Yesterday the Internet exploded with the news that Wheaton College in Illinois — known as the “Harvard of Evangelical colleges” — had suspended professor Larycia Hawkins for wearing a headscarf as a gesture of “embodied solidarity” with Muslims. These stories weren’t true. The professor wasn’t suspended for wearing a headscarf but for publicly declaring that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” In its statement, Wheaton explained:
The freedom to wear a head scarf as a gesture of care and compassion for individuals in Muslim or other religious communities that may face discrimination or persecution is afforded to Dr. Hawkins as a faculty member of Wheaton College. Yet her recently expressed views, including that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, appear to be in conflict with the College’s Statement of Faith.
But is Wheaton correct to draw the line here? After all, isn’t it conventional wisdom that Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God? Aren’t we all “People of the Book” — different branches of the Abrahamic tree? That’s the Catholic position. Rome explicitly declares that Muslims “adore the one and merciful God.” Prominent Protestant theologian Miroslov Volf generally agrees, telling Wheaton students in a 2011 address, “My statement is that there is sufficient similarity between Muslim and Christian conceptions of God, so that we can say that they worship the same and similarly understood God.”
Theologian R. C. Sproul puts the contrast in similar terms: To Muslims, god “is a single person, transcendent. The God Christians worship, on the other hand, is the maker of heaven and earth. He is one being and transcendent, who exists in three persons, which are also immanent.” Critically, “Neither the one-ness nor the three-ness of God are tangential attributes. They are instead essential attributes; they define who He is.” (Emphasis added.)
Writer Trevin Wax states the blunt and plain truth: “God is not God apart from Jesus. It is pointless to try to define the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob apart from Jesus Christ.” In the Muslim view, however, Jesus is not God. Full stop. Reformation giant John Calvin said, “By their rejection of Christ, [Muslims] substitute an idol in his place.”
A piece in Theology and the City contains an interesting short summary explaining Calvin’s teaching as follows: “While many religions, including Islam, would agree on a rather general concept of God as the origin of everything and thus ‘father’ to all of humanity, the Christocentrism of Calvin’s thought erases all general meaning.”
There is immense cultural pressure to paper over the differences between religious faiths. We live in a fractious, violent world, and people are understandably weary of conflict. But we also live in an ignorant world, where millions know little about religious faith, believe the lie that all faiths are essentially the same, and grow irritated if not furious at the “true believers” whom they see as the source of all conflict. Empty-headed love for “diversity” often depends on false presumptions of core commonalities. What we really want is an easy diversity — where people of all colors and sexual proclivities have essentially the same beliefs. Different religions would simply provide different flavoring, in much the way that salad dressing changes the taste of lettuce. But you’re still just eating lettuce.However, we can affirm our common humanity — that we are all created in the image of God — without papering over our profound differences. Moreover, a truly robust culture of liberty doesn’t depend on common beliefs to protect radically different faith expressions. Americans are fully capable of believing that a faith is false while simultaneously protecting its adherents from persecution and repression.
Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God, but that does not make Muslims any less worthy of enjoying the blessings of liberty or receiving the love of their Christian neighbors. After all, nothing we can do for those who (for now) reject our faith can ever match what God did for us. He died even for those who cried out for his death. That makes Him distinct. It makes our faith distinct. Wheaton’s leaders are right to stand firm.
— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.