Theological education is about formation, shaping and molding the hearts and minds of students. Part of that formation happens by placing students in new situations and contexts. This creates dis-ease, agitation, and dissonance demanding adjustments to one’s viewpoint
The classroom is not the only venue for developing new understandings of the beliefs of those outside of a particular faith tradition. New understandings occur as one sits with a person of another faith tradition: hearing from them, learning from them, asking questions, and being curious.
This conference did that for me. It pushed me deeply. It disturbed me in the best of ways. I grew up in an evangelical world that knew quite definitively who was in and who was out. The exclusiveness of my faith was based on belief—what did you think about Jesus, and on behavior—staying away from lots of bad things in many categories. This faith was often characterized as triumphalistic, exclusive and superior.
As my world opened up through friendships, travel, education, these old understandings began to come into question. I had to wrestle with my own theological formulations. It continues to be a wonderfully jarring experience. Theology pushes us in new directions. Our experiences push us in new directions. We continue in a reflexive cycle of reworking our thinking, attempting to describe our experiences, developing new theological understandings and convictions.
We must have faith convictions, but we also must hold those convictions with a sense of grace and humility. Knowing that the faith world is bigger and more diverse than my own tradition, I must learn about other faiths, and from those who practice other faiths.
The experience of sitting with those of others faiths is good. In line with the thinking of Lutheran theologian Krister Stendahl, it gives us a new and more accurate understanding of the other faith, and it creates in us a sense of holy envy—appreciating and aspiring towards aspects of the other faith. This makes for dissonance and vulnerability. It threatens our own understandings and assumptions. It might, and should, change the ways we view and live out our own faith.
During the conference at Andover-Newton and Hebrew College I met people—Jewish, Muslim and Christian. Some of these people have become new friends. They have pushed me further in the opening up of my world. I am glad for the inter-faith interactions Fuller Theological Seminary is involved in: Rabbis and Pastors, Evangelicals and Muslims, Evangelicals and Mormons, InterSem (Jewish, Catholic, Protestant seminary students). Our president Richard Mouw leads this effort demonstrating a generous, humbled, and convicted evangelical faith. This work must continue.
Interfaith dialogue is centered in trust and respect. Because we are made in the image of God, we are compelled to learn from each other. In dialogue with each other, being in proximity to each other, something new can emerge between us. With a sense of humility and curiosity, we engage the other; we learn from each other, and we change. With a sense of common mission, we work together to repair the world.
I am an evangelical Christian. This is my heritage, and this is my choosing. This is my deep conviction, and yet, I hold this conviction with a sense of grace and humility. We only see partially. It is the best we can do. We are speaking of matters too great for us; these are matters concerning God. So we muddle through; we are merely human. We are dust, but loved dust! All of us.