Overreaching Our “Outreach:” Rethinking Evangelism in Interfaith Cooperation (Part II)

In part I of this series, I talked about how what Greg and I call the “homework” model of evangelism fails to address the specificities of a scenario involving an interfaith dynamic. To better understand how this task-based way of evangelizing would come off to others, I try to put myself in the shoes of an outsider.

For instance, what if I was a practicing Hindu, one of my Christian friends invited me to an event, and I agreed to go. Suppose that the thrust of this event was to show the inadequacies of my life without Jesus and then propose that I renounce my current beliefs in order to mend my problems and prevent me from landing in hell for all eternity. Beneath the whole premise of the event sits a peculiar but powerful thing: a critique of my own Hindu beliefs and identity—beliefs that hold great significance and meaning to me, and that have allowed me to live a happy and fulfilled life.

Furthermore, (and the aspect that I think conflicts most with the intersection of evangelism and interfaith cooperation) this way of evangelizing only works with one particular people group—those who have little convictions of their own, have deep wounds for which they seek spiritual healing, or those who probably already spend time on the fringes of Christianity anyway. Thus the common aim of evangelism becomes a simple persuasion to become more involved than before or to convince someone they should pray a prayer to accept Christ.

Someone who already possesses a strong (or even moderate, for that matter) belief in another religion or tradition will not simply surrender those views at the drop of a hat, especially if they possess no perceived need. And that’s okay. I believe that an attempt at manipulating them to do so by an appeal to pathos, eliciting a strong emotional response, isn’t genuine.

Hence our first reaction should not be “here, this is why you’re wrong,” but to show through our actions, “this is how our faith transforms.” We must demonstrate why we are a positive force in the world that can change and revolutionize lives for good. Again I say: would it not be more powerful to lead by example, to showcase my faith by the way I live than to tell someone why they should believe in it?

If we allow for dialogue and discussion—for give-and-take—then the playing field becomes more level. Each person is inquiring, each person answering. No one is put at a disadvantage, personal story becomes the strong bonds between various faiths, and all participants in the discussion retain their agency. These types of discussions are central to the IFYC’s model of interfaith dialogue. And don’t we as Christians already place significance on the power of testimony in our tradition? So long as you refrain from setting a goal at the end of telling it, a perfect platform exists to share.

I know that this is a contentious topic, and there are plenty of things in these two posts with which to take issue. That’s good. I’ve only put forth a half-expounded idea that I hope can spark quality, civil conversation. Telling people about Jesus Christ is part of our identity. The question is: how do we embrace it, both in an interfaith context and otherwise? Please, contribute and join the discussion.

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2 thoughts on “Overreaching Our “Outreach:” Rethinking Evangelism in Interfaith Cooperation (Part II)

  1. Matthew Kleinhans

    Followed over here from Pyro.

    What do you think about 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, and how does that affect your view of evangelism?

    [18] For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [19] For it is written,

    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

    [20] Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [21] For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. [22] For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [25] For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
    (1 Corinthians 1:18-25 ESV)

    Isn’t there an appropriate offensiveness to the gospel, for all people whether they are Christians or not, whether they have strong convictions or not? Isn’t this what Paul did in Acts 17 at the Areopagus?

    “Someone who already possesses a strong (or even moderate, for that matter) belief in another religion or tradition will not simply surrender those views at the drop of a hat, especially if they possess no perceived need.”

    What if that need is real, and it can be explained in the gospel itself? The good news makes no sense without the bad news.

    Reply
    1. Cameron Nations Post author

      Matthew,

      Excellent questions! I wouldn’t say that the gospel contains an appropriate offensiveness so much as it contains a mysterious ability to subvert and overturn. The gospel message continually surprises and defies our expectations–especially where salvation is concerned– both for those who believe and those who do not. I think this is what Paul is getting at in these verses– that Christ’s sacrifice/atonement for our sins ruptures the very core of others’ understanding. In the Jews’ case, this meant that they failed to see Jesus as Messiah, because, as Paul says, they sought “signs.” And in the Greeks’ case, they sought “wisdom” (specifically, the wisdom of the world), which failed to save them. Thus, God sent Christ to fix this, but it doesn’t stop Christ from seeming foreign to both of these different belief systems. I think the same still holds true today, and that’s where I believe we as Christians come in: we have to make Christ make sense to the world through our example. To me, these verses reinforce the idea that our evangelism should come through our actions just as much as our words.

      And to address your second question, I would say that you are right: the need for the gospel is real, and I acknowledge that. However, if someone doesn’t perceive the need to be saved (as I describe in the quote you used), then me as a Christian telling them that they are damned if they don’t accept Christ won’t really make them see it, either. It will just come across as off-putting. So how then do we as Christians make someone else aware of their need for Christ? I believe we must demonstrate it, as Paul explains in the verses above, through a Christ-like service, compassion, and love.

      Best,

      -Cameron.

      Reply

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