This article is part 5 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 6 of this series!
The philanthropists (as Gabe Lyons calls them in Next Christians) may be the most compelled toward interfaith work while still lacking a strong call to be evangelical in the interfaith space. After all, the interfaith movement is built on shared values like feeding the hungry, ending oppression, and fighting poverty – activities that are deeply motivated by the Christian tradition.
But while I perhaps identify the most with a philanthropist of any of Gabe Lyons’ categories discussed thus far (by the way, we’re referring to the Christian who is driven to help others, not necessarily the excessively wealthy who make noble donations), the philanthropist lacks the urgency of sharing and spreading the gospel.
Here is how Gabe Lyons describes them:
“Putting an emphasis on doing good works is their defining mark. They serve in soup kitchens, clean garbage off the side of the highway, and help lead Boy Scout troops. One of their highest values is to make the world a better place. Some admit to enjoying a sense of earning God’s approval through their efforts.”
The problem, however, is that the philanthropists risk losing sight of the message that should motivate this work. Many philanthropists seem to be doing good works because Jesus did, not because of who Jesus is. Lyons explains: “what’s missing is the compelling narrative of the Gospel from which all their good works emanate.”
So what does the philanthropist offer to our interest in communicating the gospel in the context of the interfaith movement? They’re good people to know, of course, and perhaps their lifestyle of kindness can do something positive in breaking down stereotypes held by those who have had sour experiences with Christians. What I have realized through being involved in interfaith work, however, is that doing service is only part of the goal – it is just as necessary to be able to tell the story that motivates the service. The inspiring thing to me is that, while many can tell a story of how one example of good deeds motivated another, only a Christian can say that their service is motivated by God becoming man, making the ultimate sacrifice in death and rising from the dead, in part symbolizing the restoration that he offers to all of humankind.
When this message of restoration is communicated from Christian to non-Christian through interfaith cooperation, then we have discovered how to be evangelicals in a religiously diverse world. Should we as Christians lose sight of this good news, then we have lost sight also of the reason why we serve.