The suspension of Wheaton College professor, Larycia Hawkins, in response to her “same God” comments about whom Muslims and Christians worship, has reignited a long-standing controversy within the church. Yes, on the one hand, theological clarity is at stake, but at the same time, having a measure of wisdom, that emphasizes shared values as a starting point in developing relationships of trust in the midst of cultural tensions, is just as important. Jesus never compromised on the truth, but He never compromised on His love for those who need salvation either.
Here is a great example: When Jesus met the woman at the well in Samaria in John 4, He was quite clear in saying that Samaritan theology did not line up exactly with traditional Jewish belief. The Samaritans (still) worship God, believing that Mount Gerizm is the proper place for such worship. Traditional Jewry has always focused on the Temple in Jerusalem instead. Jews would purposely avoid Samaritan lands because of the latter’s heterodoxy. But notice how Jesus, who purposely passes through Samaria, approaches the woman:
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”(John 4:21-24 ESV).
I just do not see Jesus falling for the modern, popular tendency for the “sound-bite” theologies of the politically-correct: “Samaritans and Jews worship the same God,” nor the opposite, bigotry-sounding to some, in this day and age: “Samaritans and Jews do not worship the same God.” Instead, Jesus proclaimed the truth, but he did it in a way of great wisdom that built a relationship of trust with this woman, and she recognized Jesus at the Messiah.
If only some of our Christian leaders and theologians on both sides of issues like this were to show such restraint and wisdom. You can be theologically correct and still miss an opportunity to demonstrate love and solidarity with those, like the Syrian refugees, who are marginalized, for the sake of the Gospel. Likewise, on the other side, one need not resort to confusing or misleading theological statements for the sake of avoiding the appearance of bigotry. For the most part, I will leave it to the reader to make such judgments as appropriate (for the content linked below).
So, do Jews and Samaritans worship the same God? How about Christians and Jews? Do they both worship the same God? What does one mean by the “same” God? These questions are not so easy to answer. No matter what your “take” on all of this is, we should probably take our cue from Jesus as to how we approach the current debate over whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the “same” God.
- The latest story about Professor Hawkins from the Chicago Tribune.
- The theological head of the Southern Baptists, Al Mohler, responds to the controversy at Wheaton College.
- Miroslav Volf, the author of Allah, A Christian Response, and the Yale theologian who professor Hawkins appealed to for support, wrote the following editorial for the Washington Post. Volf grew up in a religiously mixed society, in his native Croatia.
- Roanoke College’s Gerald McDermott, blogger at the Northampton Seminar, critiques Volf’s argument.
- Miroslav Volf speaks at Wheaton College in 2011, summarizing the main argument from Allah, A Christian Response. While I am very sympathetic to Volf’s purposes, I found his retelling of the Crusade sack of Jerusalem versus Saladin’s capture of the Holy City to be historically problematic, a sign that illustrates other problems in his theological framework. It is no wonder that professor Hawkins finds herself caught up defending a sophisticated, nobly hopeful, yet still somewhat confused, narrative. I also recommend Dr. Imad Shehadeh’s review of Volf’s book. (Nevertheless, I HIGHLY agree with Volf that read as literature, William P. Young’s The Shack, might be helpful, but when read as theology, the book is nothing but pure heresy).
- A Common Word. The 2007 (and on-going) attempt to promote dialogue between Christian and Muslim leaders. Some Christian leaders have endorsed A Common Word, whereas others have rejected it.
- UPDATE: 12/23/15. Peter Leithart at FirstThings sounds a theological note contra Miroslav Volf.
- It appears that Professor Hawkins and Wheaton College have some ground to cross before an amicable solution can be reached, if possible. From the sound of Wheaton College’s latest statement, there is a communication gap between the two parties, and the involvement of the secular media has complicated matters. Theological discussion is hard work, folks.
December 26th, 2015 at 11:48 pm
Carl Medearis, whom I have talked about before on Veracity, has some good points to make. Like me, Carl believes that the question of “do Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” is really a bad question. But he goes onto say that historically speaking, Christians and Muslims have the same being in mind, even though they think about this God differently. Whether you agree or disagree, Carl’s point of view is worth thinking about and discussing!!
You might want to take some time to watch these two videos Carl did a few years ago after he wrote a couple of books on Christian outreach to Muslims:
December 27th, 2015 at 11:22 am
Nabeel Qureshi’s recent post is also worth considering.
Regarding the last bullet point in the main post above, that same Wheaton Media Center page has links to other statements by the college on the controversy, including a Q&A. It’s interesting how open the school is trying to be about its position and conversations with Dr. Hawkins while attempting to do so in a respectful way. This is not an easy thing to do in such a situation.
January 4th, 2016 at 7:27 am
Alan Jacobs, English professor at Baylor University, ran across this gem from C.S. Lewis.
January 4th, 2016 at 1:49 pm
Interestingly, Alan Jacobs came out with this today…. on the dangers of using social media, as in the Larycia Hawkins case, and why he is scaling back:
January 7th, 2016 at 5:44 pm
Larycia Hawkins’ “Theological Statement” at first glance appears to be fairly consistent with the statement of faith at Wheaton, but I still can see why some of her statements are confusing.
For example, she considers Muslims to be her “brothers and sisters,” but she bases that on the doctrine of our common humanity as founded by the Genesis teaching on Adam and Eve. I would not have put it that way, as her statement ignores the New Testament teaching that only those who are “in Christ” are truly our “brothers and sisters.” I get where she is coming from, and while this statement clarifies things better than her Facebook posts, it still lacks some necessary theological precision. So, I can see why the folks at Wheaton still want further clarification.
But based on some of the things she said at the following press conference, I am not fully convinced that she really wants to stay at Wheaton. At the same time, it is still confusing to me as to what Wheaton is really looking for either. It appears that professor Hawkins and the Wheaton College administration are like two ships passing in the night. I do not know who is advising her, but this type of rhetorical rally is not healing the breach. There is still a major communication breakdown between Wheaton and professor Hawkins. At this point, I am not convinced that it will get resolved.
January 26th, 2016 at 10:41 pm
A roundup of more on the Larycia Hawkins controversy at Wheaton…
Wheaton’s faculty council believes the professor should be reinstated, that her theological views adhere to the College’s statement of faith:
Old Testament scholar Pete Enns, who is no stranger to controversy himself, has become convinced that Hawkins’ situation is really about her views concerning evolution. I, for one, think that Enns may have a point here:
Dallas Seminary professor Darrel Bock, who sits on Wheaton’s board of trustees, says that what has stalled the situation at Wheaton is that Hawkins has “stopped talking,” impeding progress towards a solution:
January 30th, 2016 at 9:07 am
Robert Tracy McKenzie, a faculty member at Wheaton College, fascinating historian, and one of my favorites here at Veracity, has a very eye-opening commentary about the real situation at Wheaton College vs. the secular media’s portrayal of what is going on there. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED READING:
February 11th, 2016 at 12:06 pm
It appears that both Wheaton College and professor Hawkins have mutually agreed to part ways:
October 18th, 2016 at 5:51 pm
New York Times Magazine article by a former evangelical, former Wheaton student who recently interview Larycia Hawkins, nearly a year later: