Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims Worship the Same God?

Posted on October 29th, 2013 by

232The following is a transcript from October 29, 2013, in Christ Chapel of Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN). As part of the “Daily Sabbath: Discuss” fall semester rhythm, the following provocation intended to provide various sides of a particular question, and in doing so, sought to spark discussion surrounding faith, learning, and life in the context of global religious pluralism. Following the provocation (below), those gathered in Christ Chapel were placed into small groups, they discussed the question placed before them, and then shared their thoughts with the larger group.

Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God?

This question has been posed many times by many people and in many circumstances, and it has lead to many conclusions and many consequences.

Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God?

This important topic was the focus of a recent book edited by the renowned Croatian Protestant theologian, Miroslav Volf, who serves as Director of the Center for Faith and Culture and Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School. As one often deemed a “theologian of the bridge” for his ability to link together diverse worldviews, Volf examined Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and in doing so asked, “Do We Worship the Same God?”. Among other things, his text brought together Jewish, Christian, and Muslim philosophers and theologians in order to examine his primary research question, and as a result, offered insights into how representatives of each religion view the affirmations of the others.

In review of Volf’s work on the topic, it appears that the collection of authors conclude that since Christians, Jews, and Muslims all seem to worship the God who created the world and called Abraham in the Book of Genesis, it therefore appears clear that Christians, Jews, and Muslims do indeed worship the same God. As shared in a similar book recently edited by Jacob Neusner, titled “Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God?”, such assumptions of religious unity are understandable and increasingly common, for the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do indeed intersect.

As a quick review, many here would already know that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all linked to the Hebrew Bible, where monotheism as we know it – the belief in the existence of one god or in the oneness of God – was first expounded.

Along these lines, in terms of Jewish/Christian relations, the New Testament draws heavily on and attributes authority to the Hebrew Bible, which was eventually incorporated into the Christian Scriptures as the so-called Old Testament. As a result, it is surely reasonable, or even inescapable, to conclude that the so-called Jewish God of the Old Testament and the so-called Christian God of the New Testament are to be identified as one and the same.

As for the relationship of Islam to both Judaism and Christianity, the issue of divine identity, though more complex, evokes the same conclusion. The Qur’an, in its own ways, acknowledges the historic priority of both Judaism and Christianity and endorses the revelation of the Torah. The Qur’an often speaks of biblical personalities, patriarchs, kings, prophets, and others, and appropriates the Hebrew biblical narrative in large part. All together, Muslims are considered “Children of Abraham” just as Christians and Jews, and would thus appear to worship the God of Abraham, just as Christians and Jews.

And so, in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam we have three monotheistic religions that have historical intersections, which would lead many to believe that, “yes”, Christians, Jews, and Muslims do worship the same God.

However, when examining Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, although there are historical similarities to record, there are also theological particularities that cannot be ignored, which would leave some to believe that, “no”, Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not worship the same God.

As stated by Baruch Levine of New York University, Christians, Jews, and Muslims tend to disagree theologically in regard to the purpose of humanity, the relationship between God and humanity, sin, forgiveness, salvation, the afterlife, Jesus, Muhammad, the calendar, and the religious importance of Abraham himself. More specifically, while most Christians believe in a Trinitarian conception of God as being composed of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in Islam and Judaism no such notions exists. In addition, Muslims tend to believe that Jesus was a prophet, but not God, nor the son of God. And in Judaism, Jesus is often considered a false messiah and thus unworthy as the object of faith. In other words, while Judaism, Christianity, and Islam can trace their histories back to the person of Abraham, there are numerous theological disagreements between the three traditions, especially surrounding the incarnation of God in Jesus, which has led many to conclude that Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not worship the same God.

Along these lines, religion scholar Stephen Prothero of Boston University wrote a book titled, “God is Not One”, and in doing so, he argued that it was “dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue” (pg. 2-3) to claim the unity of religions, and that (and I quote) “It is time we climbed out of the rabbit hole and returned to reality”. Prothero continues to write (and I quote): “…we know in our bones that the world’s religions are different from one another”, yet we pretend that these differences are trivial because we do not want to argue and we simply want to get along.

And so, with all of these thoughts in mind, we return to the primary topic at hand, “Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God”?

According to Miroslav Volf in the book mentioned at the onset, it would seem that Jews, Christians, and Muslims do indeed have the same God. However, he argued that it seems Jews, Christians, and Muslims do not believe and/or worship God in the same way, because God is revealed to different people in many different circumstances, which of course, leads to many different conclusions and many different consequences.

And so… Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God?

Yes? No? Perhaps the answer is both “Yes and No”.

Perhaps we could say, yes, in the sense that Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the God of Abraham, the creator of the universe.

And if we say yes, then what does that mean?

But also, perhaps we could say, no, in the sense that Christians, Jews, and Muslims have widely different understandings of this One God, and these difference not only take place across traditions, but as most people of faith already know, the mass assortment of belief takes place within our various traditions.

And if we say no, then what does that mean?

Through it all, to conclude, such questions surrounding interfaith relations lead to many more questions. Nevertheless, the questions surrounding the questions need to be posed, and the conversation needs to continue beyond this time together.

In our world today Christians, Jews, and Muslims make up the majority of the world’s population, and because we live in an era in which religious diversity simply cannot – and should not – be avoided, and because we have a long and regrettable history of religious based violence, these are questions that must be considered at length.

And so, the question remains, and the discussion continues at this time and in this place, and hopefully it will continue in may more times and places after this.

Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God?

Yes? No? Both? Neither?

Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God?

May the God of Abraham bless our discussion.

NOTE: At the conclusion of the (above) provocation (October 29, 2013), those gathered in Christ Chapel engaged in small group discussion and reported their thoughts back to the larger assembly. The ideas and additional questions brought forward were both informative and formative, and as a College which seeks to promote respectful inclusion and enriching dialogue, we look forward to addition conversation surrounding the importance of interfaith dialogue.

The Rev. Brian E. Konkol serves as a Chaplain of the College at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. An ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), he holds degrees from Viterbo University (La Crosse, WI), Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN), and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa). He blogs athttp://briankristenkonkol.blogspot.com and tweets @BrianKonkol

 


4 Comments

  1. Steven says:

    Obviously no.
    Looking closely, there are many differences in the concept of God in these religions. The Jewish don’t believe in Trinity which is believed by most Christians. Neither do the Muslims.

  2. Steven says:

    Most importantly only Christians believe in Jesus.

  3. Max Hailperin says:

    Brian, you phrase your question as whether “Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same god.” However, you then never state what the alternative would be. If not the same god, then what? The word “same” seems to beg for “different” as its antonym. However, for anyone committed (as many Christians, Jews, and Muslims are) to the premise that there only exists one god, the alternative that some may be worshipping a different god is a non-starter; there is no different god to worship. Instead, from this perspective, the only logically tenable alternative to “same god” is “non-god.” That is what is truly uncomfortable in this discussion, and failing to name it explicitly doesn’t seem like a constructive way to start the conversation.

  4. […] Brian Konkol, one of the two chaplains at Gustavus Adolphus College ponders a question that continually surfaces in inner-faith conversations and dialogue.  The question is:  Do […]