Whenever I give a lecture or seminar on Islam I’m asked whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. For Muslims this is an odd question. The Quran tells them explicitly that they worship the same God as Christians do. But Christians of course need to ask whether, from a distinctly Christian theological viewpoint, we worship the same God as Muslims. This is particularly the case since recently a number of Christian pastors have refused to let Muslims borrow space in their churches for worship, and have even refused to allow Muslim leaders to speak in their sanctuaries.
If we actually read the Bible we find the following: First the New Testament is clear that Christians and Jews worship the same God. This is clear not only in the teaching of Jesus, but in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he affirms that the Jews remain in a covenant relationship with God.
Practically speaking this means that although Jews and Christians disagree over whether God is Trinity, and although they disagree over whether Jesus is the Messiah, they still worship the same God. Put another way, one can believe in God and worship God without believing in the Trinity or worshiping God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
But what about non-Jews? Well Luke gives us a couple of case studies from the life of Paul. In Athens (Acts 17) Paul tells the Athenians that the unknown God whom they worship is none other than the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ. He doesn’t say that the altar to the unknown God is to no God, or to an idol, but simply that it represents something they need to know more fully, and can through Jesus Christ.
In Acts 14 Luke tells us about another encounter of Paul with non-Jews. In this case he urges them not to commit idolatry, then tells them that God has not left himself with a testimony, and that they hear and respond to this testimony each time they enjoy the fruits of the changing seasons. Paul’s teaching is grounded in the Old Testament (Genesis 9), which tells us that God made an eternal covenant with all humankind and all creatures. God promised that seed time and harvest would come in their turn, and that the rainbow would testify to that promise. And of course God made basic ethical demands on humanity and gave them a purpose to fulfill. Humans may ignore God’s testimony and fail to fulfill their part of the covenant, but God never fails to fulfill his part and remains in active relationship with every human being and every creature. Thus Paul knows that whenever people feel joy it is because God is filling their hearts.
Thus the fault of the people of Lystra and Derby was their propensity to worship idols instead of the source of their joy. Paul talks about this failing more generally in the letter to the Romans. But this is clearly not a fault of Muslims, who vigorously condemn idolatry and who understand the God they worship to be the God whom created all things and lives in covenant with them; a covenant of both provision for their needs and the demand that the follow Divine Law. The only possible Christian conclusion is that Muslims worship the same God whom Paul believes made a covenant with humanity first, and then the Jews, and finally through Jesus Christ with the Body of Christ. A God who does not leaves God’s self without a witness in any part of the human family.
Of course, from a Christian standpoint Muslims have an imperfect understanding of this God, as do the Jews. A full understanding of God’s nature comes only with the revelation of God in Christ. But this isn’t a difference in gods. It is a difference in understanding of the one true God. Nor is the difference between these monotheistic religions a failure to acknowledge God’s own self-witness. From a Christian standpoint it is simply a failure to acknowledge God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, while acknowledging others. And we know from the Bible that there are others.
When Muslims worship God, they worship the same (and only God) as Christians and Jews.