Wheaton Col­lege, a Chris­tian school in Illi­nois some­times called the “Har­vard of evan­gel­i­cal­ism,” is preparing to fire a pro­fes­sor for claim­ing that Chris­tians and Mus­lims wor­ship the same God.

On Tues­day, Wheaton an­nounced that the school’s provost has rec­om­mended ter­mi­nat­ing Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a Chris­tian pro­fes­sor who caused con­tro­versy last year for don­ning a head­scarf in sol­i­dar­ity with Mus­lims fac­ing un­prece­dented violence across the United States and pub­lish­ing a Face­book post that de­clared “as Pope Fran­cis stated last week, we wor­ship the same God.”

The col­lege ex­plained that the rec­om­men­da­tion came about af­ter Hawkins and her su­per­vi­sors reached an “im­passe” when the school asked her to re­spond to an ex­ten­sive ques­tion­naire “re­gard­ing her the­o­log­i­cal con­vic­tions.” Hawkins com­plied with the re­quest, but balked when of­fi­cials asked for “fur­ther the­o­log­i­cal dis­cus­sion and clar­i­fi­ca­tion,” re­fus­ing to par­tic­i­pate fur­ther.

In an ear­lier state­ment pub­lished in De­cem­ber, Wheaton ex­plained its the­o­log­i­cal ra­tio­nale for chal­leng­ing Hawkins on Is­lam: “While Is­lam and Chris­tian­ity are both monothe­is­tic, we be­lieve there are fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences be­tween the two faiths, in­clud­ing what they teach about God’s rev­e­la­tion to hu­man­ity, the na­ture of God, the path to sal­va­tion, and the life of prayer.”

Wheaton’s rea­son­ing, how­ever, has come un­der fire by a num­ber of other Chris­tian the­olo­gians and writ­ers across the coun­try. Many note that the be­lief that Chris­tians and Mus­lims wor­ship the same God is fairly main­stream within Chris­tian­ity, show­ing up in the faith state­ments of Catholics, Main­line Chris­tians, and even evan­gel­i­cals. Oth­ers have noted that the state­ment it­self doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily chal­lenge tra­di­tional no­tions of a Chris­tian God.

“To say that we wor­ship the same God is not the same as in­sist­ing that we have an agreed and shared un­der­stand­ing of God,” Amy Plantinga Pauw, a pro­fes­sor of Chris­tian the­ol­ogy at Louisville Sem­i­nary, told NPR.

Still oth­ers have ar­gued that the school’s logic ap­pears in­con­sis­tent, or at least in­con­sis­tently en­forced. Jews, for ex­am­ple, also do not be­lieve in the Chris­tian con­cept of the Holy Trin­ity, mainly be­cause they re­ject that Je­sus Christ is God — i.e., the “path to sal­va­tion.” Yet Wheaton’s state­ments have made no ref­er­ence to Jewish un­der­stand­ings of God.

Miroslav Volf, the Yale Di­vin­ity School the­olo­gian Hawkins cited to jus­tify her be­lief in a shared God, de­clared in a De­cem­ber 17 Wash­ing­ton Post Op-Ed that this and other parts of Wheaton’s rea­son­ing “don’t square.” In­stead, Volf — who was in­vited to speak at Wheaton about Is­lam last June — ar­gued the school’s harsh re­buke of the pro­fes­sor is less about good the­ol­ogy and more about the ris­ing tide of an­tiIs­lam fer­vor cur­rently sweep­ing the United States.

“There isn’t any the­o­log­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for Hawkins’s forced ad­min­is­tra­tive leave,” Volf, who is the au­thor of ‘Al­lah: A Chris­tian Re­sponse,’ wrote. “Her sus­pen­sion is not about the­ol­ogy and or­tho­doxy. It is about en­mity to­ward Mus­lims. More pre­cisely, her sus­pen­sion re­flects en­mity to­ward Mus­lims, tak­ing on a the­o­log­i­cal guise of con­cern for Chris­tian or­tho­doxy.”

“Chris­tians, though his­tor­i­cally not friendly to ei­ther Ju­daism or the Jews, have rightly re­sisted that line of think­ing when it comes to the God of Is­rael,” he added.

- ThinkProgress - Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress Ac­tion Fund

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