Chris Stedman offers some valuable insight from an atheist perspective on Q Ideas. I could probably write an entire blog post about each of his six points. What really struck a chord this morning:
Recently, I participated in an interfaith dialogue with someone who responded to my bristling at evangelizing by saying:
But, Chris, it strikes me that the problem there is with the definition of evangelization. If we think of that word as a synonym of hectoring and finger wagging and a holier than thou attitude, I completely agree with you. But what if evangelization is itself a mutually enriching dialogue in which the promises of the Church (that is, of Christ) are put forward as proposals, as encounters, not as edicts? Then we are taking about the manner, not the fact, of evangelization, aren’t we?
He is absolutely right. This is a distinction that I am hearing articulated more and more often by members of religious communities that see evangelizing as central to their faith—and it is one I welcome with gratitude. Maintaining a general orientation toward encountering diversity with inquiry and empathy, rather than lecturing at it, can facilitate a more productive dialogue. That will require listening from both sides and recognizing we have much to learn from one another. For starters, perhaps we can learn how to talk to, and listen to, one another in a more constructive and friendly manner.
From my perspective, you’ve captured it precisely, Chris. I asked in a recent blog post:
And we have been asking what would happen if we approached our friends who are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Sikhs and Buddhists with the same humility that Jesus modeled. What if there was a way to talk about faith in which we could communicate respectfully and authentically? What if we found ourselves in a situation where we not only talked about compassion, but we also practiced it by serving alongside those we’ve been taught to try to convert, asking questions, and sharing stories?
Would it water-down our message? Or would it strengthen it?
For me, as an evangelical, this is the promise of interfaith engagement. We don’t need to not evangelize to get along. instead we need to rethink evangelism. And when you really look at the Christian tradition of evangelism and you ask what is effective, what really communicates the message we Christians want to get across… The gospel I know can’t be communicated by hectoring and finger wagging.
If we evangelicals really step back and look at the way Jesus did things, I think we can identify three themes: service, storytelling and relationships. Those also happen to be the core principles of the interfaith movement. So if that’s how Jesus communicated the gospel, isn’t that how Christians should also? For me it’s a no-brainer.
Read Chris’s whole piece at Q Ideas: http://www.qideas.org/blog/can-christians-and-atheists-be-friends-this-atheists-thinks-so.aspx