Traditionally, evangelicalism—like biblical fundamentalism—has held to the belief that Jesus is the only way to experience eternal life and a relationship with God, for He, as God the Son, paid the penalty for the sin of man through His substitutionary death and resurrection. He “tasted death” for every person. One can only be saved through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ, for as God manifest in the flesh, He is the only One worthy and able to redeem mankind. Yet now, even among those who profess to be evangelical Christians, a debate has ensued concerning the very person of God. Some evangelicals today believe that Christians and Muslims actually worship the same “God,” while others who may not agree with this assertion are tolerant of those who do believe it.
Some may remember Wheaton College’s tenured professor, Larycia Hawkins, who, in December 2015, asserted her solidarity with Muslims following the San Bernardino, CA, terrorist attack by donning traditional Muslim garb and declaring publicly that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. She wrote in a Facebook post, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book.” She continued, “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” While such a statement may be typical within the realm of Roman Catholic or theologically liberal wings of academia, the idea that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is contrary to everything evangelical Christianity stands for—and Wheaton College is a flagship institution of the new evangelicalism made popular by Billy Graham, Carl F. H. Henry, and others.
Staff, students, and alumni began to take sides as to whether or not Hawkins should be terminated due to the fact that her statements are not consistent with traditional evangelical Christianity. (Please note: The issue addressed in this article does not center around whether or not Hawkins had “academic freedom” at Wheaton to embrace or propagate such a view of God but whether or not this belief is true and consistent with traditional evangelicalism and biblical Christianity). According to a Time magazine article, Wheaton College provost Stanton Jones wrote in an email to another professor that Hawkins’ comments were “innocuous” but had caused a public relations disaster for the college (Time, “Wheaton College Provost Called Suspended Professor’s Muslim Comments ‘Innocuous,’” 1-9-16). The same Time article cited Wheaton professor Gary Burge as saying, “I have seen no theological argument from the college that would deem her commitments unacceptable,” adding, “[Hers] is a clear, compelling affirmation of what we believe in Wheaton’s Statement of Faith.” Hawkins, who parted ways with Wheaton College in 2016, admitted that “Wheaton has a right to say only evangelicals can work here, I assent to that, but what they are seemingly saying now is actually you don’t have freedom to say things that other evangelicals say.”
And, indeed, other evangelicals and Wheaton alumni were actually supportive of Hawkins’ “same God” comments. One Wheaton alumnus, John Schmalzbauer, who serves as a sociologist of religion at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO, wrote a column for Religion & Politics in which he stated, “Though I’m no theologian, I’m certain that Dr. Hawkins is well within the boundaries of American evangelicalism” (Religion & Politics, “The God of Abraham Praise: Wheaton College Considers Its Muslim Neighbors,” 12-22-15). To support his assertion, Schmalzbauer cited Billy Graham, who told Robert Schuller:
“[God] is calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they‘ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don‘t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they‘re going to be with us in heaven.”
Has modern-day evangelicalism truly come to the place where a debate has ensued concerning whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God and are brothers and sisters, spiritually speaking? Of course, Roman Catholicism—at least since the 1960s—has already asserted that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. But historically, evangelicals and fundamentalists have rejected such an assertion as heretical and unscriptural. The debacle that ensued at Wheaton College in 2015, including the subsequent outrage from Wheaton grads and professors who opposed the termination of Hawkins, reveals just how far evangelicalism has compromised the truth of the very core of the Christian faith.
In 2005, Fuller Theological Seminary hosted a conference to address the question “What Is an Evangelical?” One Fuller professor, the late Dr. Evelyne Reisacher, who served as the associate professor of Islamic Studies and Intercultural Relations at Fuller Theological Seminary, addressed the issue of evangelicalism’s relationship to Islam and answered the question concerning Christians and Muslims worshipping the same God by stating, “The issue is quite complicated because the answer is really a yes and no answer. We can really only answer by yes and no.” She said that while the Koran refers to the God of Abraham, “what we say about Him is different in many ways.” She noted that Muslims deny the fact that Jesus is God, and yet she could not emphatically state that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.
Sadly, the fact of the matter is this: Christians in 2020 simply cannot assume that all who profess to name the name of Christ—including evangelical Christians—reject the assertion that the “god” of the Muslim is also the God of Christianity. The crux of the entire issue revolves around Jesus—what does one believe about Jesus? If one rejects Jesus as very God, he will die in his sins. It is not possible to reject the deity of Jesus Christ and yet claim to worship the God of the Bible. Common sense, rational thinking, and the truth of God’s Word are all that it takes to answer the question “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” Neither a “yes” nor a “yes and no” answer is logically or biblically correct. What does the Bible say about this issue?
First, Jesus is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father. In John 1, the apostle makes it clear that the “Word” who was “made flesh”—Jesus Christ—existed in the beginning with God, and this “Word was God” (Jn. 1:1-14). As impossible as it is to grasp this fact with finite minds, the true God is a Tri-unity—one God in three persons. The same God who created all things and appeared to Abraham is the great “I AM”—the eternally existent One. This means that the God of the Old Testament is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—not God the Father apart from God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God the Son played a vital part in the creation of all things, for “all things were created by Him, and for Him: And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” (Col. 1:15-17).
Second, Jesus declared in John 8:24, “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.” Speaking to unbelieving Jews, Jesus made it clear to them (time and again) that He was/is the great “I AM”—the same One who spoke to Abraham and Moses thousands of years prior to His incarnation. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus declared, “Ye neither know Me, nor My Father: if ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also” (Jn. 8:19). Later in the chapter, Jesus declared, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn. 8:58). Of course, those listening to Jesus knew that He was claiming deity, for they attempted to murder Him for blasphemy (Jn. 8:59).
Finally, it is clear that the God of both the Old and New Testaments includes Jesus as part of the divine Tri-unity; therefore, those who deny the person and work of Jesus as God manifest in the flesh do not worship the one, true God. Muslims reject Christ’s deity, so it is a logical, rational, and theological absurdity to claim that a “yes” or a “yes and no” answer is a legitimate reply to the question “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?”
In today’s chaotic and confusing world, Christians can still love their Muslim neighbors and do good to them—as God calls believers to do in Galatians 6:10—without compromising the truth. Christians do not need to succumb to the “theological inclusiveness” touted by the culture in order to exhibit an attitude of love and tolerance toward those who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior. In fact, an attempt to conform to the cultural norms and ideals today by claiming that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is not only to deny Jesus Christ but also to give non-Christians a false hope.
If evangelicalism refuses to stand for the uniqueness and exclusivity of salvation by faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ, it has no message of hope to offer the world. This debate is the sad culmination of a long history of compromise within evangelicalism. Christians today must lovingly “contend for the faith” rather than succumb to the philosophies of the world and the god of this world who is seeking to blind the minds of unbelievers, “lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4).
— By Matt Costella, director of the Fundamental Evangelistic Association and pastor at Grace Bible Church in Fresno, California.