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Believe in the Same God?

by John K. Stoner (January 15, 2016)

Wheaton College has suspended one of its professors, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, for saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  I recommend the article Miroslav Volf wrote on the Hawkins situation.

The point of this essay is that there is a far more important question about "the same God" for Wheaton—and Christians across the board—and this is the question that should obsess all of us today,

The real question is, "Do all Christians worship the same God?"

From the standpoint of simple honesty and logic, "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?" is not a helpful question.  First, because it asks for a "yes" or "no" answer and neither answer is really helpful or true.  It's like asking, "Did ancient peoples who believed the earth is flat speak of the same earth as we who believe it is round?"   A yes or no answer to that is not helpful.

And second, the Christian/Muslim question is not helpful because it diverts attention from the substantive and important question, which is "Do all Christians (or Muslims, et al.) believe in the same God?"

Over the years, I've noticed far more Christians are ready to attach major importance to the different versions of Islam than to the different versions of Christianity.  Especially in one particular—the question of whether God is violent or nonviolent, whether God endorses or prohibits human tirades of homicidal violence.

Why does this become so important in assessing the viability of Muslim religion?  And at the same time, is it not equally important in assessing the viability of versions of christianity?

Obviously, it depends on whether the one doing the assessing is on the giving or receiving end of the violence.  Is that right, or is it right?

So, what's next?

The next thing is for Christians to get on with their own urgent and internal debate about the God they worship.  Is this God violent or nonviolent?

There is a way of reading the Bible in general, and the Jesus story in particular, as one great big debate about that question.  It's not a bad way to read the Bible--in fact, it can be a very honest and helpful way to read the Bible.

Starting with Jesus, one can say/see that what he did was raise to a higher level and bring new evidence to bear on the old questions about how to deal with "sin" and "enemies."  But it was a debate within a religion, not between religions.  This is why the Bible is such a critical resource for Christians today—if they will read it as it was written: the record of great debates about truth, and power, and love.

The Bible can help Christians to do their own work, before they try to become judges and dividers of all the truth claims and religions of the world.

If Not Empire, What? looks at these two great contrasting images of God: God as wielding and endorsing violence, and God as using the power of love, forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation. There is a difference.

And it is not enough to say that "No Christians say, or the Bible never says, that God is all violence. The claim is only that God sometimes uses homicidal violence."  Well, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If a sometimes violent God works for Christianity, why not for Islam too? Surely few will find it convincing to say that Muslims embrace a God that is all violence.

But what history and today's world are showing us in spades is that the way of empire—superior force, whether enshrined in nuclear arsenals or beheadings as media events—is not working well for humanity.

So if there is another way, as argued by a thin but impressive strain of Old Testament writings, and a consistent voice from Jesus and his first followers, then the many christianites of the world should be fully engaged in finding and living that alternative.