Faulty Presuppositions of Inter-Religious Dialogue, A Comment on Tennent

June 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

A suspension of one’s own faith commitment, an assertion of truth only in one’s experience and the avoidance of any missiological or evangelistic dimensions of ones faith are faulty presuppositions in which to start a dialogue. I answer this way primarily due to the presuppositions  that we believe that God exists and that the Bible is God’s Word. I think many of the other posters have done a great job explaining how each of the three assumptions would be considered short of biblical Christianity.

That being said I give Tennent more leeway in my reading of the text in regards to “dialogue”. First he states on page 13 that these “… presuppositions … are in force long before the dialogue ever begins.” This causes me to focus on the identity or worldview of the believer (or participants) rather than the ground rules regarding the dialogue. Second, he states that “books on … interfaith dialogue… often insist that participants suspend their own faith commitment…”. Once again this seems to focus on the identity or worldview of authors of books on interfaith dialogue more than it does the ground rules for discussion. This seems to be as much an indictment against liberal scholars as it is against liberal Christians.

For the second assumption regarding absolute truth he states, “Before anyone ever sits down at the table of dialogue, there is often an underlying conviction that there are no absolute truths.” The tension this assumption attempts to address is objective truth versus subjective experience, by ceding all objective truth to subjective experience, whereas I would argue that both are necessary. Objective truth through special revelation of the Gospel in the bible (as in the bible is God’s word). Subjective experience through general revelation in nature and life experience (as in God exists).

Of the three presuppositions that are given, it does seem that the 3rd presupposition regarding the use “conversion” in the dialogue pertains most to an actual ground rule that would be established by the dialogue participants. The tension this assumption attempts to address in my mind is between the mind (knowledge) and heart (affections) by keeping the conversation based squarely in the mind. Jesus was as much after people’s hearts as their minds and I think Tennent addresses this when he posits that “…genuine dialogue must bring persuaded people together… (14, 16)”. I also think Dustin Benge’s post says it well when he states, “anyone who holds passionately to their religion should want to see another person persuaded to believe the same.”

The biggest implication for inter-religious dialogue in the remainder of the book is that even though a desire for being genuine and authentic resonates in the three false presuppositions, appeasement to world religions through relativism, humanism, postmodernism, liberalism etc. not only disrespects the participants but also dishonors our Lord. When challenging the boundaries of other religions and potentially the identity or worldview of believers of different faiths, persuasion and conviction of the truth expressed as the Gospel of Christ in love and humility will continue to be the greatest witness for the Lord.

Tennent, Timothy C. Christianity at the Religious Roundtable: Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002. ISBN 0-8010-2602-4

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