By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist seminary president says not only do Christians and Muslims not worship the same God, neither do Jews who refuse to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
In Dec. 18 article on his website, Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said the latest controversy prompted by suspension of a Wheaton College professor for posting on Facebook that both faiths are “people of the book” who “worship the same God” boils down to one question: “Can anyone truly worship the Father while rejecting the Son?”
“The Christian’s answer to that question must follow the example of Christ,” Mohler wrote. “Jesus himself settled the question when he responded to Jewish leaders who confronted him after he had said ‘I am the light of the world.’ When they denied him, Jesus said, ‘If you knew me, you would know my Father also’ (John 8:19). Later in that same chapter, Jesus used some of the strongest language of his earthly ministry in stating clearly that to deny him is to deny the Father.”
When it comes to Muslims, Mohler said on his daily podcast briefing Oct. 18, “the Quranic teachings of Islam officially deny that Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God.”
“Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God,” Mohler articulated in the article. “Christians worship the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and no other god. We know the Father through the Son, and it is solely through Christ’s atonement for sin that salvation has come. Salvation comes to those who confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). The New Testament leaves no margin for misunderstanding. To deny the Son is to deny the Father.”
Wheaton, alma mater to evangelist Billy Graham and long a bellwether of evangelical Christianity, put Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor of political science, on paid administrative leave Dec. 15 for saying she believes Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
After a group of student leaders wrote a letter published in the student newspaper criticizing remarks by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. that students armed with guns can “end those Muslims,” Hawkins, a Christian, began wearing a hijab as a statement of solidarity against discrimination and persecution against Muslims.
“I don’t love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American,” the professor posted on Facebook Dec. 10. “I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity.”
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” Hawkins continued. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
Mohler said it should come as no surprise that Pope Francis would feel that way.
“The Catholic Church is now, and basically has been since Vatican II in the 1960s, committed to a theological position that is known as inclusivism,” Mohler said in his podcast Dec. 16. “Inclusivism holds that there will be people in heaven for eternity who have not on earth come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, they will be included in what the Catholic Church calls the economy of salvation, because the God in whom they have believed will be after their death discovered to have been the God who was the father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The problem with the proposal, Mohler said, “is that it has absolutely no grounding in Scripture.”
Mohler said it also isn’t surprising that Hawkins’ defenders include Miroslav Volf, a Yale University professor whose book Allah: A Christian Response apparently influenced her thinking.
“He has long been saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, even as he identifies himself as a Christian,” Mohler said of Volf. “When we see theological authority cited in response to this kind of controversy, we need to ask the question, is this a theologian who actually understands the gospel as we do?”
Mohler has a long track record of politically incorrect statements when it comes to religious pluralism.
In a 2000 appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Mohler said as an evangelical he believed the Roman Catholic Church “is a false church and it teaches a false gospel” and that “the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.”
Jewish leaders took offense in 2003 after Mohler made remarks to the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship summarized by Baptist Press: “He illustrated Jewish evangelism by comparing it to a medical doctor. A person with a potentially deadly tumor would want a doctor who would give them a truthful diagnosis, not one who would, in an effort to avoid offending them, tell them that all is well.”
Critics compared the statement to SBC President Bailey Smith’s off-the-cuff remark in 1980, “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.”
“How in the world can God hear the prayer of a man who says that Jesus Christ is not the true Messiah?” Smith rationalized. “It is blasphemy. It may be politically expedient, but no one can pray unless he prays through the name of Jesus Christ.”
The debate over whether the Allah worshipped by Muslims and Christian God are the same deity has surfaced off and on since 9/11. President George W. Bush drew criticism from usually supportive evangelicals when he said in 2003 he believed “Muslims worship the same Almighty” that he and other Christians do.
Richard Land, at the time head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, described the 43rd president as “simply mistaken,” adding the caveat, “We should always remember that he is commander in chief, not theologian in chief.”
Roger Olson, professor of theology at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, weighed in on the current controversy over whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God by reposting a blog from about a year ago lamenting how the debate often fails to take into account the question’s complexity.
If the question is interpreted to ask whether Muslims and Christians are “thinking of God sufficiently alike” to be worshiping the same God, Olson said, his answer would probably be “no.”
If the question is whether “God accepts sincere Muslim worship of Allah as worship of himself,” Olson said, it becomes more difficult “because answering it presumes knowing the mind of God.”