Christianity Today magazine recently reported that Wheaton College, an evangelical university in Illinois, has suspended political science professor Larycia Hawkins after she made statements that “Muslims & Christians worship the same God.” Professor Hawkins raised eyebrows on campus a few weeks ago when she adorned herself with the Islamic “hijab,” as an expression of solidarity with Muslims across the world. But it was her “same God” comments that motivated school officials to place her on administrative leave, pending a review of her statements in view of Wheaton’s statement of faith that all faculty must sign.
Wheaton College made a good decision here, and let me explain why. In view of the recent excellent series on “Basic Islam” (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5) by my Veracity blogging colleague, John Paine, it might be good to revisit why John’s interest in Islam is so timely and important. The question of whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the “same God” is complicated. It is sort of like asking whether or not someone likes the game of “football.” For most Americans, this means a game involving helmets, shoulder pads, and touchdowns. But for the rest of the world, “football” means nets, headers, and penalty kicks; that is, the game of soccer. So, it all depends on what you mean by the question.
For example, Professor Hawkins states that both Muslims and Christians are “people of the book,” assumedly the Bible. In a sense, this is true. But the problem is that Muslims and Christians have very different views of the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian New Testament. Christians believe the Bible we have now is the very Word of God, whereas Muslims believe that the current Christian Bible is terribly corrupted. Are these different assessments of “the book” not contradictory with one another? In one sense, Christian and Muslims both agree that the Bible testifies to the one “God of Abraham,” but they disagree as to what correctly represents the revelatory content of that Bible.
Professor Hawkins is evidently responding to various, unnecessarily Islamaphobic statements being propagated among the American media in the weeks following recent terrorist attacks in 2015. Sadly, many Christians are giving into an ethic of fear, when the Bible makes it clear that the perfect love of Christ casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). However, going to the opposite extreme only confuses matters. A lot more nuance is required before a professor representing a Christian college issues a blanket Facebook post stating that we all “worship the same God.” For a balanced view of what lies behind the recent controversy, I would encourage Veracity readers to digest Scot McKnight’s recent blog post at Jesus Creed.
As fellow human beings, we must learn to live peacefully in a pluralistic society with our neighbors who embrace very different perspectives of who “God” is. We must receive even the Muslims as our neighbors, and love them just as Jesus loves them. To this point, I hope professor Hawkins is able to make her case clear to the community at Wheaton College and eventually return back to her teaching position. But we must not sweep the differences between Christians and Muslims underneath the rug and treat them trivially.
In an age when doors to missions among most Islamic countries remain closed, American Christians have only recently encountered an incredible opportunity to share their faith. Many Muslims, including refugees from Syria, are making their way to the United States, living in our towns and neighborhoods. You do not need to go overseas to become a missionary to Muslims when Muslims are living next door to you, working in your company, or attending classes with you in your school. We betray the Great Commission of our Lord if we turn a blind eye to developing relationships with these neighbors for the sake of the Gospel. Some say that within the last ten years, more Muslims have come to faith in Christ than in the previous fifteen centuries. The fields are ripe for the harvest.
I have friends who are Muslim, and they are truly wonderful people. Frankly, there are times where I would much rather hang out with some of my Muslim friends, than others who proudly deny the values shared by both Muslims and Christians, in favor of a godless materialism. Nevertheless, like with anyone else on planet earth, every Muslim needs to hear about Jesus: but not only my Muslim friends, but everyone who is my neighbor.
Let us not get muddled over questions that lead us towards a sound bite theology. Make it point to learn something about Islam. Read John Paine’s blog posts for starters! Go out of your way to introduce yourself to a Muslim and get to know them as a friend. Pray for the opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus with others and be obedient. Love your neighbor.
We all need the Gospel. We all need Jesus, Christians and Muslim and everyone else alike.
UPDATE: 12/22/15 See updates on the situation at Wheaton College here.
December 18th, 2015 at 3:09 am
St. Paul proclaimed the identity of “the unknown God” to the Athenians. We must start with common ground, not with differences, if we want to be heard. The 99 names for God affirmed by Muslims all apply to the incarnate God. The greater difference is that we are people of the Incarnate Word more than we are people of the Book.
December 18th, 2015 at 8:35 am
Mary, great point. Thank you for sharing your wisdom on this. I made a small change to my post, that hopefully comes closer to what you are aiming at.
In the Christianity Today article (I fixed the link), Professor Hawkins cites a comment from Pope Francis that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” It is too bad that the press does not represent these quotes within the context from where they were made. The Catholic Catechism has a similar statement, which is probably what the Pope was referring to, and many Christians reject it out of hand. But once you understand the historical and theological context from which it was made, it makes a lot more sense. I address it in general in my blog series on “religious pluralism,” but particularly at the end of the last post (I would not normally promote Robert Spencer here, but he seems to me to be right on this one):
As for Professor Hawkins, I sincerely hope she has the opportunity to clarify her views and get reinstated, if indeed her position is in alignment with Wheaton’s statement of faith. She garners her support from Miroslav Volf, who formerly taught at Fuller Seminary before going to Yale (I never had a class with him), and I found some of his writings on the topic to be very educational, but at the same time to be a bit confusing. That’s why I urge people to read Scot McKnight’s interaction with Volf in the Jesus Creed blog post I linked to from my Veracity post.