The whole Wheaton suspension brouhaha has re-ignited an old debate regarding whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. While both Muslims and Christians, on the whole, would see the other’s worship as displeasing or unacceptable to God, there are different camps in those religions that construe the controversy differently. I agree with Gerald McDermott and many others that the answer is a careful “yes and no.” That being said, one camp in the evangelical world basically follows Miroslav Volf in claiming that, even though both religions worship God, they don’t agree on Who God is, what He’s like, what He wants, etc. The other group asserts that you can’t separate the definition of God from His nature and essence. And, because God is Three-in-One, and because Jesus is God Incarnate (both definite no-no’s for Islam), then Christians worship a different God than Muslims.
The upshot of this latter camp’s position is that rabbinical Judaism must worship a different god as well, because active non-Messianic Jews also deny the consubstantiality of Persons in the Godhead and Jesus Christ’s divinity. Interestingly, Mark Silk highlighted this inconsistency over at RNS.
Jackson Wu made another observation that correlates to this debate. The post is worth reading in full, but here are a few observations:
In short, although these Israelites [who worshiped the golden calves] thought they worshiped the Lord, they in fact worshiped “other gods,” which were not truly “gods” at all…Although the Jews themselves claimed the one true God as their Father, Jesus corrects them by identifying their true father as the devil. Obviously, we should not confuse following God and the devil. Jesus does not allow room for the view that these Jews were worship the same God that he followed. They followed the devil.
In the midst of all this rich theological disputation, what I’d like to see, and haven’t seen, is observations of rabidly pro-Zionist, Dispensationalist (i.e. Left Behind) evangelicals dealing with the Wheaton situation, especially if they have sided with the camp that Muslims and Christians worship a different God. Mostly, I’d like to see what John Hagee and his followers woud say about all of this. Yes, they are fringe when it comes to actual evangelical theology; but they are are multi-million dollar ministries that do affect the assumptions and presuppositions of many. Basically, for this camp of Dispensationalism, the Christian Church is almost like a plan B, with the plan A picked up again after the Rapture (roughly speaking—I know there is a lot of variation here depending on the individual scholar). In much of the rank and file, there’s almost a belief or quiet assumption that Jews will be saved apart from faith in Jesus, which contrasts to the rest of evangelical soteriology. After all, they deem it important to rebuild the Temple on Mount Zion to once again reinstate traditional Levitical worship—as if Jesus hadn’t fulfilled those demands already.
Those Dispensationalists who think Christians worship a different god than Muslims now have to face a harsh reality. Basically, they are going to have to come to terms with a fact realized long ago: that Christianity and (rabbinic, post-Jesus) Judaism are rival, mutually incompatible religions that have traditionally viewed the other as false. Christianity and Judaism make the claim of being the true heir of the same tradition. And it’s ultimately Jesus that divides them, which is precisely what the New Testament of the Bible says.
Christianity is based upon the foundation that Jesus is the true Messiah and fulfills Old Testament promises. He is the great redemptive sacrifice to which all the bloody animal sacrifices looked toward (thus making animal sacrifice obsolete). His Body is the Temple, and His people are the building stones of that great eternal edifice in which offerings of praise and thanksgiving are sacrificed to the Father. Judaism as we know it today was founded upon a rejection of Jesus as the Messiah—which started happening immediately as recorded in the New Testament. Rabbinical Judaism was drawn primarily from the Pharisees after the Temple was destroyed in AD 70. It was forged as a faith without the need for blood and sacrifices, without the Temple. This sort of cataclysm had happened to the Jewish people before during the Babylonian-Persian exile, and God had looked favorably upon the Hebrew children’s faithfulness in that day. Surely He would find their faithfulness to the Law (insofar as it can be followed) post AD 70 to be acceptable as well. Christians might insist that the Babylonian Conquest was accompanied by prophesies of a return from exile and restoration of the land, and that those prophesies have already been fulfilled in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. But I can see how Jewish scholars could argue against this interpretation.
More important now, I think, is for the supporters of John Hagee et al. to carefully gauge and possibly reassess their view of the covenants, soteriology, and eschatology. There may seem to be more commonality between Judaism and Christianity in the popular imagination. Nevertheless, exclusivity or inclusivity toward one faith has direct bearing on others. How evangelicals perceive Islam and God defines how evangelicals should also perceive Judaism and God.