“[Christians and Muslims] worship the same God.”
These words on a Facebook post by a Wheaton College professor, Larycia Hawkins, whose main aim appears to have been a demonstration of solidarity with Muslims (by wearing a hijab during Advent) in a time when Muslims are increasingly being demonized in the US, have caused much uproar whose ripples have reached far outside the relatively small world of North American evangelicalism (see the latest issue of Time). Since then, Wheaton administration has recommended Dr. Hawkins’s employment be terminated, and Wheaton faculty council has asked the administration to withdraw its recommendation.
I have friends on both sides of this controversy, having graduated from Wheaton myself a few years ago, so I have personal and relational connections to this event, and like many others I will be observing with concern and prayer as this story unfolds. But more broadly, as someone who is very much interested in the advance of Christ’s mission in the US, I see the Wheaton/Hawkins controversy as serving to highlight the urgent and vital need for Christians in the US to develop a deeper theology of religions, and of our engagement with other religions — in this case, Islam.
Missiologists have called this field of study “Elenctics,” and although it used to be of interest only to missionaries and academics operating “out there,” in the foreign mission fields, current events have shown us that the conceptual divide between foreign missions and home missions no longer holds. The missiologist J. H. Bavinck wrote The Church Between Temple and Mosque many years ago, drawing largely from his missionary experience in Indonesia. That church (between temple and mosque) exists now not only in Southeast Asia, but also in United States and Europe, former hearts of the late Christendom. If that church is going to be faithful to the mission of Christ, we had better get up to speed quickly. (A side appeal: Eerdmans, if you are reading this, please bring this book back into print. We continue to learn from Bavinck’s insights for our challenges today.)