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Why Jesus Matters

There’s a great God debate going on right now, about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This isn’t a new discussion, but it’s moved to the front burner because both Christianity and Islam are on the front burner. We think it’s great. Anytime God makes the headlines, only good can come of it.

One particular episode in this debate that caught our attention was the case of Wheaton College political science professor Larycia Hawkins, who posted a picture of herself wearing a hijab (a veil worn by some Muslim women) in solidarity with Muslims. Wheaton, a conservative Christian college sometimes called the “Harvard of Christian schools,” was okay with the hijab. But when Hawkins commented on her post that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God,” she was suspended for going against Wheaton’s statement of faith.

That’s when we got interested.

Like you, we want to know whether Professor Hawkins or Wheaton is right. Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God, or do they worship different Gods? It’s a great question, and it’s not as easy to answer as you might think.

Some theologians say Christians and Muslims believe in the same God, but understand that God differently. That’s one way to look at it. After all, God is a lot more complex and mysterious than we give Him credit for. So anyone who thinks they understand everything about God (and therefore knows when other people are wrong about Him) is probably a bit pretentious. Augustine was much more direct. He famously said that a God we understand completely is an idol.

But what about a God we don’t understand enough? What if the God you believe in is not who he is, but is instead whoever you want him to be? We like the way Patrick Morley puts it: “There is the God who is, and there is the God we want, and they are not the same God.” In other words, they are different Gods.

Perhaps a better way to ask the “Do Muslims and Christians believe in the same God?” question is this: “Do both Muslims and Christians believe in the one true God?” Now all you have to do is find out who the “one true God” is.

We’re pretty sure we know who that is, mainly because the one true God has revealed himself progressively, from general to specific. General revelation includes the universe we live in, which points to a creator. The Bible puts it this way: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

God’s eternal power and divine nature are revealed more specifically in the Bible, where the story of God’s dealing with the human beings he created is explained in marvelous detail. From the universe we learn that God is the creator, that he is different than his creation, and that he is good. From the Bible we learn that God is holy, loving, and just.

Christians and Muslims pretty much agree on these points. If you don’t get any more specific, you can correctly say they worship the same God. For that matter, so do people who follow Judaism and Mormonism. So why are we arguing? Because God’s revelation didn’t stop with the universe and the Bible. He got a lot more specific. He came to our planet in the form of a human so he could be with us and rescue us from the mess we’ve made of things.

And this is precisely where the God of Islam and the God of Christianity part ways. Christians believe God has very specifically revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ, who is not merely a prophet or a wise teacher but the Son of God, begotten and not made, equal to God in every way. For the Muslim, this is utter blasphemy. For other all other God believers, it’s nonsense. But for the Christian, it’s the centerpiece of faith.

New Testament scholar Scot McKnight says it this way:

We can agree about God to some degree at a generic level, but we don’t worship God in the generic. We worship either the God of Abraham and Moses, the God of Mohammed, or the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. The God in each of the faiths is understood enough to conclude that saying we worship the “same” God muddies the water.

It would be just wonderful if we could all agree on the generic God and live happily ever after. But God doesn’t give us that option. Instead, he gave us Jesus, so that anyone who believes in him can have eternal life. It isn’t enough to believe in the generic God. But it is enough to believe in Jesus.

We know, this is a very controversial point of view. If Jesus were just a good man, we could all agree. But Jesus is the God-Man, and that’s where the debate gets very heated. Professor Hawkins can say Muslims and Christians believe in the same God, but she can say that only if Jesus is left out of the picture.

The one true God is specific, not generic. As Scot McKnight says, “The one God has revealed himself most completely in Jesus Christ, who was crucified and raised, so that cruciformity is central to who God is.”

We can agree on a lot of things about God, but what ultimately matters is that we agree on Jesus.

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Christianity 101 is a collection of books and digital resources by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz that talk about God in a way that encourages people to grow in their faith.