Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God?

Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God? December 9, 2012

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.

Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship the Same God?

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.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I say yes, for this reason… If we all admit that there is only one God of creation, one God of the Bible, one God period, we are talking about the same God. Now with that being said, we do not all know that one God the same or worship the same. Christians see a fuller picture of God in the Trinity. But even some Christians do not know God in the same way. Some Christians think of God primarily as a lover, some as a judger, some as Santa Claus. So we must quit dividing and at least admit that no matter what one may call God, Yahweh, or Allah, there is one god, and hopefully we are all open to the fullness of our God and that other Saul’s and Cornelius’s will have an opportunity to receive that fullness through Christ.

  • Ludwich

    Regarding Frank’s comment on the faith of Cornelius, and others, who worshipped God prior to knowing Jesus, I believe the answer lies in sincerity and longing for truth. Not only the answer, but also the access to a revelation of Jesus Christ lies in this. God the Father acknowledges sincerity by revealing Christ to these people. Once Christ is revealed to them, they have a choice to either accept Him, and enter into His rest and Eternal Life, or reject Him and suffer the consequences eternally. I have seen and heard many testimonies of Muslims who were very sincere in their faith, to whom the Lord Jesus Christ himself appeared to, either in a vision, or a dream. Their sincerity and a longing for truth opened up the road to a revelation of Christ. Once that has happened, there can not be any excuse. This is where the choice has to be made. Looking back at Cornelius. He was a God fearing man. God acknowledged it by sending Peter to proclaim / reveal Christ to Him. After this, Cornelius had a choice, and by accepting Jesus as the only way, we can be certain to one day meet Cornelius at the feet of Christ in eternity. This leads to another important aspect, namely obedience. Like Peter, we need to be obedient to go when God commands, knowing that through our testimony and preaching, Jesus Christ will be revealed. John 14:6 – “I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me”.

  • Jeremy

    The question is not the word “same” the question is does the one God accept the worship of the different religions. If there was a certain man that existed and three different people said they “know” him but the three different people have radically different epistemologies then while the “man” would be the same, the man wouldn’t recognize the relationship/knowledge of everyone equally. Besides this point, Jesus is God. If you deny this (Islam/Jew) then you deny an ontological point of God. If you deny an ontological point within God, you do not know the same God. The God that you “think” is the same is a product of a shattered visage trying to use the tools of rationalization to make the adherents to all the different religions thinks that they’re in good standing with the “God they believe.” What is necessary is to do ones darndest to match epistemology with ontology. IF Jesus is God, then in denying this you deny the one you claim to know. If this is true, we do NOT worship the same God. Those who do not accept Christ worship the God of their perception. Any “blurring” of this distinction at best is riddled in false humility and at worse is a brute force attack strongarming truth to make it say what “one” wants.

  • If the refusal to acknowledge Jesus as God in the flesh disqualifies Islam from worshiping the same God, I do not see why it does not also disqualify Judaism as well. Judaism rejects Jesus much more strongly than does Islam. In addition, the understanding of who God is differs dramatically, even radically, between the three.

    I find it difficult to talk in generalities about the three religions; perhaps we are better served by engaging individuals. If a person — Muslim, Jew, or Christian — acknowledges the God of Abraham as the one true God, I believe I ought to take that at face value. Then we can discuss the differences in our perspectives in a civilized manner, and Christians can bear witness to the truth that Islam and Judaism do not accept but Muslims and Jews might.

  • Steve

    I’ve always thought the answers is “Yes and no”
    Yes, in the sense that we’re thinking of the God of Abraham, the creator of the universe, and the judge of mankind on the Last Day.

    No, in the sense that we have widely different understandings of God. It would be as if you said, “I know your dad. He is a traveling circus clown, has orange hair, and is 4.5 feet tall.” I would respond, “You’re thinking of a different man.”

  • Do we all serve the God of Abraham? I think we all claim to. However, I think the divide in the road is in the Mesiahship of Jesus. We all do not consider Jesus as God’s promised Messiah. Not real wordy but this defines the question for me.

  • Anand

    Given that not all who call Jesus Lord will enter the kingdom, it isn’t clear that all *Christians* worship the same God.

    And I have met one Muslim convert to Christianity who told me that the God of the Sufi Islam with which he was raised was far closer to Jesus than the Wahabi Islam he was exposed to as a teenager.

  • My initial response… a complicated no. But it could also be a complicated yes. We agree on several things, but the Bible clearly reflects a Triune God. I also don’t want to say Christians have a monopoly on God or have God compleely figured out either. It’s complicated. Yahweh.. Allah… God the Father. Important conversation.

  • Doc Mike

    Christians and Muslim certainly do not worship the same God but, given that Jesus stated that He and the Father are One (essence), it’s difficult to see how the Jews would be worshiping a different God. Their theology proper may be lacking the truth of three distinct persons but Yahweh and Jesus (and the Holy Spirit) are all one essence, not three distinct essences.

  • Amory Ewerdt

    Thanks for the article Frank. It seems to me that it is a matter of degree. The closest one gets to worshiping the God who has revealed himself to us most fully in Jesus Christ the more more fully we worship the same God. I suppose this goes for Christians as well, as we also have distinctive interpretations and understandings of who this God is. This should be cause for epistemic humility as we walk in faith in the light that we have each received.