A week ago, 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. My thoughts continue…
I grew up in a wonderful Christian home. I started going to church about the time I left the womb, and I haven’t stopped. My upbringing was evangelical with some tinges of fundamentalism. That means, easily I knew who was in and who was out. Who was a Christian and who wasn’t. Doctrine played a role, but more we knew who was in and out by what group someone belonged to, and by behaviors.
So, I didn’t even know what a Muslim was, nor a Hindu, nor a Buddhist–but they were certainly out. Jews were more familiar, but they were out. Catholics were out. And anyone, no matter what group, even Protestant, if they smoked or danced or drank or gambled, they were most certainly out. (Luckily movies were okay).
Then I discovered that one of school year friends was Catholic–and the fences began not to make sense. Then I went to college and met a wider diversity of people, Christians and not, and the fences didn’t make sense. Then I started traveling the world, and I went to seminary, and I rubbed elbows with people in my community, and I found an even wider diversity of people–and the fences just didn’t make sense anymore.
I am a Christian. I am an evangelical Christian. I know that there is something very unique about Jesus. His teachings and his actions give evidence to that. The New Testament proclaims that. The church embodies that uniqueness. Jesus’ death and resurrection certify it. This is my heritage and my conviction.
I am a Christian, and I am also very human. While I hold to my convictions and celebrate my convictions, and even share my convictions with others believing that this good news of Jesus is transformative, I also hold my convictions graciously and humbly. We can only see dimly. The mysteries of God, reveled and known to us, can only be known in part.
The gospel that I live into and live out is real and true and life-changing. I do want others to know this gospel. Still, the gospel must not be used as a weapon or a threat. The gospel is good news, not easy news, but joyful news. Our stance in gospel proclamation must be the same as Jesus–it is centered in the cross. It is not characterized by triumphalism, but rather by humility, emptying (kenosis–Philippians 2).
I can no longer live in a simple who is in and who is out world. It is more complex that that. And I will not stop being a person who confesses that Jesus is Lord. But I will make this confession and this proclamation with grace and humility, with a sense of openness and inclusion. I will share and I will listen, knowing that I will be changed in conversation, and much as the other person might be changed.
The metaphor shifts from fences, who is in and who is out, to an embrace, a welcoming, arms extended, windows, doors.