Ambassador of Reconciliation
9/28/16 at 11:40 PM 0 Comments

Do We Worship the Same God?

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Recently I attended a Sunday school class in which we explored the question “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” Many Bible-believing Christians would be quick to answer “no.” But a quick answer to this question reflects a failure to grapple with the many nuances and ramifications of the problem. It is a critical theological question that deserves thoughtful consideration. And it is not simply a theoretical question on the level of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin; it has practical implications for how we live. How does the answer affect the way we view and treat Muslims, the way we interact with them, the way we witness to them?

I will not attempt to answer this question but rather will raise some more that are prompted by this one, in hopes of stimulating thoughtful dialog on this important topic. For example,

How similar do your views of the character of God have to be in order to say that you worship the same God?

How alike do they have to be in order to worship together?

How accurate does your understanding of God have to be in order to say that you worship the true God?

These questions affect our interaction not just with Muslims and others of different faiths, but also with fellow Christians. For example, I have been told by some Calvinists that I worship a different god. It is true that our concepts of God are quite different; what are the implications for our fellowship and worship?

Perhaps the most striking difference is in our views of the love of God. Some Calvinists, like A. W. Pink, simply assert that God does not love everyone: “God loves whom He chooses. He does not love everybody” (The Sovereignty of God). Other Calvinists, like John MacArthur, believe that Pink went too far. They attempt to correct the error by affirming the biblical truths that God is love and He loves because He chooses to love. They believe that God grants common grace to all (“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” Mt. 5:45), and that His offers of mercy to the unsaved are “sincere expressions of the heart of a loving God.”

However, most Calvinists think there is a sharp distinction between God’s love for the elect and His love for everyone else. As MacArthur puts it,

It is folly to think that God loves all alike, or that He is compelled by some rule of fairness to love everyone equally…. [A]n important distinction must be made: God loves believers with a particular love. God’s love for the elect is an infinite, eternal, saving love…. Such love clearly is not directed toward all of mankind indiscriminately, but is bestowed uniquely and individually on those whom God chose in eternity past.

I do not share the Calvinists’ view of the love of God. I do not think His love toward one group of people is different from His love toward the rest of humanity. God is love. Love is His very nature, and it does not change depending on the object. He does not show “an infinite, eternal, saving love” toward some and a lesser love (or hate) toward others. As I have stated before,

God is love, He always operates in love, He loved us while we were sinners, and He will always love us. And by “us” I mean the whole human race. And by “love” I mean the quality that in God is infinitely higher and purer than the best human love but not radically different from it nor unrecognizable as love. And by “always” I mean that He will never stop loving us—not when we sin, not when we rebel against Him, not when we die.*

So we have two divergent views of a key attribute of God. Are we talking about different Gods, or about differing perceptions of the one God? Can we worship together when the object of our worship is so very different in a major respect? All of us have faulty, inadequate views of the God we worship; how do we determine which views are close enough to the truth to be considered worship of the true God?

For my part, I cannot worship God as He is perceived by Calvinists with respect to His fundamental nature of love. Contemplating a God who withholds His “infinite, eternal, saving love” from the majority of humanity does not produce adoration in me. If God “loves” mankind enough to grant a certain level of providence to all but not enough to redeem all, then such “love” is less than it could be—not worthy of an infinitely holy and infinitely loving Lord.

However, I can worship with Calvinists. We have enough in common—particularly regarding the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the person of Christ, and the power of the cross—that we can (in my opinion) lift our praises to Him together, while envisioning Him in our own way.**

And how, if at all, do these observations apply to the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Clearly the situation is not parallel, but we need to be asking the same kinds of questions as I have raised here. I will leave it to readers to carry on the conversation by asking and thoughtfully trying to answer these and other questions. I would just ask that your goal not be to prove a point or win a theological argument, but rather to consider how best to advance the Kingdom of God.

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*For a more detailed discussion of the love of God, see “Does God Love Everybody?”

**Those on both sides might choose to refrain from singing or saying some words in certain hymns or prayers; see the section about lyric-tampering in “Why Aren’t We Allowed to Believe What We Sing, Say, and Pray?

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