One of the resources I use with regularity is the Book of Common Worship, a joint publication of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. It’s a helpful resource that I turn to for liturgical elements, especially things like Prayers of the People and the Assurance of Pardon. The Communion Service is beautiful too, but I rarely use it in my current call since it’s sort of long.
When I first got a copy (around 2005) I stumbled across the prayer above entitled, “For Muslims.” Back then, I found the language of the prayer troublesome and my concerns linger to this day.
The question of whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God is in the news lately. The case of Larycia Hawkins has raised the issue in Christian circles (and beyond). She is the Wheaton faculty member who was put on administrative leave after writing on Facebook:
I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.
She also started wearing the Hijab (Islamic women’s attire) to show solidarity with American (and other) Muslims who have been subject to a great deal of vitriol in the public sphere as well as privately too.
So, let me offer some personal reflections on the issue of Christian-Muslim relations.
It isn’t necessary to claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God in order to show solidarity with our Muslim neighbors.
Christ instructs his followers to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our neighbors are all those with whom we interact and potentially even those whose lives are interwoven with ours.
You can make a strong case that not buying goods produced by slave labor is an application of the neighbor-love imperative. Our neighbors may have faith in the same God, another god, or no god. The object of faith is immaterial to Christ’s command to love and care for–to seek the good of–those around us.
The statement “Christians and Muslims worship the same God” is true in a very limited sense only.
I’d put it this way: both Christians and Muslims claim to have set their affections upon the God of Abraham. Put another way: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all claim to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Whether or not that claim is justifiable is another matter. Consider an analogy that may be helpful.
A thought experiment…
Imagine that I really like Barack Obama. Imagine that I voted for him twice, read both of his memoirs, and tried my best to catch every major speech he made as President of the United States.
I know the major details of his biography, the preferences that he has disclosed publicly (his sports teams, for example), and his views on major issues facing the world. I know Barack Obama.
Then, one day I have the immense good fortune to meet Michelle Obama. I tell her that I am a huge fan of her husband, I recite my fanboy credentials, and say, “I feel like I know your husband.” I talk about incidents from his childhood, about his favorite kind of pizza, and make some jokes about life at Harvard Law School.
The First Lady politely smiles–perhaps she smirks– and thanks me for my interest and makes some small talk before moving on with her day.
Which one of us knows the real President?
Most of us would answer that the First Lady knows the real President, and that I know his public persona.
The object of the exercise is to show that it is possible to for two people to stand in relationship to a third person and for those relationships to be different and more or less accurate in their perception of the object in question.
My conclusion then is that though Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all claim to know the God of Abraham, it is Christianity alone that connects us to the God of Abraham as He actually is.
It is impossible to truly know the God of Abraham absent his disclosure in Christ, and in the Bible. In the Hebrew Scriptures show us an external view of God, but it is only in the coming Christ and the reception of the New Testament that we are allowed to know the God of Abraham from the inside, out.
Christians are those who have been united to Christ, joined with him, and adopted into the family of God (see Gal. 4). We move from the outside to the inside by being carried with Christ into a vital, personal, corporate, covenantal relationship with God through Jesus, our elder brother.
Jews and Muslims may have set their affections upon the God of Abraham, but they continue to perceive Him from an external point of view–they are separated from God. Those united to Christ by faith are brought behind the veil of the Temple and into the holy of holies and there we behold our God in the splendor of his holiness. That is the glory and the beauty of the Christian gospel.