Is my God your God?
Discerning Christians know that speaking the gospel creatively and attractively into our pluralistic 21st century world requires that we first listen with care. Because Christ is Lord of all, and because the unfolding biblical story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration embraces all of life, culture and reality, the Christian need not worry where a conversation is headed. Not only is the Holy Spirit actually at work, every idea, yearning, value and belief can be explored without fear or defensiveness in light of the biblical worldview.
Since the pluralism in which we live includes believers from other religious traditions, the question naturally arises whether we worship the same God. This is especially compelling with the three great Abrahamic traditions: Jew, Christian and Muslim. The question needs to be answered not just for the sake of civility, but also for the sake of clarity. We will likely fail to persuade one another of the details of our faith if we fail to properly grasp how we each comprehend the most essential and central aspect of our respective worldview, namely, the person and nature of God.
In Do We Worship the Same God?, Yale theologian Miroslav Volf brings together Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers to discuss the question. The six papers included in this volume are scholarly works of theology—what one would expect in a graduate level seminar—and reward a thoughtful reading.
All the authors correctly conclude that the answer to the question is both Yes and No. As they demonstrate, thinking through what that implies in practical terms is the more difficult and pressing task. There are implications both for personal relationships and for political realities.
The three chapters by Christians in the book were disappointing to me primarily because the arguments were not rooted specifically enough in Scripture. I understand the question being explored here is a deeply philosophical one, but in a Christian perspective it cannot be allowed to be merely philosophical. The most helpful chapter, in my mind, is the Muslim contribution, “Do Muslims and Christians Believe in the Same God?” by Reza Shah-Kazemi from The Institute of Ismaili Studies. It is by far the longest (taking up almost half the book), one of the richest, and allowed me at least for a few moments to see things more from a distinctly Islamic perspective.
The primary practical issue, as Volf notes in his Introduction, is whether Christians, Muslims and Jews can live together in civility and peace. That is a pressing issue in our world, and no doubt will continue to be so in the years ahead.
Whether Muslims, Jews and Christians believe in the same God allows us to begin to explore the values we share in common that will allow us to live together and work together for the good of all. This is a vital discussion, even though we understand that theological and philosophical agreement among scholars will not be enough to carry the day. In the end as a Christian I must love my neighbor, even at the cost of my rights, job, reputation, or life, whether they worship the true God, or not, or choose to reciprocate in love, dislike, cynicism, or indifference.
Probably few of us are called to join the scholarly conversation, but we must do what we can in the ordinary faithfulness of our lives. Volf’s book can help sharpen our thinking. All of us can love our neighbor, and must, if we truly follow Christ.
A good first step is to call your neighborhood mosque and synagogue to find when you can visit, listen and ask questions, and learn what you can read to better understand who they are and what they believe. If there are no Muslims and Jews in your neighborhood, make certain you aren’t looking past them. And then keep listening: the pluralism of our world is growing rapidly and shows no signs of slowing down.