ROBERT IN NEW JERSEY ASKS:
Is Allah the Father of Jesus?
THE GUY RESPONDS:
The Christian-Muslim confrontation is one of our era’s major global themes, and the theological discussion is as central as the politics. In 1964, the world’s Catholic bishops at the Second Vatican Council answered Robert with a yes, stating that the plan of salvation “includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place among these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God.”
“This cannot be true,” say conservative Protestants at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, accusing Catholicism of “a faulty understanding of the God of Islam.” CARM believes Muslims “are not capable of adoring the true God as long as they hold to the false teachings of Islam.” The chief issue is Christianity’s belief that the one God is a Trinity uniting three persons, God the Father, Jesus the divine Son, and the Holy Spirit. That doctrine likewise causes Hank Hanegraaff of the “Bible Answer Man” broadcast to assert that “the Allah of Islam … is definitely not the God of the Bible.” (Note: For both Muslims and Arab Christians, the Arabic word “Allah” is understood to mean simply “God.”)
While Christians insist they are monotheists (worshippers of the one God), Muslims like Jews deny this. Islam’s Quran flatly opposes the deity of Jesus Christ along with “people who say that God is the third of three” (5:73). In another passage God challenges Jesus, “Did you say to people, take me and my mother as two gods alongside God?” which Jesus denies (5:116). Christians variously theorize that these verses misinterpret the Trinity doctrine, or target some unknown heresy of Muhammad’s time, or mistakenly supposed that Catholics worship Mary rather than venerating her.
Hanegraaff refers readers to a book with the pertinent title “Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?” (Zondervan, 2002). Unlike Hanegraaff, however, author Timothy George, a Southern Baptist seminary dean, said in the book and a prior lecture that the answer “is surely Yes and No.” He explained that it’s “yes in the sense that the Father of Jesus is the only God there is” and that “Christians and Muslims can together affirm many important truths about this great God — his oneness, eternity, power, majesty,” etc. But it’s also no, because Islam opposes “the Christian understanding of God.” He adds, “This does not mean that we should condemn every Muslim believer as an idolater.” George also noted that devout Muslims cannot address God as the Father the way Jesus did because they believe that “would compromise divine transcendence.”
George was involved in an intriguing 2007 Muslim-Christian exchange. Jordan’s Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute assembled an impressive international group of 138 Muslim authorities and intellectuals to issue an appeal to Christians titled “A Common Word Between Us and You.” Since then, 267 other Muslims have endorsed the statement.
Islam’s central creed states, “There is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God.” The Jordan appeal linked that with biblical Jews’ central profession: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one…” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The Muslims noted that Jesus Christ repeated that and added, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31).
The Muslim appeal focused on the Quran’s teaching that “we worship God alone, we ascribe no partner to Him, and none of us takes others beside God as lords” (3:64, also see 6:161-63). Rather than use this to attack the Trinity or Christians’ claim to worship the one God, the Muslims amiably emphasized that this scripture “relates to being totally devoted to God.”
A Yale University institute quickly brokered a Christian response, titled “Loving God and Neighbor Together.” It has been endorsed by hundreds of Catholics, “Mainline” Protestants, and — perhaps surprisingly — prominent Evangelical Protestants, George among them. Like the Muslims, the Christians sidestepped the Trinity dispute and applauded the Muslims for stressing “the unique devotion to one God, indeed the love of God, as the primary duty of every believer.”
The Yale institute later posted its own view on whether “Allah is the same God that Christians worship.” It surveyed the two faiths’ shared concepts of God’s nature but admitted “differences are substantial.” The differences are like those between Christianity and Judaism, it said, yet “few Christians today would assert that Jews are worshipping a different god or an idol.” The Yale institute concluded that “Muslims and Christians share enough in their perspectives about God” to provide the basis for further “constructive dialogue.”
[UPDATING By coincidence on May 21 Baylor historian Thomas Kidd re-posted his 2011 patheos.com review of a book by one Yale participant under the headline "Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?" It's available at his "Anxious Bench" blog.]
Muslim appeal: www.acommonword.com
Christian response: www.yale.edu/faith/acw/acw.htm