I just finished listening to the February 27th edition of “Unbelievable” which featured a dialogue and debate between Joseph Cumming and Nabeel Qureshi on the question “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” Cumming argued “yes” and “no” while Qureshi argued a more unequivocal “no”. The discussion started off on a promising note with Cumming helpfully clarifying the various nuances of the question. But alas, the conversation soon ventured off into more unhelpful directions. The main problem, as I see it, is that the nature of the question under debate was not clearly defined from the outset.
The question “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” has at least three critical dimensions. More accurately, it is an ambiguous question that can be interpreted in (at least) three different ways.
First, there is the topic of linguistic reference: i.e. Do Muslims and Christians refer to the same divine being when they refer to God?
Second, there is the topic of worship acts: i.e. Do Muslims and Christians engage in acts of worship directed at the same divine being?
Third, there is the topic of salvific relationship: i.e. Are Muslim and Christian acts of worship sufficient to initiate and/or maintain a salvific relationship with the same divine being?
Although Qureshi repeatedly insists without qualification that Muslims and Christians do not “worship” the same God, it is clear throughout the conversation that both debaters assume the correct answer to the first question is, in fact, yes. This is because they both assume that Muslims and Christians disagree about the nature of God. Qureshi makes the point with especial force as he hammers on the point that Muslims deny that God is triune. or revealed in the incarnate Christ. But when Muslims and Christians disagree about whether God is triune or revealed in the incarnate Christ, they are clearly referring to the same being even as they disagree about the essential nature of that being or that being’s actions in history.
What about the second question? Here too it seems to me that both Qureshi and Cumming should again answer yes. If Muslims and Christians both refer to the same God then it follows that when they engage in acts of worship directed at God, they are engaged in acts of worship directed at the same being.
This leads me to the third question: salvific relationship. Justin Brierley asked Qureshi about this question explicitly at the end of the program. And interestingly, Qureshi answered that he doesn’t know. In other words, he believes it is possible that God may receive acts of worship directed to Allah (the false God) as if they were directed to him. (Think of the famous description of worship of the god Tash at the end of C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.) My hat is off to Qureshi who, though an apologist for a conservative evangelical apologetics organization (RZIM), adopts an admirably nuanced hopeful inclusivism.
Unfortunately, these distinct topics were not clarified (at least explicitly) throughout the exchange. Instead, the conversation tended to proceed by Qureshi pointing out differences between Muslim and Christian theology and using these differences as a basis to conclude that the two groups do not “worship” the same being. Cumming, in turn, offered several pointed rebuttals. But throughout much of this back-and-forth, I was left wondering what was even being debated.