Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
Posted on April 29, 2016 by Amy Tolmie
In December 2015 a professor at an evangelical university near Chicago suggested on social media that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. She wore a hijab for several weeks to stand in solidarity with Muslims, but came under intense scrutiny for her comments and left the college in February of this year.
It is an interesting discussion starter for us, and perhaps a question that has been posed to you in your work in schools. This blog is a guest article from Nick Pollard, co-founder of Ethos Education.
Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Some thoughts on spiritual education.
Much has been written recently about statements from various spiritual educators that ‘Muslims and Christians worship the same God.’ This has precipitated rather simplistic headlines. However, if spiritual education is to be truly effective, there is a need for more substance and clarity beneath those headlines. So, I offer the following framework in the hope that it will help the growing debate around this issue.
In the particular case of Islam, Christianity and God, the content and style of the education we offer (pedagogically) must be informed by our understanding of the varying views of God (theologically), which must in turn be informed by the varying views of reality (ontologically), and ultimately communicated in a language that is clear and helpful (linguistically).
Perhaps a few bits of flesh on these bones might add value to the debate:
· Linguistically. The words we use to refer to God depend upon our language. Of course we wouldn’t expect the English word ‘God’ in the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek text of the Bible, where various words from Elohim to Theos are used. Rather, the English word ‘God’ appears to have pagan roots, possibly deriving from the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘good’ and/or the Indo-European word for ‘that which is invoked.’ ‘Allah’ is simply the Arabic name for ‘God’ and was used by Jews and Christians in Arabia for many years before the birth of Islam, and is still used by many Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians today.
· Ontologically. If God is indeed the ultimate creator and sustainer of everything, then there can only be one God. It is ontological nonsense to talk of the ‘Christian God’ and the ‘Muslim God’ as if they are two different Gods existing in actual reality. If, as is the case, the nature and personhood of God as described by Muslims is fundamentally different from that described by Christians then they cannot both exist in the forms described.
· Theologically. There are unavoidable differences between the Christian and Islamic concept of God, not least in terms of his fundamental nature and personhood. But, if we accept the theological principle of general revelation as well as special revelation, then we will expect all people to have a more or less clear understanding of God according to their own knowledge and experience.
· Pedagogically. One goal of education is to help pupils to question and develop their own understanding; in the case of Religious Education this means ‘learning from’ as well as ‘learning about’ beliefs differing from their own. Both Islam and Christianity are Abrahamic missionary faiths. But that doesn’t mean that they are essentially the same. Although both are Abrahamic, and therefore share common roots, they also have major contradictions, such as the Muslim denial of the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus, and the Christian denial of Muhammad as the final prophet. Similarly, whilst both are missionary faiths they have very different missional goals. Christians want to help Muslims discover faith in Christ who claimed to be the unique way to God, and Muslims want to help Christians to follow Islam which they believe to be the unique way to God.
It is entirely possible and appropriate to welcome both Islam and Christianity in a cohesive and inclusive educational environment, provided that we are careful about the language that we use, and recognise the differences between them. We can acknowledge each believer’s right to hold their differing faiths. We can support their right to advocate and argue for their differing faiths, with tolerance and respect. What, I believe, we must not do is to seek to impose an inaccurate meta-narrative that claims that Islam and Christianity are both basically the same faith. This is disrespectful, to both faiths and indeed to the very process of education. I fear that such an imposition may, by some, be unhelpfully read into the bold and unnuanced headline claim that ‘Muslims and Christians worship the same God.’
Nick Pollard is co-founder of EthosEducation.org which publishes free educational resources to help people develop a greater understanding of themselves, their community and the world around them, and to explore the Bible’s teaching about contemporary issues.