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Common Bonds

The relationship between Muslims and Christians has been in the news a lot lately, whether because of the Syrian refugee crisis or the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino or, more recently in the Christian world, the theological controversy generated by a Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins’ comments about Muslims and Christians worshiping the “same God” (and her being subsequently placed on administrative leave). There are no shortage of polarizing opinions out there and no lack of enthusiasm in sharing them.

Given my involvement in local efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Lethbridge and the delightful opportunities I have had to get to know Muslims in our own city in the process, I have tried to do a bit of reading on the matter when time permits. One book I have found interesting so far is Miroslav Volf’s Allah: A Christian Response. The question of whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God is prominent in this book, but even more important, for Volf, is the question of what theological common ground can be used to promote peace.

[Sidebar: Many Christians bristle at the suggestion that Muslims could possibly worship the same God as they do. For my part, I often find it exceedingly difficult to believe that some Christians worship the same God I do.  And, judging from some of the responses that have filled my inbox and my blog in recent months, it seems  that many Christians have similar reservations about the God I claim to worship.]

Near the end of his book, Volf wrote something that I found intriguing. This comes from a chapter called “Prejudices, Proselytism, and Partnership”:

9780061927089Tackling a common task often creates a common bond… We work together because some human bond connects us—even if it is mere recognition that each empathizes with the plight of those who suffer—and because the work we undertake fits with our understanding of humanity and how God is related to it… [J]oint projects often keep the virtuous spiral moving; working together we discover deeper common affections and convictions which in turn propel us to further joint projects.

A common bond emerging out of common affections and a common purpose.  Yes, this certainly rings true.

Yesterday, I received the happy news that the two families that our local sponsorship group is bringing to Lethbridge are en route. If all goes as planned, they’ll be here by the weekend for a wintry welcome to Canada. I spent part of this morning on the phone with a Muslim friend who had offered to help however she could when our families arrived. After a few short minutes, my Muslim friend had agreed to accompany us to the airport to help with translation, to collaborate with another (Christian) person in preparing a meal specific to the region our (Orthodox Christian) families are from to be ready and waiting when they arrive at their new home, and to help in any way possible going forward. I got off the phone marveling at and thanking God for the reality of Muslims and Mennonites and United Church folks and people with no church allegiance working together to provide a meal and a welcome to a group of weary travelers at the end of a long journey.

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? That’s a big question that requires a lot of clarification of terms and unpacking of assumptions and patient conversation. In other words, it’s a question that ought to take place far away from the Internet. 🙂

But however we might answer that question—and any answer we give ought always to be prefaced by the acknowledgment that no one’s ideas of God are an exact map of God’s true nature, and that God is at least as interested in our actions as in our ideas—I am as certain as I can be about anything that the God that I have come to know and love and worship in Jesus Christ would be pleased by the “common bond” that has been created by diverse people working together in peace, respect, and friendship to provide shelter for the stranger, food for the hungry, and rest for the weary.

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. yes.

    January 6, 2016
  2. Owen #

    Thanks for opening your heart, and having the guts to say so publicly. Jesus could use a lot more like you ..

    January 6, 2016
  3. Paul Johnston #

    Amen, brother.

    January 7, 2016
  4. Paul Johnston #

    The Roman Catholic overview. Hopefully a helpful contribution to the discussion.

    January 7, 2016
  5. The Quran itself in several places insists that its God is the same as the God of Judaism and Christianity. The most direct statement is one in which Muslims are admonished to tell Jews and Christians: “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you; our God and your God is One, and to Him we do submit” (E.H. Palmer translation of Sura 29:46).
    Just as Dieu and Gott are the French and German words for God, so is Allah the Arabic equivalent. In part, this identity of meaning can be seen from cognates: In Hebrew, the word for God is Eloh-im, a cognate of Allah. In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, God is Allaha. In the Maltese language, which is unique because it is Arabic-based but spoken by a predominantly Catholic people, God is Alla.
    Of course Muhammad disputed the Christian literal take on the Trinity. If the Trinity as a concept is true, then I would say it exists in all religions (although Jesus was the first to use that description to illustrate the relationship between God, the Holy Spirit, and His divinity. The desire for exceptionalism causes some religions to fossilize metaphors into stones of idle fancy.
    It is good for these discussions to occur, especially if they increase universal love.

    January 7, 2016
    • Of course, when I say religions, I am referring to those who seize control of the Sacred Gift for better or for worse.

      January 7, 2016
    • Paul Johnston #

      As potentially divisive as these conversations can be, I remain convinced that they are essential. Essential in that all moderate voices, Christian and Muslim, must commit to wrestling the conversation away from the fundamentalist/confrontational approach that predominates.

      Surely people’s of God must feel in their bones that mistrust, contempt and violence are not the ways of an all loving, all merciful creator. Nor should they be the ways of His children…. Children of God…..every last one of us…throughout time…..brothers and sisters.

      January 8, 2016
  6. Rod Black #

    I have many Muslim friends and we enjoy great conversations and great food together. Religion is always close to the surface in the interactions and both of us appreciate that. I found that the main question was not whether or not we worshiped the same God, but how we get to God. My friends and I always disagree on the means of salvation, of access to his presence. In my worldview, my friends are not worshiping God, because they can’t. They don’t know Jesus as Savior and as such have no access to God. Their picture of God is accurate in many respects (all-powerful, all-present, Creator) but faulty in other respects (no love, no incarnation), but it is a wonderful starting point for discussion. At least they know that there is a supreme being and we are miles ahead in a spiritual conversation compared to working with my non- or anti-religious Canadian friends. I believe this is what you were getting at with discussing the issue of God, right?

    January 8, 2016
    • Paul Johnston #

      Rod, in love I ask you to reconsider your comments regarding Muslim ‘s not having access to God. Mathew 23 comes to mind, particularly verse 13.

      January 8, 2016
      • Rod Black #

        Sorry, Paul, I should have been more clear in my comment. I definitely was not trying to shut the Kingdom door for my Muslim friends! Everyone has access to God in that he loves them all and is waiting for them to turn to him for salvation and Lordship. However, as they have not accepted that Jesus is the exclusive way to the Father, they do not have access in the sense of a constant, ongoing relationship. That’s why I struggle with the question, “do we worship the same God”. I know that in a sense someone outside of Jesus can offer honor to God, but I do not see how a person who does not know Jesus, or has turned down God’s offer of a Savior, can “worship” God. Thoughts?

        January 8, 2016
  7. Paul Johnston #

    Thanks for such a gracious response, Rod…..

    You ask, how does one who neither knows or perhaps has even rejected Christ, worship God? My honest answer would be, with sincerity of heart combined with life choices that honour that sincerity and a willingness to seek forgiveness when thought and action contradict….after all the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak☺….

    Our Muslim brothers and sisters worship the same God that Abraham encountered in the wilderness. The same God we worship. God the Father.

    If it is our belief that if we have seen the Son, we have seen the Father, then it would also be true that if we have seen the Father we have seen the Son.

    Muslims have seen the Father.

    So why don’t they “see” the Son. Lots and lots of possibilities I suppose, too many for me to even attempt to consider, much less articulate. I will offer you this though, Jesus is a person of history, a history that precedes Mohammad by some 600 years. The Muslims did not encounter Jesus in history. It was up to those who had encountered Him to share that gift of the Spirit. Did they? And we as ancestors of those charged with making all people disciples, have we shared our gifts of the Spirit? Before we speak of the speck in our brothers eye, do we have to consider the log in ours?

    Historically speaking those who have supposedly spoken for Jesus have often behaved brutally towards Muslims. Even today innocent Muslims, men, woman and children die (co-lateral damage?) at the hands of western governments that purport to be Christian. Can we say with all certainty and clear conscience that we haven’t been a millstone around the necks of our brothers.

    Have Muslims sinned against us? To be sure…. Something about forgiving those who trespass against us is the option I recall Jesus giving us….”Drones” and bombing sorties, not so much….

    To this point I’ve only spoken about what our response ought to be like but what of God? How do you imagine his response? Infinite love? Infinite mercy? Remember how he surprises those in Mathew 25 with both the expansiveness of his justice and his love.Those who thought they served him based on there understandings of the law, didn’t . Those who simply lived a life of mercy and compassion were startled that they had.

    Muslims are holy people. Their dedication to worship and living chaste lives is exemplary. We can learn much from them. We can be much more in God’s eyes if we were to follow their example.

    As for them appreciating the fullness of God’s revelation: Jesus Christ, that is up to you and I and others. When Muslims of good faith see Him in us, they will flock to Him in droves. Muslims are holy people.

    January 8, 2016
    • I believe Jesus gave a warning concerning ‘the rest of the world’, knowing that the arrogance of the Pharisees could also fall upon the children of the kingdom. Of course, it is said the children of the kingdom are the good seed……… the seed that Jesus planted in the field of the world. But even though the seed was good, if it isn’t watered and rooted, it all comes to naught. The kingdom was not preached until the coming of Jesus.
      Matthew 8:11-12
      And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
      But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
      Luke 16:16
      The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
      Matthew 13:38
      The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom;
      but the tares are the children of the wicked one
      Of course, it isn’t until the Judgment Day that the tares are separated from the rest. Could anyone then, judge the fate of others before the Judgment Day? Those many who shall come from the east and the west?
      We can’t discount what Jesus said, but we need to think deeply about whether we really understand what He is getting at.
      Exceptionalism has been the bane of many religious movements.

      January 11, 2016
    • Paul Johnston #

      Rod, In rereading our comments I’d like to add some final thoughts.

      Perhaps it is best if a give you, as briefly as possible, some explanation about who I am and why I think the way I do.

      By tribe, I am Roman Catholic. I see scripture as divinely inspired but not without error or contradiction. The errors and contradictions are not God’s, his word is perfect. The error and contradiction is ours. Our understanding is imperfect. Our intentions sometimes sinful. For me to subscribe to the idea of, “Sola Scriptura” and it’s offspring, “Biblical Inerrancy” is to fall into the same trap that the Pharasee’s did; Legalism, pride and judgement.

      Jesus spoke a lot about what kind of behaviors and choices reflected God’s kingdom and a lot about what kinds of choices and behaviors led to salvation. As for belief systems and systemic theologies they only seemed righteous insofar as they were affirmed by behavior/choice. Jesus severely condemned those whose word did not align with their action.

      St. James was and is always right. Faith without works is dead.

      Actions speak louder than words.

      Saying one thing and doing another is always bs…

      The qualifier with works is that they aren’t to be effected solely from the depths of our imaginations and understandings. They are to be animated in partnership with the Holy Spirit.

      A Holy Spirit we can encounter through prayer, worship, fasting and acts of service. Silencing our own thoughts regarding self and our need and opening our hearts to the needs of others….”the greatest of these is love”….

      So what am I trying to say in context? Simply that I believe our God judges his children by who they truly are in relationship with Him and by the relationships they have with each other. Do we truly love God? Do we truly love our brothers and sisters?

      It isn’t what tribe you come from. It isn’t what book you read.

      So in this way Christians can enter, Muslims can enter, Jews can enter, some from all tribes can enter.

      Our real profession of faith is declared by the choices we make.

      It is my unshakeable belief that, in the end, all who work for righteousness sake will have made their lives and the lives of others better. Both here on earth and in heaven.

      And when heaven comes, to whom it will, “the sheep will know their their shepherd and the shepherd His sheep”.

      January 11, 2016
      • Rod Black #

        Thank you, Paul. I appreciate your taking the time to share your understanding of the faith. I also appreciate your concern to keep me from falling into the sins of pride and legalism. My own background is that of an evangelist, having served for many years in a Muslim country, sharing the faith. I encountered a worldview similar to yours in my Sufi mystic friends, in fact it was very popular with them. However, I did not see the animating work of the Spirit accompanying their zeal. So we kept on sharing the exclusive way to the father, being, as you said “charged with making all people disciples”.
        I think we have drifted a bit from Ryan’s original post, so if you see benefit in further discussion perhaps we should carry this on elsewhere?

        January 11, 2016
      • Like

        January 11, 2016
    • Muslims believe in Jesus, in His virgin birth and His ascension to heaven. They also believe He will come at the end of time for the Judgment Day. And then God will inform everyone if some of their interpretations are skewed. Muhammad said that those closest to Muslims will be the Christians. When Omar conquered Jerusalem in 632, it was a bloodless coup, although the agreement with the Bishop was that all Jews were to be excluded. When Christians recaptured Jerusalem in the early 12th Century they slaughtered all the Muslims and Jews in the city. Thirty years later when Saladin recaptured the city, he allowed all the inhabitants safe passage to return to the countries of their origin. None of us has seen Islam in its Golden Age…… when free thought flourished, when Spain was a place of revival for the Jewish community. The generosity of Islam towards people of the Book was noteworthy. Our response should be reciprocal.

      January 11, 2016
      • Paul Johnston #

        Reciprocal, indeed Mr. Brown.

        Those who are being moved, as Ryan says, by peace, respect and friendship are listening to the promptings of the Spirit. Those who advocate fear, mistrust and abandonment are not.

        Those who know this truth must struggle to live it. Encouraging one another in love. Prayerfully seeking His guidance.

        If all that ever happens here at, “Rumblings” is that those who gather here are encouraged and strengthened I think the Lord our God will be well pleased. ☺

        January 12, 2016
      • If all that ever happens here at, “Rumblings” is that those who gather here are encouraged and strengthened I think the Lord our God will be well pleased. ☺

        I think so, too, Paul. I can think of few higher ambitions for a blog.

        January 13, 2016
  8. Howard #

    Excellent incite Ryan Also Abraham was no skitzophenic

    Sent from my iPhone


    January 9, 2016
  9. I appreciate the post and the responses; it is daring to try to answer a question that – as you say – “ought to take place far away from the Internet.” Nevertheless, it is the question of the day, and in my limited experience with Muslims, I have found them to quite enjoy talking about faith issues. I have tended to think – there is only one God; we understand him differently than Muslims, Jews, and as you pointed out, even differently from other Christians – though we who name ourselves as Christ followers give the credit to Christ for being the ultimate revelation of the Triune God. Growing to think/relate to Him more rightly is a good thing, since as Mother Teresa said, “words that do not give the light of Christ, only makes the darkness worse.” It is my hope that as we grow to know the One who knows us, that we would be gracious and humble in our discipleship and sharing. These have not been those days, has it?

    Admittedly, I am an amateur in this field of play. It is my hope that I, along with those with whom I fellowship would encourage us to live Christ-like lives as we share them with the refugee family we are sponsoring, and with our neighbours, etc.

    January 11, 2016
  10. Thanks to everyone on this thread for your thoughtful comments and for your generous tone. I haven’t been able to participate on this thread as much as I might ordinarily have done because we’ve spent the last three days or so welcoming a few Syrian families to Lethbridge. But I’ve enjoyed and learned much from the comments and links posted here.

    January 11, 2016
  11. Paul Johnston #

    Please excuse the tardiness, Rod. Everytime I intended to respond to your last comment, something came up.☺

    Wow, ministering to Muslims in an Islamic country. What an important perspective you have to share. My speculations are likely inadequate by comparison.

    Thank you for relating your observations regarding Sufi mysticism. I wonder what they might have or could experience would they try to mediate their experiences through the “prophet”, Jesus.

    Do you think they would be open to such encouragements? Or would such a thing be, “haram”?

    I don’t think, Ryan objects (too much😃) when conversations wander…God knows he’s given me free rein to do it here for years. 😉

    I hope you are able to participate regularly, here. I appreciate your voice very much.

    January 14, 2016
    • Rod Black #

      Good question, Paul. The ethnic group I worked with would certainly not consider your proposal “haram”. The problem we constantly ran into, however, when Muslims or Hindus tried to mediate their spiritual experiences through Jesus the prophet, was that they were trying to force Jesus into a box of their own making. Jesus the prophet is a good place to start, but the Muslims all balked at Jesus the Son of God, the crucified and resurrected Savior. The Hindus all balked at Jesus the exclusive Way, who would not share his glory with Lakhshmi or Krishna. So they could come so far, but all eventually ran into the problem of God having said this is the free way I have provided for salvation. My Sufi friends always said that there are a thousand doors and windows into Heaven, but in essence they were saying, “God, if you don’t mind, I would like to design my own path to salvation, and require that you accept me playing by my rules.” A friend once said to me that if we were just a little less insistent on the crucified Son of God thing, we could all get along well. I had to agree with him – but not for the reason he thought. If we got rid of the crucified Son of God thing, we would all be equally lost. So I happily continue to preach that exclusive way, truth and life to all the Muslims I know.

      I am looking forward to getting to know more varieties of Muslims here in Canada, as their theology and understanding of traditions and superstition is all very different. God bless as you continue working with the refugees in Lethbridge, I look forward to hearing of how that progresses.

      January 15, 2016

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