A Matter of Identity
… for modern students of religion—generally speaking—monotheism involves a fundamentally mathematical thesis, “There is one God,” as distinct from “more or fewer" than one God; start counting gods, and when you get to one, stop counting. Consequently, all those who believe in one God must logically believe in the same God.
This approach to monotheism is what allows our contemporaries to speak of "the monotheistic religions." Their thesis is simple: "Since there is only one God, all those who believe in one God believe in the same God. Their differences are those of development and/or expression."
This thesis is not only simple; it is simply absurd. Biblical monotheism is not about mathematics; it is about God's identity: Who is this one God? Who he is, is the essential question. We may cite a noted authority on the point, "If the Lord is God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21).
Elijah knew, of course, that Baal belonged to a pantheon, but this consideration was not to the point. Baal was not a false god because he had relatives; he was a false god because he was not "the Lord, our God—Adonai Eloheinu." Elijah's monotheism was not a matter of counting but of identifying. The question was not, How many gods? but Who is God?
And this is the reason the confession of Jesus never became, in the eyes of the Church, a challenge to biblical monotheism. In the Christian faith, Jesus is divine because he pertains to—is included in—the identity of God. Gradually this truth became perfectly clear to certain fishermen, an improbable tax collector, and some women of their company. Their conviction on the point was a big and difficult step, but it wasn't complicated.
What does seem complicated to many today, even to some Christians, is the question of whether Muslims and Christians adhere to the same God. Quite a number of our contemporaries simply assume that the God of "the Abrahamic faiths" must be somehow "shared" by all. This identification is far from obvious.
First and foremost, if we have in mind what Islam and Christianity formally hold as articles of faith, then this identification is difficult to sustain. Islam explicitly teaches—as a fundamental thesis—that Allah has no son. The Christian faith explicitly teaches that we only know the One True God through "the Only Begotten, himself being God (Theos ho on) in the bosom of the Father" (John 1:18). When a Muslim looks at Jesus Christ, he is supposed to see a prophet, second only to Mohammed.
And the Jesus of the Koran was not crucified. When a Christian looks upon Jesus Christ, he sees the revelation of the glory of the only true God in the Crucified Christ. We worship Jesus Christ as God. Islam does not. We assert that there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, than that of Jesus Christ. There is no other salvation except through his Cross; there is no mediator between God and man other than Jesus Christ.
It seems important to recognize, however, that the incompatibility of the Islamic doctrine of God with the Christian revelation of God in Christ does not imply that a specific individual Muslim can never be on the path to the same God as confessed by the Christian. Paul preached to the Athenians that God had determined that all men "should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him" (Acts 17:27). This implies that there is some possibility of men experiencing intimations—personal revelations of the one true God. Scripture records the experiences of gentiles receiving revelations from God—see the gentile centurion Cornelius in Acts 10. The mysterious figure of Melchizedek, priest of "God Most High" without benefit of the revelation to Abraham, is cited as a foreshadowing of Christ the High Priest.
In modern times, there are numerous reliable reports and testimonies of Muslims converting to faith in Christ because of dreams, visions, and revelations of Christ. What can we say of their experience of God and relationship to Christ beforehand? Not much, surely; whatever light from God they experienced and were faithful to, at some point it blazed forth and revealed the full identity of Christ to them. It may even come to them as a revealing of what they have already begun to know in some measure.
While we rightly judge between Islam and the Christian faith, we are less equipped or licensed to judge individuals. Many consciences, we suspect, may be honestly desiring or seeking something that only Christ can give. But one thing would seem reasonable to hold: any Muslim who believes that Christians must be subjugated and convert to Islam cannot be worshiping the same God as the Christians. Such a god demands that Christians contradict the confession of the Apostle Thomas, and deny that Jesus is Lord and God.
Further, our God does not coerce, and Jesus, the Son of God, did not coerce his own followers, but allowed them to see with their own eyes, touch with their own hands, and experience in their own burning hearts that he has the words and power of eternal life. The doubt of Thomas was not erased by logic, but by a personal invitation to place his hands in the marks of the nails. For in the end, there is no true worship of God without "Christ and him crucified." •