Why Wheaton Professors Need Worldview Training

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In a Chicago Tribune article published Monday, I suggested that Wheaton College professors need worldview training. I’m sure that may sound presumptuous, given that most of them hold doctoral degrees, which I do not. Yet, the recent brouhaha sparked by Dr. Larycia Hawkins’ statement that Muslims and Christians worship the same God has made it painfully clear that Wheaton’s campus is a battleground of competing worldviews. And, if Wheaton College is going to restore its reputation in the Christian community, administrators need to confront these worldview differences head-on. 

A worldview is a like a comprehensive map of reality that helps us navigate life.  And, every worldview answers three basic questions: How did we get here? (Origins) What caused human suffering? (Fall) And, how can things be made right again? (Redemption) 

As Nancy Pearcey explains in Total Truth, a worldview is a like a comprehensive map of reality that helps us navigate life.  And, every worldview answers three basic questions: How did we get here? (Origins) What caused human suffering? (Fall) And, how can things be made right again? (Redemption) For Christians, the answers to these questions are plainly that God created us; sin caused human suffering; and Jesus’ death on the cross provides the means of redeeming mankind and reversing the effects of the Fall. 

Yet today, there are many competing worldviews that answer these questions in radically different ways.  And unfortunately, we Christians are products of our culture, and rather than rejecting these alternate worldviews, we often syncretize them with our faith.  Or, we compartmentalize our faith, restricting it to our private world, while essentially navigating our lives according to a completely different reality map.

Dr. Hawkins’ Marxist Worldview

From the beginning, there were indications that Dr. Hawkins’ statement and decision to wear a hijab “to show solidarity with Muslims” was motivated by an alternate worldview.  Her constant references to oppressed and oppressor, and reliance on politics as the means of deliverance, betray a Marxist worldview, not a Christian one. This perhaps is not surprising, since as David A. Noebel documents in his book, Understanding the Times, Marxism reigns supreme on America’s college campuses. And, though this may have been true of only secular universities decades ago, it is often the case at Christian colleges, too, where most professors are graduates of secular universities.

The Marxist worldview is incompatible with Christianity. It reduces reality to matter and economic forces, and has an entirely political means of achieving salvation.

As Pearcey explains, Marxism, in its original form, is essentially an alternate religion. Instead of God creating the world, Marxists believe in dialectical materialism – the idea that matter contains a creative power within itself. (This is how Marxists remove the need for a designer of their world, which they explain as a machine.) Suffering, or the Fall, is caused by private property, which leads to the unequal distribution of goods and services.  And, people achieve redemption  when oppressed people overthrow their oppressors and redistribute wealth and power. Again, the Marxist worldview is incompatible with Christianity.  It reduces reality to matter and economic forces, and has an entirely political means of achieving salvation.

Though Hawkins likely would reject the Marxist creation narrative, her rhetoric consistently betrayed what appeared to be a form of Christianized Marxism.  Her initial gesture, for example, was an attempt to employ a political means to rectify her perceived oppression of Muslims.  “Our love for Jesus,” Hawkins said, “compels us to make no peace with oppression because Christianity is political or it is not Christianity.  That drove my solidarity with women in the hijab . . .”

Then, at her January 6 press conference, where Hawkins appeared with Rev. Jesse Jackson and Ahmed Rehab of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Hawkins revealed a commitment to another political battle to overthrow oppressors – that of organized labor.  “Solidarity with labor is not just a cause I’m committed to,” Hawkins boasted.  “It has become the fight of my life!” 

Hawkins also mentioned that she served on the board of Arise Chicago, an interfaith organization that identifies “poverty’s root causes” as “workers being paid improperly” and “workers receiving less than a living wage.” Again, to Marxists who divide the world into oppressed and oppressors, poverty is not primarily caused by sin, like fathers abdicating their role as providers. Instead, it’s caused by the powerful elites oppressing the vulnerable.  Interestingly, serving on Arise’s Religious Advisory Board is actor Martin Sheen, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and someone who once marched with Marxist labor organizer Cesar Chavez’s National Farm Workers Association. 

Other indications of Dr. Hawkins’ Marxist worldview are revealed in her prior run-ins with Wheaton’s administration. According to the Chicago Tribune, Wheaton chastened Hawkins nine years ago for writing an academic paper supporting black liberation theology. This is a Marxist-inspired theological perspective that sees Christianity as a means of liberating blacks from white oppression. 

Hawkins also was reproved after allegedly attending a party in conjunction with Chicago’s Pride Parade, again showing solidarity with a group often portrayed as an oppressed minority. As Pearcy explains in Finding Truth, diversity advocates borrow heavily from Marxists for their analysis: “some group is said to be victimized or oppressed, and the path to liberation is to revolt against the oppressors, often through political activism.” 

Wheaton Professors and Students Okay With Marxism?

Despite these disturbing revelations, the Faculty Council of Wheaton College last month unanimously recommended that the administration reinstate Professor Hawkins.  Similarly, 78 current Wheaton College faculty signed a letter calling for Hawkins’ reinstatement, and some posed in a video with signs supporting the embattled professor. 

Perhaps following their professors’ lead, a handful of Wheaton students also announced a 40-day fast to show solidarity with Dr. Hawkins. Clearly viewing the controversy through the lens of identity politics (another outgrowth of Marxism), they called on Wheaton and other evangelical institutions to repent of their “racism, sexism and Islamophobia.” Flying in to help the students launch their fast was Rev. Peter Heltzel, a Wheaton College graduate and theology professor at New York Theological Seminary. Heltzel, who is an advocate of liberation theology, used Marxist language when praising Hawkins, saying she had “sown the seeds of revolution.”  

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Marxism has reared its head at Wheaton College.  About six years ago, I reported that Wheaton College’s education department was promoting Marxism and radical Leftist thinkers under the guise of “social justice.” I was stunned to discover that the conceptual framework of the education department was based on the teachings of radicals like Bill Ayers, who bombed the Pentagon; Brazilian Marxist Paulo Freire; and atheist philosopher Richard Rorty. I was even more surprised when the head of the education department said that these Leftists “have enlightened us” and that Marxism is “not necessarily” anti-biblical. 

Thankfully, after President Phil Ryken assumed leadership of the college in 2010, he oversaw a complete overhaul of the department’s conceptual framework.  Instead of basing the framework on Marxist notions of “social justice,” the new document was rooted in the biblical understanding of human flourishing.  Yet, given the faculty’s favorable response to Dr. Hawkins’ recent show of Marxist social justice, I can’t help but wonder if Marxism is still quite prevalent at Wheaton. What’s even more confusing, the administration recently established an endowed scholarship in Dr. Hawkins’ name. What does it communicate when the college publicly honors someone who openly espouses such error?

In short, the college needs to provide intellectually rigorous worldview training for its faculty, who then can pass on that training to their students.

Repeatedly, the administration has framed the Hawkins controversy as an issue regarding the college’s statement of faith. But what we see on Wheaton’s campus – and quite honestly, on evangelical campuses around the country – is the illogical embrace of both Christian core beliefs and worldviews that completely contradict those beliefs. This is why we have “gay Christians” and the “evangelical Left” and now, advocates that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. What Wheaton and other evangelical schools need to do is not only maintain an orthodox statement of faith, but interpret and apply that faith across all disciplines. In short, the college needs to provide intellectually rigorous worldview training for its faculty, who then can pass on that training to their students. 

Currently, though, the Wheaton administration seems reluctant to require anything of its faculty beyond mere adherence to its statement of faith. In fact, in a recent letter by Provost Stanton Jones to the Wheaton faculty, Jones stated “the college has no explicit position on what can or cannot be said on the question of whether Christians or Muslims worship the same God.”  Then, in a shocking admission, Jones said, “Ontologically, I would say — and here I am just speaking for myself . . . it seems logical to me that there must be some referential overlap or similarity in the divine being that each is referring to in each of the monotheistic religions.”  So, the provost of the college sees no trouble with the same God assertion?  That’s extremely alarming to those of us who see a serious problem with equating the God of the Bible with the false god of Islam, and initially thought Wheaton did too.

At President Ryken’s request, Wheaton’s Board of Trustees is conducting a thorough review of the many concerns raised by the Hawkins controversy, like academic freedom, due process and possible discrimination.  But, definitely added to that list should be an examination of the worldviews held and espoused by Wheaton faculty.  I understand the college may want to maintain a big tent.  But, the tent should not be so large that it encompasses errant worldviews. 

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16 thoughts on “Why Wheaton Professors Need Worldview Training”

  1. You have not established at all why Dr. Hawkins is “Marxist” based on your own definition of worldview. Dr. Hawkins has publicly affirmed a Christian view of Creation, Fall and Redemption. If you’re going to claim her worldview is marxist then you need to reconcile that claim with your own definition of worldview, not solely on her views on particular issues which do not fall under the stated definition of worldview.

  2. John… It’s not my definition of worldview. It’s Nancy Pearcey’s definition, supported extensively in her book “Total Truth.” I am quite sure Dr. Hawkins would affirm the Christian view of Creation, Fall and Redemption. By asserting that Yahweh and Allah are the same God, she’s made it quite clear that she has no problem embracing clear contradictions. The point is that her rhetoric and actions are consistent with a Marxist worldview (specifically its Fall and Redemption narrative), not a Christian one.

  3. Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey is a great book. I’m working my way through it. With young children at home as well as teens, it’s hard sometimes to set the time aside to submerse myself in the train of thought required to read it (for me anyway), but I am learning alot. Do you recommend any similar books that might be similar to Total Truth, but an easier read? I’d love my 14 and 16 year old to read more on the concept of our worldviews and how to reconcile a Christian worldview with all they will be bombarded with in college soon. I just think Nancy Pearsey’s intellectual style of writing may go over their heads.. Thanks for any recommendations.

  4. Nancy Pearcey’s latest book, “Finding Truth,” is designed to be an easier, more accessible worldview book. It’s still profound, but my 13-year-old is reading it now for a worldview class my husband is teaching and not having any trouble. The book also has an excellent study guide in the back. I highly recommend it!

  5. “To Marxists who divide the world into oppressed and oppressors, poverty is not primarily caused by sin, like fathers abdicating their role as providers. Instead, it’s caused by the powerful elites oppressing the vulnerable.” Attempts to explain all poverty merely by personal sin are naive. It is not “either-or” but rather “both-and.” In my view, the article betrays a lack of a deeper understanding of the concept of a worldview, and a Christian worldview in particular. A Christian worldview is built through the careful study of both the Word and the world, in historical perspective. We just cannot encapsualte ourselves within three simple “principles,” totally rejecting “alternative” worldviews and thinking we have “total truth.” Both the Bible and the world are much more complex than that, so sometimes people we disagree with can help us discover aspects of truth we fail to see. Take the issue of sin, for example. It is no longer merely a free personal choice as it was for Adam and Eve. It is now entangled in heredity, family, culture, social, political, economic structures, etc. We have to admit that all too often in history versions of Christianity that preached purely personal salvation from personal sins have been siding with the oppressing elites rather than with the oppressed or under-privileged.

  6. Andrey… Certainly, there is more to a worldview than its creation, fall and redemption narratives. But, these are helpful tools for understanding each worldview’s Metanarrative, which is extremely helpful when analyzing them. Also, I agree we can learn from those with whom we disagree. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. However, we cannot subordinate or syncretize the biblical worldview with ones that fundamentally contradict the Bible. So, while it may be true that Christians need to call out oppression, we need to do it through a biblical lens, not a Marxist, post-modern, or other faulty worldview lens.

  7. The God I serve is big enough to handle failure, betrayals and imperfection. I don’t live in fear of being thwarted or led astray. The God I serve cannot inhabit an institution, only human hearts. And his power is made perfect in human weakness.

  8. I am a Wheaton grad and think that you too need some “worldview training.” This is a really problematic piece and contributes to the situation at Wheaton. A few questions–Who gets to decide the definition of a Christian worldview? An African-American Pentecostal Christian worldview? A White Moody-affiliated Christian worldview? A Costa Rican evangelical worldview? An Anglican Kenyan worldview? There is no such thing as ONE Christian worldview, sadly. Even if Chicago, there are dozens of variations on Christian worldviews. Additionally, have you personally read any black liberation theology or any Latin American liberation theology? Second, there is a VAST difference between secular Marxism and Christian black and liberation theology, which is centered on the work of God through Christ to liberate people made in God’s image from multiple oppressions–oppression of our individual sin, oppression of societal or structural sin (which is a biblical worldview concept). Many of the most important liberation theologians explicitly say that only the grace of Christ Jesus can free us from the oppression of sin, but that we can work alongside Christ to bring about God’s reconciliation in this world. I would suggest you read a few liberation theology texts before making such incorrect generalizations. (Notice that you are citing the Acton Institute on liberation theology, not liberation theology itself.) You may not agree with everything they write, but I think you would find people of faith reflecting on how to live out their faith faithfully in their contexts. Gutierrez, Theology of Liberation, is always a good place to start. Or Ruben Alves is a Protestant liberation theologian. Third, you insinuated guilt on Dr. Hawkins for things that the College did not qualify as stepping outside the bounds of the Community Covenant and Statement of Faith (she was not fired before even though she was questioned). It seems you assume that 3 infractions and you’re automatically out. It is very frightening to hear your and others’ thoughts on Dr. Hawkins’ attending a party in a “gay” neighborhood during a gay pride festival as indicative of breaking some unwritten rules. Where in the Statement of Faith does it say you cannot be friends with people outside a Wheaton bubble? Please read some of the excellent writings by Noah Toly, Wheaton prof, and Tobin Grant, Wheaton grad and sociology professor, to contrast some of your misunderstandings. I hope that Wheaton grads like us can disagree gracefully, but based on reading and understanding, not assumptions.

  9. Having read your title, I did subscribe before reading your post. Please cancel my subscription. Your world view is far too functionally neurotic for me to sense that I can gain anything from reading your posts.

    James Fittz, Wheaton College, A.B., ’65, Marxist Christian

  10. Marxist Christian? Gay Christian? Why not Satanist Christian while one is at it! Adding “Christian” to things and belief systems that are anti-Christian does not make them or the bearers novel, enlightened, or chic. It does show a fundamental disregard for the Word of GOD, and a disdain for “the SON of His love.”

  11. For one the Church should not be delving into any political or social justice issues if the Gospel is not presented or shared.
    The Church is not a worldly institution and has no business involving herself in worldly affairs or views; its mission is to call people out of this world into heaven through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus there should be no place for anyone who teaches anything that is contrary to the whole of God’s Word, especially at a college that claims to operate for Christ and His kingdom.

  12. I agree that Wheaton needs to clarify the issue of worldview. Right now, the administration is trying to play it both ways: they want to appeal to a certain market segment by hiring people like Dr. Hawkins and Julie Rogers, but when conservative and/or influential alumni like yourself complain, they try to pressure them into not making waves. It isn’t at all seemly or practical. The administration and the board of trustees have the right — the responsibility — to take the school in the direction God leads them. In the aftermath of Dr. Hawkins departure, I wrote to them and asked that they be clear and transparent in their intentions.

    While I agree with and applaud your call for clarity regarding worldview, I completely disagree with your goal. To my mind, the narrowing of worldview you are calling for would damage the college, diminish it, make it smaller and less influential than it is, would relegate it to the edges of academia rather than keep it at the center. As a proud alumni, I think that would be a shame. While I would understand such a choice, if made, I would not agree with it, nor would I support it.

    It disturbs me that you resort to charges of guilt by association. To me, that seems nothing more than an attempt at smearing Dr. Hawkins’ reputation, which I don’t think you mean to do. More generally, I’m bothered by your habit of making simplistic and categorical statements about ideas like Marxism and liberation theology, when in reality there is much disagreement about them, both generally within Christianity and specifically within Evangelicalism. I don’t think these statements support your argument well. While I agree that Marxism in its pure form is inimical to Christianity (and to all religion), certain values of Marxism are similar to values taught by Christ (though it must be said that Marxism and Christianity arrive at those values rather differently). It is possible to be influenced by a “worldly” philosophy without subscribing to that philosophy (c.f. early Christian and Medieval Neoplatonism).

    Your use of Marxism as a scare word reminds me of my first day at Wheaton College. I was in a writing class, taught by Ruth McClatchey, wife of a much-beloved professor, the late Rev. Joe McClatchey. Ruth was leading the class in an exercise where we evaluated brief paragraphs — perhaps they were news stories — and agreed or disagreed with statements describing those paragraphs. Ruth asked people to raise their hands, to see how many students had agreed with which statements. When it came to the statement, “This is obviously a Communist plot,” only one young man, his brow furrowed and his face reddened, agreed with that statement. His worldview was clearly being challenged, and he didn’t like it one bit. Bravo for Ruth. That’s exactly what college is supposed to be about.

  13. Mark… Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I admit that I painted with pretty broad strokes in this article. And, you are correct that both Marxism and liberation theology are more nuanced than I presented. Frankly, it’s impossible to not be somewhat reductionist when writing an article of this length. That being said, I don’t think the case I made about Dr. Hawkins was merely guilt by association. It’s pretty hard to imagine that her rhetoric and actions aren’t at the very least inspired and influenced by Marxist thought. After all, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

    Also, I don’t think when you have a candidate for president who openly describes himself as a socialist that you can argue that Marxism is a scare word. A case in point is the tweet I received from David Congdon, an editor with IVP Academic, who asked, “…What’s wrong with Marxism?”

    Finally, I’m not sure what you mean by narrowing of worldview. Is it narrow to embrace only a biblical narrative for the timeless, transcendent, and biblical view of creation, fall and redemption? If that’s the case, then yes, I think we should narrow our worldview. However, if you mean rejecting every idea and critique that another worldview offers, then no, I am not for that. Even idolatrous worldviews can express some truths because their idols are God’s creation. What’s essential, though, is that we apply critical thinking to sift through these idolatrous worldviews so we don’t succumb to error.

    In any case, I am glad we agree that Wheaton needs to clarify its worldview, especially now that some Wheaton profs are challenging the notion that worldview is even a necessary concept or that Christianity offers a worldview. However imperfectly, I hope this article started a conversation that will continue.

  14. Parents who wish for their kids to continue on in the Christian faith have to be insane to send them to Wheaton.

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