The question of religious or spiritual unity between Christians and Muslims has come up in recent days, largely in response to political debate over the danger of admitting Muslims into our country. On one extreme was the purported statement by Liberty University President Jerry Fallwell, Jr. that Christians should carry guns so as to kill Muslims. In response, Wheaton College students wrote of Christians' obligation to pursue unity and solidarity with Muslims based on our shared human dignity. Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor at Wheaton, , has gone further by donning a Muslim headscarf and declaring not only her human solidarity but her theological solidarity with Muslims. She validated the proposition that "Muslims and Christians worship the same God." Reacting to this statement, Wheaton College has suspended Hawkins pending an inquiry into her violation of the college's doctrinal statement. Wheaton should be commended for acting clearly but also deliberately and fairly in this matter.
There are various issues in this debate that Christians should carefully consider and on which we may legitimately differ. But whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God is not one of them. Let me offer three reasons why Christians must steadfastly declare that we do not worship the same God that Muslims do:
1. The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible proclaims that there is one God in three distinct persons. Jesus therefore instituted baptism "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19). Muslims vehemently deny and condemn this teaching, seeing it as a fatal compromise of its central tenet of monotheism. This means that Islam denies the deity of Jesus Christ, saying, "the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God" (Qur'an, sura 4). This means that Muslims profess belief in a God who is fundamentally different from the God of the Bible in his very nature.
2. God Revealed in Christ vs. Mohammed. In her statement of solidarity with Muslims, Dr. Hawkins stated that Christians and Muslims are both "People of the Book." The question is, of course, which book? While Islam shows a certain measure of respect to the Old Testament, it holds that God's chief revelation came through Mohammed, a man of considerable violence. Christians believe in a God whose chief revelation is through Jesus Christ, God's Son and the world's only Savior, as he is presented by the prophets and apostles in the Bible. To put it mildly, there is a fundamental difference between those who look to Mohammed versus to Jesus for their belief in God.
3. The God of Grace. The God of Islam shows grace only to those who merit his approval by faith and good works. The Christian God distinguishes his grace by bestowing it upon the unworthy and defiled. Paul's teaching that "God justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5) and through Christ's death showed "his love for us while we were still sinners" (Rom. 5:8), is fundamentally at odds with the Muslim belief concerning God. So while Muslims and Christians both use the terminology of grace, Islam denies the grace of God on which Christians rely for their salvation.
However laudible it may be for Christians to express kindness and human solidarity with members of other religions, the one thing we must never do is deny our faith in the Triune God who is revealed through Jesus Christ, God's Son, who alone died to free us from our sins. In denying the exclusivity of our faith, apart from all other religions, Christians are not exhibiting the love of Jesus. At the very heart of our message to the world we must always affirm - all the more so during the Christmas season - that Jesus alone is Savior and Lord. As John declared, "In him was life, and that life was the light of men" (Jn. 1:4).