Is God’s Glory at Stake in the Same God Debate?

What is at stake in the debate concerning whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God?  This is the first question I posed to Dr. Miroslav Volf and Dr. Nabeel Qureshi in a podcast discussion on the topic I published earlier this week.

Volf, who is the leading Protestant proponent of the same God view, said love and truth is at stake.  To love our neighbors, he argued, means representing them truthfully and resisting the temptation to demonize.  Qureshi, a Muslim convert to Christianity and itinerant speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, agreed.  Yet, he said it was his passion for this the same thing that compelled him to argue the opposite position – that Muslims and Christians actually worship different gods. 

Obviously, much else is at stake in this debate, as well, which now has garnered national media attention.  For Wheaton College, its reputation as a highly respected, evangelical flagship school is at stake.  Many, including Dr. Volf, have accused the college of anti-Muslim bigotry for placing Dr. Larycia Hawkins on administrative leave for espousing the same God view.  Volf wrote a provocative piece for the Washington Post claiming that the suspension was “not about theology and orthodoxy,” but “enmity toward Muslims.”  I was glad, however, that in our discussion, Volf conceded, “I think I shouldn’t have made the claim without justifying it much more than I’m able now, or that I was . . . able to do then.”  

To many, including the college, Christian orthodoxy is also at stake.  After all, the statement of faith the college requires all faculty to sign states, “We believe in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons,” which Muslims emphatically deny. 

To Dr. Hawkins and her supporters, her reputation is at stake.  In an open letter to the college, more than 800 alumni urged Wheaton College to reinstate Hawkins and acknowledge “grave institutional missteps that have irreparably damaged Hawkins’ reputation within the academy and credibility among Evangelical Christians.”

Yet, as important and valid as all these concerns are, I believe they miss what is primarily at stake in this debate – and that is, the glory of God. 

Yet, as important and valid as all these concerns are, I believe they miss what is primarily at stake in this debate – and that is, the glory of God. 

This crystallized for me as I listened to Volf and Qureshi debate the issue in the podcast.  From the outset, Volf correctly framed the debate as a fundamental choice between acknowledging Allah as Yahweh or as an idol.  Qureshi resisted that these were the only two options, saying he believed this may be a false dichotomy and that something inside him wanted to find a third way.  Though I can appreciate Qureshi’s desire, most likely motivated by his charitable spirit, I don’t believe a third way exists.  As Volf argued, there is no neutral ground on this issue.  If God is one, and Allah is not identical to Yahweh, then Allah must be an idol or there’s a second god next to God. 

So, what if Allah is an idol?  Then, saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God is actually equating the sovereign and holy God of the universe with something profane.  At the very least, this would be a violation of the third commandment to not “misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  But, is it not also blasphemy? 

Volf strongly resisted this suggestion.   In an email, which he gave me permission to share, he wrote: “I don’t think that persons can be said to blaspheme against the one true God if they (1) embrace all core Christian convictions, if they (2) claim that the God Muslims worship is not an idol but a partially wrongly understood one true God, but (3) it turns out that they are mistaken in that second claim. Their understanding of the true God is correct and they have all intention to honor the one true God; without compromising their own faith, they have just made a mistaken theological judgment about the object of worship of another faith. . . .”

Certainly, blasphemy includes denying what is true about God, which it appears Volf and Hawkins, do not do.  However . . . Kevin Bywater of Summit Ministries writes, “Blashphemy is found in ascribing to God what is false,” not just in denying of God what is true. 

Certainly, blasphemy includes denying what is true about God, which it appears Volf and Hawkins, do not do.  However, in an article entitled, “Do Muslims, Mormons, and Christians Worship the Same God?” Kevin Bywater of Summit Ministries writes, “Blashphemy is found in ascribing to God what is false,” not just in denying of God what is true.  It is essentially slandering God.

Scripture tells us that God is extremely passionate about this matter.  In Isaiah 48, God says, “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.  How can I let myself be defamed?  I will not yield my glory to another.”  So, this question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God is no trivial issue; it is actually a matter of highest importance. God’s glory and His reputation is at stake.  And, as Yahweh states in Exodus 20:7, “. . . the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”

Is Allah actually Yahweh?

            So, is Allah actually Yahweh?  I understand Volf’s argument and his reasoning.  Though he acknowledges that Muslims deny the deity of Christ and the Trinity, he argues that there is enough overlap between the two religions’ ideas about God to say that the “reference is the same,” but the “conceptions are different.” One might also argue that the Apostle Paul, when speaking before the Areopagus, did the same thing.  There, he conceded, at least rhetorically, that the Athenians’ “Unknown God” was actually Yahweh.

To be fair, effective missionaries have been using indigenous names for God for centuries.  An example of this is recounted in the book, “Eternity in Their Hearts,” by missionary and author Don Richardson.  Richardson tells the story of Norweigian missionary, Lars Skrefsrud, who sought to share the gospel with the Santal people in India in the 1860s. When he did so, the Santal immediately identified Yahweh as “Thakur Jiu,” which literally meant “genuine God” in their native tongue. 

The Santal then told Skrefsrud that their ancestors had worshipped Thakur Jiu.  However, when they were migrating east, their ancestors had encountered high mountains, which blocked their passage.  Facing this crisis, the Santal lost faith in Thakur Jiu and looked instead to the spirits of the great mountain.  If these spirits would grant them safe passage, the Santal vowed to serve them.  The spirits did.  And, from that moment on, the Santal lived in bondage to these spirits and practiced sorcery and even sun worship. 

Wisely, Skrefsrud accepted Thakur Jiu as Yahweh’s name among the Santal, and explained the gospel to them in that context.  This proved wildly successful and the gospel spread like wildfire among the Santal.  During Skrefsrud’s time in India, he counted 15,000 baptisms.  And in subsequent decades, other missionaries baptized an additional 85,000.

But, is Allah the same to Muslims as Thakur Jiu was to the Santal, or “The Unknown God” to the Athenians?  Certainly, I think a valid case could be made that Allah, which is simply the Arabic word for God, could have been God’s revelation of Himself to the Arabic people prior to Islam’s emergence in the sixth century.  However, as Qureshi astutely noted in the podcast, Allah as revealed in the Koran “is so different from Yawheh that I think it is a different god.” 

What is starkly different between Allah and Thakur Jiu, or “The Unknown God,” is that Allah is not an incomplete notion of God developed without any knowledge of Christianity. 

Allah, as taught in the Koran, is a repudiation of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He is not Father.  He is not Son.  He is not unconditional love.  He is not Jesus.

Allah, as taught in the Koran, is a repudiation of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He is not Father.  He is not Son.  He is not unconditional love.  He is not Jesus. 

Scripture clearly teaches believers to test the Spirits.  First John 1:22 states clearly, “Who is the liar?  It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ.  Such a person is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son.” 

Given this Scripture and the clear teaching of Islam, how can Christians conclude that Allah is Yahweh?  In addition, one has to wonder what the true identity of the spirit being was, who reportedly appeared to Muhammad and revealed Allah to him.  According to tradition, it was the Angel Gabriel.  Yet, Qureshi stated that in Sahih Bukhari, volume 9, Hadith 111, Muhammad’s visitor is first introduced as “Namus,” and later identified as Gabriel.  Given that we know that Satan “masquerades as an angel of light,” could this Namus really be a demonic spirit? 

I honestly do not harbor any enmity towards Muslims.  In fact, after reading Qureshi’s book, “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus,” and moderating a debate between Qureshi and a Muslim imam, I have developed a love for Muslims.  I also have a deep respect for Dr. Volf and have found him to be entirely gracious in all our interactions.  So, it is difficult for me to state what I truly believe – that Allah is, in fact, an idol or false god.  And, equating Yahweh with Allah is a grave error that not only sullies God’s name, but also is potentially blasphemous.  Though certainly God wants us to love our neighbor, we must not forget that the first command is to love God, “whose name is jealous.” 

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5 thoughts on “Is God’s Glory at Stake in the Same God Debate?

  1. Wednesday Addams

    This was very good to read, thanks a lot. I’m of no real use because I’m yet to watch the debate.
    I do however have reservations about Nabeel Qureshi (a former Qadiyani, not former muslim) stating what the Islamic concept of God is. I have read his works, and time after time I’ve been misled by his understanding of Islam as there’s very often been successful muslim responses to his works. For interfaith dialogue, I’m more a fan of Dr. James White.

    When the Quran is refuting the notion that God can have a son, it’s expressed in a rhetorical way by Muhammad/the author in order to refute ideas of legit ‘begetting’, hence why the Quran says ‘How can God have a son if he has not taken a wife?’. The Arabs of his time had misunderstandings themselves on the concept of the trinity. Sidney Griffith who’s the go-to expert in religion in pre-Islamic Arabia and during the time of Muhammad, found there was a sect who believed Jesus and Mary were members of the trinity.

    Quran requires muslims to believe in the gospel that was ‘revealed to’ Jesus. That technically does make the muslim God the same as the Christian God in some fundamental ways. Muslims argue that the true revelation got lost in translation, interpretation, and differing ideologies tainting the oral traditions and subsequently the text of the new testament.

  2. Wednesday,
    Thanks for your response. I would encourage you to listen to the podcast between Qureshi and Volf. Qureshi readily agrees that the Quran misunderstands the Trinity. But, that doesn’t negate the fact that the Quran emphatically denies the deity of Christ. I think that technically makes Allah a different God, regardless of other concessions Muslims make. Honestly, I think the similarities almost make the Muslim deception more dangerous. Half-truths are often more appealing than complete lies.

  3. David Cornell

    The bottom line is that all roads lead to God. The issue at stake is that only one road leads to heaven and that is for those who believe in Jesus Christ. All other roads lead to judgment. When Jesus said He is the Way, The Truth, and The Life, no one comes to God except thru Me, is a statement of His
    Deity. When God the Father said to the Son, Your throne O God… Was validation from the Father that Jeaus was indeed God.

    People seem to be fighting over the same God issue, but your Salvation, your entering heaven is based on the the work and belief in the Son. Rejection of the Son is rejection of the Father, therefore making God a liar. 1John explains this clearly. The Baptism of Jesus clearly demonstrates the Trinity.

  4. carolapv

    I enjoyed reading your post; it coincided with viewpoints at the g3 conference. The women of our church watched sessions on live stream video. James White was very informative on the history of the Quran, the lack of contact with actual scripture by people that ascribe to the Moslem faith. We need to uphold truth and still have compassion for Moslems. Here is the link to the conference: https://livestream.com/g3conference

  5. As one working in a religiously “supernatural” environment, where there are many spirits that exercise demonic power over real, living people, I have been reading Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm with great profit, even if I don’t understand or cannot follow all the details. In his book he argues for a divine council, supernatural beings created by God, the singular Elohim/Yahweh, and called gods, elohim (plural). He argues from his reading of some of the biblical texts,that at Babel, God finally “disinherited” the nations, and immediately in Genesis 12 initiated a plan to “reinherit” them through his call to and covenant with Abram. This fits perfectly with Isaiah’s language of God’s people to be a light to the nations – referenced in the NT by the Apostle Paul, and Jesus’ parting commands to his disciples to be a blessing to all nations, the work of mission(s). Growing up in the heart of Africa, and now working in the jungles of Peru, and after visiting the ancient cultural worship center at Pachacamac outside of Lima, it all fits together in my mind. If it really was the angel Gabriel appearing to Muhammad giving him a true word from Elohim/Yahweh/God/Creator, the Q’uran would never have denied the Trinity. Many, many people in unreached communities are living in spiritual darkness; many many people living in reached communities are likewise in spiritual darkness, because they are not worshiping any divine beings, they don’t believe in the supernatural, the worship only created ones, human beings. I appreciate your comments about the glory of God, they are exactly on point.

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