In early December of last year I had the good fortune to speak at Wheaton College. The invitation to do so came from my friend, Vince Bacote. Vince teaches there and heads up the Center for Applied Ethics. It was one of those ideal teaching trips: terrific students, wonderful time catching up with Vince, great accommodations, and ample down time to explore what the area has to offer.
About a week after I got back home the brouhaha broke over the Facebook comments posted by Professor Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College, especially these: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
Like all who teach at Wheaton College, Professor Hawkins signed the statement of faith. Here is Wheaton’s statement of faith with respect to monotheism:
WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life; and we believe that God created the Heavens and the earth out of nothing by His spoken word, and for His own glory.
The issue at hand is what implications flow from that statement of faith. In what way(s), if any, is the Christian God the same as the Muslim God? Much ink has been spilled parsing the word “same.” For the record, I side with the reflections Scot offered here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/12/16/the-same-god-12/.
This debate got me thinking afresh about doctrinal statements. I taught for four years at a classical, Christian school. In their statement of faith mention was made that the Holy Spirit is integral to salvation. As the school expanded new teachers signed the statement of faith, but had no idea what the decidedly Calvinist drafters meant by it. The drafters of the statement believed the Holy Spirit could not be resisted, a particular doctrinal implication they thought was crystal clear from what they had written. To say the least, others disagreed! Which brings me back to Wheaton College.
Perhaps it would be wise to unpack a few significant implications which are understood by the drafters to inhere in church and school doctrinal statements. It would not have to be terribly long. Further clarification in adding a few “What we mean by this is…” seems like it would prevent some of the controversies we now see being played out at Wheaton College.
Since it seems likely that Wheaton’s current challenges will not be unique among Christian institutions, others may also need to consider adding a few lines of clarification to their doctrinal statements.
I agree with you, Dave, that at this point, it appears that ‘terms’ need to be clarified when an institution creates a ‘statement of faith.’ I have found the same to be true when I engage in conversation with individuals in the public square. Though two people may agree on the need to believe in ‘one true God,’ it is the definition of who that God is. Jesus and Who He is becomes the dividing line. The same is true whether the discussion is with a Mormon or with a Muslim.
I am not an intellectual; however, I do know that I must know my God and Who He is through Scripture. He is defined there though NOT in one verse. The ‘god’ worshipped by a follower of the Koran is not the same God worshipped by a follower of Jesus Christ because the two are NOT compatible. It is okay not to be inclusive because the God of the Bible is NOT inclusive.
To propose that Allah is the same as triune Yahweh is absurd. They are not the same whether it be in “ousia” or any other way that one seeks to find compatibility. When one proposes such a statement and applies it to the Godhead they cross the lines of heterodoxy and clearly land with both feet in heresy.
Sadly many people who lack sound biblical literacy and sound discernment for issues like this find themselves in Christian leadership positions – whether that be in an institution for higher learning or in a local church.
My encouragement to those who read about this is that they seek out someone who does know their doctrine and receive solid discipleship from them… and if you do know your doctrine, it is time to invest in someone else as they learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
This event at Wheaton is possibly a very good thing for the Church. The clarification Moore suggests here seem similar to what instigated the early church councils, where the depth and impliications of doctrine was further explored and explained. The councils were necessary because of challenges to theology that was not systematically treated. The end result was a clearer definition of the truth that already was. We have been able to assume some things about the oneness of God at the popular level, but now the question is being treated beyond the academy in new, fresh, highly visible ways. May this event result in the clarity of the Triune God, distinct from other proper theologies, and yet still mysterious in essence.
*my apologies for bad grammar – let me blame the use of a mobile device – you’ll never know any different*
I have mixed feelings regarding doctrinal statements in that, as someone has said, “Creeds manage to say at the same time both more and less than the Bible says.”
I agree that precise definition is needed to exclude heretical teachings in the church or seminary, but there have also been occasions of witch hunts conducted because someone did not tow the exact doctrinal line as defined and understood by others.
This is one of those issues in which we need to be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves.
P.S. Colby, you can’t fool me.
Great thoughts Dave. And great thoughts JonDavies. Do you think the “need to unpack” or “further explain” come with the creep if post modern thought?
I think the issue is the not the identifying name of God, but rather the true ontological stasis of which being each religion is worshiping. I get the whole, “Allah being the only name for God in Arabic” but that does not mean Muslims worship the same God as Christians and the Jews. What a perfect argument Satan has crafted. This is not American antipathy toward Islam but rather a post… I mean late modern view of the three big religions. It’s an attempt to say “Can’t we all get along”.
Thanks for stopping by!
Like Tim Keller I prefer “Late Modern” to “Postmodern,” but I digress a bit.
Unpacking doctrine’s implications is a 2000 year old endeavor.
It will be interesting to see how this controversy ends and the rationale given for the decision.
Great comments. For a few more good points regarding this topic, please see
Thanks for the RZIM link Dave! A good addition to the discussion.