There was quite a bit of discussion a while back about whether the Muslim God and the Christian God are the “same God.” I had said a little about the topic in some posts written at that time. But now I want to explore some related questions in more detail, in response to a blog reader who contacted me (longer ago than I care to admit!) to ask me what I thought about certain matters. Here is the relevant part of what he wrote:
A primer for the discussion:
I am not interested in Muslims becoming “Christians”. I see contemporary Christianity as a form of following Jesus that maintains, more or less, certain conclusions and doctrinal positions that were made in specific historical contexts, labeled “orthodox” and passed down through tradition. Christianity, however, is not the only way one can decide to follow Jesus and one need not submit themselves to Christian orthodoxy to be a Jesus follower.
So, an initial question would be:
Can a Muslim who has decided to follow Jesus stay faithful to the Biblical text about Jesus and still remain monotheistic in an Islamic sense (eg there is only one God and he has no partners)?
What would you see as some of the implications of this?
There is a short answer, “yes,” that can be given, adding “obviously.” Of course Muslims can follow Jesus – they do follow Jesus, in fact. The Muslim depiction of Jesus in the Qur’an, to be more precise.
And there is a short answer, “no,” that can likewise be given. Muslims cannot follow the Jesus that the Qur’an accuses Christians of wrongly worshiping, making him and his mother into gods alongside the only true God. By extension, the Jesus of the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds might likewise be a Jesus that Muslims cannot follow. Indeed, whether anyone can meaningfully follow a figure who is depicted as being unique and thus in so many ways unlike any other human being is a question worth asking in its own right in some other context.
But for our present purposes, it is hopefully clear that crucial questions such as “Which Jesus?” or “Who is Jesus?” as well as about what it means to follow need to be asked if one wants to give a meaningful answer of one’s own to this question, and/or to understand why different people answer the question in such very different ways.
But we also need to recognize that, if we bring the historical Jesus into the picture, the question may change, since neither Muslims nor adherents to classic Christian orthodoxy today tend to be aiming to follow the historical figure of Jesus. Perhaps in light of this, the question might be modified to “Who more closely follows the historical Jesus’ teaching and example?” – or perhaps better still, “Whose idea of Jesus more closely resembles the historical figure?” How would you answer that last question? It seems to me that at this point too, there isn’t a single unambiguous answer to be given. The Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds have a more direct connection to the historical Jesus by way of the earliest Christian sources. The Qur’an includes extracanonical Christian traditions as well as material that appears to be crafted in an early Islamic context. But if the question is altered yet again, to be about whose adherent to monotheism is closer to the historical figure of Jesus, then the answer may be different – whether one says that it is one, or the other, or perhaps neither, since both have developed the idea of God significantly beyond what Jesus and his earliest followers assumed, even if they have done so in different directions. (See my book The Only True God on this matter, especially the conclusion.)
Ever since the question was posed to me (OK, I’ll confess, it was more than two years ago), I’ve had a draft post saved, in which I’ve continually added links to articles and blog posts elsewhere that relate to this topic. You will find them below – hope you find them interesting!
One of the major things that led to delays in posting was the sheer volume of commentary generated by the Wheaton professor who donned a hijab in solidarity with Muslims, and then controversy about Wycliffe Bible Translators and the rendering of the phrase “son of God” which is a major sticking point for Muslims. See Libby Anne’s post on how matters like these came up even in a debate in the U. S. Senate!
Ejaz Naqvi blogged about Muslim reverence for Jesus. Jennifer Williams wrote about the fact that “Muslims love Jesus too.” Philip Jenkins wrote about the Bektashi Muslims in Albania and points of similarity between them and Christians. Randall Rauser had a conversation about whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Roger Olson also blogged about that question. Jon Rowe blogged about what certain of America’s Founding Fathers thought on the topic.A collection of quotes from No God But One was shared. That’s Nabeel Qureshi’s book, which led some Evangelicals to make their usual claim in response that Jesus did in fact claim to be God – a claim that has no basis in the historical evidence.
Craig Considine argued that a Christian can view Muhammad as a prophet.
Pete Enns points out that not all Christians believe in the same God.
Ian Mevorach tried to make the case that Jesus in the Gospel of John predicted Muhammad’s coming.
Business Insider shared a video with text about how Muslims view Jesus.
Last but not least, the meme below circulated (I think the first quotation marks are an example of their misuse, and the intention was to emphasize the words – what do you think?):