Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God? is a new book published by Abingdon Press. The authors are Baruch Levine, Bruce Chilton, Vincent Cornell, and Martin Marty.
Each author deconstructs the question . . . sometimes in a painstaking, laborious way. Then they try to answer it.
If you’re looking for a quick read to get to the “bottom line” of how each author answers this question, you won’t find it in this volume. Although the book is short, each author is pretty verbose in their attempt to answer the question. And not a few theological terms unknown to the average reader are employed.
Some of the authors agree that the answer to the question is “yes” as a whole, but they do not agree on its meaning. Some of them indicate that the question itself isn’t very helpful.
Others may have a different taken on it, but I don’t think any author “won the debate,” so to speak. What they offered, however, is a great place to start a conversation and see it extended by others. The book title itself is fantastic for stimulating the dialogue. Personally, I believe that a ruthless editor could have cut the book down about 1/3 of what it is and it would have been much clearer.
Even so, if you want a philosophical and historical approach to this question and you’re used to reading the way scholars talk, you’ll probably enjoy this book. Note that other Christian writers have weighed into this question of late as well. For instance, Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, has argued that Christians and Muslims worship the same god. Volf writes,
[Christians and Muslims] make up two of the largest religious groups worldwide, comprising more than half of humanity. They are at each other’s throats, if not literally, then in their imaginations. And we need to find ways we can believe peacefully together.
Both groups are monotheists. They believe in one God, one God who is a sovereign Lord and to whom they are to be obedient. For both faiths, God embodies what’s ultimately important and valuable. If our understandings of God clash, it will be hard for us to live in peace—not impossible, but hard. So exploring to what extent Christians and Muslims have similar conceptions of God is foundational to exploring whether we inhabit a common moral universe, within which there are some profound differences that can be negotiated, discussed, and adjudicated.
By contrast, Rick Warren responded to the same question saying,
Of course not. Christians have a view of God that is unique. We believe Jesus is God! We believe God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not 3 separate gods but one God. No other faith believes Jesus is God. My God is Jesus. The belief in God as a Trinity is the foundational difference between Christians and everyone else. There are 2.1 billion people who call themselves Christians… whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, or Evangelical… and they all have the doctrine of the Trinity in common. Hindus, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, Unitarians, and everyone else do not accept what Jesus taught about the Trinity.
And author and blogger Trevin Wax made this comment on the question:
Some readers might affirm that “Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” in order to eliminate many pluralistic gods. But where does that leave our Jewish friends, since they would easily affirm the same statement? You might say, “Jews and Christians share the same God! It’s just about Jesus that we don’t see eye to eye.” By saying this, Christians make a glaring misrepresentation of Yahweh – the Great I Am.
God is not God apart from Jesus. It is pointless to try to define the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob apart from Jesus Christ. That is the pluralistic problem plaguing so many Christian factions today. Since you can’t explain the Bible’s God without involving the Trinity, you can never fully explain how “Jesus is God” makes any sense at all.
Since Christians believe in a triune God – Yahweh in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we actually undermine the divinity of Christ by claiming that our God is the same as that of our Jewish friends. As Christians, we believe Jesus is so important that you can’t define God’s identity apart from Him.
So what’s the answer? What can help us get through some of the theological red tape and bring us to the point where we can once again make a firm statement for the Gospel?
Here’s the statement that I recommend you chew on a little bit: GOD IS JESUS. When you see Jesus, you are seeing God, not just because Jesus is God, but also because God is Jesus. Jesus is the One who shows us who God is and what God is like.
For the Christian who says that the human face of God is Jesus Christ and there is no God outside of Jesus, Volf’s viewpoint is problematic. But again, it all comes down to what one means by “the same” God.
Did Cornelius, a Gentile “God-fearer,” worship the same God as Peter, an early follower of Jesus, before Peter preached the gospel to him?
Did Ananias the high priest who worshiped the God of Israel (or so thought he did), yet demanded that Jesus of Nazareth be put to death, worship the same God as Paul of Tarsus?
So I’d like to hear your answer to the question: Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God?
Related: Listen to the message EPIC JESUS: THE CHRIST YOU NEVER KNEW as it touches upon this question from a deeper Christian life perspective.
This post is part of the sponsored Patheos Book Club.
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