Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
As posted a few weeks ago, I am following the story of Alycia Hawkins, who was placed on administrative leave by Wheaton College in December. Last week, Wheaton announced that it is now seeking to initiate “Termination-For-Cause” Proceedings regarding Dr. Hawkins. Wheaton claims that it is simply adhering to its “statement of faith;” Time.com recently posted an article suggesting that Wheaton’s decision has more to do with public relations than with fidelity to Christian faith.
I’m disappointed with Wheaton’s statement – or, rather, by its lack of public response to the position laid out by Dr. Hawkins. It is OK for Evangelicals to disagree, but Wheaton is taking a drastic step, and thus has a fundamental responsibility to clarify a position which seems at odds with common sense. If people believe that there is one God and only one God in the universe, and they believe that the Old Testament speaks about him, then how can anyone plausibly argue that a person who deliberately tries to pray to the only God, is, in fact, praying to someone else?
The fact that Muslim do not share the beliefs listed in Wheaton’s “Statement of Faith” does not necessarily mean that Muslims are praying to someone else. The New Testament never claims that non-Christian monotheists are, in effect, praying to some other God. The New Testament teaches that such individuals have incorrect ideas about God. We might even argue that God might not or will not choose to listen to such people. But is there any biblical basis for arguing that people who deliberately look to the God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, are not actually praying to Him?
Wheaton’s rationale applies not only to Islam, but to many other faiths, including Mormonism and Judaism. Is Wheaton ready to say that Mormons and Jews also worship a different God? And how might this affect Wheaton’s reading of the Old Testament? A plain reading suggests that Abraham and Moses also did not subscribe to Wheaton’s statement of faith, including belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and also God Himself, at once human and divine. Does this mean that Abraham and Moses also did not worship the Christian God? Jewish people today strive to believe what the Old Testament says that Abraham and Moses believed. Will Wheaton say that Jewish people worship some god other than the God of Abraham?
The Qur’an describes the one, monotheistic God as the God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. When the devout Muslim prays, he is seeking this God – just as the devout Jew also looks to the God of Abraham and Moses. Neither holds to the “core of our faith,” as Wheaton puts it. Instead, both Jews and Muslims appear to believe the same things about God that Abraham and Moses also believed, as taught in the Old Testament – that God is one God, all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly loving and just, merciful toward sinners, capable of wrath toward the unrepentant.
It is easy to see why Wheaton might choose to avoid thorny questions like these. Frankly, in modern America, it is much, much safer to claim that Muslims worship a different god than to say the same about Jews and Mormons. But simply doing what is safe and convenient, differentiating ourselves only from certain disliked groups, is not Christ-like. True followers of Christ must insist that Wheaton clarify its position. When Christ’s followers strive to single out a group for exclusion, we must give a very compelling reason. Wheaton has not done so.