Monday, July 10, 2006

Do we worship the same God: Another "expert" muddying the waters...

You have to ask yourself: What makes an “expert”. Forget the old joke about drips under pressure, and have a look at this example.

Rev. Mark Durie has just published a book called “Revelation? Do we worship the same god?” Here’s the publisher’s flyer:

New Release for 2006
Do we worship the same god?
Guidance for the perplexed

Today many are asking do Muslims and
Christians worship the same god.
It may seem like a simple question, but it is not. Muslims will insist that they do worship the same god, and indeed the witness of the Quran demands that they believe this. In Revelation? Durie demonstrates that Christians have good reasons to challenge this Islamic position. Revelation? compares the LORD (YHWH) of the Bible with Allah of the Quran and clearly shows from careful study of the scriptures of Islam and Christianity that the LORD God of the Bible and Allah of the Quran are different in many respects. They have such different personalities and different capacities that they cannot be said to be the same.

Well, you get the idea. Now, I think the discussion is an important one, but I don’t know if Dr Durie’s discussion will really help us get very far beyond first base. It is my personal belief that—at the level on intention—Muslims seek to worship the same God as Christians. They name their God as the God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Well, there’s only one of those, and that’s the same God that I worship.

It is a different question then to ask if they have the same concept or understanding of this God as we do, or if they do in fact worship him in a way in which he would find acceptable.

Indeed, we Christians claim to worship the same God as the Jews, but the Jews would contend that “YHWH” of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Triune God of the New Testament are “different in many respects.” Jews could even say that “they have such different personalities and different capacities that they cannot be said to be the same.”

A small example. Imagine that there was a great war hero who died in battle. Let’s call him “Captain Bob”. Well, the people back home make a statue of Captain Bob and then invite one of his old soldier mates to attend the dedication ceremony. This mate comes along and sits through long speeches about the valiant “Captain Bob” and all his qualities. When it comes to his turn to speak, the mate says: “Well, that’s not the Bob that I knew.” And proceeds to describe quite a different character from the one immortalised by the townsfolk. Was it or was it not the same “Captain Bob” they were talking about, and would “Captain Bob” have been happy with the new persona the townsfolk had given him?

So back to the question of experts. On the flyer, Dr Durie is described as:

Dr Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist and pastor of an Anglican church. He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom. A graduate of the Australian National University and the Australian College of Theology, he has held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA and Stanford, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992. Dr Durie is one of the keynote speakers with the Australian Mosques & Miracles conference team who have toured nationally and internationally over the past 3 years.

A human rights activist I know in Melbourne said that his jaw dropped to hear Mark Durie described as such. Durie was a principal witness against the Islamic Council of Victoria in the Catch The Fire case last year. Here’s how the judge summed up our erstwhile “expert”:

"Dr Durie said he was a Minister at St Mary's Church in Caulfield. He has not completed any independent formal study of the Arabic language. He cannot read Arabic. He could not read or understand classical Arabic. He has no formal qualifications in Islamic theology, but has studied it privately for three years. reality, he has done no more than read a large number of books and articles on Islam, and even then, only to follow a plain bias in thinking about Islam and Muslims. In this sense, Dr Durie is obviously an intelligent person who has pursued a particular interest..."
(Justice Michael Higgins, transcript of VCAT hearing CTF vs. ICV, Reference No. A392/2002)

Ah yes. You have to ask yourself.


At Monday, July 10, 2006 7:08:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Don’t know Dr Durie, or his work, all all, but on the general point I find myself in complete agreement with you.

It seems to me glaringly obvious, and beyond argument, that Christians, Jews and Muslims

(a) worship the same God, and

(b) have different understandings of him.

Even within those three traditions there are different understandings of God, but that doesn’t mean that different Christians, say, worship different gods.

Far and away the biggest difference in understanding is over the trinitarian and incarnate nature of God. Christians assert that they worship the same God as Jews, despite Judaism’s unambiguous rejection of both the Trinity and the Incarnation. If such a fundamental disagreement over the nature of God is not enough, as between Christians and Jews, to create two different gods, then it simply beggars belief to suggest that anything in Islamic theology necessarily creates a different god.

I’ve never met an advocate of the “Muslims worship a different God” view who was willing to tackle this question. Their arguments basically boiled down to “Muslims are so very different from us (in their behaviour) that they must worship a different God”. Apart from being based on some pretty shallow generalisations, and suffering from obvious logical flaws, this always struck me as an inherently divisive way to approach the question.

As to the other question you raise, whether Muslims worship God in a way that is acceptable to Him, there you and I may differ, at least in emphasis.

My starting point is that God does not reject a heart that is seeking him, and any honest attempt to discern, recognise and worship God is pleasing to Him. Furthermore the Islamic concept of worship, as I understand it, centres on recognising God, acknowledging Him, proclaiming His revelation and submitting to Him. All of this is familiar to Christians and Jews, and not, from the Christian perspective, inherently unacceptable to God. True, Muslims do not participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice, or in any sacrifice, but then neither do contemporary Jews, or many denominations of Protestant Christianity. Arguably that makes their worship deficient, from a Christian perspective, but I think not unacceptable.

At Tuesday, July 11, 2006 12:33:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

You correctly recognise the logical problem, Peregrinus. But there is a nuance you may have missed, and it also relates to the worship question, so lets start there.

1) Not all worship is acceptable to God, however sincere. One should note that in the episode with the golden calf in Exodus, the Israelites were not attempting to worship a "different" God (Ex 32:1 " “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”), but to worship the same God in a different way, ie. in a way that God had expressly commanded them not to worship him (it breaks the first commandment which included the prohibition of images).

2) Christians believe that acceptable worship of God is through his Son Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:19-21 says that Jesus Christ is our mediator and priest and we approach the sanctuary of God in faith by his blood and through his flesh (Eucharistic there), with hearts sprinkled clean and bodies washed with pure water (baptismal imagery).

3) Since it is only through Christ that we have access to communion with the God of Abraham, other attempts and intentions to come into fellowship with this same God through other means must necessarily fall short of the mark. (Or does the Jewish blood tie to Abraham still count for something before God? That is another discussion).

4) Therefore, when one attempts to worship the True God in a way that he has not ordained, something less than the True God is worshipped (as in the case of the Israelites with the calf). It is on this basis that some contend that the God of Muslims is a different God--but of course, to be consistent, we would also then need to say that modern Judaism has grasped something less than the True God also.

5) This is not to say that Jews and Muslims are in any sense "pagans". Rather, we are tied in deepest relationship of all seeking to worship the same God (who is, in fact, the God of the Jews). I simply have reservations about the extent to which true worship (as opposed to sincere seeking and intent to worship) can be achieved except in the name of Jesus.

6) Thus the legitimacy of the worship we offer to God does not ultimately depend upon the "idea" of God that one has in one's head (eg. it is not the idea of the Triune God that is necessary, as is evidenced by the fact that the pre-Nicene Church offered acceptable praise to God), but upon the priesthood and mediation of Jesus Christ.

At Thursday, July 13, 2006 7:14:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Hi David

I had a couple of thoughts in response to what you wrote, but most of them are just quibbles over what “acceptable” means, and (for once) I think I’ll avoid that.

You put your finger on a point that I had missed; the key difference between Christian worship and Jewish/Muslim worship is not that (some) Christians offer the eucharhistic sacrfice as part of the their worship (which is what I had in mind) but that, for all Christians, all their worship is offered through Jesus Christ.

I am reminded of an incident related to me by my own parish priest. He was asked to join with other ministers in offering interfaith prayers at a civic function – it may have been an Anzac Day event; certainly something like that. General goodwill, of course, prevailed, and the ministers – who included a rabbi – exchanged notes on what they thought would be fitting.

The rabbi asked that all prayers would refer to God, and that there be no specific mention of Jesus Christ. My priest friend felt unable to accede to that; he felt he could not pray other than through Jesus Christ and to suppress mention of Christ would be an attempt to conceal the reality of his prayer, which he felt was inappropriate.

I know the priest was concerned not to prevent the joint contribution of the religious ministers to the event, and was anxious to facilitate it, but he just couldn’t do what the rabbi asked. He made a number of other suggestions, one of which that separate prayers should be offered by the various ministers in their own traditions, and another of which was that he himself would withdraw. I can’t recall how the matter was resolved, but general goodwill still prevails and the event passed off again the following year to satisfaction of all.

It was some years ago that I heard that story, and it marked a step forward in my own (still incomplete!) grasp of what the Incarnation means. Your own comment above makes the same point.

There is still the point – I knew I couldn’t resist getting back to it – that those who worship God sincerely in the way they believe themselves called to may be worshippoing less than perfectly, but not unacceptably, if that implies that God rejects the worship they offer him.

At Saturday, July 15, 2006 6:42:00 pm , Blogger Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

The topic of do Mohammadeans worship the same God as Christians was mentioned several months ago on the Lutheran Pastor Paul McCain's site:

At Monday, July 17, 2006 8:35:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Hi! Welcome to the discussion, Colonial Boy. I will have to look up the McCain reference. Regular readers of this blog will know my thoughts on McCain's thoughts. Nevertheless, you will note that I have a link to his page!

At Monday, July 17, 2006 11:53:00 am , Blogger Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

Yes, Pastor McCain certainly is rather definitive in his posts. I once saw him described on another blog as "the Magisterium on the Missisouri".

At Monday, July 17, 2006 11:53:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...


Tbank you for the link, which is very interesting. A good part of it consists of direct quotes from the writings of Martin Luther, and I note that he seems to argue that neither Jews nor Muslims worship God.

This avoids the logical problem I mentioned earlier, and therefore is (more) internally consistent. But it seems to me to create a different problem. Since the Jewish understanding of God (and of the Messiah as a human, non-divine figure, which the the basis for their rejection of the Christian understanding of the Incarnation) has not changed materially since OT times, if the contemporary Jewish understanding means that they do not worship God, then it seems to follow that the Jews – among whom we must include Jesus of Nazareth - have never worshipped God. This line of argument seems to me to be a complete non-starter for a Christian.

I also think that it’s worth pointing out that, even for a Lutheran, quotations from Luther are not definitive on any question. Modern Lutherans, I think it is safe to say, do not share all of Martin Luther’s views on Jews and Judaism, which are – how can I put this fairly? – not among the glories of Luther’s contributions to Christian thought. His views on Muslims seem from these quotes to be on a par with his views on Jews.

At Monday, July 17, 2006 8:19:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Oh yes, Brother Martin didn't like Muslims. There were three big bogeymen in his canon: The Devil, the Pope and "the Turk". Mind you, "the Turk" was at the gates of Vienna at the time, and oddly were responsible for the only brief period of reconciliation between German Catholics and Protestants in the 16th Century (military unity being paramount over doctrinal unity).

Pastor McCain is one of those Lutherans who regard Luther as the only Saint since Augustine, and more infallible than the Pope. Being a little unfair (just a little) one could say that it is with good reason that the Lutheran Church is called the "Luther"-an Church. A really strict Lutheran, however, will point out that definitive teaching is not to be found in Luther's Works, but in the Book of Concord of 1580. Why? Why not?

But your logic, Peregrinus, with regard to whether the Jews ever worshipped the true God (according to McCain's arguement), is spot on as always.


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