It's Not A Reason to Re-Think Islam but to Wonder about Graham

John Schmalzbauer has an intriguing point about the kerfuffle at Wheaton over Christians and Muslims worshiping the same God. Previous administrators (before Phil Ryken) had signed a statement affirming solidarity between Christians and Muslims:

In November 2007 Wheaton’s president, provost, and chaplain signed a major statement on Christian-Muslim understanding that appeared in The New York Times. Calling for peace between the two religions, the document affirmed “our common love for God and for one another.” The 300 signatories included megachurch Pastor Rick Warren, Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw, and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. In January 2008, the statement drew strong rebukes from Minnesota Pastor John Piper and Southern Baptist educator Albert Mohler. Though Wheaton’s leaders later retracted their signatures, they continued to embrace the goal of peacemaking.

Schmalzbauer also adds details to Dr. Larcyia Hawkins’ decision to wear a hijab during Advent. A visit to a local Islamic center greased the skids:

On December 10 a group of faculty visited the Islamic Center of Wheaton. As they noted in a handwritten card: “We were inspired by another to also bring these flowers as a sign of our love and friendship. Our Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus show us that everyone is a brother and sister created in the image of God. We are glad you are part of the community.” That evening Larycia Hawkins announced her decision to wear a hijab on Facebook.

But rather than using this precedent to advise Dr. Hawkins to follow suit and retract her statement, Schmalzbauer hopes that Wheaton will follow one of its most famous alumni and board members, Billy Graham, who wrote:

He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.

As has been the case with many who side with Hawkins, Schmalzbauer thinks that theological rejections of Islam as false or of Muslims as non-Christian (well, duh) are akin to nativism and anti-Semitism:

Reverberating through history, these questions are at the heart of a recent dustup at my alma mater, Wheaton College. Swirling around the school’s relationship with American Muslims, they summon the ghosts of evangelicalism’s past, including some of my own. Known as the Harvard of the evangelicals, Wheaton College has often struggled with the problem of who is in and who is out. From the pugnaciousness of the World Christian Fundamentals Association (the source of Wheaton’s 1926 statement of faith) to the irenic spirit of Billy Graham (an anthropology major from the class of 1943), the college has shaped the boundaries of modern evangelicalism. Far from static, these lines have shifted over the course of the past century. So has the relationship between evangelicalism and other religious traditions. Once plagued by nativism and anti-Semitism (still a problem in some quarters), evangelicals have reached out to Catholics and Jews. Now some are befriending their Muslim neighbors, leading others to reassert the boundary between Christianity and Islam.

With a name like Schmalzbauer and with a chair in Protestant studies, you might think author had come across two-kingdom theology somewhere along the line. If he had, Schmalzbauer should know that keeping Muslims (or Jews or Roman Catholics) from membership in a Protestant congregation is not the same thing as restricting their movements either as immigrants or citizens. Which is more important is another matter. But without 2k, as we so often see, Christians both on the left and the right tend to collapse theology and political theory such that Christianity becomes a function of how you conceive of the United States.

Hawkins and Schmalzbauer are right to empathize with Muslims legally in the United States and to stand against expressions of Islamophobia. John Fea thinks it’s the best piece yet written about Wheaton, Hawkins, and Islam. I wonder: why do you need to be a Christian to stand up for the civil rights of Muslims? More pointedly, what happens if a devout Muslim thinks your solidarity is condescending (think men saying women are just as good as men)?

Postscript: it looks like not even the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association would endorse Schmalzbauer’s quotation from Billy Graham. Even before Charlie Hebdo, southern California, and Jerry Falwell, Jr., BGEA tapped Al Mohler to respond to Dr. Hawkins:

Does God care what we call Him? Do Muslims and Christians worship the same god? These are questions many Christians are asking these days, and for good reason.

For some time now, feminist theologians and a host of others have suggested that Christians should adopt new names for God. One denomination went so far as to affirm names like “Giver, Gift and Giving” in place of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” to be used in worship. Feminist theologians have demanded that masculine pronouns and names for God be replaced with female or gender-neutral terms. But to change the name of God is to redefine the God we reference. Changing the name of God is no small matter.

As a matter of fact, God takes His name very seriously, and the Ten Commandments include the command that we must not take the name of the Lord in vain. We are to use the names God has given for Himself, and we are to recognize that God takes His name seriously because He desires to be rightly known by His human creatures. We cannot truly know Him if we do not even know His name.

Moses understood this. When he encountered the call of God that came from the burning bush, Moses asked God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13). God answered Moses, “I Am who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). God told Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:15).

As these verses make clear, we are not to tamper with God’s name. We are to use the names whereby God has named Himself, and we are to recognize that any confusion about the name of God will lead to confusion about the nature of God, if not to idolatry.

Christians must keep this central principle from the Bible constantly in mind as we consider some of the most urgent questions we face in the world today. We must certainly have this principle in mind when we think about Islam.

Several years ago, a bishop in the Netherlands attracted controversy when he argued that Christians should call God “Allah” in order to lower theological tensions. He also argued that calling God “Allah” would be commonplace in Christian churches within a century and that this would lead to a synthesis of Islam and Christianity.

More recently, an Islamic court in Malaysia ruled that only Muslims can use the name “Allah” in print publications. “The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community,” the chief judge ruled. Oddly enough, Christians may well agree with this Islamic judge. To call God “Allah” is to invite confusion.

In the Bible, God reveals Himself to us in many names. These names are His personal property. We did not invent these names for God. To the contrary, God revealed these names as His own.

We have no right to modify or to revise these names—much less to reject them. Jesus Christ made this abundantly clear. In the simplest way imaginable, Jesus teaches us to know God as Father, and to use this name in prayer. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the words, “Our Father, who is in heaven.” By the grace that God has shown us in Christ, we can truly know Him as Father.

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17 thoughts on “It's Not A Reason to Re-Think Islam but to Wonder about Graham

  1. This post brings up then skirts the issue of the “anonymous Christian.” On a pragmatic level, I’ll note it has historically proven impossible to entertain that idea and also maintain missional imperatives. The prime example is Roman Catholicism. Benedict XVI issued ‘Dominos Iesus,’ while also inviting a Marilynne Robinson-like universalism into the tent, perpetuating the Vatican II denial that we can push a universal salvific will of God theology and keep up theological distinctiveness simultaneously. It really doesn’t work. If we are all brothers and sisters going back to the same Father/Giver, Calvin, Bavinck, and Berkhof need to be swapped for Fosdick, Herschel, and Osteen. “Our Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus show us that everyone is a brother and sister…” Fellow creature, yes. Family member? If so, the entire religious project gets rewritten. And the scandal of particularity is the first thing to get finally rescrubbed and eradicated.

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  2. Good points on the distinction between nativism/bigotry and theological differences with Islam.

    I do distinguish between these two, but not sharply enough in the piece.

    In the Religion & Politics article you reference, I distinguish between Wheaton’s theological rationale for putting Hawkins on leave and the more visceral reactions to her choice to wear a hijab (midway through the post).

    I also distinguish between earlier critics of anti-Semitism (Buswell) and later efforts to engage in interreligious dialogue (mentioned briefly in the Noll reference to supersessionism being on the table).

    When I talk about the warmer relations between evangelicals and Muslims/Jews, I do blur the distinction between tolerance in the civic sphere and theology. I should have been clearer.

    My position is that:

    1) Theological dialogue of the sort that Miroslav Volf and (implicitly) Hawkins engage in has the potential to reduce prejudice and bigotry, even though their theological opponents are not necessarily bigots (some may be but many are not). It is certainly not the only way to reduce bigotry.

    2) Empirically, Wheaton and other evangelical institutions have allowed for the theological positions Volf and Hawkins articulated. In a much less nuanced way, Billy Graham (but not Franklin or the current leaders at the BGEA) embraced a similar position.

    I am not at all certain how to resolve this theological issue of Islam and Christianity. But I think that getting rid of Hawkins and Volf would not make for a better conversation.

    We probably disagree about this, but I am certain we are united in our opposition to prejudice and bigotry in the public square.

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  3. That ridiculous and utterly unbiblical quote from Billy Graham has been on youtube for years. I played it for various people over the years and some have got it and others see it as no problem. I think it was from a conversation with Robert Schuller, who of course affirmed it to. It’s so revolting.

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  4. Hi John, Sure Volf makes for a better conversation — Hawkins hasn’t said much (understandably mainly). But wasn’t Bob Dylan right? You gotta serve somebody and the administration as Wheaton has to decide what’s in and what’s out.

    To your two points:

    1) again, you equate prejudice and bigotry with those who think Volf is wrong theologically. Blame J. Gresham Machen. But I’m convinced you can be a “fundamentalist” and a libertarian (and I sure wish academics who are supposed to know a lot more about Christianity than journalists would help point that out).

    2) I’m not sure what empirically means when Wheaton won’t hire Roman Catholics — i.e. Josh Hochshield. Empirically, if theological assertions have meaning, then denying someone’s standing as a Christian in communion with a body of believers is part of the deal. That’s not American. But who says that people are either American or Christian all the way down?

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  5. In my judgment, only *some* of Volf’s critics (here I am thinking mostly of those outside the academy) would fall into the bigotry category. Most have an honest theological disagreement with him that is not motivated by animus against Muslims. I certainly would not classify everyone who disagrees with Volf as a bigot. Indeed, many of Volf’s critics have also spoken out against Islamophobia, including Wheaton’s provost and Mohler.

    Were J. Oliver Buswell alive today, I doubt he would ever agree with Volf on this matter. But he did condemn the anti-Semitism of his day. He is one of the heroes of my piece. I’m sure we wouldn’t agree on Hawkins.

    You and I do not disagree about Islamophobia in the civic sphere (we’re both against it). I would never classify you as a bigot.

    We do disagree about:

    1) The boundaries of the theological conversation within the church and Wheaton College

    2) The extent that widening #1 to include voices like Volf and Hawkins might help evangelicals have a better relationship with American Muslims. Note that this is not the only path to a better relationship. Your point that Muslims may find the blurring of theological boundaries to be patronizing is an excellent one (though many Muslims have praised Hawkins and Volf).

    3) The viability of evangelicalism (you are one of the most perceptive critics of evangelicalism) versus the confessionalism you write about in several books. You may turn out to be right on this one.

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  6. Graham is a sloppy theological dwarf who (on this issue) has much in common with the last three popes, my stupid high school world civ teacher (who was an SBC church member), and hundreds of generic PCUSA pastor Megans and Caitlyns.

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  7. Concerning #2 from Dr. Schmalzbauer. But why would we want Volf and Hawkins in our churches when people can remain confessional Christians and learn tolerance by reading Hart’s books (or just his blogs if you’re a scrooge like me)?

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  8. While many may be familiar with BG’s softness toward the RCC, here’s something you may not have been aware of:

    “By every standard he personified true greatness.

    “First, he was a patriotic man. No man, that I’ve ever known, loved America more than he did…

    “Bill Marriot, we all know, was a great business man…”

    “Bill was a family man….”

    “Bill was a religious man… He loved God and he loved his neighbor and he worked to help his neighbors as people who work in that great organization can say.

    “I remember one time we were riding along in Arizona and he said, “What’s your favorite passage in the Bible?” I told him, “John 3:16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should no perish, but have everlasting life.'” He said, “That’s a good one and that’s good enough for me.” And it was.

    “And so today, we do not say goodbye to you dear Bill… we say as the French do, “Au revoir,” till we meet again, because we will.”

    (Quoted from Billy Graham’s eulogy for devout Mormon and Marriott Hotel founder J. Willard Marriott (1900-1985) as it appeared in Marriott’s company magazine, World, Vol. 7, No. 4, Special Issue, p. 22. Digital copy on hand)

    Graham is/was considered the spokesman and poster boy of the NAE. Marriott held leadership positions in the Mormon Church.

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  9. So is this what we need to say in order to avoid bigotry? Mormons and other legalists are called to something better if asked and told, but even when they “accept more truth”, know that they were already Christians in the body of Christ?

    Machen–“The intolerance of the church, in the sense in which I am speaking of it, does not involve any interference with liberty; on the contrary, it means the preservation of liberty. One of the most important elements in civil and religious liberty is the right of voluntary association – the right of citizens to band themselves together for any lawful purpose whatever, whether that purpose does or does not commend itself to the generality of their fellow men. Now, a church is a voluntary association. No one is compelled to be a member of it; no one is compelled to be one of its accredited representatives. It is, therefore, no interference with liberty of a church to insist that those who do choose to be its accredited representatives shall not use the vantage ground of such a position to attack that for which the church exists. . .”

    If Machen had not been so intolerant, he also could have become pope of the evangelicals.

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  10. Justification by the democracy of death.

    “And we’re going to have to face Almighty God with the life that we lived here. There comes a time when we have to realize that life is short, and in the end, the only thing that really counts is not how others see us here, but how God sees us and what the recordbooks of heaven have to say. For the believer who has been to the cross, death is no frightful leap into the dark, but is an entrance into a glorious new life. I believe that Richard Nixon right now is with Pat again.”

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  11. The issue addressed by the article above points the problems we have when we do what is wrong in the name of God. The desire to address these wrongdoings may cause people to overcompensate by their theological statements.

    We need to be clear that God, whom we worship, can only be approached through Jesus. But we provide stumblingblocks to that truth when we practice or promote injustice against people from another group. Thus, in trying to make up for that injustice, some are tempted to deny the truth that God can only be approached through Jesus.

    A stumblingblock from overcompensation also occurred during the same-sex marriage debate in this country as too many conservative Christians associated saying homosexuality is sin with opposing same-sex marriage in society. As a result, many Christians in reaction to the stumblingblock of inequality overcompensated by starting to question whether homosexuality is sin.

    So we need to be careful of what we do in the name of God lest we incite others to overcompensate by embracing serious errors.

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  12. John, there are conversations everywhere. I have lots of conversations in the OPC. I had lots of conversations at Wheaton — Jerry’s Pub comes to mind.

    But conversation is not membership. Don’t sociologists know that?

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  13. With a name like Schmalzbauer and with a chair in Protestant studies, you might think author had come across two-kingdom theology somewhere along the line.

    Nice try to rope this controversy into your “Two Kingdoms” agenda, Dr. Hart but risible, since this is about the mission of a Christian college, not church and state.

    Now if you had an apt quote from J. Gresham Machen, the founder of your version of the Christian religion, and who was very concerned with the Christian education of our young, that would be a serious argument.

    No offense, but I’m sure you won’t disagree that Machen carries more weight than do his epigones. Pls advise.

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  14. I already quoted Machen—“It is, therefore, no interference with liberty of a church to insist that those who do choose to be its accredited representatives shall not use the vantage ground of such a position to attack that for which the church exists. when I say that a true Christian church is radically intolerant, I mean it presents the gospel of Jesus Christ not merely as one way of salvation, but as the only way. It cannot make common cause with other faiths. It cannot agree not to proselytize. Its appeal is universal, and admits of no exceptions. All are lost in sin; none may be saved except by the way set forth in the gospel. Therein lies the offense of the Christian religion, but therein lies also it glory and its power. A Christianity tolerant of other religions is no Christianity at all. . . .

    There are certain things which you cannot expect from such a true Christian church. In the first place, you cannot expect from it any cooperation with non-Christian religion or with a non-Christian program of ethical culture. There are those who tell us that the Bible ought to be put into the public schools, and that the public schools should seek to build character by showing the children that honesty is the best policy and that good Americans do not lie nor steal. With such programs a true Christian church will have nothing to do.

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  15. I agree that Schmalzbauer’s piece is the best thing written on this controversy.

    I do think that there’s a cogent theological discussion to be had here. But let’s not pretend that this controversy is about theology. It isn’t. Whether or not one agrees with what Billy Graham said from a theological perspective, one thing is clear: Few evangelicals paid attention. And why was that? Well, it’s because they perceived Billy Graham as one of their own. He was akin to the well-intentioned eccentric uncle who sometimes says more at Christmas dinner than he should, especially after a couple of glasses of red wine.

    In many ways, evangelicalism is a sociological movement disguised as a theological movement. When Phil Ryken speaks of Hawkins’ loyalty to the “evangelical identity,” he is not primarily referring to theological fidelity. Rather, he is referring to her disloyalty to the sociological contours of the movement. After all, Ryken was hired to do at Wheaton what Mohler accomplished at SBTS and Lillback accomplished at WTS–rid the institutions of those who lack proper sensitivity to the sociological sensitivities of the institutions’ older, white, middle-class constituencies. After all, numerous studies have shown that white evangelicals are more intolerant of sociological difference than any other subculture within the US.

    I don’t think that’s because evangelicals are bigots. Rather, it’s because evangelicals are social idealists. As such, they feel a strong need for a unified culture that makes clear delineations between right and wrong, and that cudgels everyone to march to the beat of a common drummer. They believe in order and unity, not in creative expression. Their theology is little more than a way of remaking God in the image of Nurse Ratched. Hawkins made the mistake of taking that theology at face value. Her sin was in failing to appreciate that, within evangelicalism, preserving the “evangelical identity” trumps everything else.

    I think this plays itself out in the recent discussion here concerning the American evangelical reinventing of Kuyperian thinking. One sees only a dim reflection of Kuyper’s notion of common grace in the Kuyperianism of American evangelicals. Instead, evangelicals rally around a toxic combination of Kuyperian antithesis and biblicism–taking their cue from Van Til, who promoted the notion that the “rebel mind” cannot formulate any measure of truth. How, then, does Van Til explain the vast advances we’ve made in the treatment of cancer, especially where the advances are almost universally attributable to “rebel mind[s]”?

    I have no strong opinion on the suspension of Hawkins, so long as Wheaton is honest about what this actually means for the school. It means that Wheaton is not all that committed to the liberal arts and to free inquiry. It means that Wheaton would rather be the Protestant version of Ave Maria than Notre Dame. It means that evangelical “truth” is so fragile that it can’t survive reasonable scrutiny, and has to be cabined within layers of political protection. In short, it signals the death of any effort to inculcate something called the “evangelical mind.”

    Evangelicals make up 25% of the US population. Even so, they’ve failed to produce a single R1 research university. Baylor is probably the closest thing to one. But it’s achieved that status in spite of its evangelical heritage, not because of it. I applied to Baylor for law school, thinking that it may provide an venue for discussing issues at the intersection of faith and legal philosophy. But that’s not what the school was about at all. Instead, it was focused on building practical courtroom skills. Why was this? One professor explained that it’s because there’s no way to produce good legal-philosophical work at Baylor in a way that doesn’t run afoul of the populist evangelical views espoused by its donor base.

    I think we’re presiding over the death of evangelicalism. And, with the fall of the mainline, one could safely expand that analysis to Protestantism generally. The failure of the Protestant experiment lay in the inability to keep common grace and antithesis in balance. The mainline favored common grace at the expense of antithesis. Evangelicals took the latter turn. It’s now at a point where any hope of a reunion is unrealistic.

    Why do people convert to Catholicism? Sure, there may be a few folks like the CTC clowns, for whom Catholicism is the latest stop in the quest for the perfect church. I give them 5 years before they join Rod Dreher in Eastern Orthodoxy. Most are converting because they simply don’t believe in Protestantism any longer, and see no reason to maintain the protest. As one friend of mine put it: “I’m tired of living in a world where every friendship I have is contingent on whether I believe in inerrancy, oppose civil same-sex marriage, and hold to the historicity of Adam and Eve.” She could jump to the mainline, but would enter a world where the Nicene Creed is largely up for grabs. So, Catholicism becomes the most reasonable option. When one is forced to choose between Kevin Swanson and Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pope Francis starts to look a lot better.

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  16. Bobby, oh to be like you so above it all.

    But if JS’s piece was the best thing written, why would he dredge up anti-Catholicism anti-Semitism? As if that is a good way to carry on a conversation.

    And then you contradict JS who invokes Billy Graham as the way out. Billy is the poster-boy for evangelicalism, you know the movement that you say is all sociological.

    Moisturize more.

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  17. Jim Wallis channels Billy Graham (and provides implicit support for Hawkins):

    In a revealing moment, Wallis cites Jesus’ statement that “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32) as a way “to become better Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, people of other faiths, or people of conscience with no religion—all better because of the truth.” But what does “truth” mean here? Is it the God-directed, Christ-centered, Spirit-saturated truth that the gospel reveals? Or has “truth” been lifted from its biblical moorings and re-envisioned as an abstract force guiding our secular campaigns for justice? Jesus comes off looking more like a cheerleader on the sidelines than the head of a new humanity, reconciling us to God and to one another.

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