Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God? (Making Sense of the Fiasco at Wheaton)
In case you missed it, there is a bit of a situation going on at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. It’s an increasingly long and currently developing story, and you can check out some of the sources below for further reading; otherwise you can skip and read the summary I have below.
It all began when Larycia Hawkins, one of Wheaton’s tenured professors, made the following post to her Facebook page:
The controversy comes in reference to these comments:
I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.
Shortly afterwards, Hawkins was placed on paid leave so that the school board could address her unusual comments and try to gain more clarity about her statements. Hawkins, however, refused to meet with the school’s leadership and instead held a press conference calling for supporters and criticizing the school’s actions towards her. Currently, the school is in the process of firing Hawkins, although it is turning out to be a more complicated procedure than one might expect.
First Things First
Let’s be clear about a few things. First, no one really knows the whole situation that is going on at Wheaton except for those individuals directly involved. It is entirely possible that there are a number of significant details to this story that have yet to surface, details that would skew how we would view either side of this situation. So those of us on the outside looking in should be slow to pass judgment.
Secondly, there are a number of complicated layers to the events that make it a bit harder to sort through. For instance, though the school explicitly stated that Hawkins’ remarks about Christians and Muslims worshipping the “same God” is the reason for the investigation, others have suggested is has more to do with her decision to wear a hijab. There is also the complication of Hawkins’ status as a tenured professor and how it is not a simple practice to discipline or fire a staff member of that rank. Furthermore, some have raised the question of whether or not Hawkins’ statement technically violated the school’s Statement of Faith. And even beyond all of this, there is the curious point about Hawkins refusing to meet with school staff to clear up the issue but rather going directly to the press to plead her cause. What conversations happened behind closed doors that let it get this far this quickly? We simply do not know for sure. And what about confidentiality issues? Or the place of religious freedom and diversity in a school of religious education? Some have even gone as far as to make it about sexism or racism.
Because this matter is so complicated, and the details still emerging, I’ll comment very little on the actual situation. What I do want to address however is the comment that started it all.
Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?
Christians and Muslims agree on some things about the nature of God. Both religions believe in a single, all-powerful, ever-present Being who is absolutely holy and just, the creator of all, the giver of life and the governing God of the universe. Both Christians and Muslims can agree on these things. Because of this, some people are comfortable (such as Hawkins) stating that ultimately both religions are pursuing the same God. The only difference between the two, it is supposed, is that each religion has a different understanding of the details: how God interacts with human beings, which prophets he spoke through, the means to pleasing him, to name a few.
It is true that there are some Muslims, some Christians, and some from other religious vantage points who believe that both religions worship the same God. This is not a street-level argument. There have been academic level arguments put forward by both Muslim and Christian scholars in support of this view. Justin Taylor from the Gospel Coalition has put together a list of those who have taken various stances on the issue.
I don’t pretend to be a Christian scholar or an academic comparable to anyone on the list. But at the same time, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the solution to this dilemma. It makes sense, at least for those of us who are Christians, to ask a simple question: What did Jesus say about how to know God?
Jesus Seals the Deal
Thankfully, Jesus did not leave us in the dark on such a controversial and significant issue. Rather, it is quite the opposite. Jesus resoundingly and repeatedly addressed this very thing. The gospel of John in particular records statements where Jesus clearly said that any person or religion who rejects him is ultimately rejecting God.
- John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
- John 5:23 Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.
- John 8:19 You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.
- John 8:42 If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.
- John 12:44 Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
- John 14:6 I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
It really is this simple: if you don’t believe in Jesus, you have no idea who God is. You don’t know him. You might disagree with that, but at the very least you can’t deny it’s what Jesus taught and therefore what Christians ought to believe. Over and over again Jesus said that the litmus test for whether or not you know God, are forgiven by God, honour God, believe in God, or have a relationship with God is whether or not you reject Jesus.
Make no mistake about it: every devout Muslim rejects Jesus as the means to God, as God in the flesh, as the Saviour of the world, as the access point to the Creator of all. There’s not a single Muslim on the planet who worships Jesus or believes on him for eternal life. What does that mean? Well, according to Jesus, it means that not one single Muslim on the planet knows God or loves God or serves God.
Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. Jesus could not be more clear!
The Sum of the Matter
It really is staggering that a Christian College would be under fire for not supporting a staff member who so blatantly dismisses some of the core teachings of Jesus. Again, there could be more to this issue than meets the eye. But that anyone within the Christian community would support the belief that Muslims and Christians worship the same God is a testimony to the feeble condition of Christianity in our culture. Only in the cozy confines of North America can so-called Christian scholars make such absurd declarations and get away with it. I can assure you, it would not be taken too keenly by either Christians or Muslims living in the Middle East!
Let’s just face reality: Jesus is divisive. To be sure, Jesus also unites, by bringing together those who love and serve him. But for those who reject him, Jesus is the dividing line between life and death, heaven and hell, truth and falsehood, God and Satan. Jesus did not come so that people could dismiss him and make up their own truths about God. Rather, he came to reveal God. And as such, he is the authority on this subject. The rest of us need to sit at his feet and take his instruction to heart.
I am hoping that the situation at Wheaton resolves itself in the most peaceful manner possible. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be trending this way. Instead it is garnering national headlines for all the wrong reasons and stirring up false teaching about the faith that brings eternal life. Please be in prayer for all of those involved and, as a follower of Jesus, do not back down in cowardice to the backlash that the gospel brings. Only in the true preservation and proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is there hope for lost sinners.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)