Suppose Chris says, “Gordon is married,” and Malcolm says, “Gordon is a bachelor.” Has Malcolm contradicted Chris? It depends on whether Malcolm is referring to the same ‘Gordon’. If Malcolm is talking about some other ‘Gordon’, there’s no contradiction. Conversely, if you think Malcolm has contradicted Chris, you’re presupposing that they’re talking about the same ‘Gordon’.
Now suppose you think, as is plausible, that when the Quran says that God has no son (Q4:171; Q6:101) it’s contradicting the Bible (John 3:16, etc.). In that case, you’re presupposing that the Quran is referring to the same God as the Bible. Conversely, if you think the Quran is referring to a fictional, non-existent deity when it says that God has no son, you need to consider whether the Quran is actually contradicting the Bible in saying so (and if it is contradicting the Bible, how it is doing so). The same goes for other objectionable statements the Quran makes about God.
If you say the Quran is in fact referring to the God of the Bible (because it make false claims about the God of the Bible) are you thereby implying that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God”? Not necessarily. It all depends what you mean by “worship the same God”.
Triggered by recent events at an evangelical Christian college, there has been an explosion of discussion about whether Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” In my experience, most people think the answer to the question, “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” is very obvious. What’s fascinating, however, is that some of those people think the answer is obviously yes, while others think the answer is obviously no!
One immediate pitfall is the ambiguity in the word ‘same’. If someone says “John and Julie have the same phone,” that’s a different kind of statement than “John and Julie have the same father.” There are two phones, but only one father! Now consider this statement: “John and Julie read the same book.” How many books were there?
So the basic problem is this: the question “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” is ambiguous as it stands, and thus susceptible to different answers depending on exactly how one interprets the question. In reality, when people raise the question they often end up conflating a host of related but distinct questions, such as the following:
- Do Christians and Muslims refer to the same Deity when they speak about ‘God’? In other words, do both groups refer to the one true God, the Creator of the universe? (A closely related question: Do the Bible and the Quran refer to the same Deity? Does the Quran make false assertions about the real God or does it make assertions about a fictional deity, analogous to ancient Greek claims about Zeus?)
- Do Christians and Muslims believe in the same Deity, despite their (very significant) disagreements about the nature and character of God?
- Is the worship of Christians and Muslims directed towards the same Deity? If it is, does it follow that Christian worship and Muslim worship are equally acceptable to God?
- Do Christians and Muslims conceive of God in the same way when they worship? (A closely related question: Do the Bible and the Quran depict God in the same way?)
- If Christians and Muslims don’t conceive of God in the same way, do they conceive of God in a sufficiently similar way? (That in turn invites the question: sufficient for what?)
- Can both Christians and Muslims be said to know God? If so, exactly what kind of knowledge are we talking about here? Purely intellectual knowledge? Personal relational knowledge? Saving knowledge?
- If Christians and Muslims do share some common knowledge of God, does it follow that both groups respond appropriately to that knowledge?
This list of questions isn’t meant to be exhaustive, only illustrative. And equivalent questions can be asked of Christians and Jews, Christians and Hindus, Christians and Mormons, and so forth.
Recently I watched the two-part discussion between Dr. James White, President of Alpha & Omega Ministries, and Imam Muhammad Musri, President of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, which took place on March 21, 2015, at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.
If you’re looking for a good introduction to the defining issues between Christianity and Islam, and the arguments offered on either side, I highly recommend you take the time to watch the two videos below. Trust me: it will be 3½ hours very well spent. (Especially if you watch them while using an elliptical, as I did.)
In a debate with Rabbi David Wolpe in 2008, the late Christopher Hitchens inveighed against Wolpe’s claim to have knowledge of God:
By what right, rabbi, do you say that you know God better than they do, that your God is better than theirs, that you have an access that I can’t claim to have, to knowing not just that there is a God, but that you know his mind. You put it modestly, but it is a fantastically arrogant claim that you make — an incredibly immodest claim.
I was reminded of Hitchens’ objection, and similar ones in his exchanges with Douglas Wilson, when I saw the following tweet by proselytizing atheist Peter Boghossian (retweeted, presumably with approval, by Richard Dawkins):
I take it Boghossian doesn’t mean exactly what he says here, because as a matter of fact some people have made both claims. Rather, his point is that one cannot consistently make both claims. Why? Apparently because he thinks it’s inherently prideful or arrogant to claim to know God’s will. The same would go for the claim to know other things about God, such as his purposes for us and for the universe as a whole. And of all things what could be more arrogant than the claim of Christians to know God personally?
For a couple of years now, I’ve taught a course entitled Christian Encounter with Islam. One of the major themes of the course, as you might expect, is the contrast between the Christian worldview and its distinctive view of God, and the Islamic worldview and its distinctive view of God. In light of that contrast I was particularly struck by the following section (pp. 220-22) from the recently published book Dispatches From the Front, a missions travelogue by Tim Keesee. (Pay close attention to the third paragraph.) Continue reading
Every so often a scientific study appears purporting to show an inverse correlation between intelligence and religiosity; in other words, the smarter you are, the less likely you are to be religious. The latest offering is a meta-analysis of such studies which confirms the now-familiar story. Not surprisingly, a hearty cheer goes up from the atheist camp every time a report like this one appears. The insinuation is often that such studies provide evidence that religious beliefs are untrue or unreasonable. The more intelligent you are, so the logic runs, the better your chances of figuring out the right answers — and the most intelligent folk are those with non-religious answers!
Should Christians be disturbed by such studies? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that these studies are based on reliable data, and that there really is a correlation between intelligence and non-religiosity. Do the studies give evidence that Christian beliefs are epistemically subpar? No, for a number of reasons.
Michael Sudduth, a philosopher of religion at San Francisco State University, has caused quite a stir by announcing his departure from orthodox Christianity and conversion to Gaudiya Vaishnavism (a form of Vaishnava Vedanta Hinduism). Having known Michael for over a decade, and having had many profitable philosophical discussions with him, I was extremely grieved to read this announcement, although it didn’t come completely out of the blue. Some mutual friends had informed me of his increasing interest in Eastern religion and his gradually distancing himself from biblical Christianity. We had an email exchange last year when I raised some concerns (my last email, it turns out, was sent several days before his “profoundly moving religious experience of Krishna”) but it quickly fizzled out because Michael wasn’t ready at that time to set out his views in detail.
I’m not going to comment on his conversion testimony or on the complex personal experiences and circumstances that led to it (only some of which are mentioned in that testimony). However, I do want to remark on one particular statement:
Consequently, I now accept a panentheistic metaphysics in which the universe and human souls are, to put it roughly, in the being of God.