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Building Bridges of Peace in the Midst of Religious Diversity

Sunday, 31 January 2016  | Sarita D. Gallagher

The question - ‘Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?’ - is one that is both compelling and potentially polarizing. In recent weeks, events at my alma mater Wheaton College have brought this conversation to a national platform. Throughout history theologians from both the Christian and Muslim worlds have discussed this pertinent issue including scholars such as Martin Luther, Nicolas of Cusa, John of Segovia, Ahmad Ibn Taymīyah, and more recently Phil Parshall, Dudley Woodberry, Timothy George, Reza Shah-Kazemi, and Miroslav Volf. The question of a shared Abrahamic deity has been analyzed from a variety of perspectives: linguistic, theological, political, socio-cultural, historical, and missiological. Despite the centuries of discourse debating the nature and identity of the Abrahamic God, this issue remains relevant to our world today and requires fresh examination.

Within missiology, the discussion regarding the relationship between Islam and Christianity has focused primarily on the issue of contextualization of the gospel among Muslim peoples. Since the early missionary efforts of Christian leaders such as Francis of Assisi in the 13th century, Christian missionaries have sought to build bridges of communication and mutual respect with Muslim leaders and practitioners around the world. Understanding that Muslim peoples are created and loved by God has been foundational in this endeavor. The shared familial history of the two faiths through Abraham, the epistemology of the Arabic term ‘Allah,’ and the Islamic acceptance of portions of Jewish and Christian prophetic writings and scriptures, has for many missionaries been a platform for opening doors of respectful interfaith dialogue and Christian witness.

While contextualization is widely accepted within missiology, the issue of a shared God is more controversial. The primary reasons for this division include the soteriological and Christological issues underpinning the discussion such as salvation through Christ, the divinity of Christ, divine revelation, and particularity versus universality. Behind the question of a shared Abrahamic deity, are a multitude of substantial theological implications. For example, if Allah is God, then is the Islamic religion from God? Did Yahweh speak to Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullāh through the angel Gabriel in the Cave of Hira in 610 C.E.? If so, does the Quran contain new rev- elations from God? If that is the case, the Quranic teachings about Jesus of Nazareth must be considered. According to the Quran, Jesus was born of a virgin (Surah 19:16-21) but was created by God (3:59). Additionally, Jesus is understood to be a human being and a messenger of God, but not God (5:75). According to the Quran, Jesus was not crucified nor was he resurrected from death. Instead, God raised Jesus in his human state up into the heavens (4:157-158).

Finally, although Jesus will return during the end times, Jesus will openly reject that he is God in addition to denying the heretical teaching of the Trinity (4:159; 5:116-118). In answering the question ‘Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?’ the missiological implications of each response are vast. While replying to this inquiry with a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ is tempting, careful theological reflection is required. As I met this morning with my interfaith dialogue group in Portland, Oregon, I was reminded of the value of building bridges of peace in the midst of religious diversity. In moving forward in this conversation, it is crucial that we acknowledge the unique theological differences between Christianity and Islam while also continuing our commitment to pursue peaceful relationships with our Muslim neighbors.


Works Cited

Ibn Taymīyah, Ahmad. Jawāb al-aī li-Man Baddala Dīn al-Masī. 1316.

George, Timothy. Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?: Understanding the Differences Between Christianity and Islam. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

John of Segovia. De Mittendo Gladio in Saracenos. 15th cent.

Luther, Martin. On War Against the Turk, 1529.

Nicolas of Cusa. De Pace Fidei. 1453. Parshall, Phil. The Cross and the Crescent. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1989.

Shah-Kazemi, Reza. ‘Do Muslims and Christians Believe in the Same God.’ In Do We Worship the Same God?: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue. Miroslav Volf ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012.

Volf, Miroslav. Allah: A Christian Response. New York: Harper One, 2011.

Woodberry, J. Dudley. ‘Contextualization Among Muslims Reusing Common Pillars.’ International Journal of Frontier Missions. Vol. 13:4 (Oct.-Dec. 1996): 171-186.

Woodberry, J. Dudley. Muslims and Christians on the Emmaus Road. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1989.

Dr Sarita D. Gallagher is Associate Professor of Religion at George Fox University.

This article first appeared in Occasional Bulletin, Special Edition 2016, published by The Evangelical Missiological Society. https://www.emsweb.org/images/occasional-bulletin/special-editions/OB_SpecialEdition_2016.pdf.  

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