Last week, I attended a conference in Boston MA sponsored by Andover Newton Theological School, Boston Theological Institute and Hebrew College. I was there representing Fuller Theological Seminary. I was one of a few evangelicals at the conference made up of some very amazing and inspiring people. The conference was called– Educating Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Leaders for Service in a Multi-Religious World:The American Seminary Context.Jews, Muslims and Christians teachers, administrators, organizational leaders, authors, students gathered to talk about people people of faith, of many different faiths, and specifically how might the educational project be advanced. This is the second post on the conference. The topic is conversation
We spend so much time talking over others, making assumptions, refusing to listen and learn. We need to develop a sense of curiosity and wonder about others. When we sit down with others, really seek to understand others, everything changes for the better. It might be disturbing. It breaks old categories and assumptions. It forces us to rethink people and ideas. It messes with our theology. But we must be brave enough to engage with others.
This past weekend, just back from Boston, my wife and I went to see How to Train Your Dragon. It is a fantastic movie about Vikings and dragons. What could be better than that? But more, it is a movie about people who lived and fought for centuries on assumptions, false assumptions. It took the courage of a young boy to breakthrough.
Swedish theologian Krister Stendahl once listed 3 rules for religious understanding. (1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its critics. (2) Don’t compare your best to their worst. (3) Leave room for “holy envy.” (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)
In Boston I sat with Protestants and Catholics, with Muslims, with Jews. The variations of theological perspectives among the the Christians were diverse. I learned alot from my Jewish brothers and sisters. Islam is the religion I am least familiar with, and I learned so much from my Muslim brothers and sisters. Old categories and assumptions are shaken up. Theological viewpoints are questioned.
It is unnerving! And this is exactly what we are to be involved in. We simply need to know each other better. That platform of seeking, listening, trying to understand, curiosity, creates “a holy insecurity” (Buber). I understand that. But this is the road on which we must journey. The reality is that there are more people on this planet who are not Christians than are. That might be the impetus for evangelism. We will blog more around that. At core, it must be an impetus towards understanding. The world will simply be better if we understand each other better.
Andover-Newton Theological School and Hebrew College share the same plot of land (faith hill). Rabbinical students and seminarians can take courses together. Informally Jewish and Christian students meet and study Biblical texts. The Boston Theological Institute sponsors a course on Abrahamic Faiths-taught by Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim professors.How fascinating must that be! Listening, learning, being curious, breaking down walls, becoming insecure.
Maybe my faith becomes stronger through learning from those of another faith. Maybe we need fewer walls and more doors and windows. Maybe my holy envy and holy insecurity makes me a better Christian. Maybe it pushes us towards a better world. Could it be that I am a better follower of Jesus, a better Christian because of my time in conversation with other Christians, and Muslims and Jews?
It all begins with sitting down, eating meals, talking, listening, learning, changing.