Wheaton College has been in the news lately regarding the school’s response to associate professor Larycia Hawkins and her assertion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. The college has begun the process of terminating Hawkins’ employment. Some Wheaton students and faculty have publicly supported the professor.
I have never been to the Wheaton campus, nor do I have a direct relationship with the school. I do, however, feel some degree of affinity with Wheaton. It is a Christian, liberal arts college very much like my alma mater, Westmont College. In fact, Westmont has often been called “the Wheaton of the West.” I suspect that if Westmont found itself in a similar situation, it would respond very much like Wheaton has.
But I have no first-hand knowledge of that situation. I know only what I read in the press, and I don’t entirely trust that. So I’m not in a position to decide whether the reported actions on either side are right or wrong. Instead, I want to focus on the simple claim that started the conflict: that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
I admit that I do not know a lot about Islam as a religion, nor about its theology. I do know that Allah is the Arabic equivalent of the English word God. English uses this one word (in all lowercase) to refer to the general category of beings and objects of worship, and as a personal name (when capitalized) for the God of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. I believe that Allah is used in Arabic in the same two senses.
Does this prove that Christians and Muslims worship the same God? No, it does not, and for a very simple reason: The God that Christians worship is Jesus Christ. That’s why our faith is called Christianity. Jesus is a historical person who lived and preached in ancient Israel. His life and teachings are matters of historical record—primarily, but not exclusively, the four Gospels of the Christian Scriptures. Both Christians and Muslims accept this. (Atheistic claims that Jesus is just the creation of mythology have been repeatedly and soundly refuted, and warrant no further consideration.) The difference is that while Christians worship Jesus as God, Muslims do not. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, but just human, and not God. Therefore Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. It really is that simple.
But furthermore, to Christians, God is a trinity. More precisely, God is the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These are one God. There is nothing else in human experience with this characteristic. That is why the Trinity is so difficult to define; there is no analogue that we can compare this concept to. We accept it because our Scriptures say it. Some people say—and I assume that this is what Wheaton’s Larycia Hawkins believes—that the Muslim Allah is God the Father. Is this a valid reason for asserting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God? No, it is not. Because the Christian God is a trinity, we cannot worship the Father without also worshiping the Son or the Holy Spirit. Is this true of Allah that Muslims worship? No. Muslims do not worship a trinity, in fact, they consider the idea blasphemous. Therefore the God of Christianity and Islam’s Allah are not the same God. It really is that simple.
For anyone who is inclined to believe that God exists and deserves to be worshiped, it is important to be certain of exactly who the God to be worshiped is, and what sort of worship He expects or requires. As Jesus said, “A time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” John 4:23-24, NET). For anyone inclined to believe that God does not exist, it is equally important to be certain of that, because being wrong might well have disastrous and eternal consequences.
Those matters are beyond the scope of this post, but it is simply not reasonable to assume or assert that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Or, to ask it a different way, why might it be dangerous to conflate them?
How would you respond to the claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, and why?
(These are not rhetorical questions—I’d love to hear your thoughts.)