God, Wheaton, and Larycia Hawkins

This past week Wheaton College, my alma mater, placed Dr. Larycia Hawkins, associate professor of political science, on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into her comments about Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God.

For those of you who may not be aware, Wheaton College is an evangelical Christian institution that requires all members of it's faculty and staff, along with all students, to sign a document indicating agreement with it's Statement of Faith.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, Wheaton tends to take what you might term a strict constructionist approach to its Statement of Faith with professors, and a more lenient approach with students. In other words, Wheaton would not prohibit a student from enrolling based on a minor theological dispute or discrepancy, but it would likely remove a professor for one. (If you're interested, you can read more about the situation with Dr. Joshua Hochshield.)

We could argue about Wheaton's strict constructionist approach to its Statement of Faith if we wanted to, but the fact is that it exists.

So what about Dr. Hawkins and her statement that Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Does it conflict with Wheaton College's statements about God?

Take a look at both of them:

Larycia Hawkins Wheaton College

I don't love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American.

I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity.

I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind--a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014.

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.

WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life; and we believe that God created the Heavens and the earth out of nothing by His spoken word, and for His own glory.

WE BELIEVE that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, was true God and true man, existing in one person and without sin; and we believe in the resurrection of the crucified body of our Lord, in His ascension into heaven, and in His present life there for us as Lord of all, High Priest, and Advocate.

So do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Yes... and no.

To conflate the Islamic and Christian understandings of God is to do a disservice to both faiths. Each of them ascribes different characteristics to God and believes God desires to be worshipped in very different ways.

But believing different things about God does not necessarily mean that they believe in different gods.

Consider this scenario.

You're walking down Main Street and round the corner onto First Avenue just in time to see a 6'2", 200 lb, muscular man wearing all black punch another, much smaller man in the face. The larger man proceeds to tackle the smaller one. You, not being very physically imposing yourself, decide not to engage directly but run across the street and call 911. Within 60 seconds the police show up, and since you're already running late to a meeting, you continue on your way.

Now, let's look at the same story from a different perspective.

You're walking down First Avenue towards Main Street. You see a man and a woman fighting, and the man pulls out a gun. You grab your phone to call 911, when out of nowhere another man punches and tackles the assailant, keeping him pinned down until the police arrive.

The two eyewitnesses in this story probably believe two very different things about the larger man, nearly opposite things in fact. The first eyewitness likely believes he's a terrible criminal. The second almost certainly views him as a selfless hero.

But the fact that they believe different things about the man does not mean that they're describing different men. Sure, one person gets the description right and the other gets it wrong, but they're not describing different men. They're describing the same man differently.

I would argue that the same is true for Christian and Islamic descriptions of God. Muslims and Christians both describe God as all powerful, all knowing, etc. Both hold that there is one God. There is enough in common between the descriptions that a reasonable person could conclude that they're talking about the same being, even though there are obviously some irreconcilable differences in their descriptions.

What does all of this mean for Dr. Hawkins continued employment at Wheaton?

Going simply by her public statements, it seems to me that Dr. Hawkins still holds to Wheaton's Statement of Faith, even when taking a strict constructionist approach to that statement.

In fact, I would argue that only someone with a particularly overconfident and narrow-minded (read: Pharisaical) understanding of who God is would be able to state with 100% certainty that Muslims and Christians worship different gods.

You can hold that belief while still leaving room for others who disagree, but it takes a great deal of hubris to take that belief a step further and claim it is something about which you cannot be wrong.

Perhaps in private conversations Dr. Hawkins has expressed reservations or doubts about the exclusivity of Jesus or argued that Islam and Christianity are equally valid ways of approaching God.

If that's the case, Wheaton College isn't the best place for her. If you have significant doubts about the core mission of an organization, you probably shouldn't be working there. The Democratic National Committee isn't going to hire a dyed in the wool Republican, and a school with the stated goal of training students in Islam isn't likely to hire a Christian professor.

But assuming that what Dr. Hawkins has said in private is no different than what she has said in public, she should be reinstated immediately.

Five Things I Learned While Touring Frederick Douglass’ House

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879.  George K. Warren. (National Archives Gift Collection) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #:  200-FL-22 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #:113
Frederick Douglass' Study

I'll be honest, before touring Fredrick Douglass' house as part of my #dcfarewelltour, I didn't know a lot about the man.  He was quite an incredible and successful individual who accomplished more than most of us would in two lifetimes.

Here are five interesting facts that I learned:

  1. Frederick Douglass had no formal education and not only taught himself to read and write, he later learned French and German.
  2. As an escaped slave Frederick Douglass was chased by US Marshalls.  He later became the first black US Marshall.
  3. Anacostia, the iconic African-American community in Washington DC where Frederick Douglass lived, was founded as Uniontown.  The developer of Uniontown explicitly excluded blacks and Irish immigrants from living there in the property deeds.
  4. Frederick Douglass served as ambassador to Haiti.
  5. Douglass not only fought to end slavery, he worked alongside Susan B. Anthony in the struggle for women's suffrage.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Self-Control

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

Fall Leadership Summit—when the fruit of the Spirit challenge was initially issued—was nine weeks ago; our corporate Daniel fast earlier this year lasted ten days; most marathon training plans are 18 weeks; and a Masters’ degree program is rarely less than a year.

Spiritual, physical, and intellectual results all require daily self-control and many small choices between the beginning and the goal. As we come to the end of this challenge, I am thankful for moments of intimacy with Him, the opportunities to bless others, and the clarity that I’ve found in the practical application of Galatians 5:22-23.

But getting to this place requires daily decisions that I often overlook and fail to have the self-control to make. In hindsight, I am thankful for the prayer, journaling, and fasting of the last nine weeks. And while it hasn’t been a great season of life (I’ll spare you the details), God has been faithful.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Were there times where I pounded my fists and cried? Yup. Did I get frustrated and feel like I couldn’t do anything right or catch a break? More times than I’d like to admit. Have I been challenged by what I’m learning about His character and my shortcomings? Definitely. Have I grown spiritually? You bet.

So what if that was just the pre-game?

Let's continue to encourage each another to spend more time in His presence, to make small decisions like they are big ones, to use challenges as an opportunity to dig in rather than retreat, to live out the Scriptures in our daily lives, and to not become complacent with yesterday’s manna.

Game on.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Self-Control

It feels a little weird to be writing about self-control during the week of Christmas. Between all of those presents and Christmas ham—not to mention indulging in all of the hometown food—it doesn’t exactly seem like a season of self-control.

But then, thinking about it a little more, I realized that what we’re celebrating this week is probably the penultimate act of self-control. Almighty God; Creator of the universe; Source of all that is seen and unseen; the One who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent comes to earth as one of His creations, as a human, foregoing His power and position to walk among us.

Not only that, His purpose for doing so is to facilitate the ultimate act of self-control, the appropriation of our punishment for our rebellion on Himself.

This Christmas, let’s enjoy the merriment and festivities. It is a joyous season, a season for feasting not fasting. Christ the Savior is born!

But let us also look to the example of Jesus, let us lay down our rights, our right to be right. Let us engage our loved ones with self-control, biting our tongues, controlling our tempers, and showing the same love and grace Jesus showed, even when it is not received or understood.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Gentleness

A gentle answer turns away wrath

but a harsh word stirs up anger.

-King Solomon of Israel

Part of my job as a pastor is to occasionally tell people things that they don’t want to hear.

Let’s just say it’s not my favorite part of my job.

But it has taught me the value of gentleness. Even delivered without any particular edge or harshness, the truth can hurt, but an extra measure of gentleness soothes like salve on a wound.

Now I know pastors aren't the only people who have to do this. If you supervise employees, have kids, or want to be a true friend, sometimes you have to say things that people aren’t inclined to like.

I’ve found a couple of things help me to be more gentle.

One is humility, which comes from a profound awareness of my own fallenness—along with a recognition that I don’t know it all, don’t have all the answers, and could be missing something.

The other is love. Sure, love might mean speaking a hard truth.  But it isn’t love if our motivation is to put someone in their place, say “I told you so,” or assert our authority. If we speak out of love, if our heart is truly for the other person and wanting what is best for them, then we can speak gently.

Of course, the value of gentleness extends beyond just hard conversations. A gentle spirit towards an overworked waiter, a frustrated customer, or an angry spouse can work wonders and be a light that points them toward Jesus.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Faithfulness

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

In his book, Finding My Way Home, Henri Nouwen talks about active waiting being a move not from nothing to something but from something to something more. He writes that a waiting person is someone who is present to the moment and believes that this moment is the moment. So often I get so distracted by what I think I see on the horizon that I lose the opportunities of the moment. Living out faithfulness has challenged me that in the midst of whatever I’m waiting for, I need to be fully present in the moment.

And guess what? When I am spending time in His Word and in prayer, I notice opportunities to be faithful and situations where He chooses to use me. I’ve taken several impromptu trips to Boston to hug a friend who recently lost her mom and had the chance to bless my parents with various trips around the country. I’ve cultivated lasting friendships with colleagues due to “chance” seating arrangements and collaboration on what seems like thankless projects.

If it had been up to me, I would have long since settled down with a "permanent roommate," and my current life would look much more “normal” for someone who will turn thirty-three on Monday. But being faithful requires me to embrace this moment – spiritually, professionally, personally, relationally, and athletically – and to be faithful in the opportunities each and every moment brings.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Faithfulness

The depth of your impact is determined by the duration of your investment.

I get bored with stuff after about 18 months. Jobs, hobbies, whatever. After 18 months, I’ve kinda figured it out, looked it over, and I’m ready for what’s next.

About a year-and-a-half after coming on board at NCC I got a call about a job opportunity from a friend of mine. It was a similar role to the one I was in, but it was at a much larger church, and there was a good chance I could get a promotion within six months.

It was an agonizingly difficult decision. Bigger organization, more responsibility, and I’m guessing I would have made more money, but as Rachel and I prayed and fasted, we felt God calling us to stay right where we were.

That experience taught me a lesson I’ll never forget: the depth of your impact is determined by the duration of your investment. There is something about pressing through, about going deeper, going further, about being faithful, that leaves a mark.

Faithfulness breeds trust, and trust breeds strong relationships. This, of course, has qualitative impact on the people nearest us, but it also has a quantitative impact. When you’ve been around a job for a while, you’re able to get things done that you can’t when you’re new. You get a longer leash, more latitude; people buy in to your ideas more easily because you’ve already proven yourself. This in turn increases your level of productivity.

Faithfulness also allows us to move from aptitude to excellence. We rarely achieve excellence in the short term. Sure we may be a good friend, a good employee, a good musician, but only a long term investment in a person, a position, or a passion will allow us to be a great friend, a great employee, a great musician.

It’s really tough to practice faithfulness for a week. Faithfulness inherently takes a lot longer than seven days. So this week, let’s ask God if there are any areas where we know we are called to be faithful but haven’t been acting faithfully. Let’s ask Him if there are any places where we’re looking for a change but He is calling us to be faithful. And let’s ask Him for the strength to remain faithful.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Goodness

I’ve struggled to write about goodness more than any of the other fruit. It seems so simple, so self-explanatory. Who can’t hear their mom’s voice echoing in their head, “Be good.” Every kid knows what it means and knows when they haven’t been.

Paul tells us that even people who have no explicit knowledge of God know right from wrong, that God has wired us to know this.

But perhaps there’s a bit more to “being good” than what we thought about as children.

When mom said, “Be good,” she usually meant, “Don’t do anything wrong.”

But being good is also about doing what is right.

When I think about goodness, I think about the person who goes back to the store clerk to apologize for being rude, the person who comes clean to their boss when they screw up, the person who serves and gives when it is inconvenient.

Now I want to be careful here because following Jesus has far too often been turned into following a list of “don’ts.” And other times we turn it into a list of “dos.”

The fact is that we aren’t and can’t be good enough for God. And we can’t be too bad for God.

Without the blood of Jesus all of our goodness is as filthy rags, but with the blood of Jesus there’s nothing that can separate us from God.

Goodness isn’t about earning our salvation. Quite the contrary: our goodness is a response to God’s grace. It is the fruit of having the Spirit of God living in us, of seeking after and pursuing God through prayer, meditation, fasting, and even simply inviting God into our everyday actions.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Kindness

There are a few fruits of the Spirit that seem to get a little jumbled. What exactly is the difference between kindness, goodness, gentleness, and love?

As best I can tell, kindness is a combination of a mild-manner and an uprightness of character. It it is the combination of righteousness and gentleness.

Scripture speaks of God’s kindness. It is God’s grace that results in his kindness towards us (Ephesians 2:1-10), and it is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

So if God’s Spirit is to manifest His kindness in our lives, what does that look like?

I think it’s using soft words to express hard truths. It’s doing what is right with an attitude that makes others feel loved and cared for rather than leaving them feeling like you’re doing them a favor and they’d better be grateful. It’s extending grace in order to bring restoration and reconciliation.

Let’s live out kindness in a practical way this week. Let us speak the truth in love. Let us serve in such a way that the people we are serving are made to feel valuable, rather than like they’re a bother. Let us be kind to those who are unkind to us, reconciling and restoring the relationship we have with them and pointing them towards the kindness of God and the reconciliation available through the cross.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Patience

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

So I haven’t been particularly patient these past few days. And you know what? I really haven’t been very peaceful either. Kinda goes to show how interconnected these two fruits are. I guess I never thought of how much overlap there is between them, but now I’m not sure how we could really focus on one without integrating the other. I’m realizing that the definition of patience is far more than “grit your teeth and get through the current season,” and I’ve decided that true patience is hard.

In my prayer life, one thing that God is constantly challenging me to surrender to is His timing - to wait in His presence for His work to be completed in me. I’m fairly high energy, and, in a lot of ways, self-sufficient. I have a bad habit of making a decision that something should happen and acting on it without yielding to His timing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laced up my running shoes knowing full well I wasn’t healthy enough to be out there. And I continue to learn that my choosing when I’m ready rather than patiently waiting until I really am often fails to get me to the desired outcome and causes even further delays. And this lesson seems to manifest itself again and again from athletics to relationships to my career.

At times I desire to know the “why” behind delays associated with two torn ACLs, seasons of relational drought, and work opportunities that seem to be just out of my reach. But I care far more about outcomes than He does. And as we all know, He cares more about who we are becoming than what we are accomplishing. So, through it all, I’m beginning to learn patience in the journey, peace in the moment, and joy in Him.