Can Christians say there is no God but Allah?
Can Christians say there is no God but Allah? This has been a much-debated question over the last two decades, particularly since the September 11th terrorism attacks in New York and the proliferation of Muslim immigration to western nations. The question is intended to provoke consideration of the similarities and differences between the Christian and Islamic understanding of God in order to work toward peaceful relations.
At the forefront of the discussion is Miroslav Volf, Henry B. Wright professor of Systematic Theology at Yale. His book, Allah: A Christian Response (HarperOne, 2010), gives an affirmative answer to the question “Can religious exclusivists, adherents of different religions, [i.e. most Muslims and Christians] live comfortably with one another under the same political roof?” (p.220). The basis of this conviction are six core beliefs of monotheism which Volf believes are shared by ‘normative’ Islam and ‘normative’ Christianity. These beliefs are as follows:
(1) There is only one God. (2) God created everything that is not God. (3) God is radically different from everything that is not God. (4) God is good. (5) God commands us to love God. And (6) God commands us to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Volf states elsewhere:
“I think that Muslims and Christians who embrace the normative traditions of their faith refer to the same object, to the same Being, when they pray, when they worship, when they talk about God. The referent is the same.” (Durie, virtueonline.org)
Although Volf notes some foundational differences, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, he believes the “amazing overlap and similarity” mean Christianity and Islam are fundamentally referring to and worshipping the same God. Even when it comes to the Trinity, Volf argues that Tawhid, the heart of Islamic doctrine, that God is one, can be affirmed by every orthodox Christian.
There would seem to be some biblical support for this view. For example, Paul, preaching to the Athenians, says “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:23, ESV) Paul implies the Athenians were worshipping the same God as him, though ignorantly. Also, in Romans 1 Paul appeals to the sensus divinitatis, claiming that all men know the one true God.
The God of Abraham
Christian blogger, Benjamin Corey, also believes Christians and Muslims worship the same God since they are both worshipping the God of Abraham. Benjamin states “we do in fact worship the same God– we just disagree on what God is like. It’s not the object we disagree on, but the attributes.” (Benjamin Corey, patheos.com)
Benjamin points to the fact that Christians are often quick to affirm that Judaism offers worship to same God, despite denying similar core tenets of Christianity such as the Trinity.
The Qur’an is explicit in affirming that Christians and Jews (“People of the Scripture”) worship the same God of Islam. Surah 29:46 says:
And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, "We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him."
The Qur’an asserts that the Muslims, Jews and Christians all refer to the God of Abraham, Moses, the Prophets and Jesus.
Not the same God
In contrast, many Christians oppose the idea that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Although the similarities are acknowledged, such as Volf’s six commonalities, it is claimed the God presented in the Bible is too different in essential characteristics from the God of the Qur’an and the Hadith. Nabeel Qureshi says that “at a certain point the differences go beyond details to essential matters of identity”. (Answering Jihad, Nabeel Qureshi, p.112) The essential characteristics presented by Qureshi are the deity of Christ, the fatherhood of God and the Trinity; core Christian doctrines, essential to the faith.
Furthermore, in Mark Durie’s review of Volf’s Allah: A Christian Response, he argues that Volf is simply wrong in conflating Christianity and Islam’s commands to love God and neighbour. Jesus clearly states that the whole Old Testament can be summed up with “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…[and] love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12: 30-31, ESV). However, never does the Qur’an command such an all-encompassing command to love God with all of our being and, Durie states, “It is also striking that Volf is unable to cite a single verse of the Qur’an to support the idea that God commands love for one’s neighbour.” (Durie, markdurie.com) Indeed Surah 9:123 says “O you who believe! Fight [to kill] those who are near to you of the disbelievers, and let them find harshness in you. And know that Allah is with those who fear him.” Commands such as these further distinguish Yahweh and Allah.
Qureshi also makes an important distinction between the role and the person fulfilling that role, stating “Muslims and Christians envision the same role when they speak of God, the unique Creator of the universe of whom there can only be one. But is it the same person? In my view clearly not.” (Answering Jihad, Nabeel Qureshi, p.112)
The Dividing Line
The issue is complex and often depends on how one defines terms and frames the question. However, for Christians, Jesus Christ and the Gospel “is the watershed issue that exposes the dramatic difference between Islam and Christianity” (Duane Liftin, christianitytoday.com) John Piper uses the following helpful illustration:
“We should picture two old classmates from college discussing a common friend from thirty years ago. They begin to wonder if they are talking about the same person. One of them is convinced they are, and the other keeps thinking this is not quite the way he remembers the friend. Finally, they decide to dig out an old yearbook and settle the issue. They open the book, and as soon as they see the picture of their classmate, one says, “No, that’s not who I am talking about.” So it was not the same person after all.
Jesus, as he is revealed in the Bible, is the picture in the yearbook. When a Muslim and a Christian, who have been discussing whether they are worshiping the same God, look at God in the yearbook, it settles the matter: “No,” says the Muslim, “that’s not who I am talking about.” (Piper, desiringgod.org)
Jesus Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15, ESV). Jesus said “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, ESV). We see God most clearly when we look to Christ and God’s character is most revealed through his work of redemption. Christians cannot divorce this revelation of Jesus Christ when considering who the one true God is.
In contrast, the Qur’an explicitly denies the Fatherhood of God and the Sonship of Jesus. Surah 9:30 calls on Allah to destroy “Christians [who] say: The Messiah is the son of Allah”. Surah 19:92 says “…it is not appropriate for the Most Merciful that He should take a son”.
Consider some of Jesus own words. “The one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). “Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father” (John 5:23). “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). “No one who denies the Son has the Father” (1 John 2:23).
As Quereshi says “it is the Son that most distinguishes the Christian God from the Muslim God.” (Nabeel Quereshi, No God But One, 2016) For Christians to affirm that there is no God but Allah would be to ignore the deep differences between the God revealed in the Bible and the Qur’an. More importantly, it would be to deny the central claim of Christianity. There is no God but Yahweh, revealed in Jesus Christ.