is not any particular religious or theological doctrine. We are not groping after some proposition. What do we essentially grope for in all our searching? It defines us essentially, naturally, as created by God. Can you not imagine what it is? And imagining something of what it is, can you not understand something of how it works? And understanding something of how it works, do you not find it worthwhile or helpful to say that Muslims seek this same end?”

            Thanks for challenging me with these questions. I think we are all, in one sense, inclined to seek after God, the Divine Mind (Logos) responsible for the cosmos. Its as Augustine said about our restless hearts. But, then again, until He finds us (which is when we find Him), we are not *really* seeking Him, but an idol. For God as He is and comes is ultimately foolishness to our unspiritual minds, ever in need of transformation. Insofar as we Christians are not fully sanctified in this life, we also, in our old Adams (the old nature that remains around our neck until death) are also idolaters.

            What is an idol? An idol is anything that is not good or strong enough to save us from death, our sin, and the demonic (this is true whether you call God “Yahweh”, “Allah” or “Jesus” (note Paul talks about people worshipping “another Jesus” in 2 Cor. 11).

            I confess that this recent post from a bold Lutheran brother appeals to me very much (just came out an hour ago and just read it so it is fresh on my mind). I can’t imagine it will appeal to you or Father Kimel, but I would be pleasantly surprised to discover otherwise (namely, that in some sense, at some level, you resonate with this short article): http://www.chadbird.com/blog/2015/12/28/most-religions-do-lead-to-the-same-god

            Thanks again for the discussion.

            In Christ,

            Nathan

            Like

          • Tom says:

            Reply farther down the thread. Too thin this far inset. 😀

            Like

  23. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I have not read all the comments (yet).

    I had the impression that Dr. Hawkins had succeeded in producing a “cause célèbre” before Wheaton responded. What’s the chronology? How ” lightning” was Wheaton’s response? It does not strike me as prima facie “premature and unconvincing”.

    The latest development as reported by Wheaton (22 Dec.): “The College’s perspective is that additional theological clarification is necessary before Dr. Hawkins may resume her full duties. Regrettably, Dr. Hawkins has clearly stated her unwillingness to further participate in clarifying conversations.”

    “I presume that Hawkins would also express her solidarity with all persecuted and oppressed human beings around the globe, regardless of their religious affiliation.” In some senses a proper presumption, yet do we have any grounds for making it? As you say, “I would have expected Hawkins to have given her statement a bit more thought before going to print.” That might include explicit solidarity with fellow-Christian women being legally compelled or viciously bullied to wear a hijab or other covering.

    I daresay I can (and often do) “betrays [my] relative ignorance of Eastern formulations of the Holy Trinity”, but I note in Fr. Behr’s words the phrase “with only a few exceptions”, and wonder on what basis he concludes of Philippians 2:9, “this is an affirmation that this one is all that YHWH Himself is, without being YHWH.” I should think it is clearly (or, more cautiously, equally possibly) an affirmation that not only is the Son JHWH, but by the Incarnation Jesus in all His humanity is JHWH.

    When you say, “He was revealing to them something new and fresh about that God”, I wonder who would agree or disagree in the course of Church history. What, for instance, would St. Basil the Great (whom I have, embarrassingly, not even read at length in translation) say? Was the Trinity unknown as Trinity until (a certain point in) the Incarnation? I remember in reading D.P. Walker about Renaissance attention to what he calls the ‘prisca theologia’ the fact that it was taken to entail pre-Christian, extra-Israelite knowledge of God as Trinity! (see The Ancient Theology: Studies in Christian Platonism from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century (1972) ).

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      ‘I daresay I can (and often do) “betrays [my] relative ignorance of Eastern formulations of the Holy Trinity”, but I note in Fr. Behr’s words the phrase “with only a few exceptions”, and wonder on what basis he concludes of Philippians 2:9, “this is an affirmation that this one is all that YHWH Himself is, without being YHWH.” I should think it is clearly (or, more cautiously, equally possibly) an affirmation that not only is the Son JHWH, but by the Incarnation Jesus in all His humanity is JHWH.’

      David, cannot speak for Fr Behr, but I am personally uncomfortable with saying, without qualification, that Jesus is YHWH. YHWH is God’s self-revealed proper name. It refers to the one God quite apart from its descriptive content (which had long been forgotten by the first century A.D.). From a developed Christian perspective, the question then becomes “When Jesus, with his fellow Jews, called upon YHWH in prayer, which person of the Trinity was he addressing?” The gospels state that he was addressing the Father, not himself. I think this is why Fr Behr speaks of Jesus as “all that YHWH Himself is, without being YHWH.” But if we extend the meaning of “YHWH” to mean something like “God,” then I agree with you that the incarnate Christ is YHWH.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        “The gospels state that he was addressing the Father, not himself.” That would be fascinating to try to check…!

        If “YHWH is God’s self-revealed proper name” in the sense that it is the Triune God’s self-revealed proper name – regardless of who, ‘outside the Trinity’, knew that, how clearly, when – then it is always also equally the self-revealed proper Name of the Son.

        When was Jesus the Incarnate Son addressing the Father (even as, so to put it, the pre-Incarnate Son might address the Father within the Trinity), and when, the Enhypostatized Humanitas of Jesus Theandrically addressing Himself as Enhypostatizing Son as well as the Father and the Holy Spirit (to put it Chalcedonianly, though there would probably be a Nicene-compatible ‘miaphysite’ way of putting it equally well)?

        (As Tom suggests, understandings of kenosis will come into any such discussion! I think the Council of Constantinople in 1156 ought to, as well.)

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Thank you, David, for the reminder about the 1156 (1157?) Synod of Constantinople. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the synod condemned the position of Soterichus that the eucharistic sacrifice is offered to the Father alone and not to the Father, Son, and Spirit.

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      • infanttheology says:

        Father Kimel,

        Perhaps I betray no small amount of ignorance here, but is not Jesus’ “I am” (from John 8) Him precisely identifying Himself with YHWH?

        -Nathan

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Nathan, I agree. But the question is in what sense is he identifying him with YHWH. My assumption is that in the OT “YHWH” functions as the divinely-revealed proper name of God. In the gospels we see Jesus revealing this YHWH to be his Father, and he teaches his disciples to pray to him, “Our Father …” And we see the Apostle Paul elaborating upon the trinitarian grammar in his epistles (e.g., Gal 3:23-4:7). But we also see places in the NT, already mentioned in this thread, where Jesus is associated with the divine name of YHWH. How then should we understand this?

          One of my underlying assumptions is that undifferentiated divinity does not exist. It is always hypostasized as Father, Son, or Spirit. So when Israel prayed to God before the Incarnation, to which of the divine persons was she praying? I am hypothesizing that she was praying to the Father (but of course all prayer to the Father is also prayer to the coinherent Son and Spirit). David, I think, is offering a different hypothesis. I’m not sure it matters much. I just think that my hypothesis makes pretty good sense of the biblical data and the development of trinitarian doctrine.

          There’s an article on this subject by Karl Rahner that I need to hunt up.

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          • infanttheology says:

            Father Kimel,

            “I just think that my hypothesis makes pretty good sense of the biblical data and the development of trinitarian doctrine.”

            Perhaps here is where I get pretty lost. Are you assuming that there is no awareness of God’s mysterious triune nature among the writers of the Old Testament, or is that not an fully accurate description of your view?

            +Nathan

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Nathan: “Are you assuming that there is no awareness of God’s mysterious triune nature among the writers of the Old Testament, or is that not an fully accurate description of your view?”

          I’m not making any assumptions along those lines.

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  24. Tom says:

    I wonder how many of Wheaton’s faculty and execs are kenoticists. 😀

    Tom

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  25. Mina says:

    I wanted to add to my comment earlier concerning the indwelling and communicating God. When I think of these discussions, I think of the political issues reflecting Egyptian societies. Proponents of peace among Muslims and Christians will raise the crescent-cross combo flag with the slogan, “Muslims, Christians we are one!” HH the late Pope Shenouda III in a 1978 speech in front of Sadat (a unifying conference to show peace between Muslims and Christians) began his speech as “In the name of the One God, whom we all here worship.”

    However, given the fact that Coptic Christianity has taken a beating in the last 3 or 4 centuries that had a major Islamizing effect on Coptic theology, there are many of us who would like to overturn this Shenoudian political unity. A major issue for Copts today is the understanding of theosis. For those who us who try to bring back theosis into Coptic teachings, we take the extreme view: if you are against theosis, you are espousing “a-theosis”, being an atheist.

    To seek the transcendent being as a central point of affirming the image of God in all of us would lead to statements like “we all, all humanity, worship the same God, even atheists”. Yes, when I hear Neil Degrasse Tyson wax philosophically on the fact that we are in stardust, and stardust is in us, in a spiritual sense, they find something transcendent in that, and in the mathematics that helps buttress theoretical physics. To seek art, beauty, order, etc. is something that even atheists can be said to “worship” with us.

    Someone earlier asked, where is the line drawn? It seems to me for some, the line is drawn on the idea that there is one God, and this one God is distinct from creation, i.e. to have an uncreated/created distinction. Nevertheless, I also would like to know what other religion in the world can make the possibility of keeping the distinction while partaking of the divine nature and believing that an infinite fullness can dwell in a finite being?

    When we turn theology into something systematic so as to just put up a facebook profile description of God, then I can be very comfortable with the “same God” idea. But I don’t believe in separating this with the way in which God works in all of us, i.e. our soteriological benefit.

    Could using the “same God” idea help in evangelism? Perhaps, I do not deny the possibility. At the same time, in my experience as a Copt, I have also seen its abuse when politicians use it to gain a false sense of peace and unity while ignoring the bigotry and persecution made against Christians. So as a Copt, I become quite averse to this “same God” idea based on the deceptive use by Muslims just to shut us up in demanding our civil rights. No, this is not what peace and evangelism is about. Peace is when you can tolerate differences, even if the differences have the potential to insult the other’s religion. When I read patristics, I see men with thick skins giving harsh polemics of refutations of the other. I also see men who condescend to the few to help them understand our beliefs using the language of their cultures, and that is acceptable too (such as the language of the “unknown God” and in later Nicene contexts, the language of “hypostasis”). I do not say to remove the word “Allah”. I embrace that word and I worship Allah el Wahid, al Ab (the One God, the Father). But I’m not arguing about vocabulary or semantics. The question is whether we all worship the same exact Allah TOGETHER, as one people with one mind, and that cannot be a strict yes or no answer, but it depends on who you talk to and the way you evangelize.

    One more thing regarding HH Pope Shenouda. Pope Shenouda actually intended to use this as an evangelical tool because he memorized the Quran, and was willing to use the Quran to entice Muslims into Christianity. Unfortunately that backfired when a law was passed disallowing any non-Muslim to even quote the Quran for any reason. A ridiculous law (among other Sharia-izing tendencies in Egypt) that lead Pope Shenouda to become so vociferous that Sadat put him under house arrest until after his assassination. Since then, Pope Shenouda never began speaking of “the one God whom we all worship.”

    So as an Arab Christian, I really become very hesitant of using the phrase “same God” or “same Allah” if you prefer. This needs a specific context, not something general, and can lead to confusion of minds. I understand also the word “same” can be interpreted differently, but that is just semantics. I understand that when we say we say we worship the same God, I am thinking of the setting of standing together as a community, an assembly worshipping together. At some point it seemed Jews and Christians did in fact believe this, because they also worshipped together. But very quickly, that fell apart. Perhaps, the will of God is to make ourselves very distinct and not try to blur the lines. If you are seeking to find where we agree, then that is fine. But it does not logically follow that where one agrees, it leads to the “same worship”.

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    • brian says:

      Mina,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience.
      In my view, the Holy Spirit is infinitely inventive in finding ways to reach each unique person. People are born into particular socio-historical situations; they develop a sense of identity and understanding from an existential starting point. Hence, God finds a way to work with that. God may even make use of “star dust” romanticism, which seems to appeal to modern atheists. Still, there is an immense, perhaps infinite gap between star dust spirituality and the revelation of Christian truth. That the Christian truth is mysterious and transcends conceptual capture does not preclude doctrinal clarity.
      In the latter respect, it’s evident, isn’t it, that ecclesial worship does not extend outside the Church? Still, one may pray with anyone and charitably extend hope. Surely God is not limited by our limited understanding.

      So, institutionally, I think it’s important not to syncretize and get lost in a woolly ecumenicism. As individuals, I think a discerning witness that embraces the hidden presence of Christ in the lives of those who aspire to seek loving truth, albeit frequently distorted, is part of evangelization.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Mina: So as an Arab Christian, I really become very hesitant of using the phrase “same God” or “same Allah” if you prefer. This needs a specific context, not something general…

      Tom: I agree. In all the disagreement several of us have been having, I hope I’ve been clear in saying that one can never make a comment like, “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” without qualifying it carefully. Qualified, it can be a helpful thing to say. Unqualified, it can be confusing.

      أنتم أخوتنا في المسيح في مصر دائما في صلواتنا

      Tom (I’m hoping the Arabic shows up.)

      Liked by 1 person

  26. infanttheology says:

    Mina and Brian,

    Thanks much for your thoughtful comments. All very helpful.

    -Nathan

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  27. Tom says:

    Last week I ran across the work of Protestant (Syrian) theologian Najib Awad. Just this year he’s come out with what looks like a wonderful book of historical theology, Orthodoxy in Arabic Terms: A Study of Theodore Abu Qurrah’s Theology in its Islamic Context (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – Tension, Transmission, Transformation). In it he considers (among other authors) the work of Theodore Abu Qurrah (9th century Orthodox Christian), one of the first to write theology in Arabic and to engage Islam. You can read a good bit of it on Google books. But it’s quite expense to purchase!

    Anyhow, I asked Awad if he’d be OK if a bit of his private email to me was shared. I found it interesting. Najib writes:

    “[T]o my knowledge of the Christian-Muslim Kalam in the early Muslim era, which I touch upon in my book Orthodoxy in Arabic Terms, the Arabic-speaking, Oriental Christians always believed that they and Muslims believe in the same God. So it was not a problem for them calling the God of the Scripture and of Jesus Christ ‘Allah’. They even talked about the Trinity in terms that are reminiscent of the Quranic attestation: the Trinity is Allah, his Kalimah (Word) and Ruh (Spirit). They also talked about Jesus as God’s Word (“kalimat Allah”) intensively in their kalam texts due to this belief in the commonality of their and the Muslims’ belief in God. John of Damascus in the 7th century would treat Islam is just a Christian-Jewish heresy, not as a totally contrast[ing] faith. Timothy I in the 8th century and Theodore abu Qurrah, Abu Ra’itah at-takriti and Ammar al-Basri in the 9th centuries would also speak about the Christian God not just in Arabic terms, but also in Quranic ones because they believed that the common components between the Christian and Muslim doctrines of God are far more evident to be ignored or undermined. So, what western scholars like Volf try to reveal to the western world today as a revolutionary and new discovery has been considered a given fact for these Oriental Christians of the 7th-9th centuries.”

    Tom

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  28. Tom says:

    Nathan: I think we are all, in one sense, inclined to seek after God, the Divine Mind (Logos) responsible for the cosmos. It’s as Augustine said about our restless hearts. But, then again, until He finds us (which is when we find Him), we are not *really* seeking Him, but an idol.

    Tom: Totally agree. Earlier you said you weren’t sure “how that works,” but what you’re describing here is what I’m basically getting at. We are all a mixture of the two, of that primal orientation of our being ‘as given’ and which seeks the end/telos of existence outside one’s self, on the one hand, and of all the different ways we get it right and wrong in our seeking, on the other. What I’ve been trying to say is that this “inclination to seek God” you mention is not just an abstract proposition we hold up to just doctrinal claims that compete with Christianity. It’s the essence of human being, the first, most fundamental truth of every movement of thought and desire. A human being just IS this inclination. This relationship—this inclination to seek God—defines us all, all the time, in all things and without fail.

    This is the first thing that makes God the “referent” we all seek—Muslims included. And this should be pretty uncontroversial I should think. But I’m continually surprised by the resistance it meets. And—and this seems to be the real rub in this whole debate—this truth precedes all misrelation. When we screw up, when we falsely believe, when we pervert ourselves by seeking some finite end as it if were our final Good (which you rightly identify as idolatry), though we experience life as suffering and privation of the Good as a consequence, we do not on that account cease to be, naturally, an “inclination to seek God.”

    On top of this primal (metaphysical) sense in which we all are, unfailingly, an inclination to seek God, I think there’s a further sense in which we can say Muslims, Jews, Christians worship the same God. Consider Islam’s historical emergence out of polytheism within a Judeo-Christian context (Muhammad’s rejection of polytheism is not unrelated to his exposure to and knowledge of Jews and Christians), its development in conversation with Jews and Christians, and the obvious way Muhammad defined his faith in terms of the defining narratives of Judaism and Christianity (just check out the biblical stories woven throughout the Quran’s narrative—Adam/Eve, Noah, biblical patriarchs, Israel’s calling, Joseph/Mary, Jesus’ virgin birth, the prophets, etc., to say nothing of the general theological aesthetics of the Quran’s doctrine of creation).

    Can a Christian argue there are misinterpretation, misrelation, and misappropriation at the heart of Islam’s historical and theological evolution? Sure. But all that, it seems to me, happens within a larger shared historical and theological view (of monotheism, creation ex nihilo, the narrative of God’s purposes mediated through Israel and her prophets, etc.).

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    • infanttheology says:

      Tom,

      Thank you for that thoughtful reply. Probably good to leave it there for now! A Happy New Year to you and yours.

      -Nathan

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      “But, then again, until He finds us (which is when we find Him), we are not *really* seeking Him, but an idol.” Hmm,…

      Have you read anything by Illtyd Trethowan?

      “Can a Christian argue there are misinterpretation, misrelation, and misappropriation at the heart of Islam’s historical and theological evolution?”

      Have you read the The Armenian History attributed to Sebeos (a.k.a., A History of Heraclius: finished c. A.D. 661)? So far, I’ve only read the account of ‘Mehmet’ – apparently the earliest committed to writing, long before any hadith, to say nothing of Sirah – in a couple translations (e.g., in Cook and Crone Hagarism and the Wikipedia article, “Sebeos”). and a few quotations…

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