Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
This past December Layrcia Hawkins, political science professor at Wheaton, taking her cue from Pope Francis, made a statement that Muslims and Christians “worship the same God.” This statement was made on FB and it was in conjunction with Hawkins donning the hijab, the head garb worn by Muslim women, as a statement of solidarity with Islam.
The statement generated a great deal of discussion and debate at Wheaton, among Evangelicals and beyond. The end of the story at Wheaton was that Stan Jones, the Provost, apologized for acting and responding in haste, and removed the possibility of termination. Hawkins would be allowed to remain as a professor at Wheaton, and they would work through this together. After reconciliation had been achieved, which is a testimony to God’s grace, Hawkins resigned, agreeing to “part ways.” From an outsider’s perspective, at least to Wheaton College, but not an outsider to the broader Evangelical discussion, it seemed to end well. But there was also much learned and much that is being learned.
One of the major questions it raised again is the issue about the God of Mohammad and the Father of Jesus. Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? At its most basic doctrinal level, here is what I say: Although we are to love Muslims, we do not worship the same God. The Father of Jesus is not the God of Muhammad.
However, is this all that can and must be said? When looking at other aspects of this question is it a simple yes or no answer, or does it require some nuance? As one probes various aspects of the question is the binary the only way and the best way of assessing and discerning the answer to the question and the differences between Christianity and Islam. Does the nuancing of this important question cause the truth to die a thousand deaths through qualifications?
Robert J. Priest, G.W. Aldeen Professor of International Studies and Professor of Mission and Anthropology, TEDS, serves as the president of The Evangelical Missiological Society (EMS), addressed this question in the most recent Occasional Bulletin (SPECIAL EDITION 2016): Wheaton and the Controversy Over Whether Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God
In an attempt to provide insight into this question, Priest sought input from numerous and varied missiologists. Here is how he frames this issue (emphasis mine):
In response to the recent newsmaking events at Wheaton, I invited a range of missiologists and missionaries located within mainstream evangelical institutions, all of them with doctorates, most with professional expertise related to Islam, to write short essays addressing the following question: “What are the missiological implications of affirming, or denying, that Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” While the “affirming vs. denying” binary opposition is exemplified in the Hawkins vs. Wheaton administration conflict, I asked that missiologists address the question only, and refrain from commenting on the Wheaton situation.
Three of the respondents are Free Church missiologists: David J. Hesselgrave, Harold Netland and Roy Oksnevad. All provide important and helpful insights into answering the question. I especially found Netland’s response to be insightful, and one of the best of all respondents included in this Bulletin.
Understanding Islam, how it relates to Christianity and the differences between these two religions have been important since the origin of Islam in the 7th century. With the growth and expansion of Islam today, it is increasingly important for us to understand Islam. This issue of the Occasional Bulletin is an important resource to help us toward that end. The unique vantage point of this resource is that it provides insight and understanding through missiologists. These responses are one of the important voices to hear and from which to learn, both in agreeing with some and disagreeing with others. We add this voice of missiologists to other important voices, those of theologians and historians, et al., and then we go back to the Bible and we refine and clarify what we believe. And through this study we prepare to engage in evangelism with Muslims.
I encourage you to begin to grow in your understanding of Islam and develop a list of good resources to study. (We will provide some of those resources in a future post.) Engage in this study so that you not only know the history and beliefs of Islam, but also so that you can teach and equip others to understand it as well. The end-goal does not end at understanding Islam alone. The purpose of understanding is that you might engage in an articulation and defense of the Christian faith among Muslims.
With the early church, we confess and proclaim the only hope in us and for the world: Jesus Christ is Lord (Acts 10:36; Rom. 6:23; Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 1:2; 8:6; 12:3; 2 Cor. 4:5; Phil. 2:11; 3:20)! And it is only as Jesus Christ the Lord is acknowledged as the exclusive one through whom sins are forgiven and reconciliation with the Father is granted (Jn. 3:16; 3:36; 5:24; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5) that the Father will be glorified (Phil. 2:11).