Jews, Muslims and the People of God

Derek Ouellette —  February 24, 2011 — 10 Comments

I recently read a provocative post by someone named Dan Martin titled “Every Christian ought to be a muslim (but not in the way you think)!” I don’t want to engage the post fully, but if the title intrigues you (or burns your bottom) go check it out and see what he means.

In that post Dan makes the claim that “the God of Islam is NOT a different God than that of Christians and Jews” and says that God is “the God of Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed”. How can such a claim be sustained? This way: God has many names in the Old Testament, and one name used frequently is the name “El”. For example El Shaddai (God my provider), El Elyon (God Most High), El Yisrael (God of Israel), or simply Elohim which is the plural form of El. Well here’s the clincher, the Arabic word for El is Allah, and apparently Arabic-speaking Christians have been using Allah to refer to God the Father for centuries.

So we cannot say that just because Muslims use the Arabic form of God’s name (Allah) that they are not worshipping the same God as Jews, Abraham and Jesus. That would be like saying that because Christians are using the English form of Jesus’ name and not the Aramaic (Yeshua) or Greek (Ἰησοῦς) that we are not following the same Jesus as the early Christians.

Dan observes at this point that many Christians usually object by pointing out that “Muslims say Allah is not the Father of Jesus, so he must be a false god.” I’ll put it more pointedly: Muslims deny that Jesus was the Messiah of God, God incarnate. Therefore Muslims usage of the word “Allah” is incorrect. Thus, Muslims worship a false god and have a false religion. But here’s the point, by those standards Jews also worship a false god and have a false religion, and thus Jews are not the people of God and neither is the nation of Israel.[1] This is because while orthodox or practicing Jews may worship “El” or “YHWH”, they deny that Jesus was the Messiah of God, God incarnate, their understanding of God is incorrect, and thus Jews worship a false god and have a false religion. If you apply this standard to say that Muslims have a false god and a false religion, you must apply this to Jews as well.

The exceptions here are “Messianic Jews”, but I think that term is superfluous unless it refers to a denomination of some sort. What is a “Messianic Jew”? It is a Jew who accepts Jesus the Messiah, i.e. a Christian. When Christian talk show hosts interview other Christians they don’t say, “I’m interviewing an Anglican” or “I’m interviewing an Orthodox” or “I’m interviewing a Roman Catholic” unless their particular theological orientation is of particular relevance to that particular interview. No, they are just interviewing “Christians”. But often when “Messianic Jews” are interviewed on Christian talk shows they are interviewed as “Messianic Jews” as if they where a separate and distinct people of God. All Christians, no matter their denomination, have one thing in common: they are all Christians. To separate converted Jews into a second and distinct class is to suggest that there are two separate and distinct people groups of God.

Jews and Israel who reject Jesus the Messiah of God, God incarnate, have a false religion and worship a false God just like Muslims. Jews who accept Jesus the Messiah of God, God incarnate, have become Christian.


[1] At this point I’ve diverged from Dan’s article where he assumes the legitimacy of Muslims claim to God by assuming his readers accept the Jewish claim to God. I don’t share that premise (even though I know most Evangelicals on a popular level do). I believe there are one people of God: The Israel of God made up of all, Jews and Gentiles, who believe in the Messiah of God; Jesus.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://sphodra.wordpress.com George

    In some sense, the fact that “Messianic Jews” are often mentioned as such is a pointer to the fact that there IS a large cultural difference that is going to be/is maintained.

    Often it is compared to the concept of C5 mission work, which itself has some contentions for working with Muslim missions today. The basic idea of C5 is to let the converts “be Christian” but “live Muslim” or “live Jewish”. Basically, as long as practices are not outright contrary to Christ and the gospel, then allow without interference – thus allow continued Muslim prayers, etc, call Jesus “Isah” rather than “Jesus”. Basically, avoid areas of contention, things that are viewed as socially unacceptable for remaining in the existing community; allowing the person to follow Jesus without leaving their local context. Similar line, messianic Jews might suggest continuing in historic or local/culturally “Jewish” practices.

    I’d say there are initial (at least perceived) benefits to this, but also some serious negative implications – primarily an understanding of community. Some might say that we worship the same God, but the fracturing of the “people of God” in C5 is a debilitating injury in my opinion, similar to the fracturing suggested by those who would say we all worship the same God, but without grappling with the implications for our purpose as kingdom heralds.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek

      George, well said.

  • Jonathan

    Interesting thoughts Derek and George. Thinking about Naaman when he is healed of leprosy, asks for forgiveness for continuing to go and pretend to worship in the temple of Rimmon (2 Kings 5:18)…Elisha does not say no, but “Go in peace.” Easy for me to say to my brothers being persecuted that you need to bear the weight of your salvation from my NA context. I do understand the idea of community, and the need for it, but there are lots of ways to find it. Perhaps, the internet connections can serve this purpose well. Just some thoughts to think and pray through.

  • http://sphodra.wordpress.com George

    Yes, I’m not saying, “Oh you need to have a church.” That’s not what I mean by community in this context. Rather, much of the C5 literature speaks in such a way that these C5 believers would not self identify as part of Christ’s body. They say they follow Jesus, but they would not vocalize being part of the body of Christ. And that is a dangerous misunderstanding of community and common call of the Spirit.

    Yes, a Muslim coming to faith in the Middle East will need to be careful and wise. But if we suggest that they can worship Jesus in a way that is completely compatible with Islam, thus protecting them in that culture, we will also build a barrier to the shared belonging to one another.

    Think of it this way. We have largely told Christians in the West that they can be good Westerners. Good cultural Christians. There is a point where we fail to tell them that they belong to a global body of believers who suffer, and still proclaim the name of Christ. Sort of this whole C5 idea in reverse, where our culture is the one standing in opposition to the gospel.

  • http://hrugnir.wordpress.com Peter Berntsson

    I think this whole discussion is badly defined to start with. As you said, having the right word for a person or deity does not decide what’s being referred to. So just like the word “Peter” can be used to describe both me, Simon Peter the Apostle and Czar Peter the Great of Russia, words of gods can refer to different things. Sure, “El” with variations has linguistic links to “Allah”. But “El” was also the word used for a deity in the entire Canaanite/Levantine religion. Does that mean they worshiped Yahweh as well? Why not just say that everyone who uses the word “God” believes in the same god?

    The whole thing is so confused. I do think there’s a significance to titles and names, but in the end I think it’s perhaps more relevant to speak of other things.

    One basic question to ask is whether you worship the Creator God or not. This is usually part of what sets so called “monotheist” religions apart from animist/polytheist religions. Here’s some kind of basic agreement between Abrahamic religions, although Islam and Rabbinical Judaism certainly put more stress on the numerical unity of Deity than does Christianity.

    Another set of questions that are relevant to ask relates to what attributes you assign to God:
    Is he merciful? Does he love all human beings? To which extent? Is he the author of evil? Does he want all to be saved? What is the nature of the relationship, if any, he wants to have with human being? Has he intervened in history, and if so, how? Does he speak today?

    This second set of questions is where the different religions differ immensely. There are different points of agreement and disagreement between the three Abrahamic religions here, but it’s very clear that there’s irreconcilable differences between all three.

    So yes, both Islam and Judaism, as it is currently mainly practiced, are false religions, with false pictures of who God is. Islam has always been like this, but Rabbinical Judaism gradually grew further and further away from the Christian understanding of concepts like Messiah and immanence, growing closer to Islam over time. However, if “Judaism” means “the faith that the Jewish people is called to practice”, I would as Christian have to say that it is Rabbinical Judaism that has misinterpreted it’s own God and its own Scriptures.

    Does this mean that I know to what extent the TRUE, Living, Creator God who is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, listens to the prayers of…

    • http://hrugnir.wordpress.com Peter Berntsson

      Looks like it cut me off. I was going to end by saying that I don’t know whether or not the real God answers prayer from those who reject His Son. What I do believe is that the Holy Spirit tries to draw people towards Him within all religions, with varying degrees of success. I also believe demons are active within all religions (yes, including the Church), also with varying degrees of success.

      Regardless, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I am only comfortable with affirming when people from other religions share a specific idea about what God is like. I do not like claiming that we “share the same god” or that we worship the same God. Christians worship in Spirit and Truth, through Jesus Christ. If that’s the requirement to worship truly, I’m not sure if other do.

      However, this puts me in a dilemma. What do I do when I find Christians who claim that God does not love everyone, that he ordains people from eternity to go to Hell, and is the author or evil… What do I do with that, given all of the above? I’m grateful for any answers…

  • http://www.rethinkingfaith.com Dave Leigh

    Derek,

    CT recently published an interesting cover story on the Muslim perspective of Jesus being the Son of God, and how some missionaries have successfully addressed it. See: “The Son and the Crescent: Bible translations that avoid the phrase “Son of God” are bearing dramatic fruit among Muslims. But that translation has some missionaries and scholars dismayed.” You can read it here:
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/february/soncrescent.html

    Also, some interesting work is being done by JesusInTheQuran.org, including an interesting list of Quranic passages that mention Jesus (http://jesusinthequran.org/?category_name=tools-and-resources)

    I think a bigger distinction that poses an obstacle between Muslims and other peoples of the Book is the requirement that in order to be Muslim (with a capital M), one must profess their creed stating that Allah alone is God and Muhammed is his prophet. That second part can be a stickler, even if we get past the names of God issue.

    One thing is sure, we need more dialogue and opportunities to build bridges of peace. While I have been somewhat lax in this area, personally, I’ve been impressed by others who have taken proactive steps to build those bridges in their daily lives. Here’s an impressive list (in my opinion) of things one such person does:

    http://thejesusagenda.blogspot.com/2010/09/love-my-muslim-neighbor.html

    (For what it’s worth.)

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Christians need to “build bridges” (as it were) with all peoples of the world in my view. Without compromising the historic faith, it is this bridge building friendships, which go a long way to introducing others to Christ.

      But sometimes I find the bridge building terminology a bit leery. When we speak of peace between Christians and Muslims, do we mean compromise?

      Personal note: my CT subscription ran out about 8 months ago and I did not renew it. I really miss it.

  • http://www.rethinkingfaith.com Dave Leigh

    While I still subscribe to CT, I find I use the RSS feeds more via Google Reader on my smartphone and really could do without the glossy print in my snail-mailbox.

    Back to inter-faith relations….

    I was privy to an exchange of emails a while back for a list-server that addressed Jewish-Muslim-Christian relations. I found these remarks on “reconciliation” by my friend Gilbert Bilezikian insightful:

    “I don’t think reconciliation is possible or needed. Reconciliation is a desirable pursuit to cause antagonists to forego their mutual hostility and establish peaceful relations.

    “But, in the tension between the Muslim and the Christian worlds, the protagonists are not the great mass in the middle from either side. Most Muslims and Christians live de facto in peace, minding their own business and quite content to let each other be. Their need is not reconciliation but preventative connection. As two related communities of faith, they need to define common ground in order to face together the challenges of an increasingly globalized and materialistic society, potentially hostile to any non-secular allegiances. They also need to band together to present a majority front against the extremists among them who try to manipulate their constituencies in the middle in order to promote their destructive purposes. The faithful need to establish tangible paths of solidarity between them rather than chase after the ideal of reconciliation which they already practice tacitly.

    “The quest for reconciliation should be confined to the fundamentalist militants on either side, the radical hate-mongering minorities dedicated to each other’s eradication: the Muslim Taliban types and their Christian counter-parts who spew out daily their venomous drivel on American TV and radio talk-shows. However, the polarization between those extremist groups is so intense that attempts at reconciling them are doomed to futility. Developing the shared spiritual identity of the mass in the middle would isolate the extremists and render them redundant.

    “So, in my opinion, the watchword should not be ‘reconciliation.’ The word presupposes a hostility which is not a reality for the great majority of believers on either side. Our endeavors should contribute to promote the identification of commonalities and the development of opportunities for rapprochement between the millions of God-seeking folks, people of good-will, peace-loving Muslims and Christians…

  • http://www.drewchapados.net Drew Chapados

    Good post Derek,

    reminded of N.T. Wright’s observation that we often talk as if God is who we know best and Jesus then fits our picture of Him when it is the other way around–we know God because He has been revealed in Jesus.
    Mentioning that description to either Jew or Muslim and they would be the ones who would claim we do not worship the same God. We worship the God whom Jesus has made known (John 1)