In December 2015, Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian school whose most famous alumnus, Billy Graham, is the greatest Christian evangelist since the Apostle Paul, which also educated one of the most highly respected Christian apologists of our present day, William Lane Craig, placed one of its professors, Larycia Hawkins, on administrative leave for, apparently, overstepping her boundaries on several controversial matters, and finally breaking the proverbial camel’s back by posting on Facebook [since deleted],
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.
While I cannot find the exact quote from Pope Francis which Hawkins cited, I can find where the Pope said, “We’re all children of the same God.” Hawkins, perhaps, construed this to imply that Pope Francis was asserting that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
Southern Baptist pastor, author, and current Southern Baptist Convention presidential nominee J.D. Greear was at least five years ahead of Hawkins when he wrote, surprisingly, in his 2010 publication, Breaking the Islam Code,
You might ask, ‘But isn’t the Islamic God so different from the Christian God that they cannot properly be called by the same name? Aren’t we worshiping two different gods?’ Believing wrong things about God and worshiping him incorrectly doesn’t mean one is worshiping a different God. Many first-century Jewish people rejected the Trinitarian nature of God and that Christ was a messenger of God. Yet the apostles did not say that those Jews were worshiping a different God, just that they were worshiping the one true God incorrectly. Nor did the apostles come up with a new name for God to distinguish him from the Jewish God. Jesus did not tell the Samaritan woman he encountered at the well in John 4 that she worshiped the wrong God, but that she understood and worshiped God incorrectly.
Greear’s theological supposition both antedated and anticipated the explicit mantra of Larycia Hawkins in 2015. Further, if there was any doubt about what Greear meant in his book, all doubt was removed in an interview with Trevin Wax of The Gospel Coalition. Greear is convinced that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
While all Christians should admire Greear’s passionate desire to reach Muslims with the gospel of Jesus Christ, as he himself endeavored to do for two years living and working as a missionary among Muslims in Southeast Asia, he seems wrongly to compromise biblical theology in favor of evangelistic methodology. The first-century Jewish people who rejected the Trinitarian nature of God and rejected Christ as the Son of God after disclosure of each died in their sin. I would argue that, had they been worshiping the biblical, triune God, he would have prompted them to embrace Jesus as the Christ as he had done with the magi who came and “worshiped” (Matt. 2:11), with Simeon (Luke 2:34), Anna, (Luke 2:38), John the Baptist (John 1:29), the apostles, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38-39), the Ethiopian eunuch to whom Philip preached without altering the name of God or Jesus (Acts 8:37), Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-22), Ananias who helped Saul (Acts 9:10-19), with the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48), and countless others. Conflating first-century Jewish people, or “God fearers,” with Muslims is a false analogy, because they at least had the proper referent for “God,” something Greear assumes the author of the Quran meant when he writes, “Muhammad preached many incorrect things about the one true God, but he made clear that he was referring to the God of the Old Testament, the God first revealed to Adam and Abraham.” Such a statement begs two questions: (1) If Muhammad was referring to the God of the Old Testament, why did he preach so many blatantly wrong things about him; and (2) why didn’t he try to understand him through the light of the New Testament? While I might concede that Muhammad’s starting point for an understanding of “God” when he wrote the Quran was the God of the Old Testament just as Joseph Smith’s starting point for an understanding of “God” when he wrote The Book of Mormon was the God of the Old Testament, both were demonically deceived into “Gnosticizing” God to the point that the finished product of their “God” was most definitely not the biblical, triune God. Each man lived in a post-New Testament era, knew about it and its claims about Jesus, yet rejected its Christological and Pneumatological disclosures, which history has proven is a recipe for theological disaster, in that each and every person ever to do so has ended up with a defective view of God, and, therefore, a substandard “God.” Muhammad filled the “God shaped vacuum” innate in the soul of every human with a fabricated god bearing no resemblance to the holiness, love, and grace of the biblical God, Yahweh. Authentic worship of the biblical God prepared the worshiper to receive God’s ultimate revelation of himself – his Son. Those who were not truly worshiping the biblical God rejected God’s ultimate revelation. Therefore, rejection of the Son revealed not merely misdirected worship, but also invalid worship of some other “god.”
Indeed, William Lane Craig takes exactly the opposite position voiced by J.D. Greear, championed by Larycia Hawkins, and echoed by Baylor professor Frank Beckwith when Craig says in a podcast,
I find myself on an opposite side here with Frank, who is a good friend, fellow member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and person that I’ve collaborated with both in writing projects as well as in conferences. So, it is very interesting to me to see the sort of defense that he gives for the claim that Christians and Muslims do, in fact, worship the same God.
Former Muslim-turned-Christian Nabeel Qureshi agrees with Craig, saying, “Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.”
Professor Hawkins reached an agreement to leave Wheaton College shortly after the controversy surfaced and has since settled at the University of Virginia as the “Abd el-Kader Visiting Faculty Fellow,” which is certainly a far better fit for her theological opinions than being on the faculty of Wheaton College. This is not intended to be rude, only to be an assessment by observation and experience. Her academic accomplishments are impressive and her contributions to higher learning are undoubtedly to be valued. Wheaton College does not hire “junk” and neither does UVA. But every professor needs, and usually prefers, a venue that is a fit; and Wheaton was not.
Correspondingly, rank and file Southern Baptists who might have been inclined to tolerate J.D. Greear’s Calvinistic (Reformed) theology are largely unaware of his theological merging of Allah worship with worship of the biblical, triune God of Christianity. It remains to be seen whether Greear will be elected as Southern Baptist Convention President at the June 2018 SBC Annual Meeting in Dallas, Texas, and thereby become the face of the denomination, or whether Southern Baptists will take their cue from Wheaton College leadership and deem such theology so alarmingly unorthodox, suggestive of more to follow, as to be unfitting for the denomination’s collective evangelical identity; an identity which has long championed exegetically sound, hermeneutically defensible, conservative biblical theology, considering such a hill on which to die.
One can easily see that the issue of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God has generated disagreement, even to the point of conflict, and perhaps even to the point of disassociation.
Nevertheless, in this article I intend to demonstrate that this issue should never be a source of conflict between Christians, because Allah of Islam is, clearly, not the same biblical, triune God of both the Old Testament and the New Testament who is worshiped by Christians. Any claim espousing the view that Christians and Muslims worship the same God betrays a fatally flawed theology which, at the very least, provides a back-door to Universalism, the doctrine of universal salvation, that is to say the belief that the atoning work of Christ will be universally applied to all people everywhere, and/or, at the very most, provides a front-door to Religious Pluralism, the belief that there are multiple tracks to “God” or “gods” and, therefore, belief in the validity of almost all religions, which constitutes a direct affront to the claim of exclusivity by Jesus in John 14:6.
But, before you consider ending your perusal now, you may want to read further to know more fully why it is false to say Christians and Muslims worship the same God. I will argue my position from two perspectives: the historical and the biblical.
The Historical Perspective
Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth
If you believe in the biblical story of the Flood, as do I, you also acknowledge that we are all related to Noah. Obviously, Noah knew God in a very personal way and undoubtedly passed this relational understanding on to his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. This means that Noah’s sons knew the biblical God and should have passed this relational understanding on to their children, grandchildren, and beyond. Yet, people groups sprang from the sons of Noah which departed far from the God of Noah (Gen. 10:1-32). Peoples like the Canaanites, Amorites, Egyptians, Philistines, and more. In fact, Ham was the father of Canaan (Gen. 9:18). Surely nobody would make the argument that because Noah, and likely his sons, worshiped the biblical God that their descendants, like the Canaanites, Amorites, and Philistines, did too. I will agree immediately that these peoples became polytheistic, which is different from Islam’s monotheism, but my point is that relationship to Noah alone did not insure strict adherence to monotheism and certainly not to biblical monotheism.
Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael
God selected a man, Abram (a.k.a. Abraham), and promised to make him into a populous, influential nation bearing his [God’s] light to the world (Gen. 12:2). In order for this promise to be fulfilled, Abraham had to have a son, and that son was the son of promise, Isaac, the miracle baby, the one with whom God would establish his covenant (Gen. 17:19). Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, by the bondwoman Hagar, would also be blessed of God and made fruitful (Gen. 17:20; 21:18). The Bible further says, “And God was with the lad” (Gen. 21:20), speaking of Ishmael, even after he and his mother Hagar were driven from the presence of Abraham and Sarah. While it is certain that Abraham worshiped God, and that Ishmael was undoubtedly taught to do the same by his father as long as they were together, the descendants of Ishmael developed far different worship practices. The point is that just because Muslims genetically sprang from Ishmael and Abraham does not mean they worship the same God Ishmael was taught to worship. To say, then, that Muslims worship the same biblical God that Abraham and Ishmael did is the equivalent of saying that the Canaanites worshiped the same God as Ham and Noah, which is as preposterous as it is false. The relationship of a forefather to the biblical God in no way insures the relationship of a descendant to the biblical God.
While Christians can appreciate the monotheism of Islam as opposed to the polytheism of countless cultures found all over the world since the Flood, the end result is the same: Christians worship the biblical, triune God and Muslims do not.
Muhammad, Allah, and the Quran
Islamic history is very much rooted in one man, and he is neither Abraham nor Ishmael, but Muhammad. He was born about 571 C.E. and died about 632 C.E. [Common Era]. Muhammad claimed to have revelations from Allah, which are said to have begun about 610 C.E. and lasted approximately twenty-three years. He recorded these revelations in Arabic, the written record of which came to be known as the Quran (a.k.a. Koran). The Quran contains 114 surahs [chapters] with over 6,000 ayats [verses].
The theology expressed in the Quran emphatically stresses the unity, or oneness, of Allah, the Quranic name for God, and this unity is called Tawhid. It, therefore, vigorously propounds a rigorous monotheism intolerant of all other theological constructs. Islamic scholar Azim Nanji says, “In denying plurality, the Quran rejects all forms of idolatry, disallows any association of other divinities with God, and specifically denies all other definitions of God that might compromise unity, such as the Christian dogma of the Trinity.” Let the reader note well Nanji’s declaration that Islam “specifically denies all other definitions of God that might compromise unity, such as the Christian dogma of the Trinity.” This is a transparent acknowledgment that Muslims themselves do not believe that they are worshiping the same God as Christians. In fact, for a Muslim to utter such might be regarded as the wickedest form of blasphemy, since doing so would impugn the most revered Islamic doctrine of all – the unity of Allah (Tawhid). Indeed, Nanji says that the Shahadah, the sacred Islamic profession of faith, boldly proclaims, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger” and that this “is the statement of Muslim acceptance of the basis of Islam.” The end result of this Islamic profession is that Yahweh is not Allah, Yahweh is not God, and Jesus most certainly is not Lord. Let me point out what should now be obvious: Christians, not Muslims, are probably the only ones debating whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Further, Islam lists the prophets of Allah to be Adam, Moses, Abraham, David, and Jesus, with Muhammad being the greatest and final prophet. The Islamic teaching on Jesus is that he was born of a virgin and is the Messiah, but Muslims do not believe that Jesus is God incarnate (in the flesh) or that he is the Son of God, but rather, that he “was condemned to die on the cross but was never actually crucified nor did he rise bodily from the dead,” writes Christian apologist James Walker. Walker further explains that “Jews and Christians, called the ‘People of the Book,’ are all ‘cursed’ and specifically targeted for warfare and subjugation” in the Quran (9:29-30).
Philosophy of “God”
J.D. Greear says in his interview with Trevin Wax, “There are general misconceptions that Christians have about Muslims, namely that they’re terrorists and that they think about God totally differently.” Let me first express my belief that not all Muslims are terrorists and not all Baptist deacons are members of the Ku Klux Klan. But, more to the point of this essay, Greear believes Muslims and Christians think about God the same, in other words their philosophy of God is the same. Conversely, William Lane Craig emphatically asserts that the concept of God in Islam is very different from the concept of God in Christianity. The facts of history and Scripture overwhelmingly favor Craig’s assertion.
Comparing Allah of Islam to the God of the Bible is like comparing darkness to light. One’s “philosophy of God” can seldom be more utterly different than is found in this contrast between Allah and the biblical, triune God. While Muslim tradition has established ninety-nine names of God which are said to focus on divine attributes such as Compassionate, Merciful, Just, Mighty, First, Last, and Eternal, these claims appear only to mimic the attributes of the biblical, triune God, who lives up to them, whereas the God of Islam does not. The two are so opposite to one another that there can be little, if any, comparing, only contrasting. And, frankly, any comparisons between the two constitute wishful thinking on behalf of the architects of this “tradition” of divine attributes. One God is all-loving and the other is not. If the description of the biblical God can be found in Islam, which should be valid if Muslims and Christians think the same about God, there can be no doubt that this description offers a very false portrayal. Likewise, Craig insists that Allah of Islam presents a “morally defective description” of who the biblical God is. The biblical, triune God unconditionally loves sinners (John 3:16), even before they love him (Rom. 5:8), is light in whom there is no darkness (1 John 1:5), in fact, the biblical God is love (1 John 4:16). Moreover, Allah does not unconditionally love sinners, certainly not before they love him. He only loves those who first submit to him. Allah is, most assuredly, not the essence of unconditional (agape) love, forgiveness, and mercy; but rather, inspires hate, terror, and mercilessness. The God of Islam and the God of Christianity not only differ in name, but also differ fundamentally in morality, character, relational nature (personal), and love in action.
The Biblical Perspective
Relevant Old Testament Scriptures
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The opening words of the Bible, the best source for knowing about God’s existence, character, nature, and his redemptive plan, declare this Being already to be in existence, therefore, to be eternal. The Scriptures do not attempt to argue for his existence, they simply assume it from the outset.
Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’;
Mankind is created in the image and likeness of God, not his essence. This is, perhaps, the first hint of the ultra-unique nature of the biblical God, possibly even anticipating the later unveiling of his trinitarian composition.
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!
The biblical God is not many, meaning not a plurality of gods, but one, and he alone is the LORD (Yahweh/Jehovah). Combining the oneness of God found here with the hint of plurality within the godhead seen in Gen. 1:26 further sets the stage for the disclosure of something spectacularly unique – the unity of the one God expressed in the Trinity – to be later fully unveiled in the New Testament.
Relevant New Testament Scriptures
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God.
John heralds the eternality of the Word as he opens his gospel with a deliberate allusion to Gen. 1:1. “In the beginning God …” refutes atheism. “In the beginning was the Word …” links the Word spoken of in John 1:1 with the God spoken of in Gen. 1:1. The Word means the divine wisdom and rational principle revealed in Christ standing behind the universe and permeating all of life. He is the disclosure and communication of God to man in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the visible image of the invisible God, revealing God “fully,” not “fragmentarily.” He is the agent of God who accomplished redemption through death on a cross (Phil. 2:8).
Inherently present also is John’s denial of Unitarianism, which rejects Trinitarianism, declaring, rather, that God the Father and the Word (God the Son) have no origin, but rather, have continuous, timeless existence.
Further, the deity of Jesus Christ is clearly blazoned throughout the Bible, but in no text is it more evident than here. John’s portrait of Jesus is a masterful interweaving of the majesty and divinity of Christ along with his humility and humanity: a coin with two sides, both of which are valid. The Word was in the beginning with God (v. 2). Only one had no beginning – God – so this can only refer to him; yet, John will write that this one became flesh, so this can only refer to Jesus (John 1:14), leaving us to conclude that Father and Son are one in nature and essence. Thus, God’s ultimate communication of himself to man has always existed, “through whom also He made the world,” and has now become enfleshed (Heb. 1:2). Jesus is the Cosmic Christ who transcends time and eternity, both unifying and sustaining all of creation. This portrait of the God of Christians differs radically from the portrait of the God of Muslims, so radically in fact that it is false to claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
22You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
Jesus was saying that Samaritan religion was faulty. The Samaritans were worshiping in ignorance. They worshiped a God like a local deity, perhaps seeing him as an impersonal, unreal, or abstract God. This is not surprising, since they rejected all sacred writ except the Pentateuch, thus cutting themselves off from the fuller revelation of God. An abbreviated Bible results in an abbreviated religion and an abbreviated view of God, and an abbreviated view of God renders a false view of God. Jewish religion was right at that time. Conservative Jews certainly had a fuller knowledge of God because they accepted the entire Old Testament. Salvation came to mankind through the Jews. Conversely, the Samaritan woman’s religion of forms and ceremonies had done nothing to bring conviction for her evil life. If Muslims were worshiping the same God as Christians, conviction for evil in life would be evident. All religions are not correct, in fact, all religions except Christianity are incorrect and are characterized by worship done in ignorance or rebellion and are, therefore, not to be classified as worship of the biblical, triune God of Christianity.
When Jesus said that “an hour is coming, and now is,” he was referring to his own earthly ministry. He meant that the Christ had come: first advent (birth). He meant that the time for shifting from the Old to the New Covenant had come even for Jews (v. 23).
Worshiping in spirit means worship of God must be personal and genuine (v. 24). It means that the place of worship is not as important as the attitude of the heart. It means that a spiritual sense of the object of worship is a must, and it must be the biblical, triune God. It means that shadows, delusions, things, icons, and idols must be done away with. It means that differences in race and gender are unimportant. It means not limiting worship to sense perception, place, form, ritual, or time.
Worshiping in truth means as opposed to superstitious or ignorant worship. It means worship must be done biblically. It means worship must conform with God’s holiness. It means worship requires more than sincerity. Samaritan worship is never said to be insincere and neither is Islamic worship said to be insincere; yet, one may have sincerity without truth. Followers of false religion can be quite sincere, but also be sincerely wrong. Worshiping in truth means submitting every thought and feeling to God’s divine will. It means receiving Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
To say that God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth is to say that God is non-corporeal, invisible, not flesh. Jesus, therefore, is saying that not to worship in spirit and truth is not to worship God. The Samaritans were not worshiping God. The woman at the well was not worshiping God. Worship of God done in spirit but not truth is fluffy and flaky, whereas worship of God done in truth without spirit is false and fearful. Worship done in spirit and truth means having character and content, emotion and essence. According to the words of Jesus, then, Islam, and all other false religions, lack the necessary prerequisites, especially truth, to meet the requirements for constituting worship of God.
22And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD,’ What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; 26and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, 27that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’ 29Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.
Paul expressed his observation that the Athenians were very religious in all respects (v. 22). They did not want to insult any god or goddess accidentally by omission, so they had monuments and statues made for as many as they knew and even one they didn’t. The New Testament uses two different Greek words for the word “religion”: threskeia, which signifies religion in its external aspect in terms of ceremony, religious service or cult, which can be unreal and deceptive or pure and undefiled (James 1:26-27). It also uses the word deisidaimon for “religion,” as it does here (Acts 17:22), which primarily denotes fear of or reverence for the divinity, superstition, or excessive dread of the supernatural. Let me also note the presence of daimon in the word. Stanley Toussaint suggests that, by using this word, Paul was subtly saying the Athenians were worshiping demons, not real gods. Fear (reverential awe) of the divine is a good thing, but not when misdirected, even in sincerity, toward demons. The woman who tosses her baby into the Ganges River to appease a god is religious but not Christian. Christianity is all about taking naturally given reverence for the divine and consciously guiding it toward the proper object – the biblical, triune God and, for those informed of him, to his son, Jesus Christ. Further, real religion shows pathos, meaning it is selfless and caring, and it is relational (James 1:26-27), something Allah of Islam is not.
As Paul passed through Athens examining the objects of their worship (temples, altars, statues) he found an altar labeled, “To an Unknown God” (v. 23)! This was the miscellaneous, “catch all” category just in case they had missed paying respect to a god. The Greek word used here is, as stated above, deisidaim?n, denoting religion in the bad sense, superstitious, perhaps even in the demonic sense. After all, if you believe in many gods or goddesses (polytheism), adding another is no big deal. Paul said that what they worshiped in ignorance – the unknown God – he was about to proclaim to them. Did Paul mean that they were worshiping the biblical God, just in ignorance? No. Paul was saying that they were short-changing themselves if they were satisfied with a god made of gold, silver, precious gems, or thin air. Christianity is a religion (belief system) which is monotheistic (belief in only one God), which also excludes all other belief systems (John 14:6). Paul explained that if they were going to engage in valid worship, they must worship the real, living God, not simply enlarge their pantheon to make room for another god just in case they missed one.
He then began to describe the living God (vv. 24-25). Paul says that God started with one man. He means Adam (v. 26). Such a statement, incidentally, undercuts any sort of racism! Paul proceeded to explain that the living God controls human history but does so without denying human free agency (will), in fact God’s purpose in creating mankind is that we would seek him and find him (vv. 26-27).
Don’t you find it interesting that the Athenians, and all people everywhere, have a natural knowledge that points toward God? This is general (natural) revelation (Rom. 1:19-20). There is a God-shaped hole in all of us. God intends to be pursued. God intends for each one of us to search for him and find him, so he intends to be found. But sin blinds us, deceives us, and leads us further from him. God is not far from anyone. We are far from him. He is neither out of reach nor out of touch.
The Greek poet Aratus, in one of his poems to Zeus three centuries earlier, acknowledged that all people are God’s offspring in terms of originator of life, although he meant it in a pantheistic way or as a reference to Jupiter/Zeus (vv. 28-29). All humans are the offspring of God, having been created by him, and are dependent on him for life itself. If God were to suspend, even temporarily, his goodness in providing for mankind, we would die (air, water, dirt, sun, fish, crops, trees, vegetation, iron ore, oil, natural gas, coal, gold, etcetera). This cannot be said about Allah and Paul never would have conceded such on this point.
Paul also preached that God had overlooked times of ignorance (v. 30). Most people have been ignorant of God, misunderstanding him, or not caring at all. But God in his grace and mercy has chosen to overlook spiritual ignorance, and even idolatry, before full knowledge of God in Christ reconciling the world to himself came (2 Cor. 5:19) and has taken great measures to make his requirements clear since this disclosure. Paul means that God held back his divine wrath. From the time of that disclosure forward, God commands all people everywhere to repent, therefore, sin has infected every corner of the earth, and repentance must be possible for all and is the duty of all, not just an elect few. God has set a judgment day (v. 31). He fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness. God’s standard of judgment will not be our own merit but the standard of what we have done with the man he has appointed as savior and judge – Jesus. God has furnished proof of mankind’s need to repent of sin and place faith in him to all people by raising Jesus from the dead, therefore, faith in the risen Christ must be possible for all, not just an elect few. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees that judgment is coming. Both judgment day itself and the agent of that judgment have been forever fixed.
The Unknown God the Athenians had constructed an altar to was not the living God of the Bible, but a “catch all” altar erected out of superstition borne out of fear of angering a god by omitting her or him; and Paul even suggested, by use of deisidaimon, that all of their worship was demonically related. Paul used their worship done in ignorance as an evangelistic starting point without affirming the validity of their worship. In fact, he says, “What thing, therefore, you worship,” using ho, the neuter form of the relative pronoun hos, rather than the masculine form. Then, he uses a second neuter form in v. 23, touto, this time of the demonstrative pronoun houtos, and commenced to proclaim the truths of the living God to them. They had been worshiping a “thing,” and such worship cannot be equated with worship of the biblical God. Paul was “sneered” off the hill by almost all, with only a few agreeing to give him a second hearing. I wish here to repeat a statement averred earlier: authentic worship of the biblical God prepared the worshiper to receive God’s ultimate revelation of himself – his Son. Those who were not truly worshiping the biblical God rejected God’s ultimate revelation. Therefore, rejection of the Son reveals not merely misdirected worship, but invalid worship of some other “god,” again indicating that the claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is false.
1 Corinthians 10:18-21
18Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
Sacrifices are forms of worship offered to idols, which Paul says are actually offered to demons (v. 20). Idols are lifeless and unreal, but demons are perilously real (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37). Demons are fallen angels under the common control of Satan and they help author evil in the world. Paul indicates that neither sacrifices nor worship were really offered to Baal, Marduk, Zeus, Athena, or any other deity, but to demons. All false religion, then, is energized by the demonic. Satan exploits mankind’s innate desire to worship a higher power and directs this toward false religious pursuits, with no care for which one, as long as it is not the living, biblical, triune God of Christianity. Satan uses demons to manipulate truth and people so as to produce counterfeits to genuine worship of God through Christ. The Bible warns against sharing in the demonic. Participation in idolatry or worship of a false god in any form spells obedience and devotion to the ideas, doctrines, and practices involved in the worship. Christians cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons and cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons (v. 21). It is impossible to have fellowship with the Lord and with demons at the same time without impunity. Christians cannot have participation which commits them to two different lords. We must make a choice. We cannot belong to Christ and live or worship habitually in the enemy’s camp without our character, and our theology, being compromised. To put this in perspective, any Christian who believes Christians and Muslims worship the same God should also, then, be comfortable frequenting the local mosque and kneeling toward Mecca in prayer five times each day with his or her Muslim brothers and sisters and passionately reciting the Shahadah. But, I can confidently assert that the Apostle Paul, were he still walking the face of the earth, would never be participating. Islam is a false religion energized by the demonic, therefore, worship of Allah is not worship of the biblical, triune God of Christianity.
1 Timothy 4:1
1But the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.
The Holy Spirit has spoken specifically, accurately, and authoritatively. God’s prophets were always direct and accurate. The Holy Spirit, through the medium of Paul’s written word, predicted apostasy, that great falling away from the faith, defecting from the pure gospel first delivered. The “later times” reference the years between the first and second comings of Christ. Through Paul’s inspired pen, God wants readers to know that the oracles of the world are doubtful and uncertain: fortune telling, astrology, the Quran, The Book of Mormon, and more. The prediction is that those who have had religious experiences which are superficial or artificial will be unable to withstand the pressure of seducing spirits. It is the sincere, yet biblically immature, who are targeted. This apostasy happens within Christendom. Those predicted to fall away are professing Christians, not anti-Christians. But the reference to the “doctrines of demons” echoes what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 10:18-21 discussed above. The Bible, again, affirms the existence and sinister activity of demons. A “seducing spirit” is synonymous with a demon. Evil, wicked spirits animate or energize false leaders, promoting false ideas by lies, forgeries, and sometimes by pretended miracles. This seduction may include teaching the worship of saints and angels, teaching the deification of any created thing or person, or may include adherence to texts alleged to be from God, like the Quran. As stated above, Islam is a false religion energized by the demonic, skilled in the art of deceit, therefore, worship of Allah is not worship of the biblical, triune God of Christianity.
1 John 2:22-24
22Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.
John says to beware of liars who deny that Jesus is the Christ (vv. 22-23). While Islam does not deny that Jesus is the Christ, its acknowledgment that Jesus is the Christ is meaningless unless such acknowledgment imports the full meaning of the word “Christ” as expressed here and elsewhere, including the God nature of the “Anointed One.” Honest disagreement on some issues is allowable, but not on the divine and human natures of Jesus as the Christ. There is no room here for compromise. Jesus stated as much when he asked his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). With references to the Father, Son, and Christ (Anointed One, implying the presence of the Holy Spirit in anointing), John clearly depicts the Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. An “antichrist,” then, is anyone holding the wrong doctrine about Christ, and Muhammad did, for he denied his divine nature, as Muslims do today. To deny the deity of Jesus as the unique Son of God is to deny the Father, for Jesus, with his statement, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep my word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him” (John 15:23), made himself inseparably connected to the Father in the indwelling process. One who denies Jesus his rightful equality with the Father must know about him to make such a denial. Islam knows about him. Anything, then, other than a Trinitarian theology is actually godless. John is saying that they are, in effect, atheists. Reverence and worship for God the Father while denying reverence and worship for God the Son is irreverence and non-worship of both. Christians and Muslims cannot be worshiping the same God because the God of Islam is Son-less, whereas the God of Christianity is inseparably connected to the Son.
‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.’
Pergamum was a hotbed for religion. It proudly displayed a thronelike altar to Zeus, the sky and thunder god in ancient Greek mythology who ruled as king of the gods. But there was also a cult devoted to Asklepios, god of medicine in ancient Greek culture. Yet, there was a third prominent cult in Pergamum, that of emperor worship, making the city “the official cult center of emperor worship in Asia.”  Although scholars disagree on the precise identification of “Satan’s throne,” here it probably means emperor worship. Jesus says that those who thought they were worshiping Zeus, Asklepios, or the emperor – it matters not which – were really worshiping Satan. So, regardless of the identification, one can easily see that Satan yearns to be worshiped himself. Here he is seen mimicking the heavenly throne of Christ and is identified as being clearly connected with instigating false religion. Worship of anything or anyone other than the biblical, triune God is Satan worship at the most or instigated by Satan at the least. On this we have seen that Paul and John agree. Satan himself, using demons and people, is behind false worship, meaning behind any worship not directed at the biblical, triune, God.
Allah of Islam is, clearly, not the same biblical, triune God of both the Old Testament and the New Testament who is worshiped by Christians. Any claim espousing the view that Christians and Muslims worship the same God betrays a fatally flawed theology which, at the very least, provides a back-door to Universalism, the doctrine of universal salvation, that is to say the belief that the atoning work of Christ will be universally applied to all people everywhere, and/or, at the very worst, provides a front-door to Religious Pluralism, the belief that there are multiple paths to “God” or “gods” and, therefore, belief in the validity of almost all religions, which constitutes a direct affront to the claim of exclusivity by Jesus in John 14:6.
The biblical, triune God of Christianity and Allah of Islam differ radically in nature, for one is all-loving and the other is not. They also differ fundamentally in expression and manifestation, for one is disclosed as trinitarian in terms of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the other is expressed in strict unitarian terms. In fact, so foreign is the Muslim god from the biblical God that Christians would be warranted in saying the Muslim’s god is the Christian’s devil, to adapt and apply a phrase from John Wesley. Therefore, in the statement, “Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” if the words “same” and “God” are to convey any objectively valid meaning at all, Christians and Muslims most certainly do not worship the same God. In order to assert otherwise, one would be forced to take a page out of the playbook of French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), the famed literary deconstructionist, and rewrite the English dictionary.
 Bob Smietana, “Wheaton College Suspends Jijab-Wearing Professor After ‘Same God’ Comment,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2015/december/wheaton-college-hijab-professor-same-god-larycia-hawkins.html, accessed 10 April 2018.
 John L. Allen, Jr., “Why Muslims and Christians Need to Hear both Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke,” https://cruxnow.com/analysis/2016/09/01/muslims-need-hear-pope-francis-cardinal-burke/, accessed 10 April 2018.
 J.D. Greear, Breaking the Islam Code (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2010), 58-9.
 “Reaching Muslims for Christ: A Conversation with J.D. Greear,” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/reaching-muslims-for-christ-a-conversation-with-j-d-greear/, accessed 11 April 2018. See also “J.D. Greear Says Christians & Muslims Worship the Same God,” http://capstonereport.com/2018/03/31/j-d-greear-says-christians-muslims-worship-god/31952/, accessed 2 April 2018.
 Greear, Breaking the Islam Code, 59.
 William Lane Craig, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?” https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/do-christians-and-muslims-worship-the-same-god/#_ftn2, accessed 10 April 2018.
 Nabeel Qureshi, “Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?” https://rzim.org/global-blog/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/, accessed 10 April 2018.
 Manya Brachear Pashman, “Wheaton College Reverses Efforts to Fire Professor, But She Won’t Return to Teach,” http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-wheaton-college-professor-firing-reversal-20160206-story.html, accessed 17 April 2018.
 Caroline Newman, “Q&A: Standing for Solidarity, Larycia Hawkins Finds Fresh Opportunity at UVA,” https://news.virginia.edu/content/qa-standing-solidarity-larycia-hawkins-finds-fresh-opportunity-uva, accessed 10 April 2018.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1960).
 Azim Nanji, Islam, in The Religious World: Communities of Faith, ed. Robert F. Weir (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1982), 341.
 Nanji, 340.
 James K. Walker, Islam, in Watchman Fellowship Profile Notebook (Arlington, TX: Watchman Fellowship, Inc., 1993-2018).
 Nanji, 316.
 Nanji, 316.
 Nanji, 319.
 Greear, “Reaching Muslims for Christ: A Conversation with J.D. Greear.”
 William Lane Craig, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAvO_hH6OAY, accessed 16 April 2018.
 Nanji, 316.
 Craig, www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAvO_hH6OAY.
 Everett F. Harrison, John: The Gospel of Faith (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1962), 14.
 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, “threskeia” in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2d ed. (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), 363.
 Arndt, “deisidaimon,” 173.
 Stanley D. Toussaint, Acts, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-1985), published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996, 403.
 Kenneth O. Gangel, Acts, in Holman New Testament Commentary, ed. Max Anders, vol. 5, Acts (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 290.
 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, rev. ed., in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 79.
For the sake of this article, it is necessary that we define the term “prophet” because many people probably don’t understand it. Men called of God may see themselves in different ways. Some would say that they are and “exhorter.” Others define themselves as an “encourager.” But the prophet is a little different. A prophet is someone called by God to transmit God’s message to God’s people no matter the consequences. He is given the gift of being able to “cut to the chase” and get to the heart of the matter instantaneously. It is a natural attribute and a gift the prophet possesses to be able to see the root of a matter while others are trying to figure out the peripheral issues surrounding it. He takes the shortest route between two points quickly and is able to discern the situation and the solution. This gift is not something he practices and acquires. The prophet is viewed as a person of few words. He sees no value in dancing around the issue. The unvarnished truth gushes out of him like oil from a well or water rushing through a breech in a dam. The core problem is so obvious to him that he often gets irritated by those who complicate the issue at hand by not being able to see what is so very obvious to him. He is often accused of being brash and uncaring with little mercy and compassion. In reality, the prophet has both these attributes but is so straight forward that others think he lacks them. He simply wants to deliver God’s message as quickly and strait forward as possible so His people can avert the problem at hand. This politically correct world drives a true prophet to the brink of despair because he has no patience with it at all. He sees himself as captured by something far greater than himself; the call of God to be a prophet. There is nothing he can do but speak the truth. So, the prophet will tend to come across as hard, opinionated and gruff when compared to one who sees himself as an exhorter or encourager. The exhorter will come closer to the approach of a prophet than will the encourager.
Many preachers of today spend their lives trying to attain something that being a prophet of God was never meant to entail. God’s men in the Bible were never popular and trendy. Their concern was not how they were perceived or if they were accepted. They were not self focused narcissists. They were not comfortable. Their calling was not easy or fun-filled and certainly not profitable. It was grueling, costly and punishing. But, the reward was great. As long as one is seeking to gain something for himself, he will never be a true prophet of God. He, himself, will be in the way. If he abandons himself for God’s calling upon his life, then God’s best is for him, and His best won’t be things the world can bestow. In fact, God’s “best” for him may not be realized until he is no longer locked into this worldly system of things. And, if he is faithful to his calling he must realize that the world will hate him simply because he is speaking God’s message to them.
True men of God, genuine prophets, have always stood where God told them to stand. They didn’t define their own comfortable position and, most of the time, found that they were on alien territory standing against the flux and flow of society and the prevalent ideas of the day. I believe that this politically correct environment tends to neutralize and even eliminate the prophet. Too many men in our pulpits are allowing the environment to fashion what they say and how they say it. Too many are able to rationalize themselves into complicity and compromise, convincing themselves, within themselves, that their motives are pure. If God has given a word on a subject then that’s the final word. He only has to say something one time for it to be true forever. The changing attitudes of society have no effect on what God has said. Bring Him your compromising arguments all you want to but God is not impressed. One’s audience might be well pleased but they are not the ones who will be doing the judging. The true prophet could not care less about what others think. If God has laid down a principle and made a statement on a subject then that settles it for the prophet. He has judgment in view not the complimentary words at the church door following a service.
A true prophet is also one who does not fear the consequences of fulfilling his office. No where in scripture do we find where God’s prophet cowered back and failed to deliver His Word. Even Elijah did God’s will which resulted in the death of four hundred fifty of Baal’s prophets before he allowed the fear of Jezebel to rush upon him. His human emotions took over and fear fell upon him. But, God got him straightened out immediately and with God’s assurance and encouragement, he went on to do His Will completely. He is one of the few who never experienced a physical death being taken into heaven in a whirlwind of fire. John the Baptist was fearless and bold when he warned King Herod about adultery. It cost him his life but he never backed down. He had God and judgment in view, not the present situation. The Apostle John was so feared because of his message and commitment that he was banished to Patmos. A greater work came from this and we only have to read Revelation to realize that truth. The fearlessness of the Apostle Paul firmly stands as an example of how a true prophet is fearless and totally committed to God’s calling. He never wavered and it finally cost him his life. But, even in trouble and death he gave a stout witness of the fact that a prophet is fearless. I could go on and on but the point is well taken: a true prophet does not fear the consequences of fulfilling his office. God’s strong and convincing calling carries him through any crisis. The divine calling is the overriding factor of his life. Nothing else really matters to the true prophet.
The New Testament prophet’s driving passion is to forth tell the Word of God. The Old Testament prophet was one who told what was coming. The New Testament prophet makes very clear what and Who has already come. He does not fore-tell coming events but forth-tells the settled Word of God. Therefore, the New Testament prophet spends the vast amount of his time preaching directly from the Word. Topical subjects are usually dealt with as they surface during his treatment of a passage of scripture which contains principles which apply to that subject. But, he rarely preaches without dealing directly with the text. He is, almost exclusively, an expository preacher. There is a place for good topical preaching. There is nothing wrong with it as long as it is grounded in a Biblical principle. In fact, topical sermons should include an element of exposition in them just as expositional sermons will usually touch on topics to make its point. The two go hand in hand if properly done. But, the point is made that a prophet’s first inclination is to go to the scripture instead of writing on a topic. He is driven to the Word as a natural spiritual instinct. The prophet struggles with preaching topical sermons because he is bound to the scripture by his nature and doesn’t primarily think in terms of subjects except as they emerge from the text.
It is easy for a prophet to become discouraged when he sees that the people do not incorporate into their lives the principles and truths that he sees as so vitally important. He spends his life telling his people the things that God Himself has shown him and laid on his heart to preach. After a period of time observing that the people seem not to have heard him, he reaches the point of exasperation. Then, the thought comes: “why do I continue to do this? They obviously are not listening and applying what I have given to them from God.” “I am wasting my time and these people are simply tolerating me and my message.” “It really means nothing to them because, if it did, they would let it affect their lives.” “They take their notes, compliment the preacher and then the truths evaporate when they get on the parking lot.” Yes, it is easy for the prophet to get discouraged and at that point, he must refocus on his calling and not on the perceived results. If he focuses on results he will get discouraged. If he focuses on his calling from God, he will realize that the success the world seeks is not the issue. His faithfulness to his calling is the issue. The results must be left up to God. When I was in the business world, my boss would say to us: “succeed or else.” But when God called me to preach, He said: “be faithful or else.” “Leave the ‘success’ up to me.” But having been raised in a society which trumpets success, it is easy for the prophet to feel rejected. No one wants to hear his level of correction and warning. They had much rather have their ears “tickled” and will actually like it much better. When I think of a prophet who deserved to be discouraged, I think of Jeremiah. Yet, he never changed his message or approach no matter what happened to him. It cost him everything, but the call upon his life was far more powerful and all consuming than his care for his life. The true call upon the life of a prophet exhibits that kind of empowerment and commitment. To a New Testament prophet, I would say: “keep going. Don’t look back. Don’t apply your idea of success to your ministry. God’s calling has its rewards and our idea of success is far less than God’s best for you.”
A true prophet of God is also one who will expend himself for the work the Lord has placed upon him. A pastor should see himself as one to be expended for his church and ministry. But sadly, today, too many men see the church as something to be used to actualize them and their personal ministry. It is a means of providing a job, supplying an audience and giving a venue for him to perform. The idea that the pastor should be expended for the church is foreign to them. Thank the Lord that most men are not like this but we have a growing contingency of them coming along in our modern day. Hopefully, in the coming days, the spiritual “hoopla” surrounding so many preachers as they seek to make something of themselves will end. Hopefully, an utter reliance upon God and His sustaining power in them will cause them to so serve him that the world doesn’t matter and that their work will have the imprint of eternity on it.
If my mom were still alive today, she would be 74. My dad is 76 and a senior adult. I can remember when I was in college thinking that someone who was 40 was really old. Now, 40-something does not seem old at all. The closer I get to the 55+ season of life, the more I realize that an older body does not necessarily mean an old mind or heart. I will never forget hearing about how my wife’s grandmother, then in her mid-70s, told my wife that she felt like she was still 16 in her mind … until she looked at her face in the mirror.
When I began my first pastorate, I was 30, and the senior adults were like my grandparents. They treated me like their grandson and gave me so much grace in light of my inexperience and youthful zeal. Now, the senior adults are the age of my parents. Let’s just say that it felt a little better when the seniors thought of me as their grandson who didn’t know any better. Now that I am the age of many senior adults’ children, I should know better. Hopefully I have figured out a few things along the way.
When it comes to senior adults in the church, I am more convinced than ever that their segment of the church is absolutely vital to the mission of every local church. If the Great Commission is the primary mission of the church, and if making disciples is part of that mission, then we need wise, seasoned, experienced servants leading the way. The prayer of the psalmist reflects the passionate leadership that our senior adults uniquely can provide—“And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18).
I am so grateful for the senior adults in the local church because they already have the right heart and perspective on helping younger generations to follow Christ. In fact, no other segment of the church cares more about the younger generations than the senior adults.
Consider that senior adults in the church today care deeply about their own children following Jesus Christ and even more about their own grandchildren. So much of their lives, energy, prayers, and efforts are spent toward being a blessing to their children and grandchildren.
For the last few years, I have been asking for prayer requests from individuals at the church I am now pastoring. Almost every single prayer request from a senior adult has included a request for their children and/or grandchildren related to their spiritual lives. No one cares any more for the next generations than senior adults.
In light of the passion of senior adults for the next generation, I hope this encouragement can be helpful to encourage senior adults to lead the way in making disciples:
I don’t pretend that I am not already feeling the pains of change with age. I find myself relating more to the 55+ crowd than the 20-somethings. I am certain that there will come a day when I will weep like those in Ezra 3 who wept when they saw the new temple because they had seen the way things used to be done in the former temple. What I will need to remember is what matters most—reaching the next generation for Jesus Christ.
We must make sure that any of our weeping because things are not the same is drowned out by the shouts of joy of the next generation that is seeing the movement of the Lord. I know this will be a challenge, and I will need help. My hope is that this current generation of senior adults will lead the way so that all of us might see the strength and power of God, for His glory in the church and in Jesus Christ.