It started with a hijab during Advent, and ends with a foundational lesson in the Trinity.
Larycia Hawkins, a professor of Politics and International Relations at Wheaton, decided to wear a hijab to her classes. She explained on Facebook that she did this as part of her “advent worship” in order to demonstrate that she:
“Stand[s] 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.”
In addition to her strange identification of Christians as “people of the book” (which is an Islamic category), her expression of solidarity with Muslims was poorly timed, to say the least.
For many Middle Eastern Christians, the hijab represents the brutal oppression of women by Muslims. Moreover, in much of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and Libya, this was the first Christmas season in 2000 years without Christians to celebrate it. Islamic terrorists (who require women to wear a hijab by law) have essentially eliminated churches through much of the Middle East. So from the comfort and safety of Illinois, an American Professor publically showed “solidarity” with those who are slaughtering Christians by wearing a symbol of Islamic female suppression.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey has a helpful summary of what happened next, but the gist is this:
Wheaton was unpersuaded by Hawkins’ appeal to Papal authority—the good news is that apparently there are some evangelicals that remain Protestant—and the administration responded by asking her what, exactly, she meant by saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
Hawkins essentially declined to elaborate, saying “I don’t want to be subjected to a theological inquisition.” Instead she held a press conference where—and somethings you can’t make up—she was flanked by Jesse Jackson as well as a handful of liberal, female, clergy.
Wheaton then moved to terminate her employment, which required notification to the Illinois Department of Education. But a few weeks later, Wheaton’s faculty revolted and their faculty council unanimously (!) voted to oppose her termination.
Where does that leave Wheaton? Well, Wheaton’s president is Phil Ryken, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church. In fact, Ryken came to Tenth Pres when James Montgomery Boice was the pastor, and before him was Donald Grey Barnhouse. In other words, Ryken understands that Christians worship a triune God—a concept that Muslims find blasphemous.
Ryken now has to figure out how Wheaton managed to get to the point where the Trinity has to be re-litigated, and where his faculty council unanimously objects to him terminating someone who does not find it essential to understanding God.
For those of us without a connection to Wheaton, what are we to make of this? Here are three theological take-aways from the Stertorious showdown:
- Catholics do indeed say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
The Second Vatican Council declared that Muslims profess “to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God.” Later: “Muslims worship God, who is one, the Creator of heaven and earth,” and said that the “Muslim religion” is “deserving of our admiration for all that is good and true in the worship of God.”
So when Hawkins said that Catholics teach that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, she is correct. When they declare that Muslims share the same faith as Abraham, it is helpful for Protestants to remember that our divide with Catholics is over this exact issue. Their understanding of Abraham’s faith is skewed, and so of course they would see a connection to the faith of Muslims.
- If you don’t worship Jesus, you don’t worship Yahweh
Jesus himself said that to know the Father is to know Jesus, and that if you don’t worship Jesus, you are in fact guilty of rejecting the Father as well (John 8:19, 28, 10:15, 38, 12:50, 14:7-10, 20, 31, 17:25).
In other words, before the coming of Christ, there were those who worshiped Yahweh who did not yet know about the Messiah. But ever since Jesus came to earth, that group of people has ceased to exist. Now, anyone who says that they know the creator God, but does not know Jesus, is deceived. Or, to say it positively, anyone who knows the God of Abraham also knows the God-man, Jesus.
This is precisely why Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders that they did not, in fact, know God:
“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19).
And if Jesus said that the Jews don’t worship the same God as Christians, then certainly Muslims do not either.
- The Trinity is a big deal
Christians are obviously mono-theistic. But our God is, by his very nature, different than the God of Islam. Yahweh is a savior by nature (Isaiah 45:21; Hos 13:4). Our God became a man. Our God is knowable (Exodus 6:7), and he is knowable in the person of Jesus, as revealed by the Holy Scriptures (not “the book”).
Both the revelation of Jesus, and the revelation about Jesus in Scripture speak of the triune nature of God. He reveals himself in his son, and he testifies of himself by his Spirit. Wheaton’s own statement of faith puts it this way:
“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.”
In other words, we know the Father because of the Son, and we know the Son because of the Spirit. The three are One God, and thus if you reject one of the trinity, you reject them all.
This is foundational to Christianity, and it remains to be seen what will happen at Wheaton if this becomes negotiable.