David French, writing in National Review, argues that Christians and Muslims worship different gods. He basically argues that the true God is known only through Christ, and only as Trinity. Ergo, anyone who does not believe the Trinity or accept Jesus as God must worship a different god.
By this logic, Jews must also worship a different god. They deny the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity–indeed, they see Jesus as a mere imposter. Yet Muslims have a higher regard for Jesus than Jews do. They see him as a prophet, sent by God. They see him as born of the virgin Mary. The affirm his coming again to judge the living and the dead. So it seems to me that Muslims and Christians are closer in belief than are Jews and Christians. Again, to be logical, French must reject the God of Israel on the basis of his argument.
And yet it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus that Islam proclaims. They confess him as the Creator, who holds all things in his hands. They confess him as compassionate and merciful, revealing himself to the prophets and guiding men in the path of holiness. They confess him as the one coming in judgment, to whom all the world must bow in worship.
Can Christians construct a picture of God that starts and ends with Jesus alone, apart from God’s self-revelation through the prophets of old, such that someone believing in the revelation through those prophets must be worshipping some other being? That’s absurd–and sounds an awful lot like the Marcionite heresy that was rejected by early Christianity. Rather, Christians confess that it is in fact the God who revealed himself through the prophets who now has revealed himself more completely in his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2).
Christians can say even to pagans, “The God you worship in ignorance is the one we proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). God isn’t far off, Paul tells the philosophers. They had it right–in him we live, and move, and have our being. He is lord of all, and creator of all.We are his children. He will judge the world–and he’s appointed a man to judge it, and given witness to this by raising him from the dead.
Paul starts with common ground. And if he could find common ground with philosophers of ancient Greece, we can surely find common ground with those who confess the God of Abraham. And we can say, “This Jesus your book speaks of, who will return in glory to bring God’s judgment, who your book says speaks the message of God in the Injil, this is who we proclaim to you.”
But if they are to hear the Jesus we proclaim, we have to make sure we are proclaiming the Jesus of the Gospels, not the Jesus of human tradition. Islam grew, I think, because the Christianity of the Byzantine and Roman Empires was so far removed from the faith of Jesus and the apostles. The Jesus who was a beggar with no place to lay his head was dressed by Rome and Byzantium in jewels and gold. The Jesus who said to love enemies and turn the other cheek was replaced by a Jesus who blessed imperial armies. The Jesus who worshipped the Father in spirit and in truth, was replaced by a priesthood that offered a sacrifice on human altars, and which paraded around statues and icons to be kissed and venerated.
So the question is not whether Christians and Muslims worship the same god. The question should be whether the God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus is recognizable in the faith we preach and live.