Rick Warren and the “Same” God Issue

From Ed Stetzer’s blog, and I want to register my disappointment with the many who rose up in anger against Rick Warren without warrant or evidence. [More interview at the link at Ed's site.]

QUESTION: Do people of other religions worship the same God as Christians?WARREN: 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.

QUESTION: A recent newspaper article claimed you believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God, that you are “in partnership” with a mosque, and that you both agreed to “not evangelize each other.” You immediately posted a brief refutation online. Can you expand on that?

WARREN: Sure. All three of those statements are flat out wrong. Those statements were made by a reporter, not by me. I did not say them … I do not believe them… I completely disagree with them … and no one even talked to me about that article! So let me address each one individually: First, as I’ve already said, Christians have a fundamentally different view of God than Muslims. We worship Jesus as God. Muslims don’t. Our God is Jesus, not Allah. Colossians 2:9 “For in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Second, while we urge our members to build friendships with everyone in our community, including Muslims and other faiths, (“Love your neighbor as yourself”), our church has never had any partnership with a mosque. Friendship and partnership are two very different levels of commitment. Some of our members have hosted a Bible study with Muslim friends, which I applaud, but I’ve never been to it, and a Bible study certainly isn’t any kind of partnership or merger! It’s just crazy that a simple Bible Study where people explore Scripture with non-Christians would be reported as a partnership and others would interpret that as a plan for a new compromised religion. Just crazy! Third, as both an Evangelical and as an evangelist, anyone who knows me and my 40 year track record of ministry that I would never agree to “not evangelizing” anyone! I am commanded by my Savior to share the Good News with all people everywhere, all the time, in every way possible! Anyone who’s heard me teach knows that my heart beats for bringing others to Jesus.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://rising4air.wordpress.com MikeK

    Thanks. While there are no doubt naysayers and trolls lurking in the weeds, these comments should eliminate any doubts about Warren’s commitments and beliefs.

    Thanks again.

  • Dan

    Just think how much confusion would have been avoided if this had been posted originally.

    At the risk of being called a *troll*, I think the caution and concern expressed was interesting and comforting. It is not as if nothing was at stake here. Of course there is concern in reaching out to those who don’t know Christ. But if reaching out to them means a rejection of foundational issues then that is something that should be discussed, no?

  • Steelwheels

    Which is worse? Those attacking Warren for what was reported incorrectly or those defending the position.

  • LexCro

    Many of us who weighed in on the initial post about Warren/Saddleback weren’t critiquing Warren so much as we were critiquing our fellow posters who seemed to be more than a little murky on the divide between Christianity and Islam.

  • Susan N.

    And just when I was starting to like (respect) Rick Warren… D’oh!

    “First, as I’ve already said, Christians have a fundamentally different view of God than Muslims.”

    For that matter, many Christians have a fundamentally different view of God than other Christians. Is it our view of God that creates Him ? Do we think of these “other” Christians with differing views as not worshiping the same God? (Talladega Nights “favorite Jesus” prayer.)

    I don’t see how honest, open dialogue can occur between faiths if Rick Warren has publicly stated his intention of converting Muslims to Christianity.

    Befriending, sharing faith stories with one another, seems more genuine to me. But you have to find a starting place with people who are different — what do we have in common? And build from there. They will know us (Christ-ones) by our love…

    I’m no pastor, or preacher… And certainly not a mega-pastor with a lot riding on my performance. In fact I’m a nobody with nothing to lose (except maybe getting kicked off the Jesus Creed blog for my heresies.)

    All I know is that if I were a Muslim, I would be hesitant to trust Rick Warren’s friendship. When there’s an agenda, strings attached, wouldn’t that cause most of us to raise our defenses, if the shoe were on the other foot?

  • http://davidswanson.wordpress.com/ David Swanson

    Susan N.-

    While I see your point, I actually lean in the other direction. It’s when we acknowledge our honest intentions and desires that genuine friendship, dialogue, and witness can happen. I don’t mean that we must always blatantly broadcast these intentions, but neither should we gloss over them. I’d much prefer for a friend of another faith to acknowledge their desire for me to convert to their faith than to downplay this desire. I would, in fact, be honored by their conviction for their faith and their desire for me, their friend, to convert. I think this sort of respectful honesty can remove much of the fear and indirect communication from interfaith friendships and conversations.

    It’s impressive to me that Warren can acknowledge the significant differences between Islam and Christianity while still proactively seeking friendship and conversation partners with his Muslim neighbors.

  • Susan N.

    Thanks, David (#6) – I understand what you are saying, and appreciate, especially, the way that you said it.

    I would prefer for someone of another faith to befriend me out of a simple desire to know and care about me. Then, I think I could talk more freely with them about my beliefs, and ask them about theirs. If their words and deeds demonstrate what they say they believe, then I might even be persuaded to want what they’ve got.

    If a person of another faith told me up front that they were initiating interaction with me for the purpose of converting me, but calling it “friendship-building”, I just wouldn’t have much heart for such engagement. Maybe I’m odd that way? Do you think most Muslims (except radical fundamentalists) have an agenda to convert Christians that they meet? Neither my husband nor I have ever experienced a Muslim acquaintance attempting to convert us to Islam. Ever, in the U.S. or in India.

  • Tom

    While I think having dialog and focusing of the things we have in common is important and the way to go, the question was: Do we worship the same God? That answer still needs to be “no” and as far as other christians that don’t worship a trinitarian God, the answer is still “no”. There are things we can do together, we can love each other, we can get involved with each other on projects, but we do not worship the same God.
    As far as having an agenda, my agenda is to love people and that includes gently speaking the truth. I don’t play Holy Spirit, but if asked, I need to speak the truth and the truth is, I hope and pray that my muslem friends come to know Jesus just as they may, if they truly love a christian, want them to become muslem.
    There is no hate here or, no real agenda other than showing the love of Christ to someone.

  • http://www.wyattroberts.com Wyatt Roberts

    Scot — I kind of agreed with your sentiments about the FIRST article you posted about this (“Good for Rick Warren”). There’s nothing wrong with stressing our areas of agreement with Muslims. If the first article was more from the perspective of Rick Warren’s Muslim friend, it’s sad to see him now be forced into disowning it because of pressure from the arbiters of orthodoxy.

    By the way, how many gods are there, anyway?

  • DB

    What if we made the agenda of evangelism to simply represent Christ and let the Holy Spirit draw others to Christ? Evangelism is declaring the good news of God’s redemptive presence in Jesus Christ and to invite others to share in that good news.

    What some call evangelism is simply proselytizing. This goes on not only between Christians trying to “convert” Muslims but Christians trying to “convert” other Christians to their positions. Proselytizing is trying to change someone’s mind and/or allegiance to a position.

    How did Christ engage with people? By proselytizing or representing the Father and inviting others to receive His love and Presence in their lives? The sensitive evangelist will know when the Spirit has prepared someone to receive Christ. The proselytizer will often just bruise the fruit.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I find myself wanting to say we worship the same god at times, and not the same god at others. It strictly depends on whether I am talking about the god of our religion (which may not be a perfect representation) and god.

    So I can easily say we worship the same god and at the same time say our gods are different. Much like I can say that my god is not the same as the one of Calvinism, and then also say we worship the same god.

    I also don’t think that nuance could possibly communicated by someone like Rick Warren to the media. It would only end in ruin, even if he ever had the same thoughts as me.

  • Georges Boujakly

    The shoe is on the other foot. Muslims are befriending Christians all the time with the intent of conversion into Islam. Some of my work is in this arena. As long as that is up front, on both sides, it does not preclude friendship. In fact it demands a level of friendship that can withstand much push back.

  • MWK

    David Swanson – your dad would say the same thing, and with the same gentle manner. Thanks for reminding me of the great Kevin Swanson!

  • ao

    Do Jews and Christians worship the same God?

    I can’t possibly see how the answer to that question would be different from the answer the to the question, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?”

    I’ve never been given a satisfactory answer to that problem from a preacher or pastor. Sometimes they concede that neither Jews nor Muslims worship the same God as Christians do. But then that only opens up the more difficult question of why the earliest Jewish Christians continued to worship with Jews in the synagogue even after they became Christians.

    Once in a while, I’m given an honest answer and the person admits that the reason they’re hesitant to consider that Muslims worship the same God as Christians (and Jews) is that “Allah” seems strange/foreign/pagan to them, and they admit that they don’t know very much about Islam.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    What David Swanson, #6, said. Thank you, David!

  • http://www.parkpresbyterian.com J. Christy Wareham

    I’m with Susan N., #5. What kind of “dialogue” is it, when Warren’s intention is to negate the dialogue partner’s convictions?

  • http://www.wyattroberts.com Wyatt Roberts

    Didn’t Paul make a similar move at Mars Hill? Proclaiming that the “Unknown God” of the Athenians was HIS God?

  • Jasen Lutz

    #14 – Here’s how I would respond. I’d like to hear your thoughts and hope that others chime in as well.

    Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? – Definitely not.

    Do Jews and Christians worship the same God? – Yes and no.

    Why the difference? The Jewish perspective is incomplete and the Muslim perspective is incorrect.

    Part of me recognizes that the Jewish perspective of God is, in any practical sense, just as wrong as the Muslim perspective. I have rather strong Christological approach to my understanding of scripture and I often teach that if your “image” of God doesn’t ultimately look like Jesus then it’s just plain wrong; I don’t care what your source is. Now that I think about it, even Paul in Galatians seems to imply that moving forward into Judaism is equivalent to moving backward into paganism. But there’s this other part of me that feels the need to acknowledge that, unlike Islam, Judaism doesn’t start wrong it just doesn’t go far enough. I’m not completely sure if this is a reasonable distinction so I’d be interested in hearing other perspectives.

    Peace!

  • http://inchristus.wordpress.com Inchristus

    Go Rick….and Scot ;->

  • http://irregularchristian.com Casey Taylor

    Anyone read Miroslav Volf’s “Allah?” He basically argues that we worship the same God. I think I was convinced.

    Any others read it?

  • Susan N.

    J. Christy Wareham (#16) – That’s exactly it.

    I can understand, as DRT said (#11), admitting that sometimes our “views” of God are different. That’s as much true within various sects and denominations of Christianity as among interfaith groups.

    Near as I can tell, when you look with a clear head (unclouded by fear and defensiveness) at the God of Islam, He is very much like our God, who is very much the same Jewish God. And, for that matter, the same Hindu God.

    Even the fact that Muslims acknowledge (love even) Jesus as a prophet of value to their religion, alongside Muhammad, is a wonderful starting place for dialogue.

    But, if you start from the position, “No way, no how, are our two Gods the same…,” I think it is arrogant and insulting to the other person of faith. Dialogue requires respect and trust to begin with, as well as a deep understanding of the other’s beliefs. It almost requires a person-to-person deep relationship, because even among those of the same faith (Christianity or Islam), each person brings their own “views” into their beliefs. Have we not seen that here a million times over in Jesus Creed blog discussions? Pushback and impassioned dialogue are one thing; attempting to annihilate the “other” and invalidate their entire faith is just wrong.

    Does anyone know of Carl Medearis? He has some very magnanimous ways of articulating interfaith relations with Muslims. Look up his blog; I recommend it.

    I have not read Miroslav Volf’s book ‘Allah,’ as Casey (#20) and earlier Scot, recommends. If Casey’s “take” on Volf’s assessment is correct, then I am definitely on the same page. Yes, of course we worship the same God. Wyatt (#17) – preach it, bro! I was thinking earlier of exactly that example: Paul’s famous Mars Hill oration on the “Unknown God” (Acts 17). That Paul could preach — so eloquently, so passionately…

    Yesterday when I had some free time, I did a quick search on “Rick Warren + Muslim alliance” and began to understand why RW was forced to backpedal on “same God.” Hit after hit of “watch groups” and haters slandering Rick Warren for being everything from a promoter of “Chrislam” to the anti-Christ. It must be exhausting, the life of a pastor. Especially being a mega-pastor such as Rick Warren, with such high visibility. Haters have an easy target.

    I’m sure that Scot is not insulated from the same garbage, when he posts a controversial topic. When I have encountered that type of hatred, it has been very spiritually draining. Praying for God to lift up and renew those who have courage to risk persecution for standing up and speaking out — peacemaking, not peacekeeping.

  • Ben G

    In Arabic Allah=the God. Muslims worship the God, the one and only God, the God of Abraham. We as Christians worship the same God. But this is where Christianity and Islam are radically different. 

    For a Muslim, God is unknowable, distant, erratic. For Muslims as soon as you think you know something about God, he’s not that. He is mysterious, ever changing. God is hard to please. Muslims even need to pray for the prophet Mohamed’s salvation because even the prophet-the ultimate Muslim- has got no certainty of paradise. 

    This is where we as Christians differ with Muslims, and we differ radically might I add. 

    God is knowable, God is not distant, God is constant, God loves us so much and wants to reconcile us to himself that he became a human being (and we know the rest of the story). 

    Muslims want so desperately to know and have a relationship with God, but their Islamic lens through which they see God is cracked and distorted and therefore their view of God is the same. As Christians we need to pray that Muslims won’t leave their God for our God, rather we need to pray that they will come to know God through Jesus. 

    And I believe that is happening and in unprecedented numbers. God is speaking to many Muslims through dreams and visions. And in these dreams and visions they are seeing Jesus. Wow! Reminds me of that verse, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 

    I often read Romans 10 with Muslim friends in mind

    Rom. 10:1-2 NIV11 ¶ Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites (and Muslims) is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.

    Read through to verse 15 and beyond, a great passage and read it with your Muslim friends in mind. 

  • Timothy

    One problem with the question whether the God of the Christians and the God of the Muslims are identical is that so little is known about the God of the Muslims. We find our God mysterious but He is still a revealed God even though there is still much mystery. The riches of the nature of God are inexhaustable. But the God of the Muslims is almost completely unknowable. He is ONE; that is about all we know. There are the ’99 names of God’ such as compassionate, merciful etc but it turns out that these are simply that, names and not descriptions. To think that they could describe God is to liken Him to something created which is shirk, idolatry. Thus Allah is unrevealed in Islam. His name is merciful but that says nothing about his character. So the question becomes: is the God of the Christians, about whom we know something the same as the God of the Muslims about whom we know nothing? And the answer must be that we do not know because one of them is completely unknown. And the question we can pose to Muslims is: tell us about your God and let us tell you about our God.

  • JohnM

    Susan N. #5 – Do you think Rick Warren was backpedaling, or was he clarifying? Your first comment seems to indicate that at this point you do NOT like or respect Rick Warren because of his views. Then in #21 you seem to identify him as the unfortunate target of haters. What do you feel towards evangelicals who hold the beliefs Rick Warren expresses? Scorn? Pity? I’m confused.

  • Jeremy

    I think many of the conversations here about the sameness/different-ness of the two gods is that the two sides are essentially speaking two different languages. One is arguing from a historical perspective that points to origins and similarities, while the other is aguing from an ontological position that holds up Christ as the defining characteristic…Oddly, I think both are right in critical ways, but I argue for the sameness because I don’t think the different “camp” can use Christ without proving too much and has inadequately wrestled with the implications.

    Jesus was a Jew and makes it VERY clear that he is the son of the God of the Jews. If a trinitarian understanding is enough to make Him a completely different God, then Jews and Christians do not, in fact, worship the same God. That seems extremely contrary to scripture on more levels than I can cover here.

    This is a completely different argument than whether or not Islam is sufficient to have right relationship with God, which I think most in the “same” camp would answer no to. Rejection of both the truth revealed in Christ and the truth revealed in the Old Testament texts is enough to end that one easily.

  • Susan N.

    JohnM (#24) – I would like (respect) Rick Warren more when and if he does not need to entirely invalidate the concept of God held by those of other faiths.

    I do NOT, and I have not ever believed or said that I hate anyone who holds different beliefs than I. I feel no need to isolate the differences and then use them to condemn the entire belief system, or worse yet, the person.

    The “watch groups” go all out to entirely annihilate Rick Warren’s belief system, simply because he desired to befriend the Muslim community.

    Are you that kind of hater, JohnM?

    Christians do and say the darnedest things, and it amazes me that those of other faiths don’t dislike us even more. As it is, I think most others of different faiths respond to us with more grace than we do toward them. That’s so sad. “Grace” is such a big word in our vocabulary. Like “God” and “Love.”

    I felt badly for Rick Warren, that he got lambasted for wanting to reach out to a marginalized group here in the U.S.

    I don’t exactly know how he intends to go about the reaching out, I hope it goes well, and doesn’t further alienate and insult this group of people. So much tension already exists, it seems to me that we all should err on the side of gentle, patient, forgiving, gracious, compassionate, etc. (hey, wait! Those are some of the very qualities of God that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all share…)

    So many of us speak as though, because we have mentally assented to Christ as our Lord and Savior (and King), we know him through and through. As for me, I continue to learn all the time (not having yet “arrived”) about who Jesus is and how to follow Him. Do we evangelize from the standpoint that we possess the absolute truth of God, due to our knowledge of Christ, or should we not have a bit more humility about that knowledge? And maybe more to the point, if we want our credibility to fly with those to whom we are sharing, we have a solemn responsibility to act like Jesus. Loving? Truth not as a hammer to beat one with?

    These are my concerns, JohnM. I think Muslims are worshiping God (Allah in Arabic). They know a part of God, just as we do (seeing through a glass darkly / dimly.) Confessing faith in Jesus doesn’t always cause us to suddenly know everything perfectly. Sometimes we become arrogant (puffed up) with our knowledge, and begin to believe that no one else could possibly have it as right as we do. That’s not a good thing, because we stop listening and trying to understand others, which is needed to establish trust and respect, and have any kind of meaningful dialogue (which isn’t demeaning, coercive, or otherwise manipulative).

    I hope that Rick Warren is blessed in his desire to love the Muslim community and share the joy that he finds in Christ. The backpedaling was for the benefit of the evangelical community, imho, not for the benefit of the Muslims to whom Rick seeks to evangelize. It’s unfortunate that he was put in that position by other Christians, because do we think that the Muslim community can’t see or hear it? I would be offended if I were a Muslim. Dear God/Yahweh/Allah, have mercy on us and give us grace.

  • JohnM

    Susan N. #26 – Backpedaling? When Rick Warren states “Jesus is the only way to salvation. Period.” and “Christians have a view of God that is unique”, unless and until I learn he ever said anything to the contrary I take him at his word that this is what he believes and preaches. I don’t characterize that as backpedaling, rather I would say his position was misunderstood, if not mis-represented, in the first place. I also commend him for his unequivicoal statement of faith.

  • http://www.christiantube.us/ Ronn

    I personally believe when anyone gains a prominent place in life many haters can come out to get ya! However with that said I also believe that when a person reaches such a pinnacle as Rick Warren it’s easy to lose yourself in the hoopla that surrounds you.
    I pray that God has His way!

  • ao

    Jasen (#18),

    I appreciate the input. Your incomplete/incorrect distinction seems like smokescreen to me. Jews deny that Jesus is God or the Son of God, and they oppose trinitarianism. Muslims believe the exact same thing. You can call it incomplete, you can call it incorrect, but it’s the same.

    Ben (#22),

    I guess you may have met some Muslims who feel that way about Allah, but for the first 17 years of my life I was a Muslim and nothing you described was remotely close to what I believed or any other Muslim I knew. The whole “Islam’s God is distant and unknowable” is a caricature of Islam. In fact, I’ve heard many Christians tell me that the God of Judaism is distant and unknowable, too. And just like people find verses in the Quran that support that vision of God, you can find verses in the OT that support the same vision of Yahweh.

    So I’m still not seeing how Jews and Christians worship the same God, but Muslims and Christians don’t.

  • Tom

    I don’t know if we worship the same God or not. What I do know is that our understanding of God is very different.

    If two people pray to the “One True God” who are they praying to? The address is the same. They may have completely different understanding of who the One True God is, and one understanding may be far more correct than the other. And both would probably believe very strongly that their understanding is the correct one, as I do. Also, the consequences of our different understandings of God have serious life implications.

    God can answer is own mail and he can receive it from whoever He wants. The ‘same God’ question doesn’t seem to get us any where. The real question is about our understanding of God.

  • Marie

    Some of this debate is just plain silly. We do not question if Jews worship the same God. Muslims worship the God of Abraham and Issac- this too is my God.

    Ironically Muslim’s view of Jesus is closer to ours than most Jews.

    Is BEING Jesus to our neighbors and our enemies instead of demanding our religion is better than theirs so bad? Do you want friends who demand things of you? Not me.

    Sigh…

  • Richard

    ao’s perspective on this is invaluable imho – if Islam worships a different God, what about Judaism? Also, I was intrigued that Warren didn’t mention Mormonism on the list of those that worship different God – they’re not exactly trinitarian in the orthodox sense.

  • http://www.spirithome.com/confession.html Bob Longman

    It’s fine for Warren to say that he will not hold back his evangelizing. The task he has is not that of mending fences between religions — God has given him other fish to fry, and he has to set his heart on frying them. Even more, he is right in wanting *every one* to follow Christ, as found in the New Testament.

    That said, it is the task of others whom God moves, to bring about understanding between religions, for the sake of both truth and peace. The rest of us will learn our lessons through them, and it is through that process of learning those lessons and stripping away the prejudices that we will find it to be a matter of faith that we ourselves interact more directly with those others. These others have lessons to learn as well. Learning from each other must never be a matter of capitulation or of losing courage in Christ, but a matter of watching for the Holy Spirit’s promptings, to work towards the point where all sing praises to Christ our Lord.


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