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.