Tag Archives: barriers

5 types of Christians: The insiders (part 1 of 6)

This article is part 1 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 2 of this series!

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I’ve never found it sufficient to simply state that I’m a Christian when meeting someone new. Inevitably, saying so always leads to a question of brand or persuasion that, more often than not, seems to be accompanied with an assessment by my new acquaintance. People draw many conclusions from one’s denominational affiliation, and in the case of meeting other Christians, they want to know whether you are “one of theirs” or not. After all, we’ve all met that Christian who we just can’t quite stand to be around, right?

The sociology of Christianity fascinates me, and the only thing preventing me from writing a doctoral thesis on the subject is a lack of calling (and the fact that I’m currently training as an engineer and a physician, so don’t get your hopes up). The way that Christian doctrine has manifested itself in Christian living varies so greatly from person-to-person that it’s mind-blowing – something Gabe Lyons recognizes during a consulting gig with a film producer described in his book, Next Christians.

Despite the complexity of it all, Lyons provides a brilliant assessment of Christians in America that will enlighten our discussion on evangelicalism and the interfaith movement, and I’d like to jump right in.

Lyons describes two major types of American Christian, each followed by more specific sub-types: “separatist” (including “insiders,” “culture warriors” and “evangelizers”) and “culturalist” (including “blenders” and “philanthropists”). I’ll unpack each of these as we discuss this analysis in light of the interfaith movement. I’ll begin with the label that best describes my childhood: the insiders.

The Insiders

In general, I grew up an insider. My favorite time of the week was Sunday night youth group, with Wednesday night dinners at church coming in a close second. My friends were almost entirely from the church crowd – and in a small congregation like ours, that meant I hung out with the kids from the five or six families I saw every Sunday morning.

My first CD purchase was a Jars of Clay album, and for a while I owned nearly all of the Steven Curtis Chapman albums (or at least the ones that had been released since I was born…). I had the WWJD? wristband, the cheesy Christian slogan t-shirt, and a set of home-made Bible verse magnets I had created on the computer. Sounding familiar to anyone?

As an insider, I lacked a sense of the religious diversity around me. When I thought of the brown-skinned guy in my reading class, I thought that being Arab and Muslim were the same thing. When the Thai girl in my homeroom was teased for being Buddhist, I didn’t even think of speaking up.

As an insider, I didn’t care about my classmate’s beliefs and traditions. To me, the only real world was the world of the church. I still can’t remember how I conceptualized a lifestyle centered on a different god, or, for that matter, the absence of one. It didn’t matter to me, almost as if those people didn’t have any real depth – as if they lacked real values. And although I was involved in community service throughout high school, the “why?” discussion about the motivation behind the action didn’t matter to me. I didn’t realize that others might cite reasons to serve that were different from my own.

It is incredible to see how my lifestyle – and my faith – has changed from being an insider. From eagerly awaiting each day spent at church (Wednesdays and Sundays) as an elementary school kid to finding excuses to skip campus fellowship meetings in college because I was increasingly irritated with the lack of interest in what was happening outside of our doors – people in need of restoration, relationships we were called – as Christians, as “restorers” – to build (a major theme in Next Christians).

It was when I came across interfaith dialogue that I realized there was so much more to people than what I observed from within my cultural “bubble.” It was also when I learned that Jesus called me to sacrificial service that I began to care why others were driven to serve as well.

Yet I still encounter the insiders. And the lack of interest in interfaith cooperation is all too familiar. It makes me wonder if the bubble which makes us comfortable on the inside is also keeping the “outsiders” out.

Articles in this series:
Part 1: The insiders
Part 2: The culture warriors
Part 3: The evangelizers
Part 4: The blenders
Part 5: The philanthropists
Part 6: Restorers

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Struggling with Limited Capacity: Why Increasing Interfaith Cooperation Requires Changes to the Schedule

I was involved with a Christian fellowship group for the better part of my undergraduate career – leading Bible studies, going to meetings, and attending leadership training sessions.  I learned the organization’s ministry strategies, the Bible study methodology, and the accompanying social schedule.

I also grew in my faith.  Certain themes began to surface through my experience there that struck me.  Perhaps the strongest were the calls to help people who are in need and to pursue justice in a world where so many are oppressed.  Quickly, I started to ask how I could apply these lessons in my life as a college student.

I was among a group of students who suggested ideas for getting our campus fellowship involved in the community.  We lived in one of the poorest counties in the state of Illinois, which exhibited significant homelessness, unemployment, and healthcare accessibility issues.  But each time the suggestion to go serve in our community came up, we were told that the organization’s focus was on other forms of ministry.  In other words, our campus fellowship didn’t have the capacity for sustained service activities.

I feel that a similar lack of capacity prevents Christian organizations from forming interfaith relationships within their communities and on their campuses.  While most churches I’ve attended have a weekly calendar packed with activities, none of those activities attempt to interact with other faith communities.  Yet if our Christian organizations and their leaders don’t lead the way in building interfaith cooperation, who are we going to follow?

I once heard advice about evangelism suggesting that Christians should do fewer religious activities in order to free-up time to participate in the non-religious activities we enjoy.  Doing so gives us the chance to interact and build relationships with people of different backgrounds, which is part of our obligation to share Jesus Christ with the world.

But I wonder what would happen if we tried to be more creative in planning our agendas.  What about planning that campus fellowship Frisbee tournament with student organizations of other faith traditions?  Or inviting members of the nearby mosque or temple to participate in your church’s weekly soup kitchen?  Or going on a mission trip with the secular humanist organization in your area? (It’s been done!)

Like all Christians, I value time in fellowship, prayer, and worship with other Christians and believe that it is essential to my faith.  But I don’t believe that Christians are called to make themselves busy with the sort of Christians-only activities that keep us from building meaningful relationships with our neighbors – especially our neighbors from other faith traditions.  And my guess is that the Christians-only busyness won’t stop happening until we start making changes to the schedule.

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Apathetic Excuses: How Disinterest is a Barrier to Interfaith Work

As we discuss the barriers that keep Evangelical Christians out of interfaith work, we must address the simplest barrier of all: why should we care?

To many of our readers, there are obvious answers to this question.  But in my experience, my religious upbringing didn’t prepare me much for a world of religious diversity.  To be honest, I knew more about the mythology of the ancient cultures I studied in school than I knew about the faith traditions of my peers, even though one in five Americans identifies as something other than Christian and I undoubtedly had friends who found their identities in other faiths.

Yet I didn’t grow up in a place where I was exposed to different religious traditions.  My Muslim and Buddhist classmates didn’t talk about faith.  And for most of my childhood, the society in which I grew up didn’t present any tension between my faith and the world around me.  I got the day off of school on Good Friday, I gave my teachers nativity scenes as holiday gifts, and I received compliments on the cross ring I wore throughout high school.  As an adolescent, my world was free of exposure to religious difference and I was oblivious to the need to talk about cooperation across faith lines.

That perspective changed, of course, when I went to college and began to meet people of other faiths.  Even so, I could have found my niche in the Christian sub-culture on campus and tried to live a life ignoring the religious diversity around me.  But as Christians, we must not succumb to the illusion that living without relationships with people of other faiths is an acceptable way to live.

There is both benefit and necessity in building relationships across faith boundaries.  And while I’ve met many Christians who find value in religious literacy (one aspect of interfaith work) because it equips them for apologetics – the practice of defending the Bible using reason – I think there’s a richer reward to making an effort to build understanding across faith lines.

Part of that reward is being equipped with the ability to respect the individuals with whom we interact on a daily basis: at school, work, the store, or the gym.  Whether it means ensuring there are halal and kosher options at your community picnic or respecting your classmate or co-worker’s daily prayer observances.  Christians have a responsibility to understand how to respect others, and it is rooted in the Biblical mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

But treating our neighbors respectfully is just scratching the surface of why interfaith work is important.  Achieving pluralism is about more than just respect and religious literacy – it’s about relationships.  My hope is that the reasons why these relationships are valuable will expound themselves in the posts to come as we follow the current series on the barriers keeping Christians out of interfaith work with a series on the reasons why interfaith work is important (particularly for Evangelicals).

So I’ll leave you with the suspense that deeper discussion is coming.  For now, however, take a look at the conversation about religion in our world today: what do you see?  How is religion – and religious diversity – influencing our world?  What are you doing to ensure that tomorrow’s headlines will be about people working together to do good instead of letting conflict tear us apart?

I hope that we all will see in our world the need for cooperation and the need for friendship.  And as representatives of Jesus, it’s my prayer that Christians are at the forefront of making those relationships happen.

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Opening the Doors: Barriers to Interfaith Involvement (Intro)

Many of you will remember it. The New York Times headline read: “Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans.” (For those who don’t remember it, you can read the article here.) Hitting the news in late September of this past year, the Pew Forum’s survey of Americans’ religious literacy yielded some surprising—and rather sobering—results. It turns out that the least religious people in the country, with an average score of about 63 percent, are the most informed on the world’s main religious traditions, while the white mainline and evangelical Protestants averaged only about 50 percent.

Though one could see this information as reason for interfaith work to improve religious literacy within the church (which we address later on), Greg and I also see something else—a barrier of ignorance between people of various faiths. It’s difficult to interact with someone whose life seems so very different from your own, and for which you have no frame of reference. This is an old trope, often spoofed for comedic effect in movies and books: the wealthy city-slicker thrust into the lifestyle of a hard-working ranch hand, for example. These stories show the importance of understanding, and its power for affecting empathy; the wealthy city-slicker never leaves the ranch with the same perception of the job as he had when he arrived.

For the next five entries, we will be discussing what we feel are the commonest barriers between the Evangelical Christian community and interfaith work. These are the things that Greg and I have encountered in our personal journeys toward involvement with those of other faith communities; thus, it is certainly not an exhaustive list, but an anecdotal one. We would love these pieces to spark discussion and suggestions of other possible barriers (or “difficulties,” if you’d rather) commonly faced when engaging with people of other faiths. In these posts, we will address five topics:

Theological Pluralism: An exploration of retaining religious identity while still respecting and valuing other religious traditions.

Religious Illiteracy: Answering the question “Do you have to know everything about another faith in order to engage with them?”

Apathy: Why be involved in interfaith work when the status quo seems to be just fine?

Limited Capacity: Our churches and organizations are already doing so many activities and programs, does it really make sense to begin something new like interfaith outreach/involvement?

Tensions in Evangelism: Probing the question “Shouldn’t we be more concerned with evangelizing people of other faith traditions that learning to work together with them?”

Once this series on “Barriers” has ended, we will discuss reasons for overcoming them—why interfaith engagement is important for the Christian community. These initial series are meant to form a solid foundation of our mission and ideas, serving as a reference point for those who discover this blog later on. Greg and I look forward to sharing our ideas with you in the upcoming weeks!

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