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.