One God—but not interpreted through Jesus.

Not every monotheist is Christian, y’know.

Monotheist /'mɑn.ə'θi.ɪst/ adj. Believes there’s only one god.
2. Believes there are various beings known as “gods,” but only one mighty enough, or worthy enough, of the designation and worship.
[Monotheism /'mɑn.ə'θi.ən.ɪz.əm/ n., monotheistic /'mɑn.ə'θi.ən.ɪst.ɪk/ adj.]

Whenever Christian teachers talked about unitarians—people who don’t believe God’s a trinity—they assumed they were dealing with Christianity-based heresies of one kind or another. Like Arians or modalists.

In the United States, that might’ve been true in the past, back when the population was predominantly European, and somewhat biblically literate. Ain’t the case anymore. Hasn’t been for decades. Christian teachers need to get with the times.

Most of the pagans I encounter are unitarian. They do believe in God, in one form or another. They might’ve had contact with Christians (but don’t count on it), and some of our religious beliefs might’ve rubbed off on them. Nonetheless pick and choose their own beliefs based on whether they sound cool, practical, or reasonable. For them, the trinity’s too much of a paradox, so they dismiss it. They might like Jesus, but won’t believe he’s God, and they don’t know what the Holy Spirit is, much less that he’s a person. They’re not entirely sure the Father’s a person for that matter (or “the Mother,” for those pagans with gender hangups). They might believe God’s a semi-conscious universe; they’re not quite pantheists yet.

And pagans, who don’t do organized religion, aren’t the only non-Christians out there. Don’t forget the folks who do organized religion: The Jews, the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Bahai, and certain Hindu sects who aren’t pantheist. Their teachers and gurus have taught them various things about God. But trinitarianism isn’t one of ’em.

Because these religions aren’t Christian, we can’t technically call them heretic. A heretic is someone who violates the orthodox beliefs of their own religion, and theyn’t of our religions. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Islam are mighty similar to ours, so sometimes Christians’ll incorrectly call them heretic: Right God, completely wrong ideas. But they’re depicting their own religion accurately. (That is, unless they’re not; unless they’re Jewish or Muslim heretics. But that’s a whole other discussion.)

So within these other monotheistic religions, they’ll object to trinity because they feel it’s hardly proper monotheism to say God is three. That, they insist, is polytheism. Tritheism. Like the Latter-day Saints, who straight-up worship three gods. That’s why they don’t call themselves unitarian, though they are: To them of course a monotheist is unitarian. And we’re not monotheist, because even though we insist God is One, we keep also insisting he’s three. Our paradox keeps getting in their way.

The Abrahamic monotheists.

There are many religions descended from Abraham’s relationship with God. The largest three, in order of adherents, are Christianity (2.4 billion), Islam (1.8 billion), and Judaism (17 million). There are others: Bahai (7 million), Druze (1 million), Rastafarians (1 million), and Samaritans (about 700). But usually folks are speaking of the largest three.

And the Jews and Muslims are usually the ones we Christians argue with most. Where I live in California, I tend to encounter pagans most often; Jews and Muslims less so, but enough for them to be statistically relevant. (And twice, Rastafarians—but they were too stoned for their theology talk to make any sense, so we didn’t go far. I wonder whether weed isn’t largely their defense mechanism against Christian apologists. But I digress.)

Judaism and Christianity both descended from the original Hebrew religion of Yahwism, the worship of the LORD as defined through his relationships with Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. The route we Christians took was through Jesus, but Judaism evolved through the Pharisees. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70, the Pharisees and Christians were the only Yahwist sects left, and we evolved into our own religions.

Judaism took the Mishna, a second-century collection of rulings and teachings of the Pharisee rabbis, and made them their primary way to interpret the Law. Later they wrote the Gemara, a commentary on the Mishna—really two of them, one from Jerusalem in the 300s, and one from Babylon in the 500s. Both Mishna and the Babylonian Gemara make up the Talmud. Add various traditions taught by the medieval rabbis, and you have today’s Judaism.

Islam began with Muhammed ibn Abdullah of Mecca, a trader in the 600s who interacted with both Jews and Christians, wasn’t sure which of us was correct, so he sought his own visions, which sent him a whole other direction. He was commanded by an angel (he claimed it was Gabriel; Christians doubt this) to write down his revelations, which became the Quran. Add the sunnah, or traditions about Muhammad, and you have the main texts of Islam.

Muhummad’s revelations about the bible are just a bit different from the Jewish and Christian stories. Fr’instance Abraham tried to sacrifice Ishmael, not Isaac. Or Jesus didn’t die on the cross; he switched places with Judas Iscariot at the last minute. Hence bible references are kinda lost on Muslims, who figure the Quran is correct and our bibles are corrupt.

There are other significant differences, but what all three Abrahamic faiths have in common is God’s almightiness, grace, sanctification, and of course monotheism.

But for Christians, our monotheism includes the idea God is three. For Muslims (and some Jews), Jesus is a prophet and nothing more. The Holy Spirit is God, but not a separate person. The trinity means three gods, not one. We can try to convince them otherwise, but they’re adamant about God’s oneness.

And I can’t blame them for it; God’s pretty adamant about it too. The only way you’d really be convinced otherwise is a God-experience where the Holy Spirit shows you otherwise, and thankfully God still does that.

“Wait. Allah’s not God.”

Muhammad believed angels gave him revelations from God. By which he meant the very same God of the Hebrew traditions—YHWH, the LORD, the God of Abraham, Ishmael, Moses, and Jesus. Though Muhammad didn’t refer to God as YHWH: He only called him God, which in Arabic is of course Allah. But clearly he meant to identify Allah as YHWH.

Now this statement, “Allah is YHWH,” is gonna strike many people as utterly blasphemous. ’Cause to their minds, Allah is so not the LORD. Allah’s a different god altogether.

Why do they say this? Bluntly, prejudice.

They’re Christians or Jews who don’t approve of Islam. (And sometimes Muslims who don’t approve of Jews or Christians.) They wanna see their deity as the one true God, and the other guys’ deity isn’t just a wrong idea of the One God, but a whole other false god. A demon, an evil spirit playing God.

Here’s the problem with leaping to that conclusion: Is this what we believe about the God of every other religion, or every heretic Christian? Every single incorrect interpretation of God is in fact a fake god? What about when fellow Christians get God wrong? ’Cause every single one of us does, from time to time. Every time I make a wrong assumption about God, it means I’ve ditched him and embraced idolatry? That can’t be right.

And it’s not at all what the scriptures depict. When people got God wrong, he sent ’em prophets to teach ’em otherwise. When the Pharisees got God wrong, Jesus didn’t denounce them as following another God, but the right God in the wrong way.

Heck, when Paul encountered the Athenians, who worshiped all sorts of gods, he took the tack that at least one of the gods in their pantheon was the right guy:

Acts 17.22-31
22 Standing in the middle of the Areopágos, Paul said,
“Athenians, from everything I’ve see, you’re very god- and demon-fearing.
23 For as I passed through the city and looked closely at your shrines,
I found an altar which was inscribed, ‘To God-Not-Known.’
So you worship him!… ignorantly. Well, I’ll proclaim him to you.
24 God is creator of the universe and everything in it.
He’s the master and possessor of heaven and earth.
He doesn’t live in handmade temples, 25 nor do human hands serve him.
Nor does he need anything. He gives life and breath to everything.
26 Out of one human, God made every human ethnicity dwelling upon all the face of the earth,
marking out placements, times, and borders of their nation,
27 to get them to seek God: Perhaps they’d sense him, and find him.
Really, he exists not far from every one of us.
28 ‘We live, move, and exist in him,’ Epimenides, Kritiká as one of your poets even said.
‘We’re his descendants too.’ ” Aratus, Fainómena
29 Since we’re God’s family, we don’t have to believe in gold or silver or stone,
stamped by craftsmen, esteemed by people to be divine images.
30 God really didn’t care for that ignorant behavior in the past.
So now, he commands every person, everywhere, to turn away from it:
31 He set a date when he, through the man he chose, will rightly judge society.
To prove it to everyone, he resurrected this man from the dead.”

And while Muslims don’t believe Jesus even died, much less was raised from the dead, they do believe Jesus is returning to judge the world. Same as we.

One of the fascinating things missionaries and anthropologists regularly discover about polytheists: Though they worship multiple gods, all of ’em know there’s a greatest god. Not necessarily the king of their gods, like Ra, Zeus or Odin: One higher than these gods. One above any of the gods they worship, who’s behind everything, who created the heavens and earth. In the bible, pagans call him “the Most High.” Da 3.26, 4.25 Every culture has a concept of this Highest God. They just don’t always talk about him: They don’t know anything about him, think he’s beyond them, and they’re too busy worshiping lesser gods. But they know he exists.

Now, is this common belief in a Highest God a trick of the devil, in order to get people to worship that god instead of the One God? Or is the Highest God none other than the One God?

Well, if you’re to believe the folks who insist Allah’s not God, they’re just another devil in these pagans’ pantheons. But it’s not at all what Paul taught. Paul told the Athenians this Highest God was his God, the Father of Jesus. They didn’t know this God; they believed wrongly about him; Paul was here to fix their false beliefs. Right God, wrong ideas.

And that’s what Islam is. Right God, wrong ideas. The Muslims are entirely correct when they say there’s no God but Allah. Where they go wrong is Muhammad didn’t describe him accurately: Allah does so have a son. Namely Jesus.

The world isn’t filled with thousands of gods, trying to trick humanity into worshiping them instead of the LORD. There’s one God, over all—and billions of wrong beliefs about him. These wrong beliefs are gonna drive wedges between people and God, and sometimes lead them to other gods. So we need to help them, and God, knock the wedges out of the way by introducing them to Jesus, the only one who can wholly straighten us out of those false beliefs.

Talking ’em into trinitarianism.

Back to the pagans, and the people whose religions tell ’em there’s one god, but they haven’t associated that god with the LORD, the Father of Jesus.

Same as with the Muslims, I tend to believe most of the time we’re still talking about the right God, but wrong ideas. Although sometimes their beliefs are so out there, I have my doubts. The pagans who refer to God as “the universe,” fr’instance: I’m not entirely sure they mean God.

When we’re dealing with these folks—and Jews and Muslims, but particularly the non-Abrahamic monotheists—we gotta bear in mind we’re dealing with people who are far afield from our traditions. It’s one thing to discuss bible with a Christian heretic. It’s another to talk bible with someone who neither considers Genesis nor John to be authoritative. Or thinks the Talmud is the only way to properly understand Genesis; or that the Quran supersedes both of them. Or thinks the various ideas of Eckhart Tolle or Deepak Chopra or Marianne Williamson supersedes all.

So if you’re hoping to defend the trinity to your pagan, Jewish, or Muslim friends by quoting bible at them, forget it. Not gonna happen. They need a God-experience. Start praying he give them one. Then they’ll have a billion questions—and you can point ’em to Jesus, who has the answers.