By Bruce Lindley McCormack, a noahtoly.tumblr.com
It is a great pity that the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God has come so forcibly to the center of attention for so many (on social media especially) through ongoing controversy at Wheaton College. The nature of that controversy is well-known and does not need to be rehearsed here. I say it is a pity because the issue is a theologically profound and complex one which admits of no obvious answer. It is a question worthy of engagement by the finest theological minds in our world today precisely because of its complexity. But it is also an issue with implications not only for inter-faith relations but also for inter-confessional relations. That is to say:how we answer the question, the charity or lack of charity with which we do so could very well have an impact on ecumenical relations long after the controversy at Wheaton has come to an end. So the stakes couldn’t be higher. My hope is that all of us would learn to admit that more than one answer can reasonably be given and that is a huge mistake to assume that anyone who gives a different answer than one’s own is automatically guilty of either bigotry or a betrayal of the gospel.
Before I turn to the issue, I should say that I have had great respect and appreciation for Wheaton College for a great many years. I have lectured there twice, preached in their chapel, and benefitted greatly from the privilege of teaching an extremely high number of their graduates here at Princeton Seminary during my twenty-five years here. My respect has only been increased by the comments made in recent days by Wheaton faculty (including Larycia Hawkins!) on social media. Wheaton’s “hype” is not exaggerated in my view. It is simply lovely to see so many non-theologians who read enough theology to comment so ably on theological questions. I have been, as a result, heartbroken to watch this happening; heartbroken most especially for Prof. Hawkins but heartbroken too for faculty, students, alums – and, indeed, administrators. My goal here is to do theology well. And by “well” I mean not only theology that is academically rigorous and responsible to Scripture and the history of the construction of orthodox understandings of God but theology that serves reconciliation and peace. How we do theology can be, at times, just as important than the content if only because how we do it will decide whether it can be heard by others.
In what follows, my goal is to present what I take to be the best case that can be made on both sides of the “same God” question by one such as I (whose training is in the history of doctrine).