For Christ and His Kingdom

The things the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons.

If I were to say that Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer in Illinois, became the 16th President of the United States, had a beard, and signed the Emancipation Proclamation and another person said that Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation but never became president and a third group said that he was a lawyer in Nebraska, that he signed the Emancipation Proclamation but he was the Emperor of Canada and no Emperor would ever wear a beard, are we all speaking of the same person? We all agree that his name is Lincoln but beyond that the agreement gets rather thin.

In light of the suspension of Dr. Larycia Hawkins from Wheaton College for claiming that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, Miraslov Volf tweeted (amongst other things):

There have been some scriptures quoted to support the idea. For example,

“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” – Paul to the philosophers in Athens in Acts 17:23

“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” – Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:22

These verses seem to support the idea that you could worship God in ignorance. So perhaps Hawkins, Volf, and Pope Francis have a point. However, there is a key component missing when we consider Islam, that is, ignorance of the true God. In both the scriptures cited above, the context is that they are mistaken about God and the true and living God, Jesus Christ, is about to be revealed to them. With Islam, it isn’t a case of ignorant, but of out-right denial. Consider this from the Quran:

People of the Book! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, and attribute to Allah nothing except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was only a Messenger of Allah, and His command that He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him (which led to Mary’s conception). So believe in Allah and in His Messengers, and do not say: (Allah is a) trinity. Give up this assertion; it would be better for you. Allah is indeed just one God. Far be it from His glory that He should have a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth. Allah is sufficient for a guardian. – Quran Surah 4:171

Dr. Larycia Hawkins, who started this entire discussion, teaches political science at Wheaton College. For Advent, she has donned a hijab, a headscarf worn by many Muslim women, in order to show her solidarity with Muslims whom she believes are being persecuted. She was not placed on administrative leave from Wheaton for the hijab.

Muslims in America are under attack in political rhetoric and on social media these days and things have ramped up since the attacks in Paris, the president’s decision to accept Syrian refugees in the US, and the shooting in San Bernardino. It is wrong to castigate the entire population of a group because a subset is violent. Muslims are not attacking innocent people, a subset of them are. In this way, I appreciate Dr. Hawkins’ desire to stand with a persecuted minority.

However, on December 10th, Dr. Hawkins posted on Facebook, “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.” For this she was placed on administrative leave. Wheaton explained their decision:

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.

The Quran explicitly denies the Trinity and says that God does not have a Son. Christianity states that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are a Trinity, three persons in one God. How can these two be speaking of the same God?

Dr. Volf, who I admire in many ways, pushed the question a bit further when he tweeted:

This idea continued to shock him as the Twitter interactions continued. One person cited an article written by Dr. Peter Leithart that questioned Volf’s opposition.1Leithart asks the same kind of question I asked at the beginning but used Thomas Jefferson instead of Lincoln. I hadn’t read Leithart before I drafted this post. In part, Leithart said:

Volf says that Trinity and incarnation are “fundamental Christian convictions,” but, however fundamental, they don’t identify the living God in distinction from other beings who claim to be God. Volf’s position virtually excludes the possibility of idolatry. The same logic can hold everywhere: “Baal is an idol, and so is Molech,” says an ancient Israelite prophet. “No, no. Baal worshipers worship Yahweh; we just understand Him differently.” Can Volf say of anyone what Paul says of the pagans of his day: “The things the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God” (1 Corinthians 10:20)?

Volf is not comfortable with the implications of Christian orthodoxy but so far he hasn’t recognized or owned the implications of his own position either.

Added 1/24/2017: I wish I had remembered this verse at the time.

Jesus answered [the Jews]… “It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him.” (John 8:54-55)

Jesus himself did not believe the Jews worshiped the same God as he and his followers.

1 Leithart asks the same kind of question I asked at the beginning but used Thomas Jefferson instead of Lincoln. I hadn’t read Leithart before I drafted this post.
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