This may be an even more provocative question than yesterday’s question about whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God. However, I hope it will help us to develop our thinking a but further. It comes in the context of some of the responses to the first question, where the follow on is “Then what about Jews? Do they worship the same God as us?” Actually, in terms of immediate comparisons, given that Islam arose out of and in reaction to Christianity, we might see other examples as more immediately analogous, what about The Gnostics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians? What about Catholics and Protestants?
Another factor in my follow up article is that I want to push harder at the point that how we answer the question depends on what we mean by the question. Are we suggesting that there might be two different gods, one of which we worship (the true one) and one of which is worshipped by another religion, sect or denomination? It is helpful at this stage to think about how our answered is heard. We don’t want to be heard by Muslims and Jews as saying “You worship Allah or Yahweh but we worship Jesus.” And that is how the conversation can be heard. An other point to consider is that if people worship another god then they need to be called to turn away from it. Indeed, traditional baptisms would require a renouncement of false gods and Satan. So, would you invite a Jew for example to turn from YHWH to the Triune God? At that point, I think we recognise immediately that the charge in Scripture is not that the Jews have another God who is a false god but that they have failed to know, trust in and worship the true and living God as they should.
At this stage, it is worth considering that idolatry included two forms in the Old Testament. There were times when the Israelites worshipped the gods of the nations, they chose other gods. However, there were also times, and the incident with the golden calf at Sinai seems to be one where they attempted to make images of YHWH so that they ended up with distorted, faulty or incomplete image, a parody of the true God. They failed to see God for who he is.
Which brings us to today and my reference to liberal Christianity. What is the issue there? Well, we have people who claim to believe in the Triune God. However, when we have people telling us that we don’t have God’s infallible word in Scripture but human reflections, then what do we have but a denial that God is knowable and that God speaks clearly. When we have questions raised about the physical death and resurrection of Jesus or when his bearing the penalty for our sin is dismissed and crudely compared to “cosmic child abuse” then his grace is denied and given that John tells us that it is through the atonement that we know God is love, then we are at this point saying that we can’t know that he is love. Liberal Christianity puts in front of us a God who hasn’t revealed himself clearly and so becomes unknowable. In effect, it invites us to become agnostic about God’s attributes.
My point is this. Once again, the philosophical debate about worshipping different gods or the same God is once again seen to be less important because what really matter is whether or not we actually know, worship and trust in the one true God. When we deny his revelation, we refuse to listen to his voice, when we deny the atonement, we fail to put our trust in him. And that also puts the challenge on to each of us. You see, I can believe those things in theory but as Romans 2 drives home, if I have only a theoretical grasp of Scripture but the Gospel has not cut to the heart and made a real difference in my life, then I’m not worshipping the true and living God either.