We’re going to address Calvinists and Arminians in a moment. But first let’s begin with the catalyst for the discussion which is a February 2016 episode of William Lane Craig’s venerable Reasonable Faith Podcast titled “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” In this podcast Craig addresses the controversial question that was first raised as a result of a Facebook post by Professor Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College when she opined that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Hawkins’ early December post spawned a flurry of debate on the internet.
In this episode of the podcast Craig interacts with an article by Francis Beckwith. Beckwith begins by noting that the topic here is reference: when Christians say “Yahweh” and Muslims say “Allah” do they refer to the same being? Beckwith argues that they do. But Craig thinks otherwise. In his view, the concepts of deity in Christianity and Islam are so different that Craig believes Christians and Muslims do not refer to the same being. Here is a key clip approximately 18 minutes into the podcast which nicely states Craig’s view:
To sum up, Craig argues that Christian and Muslim concepts of God are so different that Christians and Muslims refer to different entities altogether when they use the term “God” (or, as noted above, when Christians refer to “God” or “Yahweh” and Muslims refer to “Allah”).
Craig identifies two points of doctrinal difference to justify this conclusion: the doctrine of the Trinity and the attribute of perfect love. Importantly, Craig views each of these two points of doctrinal divergence as sufficient to secure the conclusion that Christians and Muslims refer to different entities when they refer to God. Given that fact, we will proceed for the rest of this article by focusing on disagreement on the latter attribute of God’s love.
With that in mind, we can now turn to the second point, that which Craig refers to as “the moral character of God.” Craig opines that the Muslim concept of God is “morally defective”. Why? Craig explains that according to Islam “God is not an all-loving being; he loves conditionally only those who first love him, say the confession and do the alms, do the prayers.”
According to Craig’s view, Christians believe that God exemplifies a property of perfect love. For our purposes, we can define that attribute relative to its human subjects as follows:
Perfect love: the property by which God loves all people equally and irrespective of any merit in the individual.
However, Muslims deny perfect love on two points: (1) while Christians believe God loves all people equally, Muslims believe God loves Muslims but does not love non-Muslims; (2) while Christians believe God’s love is extended irrespective of any merit in the individual, Muslims believe God’s love is extended based on the meritorious actions of devout Muslims (e.g. saying the confession, doing alms, etc.).
Different entities or disagreement about the same entity?
Let’s grant that this difference exists between (Christian) perfect love and (Muslim) imperfect love. Even so, it isn’t clear that this difference is sufficient to support the conclusion that Christians and Muslims are referring to different divine persons.
Consider, Ivanka Trump and Keith Olbermann can both refer to Donald Trump despite the fact that they differ radically on their assessment of his character: Ivanka thinks The Donald is a loving man while Olbermann thinks he is a psychopath who presumably lacks the ability to love anybody. Here’s the most critical point: nobody supposes that this divergence justifies the conclusion that Ivanka and Olbermann are referring to different entities. Indeed, if we did conclude that then it would follow that Ivanka and Olbermann do not disagree about The Donald. But of course they do disagree.
By the same token, if Christians and Muslims are not referring to the same being — God — then it follows that they do not disagree about the attribute of God’s love. But this seems to me a very strange read of the situation. Far more plausible, I would think, to conclude that just as Ivanka and Olbermann are referring to (and disagree about) the same New York business mogul, so Christians and Muslims are referring to (and disagree about) the very same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Calvinists and Arminians
Now let’s turn to the question for which this article is titled: “Do Calvinists and Arminians worship the same God?” Remember that Craig apparently takes the view that the Muslim’s failure to affirm that God exemplifies perfect love is sufficient to deny that Christians and Muslims refer to the same being when they refer to God.
The problem is that mainstream Calvinism also denies that God exemplifies perfect love (as defined). Instead, Calvinists affirm that God has a general love for all creatures but he has a special love for the elect, and it is this love which is a basis of their election.
Arminians have not been shy about denouncing the Calvinist denial of perfect love. When I interviewed Roger Olson a couple years ago he referred to God in Calvinist theology as a “monster”. And he isn’t alone in that assessment. John Wesley stated that the Calvinist doctrine presents a picture of God as “worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, and more unjust.”(Cited in Jerry L. Walls, “Divine Commands, Predestination, and Moral Intuition,” in The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism, ed. Clark Pinnock (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie, 1989), 266.)
Calvinists, for their part, have not been shy to return the favor by lobbing equally incendiary denunciations back at the Arminian conception of God as an impotent weakling who can’t really save anybody until they decide they want to be saved.
What about the fact that, as Craig says, God’s love is conditional according to Islam? The point Craig misses here is that in mainstream Muslim theology the elect are determined to act (e.g. say the confession, do the alms, do the prayers) by God’s sovereign will. And that parallels closely the Calvinist view that the elect are determined to act (e.g. say the sinner’s prayer, persevere in faith, produce fruits) by God’s sovereign will. Consequently the difference on the divine love that Craig envisions between Christianity and Islam closely parallels the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism.
To sum up, if disagreement regarding the attribute of perfect love is sufficient to conclude that Christians and Muslims refer to (and so worship) different gods, then it is sufficient to conclude that Calvinists and Arminians refer to (and so worship) different gods. I will leave it to the reader to consider whether this conclusion meets the demands of a reductio ad absurdum for Craig’s position.