Is there a difference between the Calvinist and Arminian understanding of God? Yes. Are there similarities between the Calvinist and Arminian understanding of God? Yes. Is there a difference between the Calvinist and Open Theistic understanding of God? Yes. Are there similarities between the Calvinist and Open Theistic understanding of God? Yes. Is there a difference between the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim understanding of God? Yes. Are there similarities between the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim understanding of God. Yes.
I have suggested that the differences between Calvinist and Arminian Christians or Calvinist and Open Theistic Christians is more than merely a qualitative distinction when juxtaposed to the Christian and Islamic understandings of God (see here and here). James McGrath and Ekaputra Tupamahu responded with observations that I found valuable, yet misleading. Both replied with the suggestion that if I make a distinction between the God of Christianity and the God of Islam that is not merely theological but ontological I am close to making a mistake similar to that of Marcion.
Of course, Marcion was a second century heretic who argued that the God of the New Testament was not the same God of the Old Testament. The God of the NT is loving and kind and He sent Jesus to save us. The God of the OT was cruel and evil in that He created our world. I make no such assertions which I think James rightly noted.
The God revealed through Jesus in the NT is the God revealed to Israel in the OT as the one who delivered His people from Egypt, parted the Red Sea, secured rights to the Promise Land, established the Davidic dynasty, sent His people into exile, and called prophets to speak His oracles. Jesus is the pinnacle of this action because in Jesus God has spoken His finalized authoritative word as the author of Hebrews wrote (1:1).
So no, I do not deny that the God revealed to Israel is the God revealed through Jesus Christ. Instead, I affirm this very thing.
Therefore, the question that must be asked is whether or not Jews and Muslims worship the true God but from a different, maybe ignorant, perspective or if the God that they claim to worship is their own ideology and therefore distinct from the true and living God of Christianity. If I deny this am I making the same mistake as Marcion?
Ekaputra suggests that Muslims worship the same God as Christians. He likens God to his father. To Ekaputra this man is his dad. To Ekaputra’s uncle this man is “brother”. It is the same individual who is related to from different perspectives. I do not know if Ekaputra affirms the exclusivity of Christ but I do see this as being greatly in danger of becoming some sort of Christian pluralist.
James on the other hand observes that Muslims claim to worship the God of Jews and Christians. In theory this may be affirmed though I think there are plenty of conservative Muslims who will says that the Jews and Christians no longer worship the true God, Allah. But that is neither here nor there.
The point James is trying to make appears to be this and I am open to correction. Muslims believe in One God who is absolute and shares a lot of the characteristics of the Christian God who is also understood to be the One, true God. Therefore, while there are differences between Islamic and Christian depictions of God, like Ekaputra states, this is still the same being.
Neither Ekaputra nor James indicate whether or not there understanding of what it means to “worship” the same God is equated to being in a sufficient relationship with Him or if one can worship the true God while being utterly defiant against Him by denying something about Him. To clarify, do Ekaputra and James suggest that Muslims worship the God of Christianity yet because they reject His Son they are not in right standing with the true God? Or do they see Islam as another equal approach to God?
I acknowledge that the true God is the God of all. Therefore it is true that the Christian God is the God of Jews and Muslims. But I do not know if this should be seen as saying that Jews and Muslims worship the true God.
The error that I think both Ekaputra and James are making is equating similarities with identity. Yes, Jews, Christians, and Muslims claim a lot of the same things about God. But similarities do not mean identity. All three of us have mothers. There may be a lot of similarities between our mothers. Our mothers may even have the same name. But our mothers are different ontologically and this is best understood through the life actions of our various mothers. These are three different women.
I do not find it outside of the Jewish tradition to argue that those Jews who are apostate are no longer rightly “knowing” God. While I am not able to venture in Qumran’s polemic against their fellow Jews it should be noted that Johannine Jews had no problem going as far as to say, through the words of Jesus, that those who are not following the move of God in Christ should no longer call God Father, but rather the devil (Jn. 8:44). Or that those who reject the Son no longer have the Father (1 Jn. 2:22-24). Or Paul who argued that the Jews had a zeal for God but not according to knowledge (Rom. 10:2) and that God’s way of not rejecting His people was through a remnant (therefore, non-remnant Jews are in essence, for now, are rejected) (Rom. 11:1-2). If there is no knowledge of the true God then our semantics about “worship” are somewhat insignificant. To know God is to know Him according to special revelation.
The critique of Pauline and Johannine churches is not that the God of the NT is different from the God of the OT, but that the God of the NT is the God of the OT and to deny the God of the NT is to reject the God of the OT. If one rejects the God of the NT how is it possible to still worship Him?
When Paul addresses the Athenians (Acts 17:23) he may be able to say that they “worship” the true God ignorantly as the “Unknown God” but this use of “worship” is by no means the same as what I seem to think Ekaputra and James are suggesting. If Ekaputra and James can say “worship” means that there is an ignorance and a lack of salvific relationship, but the ultimate object of their worship is the God who is God of all, then we may have common ground.
My problem is that the God of Islam is a God identified. Allah is not merely an unknown God. The worship of Allah is not merely hopeful prayers toward heaven. The identity of God is assumed and it does not include any mention of the God who was incarnate in Jesus or the God who raised Jesus from the dead.
Therefore, I wonder whether or not Ekaputra and James think that Paul could have suggested Jesus was son of Zeus, but that there were some slight differences. Or that Jesus is the same as the God of Hinduism, but the Father and Spirit are revealed in thousands of manifestations. I do not want to put words in their mouth, but I’d like to know their thoughts.
My question to both gentleman, and I am all ears on this, is if one worships the true God ignorantly does this mean (1) that although their object of worship is indirectly correct their understanding of God is greatly diminished, (2) their relationship with God, as regards salvation, is not established, and (3) their “worship” is not satisfactory, in the same sense as the redeemed, since it is not according to “knowledge” of the true God? Or do you two see this as just another approach to God, equal with Jesus but different?