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.