Earlier this month, 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…
In writing and discussing multi-faith/interfaith dialogue I have gotten a variety of feedback. Some have been gracious and encouraging as I have sought to raise questions about this complex. Others have reminded me that the issue is not complex at all: Scripture is clear, Jesus is the only way to God. The responses keep me thinking– Why do people respond so impassioned about this issue?
Maybe it is a desire to undo some of the damage done in the name of Jesus–We all have heard stories of the well meaning (usually) zealous Christian has told the gospel story, but in the process has made the evangelistic recipient (victim) feel worse after the encounter. The given line runs something like this: “I am just presenting the clear gospel facts.” “I don’t want my friend to go to hell.” “They have heard the message, and the decision is now theirs.” The gospel becomes a battering ram. This gospel presentation is characterized by triumphalism, conquering, being better than others. So grace filled, humbled talk about Jesus in the presence of other beliefs is a welcomed alternative.
Still we have to wrestle with the uniqueness of Jesus presented in the New Testament, in light of a pluralistic and diverse world. The grayness of this realization causes others to respond with some energy. We want to know what is true and what isn’t. “If I am going to give my life to something/someone, I want to know it is right. I worry about my destiny, my future after death. I worry about my family and my friends. I want certainty.” Interfaith conversations can seem like a chipping away at convictions. We get just a bit unsteady.
So the discussion must continue–and it happens best in dialogue with others. Good theological discussion occurs at the intersection of Scripture, tradition, experience and critical thinking. Scripture is always our primary guide, but the other three factors come into play.
We need to talk together–Christians need a safe place to express their doubts, their wonderings, their proposals. Just a good and safe place to ask questions and wrestle.We need to behave better in our world, with grace, humility, going the way of the cross.
Christians need to sit and talk together with those of other faiths–we need to learn from each other. We need to ask hard questions. We need to be ready to have our categories questioned, shaken, disturbed, and even dismantled. We need to study sacred writings together and learn from each other. Mostly, we need to develop friendships, learn to trust each other, acknowledge long histories of wrong doing to each other and the perpetuation of misunderstandings. We need to ask for forgiveness. And we will realize in the process that the ways of God are always a mystery beyond our meager grasp.
And together we must work to repair the world–to do our part to bring peace and blessing to a world that is so broken. That is a good start…and it brings joy to the heart of God.