Is shared monotheism the best starting place for Muslim-Christian dialogue?
The recent exchange of conciliatory letters by Muslim and Christian leaders continues to generate discussion.
On the surface, the aim of the letters—both calls for Muslims and Christians to work together for world peace—seems fairly benign. The title of the Muslim letter, signed by 138 scholars and clerics broadly representative of the Islamic world, is “A Common Word Between Us and You.” The Christian letter, crafted by professors at the Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture, is called “Loving God and Neighbor Together.”
However, critics like Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, have said that the Christian document cedes too much theological ground to Muslims. This debate was taken up in earnest by John Piper and Rick Love on Piper’s Desiring God blog. Piper, the preaching pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and Love, the former international director of Frontiers, have gone back and forth (and back and forth again) on the topic, centering their debate primarily on what theological common ground Christians and Muslims can be said to share.
More interesting than the peacemaking letters themselves—and of more long-term importance, quite possibly—is how Christians answer this question, which Crossway associate publisher Justin Taylor addressed today in a blog post worth reading. Taylor quotes the following from Love, with whom he disagrees almost entirely:
Muslims already worship God as the One Living God—Creator and Judge of the Universe. . . . I believe that Muslims worship the true God. . . . I believe that anyone who affirms monotheism—whether Muslim, Jew, Sikh or Tribal—are worshiping the true God. How can it be otherwise, since there is only one God?
So do Muslims worship the same God as Christians, albeit imperfectly? CT senior editor Timothy George also tackled this questions in a 2002 article entitled “Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus?” “Apart from the Incarnation and the Trinity,” George writes in the concluding paragraphs, “it is possible to know that God is, but not who God is.”
That’s the key difference, Taylor writes, because worshiping the true God entails worshiping him as he truly is. The strength of Taylor’s post is his look at several key biblical passages, both Old and New Testament. As he points out, Jesus even said that Jewish religious leaders, monotheists to the core, were not of God and did not have God as their Father. Why? Because they refused to accept that he had come from God as God’s very Son—a rejection that continues to shape both Judaism and Islam.
Still, disentangling the monotheistic religions is a confusing task, one made more cloudy by on-the-ground realities like Arab Christians’ use of Allah to speak of God. The three major monotheistic religions overlap, with Christianity claiming to supersede Judaism and Islam claiming to supersede both. What’s most needed for Christians, George concludes, is a winsome and missional approach that turns our significant theological differences into attractions to Christ.
“We are wise to remember that sometimes the best way to address these issues is to move from theological abstraction to story,” George writes. “Isn’t that what the Christian is about? God was in Christ, reaching out to us in love, accommodating himself to our condition, to save us. This is what we are about as ambassadors of Christ and his gospel: to go into the world, into the prisons, into the barrios and the ghettos and wherever it is that human beings exist in alienation and separation from God, and to tell them that the relational God is reaching out to us.”