Wheaton Prof. dismisses theological concerns as “trumped-up”

Yesterday, embattled Professor Larycia Hawkins held a rally in response to Wheaton College administration’s intent to terminate her. If you haven’t been keeping up with this story, I encourage you to read Joe Carter’s explainer here. You can watch the entire rally above, including a statement from Professor Hawkins herself (which begins at 28:30).

The main thing that I take away from Hawkins’s statement is its defiance—especially at the end. Here’s a transcript of about the last three minutes or so of her remarks:

While Wheaton College can signify that employees sign a statement of faith—that’s within their right—and adhere to it (and I do), they did not give me Jesus. And they cannot take him away from me.

Wheaton College cannot hold me to a different standard—in fact a higher standard—than they hold every other employee to at the university.

Wheaton College cannot scare me into walking away from the truth that all humans—Muslims, the vulnerable, the oppressed of any ilk—are all my sisters and brothers. I am called by Jesus to walk with them in their oppression.

Wheaton College cannot intimidate me into cowering in fear of the enemy of the month as defined by real estate moguls, senators from Texas, Christians from this country, bigots, and fundamentalists of all stripes.

Wheaton College will never induce me to kowtow to their doublespeak concerning the statement of faith so as to appease an imaginary constituency that clearly knows little about what academic freedom or Christian love mean or to placate platinum donors to their coffers.

Wheaton College will never hear me disavow my religious family tree. That would be the height of academic dishonesty, the nadir of historical revisionism, and a repudiation of the Christian narrative where the central figure is a Hebrew from Nazareth who was despised and rejected from Podunk Nazareth, who nevertheless set captives free and is still doing so today.

Wheaton College cannot place me in a theological corner or a trumped-up statement-of-faith corner. The last time I was put in a corner was in the fourth grade, and that was undeserved too. I won’t ever be put in a corner again.

Students, colleagues, friends, you inspire me to embody the love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. This is the sum of the law and the prophets. I can do no less than live Jesus-politics. Friends far and near, let’s continue to walk in the truth of our common humanity. I believe that Jesus is justice. And I will continue to walk in justice for all people. Thank you.

For the full context of these remarks, I encourage you to watch the video above. You will note that in answering questions from reporters near the end of the video, Hawkins says that she would never say anything negative about Wheaton. Readers can decide for themselves whether she has achieved that.

Hawkins says that the theological concerns raised by her Facebook post are “trumped-up” and that the administration has engaged in “doublespeak concerning the statement of faith.” While I would leave questions about Hawkins’s employment status to Wheaton, I would nevertheless contend that the issues raised by her statement are irreducibly theological and should concern every Christian, not just those at Wheaton.

It is absurd to suggest that her “same god” comment has no implication for evangelical faith—and in particular for a statement of faith like Wheaton’s. For Christians, it matters in spades whether we recognize the triune God of the Bible and his Son Jesus Christ crucified and raised for sinners—all of which are denied by Islam. It also matters big time whether one recognizes Christ as the only way to be reconciled to God.

To be unclear about those things is to be unclear about the main things—indeed about the ultimate thing. And that is the issue.


UPDATE: Here is the theological statement that Professor Hawkins provided to the Wheaton administration on December 17, 2015. I am not going to give a full analysis of it, but I will say that it seems to raise almost as many questions as it answers.

Theological Statement


  • Brian Watson

    Some disorganized thoughts:

    I note the air of defiance, as well. In addition, she makes irrelevant statements and false charges. Wheaton is not trying to take Jesus from her. How does she know that Wheaton’s actions are simply efforts to placate donors? Notice also this move: She says Jesus is justice. It seems she then makes this move: If Jesus is justice, then whatever she believes to be just is true of Jesus. It’s the same move people make when they say that God is love. The conclusion is usually something like, Therefore, God must be loving in the way that I perceive loving to be.

    I also noticed Julie Rodgers behind Dr. Hawkins’s right shoulder. In the longer video, taken from a different angle, I see the “Reverend” Jesse Jackson, who gave a clearly pluralistic message, as well as what appears to be (and I could be wrong) a group of unorthodox “clergy.”

    I think there’s a tension between academic freedom, on the one hand, and a Christian identity, on the other. I used to be a professor at a Christian college, and I know that such schools don’t often vet the beliefs of their professors carefully. If a school is going to be Christian in any meaningful way, it has to be careful about doctrine, even when it comes to hiring professors who are not teaching theology or ministry. Such schools should have their faculty and staff subscribe to core beliefs, while also allowing important discussions to unfold in classrooms.

    One more thought: This story reveals something important, and that is that creeds and statements of faith are products of their time. They need to be re-written to address the challenges of the day. Today, they need to be written to address the issue of pluralism and sexuality and marriage.

    • Brian Holland

      Excellent point about how confessions need to be updated. I think the larger point here is that this professors religion/worldview is really leftist as noted by her rant about standing with the supposedly oppressed Muslims. She has also expressed support for the radical Marxist, and racist Black Lives Matter movement, that refuses to allow the Democratic presidential candidates to say that “ALL Lives matter.” I’m all in favor of free speech, but she shouldn’t be teaching at a private Christian University.

      • michelle matthews

        Would this hold true in reverse? For example, suppose a professor at a progressive Christian college were to declare that he stood with traditional marriage activists because gay marriage was against God’s will*, and was subsequently suspended for failing to uphold the institution’s statement of faith. Would it be defiant for that professor to protest his suspension and (presumed) eventual termination?

        *NOT that he intended to discriminate against those with different beliefs, JUST that he believed gay marriage against God’s will.

        • Brian Holland

          I don’t see why not, it’s a private institution. They can hire and fire whoever they want. A big part of the problem with “higher education” is that state run schools (and even lots of priavate ones) accept massive amounts of federal funding. This changes the landscape of what you can, and can’t say there.

  • Johnny Mason

    “Students, colleagues, friends, you inspire me to embody the love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self.

    I think we found the problem.

    • matthewbeech27

      I am so glad someone else saw this! It stuck out like a sore thumb to me and is the stem of her erroneous beliefs of a social gospel (from what I’ve read/listened to).

  • Ian Shaw

    She’s trying to appeal to peoples emotions when she has clearly made statements, and in the press conference with severe theological implications.

    As my pastor says on many occasions- “You can get the name right, but get the God wrong”.

  • steve hays

    Putting the merits of the debate to one side, Hawkins is talking to the wrong audience. Outsiders are not the audience she needs to convince; rather, she needs to convince her employer. Speaking at public rallies with supporters behind her is a political tactic, as if she can can bypass her employer and speak directly to her constituents. In effect, pulling rank on her employer.

    For some odd reason, she doesn’t seem to feel any need to address the one audience that really counts–the Wheaton administration. If she wants to keep her job, that’s the audience she needs to engage, that’s the audience she needs to persuade.

    It’s quite possible that Wheaton is preemptively responding to alumni and donors. There is, however, nothing inherently wrong with a private Christian college that’s sensitive to alumni and donors.

    • Dylan

      I think you’re probably spot on. By refusing to continue the conversation and process with the Wheaton College Administration and by attacking the College publicly, she’s almost certainly sealed her employment fate. Making some rather absurd statements in her protest certainly doesn’t help her case either.

      At this point, she probably knows that she’s done at Wheaton and is simply using the opportunity to add to the external pressuring trying to force Wheaton to compromise.

    • Dylan

      One other thought: if she really believes that her beliefs fall well within not only the historical bounds of orthodoxy but within her employer’s boundary definitions, and if she really wants to keep her job at Wheaton, then she should be doing anything and everything she can within the system to demonstrate that reality to the administration rather than cutting off the process and seeking to win a publicity battle.

  • steve hays

    It’s striking to see how she divvies up the world between good guys and bad guys. On the one hand she talks about “all humans” as her “sisters and brothers.”

    On the other hand, in the very next paragraph, she talks about “real estate moguls, senators from Texas, Christians from this country, bigots, and fundamentalists of all stripes.”

    That’s the enemy. So her actual outlook is highly polarized rather than inclusive.

  • Curt Day

    While I disagree with her on the point of whether others not believing in Christ as not worshipping the same God, I believe that her position is both wrong but understandable. And her position does not put her outside of the Christian faith. And the context in which she associates her statements show that her position is well within the conservative Christian tradition.

    Furthermore, addressing all as brothers and sisters because we all descend from Adam follows a conservative Christian approach to interpreting the 1st 3 chapters of Genesis as well as Romans 5. And her does not deny our having brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Here, I have to disagree with Carter’s assessment, cited early in the article, and agree that this issue is about showing solidarity with Muslims. And that Wheaton is showing an undue intolerance toward Hawkins based on her public expressed solidarity with Muslims.

  • Rob Gates

    I believe an “Al Mohler” approach to Wheaton is necessary at some point:

    1. Reassert the confessional standards upon which the school was founded.
    2. Demand that all professors sign the confessional statement annually. (No finger-crossing either!).
    3. Begin the process of removing those professors who either will not or cannot sign the school’s doctrinal confession/statement.
    4. Be accountable to the many parents and churches who look to Wheaton to educate their young people for Christ as an evangelical institution.

    If this doesn’t happen at some point, I fear that Wheaton could become (evangelically speaking) an irrelevant institution that at one time in her past produced produced people like Billy Graham, Jim and Elizabeth Elliot, and etc. But no more.

    Let profs like Dr. Hawkins teach elsewhere. She should have NEVER been hired at Wheaton!

      • Rob Gates

        Obviously TRINITARIAN! None of Wheaton’s founders would have conceived of that statement to include the anti-trinitarian views of Islam. Wheaton is an evangelical school. Do we really need to parse out what an EVANGELICAL means by ONE Sovereign God?

          • James Frank Solís

            People in the first testament are irrelevant to the question you asked, Mr. Symons. You asked about the meaning of the sentence, “We believe in ONE SOVEREIGN GOD”, which is from the statement of faith affirmed by Prof. Hawkins and reads in full (again): “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….” The question of whether Prof. Hawkins has deviated from this affirmation, and what should happen to her as a result, is not resolved by the status, whatever it is, of those who lived under the terms of the first testament. She did not affirm a doctrinal position regarding those people. She affirmed the doctrinal statement from which you very selectively quoted. And that doctrinal statement, being normative for Wheaton faculty, is the issue. We can stipulate any number of things about those who lived under the first testament, including the fact that they could not be held accountable for affirming a trinitarian faith, since, at that point in the history of redemption/progressive revelation, the Godhead had not been so revealed to them.

            In relation to the statement of faith affirmed by her, Prof. Hawkins has affirmed a heterodox position. That is the issue.

            • Bruce Symons

              With respect, JFS, can I suggest the “issue” is firstly who God is and secondly, as a consequence of that, how are we to treat other human beings?

              PS You say I “very selectively quoted”. Are you saying that the orthodox understanding of trinity does not FULLY affirm “one sovereign God”? If you are saying that, how did I misquote?

              • James Frank Solís

                You can suggest those are the issues. But I must respectfully disagree and insist they aren’t, not between Hawkins & Wheaton. Hawkins & Wheaton are not having a disagreement about who God is or how, consequently, we are to treat each other. They are agreed as to who God is and how we should treat others. They both affirm “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”. That’s who God is. And, so far as I know, Wheaton has no objections to Prof. Hawkins wearing the hijab; and, even if it does, this objection does not entail a belief that it is permissible to mistreat Muslims, which Hawkins, correctly, is concerned with. So, no. The issue here is not who God is and how we are to treat others. The issue is whether an assertion that Christians & Muslims worship the same God is consistent with Wheaton’s SoF.

                No, I’m not saying the orthodox understanding of the trinity does not fully affirm one sovereign God. I’m saying that your selective quotation, leaving off the Trinitarian formulation, is misleading. Orthodox theology does not affirm simply one sovereign God, as your selective quotation implies. Orthodox theology affirms exactly what the SoF affirms, again: “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….” There is, so far as I know, no argument about whether there is one sovereign God, certainly not between Hawkins & Wheaton, or between Christians & Muslims. But there is an important theological difference between saying, “I believe in one sovereign God,” and “I 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.” Your selective quotation affirmed the former, not the latter. The affirmation of one sovereign God resolves nothing.

                Finally, Ralston is always worthwhile, but, regarding the issue between Wheaton & Hawkins, irrelevant. It may be that, “properly” nuanced, Christians & Muslims worship the same God. But one must be free to deny this to be the case. Institutions must also have that freedom. Apparently, a great many people have the idea that Wheaton’s SoF at least tacitly denies that nuance, and, until Hawkins, no one claimed otherwise. I think Wheaton has a case. Why, heck, if “properly” nuanced, Arians could affirm the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed!

                • Bruce Symons

                  JFS. I think in your first two paragraphs we are talking past each other. My question is: if there is One Sovereign God then who are we talking about when we talk about God apart from Him? Yes, God is trinity, but there were people who believed in and talked about this God– this One Sovereign God, before AD325. I think the onus is on you to show how a piece subtitled “On the Limitations and Implications of the Wheaton Affair” is irrelevant. You could also have a look at Bruce McCormack’s article.

      • James Frank Solís

        Good question. A better one would be how this sentence should be understood: “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….”

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