The reaction from Wheaton College, and many Christian evangelicals, was swift and has led to an impassioned debate about whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the “same God.”
If you’d like to read more about the particular case of Larycia Hawkins, here are several articles from Christianity Today and The Christian Century:
Of all the articles and books I’ve read on this controversy (even as it pre-dates the Wheaton uproar), this one from the Christian Century seems to sum it up best:
As this short article points out, what is at the heart of this matter is “whether the word God can be separated from the particular tradition of faith by which God is known.”
Some would argue that the desire to distinguish the Christian God from the Muslim God is a matter of anti-Islamic sentiment. While one cannot rule out that possibility in this day and age, it is not the only option for a commitment to distinguishing between the “gods” of these two faiths. As I’ve often said in interfaith dialogue and in teaching Confirmands about the exclusive claims of the Christian faith, there is a certain level of disrespect that can accompany claims of similarity between faiths. To say, “your faith is the same as mine,” dilutes the significance of the differences and the beauty of distinction, that exists between faiths. It says to the Muslim, “you are really a Christian, you just don’t know it,” or “it doesn’t matter that you’re a Muslim. You could be anything, and it wouldn’t make any difference.” In fact, for most people of faith, there is a strong personal identity with their faith tradition such that it does matter – deeply – that they believe and practice with particularity and uniqueness and, in some cases, exclusivity, a certain faith.
On the other hand, most Christians and Jews do not have an issue proclaiming faith in the same God, even though the doctrine of the Trinity and salvation in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, are still significant theological divisions. Why this generous orthodoxy toward Jews and not Muslims? For one, we accept the scriptures of the Jewish faith to be authoritative and of equal significance to the Christian New Testament. However, Islam could make a similar claim. Muslims trace their ancestry through the Christian and Jewish prophets and patriarchs and, while Islam interprets these figures and their narratives differently, that is no different than Christians who read Jesus into the Old Testament.
Christianity started as a Jewish movement, by a Jewish messiah, which strengthens the connection between Judaism and Christianity. This is not so with Islam, whose founder was neither Christian nor Jewish.
The doctrine of the Trinity has been a stumbling block for Muslims to agreement that we worship the same God because it would seem that Christians have divided God into three. The belief that "God is one" is so central to Islam that the Trinity makes the claim of a common deity untenable. However, as Miroslov Volf has argued (and I would agree), it is in essence a misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity that leads to this challenge.
Ultimately, there are significant agreements about the person of character of God between the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faith traditions. God is one, sovereign, just, righteous, faithful, immutable. God is the creator and ruler of the universe. God is the one who made a covenant with our common ancestor, Abraham. This implies, at least in a general sense, that we worship the same God. The question is: is that enough?
We’ll discuss this, as well as why this matters so much to us right now, at the next Untapped Questions.