The speaker at a large Bible conference, advocating for adherence to the fundamentals of faith and seeking to stir controversy, commented that there were missionaries who actually used “Allah,” the Muslim name for God, in their Christian witness.
The statement elicited the intended shock effect as there was an audible gasp of incredulous disbelief among the audience that this could be true. The reaction revealed a common perception that confuses linguistic distinctive with theology.
Every language has its word for “God” which is used in translation of Scripture and for proclaiming the gospel within any particular culture and language. Allah is the Arabic word for the English “God” just as “Dios” is in Spanish. It is the word that has been used for centuries by Jews and Christians in the Middle East and actually pre-dates the founding of Islam in the seventh century. Bibles translated in predominantly Muslim countries into local languages such as Indonesian, Malay and Bengali use Allah as the biblical reference to the sovereign creator God.
To not use “Allah” for God would require the use of a foreign word that would not be understood in the local language. Should a Muslim have to learn English, Greek or Hebrew in order to discuss theological concepts and understand the gospel? Ironically, the word “Allah” comes from the same root word of “Elohim” of the Old Testament, while our English word “God” has no etymological relationship to the biblical YHWH or Jehovah. In fact, it comes from the German “gott” and was derived from the name of a pagan viking deity!
Use of Allah in Muslim literature refers to the God who created Adam and Eve and the world. He is the God who brought the flood and was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and Ishmael), as well as David, Isaiah and other prophets known in common.
To introduce another identity than the monotheistic sovereign creator deity of the Bible who is not Allah would create a greater gap and barrier to witness than trying to explain the trinitarian nature of God. The distinction in the concept of God worshipped by Christians and Muslims is one of theology. Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses do not share an identical concept of God with that of evangelical and mainstream Christians, but use the same nomenclature. Should we, then, find another name for the God we worship and proclaim since there are those who have a distorted theology.
The concern is understandable that if “Allah” is used in Christian witness that the theological distortions of Muslim understanding will be carried over, resulting in syncretism or heretical concepts of God shaped by ones Islamic background. It requires adequate teaching and discipling just as it does in our own culture. How many Americans and English speakers who have never been born again, but use the word “God” have a proper understanding and concept of Him?’
We must not confuse cultural and linguistic bridges of communication in seeking to transcend diverse worldviews. Even Paul proclaimed to the people of Athens that he was there to introduce the God represented by their temple to an unknown god. Whatever the theological concepts related to that unknown god in the minds of the Athenians, it is doubtful that they were consistent with what Paul declared as revealed in Jesus Christ. But Paul established a point of identity with their worldview that he might introduce them to the true and living God.
Jews worship the true and living God and seek to live according to His laws, but do they fully understand the nature and character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ? Paul declared in Romans 10:2 that they have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. There is no question that Muslims have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge of His true nature and character.
It is an intriguing question as to whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Is there more than one God? No, there is only one God, and He can be known only through knowing Jesus Christ. How compelling it should be for us to declare to Muslim friends, devout in their faith, as Paul did in Athens, “what you worship as impersonal and unknown I proclaim to you.” And we should be confident that when one comes in genuine repentance and faith to Jesus Christ that God is able to reveal Himself in spirit and truth to a new believer.
There is not two separate divine beings worshipped respectively by Christians and Muslims, but there are very distinct theological concepts of this all-powerful, creator God of the universe. There is only one God, regardless what He is called, and He can be known only through Jesus Christ.