The God in Franklin Graham's words

January 27, 2016

Franklin Graham wrote the other day that “Islam denies that God has a son.”

Note the unqualified, singular, capitalized God in that statement. It seems like something you’d say if you believed that the monotheistic faiths have critical, even irreconcilable differences yet do at some level worship the same (i.e., only) God. Or, as we Century editors put it, that Christians, Muslims, and Jews “may believe very different things about Abraham’s God, but it’s still his God.”

Graham, suffice it to say, very much does not believe this. “I can tell you,” he continued, “Islam and Christianity clearly do not worship the same God.”

Yes, you can tell us. But no, this is not at all clear, not even in your own statement.

I’m not just going for a cheap gotcha here. I get that for Graham, “Islam denies that God has a son” is essentially shorthand, a pithier sentence to write than “The deity that Islam believes in doesn’t have a son.” I’m reading it against his intent.


But the slipperiness of the language—the ease with which a person commenting on this subject might suggest the opposite of what they mean—is just the point. Christians and Muslims both believe in God—using similar language, and assigning some (not all!) of the same attributes. So if your aim is to emphasize the gap between the two faiths, talking about God complicates things considerably. It highlights the complexity of the subject at hand.

And what Graham and the other guardians of evangelical boundaries don’t seem to appreciate is that so many of us who support Larycia Hawkins—Wheaton alumni like me, other faculty, Hawkins herself—haven’t signed up for the flip side of Graham’s black-and-white view. We don’t say “I can tell you—Islam and Christianity clearly do worship the same God.” The point isn’t that the two traditions’ concepts of God are equivalent in a simple or obvious way.


The point is that the “same God” question is a thorny one, even for orthodox Christians—and has been since long before Wheaton’s or Graham’s sense of evangelical particularity came on the scene. The tradition has answered the question both ways. The college’s statement of faith doesn’t even mention it. This should be—has been—something Christians can disagree about without being anathematized. 

But the Wheaton administration has made it clear that they don't just answer to historic orthodoxy here, and they don’t just answer to the college’s statement of faith. They answer as well to the evangelical culture, where people like Graham have more influence than any theologian.

And while the people who write doctrinal statements for Christian colleges may have a healthy sense of adiaphora, that doesn’t mean the people who look to Franklin Graham for leadership do. Popular evangelicalism has long had a tendency to list almost everything on the “essential” side of the ledger, to disagree to disagree. Stray outside some boundary, and you may be in trouble—whether or not it’s the boundary of a central issue.

Also whether or not it is explicit. Faculty objections to the move against Hawkins have focused on this question of unstated boundaries, and rightly so. It’s very hard to teach effectively if you can get fired for breaking rules that haven’t even been articulated. And when such rules favor the blunt tribalism of American culture over the subtlety of Christian tradition, it must be pretty discouraging to even try.

Comments

Just found this piece as

Just found this piece as included on the RealClearReligion site that I look at often. To me, your point is way too blithe while being unclear. As Christians, the God we worship is the God of creation, author of the bible and father of Jesus Christ. This is the ONLY God, having chosen to reveal himself to us so clearly in His word, and by His flesh in Jesus Christ. Christ's uniqueness as the only religious figure in the history of mankind to have acted under his own divine Authority (not as a prophet) undeniably (for the Christian believer) defines who God is, what He intended and what He believes.

So, to even promote the idea that Muslims worship the same God as Christians is foolish and absurd, since the God of Islam is a disgraceful distortion, not even close to representing the true God. (This distortion includes the Hadith.) You can not be truly worshiping the same God if the God you pray to is a Picasso painting of the true God.

Muslims who become true believers and convert to Christianity will admit they are now worshiping the true God, as they cease to red the Koran (which is not of the true God).

So, is worshipping God (Allah) while not knowing the true God and his nature and plan worshipping the same God? My answer: Only in a trivial, meaningless and sophistic sense.

How can you make the case otherwise?

I won't make the case at

I won't make the case at length here; others have done it better than I can (Miroslav Volf, to start with). I respectfully disagree that this idea promoted by the current pope, his predecessor, and other orthodox Christian leaders throughout history is foolish or absurd--even if it is not, as I said, simple, straightforward, or the entire story.