As the son of Reverend Billy Graham, perhaps the most influential Christian evangelist in the twentieth century, as the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse, and as a very influential spokesman for conservative American Christianity, the views that the Reverend Franklin Graham holds about Islam are both reflective of and a significant influence in those of a broad swath of American public opinion. It is therefore important that what he says on the topic be examined carefully. In the present post and in the one to follow, I will be looking at what he had to say in an article, “My View of Islam,” originally published in the Wall Street Journal and reprinted in The Covenant News, at: http://www.covenantnews.com/graham.htm.
In the present post I briefly draw attention to his understanding of the “god” of Islam. In the next post, shifting from theology to ethics, I plan to take a look at his understanding of the “Islamic teaching” which he sees in “My View of Islam” as having as its “result” the commission of the “terrible deeds” associated with terrorism, the treatment of women, and the treatment of religious minorities.
Graham begins “My View of Islam” by telling us that some of his “recent statements” on Islam have been “greatly misunderstood.”
Some of my recent statements, interpreted as critical of Islam, have been widely reported. I believe I’ve been greatly misunderstood, and I’d like to paint a more complete picture.
He begins with a forthright confession of the basis of his Christian faith.
I should start by saying that I am an evangelist and chief executive of two large Christian organizations. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God. I believe in Jesus’ statement: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Christians accept this as the only way to God.
And so while I respect the rights of all people to adopt their own beliefs, I would respectfully disagree with any religion that teaches people to put their faith in other gods. As a Christian minister, my calling is to proclaim the God of the Christian faith, whose son Jesus Christ died for the sins of all mankind.
He has therein given quiet statement to the view that, as I’ll put it, “the god of Islam is not the God of Christianity.” That is, Graham, we must assume, believes both that there is one and only one God and that “the God of the Christian faith” is that one God; he certainly does not believe that “the God of the Christian faith” is but one God among many. From this, given also his assumption that the “god” of Islam is not identical with “the God of the Christian faith,” it follows first that the “god” of Islam is not identical with the one God and next that the “god” of Islam is no God at all.
It should then be small wonder that “[s]ome of [his] recent statements” have been “interpreted as critical of Islam.”
Is Graham or any orthodox Christian in any position to deny that Islam and Christianity have the same God in common? After all, both have in mind a reality, however else variously understood, that is the creator of everything else and that is perfect in knowledge, in love and will, and in power.
Perhaps the best that one can offer as a reason for a Christian to deny the identity of the Christian and the Islamic God is that the Christian, recognizing God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as three divine persons, believes that the one God is also a triune God. This Islam denies.
If this, however, is a sufficient reason for a Christian to deny that Islam and Christianity have the same God in common, then it is also a sufficient reason for a Christian to deny that Judaism and Christianity have the same God in common. Judaism, like Islam, denies that the one God is also a triune God. But no orthodox Christian has ever denied that Judaism and Christianity have the same God in common (though some non-orthodox Christians have).
Graham, I am sure, is prepared to see that the pertinent difference between Judaism and Christianity is not that the “god” of Judaism is no God at all, but rather that Judaism has an understanding of at least some aspects of the God worshipped by Jews and Christians alike that differs from the Christian understanding. Should he not then also be prepared to see that the pertinent difference between Islam and Christianity is not that the “god” of Islam is no God at all, but rather that Islam has an understanding of at least some aspects of the God worshipped by Muslims and Christians alike that differs from the Christian understanding.