Dear Church Family,
One of the most hotly debated controversies in American evangelicalism of late is the brouhaha over Wheaton College’s suspension of Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Larycia Hawkins. According to official statements from Wheaton College, Dr. Hawkins was placed on paid administrative leave “in order to give more time to explore the theological implications of her recent public statements concerning Christianity and Islam.” Christianity Today has been covering this debate, and it’s attracted the attention of the wider media, as well (CNN, Time Magazine, The New York Times, Fox News, to name just a few).
Some have reported that the reason Dr. Hawkins was suspended was her decision to wear a hijab during Advent in order to show her solidarity with Muslims whom she felt were being persecuted in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. However, according to the official statement from Wheaton College, it is not her choice of clothing that is the issue, but theological statements which she made (and continues to press) which are inconsistent with the college’s doctrinal convictions. On December 12th, Dr. Hawkins stated:
I stand in religious 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.
Whether or not Wheaton College should remove Dr. Hawkins from their faculty is a decision that will need to be made by the board and administrators of that school. As I understand it, that decision will be made at a hearing at Wheaton on January 23rd. To be fair, there are certainly questions of academic freedom, work-place ethics, and contractual obligations that need to be discussed and worked out. Again, these are issues which those responsible at Wheaton College must deal with.
The Same God?
Dr. Hawkins’ statement that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God,” however, is a theological matter that is of great importance. I read with interest a recent article by Lydia McGrew entitled, “The ‘Same God’ Debate is Too Important to Leave to Philosophers.” I recommend the article as the author unmasks and debunks many of the philosophical summersaults that people have made in order to defend the idea that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. McGrew concludes her article with these words:
Ultimately, it comes down to what importance we give to particular attributes of the true God and to historical truths about his acts. Which ones do we treat as definitional of the notion of the God we worship? There is no reason to think philosophical specialists have any inside scoop on that question.
I couldn’t agree more. The crux of the debate over whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God comes down to the “particular attributes of the true God” and the “historical truths about his acts.” Or, to perhaps put it a different way: Either one believes what the Bible reveals about the Triune God and how He has acted in history or one does not. It is not a both/and proposition (what Christianity and Islam say about God can both be true). It is an either/or proposition (the claims of Christianity and Islam are mutually exclusive). And, if God has revealed Himself in the Scriptures, then Christianity believes and teaches the exclusive truth.
The Self-Authenticating Authority of the Bible
In our postmodern and pluralistic society, we have become conditioned to make it our default way of thinking that truth is relative, or that truth cannot be verified and authenticated. However, as the Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us, saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a pre-requisite for seeing the truth of the Scriptures: “By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein…” (WCF 14:2).
Some propose that ‘seeing is believing.’ But the Scriptures maintain that ‘believing is seeing.’ “Now faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Saving faith is a necessary precursor to seeing the truth.
That is to say, for those who have saving faith, the Bible is a self-authenticating authority. Scripture, itself, bears this out when it says of itself, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The believers in Thessalonica are commended because they received the word of God which they heard from Paul and his companions, not at the word of men, but for what it really was – the word of God which performs its work in those who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13). And, Paul asserts that like those of the so-called “Way,” he believes everything that is in accordance with the Law and the Prophets (Acts 24:14).
Certainly, there are general truths which are to be found outside of the Scriptures, but when it comes to what man is to believe concerning God, what duty God requires of man, and the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, Scripture is not only sufficient, it is exclusively necessary.
The Self-Authenticating Authority of Jesus
In the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ teaching, He was often confronted with those who didn’t believe in Him. People would often ask – and even demand – that Jesus give them a sign or some kind of corroborating evidence as to the truthfulness of His claim to be the Son of God and Savior of sinners. In one such instance, the Pharisees confronted Jesus’ claim to be the Light of the world and the source of life. They demanded corroboration, “You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true” (John 8:13)
Instead of trying to provide corroborating evidence – which He surely could have done – Jesus responded to the demand of the Pharisees by pointing to His own self-authenticating authority as the Son of God: “Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going” (John 8:14).
Jesus declares that because He is the Son of God, He doesn’t need anyone else’s testimony about Himself. This is kind of like the response that parents sometimes give to their children when their kids ask, “But, why?” – “Because I said so!”
I’ve read parenting books that say that you should never give this kind of response to your children. To be sure, there are times when explanations are helpful and even necessary, but there’s nothing wrong with appealing to your own inherent authority, if you have the authority to do so. Therefore, as Jesus is the Son of God, He has the authority to say, “Believe Me because I said so!”
Commenting on Jesus’ statement in John 8:14, John Calvin writes:
Christ replies, that his testimony possesses sufficient credit and authority, because he is not a private person belonging to the great body of men, but holds a very different station. For when he says, that he knoweth whence he came, and whither he goeth, he thus excludes himself from the ordinary rank of men. The meaning therefore is, that every man is heard with suspicion in his own cause, and it is provided by the laws, that no man shall be believed, when he speaks for his own advantage. But this does not apply to the Son of God, who holds a rank above the whole world; for he is not reckoned as belonging to the rank of men, but has received from his Father this privilege, to reduce all men to obedience to him by a single word. (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John).
So, do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Certainly not. Any religion or belief system that denies the Triune nature of the Godhead and the special revelation of the Bible concerning the “particular attributes of the true God” and the “historical truths about his acts” is false. Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; by Him all things were created, through Him and for Him. It was God the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:15-20).
To those who are seeking truth and life, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). To those who don’t believe and know Him, we hold out the exclusive claim of the gospel of Jesus Christ: “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This is the exclusive claim of Christianity: believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved! (Acts 16:31)
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch