Do All Christians Worship the Same God?
This question is stimulated by the current (2015) controversy over evangelical Wheaton College’s (Illinois) suspension of a political science professor allegedly for saying publicly that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. (I blogged about that issue and the question at its center here recently.)
The question whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God must be parsed out into two distinct questions—even after it is complicated by observance of the diversity among “Christians” and among “Muslims.” After that complication is recognized and taken into account, the two absolutely essential and distinct questions implied in “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” must be handled separately. They are: “Are Christians and Muslims thinking of the same being when they worship?” and “Is one and the same being accepting their worship as worship of him?” A “yes” answer to “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” may very well be only to one and not to both of those questions. Or it may be to both. That has to be decided insofar as one wants to understand a person who affirms that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God.” If someone says “no” and means that “Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God,” the same applies—to which of the two questions is the “no” the answer? It could be to both but it may very well be to only one. Insofar as a person says negatively—that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God—he or she should be clear about which question, or both, he or she is answering. Insofar as a person says “no” to either question or both, he or she should be prepared to at least think about whether all Christians worship the same God.
So, mutatis mutandis, the question “Do all Christians worship the same God?” must be parsed out into two distinct questions that can be answered differently—one with “yes” and the other with “no”—or identically—“yes” or “no” to both. “Do all Christians worship the same God?” might ask whether all Christians are thinking about the God they are worshiping sufficiently similarly to say they are worshiping “the same God.” “Do all Christians worship the same God?” might ask whether the one true God accepts all Christians’ worship as worship of him. Change the situation to answers. “Yes, all Christians worship the same God” might mean all Christians…etc.
Imagine a Christian college, university or seminary professor in the United States proclaiming publicly that “All Christians worship the same God.” Now imagine the reaction to that public statement. Very likely the reaction (among non-fundamentalists) would be “Yea and amen” (insofar as there is any reaction). However, some informed and critically thinking colleagues and constituents might ask “Which Christians are you talking about?” and “What do you mean by ‘Christians’?” I would also ask “Do you mean all Christians—whoever are meant—think sufficiently alike about God that they are worshiping the same God or do you mean that God accepts all Christians’ worship of God?”
Hopefully, anyone can now see how complicated the question really is and how no simple, uncomplicated answer will suffice!
And yet, chances are, because there is no controversy surrounding the question…nobody will be disciplined by ecclesiastical or educational authorities for affirming that “All Christians worship the same God” even though, in fact, it is (or should be) as controversial, at least for conservative, evangelical Christians, as “Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”
Simply put—every informed person knows that “Christians” is itself a complex concept fraught with complications and potential controversy. And that because of the tremendous diversity among “Christians”—including about the nature of God.
So, first of all, if “All Christians worship the same God” means “All Christians have the same or sufficiently similar idea of God”—that is highly debatable. That might be true if “All Christians” means “all true Christians.” But then, of course, the question becomes what “all true Christians” means. Critical reflection on the statement that “All Christians (even all true Christians) worship the same God” opens a can of worms most (non-fundamentalist) Christians don’t want to open. However, if “Christians and Muslims worship the same God” is to be made problematic—sufficiently to begin disciplinary proceedings against a tenured professor of an evangelical Christian institution—then probably “All Christians worship the same God” should be considered similarly problematic. But it won’t be. Why? Because there’s no controversy surrounding it.
If “All Christians worship the same God” means “God accepts the worship of all Christians”—that is also highly debatable—unless “all Christians” means “all true Christians” which again opens a can of worms few non-fundamentalists want to open—at least publicly. Again, even if this is the meaning of “All Christians worship the same God,” few, if any, administrators of even evangelical institutions will open an investigation of a professor who says it. And yet, perhaps they should. Why won’t they? Because there’s no controversy surrounding it.
The lesson one could, and perhaps should, learn from all this is this: Even if you are a tenured professor at an evangelical Christian institution (and perhaps at any institution) it is in your best interest to rein in your opinions about controversial subjects even if they are really no more worthy of being controversial than your opinions about non-controversial subjects. The bottom line then is, academic freedom is a moving target that depends largely on what subjects are controversial at the moment among the “constituents.”