Irrelevant Questions in the ‘Same God’ Debate

Dr. Michael Wittmer, professor of Theology at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, MI brilliantly turns the perhaps now “dead horse” but critical question on its head in his recent tripartite blog series: “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?”“Do Christians and Jews worship the same God?” and “Do Christians worship the Same God? He Says:

Last year ended with a flurry of essays and blog posts that chided Wheaton College for questioning whether Christians and Muslims pray to the same God. This is an intriguing question that forces us to reflect on our theory of language, general revelation, and natural theology. Both Muslims and Christians say God is one, but are they talking about the same one?”

“The most important question is not ‘are we worshiping the same God’, but whose worship does God accept? When Peter, Stephen, and Paul spoke to Jewish audiences, they emphasized that God does not accept the worship of those who do not accept his Son.”

“Whether Christians and Muslims pray to the same God is a complex, academic question… But let’s not become distracted from the much more important question: ‘whose worship does God accept?’

Creative Commons – Zeevveez

In many ways Jews and Muslims are similar in their monotheism, in their practice of law, and in the requirements of their works based worship systems. Many don’t think to point out the similarity because of a legitimate fear of adding fuel to a modern fire. Jews and Muslims may indeed dislike each other for various reasons, but their theology and practice are not far off. Jews were the ‘chosen people’ of God’s story, the beginning of a prophetic line that all three religions acknowledge. Wittmer states however: “Judaism is a stunted religion. It started out more or less well, but then balked at God’s progressive revelation of himself. So does it still worship the one true God?”

Wittmer moves the crosshairs in a subsequent article to fellow Christians, examining the concept of modalism, a Christian heresy and corruption of the trinity that says “God is actually one person who variously reveals himself as three. Like an actor who plays different roles…” 

No! says Wittmer, “God is a Trinity in unity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons and yet one God.” Though perhaps ‘nitpicking’ Wittmer challenges“How can we make the case that our God differs from Islam if our official statements (citing a prominent US Seminary) both agree that he is only one person? Words matter. When it comes to theology, words are all we’ve got. Let’s use them well.”

Moving onto Islam, he quotes Karl Barth… The strict monotheistic Islamic concept of God “proclaims the unique as God instead of God as the One who is unique.”  Admittedly, Muslims have a much more positive concept of Jesus, calling him Messiah, the Spirit and Word of God, acknowledging his miracles and even believing in his ascension and return someday. All the while holding that God is unique and has no equals, no partners. Is this concept more accurate?

As these challenging articles guide us, it is perhaps an irrelevant discussion. We are better served to ask: “what worship does God accept?” This is the crux of the matter that all religions seek: how will man attain salvation? what will please the creator of the universe? Not only is this conversation more informative, but perhaps it could be accompanied by less vitriol.

More recommended reading on the various perspectives:
“What Arab Christians Think of Wheaton-Hawkins ‘Same God’ Debate: Controversy echoes what Mideast Christians have wrestled with for centuries.”  by Jayson Casper
Do Christians and Muslims Speak of the same God? by Imad Shehadeh
“Here’s What Evangelical Experts on Missions and Muslims Think of Wheaton’s ‘Same God’ Debate. Special journal looks at whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God, why it matters, and better questions to ask.” by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra

About Scott Gustafson

Scott Gustafson has extensive experience in the Middle East as a practitioner and consultant with faith-based charities and churches in humanitarian relief and mission work. He earned his PhD in Religion and Theology from the Vrije Universteit and researched the religious conversion phenomenon among former Muslim refugees in the Levant and the de-radicalization of some violent extremists among them. He is a member of the Extreme Beliefs/Strong Religion working group at the VU, funded by the European Research Council and is the Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow at Churches for Middle East Peace. He earned an MA in Intercultural Studies/Middle East Studies from Moody Graduate School, and a BA in Nursing and Biology from Western Michigan University. He studied Arabic at the University of Jordan and holds a certification through the Cultural Intelligence Centre as a CQ Certified Facilitator. Scott advises large funding agencies as well as indigenous organizations in the Middle East and is an advocate for peace. He speaks to groups about mission, Islam, the Middle East and countering extremism and radicalization. He also helps run a non-profit cycling team. Scott and his wife have 2 children and they live in Grand Rapids, MI. Follow his Substack.