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”:
Tackling 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.