Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?, Andy Bannister. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2021.
Summary: A comparative study of the worldviews of Christianity and Islam that concludes that the two do not worship the same God.
Years ago, a very thoughtful student, from a country where Christians were a minority in a largely Muslim country, asked me whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. After all, Allah is the Arabic term for God and Islam traces its roots back to Abraham, one of the three Abrahamic faiths. And in fact, many commentators, promoting good will between the faiths, have proposed this idea. Miroslav Volf, for example, in Allah (Goodreads review) contends that he would say “yes, with different understandings of the God we worship.”
Andy Bannister first began wrestling with this question when he got involved speaking about his faith at the Speakers Corner in Hyde Park in London as he was engaged by a number of Muslim questioners. He eventually pursued a Ph.D in Qur’anic Studies. His careful analysis of the Qur’an and a comparison of the worldviews of Christianity and Islam led him to conclude “no.” He concluded that the differences were so great that the affirmative failed to do justice to either set of beliefs.
First of all, he deals with the obstacle of asserting that is arrogance to assert that one’s faith is true to the exclusion of others. He observes how we want to be reasonably certain of truth in many other areas of life, for example medical treatment, and we don’t consider it arrogant when a doctor prescribes a course of treatment. We want this. We don’t want a tolerant, inclusive doctor who says, “whatever.” The real issue is how we treat those with whom we disagree. Are we gracious and humble in stating our convictions or cocky? Arrogance is a behavior that need not be associated with a belief that something is true.
Bannister then outlines his approach, which is to consider the answers to four basic worldview questions:
Is there a god, and, if so, what is god like? He states that the God of the Bible is relational, knowable, holy, love, and has suffered. He contends that the Qur’an rejects, ignores, or overwrites each of these with a different portrayal of Allah.
Who and what are human beings? Whereas Christianity understands Christians as made in the image of God and made to enjoy relationship with God and to reflect God’s character to all creation, Islam would hold that while humans are elevated, one relates to Allah as servant to master rather than child to father.
What is wrong with the world? Christians believe that our nature is deeply affected by sin, which separates us from relationship with God and each other and the rest of creation. Islam sees us as made, not for relationship, but for obedience to Allah, but we are weak and fallible and often disobey his commands.
What is the solution? The idea of salvation is alien to Islam. Allah guides one in the right way and the obedient are rewarded with a pleasure-filled paradise, although one where Allah’s presence is not mentioned. Christians believe that our situation as alienated rebels is so desperate that self-help or even God-guided self-improvement is not adequate. We need saving or rescuing. God’s rescue plan is the sacrifice that dies in one’s places–sacrifices in the Old Testament that point to the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s once-for-all, perfect sacrifice, restoring us to a relationship with God.
He goes on to discuss Jesus, who is referenced in 90 verses in the Qur’an. He observes the unusual character of Jesus compared to other prophets that makes him something of a misfit in the Qur’an, but not in the Bible, where he is more than a prophet, revealing the character of God as God-with-us.
He concludes by describing Christianity as the most inclusive exclusive faith in the world–an open exclusivism where all who repent and believe are welcome, and only those who refuse are on the outside. He explores the nature of forgiveness–costly for the one who forgives but free to the forgiven, something that cannot be repaid, bought or earned. Bannister proposes that many of the longings for God which Muslims pursue may only be met in Christ–the longing for intimate love and compassion and forgiveness and relationship. His invitation is to come home.
Bannister combines extensive knowledge of the Qur’an, which is quoted in translation throughout with a clear analysis of fundamental differences that is not belligerent but matter of fact, and proven out in many personal interactions with Muslims. He also has a delightfully cheeky sense of humor, illustrated when he talks about playing Cluedo, known in the U.S. as Clue. He writes:
“For example, if you announce, “The killer was Miss Scarlet, using the dagger, in the conservatory’, and I disagree stating it was ‘Professor Putin, with a nerve agent, in the potting shed’, then we can immediately notice a few things. First, we cannot both be correct: our two theories disagree on every key detail and cannot both be right. Second, despite our fundamental differences, we are still both trying to answer the same basic questions; we agree about the questions–we just disagree about the answers. (And third, with theories like mine, I should probably avoid holidaying in Moscow.) (p. 35).
Throughout, we find this combination of careful, reasoned argument leavened with wit and warmth that makes this an enjoyable read. It is helpful as a resource if you’ve asked or been asked the title question, and particularly if this is in the context of friendships with those who embrace Islam. Bannister sees fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam but does so without demonizing Muslims but rather shows the utmost respect. Such an approach, I believe leads to dialogue that moves beyond the superficial to the substantive, allowing the exploration of each faith on its own terms, rather than those superimposed by the patronizing “let’s all just get along because we really are all on the same journey up the mountain.”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.