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WheatonFollowing up on my post from yesterday, agree or disagree with Prof. Hawkins, we grossly misjudge the present issue at Wheaton if we make it purely one of maintaining theological orthodoxy.

It can certainly be debated on theological grounds whether or not, or to what extent, Christians and Muslims (not to mention Jews) worship the same God.

But, as fundamental as that issue may seem to insiders, the nuances are utterly lost on the post-Christian West.

People are watching, and they haven’t read Wheaton’s statement of faith or the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

They’re just interested in seeing how Christians respond to a global crisis right here at home.

They want to see whether the rumors are true and their suspicions accurate, that Christians are as bigoted and xenophobic as they accuse others of being.

They want to see whether our actions are different from those of any other ideology.

We are no longer in Christendom.

Christians in the West are living in a moment, faced with an real and present opportunity. Sometimes these opportunities require us to table zeal for patrolling theological boundaries.

Addressing changing circumstances may require theological innovation. My prooftexts are the prophets, Jesus, and Paul.

Perhaps the Wheaton leadership could have handled this differently.

Perhaps they could have released a resounding statement of love and concern for brothers and sisters in our human family.

Perhaps they could have led with that and then if necessary offer some gentle clarification about where Wheaton is as a school, its evangelical heritage, and how a Christian response to evangelical/Muslim relations will be a matter of serious and ongoing internal reflection.

Wheaton, as a leading evangelical place of higher learning, could have seized the moment and risked speaking prophetically, boldly, and reassuringly into a real live pressing issue. But it missed the opportunity and retreated instead to an internal dialogue.

That is a missed opportunity, and who knows if it will come again.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

51 Comments

  • DonaldByronJohnson says:

    They did speak, they issued explanations for what was going on as they saw it and their reasons.
    The 2 explanations are at the Wheaton.edu website on the suspended professor and engagement with Muslims.

    • Pete E. says:

      I read them. Somewhat typical spinning, in my opinion. She “seemed” to violate the schools standards, but then she did. They believe in dialogue, so they suspend her from teaching. The statement is not helpful but part of the problem.

      • Barakabacca says:

        If anyone commits to a standard there is no room for dialogue. If the standard makes one uncomfortable then leave. And then start the dialogue.

        • Pete E. says:

          Thank you, Adolf.

        • nelson_keener says:

          Fair suggestion….except that the faction from which one disassociates is too often unwilling to come to the table for dialogue.

        • hoosier_bob says:

          Well, it’s unclear that Wheaton has ever committed itself to the standard it now claims guides its judgment. Hawkins’ statement bears no substantive difference between public statements made by Billy Graham, who served as a trustee at Wheaton for many years. So, while Wheaton’s current actions may reflect the personal views of its new President, I’m not aware of any evidence that suggest that these actions are consistent with any kind of longstanding institutional view on the matter. In fact, I doubt that Hawkins even believed that her actions and words would be controversial among the Wheaton community.

      • DonaldByronJohnson says:

        Wheaton suspended her with pay. They did not fire her. According to the Wheaton story, others with her were willing to say things that satisfied Wheaton but she was not.
        After reading Scot McKnight’s post summarizing Volf’s ideas on this, I agree with McKnight and not Volf. I think it comes down to how reasonable one thinks her faith statements were.

        • Pete E. says:

          Correct (re: suspension). “Paid administrative leave” is how they put it, as I recall. I said that in my last comment, right? My point was that the statement dated Dec. 16 was politically nuanced to give both a vibe of openness to dialogue and a “robust” defense of their theological parameters. It’s a mixed message.

  • Bev Mitchell says:

    I don’t know anything about the details of this case, but I do like today’s post even better than the previous. It is interesting, and perhaps enlightening, to read and think carefully about 2 Corinthians 3 after reading today’s post.

  • Bev Mitchell says:

    I don’t know anything about the details of this case, but I do like today’s post even better than the previous. It is interesting, and perhaps enlightening, to read and think carefully about 2 Corinthians 3 after reading today’s post.

  • Pete E. says:

    I read them. Somewhat typical spinning, in my opinion. She “seemed” to violate the schools standards, but then she did. They believe in dialogue, so they suspend her from teaching. The statement is not helpful but part of he problem.

    • Barakabacca says:

      If anyone commits to a standard there is no room for dialogue. If the standard makes one uncomfortable then leave. And then start the dialogue.

      • Pete E. says:

        Thank you, Adolf.

      • nelson_keener says:

        Fair suggestion….except that the faction from which one disassociates is too often unwilling to come to the table for dialogue.

      • hoosier_bob says:

        Well, it’s unclear that Wheaton has ever committed itself to the standard it now claims guides its judgment. Hawkins’ statement bears no substantive difference between public statements made by Billy Graham, who served as a trustee at Wheaton for many years. So, while Wheaton’s current actions may reflect the personal views of its new President, I’m not aware of any evidence that suggest that these actions are consistent with any kind of longstanding institutional view on the matter. In fact, I doubt that Hawkins even believed that her actions and words would be controversial among the Wheaton community.

    • DonaldByronJohnson says:

      Wheaton suspended her with pay. They did not fire her. According to the Wheaton story, others with her were willing to say things that satisfied Wheaton but she was not.
      After reading Scot McKnight’s post summarizing Volf’s ideas on this, I agree with McKnight and not Volf. I think it comes down to how reasonable one thinks her faith statements were.

      • Pete E. says:

        Correct (re: suspension). “Paid administrative leave” is how they put it, as I recall. I said that in my last comment, right? My point was that the statement dated Dec. 16 was politically nuanced to give both a vibe of openness to dialogue and a “robust” defense of their theological parameters. It’s a mixed message.

  • hoosier_bob says:

    Well said. Hawkins has made it clear that she still affirms the Wheaton Statement of Faith. So, I see no reason why Wheaton couldn’t have spoken with Hawkins, and then released a statement praising her courage, affirming the duty of all Christians to love and serve their Muslim neighbors in the name of Christ, and clarifying that Hawkins’ and the school’s commitment to a Triune God. It’s immeasurably sad that the Wheaton administration bypassed this opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s grace before a watching world. Instead, they opted for pettiness and spin.

  • hoosier_bob says:

    Well said. Hawkins has made it clear that she still affirms the Wheaton Statement of Faith. So, I see no reason why Wheaton couldn’t have spoken with Hawkins, and then released a statement praising her courage, affirming the duty of all Christians to love and serve their Muslim neighbors in the name of Christ, and clarifying that Hawkins’ and the school’s commitment to a Triune God. It’s immeasurably sad that the Wheaton administration bypassed this opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s grace before a watching world. Instead, they opted for pettiness and spin.

  • Peter Robinson says:

    Judging by how reactionary their response was, the opportunity will no doubt come again. This sort of hypersensitivity from the administration will incur more casualties.

  • Peter Robinson says:

    Judging by how reactionary their response was, the opportunity will no doubt come again. This sort of hypersensitivity from the administration will incur more casualties.

  • gingoro says:

    Not really sure what I think about this issue. The meaning of “same” or even “sufficiently similar” can be difficult. But the God of Islam seems more related to early Jewish understandings of their God than to either later Jewish understandings or to Christian understandings. Also both seem to have extended that understanding in incompatible ways. Yet all three would agree to ‘You must not have any other god but me.’
    Actually although I agree with Pete above I am pleased that Wheaton did as well as they did. I wonder if, one asked an average Muslim to describe the Christian God and also asked the average Christian to describe the Muslim God, how similar the answers would be? I would expect quite similar.

  • gingoro says:

    Not really sure what I think about this issue. The meaning of “same” or even “sufficiently similar” can be difficult. But the God of Islam seems more related to early Jewish understandings of their God than to either later Jewish understandings or to Christian understandings. Also both seem to have extended that understanding in incompatible ways. Yet all three would agree to ‘You must not have any other god but me.’
    Actually although I agree with Pete above I am pleased that Wheaton did as well as they did. I wonder if, one asked an average Muslim to describe the Christian God and also asked the average Christian to describe the Muslim God, how similar the answers would be? I would expect quite similar.

  • Greg says:

    Wheaton’s reaction pales in comparison to the incident in Augusta County, VA where a whole school system was shut down because one mother objected to an assignment in a geography class. That incident, and the news coverage, and comments by the mother, make Wheaton’s response look reasonable, informed, and tolerant!

    • Luke Breuer says:

      Meh, the ACLU would probably have been up in arms if the Nicene Creed were assigned to learn Latin or the Shema were assigned to learn ancient Hebrew. Par for the US course, atheist or theist.

  • Greg says:

    Wheaton’s reaction pales in comparison to the incident in Augusta County, VA where a whole school system was shut down because one mother objected to an assignment in a geography class. That incident, and the news coverage, and comments by the mother, make Wheaton’s response look reasonable, informed, and tolerant!

    • Luke Breuer says:

      Meh, the ACLU would probably have been up in arms if the Nicene Creed were assigned to learn Latin or the Shema were assigned to learn ancient Hebrew. Par for the US course, atheist or theist.

  • Sheila Warner says:

    “Pure” evangelicalism misses opportunities more often that not, at least in my neck of the woods.

  • Sheila Warner says:

    “Pure” evangelicalism misses opportunities more often that not, at least in my neck of the woods.

  • Brett Gibson says:

    Did you see the email that the chaplain of Baylor University sent to all Muslim students on December 10? It went a bit viral in my feeds, but being a Baylor alum, I’m not sure how widespread it got shared. The way Burt Burleson, Baylor’s chaplain, spoke to Muslim students at such a critical time seems to me the exactly appropriate way a purportedly Christian university should approach others. Here’s a link to the Facebook image of it. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153440987229545&set=a.10153068777139545.1073741842.750519544&type=3&pnref=story

    • Pete E. says:

      That was nice. Though Wheaton has different theological distinctive and Wheaton’s actions cannot really be seen as being against Muslims, at least not directly. No one has been suggesting that Wheaton doesn’t want Muslim’s on campus, for example.

      • Brett Gibson says:

        Certainly no one’s saying Wheaton doesn’t want Muslims on campus. However, you were saying this was a missed opportunity for Wheaton to “[release] a resounding statement of love and concern for brothers and sisters in our human family.” I think that’s what Baylor is trying to do, at least in this instance.

        • Pete E. says:

          I agree and I wasn’t remotely clear in my reply to you (too much multitasking). I can hear OTHERS rejoin that Baylor’s statement is apples and oranges: they are reassuring Muslims they are welcome and valued. Wheaton could easily respond, “We feel the same way. We just can’t have our faculty implying that Muslim’s and Christians are united in the worship of one God.” Now I would respond . . . well. . . as I did in my post. So, I agree with what you’re saying here. I think Wheaton would simply deflect it.

  • Brett Gibson says:

    Did you see the email that the chaplain of Baylor University sent to all Muslim students on December 10? It went a bit viral in my feeds, but being a Baylor alum, I’m not sure how widespread it got shared. The way Burt Burleson, Baylor’s chaplain, spoke to Muslim students at such a critical time seems to me the exactly appropriate way a purportedly Christian university should approach others. Here’s a link to the Facebook image of it. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153440987229545&set=a.10153068777139545.1073741842.750519544&type=3&pnref=story

    • Pete E. says:

      That was nice. Though Wheaton has different theological distinctive and Wheaton’s actions cannot really be seen as being against Muslims, at least not directly. No one has been suggesting that Wheaton doesn’t want Muslim’s on campus, for example.

      • Brett Gibson says:

        Certainly no one’s saying Wheaton doesn’t want Muslims on campus. However, you were saying this was a missed opportunity for Wheaton to “[release] a resounding statement of love and concern for brothers and sisters in our human family.” I think that’s what Baylor is trying to do, at least in this instance.

        • Pete E. says:

          I agree and I wasn’t remotely clear in my reply to you (too much multitasking). I can hear OTHERS rejoin that Baylor’s statement is apples and oranges: they are reassuring Muslims they are welcome and valued. Wheaton could easily respond, “We feel the same way. We just can’t have our faculty implying that Muslim’s and Christians are united in the worship of one God.” Now I would respond . . . well. . . as I did in my post. So, I agree with what you’re saying here. I think Wheaton would simply deflect it.

  • charlesburchfield says:

    when so many agree on who the popular scapegoat is, (who it’s safe to hate) in an economic and political situation like America is in one can identify an ancient distress pattern of abuse. we have George dubbya to thank for giving us this great relief to the majority of the population that considered is itself entitled to allow the Muslims (it used to be the communists!) to become the de facto repository for hatred, frustration, confusion and anger for so much that is wrong, and is going to go wrong in America. in my opinion one must consider ways and means to contradict this pattern. I think humour, art and creativity in general, is a great way to begin to awaken consciousness & conscience! */:D

  • when so many agree on who the popular scapegoat is, (who it’s safe to hate) in an economic and political situation like America is in one can identify an ancient distress pattern of abuse. we have George dubbya to thank for giving us this great relief to the majority of the population that considered is itself entitled to allow the Muslims (it used to be the communists!) to become the de facto repository for hatred, frustration, confusion and anger for so much that is wrong, and is going to go wrong in America. in my opinion one must consider ways and means to contradict this pattern. I think humour, art and creativity in general, is a great way to begin to awaken consciousness & conscience! */:D

  • Pete, you are just bitter because you got fired for saying that Christians and Episcopalians worship the same God…

  • Pete, you are just bitter because you got fired for saying that Christians and Episcopalians worship the same God…

  • Gary says:

    While it hasn’t been much, everything I’ve read on this topic’s bubbling up has been such dreadful rhetoric I hardly know what to say.

    • charlesburchfield says:

      yep stuff stirs me up! I witness rapid change in peeps. I am trying a new old thang today: just turning it to god…stay peaceful, it is all temporary & passing but love is here to stay! (BTW I watch a lot of cat videos!) ^..^

  • Gary says:

    While it hasn’t been much, everything I’ve read on this topic’s bubbling up has been such dreadful rhetoric I hardly know what to say.

    • yep stuff stirs me up! I witness rapid change in peeps. I am trying a new old thang today: just turning it to god…stay peaceful, it is all temporary & passing but love is here to stay! (BTW I watch a lot of cat videos!) ^..^

  • Luke Lindon says:

    Well stated. Thanks! I mourn this passing chance and how they (and by association, we) played to the lowest common denominator.

  • Luke Lindon says:

    Well stated. Thanks! I mourn this passing chance and how they (and by association, we) played to the lowest common denominator.

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