This article is part 4 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and check back here for part 5 of this series!
So far, I’ve discussed “types” of Christians that Gabe Lyons calls “separatists.” My next two entries, including this one, will address two “types” that Lyons labels as “culturalists.”
The first of those types is the “blenders.” These might be the folks you know as “cultural Christians” or “nominal Christians.” They go to church on Sunday, but the rest of the week faith doesn’t seem to matter – there is little evidence of the characteristics that distinguish a Christ-follower from the rest of culture. Here is what Gabe Lyons has to say in Next Christians:
“This group best reflects the next generation’s values. Their lives mirror much of what everyone else is doing with little delineation between how they behave or what they believe. They are not all that interested in taking public stands for their convictions or faith: they think that’s what the ‘crazy Christians’ (the Separatists) do. Blenders have one concern: being like everyone else. They’ve seen how Christians who wear their faith on their sleeves have been alienated from the ‘in’ crowd. They have no desire to go down that path. As far as they are concerned, serious discussion about religion is a taboo topic – off-limits for casual conversation.”
While I’m not interested in judging the authenticity of a blender’s faith in this space, I would like to discuss the ramifications of the blender approach to Christianity as it pertains to the interfaith movement.
It is certainly possible that the blender would take an interest in the interfaith movement, as the prospects of interfaith cooperation as a social norm can be both apparent and compelling with just a superficial introduction (interfaith dialogue can provide a way of talking about faith that mitigates the taboo status that Lyons mentions above). As the blender enters the space of interfaith dialogue, however, the distinguishing qualities on which we rely to communicate the gospel may not be present.
What characterizes blenders is that faith doesn’t inform or transform the majority of what they do. If it did, their actions and aspirations would contrast with the rest of the world in some notable way – thus they would no longer be blenders. When these folks enter into interfaith dialogue, however, they still introduce themselves as Christians all the same.
Now, some have expressed concern over this scenario – especially various separatist type Christians – and some have even cited this as a barrier to their participation in interfaith cooperation. It is important to realize, however, that this has not been a concern in my experience with interfaith dialogue. I have found it frequently stressed that assumptions should never be made about one person representing a specific faith tradition in its entirety and that one person’s faith experience is necessarily the same as that of another person from the same tradition. Although impressions may be formed, they can be re-shaped by encounters with individuals who live out their faith more genuinely.
But the point that I’d like to stress about blender Christians in interfaith dialogue is that they lack the qualities which enable other Christians to communicate the gospel in such a unique way. Here on Faith Line Protestants, we often highlight the opportunity that interfaith dialogue provides to communicate our faith through relationships. While this often starts in interfaith dialogue, it continues in the relationships that interfaith dialogue can initiate, enable, and accelerate. But if blending into society is a higher priority than living under the influence of the radical example of Christ, what will be communicated in that relationship?
This is where the blender misses the opportunities that compel evangelicals toward interfaith work. The fascinating truth, however, is that interfaith dialogue can also be an opportunity for Jesus followers living with a profound understanding of God’s desire for restoration to communicate to other Christians – such as the blender – what is being missed.