WHEATON, Ill. — In the midst of controversy surrounding Wheaton professor Larycia Hawkins’ comments regarding Christianity and Islam, Jonathan Bornman, member of Eastern Mennonite Missions’ Christian/Muslim Relations Team, visited Wheaton, Illinois, to speak with Wheaton College students about Christianity and Islam from a peacemaking perspective on January 21, 2016.
Bornman’s daughter Laurel Bornman, a student at the college, arranged for him to speak at “Menno Meal,” a weekly off-campus dinner gathering where students interact with Anabaptist ideas. Alongside approximately 60 students, Bornman shared the influences that led him to work in Christian/Muslim relations, including his past mission work in parts of West Africa.
In a question-and-answer time, one student asked Bornman whether Christians and Muslims believe in the same God. In his response, Bornman compared the origins and meanings of Christian and Muslim terms for God. He said the words “Allah” and “God” do not refer to two separate deities; instead, “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for God, as “Dios” means “God” in Spanish and “Dieu” means “God” in French. Bornman said that the word “Allah” is a cognate of “Elohim,” a Hebrew term for God.
Bornman also spoke on the different human attitudes and behaviors that result from Christian and Muslim understandings of God’s character. He referred to Exodus 6:2-3, in which God describes Himself as appearing to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but not fully by His name “the Lord.” Bornman drew a distinction between knowing God as Abraham knew Him, and knowing God as a savior and Lord who is present with us. Bornman said that both Christians and Muslims worship the Abrahamic God, but that through Jesus, Christians more fully know God as a personal and saving Lord.
Bornman said that a Christian understanding of God leads people to repentance, confession that Jesus is Lord, and discipleship in the kingdom of God. A Muslim view of God, he said, leads to great human effort to please an almighty but essentially unknowable God.
In addressing the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, Bornman said he hoped to draw students away from a binary “yes or no” answer, and toward deeper insight that would enable Christian students to build relational bridges between themselves and Muslims. He said he felt that his remarks resonated with the students.
Bornman said that he hopes for a Christian/Muslim Relations Team visit to Wheaton College at some point in the future.