Muslims and Christians About God and Jesus

Most Christians where I live don’t know very much about Islam. In fact, they are often surprised when they learn how many things we agree upon.

Here are things both Muslims and Christians agree about, concerning God:

God created the world, and the entire universe.

God is merciful and forgives those who come to Him in repentance.

God revealed Himself to Abraham, the Patriarchs, Moses, David, the Prophets and Jesus.

God wants widows and orphans and the poor looked after.

God is all-powerful, holy, and good.

God is our Maker, and deserves our complete fidelity, love, awe and obedience.

God does not love aggressive violence.

God wants humans to exhibit integrity, truthfulness, a just society, and mercy.

God will hold humans accountable for how they have lived.

 Here are things both  Muslims and Christians agree about, concerning  Jesus:

Jesus was sent from God.

Jesus performed miracles, and was sinless.

Jesus was miraculously born of the Virgin Mary.

Jesus was “sign for all nations.”

Jesus is the Messiah, the Word of God, the Truth of God, the Spirit from God.

Jesus was taken to heaven and is alive now.

Jesus is returning to judge and rule the world as its king, doing away with all evil.

I think the agreements within these two lists provide a strong foundation for Christians and Muslims to be friends and dialogue partners. There have been many close friendships between Muslims and Christians down through the centuries, including in Muhammad’s generation.

Jesus once said: “Blessed be the peacemakers”

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Etic not just Emic

Etic and emic are words that come to us from cultural anthropology. Emic views of a situation are from within, from inside the worldview of a particular culture, an intimate view. Etic views are those from outside, attempting to understand through comparison across many cultures. A big picture view.  

Most of us automatically think in emic categories – from within the culture or subgroup we belong to. Like all humans, I of course view things emic-ly, but you can also develop the habit of taking the etic view as well. So, for instance, when my college-age son once asked me “What do you think of tongues?”[1] Although I responded with all kinds of emic insider observations, my first reaction was etic: “Well, ecstatic mystical experiences show up in all the world religions. It’s something humans do. A certain portion of people find that to be a central component of their spiritual experience, others don’t seem wired that way.”  Or another, more nerdy, example: when asked recently to list ten things about myself, my first response was as etic as I could draw: “I am a biological creature, created by God, living in the Sol System of the Milky Way galaxy.” I probably should have said something about carbon-based or oxygen.

Viewing things from an etic perspective can help bring a wider perspective and break us out of narrow paradigms which are parochial and don’t take the big picture reality into account. We often emic-ly assume something has a theological raison d’etre when worldwide studies show it to have more of a cultural one. The fact that two of my graduate degrees had healthy doses of cultural anthropology  certainly helps me be aware of etic realities.  Cross-disciplinary reading is also very valuable in this arena. If you only read within one realm (say, Christian theology, or even a substrata of that), you often get caught drawing emic conclusions which are woefully lacking in awareness of etic realities staring you in the face. Some of the completely ignorant, and laughable if it weren’t so egregious, comments made by Christians regarding Islam are a common example these days. Understanding some of the practices in the Old Testament over three thousand years ago are another. Reading across the social sciences, hard sciences, and history, help protect us from embarrassing emic limitations.


[1] “Tongues” is an emic Christian word referring to the experience of glossalia. There are a variety of opinions on the subject from within Christianity.