The Role of Inter-Religious Dialogue in Evangelizing Adherents of Other Religions

June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tennent describes three divergent perspectives when it comes to the topic of inter-religious dialogue among Christianity and Non-Christian religions. The exclusivism position affirms: 1. The unique authority of Jesus Christ as the apex of revelation and the norm by which all other beliefs must be critiqued. 2. The Christian faith centers around the proclamation of the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the decisive event in human history. 3. Salvation comes through explicit repentance and faith in Christ’s work on the cross. The inclusivist position affirms the first two of the three non-negotiable positions held by exclusivists, however they do not believe explicit faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation. In other words, universal provision demands universal access. Pluralists reject all three non-negotiables held by exclusivists. Pluralists believe that the world’s religions provide independent access to salvation. For pluralists, the only universal standard of criteria rests in human experience. This is an important distinction to make because if not confusion might be caused in inter-religious dialogue such as the one in Dr. Martin’s lecture where the Greenville News printed an editorial by Richard Stanford stating “Proselytizing faithful of other religions misdirected” and the response by David Rogers stating “Knowing Jesus Christ as Lord is Point of Christianity”.

Motivations given for dialogue from Zago are that we should seek understanding of others because of the way God himself deals with us and acts in our midst, “God enters into dialogue with us, so we should enter into dialogue with others.” Zago also posits that not only should we be motivated by obligation or obedience but that dialogue should also flow from love and respect for others. A definition of “dialogue” given by Zago is that we do not merely mean talking together but a cultivation of interpersonal relationships among individuals and groups to gain a better understanding and appreciation of one another working together and enriching one another’s lives and thus promoting greater unity of peoples and religions. A definition given by Buck denotes talking through shared experiences often however the dialogue becomes a debate. We are not to seek debate or foster some eclectic syncretism forming a new religion.

Different metaphors for dialogue given by Dr. Terry Buck are a marketplace of ideas which suggests that one idea is as good as another and the person is a consumer of ideas (religion) picking and choosing that which pleases me and suits my own understanding. The journey metaphor suggests that we are all on a journey searching for truth. We all take different paths but ultimately will arrive at the same destination. The metaphor for standing in light that argues among religions there are some more accurate, advanced and truthful than others. Some are standing in brighter light while others are standing in the shadows. Therefore dialogue becomes the sharing of the light that I have with others. The water of life metaphor suggests that we have already taken drinks from different wells, each religion from their own well, but every well has it’s own life giving properties and addresses some particular human need. It’s only once all the water comes together that we can have the single truth.

Each metaphor is radically insufficient. Different beliefs as equally valid, all on the same journey, a combination of light into one ‘great’ light is not consistent with biblical Christianity. As Christians we have a great gospel message to declare. Committed to engaged exclusivism, it is important not to suspend our faith when participating in inter-religious dialogue. It is important that we maintain our conviction of the Bible as God’s absolute truth, and not only that we be allowed to use the word conversion, but actually seek and hope for conversion (Tennent). These positions clearly run counter to biblical testimony and should be noted as dangerous. Ultimately, as Christians who know the truth we must not only think in terms of dialogue but in terms of declaration.

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