by John Hubers
Part 1: Setting the Parameters
This is the first part of a four part series exploring the question “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the same God?” in its historical context among evangelical Christians. It will be presented as a series on this page.
From the Urban Dictionary (http://www.urbandictionary.com/)
meme mēm noun
2 : a pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means
The Allah Meme
One of the memes that has recently rooted itself deeply in the consciousness of some American Christians, particularly those who come from the more conservative side of the evangelical tradition, is the confident assertion that Muslims worship a different god from the Christian God. This is more than saying that we have different conceptions of God. This is a blunt and often combative claim that we are, in fact, talking about two entirely different divine entities. Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, who heads up the diaconal ministry Samaritan’s Purse, has been most strident in his public statements to this effect reaching back to the time just after 9/11. He first did so in an address he gave at the dedication of a North Carolina church that was quoted by an NBC Nightly news segment (as well as nearly every news source in the Muslim majority world) just two months after the 9/11 tragedy.
The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo- Christian faith. It’s a different God, and I believe it [Islam] is a very evil and wicked religion.
Graham is not alone in this perception. It has, in fact, become a kind of theological maxim among more conservative groups, particularly after 9/11.
I discovered this in a personal way when I was approached about becoming full time pulpit supply at a conservative church in a Chicago suburb during the years I was doing my PhD studies. I had first been invited to preach a sermon in this church about Christian-Muslim relations that was well received, enough so that the consistory decided to invite me to preach on a full time basis as they carried on a search for a permanent pastor. But it wasn’t an open invitation. I was first asked to justify the assumption some heard in my sermon that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. They were correct in what they heard as this has been an assumption of mine since the onset of my years of missionary service in the Muslim majority world, just as it was the assumption made by every other missionary I have ever known in that part of the world, evangelical or otherwise. But at this traditional Christian Reformed Church such a belief was considered suspect, perhaps even bordering on heresy. So before I was given the invitation I was first required to write a paper giving justification to that assumption for the consistory to review. I must have made a good case, as I got the invitation and it was never mentioned again.
What I discovered in this incident was the weight of this particular meme – strong enough that in certain circles it has become a kind of litmus test for evangelical orthodoxy. And while it should be said at the outset that there is a legitimate theological discussion to be had around the question posed by this meme – “do Muslims and Christians worship the same God” – the challenge it poses is related less to the way it answers this question than to its operative force as a test of evangelical orthodoxy. Simply put those who hold it are suspect of those who don’t. That is the nature of a meme – the confidence with which it perpetuates itself as a kind of foundational truism for those who become its proponents. In this case, however, more is at stake than personal opinion as the tenacity with which it is held can have the effect of endangering the sensitive incarnational witness those of us who teach missions are trying to inculcate in our students.