Thursday, December 17, 2015
In The Washington Post, evangelical theologian Miroslav Wolf criticizes Wheaton College's decision to suspend a professor who is wearing a hijab in solidarity with peaceful Muslims and who based her decision in part on the ground that Muslims and Christians "worship the same God." Wolf says the suspension reflects not a sound assertion of Christian theological distinctiveness, but rather the current political-cultural "enmity" toward Islam (the headline ramps this up to "bigotry," although Wolf doesn't use that term). Wolf notes that Christians (most Christians?) have long accepted that Jews worship the same God, which leads him to ask this good question:
Why is the Christian response to Muslim denial of the Trinity and the incarnation not the same as the response to similar Jewish denial? Why are many Christians today unable to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God but understand God in partly different ways?
Is there a good answer to the question? One can certainly say (as Wheaton has) that substantially different understandings of the nature of God must be maintained with clarity, and when those differences exist one is not really worshiping "the same God." (See Christianity Today's follow-up story.) But what's the argument for distinguishing, on that score, between Judaism and Islam in their theological differences with Christianity?
Wolf emphasizes other major theological-ethical differences between Christianity and Islam besides the Incarnation: specifically, the Christian assertion that God is, ultimately, love. But, he says, if Christians emphasized that latter difference, "they would need to show how struggle against enemies is a way of loving them — an argument that many great theologians in the past were willing to make." And by any measure, a lot of Americans (including American Christians) currently are not acting with love toward Muslims.
Logically, Wolf's latter point doesn't matter to the "same God" issue: Christ's command to love your enemies applies no matter who they worship or don't worship. (And Wheaton has made clear that Hawkins was free to wear the hijab as an expression of solidarity with Muslim persons; the issue is her "same God" rationale.) But it seems to me Wolf also has a point: when theology becomes operational in politics and culture, our treatment of other people will be connected to how much commonality with them we are able to see.