This post is part of a series.
A lot of ink has been spilt over the censure of Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins, whose error was a tweet seeming to equate Christianity and Islam:
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book…And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”[ref]Wheaton College says view of Islam, not hijab, got Christian teacher suspended (ChicagoTribuine.com)[/ref] [ref]Wheaton College Suspends Hijab-Wearing Professor After ‘Same God’ Comment (ChristianityToday.com)[/ref]
For her part in the matter, she is unrepentant, and “not intimidated.”[ref]Wheaton College professor ‘not intimidated’ by disciplinary action (CNN)[/ref] The breadth of opinion on this event even within Christendom covers both praise and condemnation of either party, and is not limited to one primary viewpoint. Why is that?
Ambiguous Statements Always Lead to Controversy
The phrase “we worship the same God” is so inexact and ambiguous, it actually has many possible meanings. Perhaps Wheaton College should have taken her Tweet in the best possible manner instead of assuming the worst, but perhaps she should have thought about the havoc that such a sloppy use of words concerning a serious subject would cause.
Rather than attempt to exonerate either Ms. Hawkins or Wheaton college, however, I wanted to explore the many possible questions hidden in this broad, provocative statement.
1. Do both faiths claim Abraham as their spiritual progenitor? YES
It is true that both religions, as well as Judaism itself, claim Abraham as the father of their faith. So in this sense, all three are attempting to serve the God of Abraham. But the bible does not describe God as merely the God of Abraham.
2. Is the God of Islam the God of the Jewish Old Testament? NOT REALLY
The Old Testament typically defines God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. [ref]The God Of Abraham, Isaac, And Jacob (bible.org)[/ref] This is because, although God made a promise to Abraham, he also continued his covenant with Jacob, who upon receiving the covenant from God, was renamed Israel (“Prince with God”).
So the Jewish and Christian scriptures contend that the covenant is not just with Abraham, but with Isaac the son of promise, and with his son who led to the nation of Israel, and later to the Messiah Jesus (in Christian thought). The Old Testament is primarily the story of the God of Jacob, not of any ongoing promises to Ishmael (though we may see some possible mention and promises in the OT, see below).
This excludes this covenant being overtaken by the sons of Ishmael. You might argue that God has a separate covenant with them (“He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.” Genesis 17:20b), but such a God would not be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but the God of Abraham, Ishmael, and one of his sons.
3. Do both Christianity and Islam teach the same thing about Isaac and Ishmael? NO
Not at all. Muslims claim that Jews modified the Old Testament to cover the fact that God chose Ishmael the firstborn son, not Isaac. But this remote possibility is contradicted, not only by the Old Testament, but the new.
In fact, Paul the Apostle uses Ishmael represents, at best, the old covenant, which should be cast out!
Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic.
For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagarâ€”for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her childrenâ€” but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all….
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? â€œCast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.â€So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free. (Galatians 4)
This disparity means that, while we share Abraham as a father of faith, that’s where it ends. Everything downstream of him diverges for Christianity and Islam.
4. Do both Christianity and Islam propose the same soteriology? NO
Soteriology means one’s “doctrine of salvation.” How are we saved from the punishment our sins deserve? While all three Abrahamic religions teach a coming day of judgment, Islam teaches a radically different means of escaping that wrath.
In Christianity, the penalty for sin is poured out on Jesus so that we can freely receive forgiveness. Arguably, Judaism follows a similar doctrine, despite the historical Jewish practice of obeying the law – such obedience was typically a sign that the Jews were saved by God’s mercy – that is, in a saving covenant.
Paul argues that even under Judaism salvation was by grace through faith, and not of works, especially since the law was instituted 400 years after Abraham lived!
If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say?â€œAbraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.â€….
Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.
In Islam, one must obey the five pillars faithfully, but even then, Allah alone may choose to forgive you or not. Islam also arguably teaches that if you die in a jihad, you are guaranteed heaven. But in either case, such a soteriology is based on personal merit. This entirely violates what Christianity teaches, to whit:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
5. Do both Christianity and Islam teach the same essential things about Jesus? NO
While Islam gives lip service to Jesus as a prophet, he is much less, if not even demeaned by some Qu’ranic passages:
Qu’ran denies the crucifixion:
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;–but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not. (4:157, Yusif Ali)
Jesus not the son of God:
Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. 35 It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, “Be”, and it is. (19:34-35, Yusif Ali)
Those who call Jesus the son of God are perverse:
The Jews say Ezra is the son of God, while the Christians say the Messiah is the son of God. Such are their assertions, by which they imitate the infidels of old. God confound them! How perverse they are! (Qur’an 9:30)
This strong disagreement over the nature and work of God means that one or both are mistaken, and certainly not speaking of the same God.
6. Does Judeo-Christian theology have a place for Islam in its theology? PERHAPS
This is a tougher question, which I have addressed at length in Towards a Biblical View of the Sons of Ishmael and Islam. While Ishmael and his descendants do make appearances in both Old and New Testaments, there are only three possible roles that I can see for the sons of Ishmael in the ongoing story of God, and both could be true:
a. The sons of Ishmael have often been the enemies of the sons of Israel – This may continue to be true (it certainly is today), and that may continue to be so until the end.
b. The sons of Ishmael may bring forth the antichrist – there is strong theology behind the idea that the kingdom of the antichrist will be a revived Ottoman empire, not a Roman one. This seems very likely looking at the scriptures.
c. The sons of Ishmael may be united to Isaac in Christ – some theologians, like Christian evangelist Faisal Malick, believe that these promises may be for a great Christian awakening among Arabs and Mulsims in the end days, and a reunion of Isaac and Ishmael:
God will use Ishmael to provoke the Church unto a passion for Jesusâ€”what the Church has forsaken, Ishmael will embrace. God is going to use Ishmael to provoke Israel to jealousy for the Messiahâ€¦.I believe that Ishmael will come to a revelation of the Father, and he will take it to Israel. And Isaac will break and weep and say I grew up with the Father, I was the one with the covenant, I was the one who was given everything, I was the one through the seed and you were the one who was cast out and rejected and the law cast outâ€”but you’ve come back with a revelation of the Father. Then Israel will say, â€œTell me who the Father is. Tell me how I can know Him.â€[ref]Faisal Malick, The Destiny of Islam in the End Times : Understanding God’s Heart for the Muslim People (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2007), 170-174.[/ref]
It is quite possible that God has a positive role for the children of Ishmael, that they will be reconciled to God the Father and to their brothers, the Israelites and Christians.
For more on this subject, see Towards a Biblical View of the Sons of Ishmael and Islam.
From a biblical point of view, it seems that Ms. Hawkins’ ambiguous affirmation of Muslims serving the same God is more incorrect than correct. This does not mean that Wheaton College took the appropriate action in response to her hijab and tweet. We must also consider two more aspects of her provocation – first, whether or not Christians and Muslims are actually people of the book, and second, whether or not her statements can be justified as compassionate ministry or misleading half truths worthy of condemnation. Part 2.