A Wheaton College professor recently stated that Muslims and Christians worship the same God and lost her job. This has stirred up quite a debate in the echelons of evangelical accuracy that should have gone on before the professor lost her job. It’s a healthy discussion. At least let the teacher keep her job until we figure this out.
I’m going to attempt a non-theological answer to this question because we are not theologians nor are we in theological circles. If we had a theological answer, it would be at least 32 pages long and no one would bother to read it or understand it except other theologians. We are in the world, and we live among Muslims, and people of all religions and none, and a practical answer to this question would be extremely helpful to us in our relationships and in learning how to talk to others about our faith.
So, I am going to suggest that the professor is right from the standpoint that there are not four or five gods out there, and you’d better choose the right one. “Nope, sorry, it was Door Number 3.” No, we believe there is only one God and a lot of wrong or insufficient information about Him is out there. If you really want to know God, you need look no further than Jesus the Christ, because all the fullness of God dwells in Jesus (Colossians 1:15-20). Jesus came for the express purpose of showing God to us, and then, to top it off, He died for our sins, and came back from the dead to prove He was God, and He can therefore offer forgiveness and eternal life to all who believe in Him. See how we did that? We didn’t knock anything down, we filled in the picture.
Missionaries have been doing this for years. They used to come into a tribe of pagans and force them to see that whatever religious beliefs or practices they had were wrong and they needed to debunk those beliefs and set up western Christianity. Now they study the tribal religion and religious practices first to see if there is anything they can use to help reveal God, and then they put the gospel in those terms — terms the tribe already understands, and that already have religious implications. For instance, many American Indian tribes worship the Great Spirit, and a lot of what they believe about that Great Spirit lines up with the God of the Bible. For instance, they believe He is the creator and He causes the rain to fall and their crops to grow. They honor Him and give Him thanks — things Paul says are basic to everyone’s knowledge about God without even being told, if we’d just pay attention to it (Romans 1:19-20). So what if, instead of getting them to denounce the Great Spirit, you told them the Great Spirit had a Son and He came to earth to reveal the Great Spirit to us? How would that work? Well, they found out that it works very well.
If we assume that Muslims are seeking to worship God just as we are, but they just have some wrong information about Him, and if they would take a long, hard look at Jesus (whom they already believe is a prophet) they would discover that He is more than a prophet — He can reveal to them everything they need to know about God. Really. We’re halfway down the road with some of these dear people. Many believe the Bible is the word of God as well as the Koran. We don’t need to burn the Koran; we need to introduce them to the Bible and the Jesus of the Bible.
One biblical example of this was when Paul was in Athens and he found an idol to an unknown god (Acts 17:16-31). He did not topple that idol. He did not smash it. He announced publicly that what they were worshiping in ignorance, he had come to reveal. And then he went on to teach them about how they got it backwards: We didn’t make god; He made us, and put us here, and revealed Himself through a man who proved He was from God by rising from the dead. See how he did that? He even complimented them on being very religious. In other words, they had the right idea, they just didn’t have enough information.
The assumption we should make about everyone is that people know there is only one God. Everybody already knows that, deep down in their hearts, even if they’ve convinced themselves, or someone else has convinced them, otherwise. Everyone is desperately seeking the one true God because they have a very big hole in their hearts that only the one true God can fill; so if they want to know about Him, look to Jesus, because everything we need to know about God is found in Him.
Why is this so hard? If she was saying this — and I don’t know, but I bet she was — then give the prof her job back. And thank her for bringing this up, because it gave us a chance to discuss it, and find out something very useful to our place in the world as those who are turning grace outward to those who need the gospel of welcome.