Mark Noll Talks Trump, Hawkins, and the Evangelical Mind

NollCheck out this interview with Noll at The Wheaton Record, the student newspaper of Wheaton College.  As many of you know, Noll taught at Wheaton for 27 years before moving to Notre Dame for the final decade of his teaching career.  In this wide-ranging interview Noll talks about Donald Trump’s election, the Larycia Hawkins case at Wheaton, his retirement plans, and the state of the evangelical mind.

Here is a taste of editor Ciera Horton’s interview:

C: The word “evangelical” took center stage in the presidential election and continues to do so. However, there does seem to be a disconnect between Trump’s policies such as the now-blocked travel ban, immigration and sole support for Israel which Christians are divided on — so how do you explain the evangelical support and winning the evangelical vote?

M: I think what’s called “evangelical support for Trump” had to do with the pro-life position of the Republican party, it had to do with a lot of antagonism against some of the cultural steps taken by the Obama administration. It certainly had to do with the memory of Bill Clinton’s immorality in the White House, and a lot of white evangelicals were concerned about economics…I do think we have increasing numbers of Christian academics who would have a much more sophisticated approach to political life than, “I’m angry at Hillary so I’m voting for Trump.” But I’m worried about the Christian populace at large listening all the time to their media go-to and never being concerned about folks who are trying to see things more broadly.

Read the entire interview here.  It appears just in time for Nollstock (Nollfest?, Nollapalooza?) next month.

Larycia Hawkins Lands at the University of Virginia

Hawkins_LFormer Wheaton College political science professor Larycia Hawkins will spend the next three years at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

Here is a taste of a piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Larycia A. Hawkins, the associate professor of political science who was placed on leave by Wheaton College, in Illinois, for expressing solidarity with Muslim students, has a new job, at the University of Virginia.

She will conduct research on the relationship between religions and race at the university’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture as the Abd el-Kader Visiting Faculty Fellow, which is named for the 19th-century Islamic scholar and leader. The position is renewable for up to three years.

A decade ago, Ms. Hawkins was a fellow at UVa’s Miller Center, which the university calls “a nonpartisan institute that seeks to expand understanding of the presidency, policy, and political history.”

Ms. Hawkins and Wheaton, which suspended her in December over her assertion that Muslims and Christians “worship the same God” and her decision to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims, reached a “confidential agreement”last month that resulted in her departure from the institution, where she was the first and only black female tenured professor.

The Executive Director at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture is sociologist James Davidson Hunter. The Institute publishes the Hedgehog Review.


Did Wheaton College and Larycia Hawkins Really “Reconcile?”


Jacob Lupfer, a graduate Oklahoma Baptist University and a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University, is not buying it.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at Religion News Service:

(RNS) The ongoing drama of Professor Larycia Hawkins’ strained relationship with her employer, evangelical Wheaton College, was headed for a climactic heresy trial this month.

Instead, the parties announced in a Saturday (Feb. 6) statement that they will part ways, despite supposedly having “found a mutual place of resolution and reconciliation.”

If separating from a tenured professor under a confidential agreement is “reconciliation,” then surely the word has no meaning.

Confidential agreements often include undisclosed financial payments. I have no insight into what legal counsel Hawkins may have received. But if Wheaton did pay Hawkins to go away, then selling the departure as reconciliation seems especially egregious.

Unfortunately, actual reconciliation was unlikely right from the start of this bungled episode. Hawkins had run afoul of Wheaton’s conservative ethos before, as when she was photographed in a Chicago home on the day of the LGBT pride parade.

Read the rest here.

Academic Freedom: From the University of Washington to Wheaton College


Several years ago Tracy McKenzie moved from the University of Washington to Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.  He is thus ideally suited to speak about the issues surrounding academic freedom at Wheaton in the context of the Larycia Hawkins case.

Here is a taste of his post “Academic Freedom in a Christian Context” from his blog “Faith and American History.”

My professional life has been framed by two very different institutions. For the first twenty-two years of my academic career, I taught at the University of Washington in Seattle. In many ways, my time there was a blessing. The UW is an elite academic institution with an extraordinary faculty and world-class resources. During my time there it boasted five Nobel Prize winners, one of the largest libraries in North America, and was ranked by the Economist as one of the top twenty public universities in the world.

I also made several good friends at UW and benefited from a number of genuinely kind colleagues who took sincere interest in my well being, both personal and professional. Finally, I should acknowledge that I flourished there professionally—in certain respects. I was awarded tenure, rose in rank from assistant to associate to full professor, won the university’s distinguished teaching award, and was accorded a prestigious endowed chair in U. S. history.

And yet while I was experiencing a certain measure of professional success, my soul was always deeply divided. I can best describe the alienation I felt by quoting from Harry Blamires, one of the last students of C. S. Lewis. In his book The Christian Mind, Blamires wrote hauntingly of “the loneliness of the thinking Christian.” Describing my life at UW, Blamires described his own experience as a Christian in the secular academy as akin to being “caught up, entangled, in the lumbering day-to-day operations of a machinery working in many respects in the service of ends that I rejected.”

That is eventually how I came to think of my time at UW. For all of its discrete strengths, the university is less than the sum of its parts. Like the secular academy overall, it is “hollow at its core,” to borrow the words of historian George Marsden.  There is no common foundation, no cohering vision, no basis for meaningful unity. After twenty-two years of faculty meetings, I can attest to the truth that the faculty functioned best as a group when we avoided larger questions about our collective mission and purpose. As long as we could each do our own thing we were fine.

When it came to matters of faith, the university’s unwritten policy was a variation of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It celebrated racial and ethnic diversity relentlessly but was never all that enthusiastic about a genuine diversity of worldviews, at least among the faculty and in the curriculum. If you espoused a vague “spirituality” that made no demands on anyone–or better yet, seemed to reinforce the standard liberal positions of the political Left–all well and good. Otherwise, it was best to remember that religious belief was a private matter that was irrelevant to our teaching and our scholarship.

For twenty-two years I accommodated my sense of calling to this secular dogma, bracketing my faith and limiting explicit Christian expressions and Christian reflections to private conversations with students who sought me out. In his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation, Parker Palmer writes movingly about the costs of such segmentation. Vocation is a calling to a way of life more than to a sphere of life. “Divided no more!” is Palmer’s rallying cry.

If I were to characterize my experience since coming to Wheaton five and a half years ago, these are the words that first come to mind–divided no more. Wheaton is not a perfect place, nor did I expect it to be one when I came here. But I can honestly say that I have experienced much greater academic freedom at Wheaton than I ever did at the secular university that I left.

Read the entire post here.


What is a Christian College?

a9fde-messiah2bgraduationHere are some of my thoughts about evangelical higher education in light of the Larcyia Hawkins case at Wheaton College.  I pitched it a few places, but no one seemed to want it.  My opinions here are solely my own.  Regular readers at The Way of Improvement Leads Home will find some of this stuff familiar–JF

It has been a few years since I taught Messiah College first-year students in our “Created and Called for Community” course.  The course begins with Genesis 1 where we read of God speaking his word into the darkness which covered the face of the earth.  He said “let there be light,” and there was light.  He then went on to create the water, land, plant life, the universe, and all living creatures.  His greatest creation, of course, was human beings.  Genesis 1:26-27 reminds our students that women and men are the highest form of God’s creation as they were created in His image.

“And God saw that it was good.”

I like to think of these first days of the Created and Called for Community course as a fitting introduction to a Christian liberal arts education.  Students learn that all of their fellow human beings have dignity, worth, and value because of the doctrine of Imago Dei.

As a historian and a Christian.  I am especially appreciative of this aspect of Messiah College’s curriculum.  Historians, after all, are a very earthy bunch.  We are in the business of studying human beings. The Imago Dei reminds us that the human beings we study have a very special identity, independent of their actions and behavior.  While people have been created with freedom, and are thus capable of performing villainous or sinful acts, even the most despicable human subjects bear the image of God and thus have inherent value in his eyes.

If life is indeed sacred and valuable, then Christians have a responsibility to celebrate and protect it.  Scholars debate the way a belief in Imago Dei should be applied in our lives, but most would agree that it serves as a foundation for Christian social teaching and, by extension, a Christian education.  I want the students in my history courses to know that all the voices of the people we encounter in the past count in the stories we tell in the classroom, on the printed page, on the Internet, and in museums and other historical sites.

I have been thinking a lot about “Created and Called for Community” and the Judeo-Christian doctrine of Imago Dei in light of the recent Larycia Hawkins case at Wheaton College.

In case you have not heard, Hawkins is a political science professor at Wheaton, the Chicago-area school that many consider American evangelicalism’s flagship institution of higher education.  Last December Hawkins decided to wear a hijab during the Advent season to show solidarity with her Muslim neighbors.  It was a compassionate, even Christ-like gesture that at least one Wheaton alumnus believes was fitting with the college’s nineteenth-century commitment to social justice.

But when Hawkins claimed that Muslims and Christians worship the same God she apparently went too far.  The Wheaton administration has placed her on leave, threatened to take away her tenure, and has decided to move to terminate her employment at the college.

After listening to Hawkins speak in a video posted by The Chicago Tribune it seems that her decision to wear the hijab and acknowledge the common monotheistic ancestry of Christians and Muslims was a direct expression of her evangelical faith.  Think about it.  How many political science professors in the United States engage in what Hawkins calls “Advent worship?” Better yet, how many evangelical Christians–the kind of folks who could sign Wheaton’s statement of faith–participate in “Advent worship?”  On this front, Hawkins appeared to be a model faculty member.

Of course the leadership of Wheaton College has every right to draw theological boundaries as they see fit.  If we believe in religious liberty we must defend the college’s right to terminate Hawkins, whether we agree with the decision or not.  But this entire case does offer some interesting opportunities to think about the identity of Christian colleges.

I imagine that there are a lot of evangelical colleges and universities who would have responded to Hawkins’s Advent worship in a similar fashion as Wheaton. But not all Christian colleges are alike.  I would hope that any administrators at Christian colleges would take Imago Dei seriously, but they would not all apply this doctrine in the same way amid the day-to-day life of their institutions.

What is an evangelical Christian college?  First of all, Christian colleges are not churches.  Churches exist to uphold, defend, and promote Christian theology and the proper worship of God.  Churches are primarily in the business of formation and catechism in a particular Christian tradition.  One should expect the leadership of a church to promote what they believe to be correct doctrine and, in the process, show how other manifestations of religion are wrong.

Second, Christian colleges are places of learning, just like every other college. They are educational communities where students should feel comfortable asking the “big questions” about the meaning of life.  They are places where intellectual risks are taken and ideas—even ideas that we may believe to be sacred—are critically analyzed.

But what makes Christian colleges unique is the fact that they occupy a space somewhere between the church and the broader non-Christian academy.  This makes them different from the public university down the road or the private, non-sectarian liberal arts institution.  Christian colleges do not offer the same kind of academic freedom afforded to faculty at other institutions.  They have statements of faith and community expectations that result in the drawing of specific intellectual boundaries.  They attract faculty who feel comfortable pursuing their academic vocations in such a confessional environment.  (Some have argued that this is a kind of “academic freedom” unavailable to faculty at a public university). They attract students who want their college education to be steeped in a particular Christian tradition.

At the same time, Christian liberal arts colleges are in the business of educating young minds and thus do not draw boundaries in the same way that churches draw boundaries.  We hope that students who attend Christian colleges will be more confident and secure in their faith when they leave four years later, and we want spiritual formation to happen on campus (and we should be concerned when it does not), but this is not the primary goal. Spiritual formation is primarily the job of the church.

So to what extent should an evangelical college carve out space for the celebration of the universal values that apply to all human beings as created in the image of God?  And how should such space exist alongside, or in conjunction with, the more particular or specific doctrinal beliefs that define evangelical Christian faith and the identity of an evangelical college?  These questions seem to go to the heart of what recently happened to Larycia Hawkins at Wheaton.

Don’t get me wrong. The particular doctrines and faith commitments of historic Christianity (however they are defined by the institution) should always be paramount at an evangelical college. These commitments should inform the life of the institution in every way–from student programs to faculty hiring and from the classroom to the chapel. But the kind of expression of human solidarity that Hawkins exemplified in this situation– an expression rooted in Christian theology (the Imago Dei)–is also appropriate at times.

One cannot deny that both Christians and Muslims trace their roots to Abrahamic faith. So in that sense, they do worship the same God.  Of course there are some major distinctions between the way Christians and Muslims worship this God, understand His identity (the Trinity, for example), and interpret his plan for the human beings he created.

Hawkins never denied these distinctions.  Instead, her Advent worship was meant to show us that we all belong to the same family–the human family. And there are times, even in the life of an exclusively Christian college, when those human connections should be acknowledged and even celebrated.

Caution, care, and education must accompany such expressions of solidarity.  They must be explained in the context of a theology of Imago Dei.  But dialogue and conversation on these matters is good.  I am afraid that Wheaton  either missed such an opportunity or, perhaps more likely, was unwilling to be a host to this type of discussion.  In the Hawkins case Wheaton College erred on the side of being Christian over its identity as a liberal arts college.


Why I Agree with Timothy Larsen

9475f-wheatonA few hours ago I wrote a post on Timothy Larsen’s insider remarks about the Larycia Hawkins affair at Wheaton College.   Here are some more thoughts on that piece:

I think we need to remember that there are different levels of critique about what is going on Wheaton. For the mainstream media and the academic world, the criticism of the Hawkins affair should not surprise anyone.  This critique has been around for a long time, but it gains traction whenever something like this happens at a Christian college.  It goes something like this:  Wheaton is fundamentalist, intolerant, maybe racist or sexist, does not permit academic freedom, does not allow Catholics, etc.

When I read this critique I find myself in agreement with Larson.  After all, I teach at Messiah College, one of Wheaton’s younger sisters in the world of Christian college higher education.  Let Wheaton College be Wheaton College. If we believe in religious liberty, then it has every right to define its boundaries as the administration sees fit.

On the other hand, there is an intramural conversation going on that is worth noting. This is a conversation taking place among Christians–mostly bloggers and social media folks–about Wheaton’s theological definition of evangelical Christian faith and the  interpretation of its Statement of Faith.  On this point I disagree with the way the Wheaton administration is handling this case.  If you are a reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home, you know that I have argued for a vision of a Christian college that is slightly more inclusive in its approach to solidarity with Muslims.

In a world of social media, online publishing, and the speedy news cycle that they foster, it is often hard to distinguish the difference between these two critiques. Larsen’s piece, which appears at CNN, addresses the secular/academic critique of Wheaton.

Timothy Larsen Defends Wheaton College

9475f-wheatonTimothy Larsen is the McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College.  (Some of you know that this is the endowed chair formerly held by Notre Dame historian Mark Noll). Larsen is an excellent scholar and a thoughtful defender of Christian colleges.  I am glad to see that he has written a piece in defense of Wheaton and places like it. (He doesn’t mention Messiah College in the piece, but much of what he says applies to Messiah, the college where I teach).

Here is a taste of his piece at CNN, “Let Wheaton and Other Christian Colleges Be Christian“:

…Indeed, for some of our most thoroughgoing critics it means that we are not at all like the University of Illinois. A statement of faith, they assert, prohibits academic freedom and thus disqualifies us from being a genuine institution of higher education.

It feels differently from the inside. The vast majority of the professors Wheaton hires come either straight from a Ph.D. program at a major, secular school or from teaching at a secular university. Again and again they revel in the luxurious, newfound academic freedom that Wheaton has granted them: For the first time in their careers they can think aloud in the classroom about the meaning of life and the nature of the human condition without worrying about being accused of violating the separation of church and state or transgressing the taboo against allowing spiritual reflections to wander into a conversation about death or ethics or hope.

Just like no Catholic wants everyone to join a monastery, so I would not want every institution of higher education to be like Wheaton. Still, I have no doubt that the intellectual life of the entire nation is stronger because places like Wheaton exist than it would be if all higher education had its academic freedom curtailed by prohibiting theological lines of inquiry.

Wheaton is continually renewing and testing the caliber of its intellectual mettle in the wider academy: Every year we send out students who have been admitted into some of the best graduate schools, hire faculty members who have been trained in major research universities, and have professors present their research at the conferences of leading learned societies and publish it in peer-review journals. We gain the freedom to discuss matters of faith without losing the accountability that comes with having to meet the scholarly standards of the wider academy.

Read the rest here.

Even More Wheaton College Stuff


The Chronicle of Higher Education has weighed-in on the Larcyia Hakwins case at Wheaton College.  Here is a taste:

Yet Ms. Hawkins and others question how welcoming Wheaton is of diverse viewpoints and styles. “All evangelical colleges have to ask what diversity means,” said Gary M. Burge, a professor of New Testament who added that he finds Ms. Hawkins’s views in keeping with the faith statement. “Genuine diversity is going to stretch the margins of what’s comfortable for us.”

Michael S. Hamilton, an associate professor of history at Seattle Pacific University who has written about Wheaton and other religious colleges, said Wheaton is often uncomfortable with people who don’t fit into its Northern, white, fundamentalist tradition. “If you don’t sit in that tradition, then you don’t fit at Wheaton. But if you don’t fit in that tradition, they will pin your nonconformity to the faith statement,” he said. “That’s what’s happening in the case of Larycia Hawkins.”

Faculty members also worry about how much external constituents’ prejudices are pressuring the administration. Time magazine excerpted an email that Mr. Jones sent to another professor, in which he described Ms. Hawkins’s Facebook statements as “innocuous” but noted that “the media are pounding on our door asking for comments about our faculty who are endorsing Islam.”

Ms. Hawkins said that Mr. Jones had told her that hundreds of students had already withdrawn their applications. Mr. Jones said that’s not accurate. “We did, however, discuss the numerous responses the college was receiving, and that this could have negative implications for applications,” he said.

“I don’t think the administration is being racist in singling her out for her recent comments,” said Mr. Toly. “I fear that in the background of many concerns raised by external constituencies there may be systemic undercurrents of racial issues that are at play that we don’t want to acknowledge.”

Ms. Hawkins’s case may be resolved within the next month. The administration has compiled a roughly 40-page memo, she said, outlining why she should be fired, including her assertion of religious solidarity with Muslims and Jews, and that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Christianity Today, the voice of American evangelicalism, has also published an editorial on the matter.  The magazine will not take a side, but it calls for reason and reconciliation.


More on Wheaton College

d67ac-wheatonEveryone is talking about Wheaton College.  I just got back from the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta and it seemed like everyone I ran into wanted to chat about the Larycia Hawkins case.

I had conversations with three difference kind of people this weekend in Atlanta:

  1. Evangelical historians.  These conversations were intramural in nature.  We all understand Wheaton and the issues that Christian colleges face, but are baffled with the way the administration is handling the whole thing.
  2. Non-Christian historians.  What is happening at Wheaton College has a ripple effect on those of us who teach at other Christian colleges–sister schools, if you will.  Since many of my historian colleagues know I teach at Messiah College, they wonder just how Messiah would respond to a similar situation.   I have had to work up an answer on this front.
  3. Public intellectuals.  I had a few exchanges this weekend with historians who work at intellectual and political magazines as reporters and editors.  They are very aware of what is going on at Wheaton and feel an obligation to cover this.

After last night’s article in Time magazine, a few more observers weighed-in today.  John Hawthorne’s “Why Wheaton Matters” is worth reading.  I appreciate him referencing my post on graduate admissions and our subsequent exchange on Facebook.  Tobin Grant’s extensive piece at Religion News Service is also worth a look.

Wheaton College: What a Mess!


We are slowly getting more information about the Larycia Hawkins case at Wheaton College.  In this article at the website of Time, several more Wheaton professors speak out in defense of Hawkins.

Elizabeth Dias, the Time reporter on the story, and a Wheaton graduate (she doesn’t identify herself in this way in the byline), has obtained access to e-mails written by provost Stanton Jones to Hawkins and other faculty members.

Is it strange that we have yet to hear from Wheaton president Philip Ryken?   This is not meant to be cynical.   Jones seems to be taking all the heat. Wheaton College is getting skewered in the press and the blogopshere, but the Ryken has been silent.  (Unless I am missing something–which could very well be the case).

I also wonder how this affair is influencing the recruitment of new faculty at Wheaton.  We are in the midst of the academic job season.  Interviews are being conducted.  On-campus visits are being scheduled.  What are these potential faculty members thinking as they go through this process?

And what about the students who are applying for admission?  I am guessing that this whole affair will lead many evangelical high school students to feel even more confident about attending Wheaton College.  But others may decided to go elsewhere.  Whatever the case, today is the application deadline.

And if Hawkins does eventually get terminated, what would this say about the current state of American evangelicalism, and its future?

Here is a taste of Dias’s report, published about an hour ago:

The Wheaton College provost overseeing an expulsion trial against a tenured professor who said Christians and Muslims worship the same God wrote in a private email last month that her comments were “innocuous” but that they had created a public relations disaster for the Illinois college.

“Articles are already being written in a variety of news sources, and the media are pounding on our door asking for comments about our faculty who are endorsing Islam,” wrote Provost Stanton Jones, in a December 11 email obtained by TIME to Wheaton Psychology professor Michael Mangis. “We are being asked to defend why we have faculty openly rejecting with the institution stands for.”

The scandal, which has engulfed the evangelical college in Illinois, began a day earlier, when the school’s first-ever tenured black female professor, Larycia Hawkins, wrote a Facebook post declaring solidarity with Muslims following the San Bernardino terrorist attacks. “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” Hawkins wrote on Facebook. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Since then the campus has divided, as many fellow professors begin to defend her comments while the administration has begun a proceeding that could lead to her termination for reasons that include her Facebook post. In interviews this week with TIME, several of her fellow faculty spoke out against the administrative proceeding against her. “I have seen no theological argument from the college that would deem her commitments unacceptable,” Gary Burge, professor of New Testament, tells TIME. “[Hers] is a clear, compelling affirmation of what we believe in Wheaton’s Statement of Faith.”

Professors and students at Wheaton sign the school’s “Statement of Faith,” a doctrinal statement that draws on historic Christian creeds and summarizes biblical principles of evangelical Christianity. The statement does not define a relationship between evangelical Christianity and Islam, and there is longstanding division within the evangelical community about the variations of belief that should be allowed.

In the comment section under Hawkins’ original Facebook post, Mangis, the psychology professor, had written to defend Hawkins’ statement in early December. “If you get any grief at work give me a heads-up because I’ll be leading my spring psychology of religion class in Muslim prayers,” he wrote.

Read the rest here.


A Wheaton College Faculty Member Breaks the Silence on the Larycia Hawkins Affair


Everyone is talking about Wheaton College and Larycia Hawkins.  Even the president of the other Wheaton College is getting heat for it.

Over the past week or so I have been in communication with a few Wheaton faculty members to learn more about what is happening in this whole Larycia Hawkins affair.  What I have learned is that the faculty seem to know just as much as everyone else.

Noah Toly is one of Hawkins’s colleagues in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Wheaton. He also directs the college’s Center for Urban Engagement.  He is the first Wheaton professor to write something publicly about what is happening.

Here is a taste:

In recent weeks, many have asked why more Wheaton College faculty have not spoken publicly about the recent controversy surrounding the college’s actions against our colleague, Dr. Larycia Hawkins. To some outside of higher education, the relative quiet of our faculty has seemed to suggest either fear or agreement. There are indeed some who fear reprisal – not only those who don’t defend Dr. Hawkins for fear of administrative and board action, but those who don’t defend the institution for fear of alienating many colleagues. There certainly are some who disagree with Dr. Hawkins. There may be some who agree with the administration’s decision to place her on administrative leave and ultimately to initiate termination proceedings. (It is important to note that disagreeing with Dr. Hawkins does not imply agreeing with the administration’s actions.) But I don’t believe these reasons account for the low volume of the faculty response.

Speaking for myself: I have not spoken publicly about the affair until the past two days. I have fielded a barrage of questions from friends, acquaintances, and professional associates (family mercifully spared me from this conversation during holiday visits). I have written letters of concern to the college administration and to our faculty representatives. But I have kept most of my commentary “in-house” and none of it has been public.

My reasons for keeping this conversation in-house until now are neither fear nor agreement. Though John Fea has written that it’s possible “no one at Wheaton College is safe,” I don’t fear whims or witch-hunts. There may be many reasons for that. Some may say that I’m constitutionally defective in my sense of fear. Some will say that because I’m a white male, I have nothing to worry about. And perhaps I rightly trust our administration and board, even when I think the college has done something wrong. In any case, no – it’s not fear.

Read the rest here.

What Would Jonathan Blanchard Do?

BlanchardI my recent response to Aaron Griffith’s post on Wheaton College’s history in light of the Larycinda Hawkins case, I included this sentence:

Griffiths may be right when he argues that Hawkins’s decision to stand with persecuted Muslims in America is fitting with 19th-century Wheaton. (Although I am not sure that Jonathan Blanchard’s activism would have extended to non-Christian religions). 

Over at Old Life, D.G. Hart has seized on this point and elaborated on my parenthetical remark about what Jonathan Blanchard would have thought about Islam.

Hart writes:

Yes, it’s a shame if Dr. Hawkins loses her position over her remarks. Yes, it’s tough for administrators to protect faculty privileges while also maintaining institutional identity (not to mention satisfying alumni and donors).

But we don’t need to make up theology or history to justify our own rooting interests. The idea that the Blanchards would have been on the side of Muslims is risible, almost as funny as thinking that anyone would want to justify an institutional policy or personal conviction today by appealing to — wait for it — Jonathan and Charles Blanchard. Those guys would chew any contemporary Protestant up and spit us out. If they’d do that to Protestants dot dot dot

Read Hart’s entire post here.  He is right.


Attention Christian Colleges: Larycia Hawkins May Be on the Job Market

hawkinsWhen Larycia Hawkins put on a hijab and said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, Wheaton College Provost Stanton Jones had some “concerns.”  He asked the political science professor to address them. Hawkins responded with a “theological statement.”  She has now posted that statement on her website.  You can read it here.

Hawkins’s statement is solidly within the theological parameters of evangelical Christianity and Wheaton College’s statement of faith.  I am now more baffled than ever as to why she is being terminated.

On the matter of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, Hawkins quotes Miroslav Volf, Scot McKnight, Timothy George, and John Stackhouse.

Scot McKnight is one of evangelicalism’s foremost New Testament scholars. (Full disclosure:  He taught me Greek in the summer of 1989 at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School).

Timothy George is a “life advisory trustee” of Wheaton College and a “theological advisor” for the evangelical magazine Christianity Today.

John Stackhouse is a Wheaton graduate.

I am beginning to think Hawkins is being fired for reasons other than her theology.

If she is being fired for what she wrote in her theological statement that I linked to above, then no one at Wheaton College is safe.

Wheaton College’s Search for a Usable Past

d67ac-wheatonI really appreciate Aaron Griffith’s attempt to show that Wheaton College’s decision to fire Larycia Hawkins ignores the school’s 19th-century social justice roots.

Griffiths writes:

Wheaton’s brand of evangelicalism cannot be understood without considering its history. Wheaton was founded in 1860 by its first president, Jonathan Blanchard who was active in causes like abolition of slavery and the defense of Indian rights. Blanchard stressed the Christian call to social justice, the need to bring the blessings of the kingdom of God to earth.

The college framed itself along these lines as well. As historian Donald Dayton has shown, Wheaton’s motto, “For Christ and His Kingdom,” is best understood as a social statement flowing out of this evangelical reform impulse: “what ‘John the Baptist and the Savior meant when they preached the ‘kingdom of God’ was ‘a perfect state of society.’ ” Though Blanchard said we should never shut out “the influences and motives of eternity,” he meant to cultivate God’s kingdom here and now.

Wheaton moved in a different direction in the early 20th century. The school tracked with the broader fundamentalist movement that emerged at this time as a reaction to various modernist threats, like liberal theology.

President Charles Blanchard (Jonathan’s son) was instrumental in engineering this shift. Charles was very active in fundamentalist consolidation efforts, even drafting the doctrinal statement of the 1919 World’s Christian Fundamentals Association. He also helped bring a new ethical ethos to Wheaton, stressing individual purity instead of social justice.

In the early 20th century, dancing, card playing, and theater attendance replaced slavery and mistreatment of Indians as Wheaton’s moral bugaboos. Focus on the fundamentals unfortunately meant that social concerns were often swept aside, and, as religion scholar John Schmalzbauer has shown, fundamentalists tied to Wheaton propounded their own brands of Christian bigotry (in this case anti-Semitism).

With this history in mind, Hawkins’s activism on behalf of Muslims begins to look a lot less like an aberration and more in keeping with the original vision of the college. The antebellum evangelical tradition Hawkins drew upon was one primarily concerned with upholding human dignity and advocating for those on the margins. Muslims facing discrimination and threats of violence in present-day American life surely fit that description.

Griffiths may be right when he argues that Hawkins’s decision to stand with persecuted Muslims in America is fitting with 19th-century Wheaton. (Although I am not sure that Jonathan Blanchard’s activism would have extended to non-Christian religions).  But his historical argument lacks punch because it implies that the present-day manifestation of Wheaton College actually takes those 19th-century roots seriously.

I don’t know Wheaton College well, but I would guess that fundamentalism and, subsequently mid-century neo-evangelicalism, offer a more usable past for the administration, trustees, and (most) alumni than the older Jonathan Blanchard social justice years. In this sense, the decision to terminate Hawkins is fitting with the only history of Wheaton  College that the administration is willing to acknowledge.

There is a lesson in change over time in there somewhere.

Wheaton College Goes Forward With Termination Proceedings in the Larycia Hawkins Case

hawkinsThis is what it has come down to at Wheaton College Christianity Today is reporting that Larycia Hawkins, the political science professor who wore a hijab during Advent and said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, is probably on her way out.

Here is a taste of the CT piece:

Wheaton College’s provost has begun termination proceedings against Larycia Hawkins for her public statements supporting Muslims, the college confirmed.

“The Notice is not a termination; rather, it begins Wheaton College’s established process for employment actions pertaining to tenured faculty members,” spokesperson LaTonya Taylor said…

“Dr. Hawkins’ administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions,” the college stated.

A spokesperson for Hawkins said the professor will “provide information regarding the notification” at a press conference tomorrow at the Chicago Temple, and said that Hawkins “maintains Christian support for the Muslim community amidst the ongoing anti-Muslim climate.”

Hawkins received notice Monday that Wheaton provost Stanton Jones was recommending her termination.

The parties reached an “impasse” when Hawkins declined to further elaborate the theological implications of her statements, according to the college.

The matter will now be considered by the Faculty Personnel Committee, made up of 9 elected and tenured faculty members, and then Wheaton president Philip Ryken will consider the recommendations of both the provost and the committee.

The college’s Board of Trustees will then vote on Ryken’s recommendation.

I am not going to add anything to this post, other than to say that this is unfortunate.  But I stand by Wheaton’s right as a Christian institution to draw boundaries in the way that they want to draw boundaries.

I have written (and linked to) a few posts that provide a means of thinking about the Hawkins case in a way that did not have to result in her firing. You can find those posts here. Maybe I will write it up in a more coherent essay.

A Wheaton Graduate Asks His Alma Mater to Consider Its Muslim Neighbors

John Schmalzbauer is not your average Wheaton College alumnus. He is the Blanche Gorman Strong Chair of Protestant Studies at Missouri State University.  

In his recent piece at Religion and Politics, Schmalzbauer puts the entire Larycia Hawkins affair in the larger context of Wheaton’s history with non-Christian religions and the history of Midwestern fundamentalism.  It’s a great piece–the best thing I have read so far on this controversy.

Here is a taste:

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’s appeal to the administration of his alma mater may be too late.  The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Wheaton and Hawkins have been unable to reconcile.  Hawkins may be terminated if she does not agree to give up her tenure.

Hart: Larycia Hawkins Should Wear a Hijab on the Fourth of July

Wheaton College

Darryl Hart thinks that the theology I have used to defend Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins’s decision to wear a hijab during Advent is too inclusive.  

Here is what I wrote:

I think Hawkins is trying to say that we all belong to the same family–the human family. And there are times, even in the life of an exclusively Christian college, when those human connections should be acknowledged. And they should be acknowledged, and even celebrated, for Christian reasons–namely the Imago Dei. So I am not sure that someone saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God is a statement that is necessarily out of bounds at a Christian college, but it must be carefully nuanced and explained.

Here is what Hart wrote at his blog Old Life:

Once again, as is so often the case when Christians opine about matters of common interest, the real problem is a confusion of categories. So two-kingdoms theology again to the rescue. What’s wrong with showing solidarity with Muslims a little more narrowly than John Fea proposed? Why can’t we identify with Muslims living in the United States as Americans (or people who want to be citizens)? As such, Christians and Muslims would be people who support freedom of religion, speech, association, as well as laws against murder. The way to do this might be to wear the hijab or (for men) shemagh on Presidents’ Day, July Fourth, the three weeks of March Madness. What does Advent have to do with it? And such an identification allows us to affirm something that we really do have in common — the greatest nation on God’s green earth as opposed to the places of worship that actually keep Muslims and Christians separate.

I am not sure about March Madness, but I actually like this idea.

But if we really believe in the theological commitment to Imago Dei we need to think about the various ways we exercise this belief in public life.  Again, it must be done carefully and with an appropriate amount of explanation.  In a Christian college this kind of connection with our common humanity should never trump the real and fundamental differences between Christians and Muslims. These differences should be paramount.  They mean that a Christian college must draw theological boundaries.

I appreciate Hart’s secularism.  I really do.  But a Christian college, as I understand it, occupies a middle ground between the church and public life.  It seems like there are times when theology–in this case a belief in Imago Dei— might come to bear on the way the students and staff of a Christian college make sense of public life.

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?: Christian Theologians Weigh-In

If you are following the Larycia Hawkins case at Wheaton College you know that she was placed on administrative leave by the college not for wearing a hijab in solidarity with her Muslim “sisters,” but because she said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  

I am not a theologian, but one cannot deny that historically both Christianity and Islam trace their roots to Abrahamic faith.  So in that sense, they do worship the same God.  Of course there are some big distinctions between the way Christians and Muslims worship this God, understand His identity (the Trinity, for example), and view His plan for His creation.  (And these distinctions, as I argued in the post I linked to above, are extremely important and should be paramount at evangelical Christian colleges).  I think Hawkins is trying to say that we all belong to the same family–the human family. And there are times, even in the life of an exclusively Christian college, when those human connections should be acknowledged. And they should be acknowledged, and even celebrated, for Christian reasons–namely the Imago Dei.  So I am not sure that someone saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God is a statement that is necessarily out of bounds at a Christian college, but it must be carefully nuanced and explained.  Unfortunately, this nuance is often lost on much of the constituency of evangelical colleges.

But I digress…

In the last twenty-four hours, two respected Christian theologians have made a case that Christians and Muslims do indeed worship the same God.

Here is Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, a Protestant theologian cited by Hawkins, in The Washington Post:

What is theologically wrong with asserting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, according to Hawkins’s opponents — and mine? Muslims deny the Trinity and incarnation, and, therefore, the Christian God and Muslim God cannot be the same. But the conclusion doesn’t square. And Christians, though historically not friendly to either Judaism or the Jews, have rightly resisted that line of thinking when it comes to the God of Israel.
For centuries, a great many Orthodox Jews have strenuously objected to those same Christian convictions: Christians are idolaters because they worship a human being, Jesus Christ, and Christians are polytheists because they worship “Father, Son and the Spirit” rather than the one true God of Israel. What was the Christian response? Christian theologians neither insisted that they worship a different God than Jews nor did they accuse Jews of idolatry. That’s a step that would have been easy to make, for if Jews don’t worship the same God as the Christians, then they worship the false God and, therefore, are idolaters. Instead of rejecting the God of the Jews, Christians affirmed that they worship the same God as the Jews, but noted that the two religious groups understand God in in partly different ways.
Why is the Christian response to Muslim denial of the Trinity and the incarnation not the same as the response to similar Jewish denial? Why are many Christians today unable to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God but understand God in partly different ways?
Read the entire piece here.
And here is a post from Francis Beckwith, a Baylor theologian/philosopher and former president of the Evangelical Theological Society who had to resign his post when he converted to Catholicism:
Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? To answer it well, we have to make some important philosophical distinctions. First, what does it mean for two terms to refer to the same thing? Take, for example, the names “Muhammed Ali” and “Cassius Clay.” Although they are different terms, they refer to the same thing, for each has identical properties. Whatever is true of Ali is true of Clay and vice versa. (By the way, you can do the same with “Robert Zimmerman” and “Bob Dylan,” or “Norma Jean Baker” and “Marilyn Monroe”).
So the fact that Christians may call God “Yahweh” and Muslims call God “Allah” makes no difference if both “Gods” have identical properties. In fact, what is known as classical theism was embraced by the greatest thinkers of the Abrahamic religions: St. Thomas Aquinas (Christian), Moses Maimonides (Jewish), and Avicenna (Muslim). Because, according to the classical theist, there can only in principle be one God, Christians, Jews, and Muslims who embrace classical theism must be worshipping the same God. It simply cannot be otherwise.
But doesn’t Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn’t this mean that they indeed worship different “Gods”? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.” On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.”
Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? Again, of course not. The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.
For these reasons, it would a real injustice if Wheaton College were to terminate the employment of Professor Hawkins simply because those evaluating her case cannot make these subtle, though important, philosophical distinctions.
Read Beckwith’s entire post here.